The Taurus Mountains in Southern Turkey consist of a wilderness of high mountain peaks and foothills that extend from Antalya several hundred miles along the southern coastline before sweeping inland at Adana and reaching heights of 400m. It is an area of karst that has been dominated and almost monopolised by French expeditions, speleologists of which have for several years been literally walking into large river caves of impressive dimensions, and which must now rank as one of the finest virgin caving areas that is reasonably easy of access for Europeans.
During a holiday this year with Reg Howard, we managed to spend a few days at Urunlu, a village situated on a subsidiary of the Managat gorge, with the object of exploring the cave of Dudensuyu, a large resurgence approximately two miles from the village. The hospitality of the villagers was great, we were given the use of the local school and several 'parties' were held in our honour, which ranged from myself being asked to dance with a grizzly, cloth-capped individual in front of an audience of similarly attired gentlemen who looked like the mafia - to attending a circumcision party. Being a moslem area, booze had to be obtained from the next village 11 kms away, and most of our best parties took place only with the involvement of the local taxi, which upped the price of ale somewhat.
A mule was hired together with two non-cavers, Martin Beverley and John Reilly, known respectively as Noel Coward or Marty, and Paddy. The first being a prime example of a middle class gent abroad, complete with tennis shorts and blue bath robe and a cross with Marty Feldman, and Paddy a typical Irishman who suffered all sorts of mishaps with a stoicism not given to us Anglo-Saxons.
We transported the dinghy and all our caving equipment down to the gorge, nearly falling over a cliff in the process. Nearing the head of the gorge we caught our first sight of the black opening of the cave mouth below a sheer 400m cliff. Shouts and whistles greeted us from all the male population of the village, who used the place as a local swimming pool and had come to see us off. From small boys to men of seventy, they all swam and frolicked in the cold water and they watched with interest as Reg and I struggled into our wetsuits, while Marty and John blew up the dinghy. Soon we were loaded up and Reg and I began swimming the entrance lake, which was icy cold even in our wetsuits, whilst Marty and John gingerly rowed the dinghy which was loaded with food, cameras and ladders etc....
The cave entrance was approximately 60m wide and the entrance lake approximately 200m long and 50m wide. 140m from the entrance, the walls narrowed in to 30m, where a natural rock bridge spanned the lake and the roof began to lift from 25m to soar out of sight. After 200m, the lake terminated at a vertical wall of calcite draperies which we later found to be 48m high. A strong draught from above pointed the way on and Reg and I unloaded the gear onto a crumbling calcite ledge and began the climb whilst Marty and John were left taking photographs and doing their own thing.
We free climbed to about 8m above the lake where we used our first redhead to traverse out to a small grotto set back under the sparkling white flowstone. This was an ideal depot from which to launch our attack on the smooth walls which extended overhead, although it seemed a pity to despoil the crystal floor and delicate formations with ladders, bolt, pitons, tools, tins of goodies and bits of redheads that soon littered up the place. Lifelined by Reg, I hung out under the overhang whilst I drove a peg into the only crack that could be seen and hung a ladder on this ready for the next move. Balanced precariously on one foot on the top rung trying to drill a hole for the redhead, I suddenly felt the peg move as a strange tension built up on the ladder and looking down, I was confronted with a brown face peering up from between my legs, and received a flashing smile as white and gold teeth sparkled in the reflection of my light.
"Bugger off" I shouted as I felt the ladder move again. The brown figure in the swimming suit smiled at me again as the peg gave another little lurch. "Sod off - godown - Allez - ladder kaput" and I waved furious arm signals at my barefoot, dripping companion, who eventually got the message that he was not wanted and fumbled his way back down the ladder to inform his mate down below where they both remained for some time, unseen, but noticeable by the snatches of Turkish songs and whistles that floated up to us from time to time before they eventually traversed and swam back to the cave entrance.
After this unnerving interruption, I tried to make use of a small hole in the stal. which was too large for a peg and too small for anything else, and eventually, after a great deal of fiddling about, I managed to jam a peg in behind a crab and I clipped on the other end of the ladder and stood on it. This Heath Robinson arrangement soon collapsed and I was suddenly left hanging by one hand. However, I tried again and another redhead was fixed in higher up before we called it a day and returned to daylight and the trek back to the village and more celebrations.
The follwing day, Reg managed to get past this first overhang and made a mad scramble up the next section which was smooth and completely devoid of holds but which, fortunately, became less steep and eased off to some huge gours which gave us easy access to a broad ledge. We thought we had cracked it as the draught from above grew stronger, but on examining our position we discovered the continuation overhead blocked by overhanging stalactite formations. A chimney against the left-hand wall was also blocked at the top and the position seemed hopeless. High overhead we could see the roof of the chamber continue beyond the top of the large mushroom-like pendants and we knew we were near the top. After some time spent leaping up and down as we tried to fly, I noticed from the top of the chimney that there was a gap between the stal formations and the wall and if we could reach that we may be able to climb higher. The wall was smooth, greasy and overhung but being so near the top we were frustrated and ready for anything. Reg found a small slot at the top of the chimney and fastening a crab on the end of the rope he dropped the crab in. I gave the rope a tug and it held, so gripping it tight I did a fast tension traverse out over the void and managed to reach the gap between the stal and the wall just before the law of gravity took over and I managed to jam myself in and hung there panting as I took stock of the situation. There was space all around and another short, overhanging scramble was required to vacate my secure position and gain access to the top of the stal that sloped easily up into the promised land. Unfortunately, this overhang overhung the lake far below and was completely without holds. My light flickered and I suddenly reaslised that I had to fix a bolt before I could go on or even return, so straddled across the gap, I began hammering furiously.
The next vital redhead gave me some trouble with the powdered calcite choking up the hole and the centre of the bolt to such an extent that it forced the teeth apart. I couldn't clear the hole and consequently I ended up with a loose bolt. My carbide lamp gave a splutter and went out and I had to finish the job with my electric, which began to fade almost as soon as I switched it on. I eventually clipped the rope on to the loose bolt and rejoined Reg and together we beat a hasty retreat in the yellow glow of one defunct electric.
As the expedition was now completely out of carbide, we began scrounging round the villagers for paraffin lamps and candles and we manufactured a weird collection of smoking 'lamps' before being saved by a local Holy man who volunteered to go 60km over rough mountain roads to a nearby bauxite mine for some carbide. Late at night, when he eventually returned, I offered him a whisky, which he hastily declined. I found out later that one does not give whisky to Holy men. The following day, Reg, John and myself returned to the cave and I finished climbing the calcite barrier and reached a deep blue lake of similar dimensions to the one below and held back by these tremendous gours. One hesitates to think of the pressure involved in the 48m high natural dam and the years taken to build up such a structure. After such an enjoyable climb it was exhilarating to see the huge tunnel-like lake leading on and I traversed and swam for some distance before realising that we needed the dinghy. The three of us manhandled it up from below and Reg and I rowed across the lake for 200m before we beached against more calcite gours. Reg returned for John and I wandered off into the large caverns that lay ahead. The floor consisted of calcite barriers, gour pools and black polished limestone which was eroded into deep holes and razors' edges. The walls were 50m apart and the roof varied from 30m to 70m in height. A large boss 15m high sparkled against one wall, swelling out into deep, dried out gours and crystal pools. I was soon joined by Reg, who had left John taking photographs and together we pressed on into the virgin cave. After we had covered some distance, a peculiar calcite mound attracted my attention. I kicked it and discovered spent carbide...
This was a disappointment and meant that the French had already been in the cave - but how ? The calcite barrier was completely unmarked and was almost impossible to climb without leaving some evidence behind.
The following day we arrived in full force and Reg and I shepherded our two non-cavers up into the high levels of the cave and had almost got the dinghy to the top when it burst and we were left with one side intact and a mass of trailing rubber. Ferrying our two ill-clad companions across the top lake waist deep on the semi-submerged wreckage took time and we were further handicapped as the cameras of our two intrepid photographers developed faults as we moved further into the cave. We soon reached two large chambers of Berger-like dimensions with high levels reaching off and several deep lakes. Reg and I left John and Marty in the second of these chambers whilst we pushed on through large passages and deep blue canals. We were confronted by several climbs into more chambers and the nature of the cave began to change, becoming more broken and muddy. After discovering more signs that the French had been in the cave we were amazed to find the higher levels had not been explored, the evidence lying in fine needle-like crystals that encrusted the ledges. However, time was running out and Reg and I reluctantly agreed that we must return to Marty and John. It was a hard decision at the time, but the right one, for we reached the barrier on one light and deladdered in the faint gloaming of reflected daylight which deepened into dusk as we eventually emerged from the cave.
The mystery of the flying Frenchmen was finally solved when we returned home and met Mike Clarke, who informed me that the Spéléo Club de Paris had two expeditions to Urunlu in 1966 and 1967 led by Claude Chabert and unlike us they had reached the upper series by climbing up from the bridge on to a series of ledges which took them to a point where they laddered down on to the top ledge of the flowstone.
Ah well, "San Fairy Ann", as the French would say; it was still a good caving trip.
I have since been in touch with Claude Chabert who has given me permission to reproduce his survey and who also asks why we don't look for our own new caves instead of pushing his... point taken Claude.
The fact is that a lot of cavers who are going to Turkey are reexploring stuff done by the French who have been working out there from 1965 to 1971, so it would be advisable for any future expedition to get in touch with Dr. Aygen of Ankara University to save duplicating work already done; and I might add, risking one's neck in the process.