Cave Diving in

From Alexey Zhalov

Milen Dimitrov and V.Chapanov infront of the terminal sump of Ilaminako Ateak \BU-56\ - Navarra, Spain \1987\ in the depth 1326 m, they pass 5 sumps more and make the cave secom deep in the world!


Until the beginning of cave diving the exploration of a cave had stopped where a siphon appeared. The first attempt to penetrate a submerged cave system in Bulgaria took place in October 1947 and was due to the naturalist Alexi Petrov. In a heavy diving suite, Petrov reached the bottom of the source lake Glava Panega (12 m deep), but it was not possible to enter the underground system. For many reasons real cave diving, requiring special equipment, started in Bulgaria much later than in other countries with developed Speleology. However, just in few years it achieved remarkable results.

First Organized Attempts to Penetrate Siphons

The real birth date of cave diving in Bulgaria was, however, November 7, 1959 . The aim was to penetrate the siphon of the lake Mrachnoto Ezero in the cave Temnata Dupka at Lakatnik Railway Station. Seven cavers participated, two of which (Aleksandar Denkov and Tanyu Michev) tried, with primitive equipment, to discover parts of this big cave. After ca. 40 m, they had to return and, with considerable danger to their life, managed to join the group. Other attempts were made in the same year in the siphons in Temnata Dupka near Kalotina and Krivata Pesht near Gintsi, but without success, due to primitive equipment. In 1960, other attempts in the siphons of the pothole Djebin Trap and in the caves Lepenitsa and Rushovata Peshtera failed for the same reason.

In 1963 the Group for Cave Diving at the Republican Caving Commission already existed. The group included A. Denkov, T. Michev, M. Kanev, B. Antonov and Hr. Delchev. With some better equipment they managed to penetrate the siphon of the source Zhabokrek near Chiren (18-20 November 1963) and to discover a new chamber and a new 120-m gallery. The complete connection of Zhabokrek with the big cave Ponora was realized only in 2001 by a French-Belgian team, which overcame 6 more siphons (not possible in 1963).

In 1970, cave diving in Bulgaria took its first victims. In the cave Dyavolskoto Garlo near Trigrad (Smolyan Distr.) the divers S. Lyutskanova and E. Yonchev (with no underground experience) from Varna died.

In 1972, the cave divers T. Michev, A. Gyurov and V. Kiselkov tried to penetrate the source near Lakatnik Railway Station and the source Glava Panega. In Glava Panega T. Michev reached a depth of 29 m and V. Kiselkov (in 1978) – even 32 m. This was the end of the first Bulgarian cave diving group.

The New Generation In Action

Meanwhile, in the period 1976-1977, on the cave diving scene P. Petrov, V. Nedkov and, for a short time, P. Hristov appeared. They tried to penetrate various siphons in Lakatnik's Temnata Dupka, but most of all the siphons of the cave Katsite near Zimevitsa. In 1977, V. Nedkov penetrated the siphons of the difficult cave Katsite to a length of 2560 m and a depth of 220 m.

In 1978, A. Jalov overcame on apnea the short (2.5 m) siphon of the cave Gornik near Krushuna and discovered 627 m of new water galleries. Other discoveries were made after the siphons of the caves Brashlyanskata (Aleksandrovo), Mussinskata Peshtera (Mussina) and other caves.

In 1981, another tragic accident resulted in the death of the caver G. Antonov in the source Popov Izvor near Studena. Four years of standstill in the cave diving followed.

In 1985 a new period in Bulgarian cave diving started with the formation of the diving group of Studenets, Pleven Caving Club.

The divers I. Gunov, M. Dimitrov, V. Chapanov and A. Mihov started the exploration of the big cave Boninska Peshtera near Krushuna. Until 1987 they had overcome four siphons of 6, 6, 30 and 36 m and surveyed 461 m of new water galleries, thus bringing the cave's length to 4015 m. Later, in 1989, the divers from Pleven discovered another 515 m behind three new siphons in the same cave, bringing its length to 4530 m. Meanwhile, the group explored the siphons in many other caves, making considerable discoveries. In 1985, they returned to Glava Panega, but only in 1992 K. Petkov entered 230 m of inundated galleries, bringing the depth to 52 m. In Toplya the divers surveyed 178 m of new galleries.

Joy and sorrow

During this period hundreds of new galleries were discovered by other cavers (G. Yordanov, D. Todorov, V. Pashovski, K. Georgiev) in the caves No7, Zadanenka (Karlukovo), Krivata Pesht (Gintsi), in the source of Kotel and others. However, in May 1989 another tragedy shocked all Bulgarian cavers. Trying to penetrate the end siphon of the cave Urushka Maara near Krushuna, two of the best Bulgarian cavers and cave divers, V. Nedkov from Sofia and V. Chapanov from Pleven , died of suffocation in a gallery, full of (?) CO2 .

Despite the heavy losses, cave diving in Bulgaria did not cease to exist. In the autumn of 1989, divers from Sliven (?. ?leksiev, I. Zdravkov, G. Ganchev, D. Boyanov, S.?ihov) prepared an attack on the source in Kotel. On October 23, 1990 , the team penetrated four siphons and discovered a chamber, which was 20-25 m high and 7 m wide. The exploration is not yet finished.

The divers from Pleven still active

In 1990-1991, the divers from Studenets, Pleven , explored many new siphons. In the pothole Golyamata Voda near Karlukovo, after three siphons of 8, 10 and 20 m, they reached a 400-m gallery and a fourth siphon at 105 m.

Although not so intensive, the siphon activities of the few cave divers are still resulting in new discoveries. In 2001, attempts to penetrate the submerged system of Andaka (Dryanovo) were undertaken by K. Petkov.

It is fair to give a due tribute to the considerable success of Bulgarian cave divers abroad, crowned by the penetration of the siphons of the giant Spanish pothole Bu-56. Thanks to the efforts of Pleven divers, on September 11, 1987 the depth of the pothole reached1408 m and for some time the system was the second in depth in the world. We should remember this date, as well as the courageous men who have realized this exploit!

The authors of this book believe that cave diving is among the most dangerous human activities. We are proud that we know the people who dare see what is “behind” and who contribute to a better knowledge of caves. The problems in Bulgarian cave siphons are by no means over.

International Activity


From 24th July to 21st August 1992 , the Bulgarian Federation of Speleology and the Albanian Speleological Association held their second joint expedition in the west part of Albanian Alps, especially the massifs Velechik, Pultina, Maja Zez and Maja Arapit. Over 100 caves were discovered, of which 52 were explored. The most interesting exploration took place in Shegan karst spring, which was explored to a length of 60 m and depth of 28 m.

The third expedition was held between May 19 and June 11, 1993 . The main exploration area was located in Bridash massif. Thirty eight, mainly vertical, caves were surveyed. The deepest was Shpella e Cilikokave, which was explored down to 390 m. The team went to Shpella ne Majes te Arapit to continue exploration from 1992. After diving of terminal sump (length 60 m), including some new discoveries, the total length of the cave reached 840 m. A second attempt was made to Shegan karst spring, where the explored length grew to 160 m with depth - 52 m. The sump continues, but its full exploration needs mixed gas for further diving. This expedition started the systematic geological and biospeleological studies of the area. In the end of expedition the team worked in the area of Merkuth vill., North West slope of Lura Mt. , where were explored two caves.

From 3 to 10 August 2006 the Caving Club "Studenetz" - Pleven , a member of the Bulgarian Federation of Speleology, carried out the serial Bulgarian expedition in Albanian Alps. The team members were Orlin Kolov - leader, Tz. Petrov and M. Ivanov. The aim of the expedition was the exploration behind the terminal sump of the Shpella Maja Harrapit (Arapit) Cave near Theth vill., North Albania . This cave was explored for the first time by Bulgarian expedition in 1993 with the help of Prof. Gezim Uruchi - president of the Albanian Speleological Association. At that time were surveyed 512 m of passages. Our expedition in 1994 explored 147 m more new cave passages. The sump was dived by K. Petkov, but being alone he could not continue the futrther exploration. Inspite of that, the cave length grew to 659 ? with denivelation of + 56 m. In 2005 a new Bulgarian expedition made an unsuccessful attempt to pump out the water from the sump in order to make passable for cavers without using diving equipment.
After transportation of the whole diving equipment to the sump, inside dived O. Kolov and Tz. Petrov. They passed 70 m under the water and found a lake with length of 15 m. From the bank of the lake begins a horizontal gallery 25 m long, ended with wide wide (approx. 2 m) vertical fissure, situated perpendicular to aixs of the main gallery. The fissure is blocked with large stone bolders. Here O. Kolov started climbing and squeezing through the stones 20 m in length with denivelation of + 20 m. In the end of the passage he reaches a vertical passage, which climbing is dangerous without climbing gear and second person to secure him. The group stayed only two days, due to objective circumstances and this did not allow the cavers to continue the exploration in the rainy weather. That is why the working part of the expedition was concluded and the cavers went back to Bulgaria . The serial Bulgarian expedition managed to reach its main task. The length if the cave Maja Arapit grew to 787 m and the denivelation is + 76 m and still continues.



First Bulgarian-Georgian expedition to Caucasus . Four Bulgarians (A. Mihov, S. Nenov, M. Tranteev and N. Valkov), led by T. Daaliev, had the task to penetrate, together with their Georgian colleagues, the end siphon of the pothole Vesennaya (- 408 m). The diving team, including A. Mihov, penetrated the siphon, explored the next verticals and galleries and reached a second siphon, thus bringing the depth of the pothole to 555 m.



The first Bulgarian-Macedonian caving expedition took place with 5 participants from Bulgaria , including three divers, led by K. Petkov. The team was invited to explore several unknown siphons in the area of the canon Matka near Skopie. The total result was: 7 dives in 4 siphons, 280 m underwater galleries surveyed, 195 m of them in the karstic source “Vrelo”. The end of the siphon was not reached, but nevertheless it became the longest siphon in the Republic of Macedonia .



The summer marked the successful return of the 22 participants in the expedition BU – 56 ( -1338 m) in Spain – the fourth deepest in the world. These were the cavers of Studenets Pleven, led by P. Stoynov. Their aim was to increase the depth of the pothole by diving beyond the third known siphon. For this aim, never before attempted by Bulgarians, 14 people equipped the pothole and transported the diving gear to the “dry bottom” (-1325 m), to ensure the success of the divers I. Gunov and M. Dimitrov. Both crossed the three known siphons. I. Gunov dived on his own into the fourth, reached a dry gallery and returned. The exploration had to be stopped there due to the lack of equipment, but the pothole already ranked third in the world.


For further study of the pothole BU – 56 organized another expedition of Pleven cavers, led by P. Stoynov and S. Gazdov. The efforts were directed towards giving a chance to the divers I. Gunov, M. Dimitrov and V. Chapanov. They negotiated the known siphons and another two siphons, explored the 650-meter gallery after them and stopped before the seventh siphon. The survey from the beginning of the 4 th siphon to the newly found parts showed that the depth was 1408 m. So, on September 11 th , with the help of the Bulgarians the pothole, called Ilaminako Atek by the Basques, became the second deepest in the world.



Important results were obtained by the National Speleological Expedition to Cuba , where 14 Bulgarians spent 2 months exploring (together with their Cuban colleagues) the karstic plateau Guaso in Oriente Province . The expedition, led by A. Jalov and T. Daaliev, discovered, explored and mapped 34 caves and potholes with a total length of 19 988 m, the longest being Cueva del Campanario (8382 m) which were approx 1 km. long before Bulgarian expedition. The cave divers V.Nedkov and Ts.Lichkov pass the terminal sump of the cave 10 m/-3 m and reached more than 7 km new cave passages after!



Tanyo Michev (the dressed with neoprene man) and Alexander Denkov the creator of the first cave diving group in Bulgaria) before the cave diving of Zhabokrek Spring – November 1963





The be relief of A.Denkov in Temnata doupka cave – Lakatnik vill.- \photo – A.Zhalov\





Georgy Tashev before the first diving in Shegan Karst Spring – august 1992 - \photo – A.Zhalov\





Before second expedition in Shegan spring – august 1993 \photo – A.Zhalov\





Orlin Kolov the second attempt to dive the terminal sump of Shpella Maja Arapit – Albania




Orlin Kolov from the new generation of Bulgarian cave divers in front the sump of Chernija Izvor Cave.