Križna Jama is eight kilometers long and considered to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe. It is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes with emerald green water.
“Hurry up”, Gašper says while walking through the knee-deep water of the underground river, “the water rises quickly”. We are inside Križna Jama, an eight kilometer long river cave, known to be one of the most beautiful and best preserved caves in Europe.
There are approximately 8,000 caves in Slovenia’s Karst region, many of them are very remote and nearly inaccessible. Others, like Postojna Jama, are heavily touristed caves and are visited extensively.
Gašper is a Slovenian caver in his thirties and is a specialist for the Cross Cave, as Križna Jama is meant in English.
He has guided a lot of scientists, cavers, photographers and researchers through the cave that is nearly long enough as Mount Everest is tall. He has also accompanied Robbie Shone, a world-famous National Geographic photographer, based in Austria, on his assignment to explore Slovenia’s secret river caves.
“He has been to caves all over the planet, but Križna Jama was something special, even for him”, Gašper tells me while I was referring to this talented explorer whose images made me wanna visit this cave.
Križna Jama is a heavily protected cave system without pathways or electricity. Fewer than 1,000 people are allowed to enter the cave each year. And only less than 100 people get the chance to explore the cave in its entirety.
“These restrictions are necessary to protect this ecosystem and to guarantee its beauty lasts for longer than our own lives.”
The cave is known by a chain of 50 underground lakes which are connected to each other. The pools are normally filled with crystal-clear emerald green water. But due to the last days mass of rain the water already starts to turn milky and visibility is shrinking.
To travel the cave in its entirety explorers must walk and also paddle with rubber boats along the deeper parts of the enormous underground river. From time to time the boat must pass narrow restrictions where it is necessary to lay down inside the boat. “We are definitely not able to make it to Crystal Mountain this time”, says Gašper.
Crystal Mountain, or Kristalna gora, is the cave’s furthers accessible point where less than 100 people go each year. It is an enormous hall where cavers can climb a mountainous pile of collapsed rocks to a point well above the stream.
But to go to Crystal mountain we would have to pass a restriction that is only 30 centimeters large and the water has already risen that much. “So it would not even physically be possible to go there with our boat. We have to go back”.
Although I am little bit disappointed that we have to turn back I know that honest adventures are no scheduled holidays and conditions inside caves can change within hours.
“The water in this cave comes from the Bloke plateau that until recently was covered with snow”, Gašper tells me. But now the temperature has risen, the snow melted and the water is coming in masses inside the cave system.
We make our way back to the cave’s exit. Gašper is attaching the rubber boats to fixed lines inside the cave so that they will still be at the right place after the flood has gone down.
After we have left the river at the point where the water flows into the underground, we walk through the enormous cave to the exit. There is a pathway through rocks that seems to be man-made but Gašper explains that this small lane was once created by ancient cave bears when seeking protecting from the elements or resting for their winter sleep. “The massive cave bears made their way through the rocks pushing them away.”
This makes me stunning and for a second I doubt if he is right. “Have a look at the polished corners of the rock, made by cave bears over an nearly endless period of time”. I am still speak-less while I exit the cave.
Near the entry Gašper shows me a collection of graffiti, the oldest one referring to the 16th century. The cave has been visited for a long time although it wasn’t until the 19th century that explorers passed the lakes and made their way inside Križna Jama.
Not far away fossils of cave bears have been found, a large teeth and some bones can still be seen inside the rock.
I know I will return to the cave within the next months. After the snow-melt and during the rainy summer period visits are not possible and as I have learned not even the winter season seems to guarantee a safe exploration.
In-between I think about my last photo from the river cave: I decided to take a shot in this long tunnel, placing lights and a caver properly. I already noticed the high water level and started to feel how once this tunnel was shaped by water masses.
Gašper told me that some hours later the pathway on the right was completely flooded and visits to the cave had been canceled for several days.
I would like to thank Gašper and everyone at Križna Jama for their time and devotion, otherwise I would not have been able to photograph inside the cave.