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Recent Exploration - 2006

Simon Brooks

Introduction:

In late October through to early November 2006 a team of 21 cavers lead by Yuri Evdokimov from Russia visited Iran as part of the “Parau 2006 Expedition”. The team consisted of 19 cavers from various parts of Russia and Shary Ghazy an Iranian who now lives and caves in Germany and Simon Brooks a Caver from the UK. The Russians were a strong and well-equipped team with good experience of deep caves at high altitude, including participants from the deep Krubera-Voronja Project

The main aim of the expedition was to reach the bottom of Ghar Parau, dive the sump and climb avens etc in an attempt to extend the cave, and, if time allowed, extend another cave called Ghar Sarab in the Hamadan Area.

Ghar Parau situated high in the Zargros Mountains near to Kermanshah in Western Iran is possibly the best known Iranian cave outside of Iran. This is particularly so in the U.K where it has something of a celebrity status due to the fact it was the focus of two major UK Expeditions in 1971 and 1972 that were striving for a world depth record. In addition to this surplus funding left over from the 1972 Expedition has been used to set up the grant giving Ghar Parau Foundation. The 1971 and 1972 British Speleological Expedition saw the British Teams descended 22 pitches to reach a depth of –751m where the cave terminated in a tight muddy sump.

Ghar Sarab by contrast a horizontal water cave, situated near to Hamadan, was originally explored by the Hamadan Mountaineers (Sina) Club in the 1950’s and partially mapped by the Napier College of Commerce and Technology (Edinburgh) Hydrographical Expedition in 1973. At 1.6 kms in length visits by the German-British Team in 2001 indicated that the cave could easily be extended.

Ghar Parau – A brief History

Situated high on the Kul-e-Parau (Parau Mountain) Limestone Massive in the Zargros Mountains near to Kermanshah in Western Iran, Ghar Parau was first discovered and explored by the 1971 British Speleological Expedition led by John Middleton. During this expedition the British Team descended 22 pitches to reach a depth of –750m with the cave still wide open. The follow up expedition in the summer of 1972 led by David Judson that was backed by the Royal Geographical Society and the British Cave Research Group sought to extend the cave to a new world depth record. Despite the best efforts of the 16 strong British Team on that occasion this was not to be the case and Ghar Parau continued for another 50m in length to terminate at a muddy sump at a depth of –751m. This event in itself coined a caving term that has stuck ever since. Namely that if a wide-open and promising cave suddenly terminates it is often said to have ‘Paraued’.

With other caves in Europe, Russia and America going ever deeper, and the changing political situation in Iran in the late 1970’s making access to this part of the world difficult, the prominence of Ghar Parau faden into history with its memory being kept alive by the grant-giving foundation to which the cave had given its name. Contrary to what is a common perception in the UK the exploration of Ghar Parau did not stop after the 1972 British Speleological Expedition.

In 1975 a Polish Team visited the cave, reaching the terminal sump and taking a photograph of the 1972 British Flag was able to re-confirm that the cave had indeed finished. Over the following year’s team from Iranian Mountaineering and Caving Clubs began visiting the cave, often reaching the terminal sump and often exploring new sections of passage. A second entrance to Ghar Parau has been found, avens in the lower part of the cave have been climbed to try and find a way over the terminal sump and in 2004 a team cavers from the Kermanshah Mountaineering Club actually put a diver in the sump. On this occasion the sump was found to descend to a depth of –3m and apparently close. In recent years there have been anything from two to eight or nine trips to Ghar Parau each year and using basic SRT techniques many Iranian Teams have reached the bottom of the cave. As a result some Iranian cavers have got to know the cave very well, with one such example being Yousef Sornynia from the Kermanshah Mountaineering Club who in 2006 claimed to have made 32 trips into Ghar Parau, reaching the terminal sump on at least 9 of these trips.

However these Iranian trips have not been without incident. Ghar Parau is situated at an altitude of 3,100m on the Kul-e-Parau Plateau and as result of this the temperature inside the cave relatively cold (9 degrees centigrade), it is quite strenuous and narrow in places, and in wet weather the cave can take a lot of water. By 2006 there had been four recorded fatalities in the cave with the most recent being in 2004 when two members from the Damavand Mountaineering Club from Tehran died as a result of cold/exhaustion and a fall.

In the winter of 2005/2006 Yuri Evdokimov leading a small team of Russian cavers visited Ghar Parau and reached a depth of –400m. Realising the cave and the surrounding area still had good potential, ropes were stored in the cave and plans were made to return with a bigger expedition in 2006.

Exploration in the Hamadan Area.

Shary Ghazy had travelled out to Iran a week prior to the main expedition arriving and had spent this time in Tehran visiting relatives before being joined by Simon Brooks on the 26th October 2006. Simon and Shary then travelled down to Hamadan where they met up with Yousef Nejaei from the Hamadan Mountaineers (Sina) Club, a contact that Simon had made when exploring Ghar Alisadr with a German and Iranian Team in 2001. Two days were spent in the Hamadan Area where a visit was made to the Ghar Alisadr Showcave where some more photographs were taken and members of the Hamadan Mountaineers were taken into the far reaches of the cave. Since 2001 there have been some significant developments at Ghar Alisadr, mainly to the visitor infrastructure at the cave entrance that now boasts a VIP Suite (which the Alisadr Show Cave Company generously allowed the visiting team to use as a changing area!) and a large reception and arrival hall for the Iranian Tourist who visit the cave. Visitor numbers to the cave have also soared from 400,000 per anum in 2001 to over 600,000 in the period from January to September 2006. Despite this pressure the well managed cave was coping remarkably well and doubtless making a lot of money for its owners.

On the second day in the Hamadan Area Simon, Shary and Yousef made a visit to Ghar Hizch (Hizch Cave, AKA Ghar Hezej) where in excess of 460m of dry horizontal passage were mapped and photographs taken. This cave, originally located and explored by Yousef Nejaei in the 1960,s had been mapped by Mostafa Salahi another prolific Iranian Caver in 1999. However, its exact location was unclear and the published survey lacked a scale and magnetic orientation that was why it was resurveyed on this trip and some new passages found. The cave itself is very interesting, as it had clearly been used as a refuge at some time in the distant past. Around the main entrance were the remains of a small stone fort and at various points within the cave were what appeared to be defensive walls each with a doorway built across the passage. To reach the cave a taxi was hired from Hamadan. The potential cost of the taxi initially caused a little concern amongst the European members of the party when it turned out to be an old Chevrolet Automatic with a huge fuel hungry V8 engine. However, fears were quickly banished when it was remembered that fuel in Iran cost less than 10 pence per litre.

Ghar Parau and Exploration on Kuh-e-Parau

Meanwhile the Russians had been travelled overland from Moscow in three very well laden vehicles and on the morning of the 29th October 2006 had arrived in Kermanshah area where they promptly set up a base camp. They were joined by Simon and Shary who had travelled down form Hamadan that same morning and the remainder of the day was spent sorting equipment and making plans for the ascent to Ghar Parau the following day.

The weather in the Kermanshah area had been getting gradually worst, becoming cold with heavy rain and low cloud enveloping the mountain tops. On the morning of the 30th October it brightened a little and Andrei and Paval from the Russians team left to visit the Namagdan Salt Caves on Keshim Island in Southern Iran. Everyone else laden with huge amounts of equipment packed into massive rucksacks set off up the mountain to Ghar Parau accompanied by Yousef Sornynia from the Kermanshah Mountaineering Club. The mountain scenery (when it could be seen) was stunning but progress was steady and due to the worsening weather the team overnighted, rather cosily, in a Rock Shelter/Cave Refuge at 2400m altitude. Just after midday the following day they arrived on the Kul-e-Parau Plateau where a camp was set up just 50m from the entrance of Ghar Parau. Conditions on the Plateau had deteriorated further with thick fog, rain and temperatures descending to nearly zero. To make matters worst the whole of the plateau had turned into a sea of mud which made walking around treacherous not to mention downright difficult as within a few steps of a tent footwear became laden with several kilos of sticky mud. A far cry from the hot and arid conditions experienced by the British Expeditions in the summers of 1971 and 1972.

Some of the team rested whilst others returned to the Rock Shelter/Cave Refuge to collect more equipment and supplies. That evening Simon Brooks and Elena Shevchenko set off into the cave to begin rigging the entrance pitches. Progress was slow with pitches having to be re-bolted due to the excessive amounts of water entering the cave rendering the traditional pitch hangs unsuitable. Eventually lack of rope and time saw Simon and Elena returning to the entrance to find that the fog had thickened and it had started to snow.

The following day (1st November 2006) a Russian team and Simon descended to the Rock Shelter/Cave Refuge to collect yet more equipment and supplies and haul it up to the plateau. Meanwhile another Russian Team pushed on into the cave; again experiencing problems due to the need to re-bolt the pitch heads to avoid the water. Later that day Simon, Shary and Yousef Sornynia went into Ghar Parau to take photographs and follow the rigging party further into the cave. The next day Simon and Shary descended from the Plateau camp as they needed to be back in Hamadan to meet a team from the Hamadan Mountaineers in order to explore a promising new cave that had found in the Hamadan Area. The descent itself provided plenty of interest especially when the mist reduced visibility to less than 10m and the sound of wolves howling nearby added an extra dimension to the descent.

Meanwhile the Russians pushed onwards deeper into Ghar Parau as the weather worsened, the temperature dropped to minus five and it began snowing heavily. At a depth of around –400m the need to re-bolt/re-rig virtually every pitch and poor weather conditions indicated to the Russians that they were quickly running out of time making reaching the bottom of the cave, diving the sump and climbing avens unlikely. Somewhat disappointed and frustrated by the poor weather they decided to cut their losses and de-rig Ghar Parau, turning their attention to the many other shafts/entrances on the plateau. In the vicinity of Ghar Parau over 30 entrance shafts were located, some of which were explored with one reaching a depth of –100m before becoming blocked with rocks.

Ghar Sarab and Ghar Alisadr, Hamadan.

Simon and Shary arrived back in Hamadan on 3rd November 2006 to meet Andrei and Paval who had returned from a visit to Namagdan Salt Caves Keshim Island, only to find that the expected trip to a new cave (Dodza Ghar/Smoking Cave) had been called off. As an alternative a visit to Ghar Alisadr had been arranged to assist the Hamadan TV Company in making a documentary about the cave and about Yousef Nejaei who originally found and explored the cave in the 1960’s. This made for an interesting day with even Ghar Alisadr’s spacious chambers feeling somewhat crowded with the addition of directors, film crew, sound recordist, lighting engineer’s etc. The next day saw Simon, Shary, Andrei, Paval and Yousef along with Yousef’s Brother and Yousef’s son Ali accompany the Hamadan TV Crew to Ghar Sarab where yet more filming was done. Ghar Sarab looked somewhat different than it had in 2001 as a recently constructed irrigation scheme built to take water from the cave had succeeded in lowering the watertable in Sarab by over two metres. As a result the cave looked very different from that recorded on cave survey made by the Napier College Expedition in 1973.

On 5th November 2006 Simon returned to Tehran and the following day flew back to the UK. Shary, Yousef, Andrei and Paval made another trip into Ghar Sarab with the Hamadan TV Crew where yet more filming was done. Shary then returned to Tehran and the rest of the Russian Team who by now had descended from Kul-e-Parau arrived in Hamadan. Camping at the cave entrance the Russians spent two days exploring Ghar Sarah concluding that there was a significant amount of new passage to be surveyed. With just time enough to visit Ghar Alisadr they reached the end of the expedition whereupon they made the long three-day drive back to Moscow.

Conclusion

Once again Iran proved fascinating and the Iranian people hospitable and friendly. The link up with the Russian team was excellent and despite the original objectives of extending Ghar Parau and surveying Ghar Sarab not being fulfilled the trip proved great fun and in many other ways successful. More was learnt about the Ghar Parau Area and the potential for further discoveries is good, particularly as the snow plugs in the other shafts on the Kul-e-Parau Plateau seem to have reduced in recent years. Likewise Ghar Sarab has certainly more to offer. Most importantly some longstanding Iranian caving contacts were strengthened and many new contacts made.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Shary for acting as guide and interpreter and to her relations and friends in Iran for providing the British member of the team with a wonderful insight to Iran and Iranian life. Yousef Sornynia and his father for help in Kermanshah and the former for the help and advice on the Kul-e-Parau Plateau and in Ghar Parau itself. Yousef and Ali Nejaei and the Hamadan Mountaineers for their friendship, help and hospitality in Hamadan. Mr Rezeiyan (Manager of Alisadr Cave 2006) and staff and the Alisadr Tour and Travel Agency for their help, hospitality and assistance and finally Yury, Alex and the rest of the Russian Team for their friendship and a truly amazing visit to Ghar Parau.

Members of expedition “Parau 2006”

Yuri Evdokimov – Moscow, Sergei Petrov – Moscow, Anna Rogal – Moscow, Artem Oganov - Moscow, Alexei Gunko - Nabereznie Chelni, Evgeny Jakovlev – Nabereznie Chelni, Pavel Demidov – Moscow, Dmitry Parshin – Moscow, Maria Ovsjannikova – Moscow, Ilja Akhmetshin – Moscow,

Valeri Utkin – Krasnoyarsk, Julia Gushina – Krasnoyarsk, Jekaterina Jmyrova – Moscow, Andrei Ostapenko – Krasnodar, Pavel Sivinskih – Kungur, Kirill Markovskoi – Charkov, Ukraine, Elena Shevchenko – Charkov, Ukraine, Alexei Serov – Moscow, Sergei Gusev – Moscow, Sharareh Ghazy – Germany, Simon Brooks – UK, Ali Nejaei – Iran, Yousef Nejaei – Iran, Yousef Sornynia – Iran.


Selected Bibliography

ANON. 1973. Hydrographical Expedition – Iran 1973 (Final Report) Napier College of Commerce and Technology – Edinburgh, UK, 58pp + A2 Survey of Ghar Sarab.

BROOKS Simon. ‘Take some more Tea’ Descent, UK (165) April 2002, pp30-1. (Exploration and surveying of Ghar Alisadr 2000 and 2001).

JUDSON David. 1973. Ghar Parau, Cassell, London, UK, viii+216pp


Simon Brooks – July 2007.