Albania 2008 Rece Report

Ever since we found our cave in Lapushka Albania in 1995 I have wanted to go
back. It was Martin and I biggest expedition discovery and has remained that way to date. What kept me awake from time to time was we knew we had only just scratched the surface of that cave-there had to be more. But with constant security issues in Albania over the years it seemed a re-visit was unlikely- until now.
Its true even now the UK does not advise trips to the north, but I read several positive articles at the end of last year and saw holidays advertised over the internet. So with Martins help I made contact with the people that helped on the last expedition and arranged a reconnaissance. George (who arranged a relation of his Vasa to be our interpreter last time)was back in Tirana because things were now safe. He arranged Alexandra to meet me at the airport and be my guide, transport and interpreter (Alex is a well known Albanian climber and explorer) . I also arranged to meet George and give him a copy of the film made on the last visit.
I had spoken to prospective team members about my proposal to go to Albania to further explore the cave, and explained the various ways options we had. The overall feeling was, quite rightly, was it really safe. I told them I was going over to see for myself what it was like and asked them what I needed to achieve for them to feel secure they said, get to the area, the area should be safe so we did not need guards at base camp, find the cave and get down it!-my task was set.
I left on 24th May returning 26th this was not a lot of time to achieve my goals. When I booked the flight I was surprised at the amount of flights available in 95 there was only one flight a day to Tirana now there was 6 a day just from the UK. Before I got off the plane I knew everything in Albania had changed, there were many families on board going on holiday and returning to Tirana after working in the UK. Indeed Albania has changed beyond expectations, not just the physical character but in temperament. Tirana is a new city full of supermarkets, Café, hotels the new Airport terminal was opened last year that makes Bristol airport look like a shed. New roads have been built and there are many car sale show rooms including BMW and Mercedes and large Architectural building icons. The investment comes from Germany, Italia France and USA.
It takes 2.5 hours by plane from Gatwick North Terminal to Tirana and 10 Euros (visa) to enter the country, Euros or local currency are best. Alexander met me at the airport in his new Jeep as per arranged.
I stayed in a small hotel for 30 Euros it was right in the city centre and included a packed breakfast. We left early the next day and made Skroda in 2 hours on a new and very fast road. Skroda has changed so much since the border to Montenegro opened 3 years ago and trade has changed this fabulous new town. Everything is available from banks, internet café, hotels, it is thriving with many people and most importantly I found carbide there!
We left Skroda and after 3 hours of spectacular views on un-tar macadam bumpy roads (that have not changed a bit since 95) we arrived at Lapushka at mid day.
As arranged we met Alexander’s contact who lives a stone’s throw from where we stayed last time. The whole atmosphere of the town has changed and I was made very welcomed.
I described where the cave was so our guide took us up to the cave area in a rather long short cut, there was quite a bit of snow so the going was hard with my bag of ropes, SRT kit, light etc. It would take us about an hour to walk up without any equipment and 45minutes down now I know the way!
After 40 minutes of searching I found the cave (see photos) I rigged the entrance and went down and landed on the snow plug which was about 6 meters higher than 95 but melting nicely. I gathered rigging information etc and SRT out.
There are no mountain people by the cave they have gone to the cities or other countries for work, the area is used by our village for summer grazing and the shepherds are also from the village. There was 1 shepherd from our village up in the mountains with goats who didn’t know where the cave was, in fact he said there wasn’t one where I was looking! So it seems very likely no one has been in our cave!!
So I made a decision that it was not necessary to camp at the top by the cave and have arranged a house for us in Lapushka complete with electric hot shower and 3 meals a day. This house has 4 rooms to stay with proper beds and trees and grass outside for those who want tents. There is another guest house opening in the village in the summer a café at the top of the village and 2 restaurants in Vermosh. A school bus picks up children for the new school just opened in the village of Tamara about an hour away from Lapushka, there is also a new hospital in Tamara with a modern ambulance.
So to conclude, whilst I hoped it would be safe to go on this expedition never did I expect to be able to say and put in writing that this expedition is totally safe, we do not need guards for us or vehicles-there are enough good vehicles to go around. In fact this will be far safer than Madagascar and I would have no hesitation in saying bring the girlfriends and children.
I met an English guy in Lepushka he had driven a car up from Tirana for his third walking holiday in the area. He said it was best to come now before the rush, I tend to agree with him.

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