in Ocizeljska pečina cave, 2004
Who is Stojan Sancin?
I was born on January 19, 1947 in Log (near Ricmanje) to Carlo Sancin, a metal turner from Škedenj (Servola), and Dorka Žuljan, a seamstress from Ricmanje (San Giuseppe della Chiusa). After primary school in Ricmanje (San Giuseppe della Chiusa) and lower and upper secondary school in Triest, I graduated in chemistry in 1970 at the University of Triest. The title of the diploma thesis was Interazioni tra iodio e derivati dell'amilosio in soluzione acquosa, in English it would be Interactions between iodine and amylose derivatives in aqueous solution. It is about how, under the influence of iodine, at different concentrations (and temperature) the spiral structure of the molecules of amylase derivatives changes into a ball, and with it, of course, change the properties of this compound. I taught mathematics at lower secondary schools in the province of Triest: in Nabrežina (Aurisina), in Opčine (Opicina) and in Dolina (San Dorligo della Valle), until my retirement. For 20 years, from 1975 onwards, I was a councillor of the San Dorligo della Valle (Dolina) municipality.
Was the thesis interesting?
Not really, the list of titles to choose from was quite short. For almost a year, after the exams, I did various jobs in the laboratories of the faculty, about the only benefit was that I had a diploma thesis from it.
What else interested you most in chemistry?
How the matter changes from one form to another, from one compound to another. A good example is polypropylene.
In high school, you also did a lot of sports. How was that?
There was no Slovenian athletics club in Triest. I was member of a group of people who in 1963 founded the athletics section at the Bor sports association. We had an Olympic athletics program. I was interested in running. There were only two disciplines, the 600 m and the 1,200 m. I competed in both: we trained during the week, on Sundays there were matches, and a championship was held at the end of the season. In the autumn of 1963, I was the youth champion of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in 1,200 m. The championship was in Triest and I achieved a time of 3: 20.8.
After I stopped competing, I was involved in organizing matches.
What brought you to caving?
Curiosity led me to the caves. We live in the valley of the karst river Glinščica and the karst begins 10 meters from the house where my friend and, you could say, life caving companion Claudio Bratos lives. The first cave I visited, at the age of ten, was the Jama netopirjev / Bat Cave near the Triest-Kozina railway. If we had a Slovenian caving society in Triest at the time, I would never have embarked on athletics. The technique of rope ladders at that time required a larger number of people to visit any more serious cave, so it was unthinkable that a smaller group, say only two, could explore such caves. In 1978, when the rope technique came into being, Claudio, 10 years younger than me, and I were able to start caving on our own, without a larger group.
The SPD, Slovenian Mountaineering Association, of Triest, founded in 1904, was occasionally also engaged in caving, and in 1979 Claudio and I founded the Caving Section, JOSPD Trst. When I started caving, I of course gave up running.
When did you start with the high mountain karst?
At the initiative of France Šušteršič, a group of cavers went to Mt. Kanin in the 1980s and was surprised by a multitude of karst phenomena. He published a small article about it in Delo newspaper which impressed a large group of cavers from various clubs, including me (Claudio was babysitting at the time), and a little later we went to Kanin. We had 300 meters of rope, but we explored just a few rather shallow caves, the deepest was only 40 meters deep. We have already used the single rope technique. Since then, occasionally more often, occasionally less, we visited Kanin every year.
And what about Bohinj?
In the nineties, we had as many as 6 divers in our club for some time. We obtained a list of karst springs in Slovenia and based on the hypothesis that every spring could also be a siphon, we discovered a siphon behind the Kropa spring (at Partizanski dom, a side tributary of the Kropa river) in Bohinj. It was 50 meters deep and 200 meters long. We found a continuation in the Jama pod naravnim mostom / Cave under the natural bridge, in Jezerina cave we found more than one kilometer of cave behind a short siphon.
How did you manage to harmonize family life with caving?
It was a little war, every single day.
Have you ever taken Grazia, your partner nowadays, to a cave?
She doesn't even want to hear about it. She likes to go to the mountains, where there is a solid, wide trail, but not to any via ferrata, not even one meter.
How many caves have you been to?
All in all, in the already known and in new ones, we were in about 2000 caves.
And how many new, unexplored caves you and Claudio were the first to visit?
We delivered cave registration forms to about 500 caves to the Slovenian cave registry, and we still have at least 500 caves in our internal archive.
Which cave impressed you most?
It is, without any doubt, Ocizeljska pečina cave.
In which Italian caves have you been, all in all?
We submitted a few dozen caves to the Italian Cave Registry. There are 10 caving clubs in Triest, but the territory is small and fully explored, there is fierce competition between the clubs. Nothing new can be found without technical means (excavation of blowholes), but caving clubs are run mainly by people who are more concerned with administration than the practical problem of how to obtain permits from the authorities to use technical means. Since in Slovenia there was also a great desire of the caving clubs for the division of the territory among them, we in JOSPD focused on places for which there was no interest. In Italy, our club has gained its reputation mainly through research of water resources in the Glinščica river basin. I did not visit caves anywhere else in Italy, outside the Triest area.
What about outside Slovenia and Italy?
What memories do you have of your work in the Jamarska zveza Slovenije (Speleological Association of Slovenia)?
Different opinions were common. Basically, I tried not to let the different opinions grow into difficult-to-correct contradictions. As a supervisor, I made an effort to handle things quietly, without making noise. At general assemblies, issues are not resolved, they can only be confirmed if they have been previously agreed.
Two things can be done at general assemblies: to celebrate the successes achieved and to make plans the work for the future. However, the general assembly is not suitable for other decisions, they must be taken earlier. Twice it happened that the Speleological Association almost fell apart. Once it was in Prebold, when there was a proposal to make an independent Primorje (Littoral) Speleological Association. The proposal fell blindly and people didn't quite know what they were voting for. For only a few votes, the Speleological aasociation managed to stay together. In such tragedies, something comical usually happens as well. In the middle of the vote, the chef came into the hall with a wooden cooking spoon in his hand and announced that lunch was ready. At another general assembly, if I remember correctly in Postojna, a similar proposal was made for the independence of the Cave Rescue Service. As president of the general assembly, I changed the proposal from independence to autonomy. Which, of course, gained full support and the Speleological Association remained intact.
Your best and your worst caving experiences?
The discoveries in Ocizla remained in my fondest memory. In the beginning, when Claudio and I tackled the area, without the proper equipment, there were just a few smaller caves. We explored them from around 1980 until today.
Throughout our activities, individual clubs declared large parts of the territory as their exclusive scope of work, no intruders welcome. Which had the positive effect of getting us into the sinkholes of Matarsko Podolje. The clubs from the classical karst always had many members who were quickly at hand in case it was necessary to repair the roof of a caving lodge or do something similar, while in difficult caves they did not have the power to disable us, to get us away. At that time, these sinkholes were really difficult. We obtained a lot of help from both Ljubljana clubs, from the cavers from Koper, from the cavers of Logatec. Smaller help came from many other Slovenian caving clubs. The Ocizla sinkholes, from a wider perspective, are the same as the sinkholes of the Matarsko Podolje. In many places, the tunnels in Ocizla end with a layer of sediments - thick round pebbles below, a little finer above them, even higher sand and mud at the very top. The cavers of Koper call such a cave end a slide, and we call it a mountain slide (for transporting logs downhill). On the way back, you slide down nicely from the top.
The rule is that the cave never ends. Where there are siphons, you can get through, sooner or later, so caves really only end with rock collapses. How quickly such collapses develop can be seen in the caverns from the First World War - in most of them, the entrance has more or less collapsed. Narrow passages are very common. Good results, in Matarsko Podolje and elsewhere, were obtained by diving, drying of siphons by a long tube and also by a motor pump. I found out that after the accident in Žankana jama, where two helpers (Karel and Blaž Božič) drowned in a sudden flood, pre-war Italian cavers were afraid of water (more is in Croatian at https://hrcak.srce.hr/file/294346 and in Italian at https://www.boegan.it/2014/04/mariano-apollonio/). So we (JOSPDT) decided to attack where the tunnel seemingly ends up underwater. When we reached such a point, I stripped naked and plunged up to my chest into the water. It happened many times that a new, dry tunnel opened just around the corner. On first such occasion, in Ocizla cave, thinking the continuation would end very soon, I ran naked down the tunnel. The tunnel ran on and on and ended (temporarily, with a lake) only after about three hundred meters. I felt neither cold nor the hard rocks on my skin. Only the next day bruises showed up. This was in the Ocizla Cave, and soon afterwards we also discovered a 300-meter continuation in the Cave under the natural bridge. A horizontal cave with pools to swim through (only I was in a caving suit this time). We had carbides lamps and a lighter around the neck, on a string. In pools, the lighter had to be held in the mouth. Because we weren't careful enough, the water flooded our mouths, the lighters got wet, so only the carbide remained as a light source. We made the light by transferring the flame from one carbide lamp to another when one went out. The lamps, however, went out alternately. If they would both die out at the same time, it would end up much worse.
There was nothing really bad to tell about, however, because we were always careful. The old rule says that wherever a caver comes, he will be able to get back as well. The truth is, if you don't help yourself, you don't come out. So, we always went to the place from where we assumed it would still be possible to get back. We left the continuation to the next excursion.
A message to aspiring young cavers?
A tough question. Caving, as we knew it, is no more. Old caving became extinct with the discovery of the single rope technique. Carbide lighting was associated with caving, and now LED lighting replaced it completely. Half the caving course used to be all about a carbide lamp. The caves were mostly shallow, and did not require much from cavers. Depths above 1000 meters are nothing special today and there are many caves connected with river Reka (the main underground river of Classical karst), in the old times we only had Škocjan Caves and Labàdnica (Grotta di Trebiciano). Now there is a new access route to the Škocjan Caves from the surface, there si Kačna jama cave, in several places, in caves Brezno v Kanjaducah, Sežanska Reka, Jama v Stršinkni dolini, Labàdnica, Grotta Lazzaro Jerko. And large submerged tunnels in the Timavo river springs. There are two caving clubs in Slovenia that ensure continuity, DZRJL and JKŽ, there are many clubs with strong individuals. I would advise future cavers to join either of these two. The people of Ljubljana form a rather closed circle, others club connect more with each other.
Stojan with his daughter Jelka, August 1980 in Prosek (Prosecco), photo by Zdenka Trampuž, Jelka's mother
(published with permission, photographed from a 10x15 cm original and retouched by the author, colour corrected by Damjan Gerl)
What would you say about the modern scourge, the coronavirus? How much longer?
The corona has slowly become a part of our lives. It is here to stay.
Finally, something non-caving, or maybe not. What colour do you like the most and why?
Red colour. I wouldn't know why. Always.
Matjaž Rebolj Inherited History and Wanderlust, February 2020
This page, text and title photo by Primož Jakopin.
Send inquiries and comments to
primoz jakopin guest arnes si (insert dots and at sign as appropriate).
The page was initiated on February 7, 2020; coronavirus interrupted
the work from March till July, last change was made on September 28,
translation from Slovenian into English followed on September 29. It was proofread by Damjan Gerl.
Last corrections: October 10, 2020.
URL: http://www.jakopin.net/portraits/Stojan_Sancin/index.php 60