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Last Updated 01/14/05


The History of Exploration in the Arabica Massif of the Western Caucasuses

By Chris Nicola


Vitaliy Prokhorenko has been caving since 1984 and participated in Western Caucasus caves exploration from 1986 to 1989 years. Although he did not participate in the 1999-2000 years' expeditions he, in collaboration with some of his fellow cavers in Kiev, has put together a fairly good account of the history of exploration in that area of the Western Caucasus which is the home to Voronja (Krubera) Cave---the World's Deepest Cave as of January 6. 2001.


Voron'ya (Krubera) cave is situated in the Orte-Balagan (is a name of small village of herders) valley of the Arabica Massif in the Western Caucasus Mountains. This particular area of the Former Soviet Union is called Abkhasia, and is the region of Georgia which claimed its independance following the collapse of Communisim in 1991. Subsequently there was a war from 91-97, which, as to be explained further below, put a stop to the area's exploration for nearly seven years. Although explorations have resumed in the area since 97, it is still not an area considered safe for Westerners to travel to, or through, as a result of lawlessness and the potential of military conflict between local rebel forces and government troops. In addition, the kidnapping of foreigners is still a real threat.



Over the course of the last two decades the following Kiev based cavers all lead expeditions to caves in this area: Valeriy Rogoznikov, Alexandr Klimchouk, Alexandr Reznikov, Alexandr Kuz'menko, Nikolay Solov'yov, Sergey Musiyachenko, Vladimir Didenko, Nataliya Yablokova, Igor Stephanyshyn. In leading these expeditions these cavers represented those clubs which each of them had helped to create:

Valeriy Rogoznikov - "Geonavt" caving club ,

Alexandr Klimchouk - "Mountain Club", "IGN", "KSK" (Kiev speleo Club),

Alexandr Reznikov - "IGN" " (Institute of geophysics),

Vladimir Didenko - "Poshuk" caving club,

Tamara Krapivnikova, Nikolay Solovyov - "Sparta" caving team,

Sergey Musiyachenko, Igor Stephanyshyn - "Karst" caving club

Another group involved in the expolration of this area was a cinema-photograph group consisting of Sergey Musiyachenko and his wife Tamara Radchenko, Igor Stephanyshyn, Vitaliy and Olyna Prokhorenko, Alexey Sapov, Vladimir Ivashchuk and his wife Olga Koksharova, Leonid Yarovoy, Alexandr Glugovskiy.

In general, the leadership of the various expeditions can be catergorized as follows:

Kuybyshevskaya and Voronya Caves - Lead by Rogoznikov, Klimchouk, and/or Kuzmenko - "KSK" caving club.

Genrokhova Bezdna Cave - Reznikov, Solovyov, Krapivnikova, Musiyachenko, and/or Didenko- "Karst" caving club

Berchilskaya Cave - Rogoznikov, Klimchouk and Rogoznikov, Klimchouk and Kuzmenko, Krapivnikova and Yablokova, Klimchouk & Stephanyshyn, etc.

The first surveying of Voron'ya cave took place in connection with the exploration of another cave, Kuybyshevskaya, which was named after the city of the same name. In close proximity to these two caves are

Genrikhova Bezdna, Detskaya, and Berchilskaya. The distance from Kuybyshevskaya to Genrikhova Bezdna and Voron'ya is approximately 150 to 200 meters, respectively. Less than 1000 meters from these caves is Berchilskaya cave.

Voron'ya cave entrance is higher than Kuybyshevskaya and Genrokhova Bezdna caves by 30 and 100 meters, respectively. Berchilskaya cave entrance is higher than Kuybyshevskaya cave by at least 100 meters. Therefore the potential amplitude of the system (assuming a connection between the present system with Berchilskaya cave) exceeds 1800 meters.

The name Voron'ja, which means crow's cave (voron is crow), was chosen due to the large number of crows near the cave's entrance. The cave is also known as Krubera, from Kruber the surname of a Russian-Soviet geologist, well known for his extensive studies of caves

Berchilskaya Cave (C-160) has two entrances. The higher one is situated on the Berchil ridge and the second - on the ridge's slope. The name Berchilskaya is indicative of the orientation of these two entrances to one another.

As for the geology of these caves; they are formed in very hard limestone with high concentration of silicon. It is undoubtly this high concentration of silicon which has lead some to continue thier use of 4mm steel cable , rather than rope (known as "Single Cable Technique" (SCT), and orginally developed by Rogoznikov), in there exploration of this region.

The Ukrainian Speleological Association's current president is Yuriy Kas'yan, who lives in Pltava, visits Kiev occaisionally, and has been president since 1999.

Chronology of Expeditions

1968 - An international expedition (36 cavers from Krasnoyarsk-Novosibirsk-Tomsk and 8 cavers from

Poland) under the leadership of I.P.Efremov (Krasnoyarsk) took place in July-August 1968. Three caves:

C-115 (Sibirskaya, later renamed to Voronja), C-120 (Genrikhova Bezdna aka Genrikh's Abyss) and C-160 (Berchilkaya) were discovered by this expedition. C-120 and C-160 were deep entrance pits of -120 and -160 meters, respectively. Since C-160 had two entrances with the higher one situated on the Berchil ridge while the second was on the ridge's slope, the cave eventually came to be known as Berchilskaya. This name is indicative of the orientation of these two entrances to one another

1979 - Under the leadership of Dichinskiy a new shaft (150 m) was discovered by a young group from Kuybyshev (Samara) city, situated on Russia's Volga, and was named as Kuybyshevskaya cave.

1980 - The depth of Kuybyshevskaya was deepened cave from 150 to 195 meters in August 1980 by a Kiev group under the leadership of Rogoznikov. This marked the first visit of Kiev cavers to the Orte-Balagan valley region.

1981 - There was conflict between expedition teams from Kuybyshev and Kiev. The Kuybyshem team leader rejected a proposition on collaboration with the Kiev team, and subsequently occupied Kuybyshevskaya entrance for the whole expedition time. But they was not able to do anything. However, when these same cavers were refused entry to a Big Pit (270 m) as the result of a storm, they left without any further accomplishment. Subsequently, the Kiev cavers overcame this pit and reached a depth of 485 m.

1981-84: The first explorations of Genrikhova Bezdnawas were done by a Kiev group of young cavers (the Sparta group) under the leadership of Tamara Krapivnikova. The name Genrikhova Bezdnawas was mostly probably derived by the group's renaming of the cave from its original name of "C-120".

1981...1985 - Exploration of the closely situated caves of Kuybyshevskaya, Genrikhova Besdna, Voron'ya. As a result each was penetrated to further depths: Kuybyshevskaya (-980 m), Genrikhova Bezdna (-360m), Voron'ya (-360m ???). Valery Rogoznikov and Alexander Klimchouk were the leaders of these expeditions.

1982 - Kuybyshevskaya cave reached a depth of -710 m. A continuation was found in Genrikhova Bezdna to a depth of 300 m. Voronja was a very tight cave and there was a lot of digging which took place between 1982 and 1986. It was only last year that the final phase of the cave's exploration took place. Therefore, one can say that our previous generation of cavers did a good job preparing the cave for the recent expediton which established the new world deep cave record.

1983 Sibirskaya cave was renamed to Voron'ya (Krubera).

1983 - A depth of - 740 m was reached in Kuybyshevskaya cave.

1984-1986 were devoted to overcoming of Ugryum-zaval (gloome-drift) , which was filled by stones in a 90 meters pit. The final 1110 m depth was reached in 1986.

1986 - Kuybyshevskaya cave reached -1110 meters depth and ended in huge halls. A new branch was discovered in Genrikhova Bezdna (this name is connected with the herder name of " Genrikh") on the -160 m level by Michael Zats from Kiev (Ukraine) and Igor Teleshman from Kishineu (Moldova). A team lead by Rogoznikov ended the cave's exploration at the -180 meters level. The combination of system Kuybyshevskaya and Voron'ya caves were named the "Arabikskaya System" by Alaxander Klimchouk in November, 1986. It was been assumed, based upon the local topography, that these caves were connected, however no connection has ever been found to date. Igor Stephanyshyn and Vitaliy Prokhorenko lead an expedition into Genrikhova Bezdna Cave. A depth of -340 meters was reached in Voron'ya cave.

1987: A new branch of Genrikhova Bezdna cave was discovered, and then explored to a greater depth by Kiev cavers Sergey Musiyachenko (leader), his wife Tamara Radchenko, Igor Stephanyshyn, Vladimir Ivashchuk, Nikolay Solovjov, and Vitaliy Prokhorenko. This expedition was followed by some Kishinev cavers during the course of a 2 month long expedition. A new cave (Detskaya, -40 m) was discovered not far from entrance to Genrikhova Bezdna cave.

1988: A new branch of Genrikhova Bezdna cave was reached to a depth of -800 meters. In addition, a connection was found between Detskaya and Genrokhova Bezdna caves (-180m mark).

1988 - Genrikhova Bezdna Cave was explored by Sergey Musiyachenko and his wife Tamara Radchenko, Igor Stephanyshyn, Alexey Sapov, Vladimir Ivashchuk and his wife Olga Koksharova, Leonid Yarovoy, Alexandr Glugovskiy, Valeriy Chekhovich, Sergey Nezhura, Vitaliy Prokhorenko and his wife Olga Dykovska

1989 - A connection was found between Kuybyshevskaya and Genrokhova Bezdna caves by a team consisting of f Igor Stephanyshyn (leader), Alexey Sapov, Leonid Yarovoy, Alexandr Glugovskiy, Valeriy Chekhovich, Sergey Nezhura, and Vitaliy Prokhorenko. . The system was named Ukrainskaya ("Ukrainian system").

1990 - Berchilskaya (C-160) cave was extended in excess of a depth of -500 m by a team of cavers from Kishineu, Moldova.

1991...1997 - Although the civil war in Abkhasia stopped most of the exploration of this region, Sergei Kuz'menko's team (Kiev, Ukraine) did manage to explore the bottom hall of Kuybyshevskaya cave, without any significant finds taking place.

1999 - There was a renewal of surveying in the Orte-Balagan valley. New passages were discovered in Voron'ya cave and two branches were discovered (-720m and -470m) by a team (leader Yuriy Kas'yan) which included cavers from various parts of the Ukraine (Poltava, Khar'kov, Uzhorod, Dnepropetrovsk ) . In August, another team found continuous passage in the cave. It is interesting to note that this continuing passage was devoid of any narrow passages and consisted of series of the pits. No breakdown or other difficulties have been encountered ever since this continuing passage was found.

2000 - In the summer the exploration of new branch (-720m) of Voron'ya cave was continued, and was terminated at a depth of -1410m, following the discovery of a stream at the - 1300 m level. This may have been an expedition from Spain.

2001 Winter 2000/2001 years: New world record in Voron'ya cave -1705 meters (???). The team arrive to Kiev on this Thursday, January 18, 2001. I think we get hottest news after that.

Now the first problem takes place - stone drift on the -1710 m bottom pit.

2001 On January 6, 2001 the following expedition members established a new world depth record in Voronja Cave: Yury Kasjan (leader), Nikolay Solovjev,Yulija Timoshevskaja (the wife of Yuriy Kas'yan), Oleg Klimchouk, Denis Provalov (Moscow), Konstantin Moukhin (Moscow), Sergej Zubkov, Vitalij Galas (Uzgorod),Anatolij Povjakalo (Uzgorod), Dmitrij Skljarenko (Moscow), Ilja Zharkov (California,USA ). The cave ended in a stone drift at the bottom of a pit at a depth of - 1710 m.

The current situation is on the Arabica Massif is the following:

Voron'ya cave: one entrance with three branches: (1) -1710m , (2) -470m, ends in a pit with a stone jam, and (3) -360m, the old branch ends in tight passage.

Arabikskaya (Ukrainskaya) system: Kuybyshevskaya cave (-1110m), Genrikhova Bezdna, Detskaya and Berchilskaya cave ( -520m ?). Kuybyshevskaya ends in huge halls with sand/stone drift.

The old branch of Genrikhova Bezdna Cave (-360 meters level) ends in a narrow hole with a water stream, and the new branch (-970 m level) leads to the connection with Kuybyshevskaya Cave at

- 111o m.

Berchilskaya Cave ends in a stone jam at -500 to -520 meters in depth


Because of the distances involved, as well my limited knowledge of the Russian and Ukrainian language, the compilation and translation of the above information proved to be a rather difficult task at first. Fortunately, I was eventually able to obtain assistance from a number of fellow speleologists/cavers, located in both the United States and Ukraine. This chronology of could not have been achieved if it was not for the assistance of the following persons, all of which I extend my sincere gratitude and thanks: Vitaliy Prokhorenko, Valeriy Rogoznikov and Anatoliy Kantor.

NOTE: (1) All maps included in this article were downloaded from the Internet, and appear without any alterations and/or modifications. (2) Chris Nicola, UAYCEF co-founder and Ukrainian Speleological Assc. member, was contacted for technical, background and contact information in preparation for the release of the below mentioned "Outside" magazine and "Discovery" publications.

For additional information see: (1) the September 2001 edition of the NSS News in which an article appears by Yuriy Kasjan and Alexander Klimchouk, a former student of UAYCEF co-founder Valeriy Rogoznikov, (2) the January 2002 edition of "Outside" Magazine outside/adventure/200201/200201/dispatches_caving_1 (3) a"DiscoveryNews" article by Michael Ray Taylor, long time NNJG member, at: January2001/PrinterFriendly/0118DeepCave.htm