A journey to the Moravian Karst

After a long time, I am resuming my blog on my travel experiences. This time I traveled to the Moravian Karst in the Czech Republic. Traveling to places of natural beauty is an awesome experience. Moravian Karst, locally known as Moravský Kras, is a hidden gem near the town of Blansko. The Moravian Karst consists of more than 1100 caves and Gorges and is protected by law. Five of the caves are accessible to the public in this region. The amature jeskyně cave system is the longest cave system in the Czech Republic at nearly 34 km, and the Rudické propadání is the deepest creek sinkhole in the country. The rich fauna of this protected area includes 2200 species of butterflies (66 % of all kinds found in the Czech Republic), 22 species of bats (24 are known in the Czech Republic), at least 5 species of cave-dwelling invertebrates. Similarly, the region has many endemic subspecies of plants like primrose Alpine bells. Paleontological evidence for ancient animal and human occupation in the cave sediments were excavated in the past. There are phenomenal bike and hiking trails in the Moravian region, some of them passing by the caves and other sights such as the Křtiny Marian Temple and Chateau of Rájec nad Svitavou.

My visit to Moravský Kras was during the month of October. October is a bit off season for visiting the caves. The Punkva cave is the most visited cave among these and during peak seasons reservations need to be done months in advance. Even though I planned the trip only just a week ahead, I was able to get the reservation for the Punkva Caves. Visiting other caves do not require a reservation in advance.

Blansko

In order to visit the Krast landscape, I stayed at a place in Blansko. The town is easily accessible from Brno by train, and the region is well connected by the South Moravian Integrated Public Transport System (Integrovaný dopravní systém Jihomoravského kraje – IDS JMK). Both the main train station (Blansko hlavní nádraží) and the main bus terminal (Autobusové nádraží Blansko) are near to each other. One important thing I noticed is that there are no ticket vending machines at the bus stops, instead, the driver collects the money and issues the tickets.

Skalní Mlýn

The first point of the visit is the Tourist information center at Skalní Mlýn. There is a direct bus from Blansko bus terminal to Skalní Mlýn. The timetable for this can be checked using idos application, which shows public transportation options in Czech. The reserved tickets for Punkva Caves can be collected here up to one hour before the time of visit to the cave. I also got a map of the Moravian Karst which is very helpful. Beyond Skalní Mlýn there are no buses as the area is a protected landscape. If you plan to visit on your vehicle, it needs to be parked here. However, there is an ecological train running between Skalní Mlýn and Punkva cave, and a cableway from the Punkva Caves to the upper viewing point of Macocha. The best option is to buy an integrated ticket to both train and cableway. The integrated ticket includes both to and fro journey. Now everything set (though I am unplanned about what to do beyond the viewpoint) I was pretty much excited about the day ahead.

The Ecological train

The journey from Skalní Mlýn to Punkevní jeskyně is approximately 2km uphill. The narrow road goes through the banks of the Punkva river and traverses within the vyvery punkvy nature reserve. The pristine beauty of the small river flowing through the natural reserve is something inexplicable. The colors of autumn add another layer of natural beauty over this. The journey takes around 10-15 mins. The Punkva Caves is situated in the Canyon of Pustý Žleb.

Brief geography of Punkva river and the cave system

The main cave system draining the northern segment of the Moravian Karst is called the Amatérská Cave and is named after the amateur cavers who went inside in 1969. This cave system is the longest in Czech Rebulic and the total length of all passages of these caves is more than 35 km. The cave system is run through by the Sloupský Potok (Sloup) and Bílá Voda (White water) streams. These two streams sink underground in the half-blind ponor valleys at Sloup and Holštejn, respectively. A ponor is kind of a portal where a surface stream or lake flows either partially or completely underground into a karst groundwater system. The Sloupský Stream enters the Sloupsko-šošůvské caves near the village of Sloup while the at the Bílá voda stream enters the Holštejnská Cave near the village of Holštejn. The two streams confluence in the Amatérská Cave to form the Punkva river. The Punkva river running 3 km through the cave passages resurges in the Punkevní Caves close the Macocha Abyss. The Punkva caves form the spring-up and paleospring-up part of the hydrographic system of the Punkva river. The Punkva river springs up on the floor of Macocha Abyss and flows through the active branches of the Punkva caves as far as 120 m of the deep karst canyon – Pustý žleb. The other parts of the caves are dry on the standard water conditious. The Punkva caves belong among younger caves from the view of their development. In the previous phases, the underground Punkva flow through the paleosprings to Suchý žleb (it is the present Kateřina’s cave), before that maybe even to Jedovnice basin.

Punkva cave

The Punkevní jeskyně was the most awaited part of my trip and was a lifetime experience. The cave system was created by the flow of water for millennia through the limestones, by the tributaries of the subterranean Punkva river. The tour to the caves includes the dry section of the caves, the bottom of Macocha abyss and the boat trip through the subterranean Punkva river.

The Přední dóm or Front Dome of the cave is decorated by all spleotherm variations from simple stalactites, stalagmites and stalagnates. This part of the caves were discovered in 1906. The Punkva river left it thousands of years ago. This is dry section of the cave which is no longer part of the active river system. The guard, a 4m tall stalactite decorate the entrance of this dome.

At the rear of the front dome, the dome changes into a cave gallery sinking toward the siphon. The Mirror lake under illumination reflects the total beauty of the roof like a mirror. Here we can see formations resembling a castle on mountain, a weeping willow, an umbrella and two owls.

The Punkva caves originated on several floors, that is why crashing of ceilings and fallings arose on the crossing of the geological disorders. This way the huge Macocha abyss or the tall Reichenbach’s cathedral came into existence. 80 m tall chimneys made by vertical water influence are very typical here. The tunnel corridor is a pretty example of the huge pressure – eroded pipe. The geomorphological place of interest in the Punkva caves is underground flute cracks made by intensive water flowing down on the sheer walls. There is a opening of a chimney and the rock wall below it is furrowed by the ripple-marks of water flowing slowly down.

After passing the siphon, the steep slopes are climbed up to reach the horizontal parts of the upper level. A natural disaster happened in this area millions of years ago causing collapse of a rock partition between two different levels. This has cause the formation of a single shift-like space called the Reichenbach Dome or the dome of destruction. There is a spacious stalagmite gallery at the upper level with numerous speleotherm formations like the sitting Hare, the snow-covered Fir, the camel and the Rococo Doll.

Descending from the upper cave level the next destination is the Back Dome or the Quiet Dome which is at the same level as the front dome. Interesting formations of stalagmites called the vase and the dwarf can be seen here. A stalactite-stalgmite pair called the Eternal lovers or the Needle is also seen here.

There are spleotherm decorations here represented by two dominant features called the Angel and the Curtain. A corridor from this dome connects to the bottom of the Macocha abyss.

Explorers used to descent to the bottom of this abyss from the Lower Bridge which is 90 m above. The discovery of the quiet dome in 1914 was the result of exploratory works at the bottom of the abyss. The total depth of the abyss measured from Upper bridge is 138.4m.

From the bottom of Macocha abyss, the caves are further explored by walking through a passage which leads to the docks where the boat cruise starts. The boat trip is adventurous as we move through the bowels of the rocks with stalactite decorations. The boat journey is through multiple sections are known as the Fairytale Lakes. During the jouney through first and second Fairytale lakes formations known as The Bridges and Rocky Arches can be seen during the boat journey. Photography is prohibited while on the boat for safety reasons. One needs to be careful while the boat trip (especially if tall) not to hit the stalactites. The boat reached an underground docks in the third Fairytale lake from where we walked through the Beaver Hall, where the bones of Pleistocen beavers were found, to the Masaryk´s Dome.This beautiful dome has many magnificant formations such as the bamboo forest and Hus Coloumn. Jan Hus was a Czech reformer, who was burned to death in 1415 in Constance, was a church reformer, an inspirer of Hussitism, a key predecessor to Protestantism and a seminal figure in the Bohemian Reformation. The Hus Column resembles Jan Hus and stands like a beautiful memorial for him. We returned to the boats and the journey continued to the fourth Fairytale Lake. Within few minutes of journey we see daylight and the boat reaches the Punkva spring.

ViewPoint – Macocha Abyss

After visiting the Punkva caves, I took the cableway to reach the upper viewpoint of Macocha abyss. The bottom of the abyss was visited as a part of the Punkva cave trip. The viewpoint provides a different perspective on the forces of nature, and how insignificant we are compared to that. Looking from here, the bottom of the abyss can be seen. However, imagining that a river and cave system exists below this is something unimaginable without previously visiting the bottom of the abyss. From the upper viewpoint, we can see that the variation in vegetation. The bottom of the abyss had mainly shrubs, however, coniferous trees can be seen towards the higher levels.

From the viewpoint, it is approximately 3 km towards Balcarka caves. This was a walk through the mountain and grassland.

Balcarka Caves

The Balcarka Cave is situated in a picturesque karst valley near Ostrov u Macochy. The cave consists of an underground labyrinth of passages, fissures and has two floors. The Balcarka Cave belongs to the complex hydrographic system of the Ostrov-Vilémovice waters now springing from Malý výtok (Little Discharge) near the Punkva Caves. Near the boundary of limestones and non-karstic Culm rocks, it formed a ponor of Ostrov waters – Krasovský and Lopač brooks. After the Badenian flooding, distinct changes in hydrological conditions in the whole Moravian Karst occurred and the Ostrov waters started to cut their way in the deeper levels of the Suchý žleb Valley towards today’s seepages of the Punkva River. In the past several tens of millions of years, the water from the two streams Krasovský and Lopač carved the different layers of the Balcarka caves. The caves have a plethora of unique, rich, varied and colorful stalactite and stalagmite decorations.

The entry to the caves is through a vast natural portal called as Balcar’s Rock and is of significant paleontological and archaeological importance. This was used by the people from Paleolithic era. Various evidence including pointed stones, bones, and remains of fireplaces was obtained from this cave. Passing through an artificial tunnel a small space was reached. This region is beautiful due to the colorfulness of sinter coatings and dripstones.

The first stop inside the cave is in a place about 10 m high called the Wilson’s Rotundas. These rotundas , consits of two high domes with a shared ceiling and were formed by water flowing from the upper floor. The bigger one is a beautifully modeled circular shaft covered with sinter cascades. The ceilings are decorated by dripstone formations resembling waterfalls and curtains.

From here the route continues into the biggest hall of the Balcarka Cave – the Foch’s Dome. It is an elongated space with the dimensions of 65 x 15 x 10 meters named after a French marshal from World War I. The ceiling is formed by transparent stalactites and sinter curtains.  There is a large rock block that fell from the ceiling into the doline depression. The sinkhole in the bottom of the cave is so far unexplored spaces in the cave which continue into the depth. The dome is lined with LED diodes which highlight the white color of dripstone formations as well as create unique light effects. The rear part of the Foch’s dome is the deepest part open to the public. The stalagmite formations like Chinese Pagoda, Pipe Organ, Belgian Cave, Lily Flower, etc. can be seen in this region of the cave. After admiring the picturesque parts of the Foch’s Dome, the route continues into regions discovered later, in the second half of the 1930s.

The Gallery, Natural Passage and also the Masaryk’s Jubilee Domes – are interconnected, but the pavement is successively at two height levels. The Gallery is the most beautiful part of the cave with youngest dripstone decorations with water still flowing through them. The dripstone decorations on the walls and ceilings are vibrant, well-preserved and clearly visible.

The walls of the Natural Passage are covered with sinter coatings formed by splashing water. The Gallery is now above us and forms the ceiling of this corridor. The distinct horizontal arrangement of limestone layers was influential in the formation these parts of the cave. Near the stairs this can be clearly seen as limestone beds called as the Flat Ceilings. This is followed by a region of pillar stalagmites called as the Theatre, and through a crack in the end of corridor we can see the Sugar Fairytale,.

Moving forwar the tour will get back to the parts discovered in 1924. The Dome of Destruction was created by the collapse of a ceiling. The collapse of these rock blocks have destroyed the older generations of dripstone decorations and paved way for newer formations. Formations resembling a Snowy Cottage, Patrified Waterfall, Corn Spikes, Mother with a Child , sinter nest with an egg, etc can be seen while we move across the dome. The cave route continues near the ceiling of the Wilson’s Rotundas. At the begining of the tour, we were standing at the bottom of these rotundas.

The next stop is the Discovery Chimney. When in 1924 the doline on the top of the Balcar’s Rock was dug through by local residents of Ostrov, they descended through the abyss right into this space. Various parts of the cave were discovered from different directions and were connected by natural as well as artifical corridors. Most of the cave was discovered in the opposite direction of the tour. A soft, unhardened variant of sinster film caused by the presence of microorganisms covers the walls of this region. This white to greyish film is called as moonmilk (meaning the white nothing).  

Walking through a partially artifically modified corridor, we reach the Cinderella cave. This cave has a dominant greyish coloring caused by the moonmilk. A bend stalactite can be seen in this region called as the Scimitar. There is a prevailing long-term air flow into the caves which has caused the water drops on its top to diverge and helping it to grow in this unique shape. This stalactite is the symbol of Balacarka caves. These regions have dead dripstones making them an important wintering place for bats. The bats gather for their annual hibernation in these caves. These caves are closed to visitors during the winter to ensure that these animals are not disturbed.

The final stop is a underground museum showing the immense palenthological and archeological importance of the Balcar’s rock and its surrounding. The prehistoric settlement of this cave by both animals and humans is documented here.

Catherine caves

The final place of the visit on day one of the trip was Catherine caves. The entry to the Catherine´s (Kateřina´s) Cave is in the deep Canyon of Suchý Žleb near the Skalní mlýn Information Center. The major attractions of this cave include the stalagmite Witch lit by spot-lights of different colors, and the Bamboo Forest, a group of rare, several meters high stick-shaped stalagmites. The cave entrance is another significant archaeological and paleontological monument. There is also the unique finding of a mass of skeletons of cave bears in one of the chimneys of the cave. A detailed description of my visit to the caves is written as a different article – Catherine-caves

Sloup

I decided to visit the Sloupsko-šošůvské jeskyně during the second day. I took a bus from Blansko to Sloup. The journey is through the forests, mountains, villages, and grasslands. The journey took around 35-40 minutes. This small village is the northern entrance into the Moravian Karst and is a crossroads of footpaths in the marvelous scenery of the Moravian Karst. The beautiful Baroque Church of St. Mary, which is visited by pilgrims from far away, is a dominant feature of the village. The village is quiet and peaceful with clean and unpolluted air.

Sloup–Šošůvka Caves

Sloupsko-šošůvské jeskyně is a large complex of underground domes, passages, abysses and has two height levels. It is an important place where cave animal carcasses (bear, lion, hyena) have been found. Elizabeth’s Cave, Kůlna Cave, and Šošůvka’s area are part of this cave system. A detailed description of my visit to the caves is written as a different article – Sloup–Šošůvka Caves.

Jedovnice

The small town of Jedovnice is less than thirty minutes by bus from Blansko. A three zone ticket for IDS-JMK is sufficient to reach there from Blansko. Since I started the journey from Sloup, I took a five zone ticket and changed at Blansko. Jedovnice is surrounded by the deep forests which is the opening gate to the Moravian Karst. There are biking trails from Jedovnice through the Moravian Karst. This small town has a number of lakes named as Olšovec, Budkovan, Vrbový, Dubový, and Dýmak. This town has cottages and grasslands all around and feels like a place from the fairy tales. Spending an afternoon in the lakeside enjoying the beautiful autumn colors is something I love and is very relaxing. A journey through the mountains, forests, springs, caves, and abyss is incomplete without visiting the lakes.