DZRJL History

There were two main venues of cave exploration in Slovenia at the end of 19th century (when Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire): Škocjan Caves and Postojna Cave, where the spiritus agens of exploration was Ivan Andrej Perko, the cave manager. After 1881 Viljem Putik (aka Wilhelm Puttick), a Czech forest engineer and a speleologist, explored the karst phenomena in the hinterland of Notranjska (Inner Carniola) karst valleys, on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture in Vienna.

Viljem Putik in Ivan Andrej Perko talked the president of the Diet of Carniola (regional assembly of the central part of Slovenia), Theodor Schwarz von Karsten, into convening a consultation meeting on caving, in Ljubljana in 1910 (Austrian Speleological Society was founded in Graz in 1907). Consultation concluded with a decision to establish Society for Cave Exploration (in Slovenian: Društvo za raziskavanje podzemnih jam). The founding general assembly of the society took place on May 12, 1910 in Ljubljana. The first president and lifelong member was Theodor baron Schwarz. As only two of the society’s board members had some cave-related knowledge, the society’s secretary, Josip Cerk, invited a group of mountaineers and alpinists, known as Drenovci, to join in. Drenovci accepted the offer and took over the cave exploration in Slovenia. In 1912 Josip Cerk perished in a blizzard on Mt. Stol and Pavel Kunaver followed him as a cave exploration leader.

After the World War I, which hampered the activities of the society, Mate Hafner became the president in 1924, followed by dr. Jovan Hadži in 1927. The society has become largely science oriented. Till 1938 the soul of the society was its secretary, dr. Roman Kenk.

World War II destroyed the technical base of the society and as the borders remained rather tight for almost 15 years afterwards the contacts to the western world were rather sparse. Main caving technology at the time was based on the use of winches and roll ladders. So the exploration of caves with deep vertical shafts was possible solely in an expeditionary manner. Society’s secretary, dr. Alred Šerko had a decisive role in the society’s revival after WWII, as the exploration leader, while dr. Albin Seliškar was the president. Dr. Albin Seliškar and dr. Ivan Kuščer were establishing middle school caving clubs, which Pavel Kunaver promoted with great success. Another blow to the society came in 1948, when Alfred Šerko perished when a lightning struck him during a caving trip to Istria – Ivan Michler helped the society to move on.

In the fifties of the past century branches of the society in were established across Slovenia and in the sixties they developed into independent caving clubs. In 1959 society’s journal, Naše jame (Our Caves) was first published, edited by dr. Valter Bohinec and dr. Roman Savnik. New aspects and views on caving came to light, they contributed greatly to intergenerational tensions in the society. Single-rope technique emerged as the principal cave exploration tool.

From 1954 to 1965 and from 1966 to 1967 the society was presided by dr. Valter Bohinec, whose gentle character contributed to absence of major shocks and rifts in the society. In the sixties Jurij Kunaver and Tomaž Planina also acted as presidents, followed by Matjaž Puc and dr. France Osole in the seventies, Rado Smerdu, Tomaž Planina and Joerg Prestor in the eighties, Gregor Pintar and Rafko Urankar in the nineties. In the new millenium the society was presided by Matjaž Pogačnik, Primož Presetnik, Mitja Prelovšek, Jure Košutnik and Matic Di Batista after 2018. The society achieved outstanding results both in the exploration of lowland karst as well as, especially after 1990, of high mountain shafts in the Julian Alps. Explorations were all documented and are preserved in the Cave Registry, which is since 2005 also available online.

There are other domains of caving where DZRJL made a cpnsiderable contribution. Even before the WWI society members innovated in the area of technical tools for deep shaft overcoming. An example is a winch, ultralight for the time, made by Karel Kunaver. After WWII Tomaž Planina, aided by Miran Marussig, as the head of the Technical Commission was also climbing equipment designer while brothers Kuščer were innovators in the field of diving techniques and diving equipment. DZRJL members were also always on the forefront of cave photography, from early years on with echievements of Bogumil Brinšek and Josip Kunaver to later world-known Franci Bar. Cave Rescue Service was established in 1963, Technical Commission (1960) and Diving Section (1955). Members of DZRJL were the first to set foot in the deep high mountain abysses such as in the Mali podi pod Skuto (1953), Kriški podi (1960) and Mt. Kanin (1963). In the eighties and nineties the society explored two caves beyond the depth of 1.000 m, recently another one was added, all on Mt. Kanin. Notable contributions were also made to other karst areas. Till 2021 the society explored and documented one fourth of all known caves in Slovenia.