Cave exploration, also called speleology, is regarded as an extreme discipline because of the risk it entails. Legends about bandits hiding in caves present them as dry, warm and spacious hideouts. In reality caves are humid, slippery and dark spaces with cool air. They tend to have narrow passages, low ceilings and sharp edges. Hypothermia, physical exhaustion, a collapse or flooding are just a few of the dangers lurking inside. Underground rainwater can appear very quickly. A complicated network of caves can become a trap even for the most experienced explorers. Rescue in such situations is difficult, time-consuming, and requires special skills and equipment.
Cave exploration requires excellent physical fitness. This a challenging activity requiring a lot of strenuous effort, climbing or crawling in difficult conditions. Now cave explorers can use special equipment such as helmets with flashlights, ropes, and accessories. Protective clothing and shoes are also used. They minimise the risk of injury by protecting against bruises, slipping, and falling objects.
The underworld of the Tatra Mountains offers horizontal and vertical caves with varying levels of difficulty and diversely-developed systems. This is where most caves available for exploration are located.
The region features the largest and deepest cave in Poland - Wielka Jaskinia Śnieżna (Great Snowy Cave) in the Czerwone Wierchy Massif in the Western Tatra Mountains, in which 24 km of corridors have been explored, reaching a depth of over 800 m. Marmurowa, Czarna, Śnieżna, Ptasia, Wielka Litworowa, Pod Wantą, Nad Dachem, and Pomarańczarnia are only a few of the several hundred caves of the Tatra Mountains. Unfortunately, few of these are available to mountaineers associated in the Polish Alpine Association with the proper licences.
In the area of the Tatra National Park caving can be practised only in specified caves or cave sequences. There are over 25 such places, most of them being located in the Kościeliska Valley, the Mała Łąka Valley and the Bystra Valley. Many caves are open for sightseeing all the year round. These include Czarna, Dudnica, Goryczkowa, Kalacka, Kasprowa Niżna, Miętusia, Miętusia Wyżnia, Pod Wantą, Przy Przechodzie, Śpiących Rycerzy, Śpiących Rycerzy Wyżnia, Wodna pod Pisaną and Zimna, and the following entrances within the system of Wielka Śnieżna- Wielka Litworowa, Śnieżna, Jasny Aven and Nad Kotlinami. Other caves are open only in selected months, usually from mid-June till the end of November. They include Barania, Koprowa Studnia, Pomarańczarnia and Tunel Małołącki (the lower entrance). Other caves, such as Kasprowa Średnia, Kasprowa Wyżnia, Marmurowa, Małołącka, Pod Dachem and Studnia za Murem, and entrances within the Ptasia Cave system - Lodowa Litworowa, Ptasia Studnia and Nad Dachem - are available for exploration from mid June until the end of November and from January to March each year. The list of caves and visiting times are available on the website of the Tatra National Park.
In order to explore the caves it is necessary to complete a speleology course and obtain a Tatra Caving Card, which is required not only in the area of the Tatra National Park but also for all caves in Poland. To obtain the Card it is necessary to complete a caving course and pass the exam. Permits to enter the caves in the area of the TNP are provided to the holders of the park’s licence, which is issued after submitting a course completion certificate and undergoing environmental training run by a park employee. Before entering the cave it is necessary to register by completing the appropriate form via the Internet or, in special cases, at the tourist information point.
Those who are just beginning their caving adventure may participate in training conducted by experienced explorers on the basic safety rules of moving around a cave, and the techniques of moving on a rope, including the elements of safeguarding and climbing. People without a licence to explore the caves in the Tatra National Park are allowed to enter only as part of a caving course or training excursions with a licensed instructor.
The Tatra Mountains Speleology Club www.speleoklubtatrzanski.pl
The Nowy Sącz Cave Exploration Club, www.sktj.com.pl
The Cave Exploration Section of the Mountaineering Club, www.stj.krakow.pl
The Kraków Cave Exploration Club, www.kktj.pl