Drăcoaia Cave in the Sighiştel valley, Bihor Mountains
Autor: Vladimír Papáč <papac(at)ssj.sk>, Téma: Zahraničné cesty, Vydané dňa: 27. 09. 2010

Authors: Vladimír Papáč & Jozef Psotka


In 2001 we began with cognitional trips to Romania and organized first trip to Bihor Mountains (M. Gaško, F. Horčík, T. Máté, V. Papáč and J. Psotka). Our route took us through remarkable places on Padiş Plateau and in Vlădeasa Mountains. Diary from the trip was published by Máté (2001). On July 2002 we realized next journey to Romania. In that year we passed through Sighiştel Valley for the first time (F. Horčík, V. Papáč and J. Psotka). We spent one day in the valley by visiting its most known caves (Drăcoaia, Pişolca, Coliboaia, Magura) and our cognitional trip continued across the Bihor Mts. In the Drăcoaia Cave (Devil´s cave), which was well-known among the local people, we recognized small fist-sized hole with intensive, roaring air draught. Hole was situated near the end of the cave under the flowstone barrier. Cavers were probably aware of it but it was obvious that no one tried to dig there. We removed some sediment only by our hands. Finally we reached agreement that we will return with stronger team.

Exploration during 2002-2008

On September 2002 (7.9.–14.9.) we returned to Sighiştel (F. Horčík, M. Horčík, T. Máté, J. Psotka and V. Papáč) and worked in Drǎcoaia every day on two shifts. After four days of digging in watered gravel and mud we passed through the tight and entered into five meter high tributary chimney. In this cavity four meters above the bottom occurs impassable narrow channel in which air draught was concentrated. It was impossible to pass the narrow hole without driller and proper technique. During these days we met cavers from Speodava Ştei speleological club in the valley and made contacts with some their members. Finally, we summarized our activity and papers were published in Slovak speleological bulletins (Horčík F. & Papáč 2002, Horčík M. 2003) and short report was sent to M. Petrescu.
Two actions in 2003 and three in 2004 had been carried out by cavers from Speodava (P. Branescu, 2009 pers. comm.). Only P. Brijan progressed to the first turn and left his small hammer on the barrier of cemented gravel (for our surprise when we found it). On actions participated: P. Brijan, D. Lup, A. Lazau, R. Deliman, I. Draghie, P. Branescu and T. Rus.
We returned to the Drǎcoaia cave in 2007 (F. Horčík, J. Psotka, T. Máté, V. Papáč, P. Imrich, T. Majerníčková and M. Hajduk) equipped with accu-drillers and with good mind to realize work in the narrow channel. Our activity was under the auspices of Speodava Ştei and National park Apuseni and also M. Inăşel from Speodava worked with us enthusiastically. After six days of work (26.7.-2.8.2007) we moved forward 6 m. At the same time we carried out mapping in old known entrance passage and map and brief report has been published (Máté, 2007). On May 2008 (30.4.–4.5.) we teamed together again (M. Gaško F. Horčík, P. Imrich, M. Inăşel, T. Máté, M. Miškov, V. Papáč and J. Psotka) and during three days we continued working in the meander with air draught. After this action we were able to progress four meter ahead (Psotka & Papáč, 2008).
On September 2008 (25.9–28.9.) next action to Sighiştel with Speodava Ştei has been organized. Participants: P.Branescu, F. Horčík P. Imrich, M. Inăşel, D. Lup, V. Papáč, L. Papáčová and J. Psotka. During the two days we transported rocks, gravel and extended meander in Drăcoaia cave. At the end of the second day thinnest of us (M. Inăşel) observed enlargement of meander in straight direction beyond squeeze. On the third day we removed last barriers and entered the ascending meander. On its bottom bigger and smaller pebbles of Permian rocks have been found and on some places small pools exist. Through this sinuous corridor we passed into small cavity behind which cave continued 500 m without restraint (Papáč, 2008). Soon after discoveries Romanian cavers prepared iron bar closure and newly discovered passages were enclosed.
At the end of October 2008 we realized next journey to Romania (F. Horčík, M. Horčík, V. Papáč, P. Imrich, J. Psotka, M. Gaško, M. Miškov and M. Hajduk). From Speodava Ştei came with us: P. Branescu, M. Inăşel D. Lup and D. Lucaciu. Aims of the action were mapping newly discovered spaces, exploring all passages, climbing chimneys and took photos from cave. First group (P. Branescu, P. Imrich, D. Lucaciu and J. Psotka) mapped 186 m in the Channel passage. Second group (F. Horčík, M. Horčík and V. Papáč) mapped 150 m in the Crystal passage and on the Crossroad. M. Miškov and M. Inăşel had to dig through a tight with weakly streamlet near the Crossroad. Behind the narrow was 10 m long corridor terminated by tight with great echo from beyond. At the end of meander which branch away from the Channel passage, M. Hajduk and M. Gaško descended into newly discovered 18 m deep Column shaft. On its bottom is yet impassable, very narrow outlet meander. Within the meander that lead to the Column shaft V. Papáč and J. Psotka climbed up into tributary passage (length 20 m). At the end is a narrow with gravels and big pebbles of green Permian rocks. Following day first group (J. Psotka, D. Lucaciu and P. Imrich) mapped 57 m in the meander which leads into the Column shaft. Upper parts of this meander were explored by M. Inăşel and D. Lup. M. Hajduk and M. Gaško had been started climbing first chimney over the Crossroad. P. Imrich, M. Inăşel and D. Lup had been digging at the end of the Channel passage. There was a weak air draught, bedrock bottom and it looks like a longer digging effort is needed here. Second group (F. Horčík, M. Horčík and V. Papáč) mapped 53 m in the Discovery meander towards the Crossroad and took out photo documentation. Finally J. Psotka broadened the tight from the Crossroad into the corridor with echo.
Up to now, last action we carried out on December 2008 (19.–22. 2008) (P. Imrich, M. Hajduk, I. Balciar, J. Šmoll, M. Gaško, J. Psotka and V. Papáč). Bǎiţa Village came to be a place of our accommodation. Cavers from Speodava Ştei, P. Branescu and D. Lup helped us with accommodation and take care of great background. First day in the cave P. Imrich and I. Balciar mapped remaining passages in meander and Column shaft in length 60 m. Next we broadened tight with echo (V. Papáč, J. Psotka and D. Lup) and entered into meander we called Echo. It was just with tiny active stream and ended with shower of water from a hole situated 10 m above the bottom. M. Gaško a M. Hajduk had finished climbing in one branch of chimney over the Crossroad. Branch ended blindly 20 m above the ground. J. Šmoll, M. Inăşel, P. Branescu and D. Lucaciu made photo documentation and Romanian cavers later continued digging at the end of Channel passage. Next day M. Gaško and M. Hajduk had started to climb second branch of chimney over the Crossroad. This chimney has not been climbed on because climbers recognized lateral meander. Finally this meander finished blindly near the base but is possible that it will continue in the upper parts. J. Šmoll aided by J. Psotka climbed over the Column shaft circa 15 m. He located continuation of two passages with echo and air draught which directly tend to the massif. P. Imrich and I. Balciar mapped newly discovered Meander Echo (35 m), V. Papáč broadened some narrows and P. Imrich, D. Lup and D. Lucaciu had been digging at the end of Channel passage with conclusion that they had seen some meters forward.
Generally 25 actions have been carried out in the cave (21 days of digging and 4 days of exploration and mapping). We surveyed 209 m in the old parts and 538 m in newly discovered parts. Cave reached length 747 m and +75 m of denivelation up to 21.12. 2008. Total denivelation reaches nearly +100 m even now but we didn´t mapped climbed chimneys yet.

Description of the cave

Previously known parts

Remarkable opening and entrance passage of Drăcoaia cave has been surely known since long time ago. Cave has been described in detail by geographer A. Schmidl in book concerning the Bihor Mountains (Schmidl, 1863). Old known cave is a large ascending gallery with length circa 150 m terminated by flowstone with relics of boulder breccia and cemented fluvial sediments above. First 100 m of length passage has more than 10 m height and width and afterward the cross section is smaller (width 2-4 m, height up to 6 m). In entrance parts floor of the passage is covered by angular debris and fallen blocks, after 50 meters from the entrance muddy rimstone dams and small lakes are covering the floor. Some short passages and chimneys ended by flowstone or impassably narrow, lead from the entrance gallery. Relics of ceiling channels and meanders and remnants of big stalactites are visible on the cave roof.

New passages

Beyond the first passed narrow from the previously known parts of cave is an inflow chimney from which lead the tight Discovery meander at height 4 m from the bottom. Artificially enlarged passage has 15 m length. Meander is ascending 27 m above first narrow to the small chamber with anastomoses on the roof. After next tight and fallen block we approach the Crossroad, from which several passages continue. Crystal Passage with height 8 m, morphologically interesting cross-section, occurrence of crystals and fine-grained deposits is terminated by sediments infilling to the roof and by fault with several 10 cm zone exposed on the roof. Next passage is Meander Echo, which is continuation of the Discovery meander. It leads to 15 m high inflow chimney from which it’s raining strongly and in the upper part of Echo meander is dry chimney with a narrow upwards. Directly above the Crossroad is a chimney with two branches. One ends blind at 20 m height and in second laser Disto showed more than 30 m height. The climbers will tell more. Largest passage yet discovered is the Channel Passage with height up to 8 m and width 2 – 4 m. There are cave decorations at several locations most notable is large group of stalactites and stalagmites. Typical for the Channel passage are shallow ceiling channels, flat roof, wall channels filled with sediments and on the floor fluvial deposits (muddy gravel, sand and mud). Prior to place called Snails the passage divide. To the south very low inflow passage almost filled with sediments branch out, we crawled in small channel in the middle about 20 m forward. It is possible to continue after slight deepening of the channel and deposition of gravel to the sides of the passage. To the east, beyond sinter pile Channel Passage turns several times and its continuation is disabled by sediment infilling. Passage becomes crawlway with bedrock bottom and small temporary stream in which we progressed some meters by digging. Small temporary stream from the Channel Passage is flowing to narrow 60 m long meander with height up to 10 m which lead to Column Shaft. Shaft is 18 m deep from the approach and from its bottom very tight meander leads, with narrow not been passed yet. Above approach shaft continue by chimney climbed to 15 m height yet. This is the farthest place in the massif from the entrance till now. It is not useful to describe short branches of meander to the shaft or from Channel Passage. We only mention great hearing from Channel Passage with the place of conjunction in Discovery meander through fissure to which is flowing tiny water streamlet, prior to short passage with small lake.

Temperature and moisture in the cave

Temperature were recorded on the last action (21.12. 2008). In outside environment were registered temperature 2,5 ºC. In cave entrance temperature reached 4,3 ºC and moisture 74%. In the Channel passage (near the decoration) were recorded temperature 9,1 ºC and moisture 94,5 % and on the Crossroad temperature 8,1 ºC and moisture 93,2 %. Differences between Channel passage and Crossroad were probably caused by intensive air draught and temporary active stream on the Crossroad.

Overview of geological settings and karst hydrology

Sighiştel Valley represents karst area with greatest density of caves in the country. The area of about 15 km2 contains 186 caves (following Cadastrul Pesterilor din Romania) and more than 200 caves after information of long time caver P. Brijan. Majority of caves are of fluvial origin and constitute fragments of cave systems. Evolution of subsurface drainage and speleogenesis was conditioned by geological build-up of the area. According to geological map of Bleahu et al. (1985) karstified carbonate rocks in Sighiştel Valley belongs to Bihor Unit and comprise mainly of Upper Jurassic limestone and Lower Cretaceous limestone. Mesozoic limestone overlies Permian sedimentary rocks: violaceous, unmetamorphosed continental deposits – sandstones and conglomerates of the Moma Nappe and green, weakly metamorphosed (green schists facies) marine deposits of the Poiana Nappe (Balintoni et al. 2002). Contact of Mesozoic formations with Permian rocks is thrust plane, disrupted by faults of N/NW-S/SE, NW/SE and W/SW-E/NE directions. Dykes of granitic rocks of Upper Cretaceous age pierced Mesozoic limestone in the south-eastern part of karst area (Balintoni, 2001).
Overlying Permian sedimentary rocks that are relatively impervious provide accumulation and runoff of rainwater to the karst area. In the tributary side valleys to Sighiştel small surface streams flowing from Permian rocks disappear underground at the contact with limestone. There are several karst springs in the valley (spring under Coliboaia Cave, Pişolca Cave, Blidaru, Hidra and several temporary springs also). Blidaru spring with the spring cave Raşuflatorea din Blidarului (length about 300 m) is the most significant. It is situated on the left (southern) side of the valley, 200 m downstream from Drăcoaia cave. Hydrological tracer experiments carried out by Orăşeanu et al. (1991) proved hydrological connection of several ponors with Blidaru spring and other smaller springs in the valley. After results of tracer experiments, also disappearing Pietrele Roşii brook from hydrographic basin of Crăiasa River supply all main karst springs in Sighiştel with increased weight on Blidaru spring. Longest proved hydrological connection is between Avenul Dosu Muncelului (1100 m a.s.l.) and Blidaru spring (435 m a.s.l.) - 665 m of denivelation and almost 4 km of air distance. Small plateau - Pietrele Negre is situated above with height more than 1200 m a.s.l. Experienced cavers P. Brijan (Speodava) and P. Damm (Speo „Z“) presume that Drăcoaia Cave could be a way to this karst system.


Not so far from Drǎcoaia Cave is located major karst resurgence in the valley – Blidaru. Fact that farthermost ponor is situated 665 m of denivelation and almost 4 km of air distance from Blidaru spring gives us a chance to penetrate into the more extensive cave system. High density of caves in the small area, their character and presence of well developed karstic aquifer (Orăşeanu et al., 1991), indicate that this area has reached maturity of karst development. Purity and solubility of limestone, proper tectonic predispositions and aggressive waters originating from Permian rocks which overlies the limestone are probably the main geological conditions for high density of caves in the area. Also important fact is that Bihor Mts. territory is a place with the maximum precipitation within Romania.
Discovery meander presents evident fissure which further continue to newly discovered meander Echo. Discovery meander has been connected with Channel passage and the same is possible in the case of Meander Echo, which ascend highly above the Channel passage. Therefore meander Echo presents perspective place in the cave that can move us into the upper level. Next research in Meander Echo we will accomplish when climbers will finish exploration of chimney over the Crossroad. Important place for penetration more deeply into the massif presents newly discovered passages above the Column shaft which were partly explored by J. Šmoll. These parts are 200 m deeply in the massif. If we deplete possibilities of advance by open passages, perspective in ours view is digging in both branches of Channel passage and also exploration of narrow outlet meander on the bottom of Column shaft.


For support of our speleological activities and friendly welcome we are thankful mostly to following people: Paul Damm (Speo „Z“ Oradea, Natianal park Apuseni), Alin Moş (Director of the National park Apuseni), Petru Brijan, Mircea Petrescu, Paul Branescu, Mihai Inăşel, Dorin Lup and Daniel Lucaciu (Speodava Ştei).


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