The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 97: Winter Esztramos Hill and Aladár Földvári Cave Tour
Having missed the first opportunity to take part in this new tour because of the Pig Killing Festival last week, I jumped at the chance for the second and last date. When I started work at the park 4 years ago, I translated the information about the Aladár Földvári Cave in the understanding that it would soon be open to for tourism and replace the temporarily closed Béke Cave (carbon dioxide problem). However, the cave has remained closed to all since 1996 when the mine closed. The new tour is the brain child of Judit, tour guide, manager of the MagtArt Centre, and volunteer archivist of Esztramos Hill and its history as a mine and later as a strictly protected part of Aggtelek National Park. Visitors may only walk around the area by prior arrangement and accompanied by a park ranger.
With the snow melting around us and news that the first snowdrops had been spotted in the Telekes Valley, we did not think the hike would be too strenuous. The 21 people gathered at the ticket office in Bódvarákó were passed out hardhats and we soon began to think differently. Our tour guide Láci brought us slowly up the steep, very icy serpentine trail past the entrance to the Rákóczi I. Cave (one of 14 independent caves in the hill), then up to the entrance to the tunnel housing the Pannon Seed Bank. The hill is littered with evidence of the area's former use. Derelict mine buildings and equipment stand in stark contrast to the site's current designation. These caves, extending on two distinct levels at the altitude of 320m and 305m, became strictly protected in 1961. Among them, the Földvári Aladár Cave, named after an esteemed Miskolc University geology professor, was the first to come under state protection on the territory of an operating mine. The first tangible result was that the mine was legally required to bypass the caverns and preserve the area fully intact.
We examined a cable car terminus from where iron ore or limestone (oddly, both were mined here) was carried down for sorting. Two former miners were with our group and were eager to explain the equipment and relate mine history and stories.
Up at the top, several large abandoned edifices dotted the artificial plateau. A good third of the once 384 m high hill had been decapitated by mining activities. A grinding machine stood abandoned which used to on occasion send tremors through the nearby towns of Bódvarákó and Tornaszentandrás and lit up the sky "like Mordor" when it was in full gear. Judit met us at the top by the cave entrance with mulled wine and hot tea. The group then split in two, with the first cave group receiving small led head lamps. It was my understanding that lighting had been installed in the cave. However, when the mine closed in 1996 without paying its workers 3-4 months of back pay, much was stripped for sale by the former employees to pay bills - including the copper power cables for the lights.
The cave has been seriously damaged by human intervention, both in terms of impact from mining explosions, and also theft of the more impressive drip stones. Pea stone formations and straws were most evident, along with some flag formations. that the Földvári Aladár Cave is, at approximately 2 million years old (the Upper Pliocene at the latest), is provably among the oldest known caves in Hungary. It is hard to believe that this cave was formed by both karst and thermal water activity, placing it at one time well below the current surface and not at what is now the top of a small mountain. The most unique gift of the cave, from a professional point of view, is unquestionably the "moon milk" covering the dripstones in several centimetres thick dull-white, soft material in the middle hall. This example of moon milk, unique in Hungary, is actually composed of calcite, or more exactly, of its variant called lublinit. It is different to manifestations found in the Buda or Villány Hills which are made up of magnesium carbonate minerals. The specific height of the moon milk indicates that its development was the result of precipitated standing water. The bad news is that the moon milk is the result of degradation rather than new formation. We also encountered 5 lesser horseshoe bats.
After some hot drinks outside, our group followed a different route down as the second group entered the cave. This trail was also very icy, but much wider, allowing for a relatively easier descent. Back at ground level we passed the giant sorter complex and the washing machine that rinsed small stones later used to remove sugar beet skins in a sugar factory.
Participants were offered 40% the normal ticket price for the Rákóczi Cave Tour if they stayed around.
Judit plans several more tours around Esztramos in the spring, concentrating on the protected industrial landscape's history, as well as its flora and fauna.
Photo credits: Sándor Molnár