Translated Jeff Matthews
Yesterday (Saturday, 2 April) after 25 years we returned to the Monti Trebulani and managed to find the entrance to the karst grotto that opens near the peak of Monte Alifano and which we explored in long ago 1990.
Here is the background and the story that once again led us to seek out this particular place.
The Backgroumd (1990)
Back in 1990, thanks to directions from young people from the local Historical Association of Caiazzo and their caving group (our Napoli Underground was still a ways in the future; we were still only a small group of spelunkers who just enjoyed caving around with one another!)—we inspected and charted the Roman cistern of Caiazzo. (see this article: The Roman cistern at Piazza Verdi in Caiazzo (Caserta)).
When we had finished, and given our enthusiasm for the underworld, we were made aware of one of the closely guarded secrets that the young folks from Caiazzo kept to themselves: the karst cave at the top of Monte Alofano, at 264 meters a.s.l. just south-east of Caiazzo.
The entrance is a vertical narrow passage in the midst of limestone rock. After the initial stepped entrance of 4 or 5 meters (leading counter-clockwise), there is a narrow and long fissure about 20 meters deep. At the base of this, there is a impassible bottleneck with a strong air current coming out. That point blocked our way to the underlying spaces hidden below, the dimensions of which could only be guessed at by tossing in rocks and counting the seconds that passed before getting an echo. Those spaces were clearly larger than what we had encountered before
We finished that day with a few fruitless attempts to pass the blocked section and with a few bumps on the head because we were not wearing helmets (!). We promised to return as soon as possible, to be better organized and to have a real go at passing that point, maybe even to enlarge the passage a bit.
That didn't happen! The years passed and we never went back to that place, even though the more aggressive group of Napoli Underground had by then come into being, and even though our memories nagged at us that we had put off the adventure.
The present (2016)
About a month ago I got an email from Enrico Bruno (one of the kids who had let me in on the secret of their grotto), who couldn't quite believe he had found one of the original protagonists of that old old adventure and rambled on about it at length. You can imagine my excitement at reading those lines. My past...and what a past! It broke over me and I remembered that I had promised to return. The Trebulani mountains were still calling to me!
So, after a series of contacts to organize and set everything up, I went back to Caiazzo to meet up with Enrico Bruno, a friend from once upon a time, and some others (some of whom were too young to remember our tales of way back when), namely Vito De Matteo, Gaetano La Marca and Carmine Piccirillo (truly knowledgeable about Monte Alifano and the only one who could lead us to where we had to go, the entrance to the grotto).
We had planned yesterday as sort of a preparation—our goal being just to find the entrance again and look things over, see what equipment we would need, and make a short descent just to find the approaches to our goal, that is, a way into the deeper sections. I won't beat around the bush here; I'll simply say that we found the entrance, not an easy task given the thick vegetation that had overgrown it, dense thickets of thorns that were doing their best to preserve the secret of Alifano. But we persisted; we just had to find it!
This time, as well, nothing had changed. The bare rock shooting right out of the earth was free of vegetation and then the dark shaft leading into the heart of the mountain—it was all an irresistible temptation. I went first and then Carmine (who actually got down to a point directly over the deep vertical opening); we just needed a whiff of the adventure to come. We verified that it would indeed be feasible; we took GPS coordinates for the route so that when we returned we wouldn't get lost in the brush on the way up, and we retraced our footsteps back to our cars parked further down the valley on the edge of the large meadow that bordered the woods.
Before leaving the thick vegetation Carmine wanted to show off two more precious jewels hidden at Monte Alfano: one was a stretch of the giant “Cyclopean” wall, remnant of an ancient Oscan-Samnite fortification; the other was an enormous rocky spur jutting out in the brush near the summit—the rock was inscribed with mysterious lettering.
The Next Step
Now, everything is ready. There is nothing left to do but organize the real thing, the trip that will take us into the descent where we will find “The Mystery of Monte Alfano – in the heart of the mountain.”
My most sincere thanks to our friends in Caiazzo for this new opportunity they have given me.
These are some photos of our most recent adventure.
Carmine exiting the grotto
The Trebulani mountains in the background
The large meadow along the woods
The rock with inscriptions
The Cyclopean walls of the Oscan-Samnite city
The few photos we took in 1990 in the mountains of Caiazzo.
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