The first cave exploration attempt by future members of the “Montana” Caving Club from Baia Mare (Maramureş, NW Romania) came to pass on 8 september 1964, when a group of high school students from Baia Mare (Dumitru Iştvan, Tiberiu Kornreich, Stelian Pop), visited Peştera din Cariera Cuciulat (The cave from the Cuciulat Quarry), in Sălaj county. The same group visited Lii Cave on 07.09.1964, until what is now the first sump. Between 1965 and 1966, visits and exploration trips were undertaken at Ciungi Cave (then 234 m long), Unghiuri (Angles) Cave (100 m), Unghiuri upstream cave, Avenul din Dumbravă (Pothole from the Grove), Boiuţ Cave and Gaura Boiului de sub Piatră (The hole in Boiu under the Rock). The group also made surveys, drawing plans and sketches of the caves visited.
Another trip is known from 1972, in the Mesteacăn – Boiu Mare area (Maramureş county). The team, consisting by then of Dumitru Iştvan, Relu Nemeş and Cornel Pârvulescu, explored several pits and caves. Only one of the three, Dumitru Iştvan, continued with a fruitful speleological activity extended over almost four decades.
The era of systematic cave exploration had as a starting point the date of 21.11.1976, when a group from the “Montana” Touring Club in Baia Mare (founded in 1974) opted for an ordinary sunday trip, but the first (for the touring club) in a karst area. The four participants (Ştefan Czibulak – club president, Dumitru Iştvan – leader of the Orienteering section, Alexandru Zachan and Andrei Potra) took a trip to the Ciungi Cave. It was also the first caving trip of the touring club, on which occasion a new cave, Peştera Picăturilor (Cave of the Drips), was discovered.
While waiting for the return bus at the Mesteacăn Inn, the „meeting“, seasoned with curly pie and beer, decided: karst is an attractive and thrilling subject and deserves to become a research interest for the Montana Touring Club. This was in fact the founding moment of the Montana Caving section. After the trip at Ciungi Cave, caving activity started to take shape and then a group formed, ready to follow this new direction: cave discovery, exploration and research. Later in the same year, the first metres are explored in a new cave, Peştera Picăturilor, then Peştera Mică de pe Poiană (Little cave on the Meadow) and Avenul Casa Popii (Priest’s House Pothole) were discovered and explored. Shortly after, the restrictions in Peştera Picăturilor were passed and the cave was surveyed on 74 m, this being the first cave discovered (through digging) by Montana. Peştera din Valea Rea de la Vălenii Şomcutei (The cave in the Bad Valley from Vălenii Şomcutei), Peştera Furcituri (Haystacks Cave), Peştera Uliţa Pietrii (Stone Alley Cave), Avenul din Colţul Prisăcii (Pothole from the corner of the Apiary) were then explored and mapped.
On december 23 1978, the first important lead in a known cave is recorded: the terminus of the Ciungi Cave was overcome by digging a 2,5 m tunnel, leading to the discovery of the Montana Passage (ca. 200 m long), nicely decorated, with which the cave passed 500 m in length. Several new caves in the Someşan Plateau were explored and mapped until 1980 (Peştera din Dl. Marginea (Cave from the Edge Hill), Peştera “La Peşteri” din Boiu Mare (Cave “at the caves” from Boiu Mare), as well as the caves from Tocarnea Hill near Bistra (Maramureş Mountains). Explorations and digs begun at Pietriş Hill (Tg. Lăpuş) and Leordiţa Cave is discovered near Băiuţ. The caving group consisted of: Dumitru Iştvan, Alexandru Zachan, Ştefan Czibulak, George Mirică, Carmen Calogherato, Liviu Berinde, Doina Fărcaş, Francisc Cseterki and Iosif Rist.
The activity of the caving section took off, eventually leading to the disappearance of the Touring Club. At first, the alpinists found better conditions at I.M.U.A.S (Enterprise of Machine-Tools, Accesories and Tools), where they formed a mountaineering section; then, when the president Ştefan Czibulak, the driving force of the club, left town, the activity of the other sections (orienteering, tourism) ceased and the club was practically liquidated. The caving section was the only one remaining under the original club name and became the Montana Caving Club, which was then affiliated to the Romanian Federation of Tourism – Alpinism in 1980, at the Speosport (National Congress of Speleology) from Izvorul Mureşului. The club presented at the congress the results of five years of explorations (surveys and records for 23 caves and potholes, with a total length of 1892 m and a vertical range of 253 m).
The second phase in the club history began in the autumn of 1980 and it is the one in which, once entered in the national annual competition during a period of impressive output on a national scale (between 500 and 1000 new caves were reported nationally each year during the ’80’s), the club was forced to survive with a small nucleus of members (until 1985: Dumitru Iştvan, Gheorghe Gellinek, Ioan Borz and ocasionally Iosif Rist). Several caves were surveyed in Vârtoape Hill – Răzoare, the caves of Bulbuc and Păltiniş in Preluca, Peştera Vulpii (Fox Cave) and Peştera din Zănoaga Pietricelii (Cave from Zănoaga Pietricelii),
Avenul din Pădurea Glodeanului (Pothole from Glodeanului Forest) – Hovrila, Şura Cailor 2 (Horses Barn 2) from Borșa and two small caves on the Iscioarei valley (Rodnei Mts.), generally modest cavities. During this whole period, participation to the national congresses benefited from the support of the „Emil Racoviţă“ Caving Club from Bucharest. Also, the first papers presenting the caves explored by Montana Baia Mare are published in the bulletin of the Bucharest club.
The third phase begun in 1985, when the club received a group of people with previous caving experience at the „Cristal“ Timişoara Caving Club, or with explorations in the Apuseni Mountains and in the Izvorul Izei (Iza Spring) area in the Rodnei Mts. (Ioan Tămaş, Felix Merşei, Marius Mocean). A new organisational format was found, as a caving section of the „Avântul“ (Impetus) Baia Sprie Sporting Association. Montana moved its headquarters to Baia Sprie, 11 km from Baia Mare, for several years, with the meetings being held in the photographic workshop of the „Avântul“ Cooperative, the working place of a veteran club member. It is the stage when the club reached maturity, because along with the three new members named above, Eugen Constantinescu (1987), formerly of “Focul Viu” Bucharest, Dan Zenecan (1988) and Marius Diaconescu also joined the club, while Iosif Rist returned unequivocally to caving in 1989. Iosif Rist focused his interests on the Şoimuşeni Forest in the Someşan Plateau, where he discovered Avenul Puţurilor (Pothole of the Pits).
Many other new caves are discovered: Şura din Cearcănul (Barn from Cearcănul), the caves from Piatra Scrisă (Written Rock) (Baia Borşa), the caves from Şomoş Hill – Baia Sprie, Poiana Botizii (Botiza Meadow village), Piatra Văratecului (Văratec Rock) and Pietrele de Var (Lime Rocks) at Botiza, Horodişte Cave – Rona de Jos, Avenul din Podul Cailor (Pothole from the Horses Attic), Avenul din Piatra Rea (Pothole from the Bad Rock), Peştera cu Apă din Piatra Frânturii, Avenul din Vârful Jgheabului. Many potholes are discovered and explored in the Şoimuşeni forest and Cozla (in the Someşan Plateau).
1990 – 1995. Two cavers from Gherla (Corneliu Moldovan and Marius Todoran), together with Traian Minghiraş from Baia Mare, join in 1990 – so that the old patriarchal nucleus is transformed into a decisive, dynamic team. This also reflects on the results of the club and, apart from the extensive, routine prospections, several big leads are found. Moara lui Pocol Cave from Letca is discovered in march 1991, helping Montana to earn its merited place at the top of Romanian caving, alongside clubs renowned on a national scale. Another important lead is found in Lii Cave (Cuciulat), while several other caves are discovered: Stârşel Pothole – Sălniţa, Pancu Cave – Mesteacăn, The Cave from Ghezii valley – Vărai, Băbeni Cave, the caves from Custura Cetăţelei – Vima Mică.
Year 1991 marks the point when the contribution of youth – Gheorghe Nistor, Emeric Paal, Zamfir Şomcutean, Ioan Mureşan, Robert Gergely, Rodica Todoran (1992), then Cosmin Andron (1993), – is seen as taking over difficult exploration – the important discoveries at Moara lui Pocol and Lii caves.
Moara lui Pocol Cave has remained the topmost cave of the club for a long time, at present still the longest of the caves discovered and explored (in premiere) by the club. Between 12-17.04.1992, two exploration divers – Iosif Rist and Eugen Constantinescu – self-isolated themselves for 5 days in an underground bivouac during the record first post-sump camp in a cave in Romania, surveying over 800 m of new passage. Later on, after several exhausting trips, the cave reached almost 3500 m in length (3496 m).
Cave discoveries and exploration continued in the Someşan Plateau, as well as in the Rodnei Mountains (Cobăşel, Valea Vinului, Valea Blaznei), and Maramureş Mountains (Sâlhoi – Şesuri). Although the big finds were the result of cave dives (Iosif Rist, Eugen Constantinescu, Marius Diaconescu and Robert Gergely), they were based on a pyramidal effort, with the participation of all the club members.
It is the moment when all the hard work is acknowledged through the prizes obtained at the national congresses: 2nd place in 1990 and 1992, 1st place in 1991 and 1993 (the last year when a unitary system was applied to evaluate yearly speleological activity). Ioan Pop, a member of the former Touring Club, joins the caving section.
Prof. Dr. Marcian Bleahu – who appreciated the club’s activity at our first congress participation in 1980 – was declared an honorary member of the club and honored our invitation with his presence in our camp at Cuciulat, in July 1994. New club members during this time were Adrian Coman, Cristian Coman, Teodora Tămaș.
1995 – 2000. Various new caves and potholes, as well as new leads in known cavities were found: Băbeni cave, Colţul Prisăcii pothole, Ferestruică pothole, Vărai cave, Valea Rea cave – Vălenii Şomcutei, Hornoiu cave and sinkhole, the potholes and cave from Indrion peak, Valea Purcăreţului pothole (Someşan Plateau), Baia lui Schneider cave, Pearl Grotto, Pothole with water from Ponoare, Ladder Pothole and 5 other caves in the Iza Izbuc – Iza Ponor area, Fissure pothole from Vf. Jgheabului, Podul Cailor pothole
(Rodnei Mountains), Peştera Mărinului de sub Tufe (Marin’s cave under the bushes :D) (Lăpuş Gorge), Dealul Crucii Grotto (Nth Volcanic Mts.), The cave from Solovan Hill, Mohelca Cave, Cetăţuia grotto, Făget grotto (Maramureş Depression), Vasile Bologa cave and other five caves in Podul Cearcănului and Dl. Frumos (Maramureş Mts.), new potholes in Vârtoape Plateau (Lăpuş Depression). Iosif Rist dives the Iza spring in 1996, for 10m and -6m, stopping at an underwater restriction which was only passed once before, in a dive in 1984. Then in 1998, the club organizes its first National Congress of Speleology, at Borşa Complex in Maramures.
1999 marks the beginning of a new direction for the club: the discovery, survey and research of artificial cavities, especially old, manually dug mines. The re-survey of the Iza cave begins in 2000, when the cave, blocked by a tree trunk dam formed on the entrance passage, is reopened after 15 years. Several dives are attempted in the Zugău spring and in Gaura Pișoii (The P** Hole) , in collaboration with belgian divers.
The club receives a big boost in membership during this phase: Dan Călean, Vasile Timur Chiş, Bogdan Chiuzbăian, Gheorghe Chiuzbăian, Sorin Chiuzbăian, Augustina Habineac, Mihaly Kürti, Andrei Mihalca, Iudith Nemeth, Marius Pălincaş, Alec Portase, Sandor Ravay Nagy, Alexandru Söver, Alina Suătean, Mihaela Traian, Flaviu Vasile, Florin Volfart, Cătălin Văsuţiu, Odile Negrean, Mihai Tămaş and Tudor Tămaş. Many of them have since left the country due to the precarious economic situation during the nineties and early 2000’s. The latter three contributed to the exploration and survey of several of the big club objectives in the late 90’s and 2000’s: Podul Cailor Pothole (-106 m), Iza Cave (4610 m), Iza Spring Cave (>900 m), and in the discovery of new caves.
2001 – 2005. New caves/new leads: Peştera cu Oase – Poiana Botizii (Lăpuş Mts), the Pothole from Geamănu, the Cave with Three Entrances and Pintea’s Pothole from Muncelul Râios and many others (25-30) in the traditional areas of the club, mainly in the vicinity of Baia Mare or in the Maramureş and Sălaj counties. Măgurici Cave is resurveyed in collaboration with the ,,Emil Racoviță“ Institute of Speleology during several trips in 2002. During 2003, the club prospected and surveyed at the surface of the old Appafy Salt Mine at Coştiui in the Maramureş Depression; a preliminary exploration was done in the upper part of the salt mine. Ca. 400m were resurveyed in the Iza Cave, out of the 2.5 km already known from the ’80s. Then, during two trips in august and september 2004, a 9m tunnel was dug in sediments at the Iza Spring Cave, rediscovering the stream passage after 20 years from the first (and only successful) dive, and surveying 500 m of passages. Several new members joined the club on a temporary or permanent basis: Dana Balea , Alexandru Costin, Stela Cucu, Flaviu Golda, Dan Libotean, Alexandru Mureşan, Bogdan Mureşan, Sergiu Negrean, Alexandra Oprișan, Szabolcs Szöllösy, Dan Tarța, Călin Tot, Adriana Vălean, Cătălin Văsuțiu.
2006 – 2010. 33 new caves and potholes, generally of small dimensions, are found. Fântâna lui Pavel (Pavel’s well) – an interesting cave accessed through the household well in the backyard of a house, was explored and surveyed for 201 m length and -19m vertical range in july and december 2008. Collaborations with other clubs (Proteus Hunedoara, Cristal Oradea) and with students from the Faculty of Geology, Babes-Bolyai University helped to finish the re-survey of the Iza Cave and the discovery of 1.5 km of new passage, the cave reaching 4 km.
In 2006 a cave formed in ice, albeit temporary, was discovered: Peştera în Gheaţă din Pârâul Şurii, Criva Valley, a 700 m cave formed in a nival glacier.
The year 2006 marks an increased activity of the club in the old mines, especially from the Baia Mare area. In collaboration with Cristal Oradea, club members joined the re-survey of the Pothole of Pașcalău (Bihor county), discovered by a villager while digging the foundations of a house. The pothole terminus, known at -100m, is passed and a depth of -150m is reached. In 2007-2008, during two international survey camps at Humpleu System (Cluj county), the second longest in Romania, Montana contributed with ca. 1.5 km of re-surveyed passages. In 2007, Iosif Rist dived and discovered 25 m in the sump of Gaura Pişoii (P** Hole) from Frâncenii de Piatră, while in 2008 his second diving tentative in the same sump reaches 50 m.
2009: in a diving trip in the Iza Spring Cave, Geza Rajka and Nimrod Nagy manage to cross sumps 3 (16 m long) and 4 (40 m long), while shortly after, a digging camp joined by the whole club makes short work of tunnels 2 (6m) and 3 (8m) on a short fossil level, discovering 200 m of new passage. Another 200 m of passage are discovered on the upper(most) fossil level of the Lii Cave (Cuciulat, Sălaj) past the 2nd sump, the cave reaching 1.5 km. An important lead, yet to be surveyed, was discovered via more digging in the Vărai cave.
New members: Ioan Liviu Bereş, Călin Buzura, Dan Ciurte, Olimpiu Chinţa, Anamaria Dan, Marius Luca, Adrian Moldovan, Cristian Moldovan, Raul Mureşan, Andreea Paltan, Tamas Pandi, Andrei Pop, Iuliana Vişan.
The club received several awards for its activity during this interval: Ist and IIIrd prizes at the National Conventions in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, mainly for cartography and scientific output. The Iza cave map received the IInd prize in the 1.5 – 5 km cathegory at the International Congress of Speleology in Kerville (Texas, USA, 2009), this being the first international prize received by Montana Baia Mare. However, probably the most important result of this phase is the design of the „Digital Cave Register” of the caves explored and surveyed/re-surveyed by Montana, an original design of a club member. The cave register is permanently actualized and contains detailed sections comprising the whole explorative and cartographic activity of the club.
2011 – 2018. 2011 is marked by an unfortunate mountain accident leading to the tragic loss of president Dumitru Iştvan. Trying hard to overcome this loss, Montana hosted the XXXIXth edition of the national caving congress at Ileanda – Sălaj county, of which we had already assumed the organization. In a previous year nea Mitică Iştvan was named an Honorary member of the Romanian Speleological Federation, while the title of Honorary citizen of Baia Mare was accorded to him posthumously in 2013.
The most important results during this period were obtained in: Rodnei Mts. (8 caves and several new leads in Iza Cave and Iza Spring Cave), Lăpuș Gorge and Lăpuș Mts. (Custura Şetrii (Rock’s Edge) Pothole – the deepest Romanian pothole in volcanic rocks) and in the N. Volcanic Mts. (3 caves and 2 old mines). In the Someșan Plateau 8 new caves were discovered, with a -38m pothole (Pothole of the Three Little Pigs) in an area previously not prospected. In Gaura Pişoii, after several pumping trips, the 56-m long and 6 m deep sump was eventually passed through pumping ca. 500 mc. of water, also passing the terminus reached previously through diving. Exploration was then stopped by a second sump. In Moara Lui Pocol Cave, diving was recommenced after 22 years and in a 17-hour trip, several sump bypasses were rigged for SRT. Many other trips were concerned with prospections and GPS locations of previously discovered caves for the update of the systematic cave record. Andrei Bărbos, Teodor Bîlcu, Mihai Feneșan, Octavian Pop, Mircea Rațiu, and Agnes Ruskal participated in some trips.
Area, geographic units and caving zones
Most of the caves explored by ,,Montana“ are located in the Maramureş and Sălaj counties in North-western Romania, but we also explored and surveyed caves in the counties of Bistriţa-Năsaud, Satu Mare, Cluj, Bihor, Alba, and Caraş Severin. The hidrographic basins, per the Romanian Systematic Catalogue, are: 100, 101, 1000, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, 1006, 1010, 1022, 1025,1026,1028, 1029, 2214, 3311, 3427, 3511, 3800, 3812, 3901, 4001, 4002, 4003, 4004, 401, 4012, 4013, 4020, 4022, 4043, and 4060, while the geographic units are: the Maramureș Mts., Rodnei Mts, North Volcanic Mts., Gilău Mts., Bihor Mts., Vlădeasa Mts., Plopiș Mts., Mezeș Mts, the Someșan Plateau, Gârbăului Hills, Ciceului Hills, Almaș – Agriș Depression, Preluca Mts. At present, the number of caves found is of ca. 350, with a total length of over 25000 m.
Between 2005 – 2015, Montana had four natural protected areas in custody: three caves (Peştera Valea Rea de la Vălenii Şomcutei, Peştera cu Oase de la Poiana Botizei and the Iza Cave) and the Fossiliferous Reserve from Chiuzbaia.
Beginning seriously in 1996, although many of us had adventures in the old mines from the hills around the city at a younger age, „Montana“ also focused its interest on the artificial underground environment, especially old mine galleries, dug manually, or natural cavities transformed by human intervention. In 2006, in collaboration with specialists from the Maramureș Museum of History and Archeology, we documented and surveyed the medieval sewage network from Piaţa Păcii in Baia Mare.
Also in 2006, the club participated in the evaluation of some tens of objectives in a project financed by the Maramureş county council. Starting with 2007, this activity has intensified and concerns the discovery, exploration and documentation of artificial cavities, such as: i. old, manually dug mine galleries, (so far 30 mines identified, out of which 23 surveyed, for a total length of 1587.5 m); ii. cavities with a mixed genesis (natural, but modified by human intervention – two, with a length of 860.9 m), and iii. artificial cavities, dug or constructed, other than mines (two, 46.2 m). These cavities are all located in mining areas: Baia Mare, Baia Sprie, Baia Borşa (Maramures county), Rodna Veche – Valea Vinului (Bistrita Nasaud county), and Huta Certeze (Satu Mare county).
International events and expeditions
Internationally, club members debuted in 1998, participating at camps, trips and expeditions in France, Italy, U.S., U.K., Bahamas, India and Hungary. In the field of artificial cavities, the club won the Ist prize of the Map Salon at the International Congress of Speleology in Brno, Czechia (2013), with the map of the Baia Mare medieval sewage network. A map drawn after a collaboration with the Meghalaya Adventurers Association (India) during the Caving of the Abode of the Clouds expeditions in Meghalaya received another international prize – 2nd place at the Cartographic Salon of the International Congress of Speleology in Sydney, Australia (2017), followed shortly after by the Ist prize at the national Romanian Congress (sept. 2017).
The results of our research are reflected in over 50 papers published in various caving and scientific jurnals: Speomond, Cercetari speologice (Speleological Research), Contribuții la Cunoașterea Carstului (Contributions to Karst Knowledge), Pro Unione, Theoretical and Applied Karstology, museum journals – Marmația, Memoria Antiquitatis, Revista Bistriţei, Bibliotheca Cumidavae, Arheovest, Transylvanian Review of Systematical and Ecological Research, as well as various bulletins, annals of clubs or speleological societies. Tens, maybe hundreds of articles were published in the local and national press with the purpose of information and promotion of caving and speleology, as well as our discoveries.
Trying to somehow elude the present state of affairs less favourable for the support and encouragement of the development and evolution of caving in Romania, we believe that our hopefully nice story may live longer still, as it happened in the 44 years our club celebrates this year.
Dumitru IȘTVAN †