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Translated Jeff Matthews

This story starts in the last century, October 1990, to be precise. We had been asked to inspect and report on the ancient Roman cistern beneath the square, Piazza Verde, in the town of Caiazzo. When we were finished we were, you might say, “rewarded”--the locals led us to a large natural grotto up at the summit of Monte Alifano, one of the peaks around Caiazzo.

You may read the account of this first part of our story here: The Roman Cistern at Piazza Verdi in Caiazzo (Caserta).

 

Much more recently (April 2016) our friends from Caiazzo contacted us once again, and we had another look at the area around the entrance to that grotto in order to pinpoint precise locations by GPS.

That account is described in the article In Search of the Lost Grotto of Caiazzo.

 

Today I shall continue the account by telling you what happened just a few days ago (Saturday, May28, 2016) when we had another go at the entrance chamber in an attempt to get past the bottleneck and into the heart of the mountain.

The last time out (in April 2016) I set about getting a small team together for this adventure. It wasn't hard. All cavers dream of a “virgin” grotto. The first one was Rosario Varriale, an expert speleologist whom I have known for many years but have never been caving with. Then came Anna Bias, a young rock climbing friend and member of the CAI [Italian Alpine Club] and who had often spoken of her caving ambitions. They were both enthusiastic about the idea and three seemed about the right number given the confined spaces of the Monte Alfano grotto. Any more than that, a support team, for example, would have meant that some would have had to remain outside.

With things in order we gathered at the appointed hour at the square in Caiazzo and set off on the narrow country road that leads to Monte Alifano. We left our vehicles at the same spot we had used on the previous occasions and started on foot up a steep and broken path to the meadow that bounded the woods. We stayed on the trail, a bit certain at first as to the proper point to enter into the thick vegetation. It wasn't all that easy to reach the entrance to the grotto because, unlike our earlier trials, the way was now overgrown with low brambles and bush. It took about an hour to cover the last kilometer separating us from our goal, but, driven by our enthusiasm, we did it.

So after that long preamble, I can now tell you how it went and describe some of the underground terrain.


Participating cavers
from left: NeandertalMan, Rosario Varriale e Anna Bias
(click on image to enlarge)

As I said, there were three of us. We went went in single file, made necessary by the narrow confines of the passage. Once you're in, there is a small vertical gorge among the rocks with a series of three drops in succession that lead to a deep fracture, somewhat like a long jagged open box in front of you, sloping downwards away from you, about 1.5 meters wide, 15 m. deep and 15-20 meters from the near side to the far end.

The lower parts of the walls display modest accretions of calcium carbonate, thus showing some passage of water probably during the winter. The floor of the same area is covered with a rather thick layer of sand. It is here that you find a hole about 20 centimeter (8 inches) in diameter that in all probability lets the little bit of water that accumulates flow out. The echoes from a few rolling stones let us know that there is another chamber beneath us.

As we had planned we took turns trying to dig and widen the bottle-neck so we could get past (I have to say that Anna was the most obstinate digger!). After a couple of hours we had to quit since we were pretty much getting nowhere.

Before leaving, we:

we chiseled handholds into the walls to help reach the bottom;

shoveled some sand so as to lower the floor by about half a meter and make the space slightly larger;

removed the rock that was stuck in the opening of the chamber, thus doubling the size of the opening.

We are of the opinion that in order to approach this problem more efficiently, you need to organize a larger working group. Given the difficulties (dense vegetation) of even getting to the site and the entrance, you'd need stations set up in tents for at least a few days with alternating three-person teams taking care not to carry out extracted rock to the surface but to set it aside in the first part of the grotto, itself. This type of work is beyond our means and abilities and it would be opportune to involve expert speleologists in the endeavor.

The day ended with our return to sunlight where we found friends waiting for us. Our meager results did not dampen our enthusiasm; we were pleased with what we had accomplished. Anna gained the respect of all concerned; Rosario took great pleasure in old friendships; and I, myself, after almost giving up hope, got to return to where I had started the adventure a quarter of a century earlier.

So, what can you say? Importantly, after all these years it seems that a new group of cavers has come of age, eager to enjoy themselves, full of passion and devoid of foolishness, and ready to continue the activity that all of us love so much.

Long live caving and the zest for life!

Below you will find a link to the photos we took and our GPS indications for reaching the Monte Aifano grotto.

p.s. ATTENTION - The woods that have to pass through on the way to the entrance are particulary dense and packed with tickets of brambles. It makes forward progress very difficult. The GPS markings we have indicated may not be complete; thus you should take the greatest care not to lose sight of the trail itself, at best not particularly visible.

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