from CAVERS-DIGEST Digest 5197
Topic No. 3
Date: 11 Aug 95 13:38:17 EDT
From: Alessandro Landi <email@example.com>
Subject: Abyss of Mount Novegno
THE DISCOVERY AND THE EXPLORATION OF THE
"ABYSS OF MOUNT NOVEGNO"
Texts are written by Leonardo Busellato and Cesare Raumer.
I have to thank all my friends of the grotto club who helped me,
expecially Silvia Rossato and Anna Bertoldi for the translation.
A BRIEF HISTORY
November 1992, the telephone rings. A quiet, placid voice says:
"It's Franco Reghellin from Tretto and I would like to inform you
that I think I've found a new cave on Mount Novegno...".
A moment of silence follows these words. A whirl of fast
reflections: who is this man? has he really found a cave on
Novegno? What kind of cave will it be? Horizontal or vertical?
Does he have an idea of what cave means? Will this cave turn out
to be a World War I gallery?
I ask some questions, to get a clearer picture. Franco answers
that there is a quite narrow and sloping passage that opens out
into a deep pit. He does not want to give details about the
location. The impulse of an explorer and scarcely hidden mistrust
in giving information about 'his' cave are evident.
I suggest that he should attend the annual caving course organised
by the Gruppo Grotte Schio CAI, that is to take place next year in
spring. This would allow him to take an active part in the
Franco attends the caving course with great success, and some days
after receiving his attendance certificate, he again proposes the
exploration of the cave to the group. At the beginning of July
1993 he leads a small team of cavers to get to know 'his' cave.
Faced with the first pit numerous comments are made, veiled with
scepticism: the location is on a Triassic dolomite, an area in
which karst phenomena can occur only under particular conditions.
We are on a woody mountainside, sloping for about 500 metres down
to the last houses of Bosco di Tretto; there is no sign of a
karstic plateau. It is indeed true that on the top of Mount
Novegno there is what is called "la Busa", an enormous dolina; but
it is quite far away, and the inclination of the layers does not
look favourable. There is also a dolina caused by collapse nearby,
but that does not make sense either. Nevertheless the cave is
there and is worth visiting.
Alessandro teaches the rigging techniques to Franco while the
others talk in the open about nature, flowers, caving experiences
and work, until the two riggers give the go-ahead signal for the
One after the other the 5 cavers let themselves down into the void
below them; the pit starts off as a cylindrical tube, a couple of
metres in diameter, roofed by a round dome.
After some metres, the pit extends in every direction, especially
at the two ends of a fracture that has visibly influenced the
formation of the pit's shape.
Then we descend into a wide chamber. Rock festoons break the
verticality of the walls, and a copious stream of water runs out
of a side niche, falling onto the explorer. At the back, a big,
black crack seems to vanish into the void.
The bottom is reached 50 metres below. Franco is over the moon
with joy, he hears his companions' astonished remarks and rejoices
at realising that their theories on dolomite, layers and all the
rest have been seriously impaired. But there is more, the
streamlet of water falls into a large pool that serves as a base
for a second, 7 metre deep, pit.
We descend this pit too, and immediately notice an interesting and
practicable side meander, carved in the live rock, into which the
small effluent of the pool flows.
On the banks of what can be defined as a small lake we find the
skeleton of a small carnivorous mammal. How did it work its way
The walls at the base of this second pit are somewhat hollowed by
the splashing action of the waterfall that, during the thaw should
reach a considerable flow.
On entering the meander the fever of exploration seizes every
member of the expedition: Franco first, followed by Beppe,
Alessandro, Fabiola who, thanks to her slender build succeeds in
walking on the bottom and Leonardo, who manages to convince the
mountain to let him through by strokes of a hammer.
After a while, someone shouts: Abyss!!! Bring stones!i.
An impressive abyss lies at the feet of the explorers. The stones
fall whistling down, and the distant echo returns after five
seconds. A quick calculation reveals a pit over 100 metres deep.
After the congratulations with the discoverer of the cave, the
comments full of praise and the promises of wine bottles to toast
the pit, we decide to stop the exploration: there are 20 metres of
rope left, and it is not worth spoiling the expectations.
All theories have been completely demolished. And nobody can yet
imagine how muc.
A fighting-fit group of cavers, headed again by Franco, tackles
the cave the following Saturday. 170 metres of rope are brought
because 'one never knows'.
The starting-point rigging is made, and Franco descends into the
void with all the rope. The abyss is awesome. The pit is
magnificent; a fantastic succession of pale layers of about one
metre potency alternated with layers of greyish marl. The cross-
section of the pit is elliptical, as it has clearly developed
along a large fracture cut into the mountain.
Franco continues to descend into the void. The 100 metre long rope
is finished. He adds the 70-metre rope and starts descending
At -140 metres a small ledge can be seen: Franco decides to reach
it and thinks about what to do. Below the ledge, the pit
continues, black, vast, and still vertical. He throws the
'prophetic' stone that gives the response: the rope is not long
Beppe, Alessandro, Fabiola and Cesare reach Franco on the
'thrilling' ledge and from there more stones are thrown into the
black abyss. The estimations are quite contradictory, but
everybody is convinced that they are faced with an extraordinary
natural phenomenon. Somebody compares the pit with the Mexican
'Sotanos', others with the Venezuelan Tepuy quartzite shafts. On
the ledge there is also Fabiola Escalante, a young Peruvian woman
who had also attended the caving lessons that year. In her honour
the pit is unanimously named 'Machu Picchu', a wonder from the
depth of the millenniums.
Giorgio, who had remained on the top of the pit owing to lack of
room on the ledge, decides to get out, since he has the impression
that the flow of the streamlet which falls into the large pool at
the base of the second pit has increased.
The five cavers on the ledge decide that they will return the
following Saturday, and start to climb back up. Once they arrive
in the open air, they find an eerie atmosphere. In a black and
ghostly night, heavy rain is pouring down over the mountain, and a
blustery wind violently shakes the beeches and firs, stirring the
patches of dense fog. Lightnings repeatedly strike the peaks with
Stories of witchcraft and demons that are told on the nearby Buso
di Vaccaresse come to everybody's minds. Maybe the demons
themselves are letting loose their wrath on the men who dare to
violate their realm.
Giorgio has disappeared, and so have Alessandro and Fabiola's
rucksacks. Giorgio must have taken them and gone to the cars, as
the car-keys are in Alessandro's rucksack .
The explorers of the abyss climb the sheer mountain slope,
completely surrounded by the storm. After a half-hour march,
soaked to the skin with ice-cold water, they reach the cars.
Giorgio is not there. Franco, Beppe and Cesare decide to reach
Malga Novegno to see if Giorgio has taken shelter there.
Alessandro and Fabiola remain to keep guard on the place, running
up and down the road in the pouring rain, to keep warm. Giorgio is
not at Malga Novegno either, but there is another possibility:
Malga Campedello, which they reach in the jeep belonging to Malga
Novegno. At last the missing member is found, refreshed and
comforted by a chance group of the Good Samaritans. Unfortunately
Giorgio does not have the rucksacks. Therefore, they have to go
back immediately and collect Alessandro and Fabiola, who by this
time are at the end of their tether. The whole group goes down to
the valley leaving Alessandro's car, to be recovered later
together with the rucksacks that had rolled down the mountain due
to the blustery wind. All's well that ends well.
The following day a series of phone calls bring the caving group
in on the new discoveries, arousing general enthusiasm. The need
for materials to continue the exploration is pointed out.
Unfortunately, the rope store is all immobilised in the 'Abyss of
Malga Fossetta', in the 'Buso della Neve di Zingarella' and in
some other caves still under exploration. New purchases are
The best cavers of the CAI-Schio compete to be one of the party,
as a painful selection is necessary to reduce the waiting time of
the reascent. Franco Reghellin and Beppe Tomiello, inseparable
friends during and after the course, are in the list, together
with Alessandro Landi, Norberto Marzaro, Davide Marchioro, Franco
Gramola and Luca Tollardo, another member of the course.
The rope that had been left the time before is pulled out and the
pit is re-rigged with 200 metres of brand-new rope.
The cavers descend the abyss one belay after the other. A split in
the shaft is ignored, a large black hole is tested using a stone.
It will wait.
The new rope is not long enough. More rope is added, and finally
the base of the pit is reached. It is large, with enormous
boulders leaning against the wall that seem as though they want to
hinder the explorers' way. The boulders are climbed, and the 170
metres of rope which had been pulled out from the top of the Machu
Picchu are taken too.
A black hole, as scary as a dragon's throat, seems to swallow the
stones that are thrown into another pit of impressive dimensions.
Solid anchorages are made and once again the cavers descend into
the void. 100 metres, 150 metres, 170 metres ... the rope is
finished, the walls are far away and a palpable black darkness is
below us. The man, this tiny spider, can only swallow his trail
and go back up to meet his friends again. The abyss has got the
better of us once again, another worrisome discovery. And this is
the fourth outing. This time Mirco Calgaro joins the group of the
usual explorers. Once again we rig the second pit without
belaying, as the distance of the walls does not allow it. Stones
moved accidentally at the top of the pit graze the explorers like
snarling bullets. The bottom is touched, more than 200 metres
below. The descending draught that has accompanied the explorers
here scorns the choke at the bottom and disappears into up-to-now
Two pits over 200 metres deep, one after the other. The biggest
verticals in the region of Veneto have been shattered. The first
pit of the 'Spaluga della Preta', the 'Abisso 1o. dei Granari di
Zingarella', the 'Abisso dei tre ingressi di Campo Rossignolo',
the first and second pits of the 'Abisso di Lusiana',
the 'Abisso 3o. di Zingarella'... all yesterday's myths
will disappear into oblivion.
In three pits a 450 metres depth is overtaken. On the Novegno, in
dolomite, on the external slope of the mountain. It's incredible!
The first, true abyss in the town-boundaries of Schio.
Now the other holes will have to be reached and explored and the
split of the Machu Picchu will be descended. The fissures at the
bottom will be pushed and the survey will have to be completed.
And this is but the beginning, as the how and why such an abyss
has formed will have to be analysed and understood. And will it be
the only one ?
Franco has really made a fantastic discovery, and has deflated all
hypotheses and everything of which we all were sure.
HOW TO REACH THE ABYSS
The 'Abisso di Monte Novegno' is situated in the higher part of
the mountain that could be called Schio's, since Schio lies at its
foot. Schio is a town in Italy, in the Venetian region, in the
province of Vicenza, 25 km north of this town.
Note: Given the difficulty in finding the entrance, it is
advisable to contact someone who knows the way to be accompanied.
Mount Novegno is but one of the tops of the massif which contains
The top area therefore includes several peaks, the most important
and distinct being Mount Novegno (1548 a.s.l), Mount Rione (1691
a.s.l.), Mount Caliano (1622 a.s.l), Further north are Mount
Priafora' (1659 a.s.l.) and M. Giove (1595 a.s.l.).
The whole massif is made up of dolomite rocks (main dolomia), with
the exception of the peaks of the a.m. tops, where grey limestone
outcrops, having thicknesses varying from some dozens metres to a
maximum of 150 metres, are present.
The layers of emerged limestone are solid and slightly sloping
towards East; they are much stratified, reaching a one-metre
potency (Mount Caliano, Mount Priafora'). Superficial karst
phenomena are not generally much diffused, with the exception of
some areas with some well defined limestone outcrops and some
dolines. Very interesting and worth mentioning is the largest
dolina, called 'la Busa del Novegno', which generates a dell of 3-
400 metres diameter, in which there is a Malga and vast fields for
Deep karst phenomena were, before discovery of the abyss, almost
completely unknown. Not more than 5 or 6 cavities - modest caves
with pits not deeper than a dozen metres.- are registered.
As a consequence of the discovery of the abyss, the massif has
attracted the attention of the whole group, soon resulting in new
findings. At the moment, we are working on half a dozen new
cavities, some of which are very interesting.
Good results are therefore in sight: we hope that the future there
will have more surprises in store, though it will be difficult to
repeat the 1993 exploit.
DESCRIPTION OF THE CAVITY
The description of the cave cannot be but brief. The only
horizontal stretches are the small entrance passage, 3 metre long,
and a short, 6 metre long meander; that's all! Not a lot for an
abyss that almost reaches 500 meters depth. But this is its
The entrance is located, as already said, close to a steep
mountainside at 1470 metres a.s.l. The narrow entrance half-hidden
among the grass is 40 cm in diametre and leads to a narrow gently
sloping passage, whose walls seem to have been generated in the
conglomerate. Actually the rock has been crumbled by the cryologic
action in the course of severe winter seasons. The rock, in fact,
consolidates (turns solid) straightaway after only three metres.
At this point the conduit gives way to a sheer vertical pit 50
The pit, which at first is not very large, enlarges considerably
only seven metres below its mouth. The end of a small-sized
meander, run through by a thin rivulet, can be seen on the
After a 25 metre descent in the void which gets larger and larger
you realise that the union of two big fusoid shafts accounts for
the huge size of the pit (you realise that the pit has enlarged so
much because it is the result of the union of two big bells).
We go down the further 25 metres close to the wall under a thin
trickle of water.
One metre from the vertical of the pit, the entrance of another
small pit 7 metre deep departs.
The bottom of the latter small drop is almost completely taken up
by a pool of water fed by the rivulet built up at the bottom of
the P. 50.
It is interesting to note, two metres above the bottom of this
pit, of a one metre layer of very solid grey marl which affects
the whole circumference of the pit and which has been completely
broken (and dissolved?) during the genesis of this section of the
cave. Scanty traces of such marly rock protrude from the pool of
water. The remainder must have been washed away by the rivulet
which leaves the pool and threads its way at the bottom of a
narrow and high meander heading south.
This section of horizontal cave six metres long ends in the
darkness of a deep pit. It is the top of the big drop called
'Machu Picchu' 220 metres deep.
This large sheer vertical pit is of a remarkable size from the
very beginning with an 8 metre cross-section which is almost
perfectly circular. The section remains uniform and increases its
dimensions all the way to - 70 metres where there is a belay. At
this point you come into contact with a wall of the pit level with
an area affected by jagged rock. This peculiarity makes it
tiresome during reclimbing since ones legs end up in the gaps, up
to one metre deep, between one tooth and the other.
The cross-section increases its size further becoming roughly
triangular with sides of approx. 15 metres.
After a further 70 metre descent and having got over two more
belays we reach the only small ledge in this drop (2x1.5 metres).
Here we are at -140 from the top of the pit (pothole) and -200
from the entrance. At this point a thin rocky screen divides the
pit into two sections. The section heading north, after a 15
metres drop, comes to an end showing a flat rubble-choked bottom.
Back again on the ledge to continue the descent we walk along the
ridge of the rocky screen as far as the opposite wall making use
of a rope handrail.
The pit from now on presents smaller dimensions and is slightly
inclined with a roughly triangular section.
We reach the bottom after 80 metres vertical descent and after
getting over four intermediate belays.
It is clear that the whole vertical is laid on a huge diaclase
heading N-S. The bottom of the drop, slightly funnel-shaped, is
covered with rubble on one side and with clay on the other.
Bearing north, on the diaclase axis, after ascending five metre
wall (unamovable rope, left on the spot) we reach the entrance of
another huge drop, the Tempest, 203 metres deep.
Since the entrance is level with the anastomose of the two big
fusoid shafts, it is rather narrow, approx. 40 - 50 cm. in width.
Right after one metre and a half descent, the chamber reaches a
considerable size; at this point the section becomes elliptical
with axes of 10x5 metres. High up the huge fusoid shaft fades away
into the darkness for about 50 metres at least.
Fourteen metres from the starting point there is the first belay.
Here part of the pit section shifts back beneath the bottom of the
Machu Picchu, and you can actually see some boulders blocking the
base of the previous drop.
In this part of the cave the rock is still made up of dolomite;
however its consistency and fracturing make it very brittle so you
must beware of rockfall.
Three more belays, the last of which is much exposed, allow us to
get close to a narrow rocky edge, slightly jutting out, which we
call "ledge". We are exactly 50 metres from the starting point of
the Tempesta (Storm). From this spot to the bottom the pit is
still perfectly vertical for 153 more metres. To break up its
verticality, but above all to make ascending easier, we were able
to belay after 40 metres. We did not manage to belay the remaining
drop since the rope falls right in the middle of the fusoid shaft.
The main feature of the Tempest is that it is a fantastic,
perfectly sheer shaft, which keeps its elliptical section all the
way to the bottom. However this section becomes quite peculiar
half-way down, in fact, for a long fraction of 80 metres it takes
up a shape similar to the nib of an old ink pen. Actually the
major axis of the section splits into two parallel fractures,
approx. 3 metres far away from each other, giving rise to a
perfectly flat strip of wall. Towards the bottom such peculiarity
disappears and the section becomes elliptical again. The
dimensions of the base of the drop, seven metres by four are the
smallest of the whole pit.
Among the boulders heaped up on the bottom, a narrow opening has
been enlarged. It allowed us to go down the last three metres.
Here we are exactly at - 478 metres from the entrance and about 10
metres from its vertical.
The abyss has been completely rigged using standard twin expanding
sectors fixes. It would not be a bad idea to replace some
intermediate belays (or to remove a few) particularly in the first
50 metres of the Tempest. The regime of the cave is practically
absent but for the pool of water at the base of P. 7 and a few
fractions where the trickle can become considerable especially
during the thaw.
We advise cavers who may want to explore the abyss that there
should not be more than 4-5 of them venturing in it at the same
time. This for two reasons: first, to reduce the obvious waiting
time at the bottom of the two drops during ascending; secondly, to
limit the risk of rockfall in the Tempest (hence the name.....)
since on its bottom there are no safe shelters.
Some holes looking on to the Machu Picchu were reached but the
upshot turned out to be unfavourable: the huge pit has taken up
By the way, is it a single vertical or not? This is the situation:
The Machu Picchu and the Tempest are two distinct fusoid shafts,
whose axes are not on the same vertical even if they are surely
laid on a single huge diaclase which generated them. Adding up the
two verticals the outcome is a drop of 418 metres (sure and
definate measurement). Whether it is a single drop or not is
subjective and of little importance.
The only sure thing is that reaching the bottom of the abyss of
Mount Novegno is above all a memorable experience.
For any question contact
Gruppo Grotte Schio - CAI
Via Rossi, 8
36015 Schio (Vi) - Italy
Telephone & Fax : 0445-525755
E-Mail : Compuserve 100525,555; Internet firstname.lastname@example.org