Schedule: Mon-Fri 9 am-6 pm

Krystalichna (Crystal) Cave: underground pearl of Podillya

Krystalichna (Crystal) Cave: underground pearl of Podillya
1.    250 years of search.
2.    An hour and a half in a fairy tale.
3.    Under the Stone Buffallo sign.
4.    Undiscovered tragedy.

печерні кристали

Our journey into the underground tale we shall start with a visit to Krystalichna or Kryshtaleva (Crystal) cave in the village of Kryvche, of Borshchiv district in Ternopil region. It was the first in Ukraine to be equipped for general attendance. Popular-science movies “A man is looking for a rainbow”, “Karst”, “Dobrokut”, “Karst caves of Ukraine” were filmed here; regional, republican and state competitions and rally of speleotourists, numerous scientific-research and tourist-sports expeditions are held periodically.

Easy access, electrified underground guided tour route, qualified tour guides make the trip around palaces of Krystalichna cave accessible to everyone.

The first mention of Kryshtaleva cave was found in Polish scientific editions of 1745 and in 1783, and then, for over a hundred years nothing was heard of it.

In 1908 scientist M. Orlovych and engineer K. Hutkovskyi made a description of the pre-entrance part of the cave and some of its halls. But two decades had passed before professor of Lviv University archeologist L. Kozlovskyi got into the first hall of Crystal cave again.

In the early 30’s engineer V. Nehai began detailed study of caves in the village of Kryvche. He explored the area near the labyrinth and gave his description and map in the "Guide to the cave in Kryvche" (1933). The first underground excursion route was laid and partially equipped then, having great popularity.

During World War II the cave entrance was ruined and blocked up. In 1961, pupils of Kryvche secondary school and students of Ternopil Medical Institute excavated it again. In 1961-1963 a specialized unit of the complex karst expedition of Academy of Sciences of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic led by prominent Soviet scientist and speleologist, now Doctor of geological-mineralogical sciences, Professor V. M. Dublianskiy held a series of scientific studies, including detailed topographical and geological survey of the labyrinth. Cavers overcame almost nineteen heavy, dangerous kilometers of underground passages. The total length of a complex system of the karst cavities of Crystal cave was twice longer than previously known gypsum Vimmelbergh cave in German Democratic Republic, which until then was considered to be the largest in the world.

The study of Crystal cave continues. Several years ago a second entrance to it was found. In the course of time the route will become longer, and its passing capacity will grow.

... High above the valley of the river Tsyhanka, the tributaries of Nichlava, steep rocky gypsum precipices whiten in the casing of young pinewood. In one of them, where an asphalt path runs to, there is the entrance to Crystal cave.

In front of us there are two and a half kilometers of an excursion route, an hour and a half way in a fairy tale world. First 480 m of the “Entrance” corridor alert every visitor at the beginning. Faint glares of lamps glow underfoot with color spots.  The vaults and walls gloss with coarse crystal dark brown gypsum, smoothly polished with ancient waters. The gloom lurked to the left and to the right, hiding half covered holes of the side branches. Tense expectation of something unusual grows with every step. Light chill touches face pleasantly (it is interesting to know that the air temperature in the cave is stable in any season - 10.2° C at a relative humidity of 84-100%).
Finally, the course extends, and the first miracles appear in the corridor of "Wonderland" – crystals sparkle and play with changing colors on the walls. It seems that everything is covered with bright shell of frost, funny palm branches, fern leaves, or thin mosaic of tiny amber-brown smalt.

About fifteen steps lead to the bottom of Pechera (Cave) hall, where a two-storeyed small house could be placed. Gapped, broken, dissected with cavities blocks surround us here, and such a dense darkness lies down in every nook among the rocks, that it seems possible to cut it into pieces. Numerous passageways run in all directions from here, creating a tangled maze. And excursion route, like Ariadne's thread leads into the depths. Impressions are constantly changing, overlaying and then falling into pieces like kaleidoscope patterns.

The low, with loamy bottom, passageway "Dykyi"(Wild) has rocky sharp edges hanging over heads that became known as "dragon teeth". We get into the hall “Zatyshnyi” (Cosy) with the snow-white walls. Majestic quiet, drowsy silence…
In the “Skaly” (Rocks) hall it is not easy without experience to find a comfortable walking path.   There is a dump of blocks at the bottom, disordered accumulation of stone pyramids, creating a disturbing landscape.

скарби печери кристалічної

Stone icicles corridor, where, carved with water, different in size and shape gypsum outgrowths are hanging, stretches parallel to the Skaly hall.
And again something unusual is ahead of us in the “Zoological” hall. At the approach the eyes stop on the strange relief, caught out from the darkness with the ray of searchlights.  On the walls, under the vault, in the gorge one can distinguish images of dolphin, owl, fox, eagle, and then – some unreal creatures, that fill the entire space of the hall.
In several minutes there is the hall of "Zavaly" (Debris). Cement seal stickers on the rocks’ cracks, set in 1928, always attract tourists’ attention here. They withstood two earthquakes over the past decades and remained intact, which is a strong evidence of safety trip in Krystalna cave.

Further and further stone tunnels are running, extending to different directions from the "Vuzlovyi corydor" (Unit corridor), and it seems there is no end to their dizzying plexus. Every passageway, corridor impresses in its own way with variety of shapes, sizes, chimerical unique beauty.

Here is the “Vapnyanyi” (Lime) hall. Petrified limestone layers form so unexpected compositions that imagination involuntarily takes us into the world of children's tales.

The “Komyn” (Chimney) hall. The feeling of unreality seizes a person at the bottom of the circular stone pit with steep walls. It cuts all ten meters thick gypsum layer and high at the top rests against a flat plate. Here once the waters were raging, cutting millimetre by millimetre a cylindrical hole in the rocks.
To the southeast of the tour route lies the labyrinth “Karst Expditions” with the halls “Nehai”, “Academichnyi” (Academical), “Vtracheni Nadii” (Lost Hopes), “Obvalnyi” (Collapsing), “Druzhba” (Friendship), “Press” (Press) and the “Kamyani Kvity” (Stone Flowers) labyrinth.

The biggest in the Krystal hall is the “Bryly” (Blocks) hall. Space greatness in it fascinates from the first step. Perhaps, Gulliver experienced something similar, finding himself in the giants’ country. Stone blocks pile up as bizarre monsters at the bottom of the hall. In the dense gloom of the high vault blades of electric rays break and weaken helplessly.

The Northern part of Krystal cave is completed with the "Paleozoological" labyrinth. Here members of the complex karst expedition of the UkrSSR’s Academy of Sciences found many bones of animals: fox, marten, badger, lemmings, reindeer, hare white, willow grouse, etc. The findings confirmed the assumption of scientists that about 10 thousand years ago the climate of present day Podillya was much severer than now, and also the thought of karst experts that over the past ten thousand years the waters of the cave has never fully been flooded.

From Vuzlovyi we get into the Krystal corridor. It has different names: underground flower garden, a temple of beauty, crystal miracle. Steep walls are covered with a solid carpet of gypsum crystals - white, cream, pink and amber, translucent. There is a variety of stone roses, delicate lilies, delicate cups bells on it, and various crystalline compositions, which are difficult to find a suitable name for. You may spend hours standing in admiration, and your eye-sight will never be tired of admiring amazing beauty of the underground flower garden. This is where it is worthy to stop for a moment to listen to the maze silence. Sometimes, beyond the eternal night, the live voice of the caves will ring: drop-drop…


спелеотури в печери поділля

Our route has come to an end. As usually, the eternal master of the underground palace - Stone Buffalo sees the guests off.  Suddenly from the gloom his huge fearsome head emerges. He suspiciously looks closely to the guests of Krystal cave, as if wishing to ask: “Who are you, human being? A kind visitor or poacher, who with hammer and chisel destroys crystals, breaks off stalactites and dirties walls with boastful autographs?” Unfortunately, such “guests” also come about.
The excursion ends near the Stone Buffalo.  We are moving to the exit, avoiding closed to general attendance the north-western area of the cave, called the “Skeleton” labyrinth by the pioneers. Here are low gloomy passages, where we can move only by means of crawling or squatting. Wet, covered with sticky clay bottom grasps hands and clothing.

Silent labyrinth walls witnessed terrible, still undiscovered tragedy... In 1962, the expedition was about to finish a topographical survey and complete the study of the unknown regions of Crystal Cave. And suddenly… people instinctively backed away and stood still… In the dancing reflections of the candles they saw a human skeleton. Who was that person? How did it get into the unknown labyrinth?  In response there was a deadly silence. A greenish Russian five-copeck coin, dated 1904, near the skeleton explained nothing, as well as Kryvche’s old inhabitants could not tell anything.

It can only be assumed that some brave man, squeezing between rock avalanches, crawling down narrow holes, fell into an unknown cave. An invincible greed of the discoverer attracts with power and takes further and further. Time is running imperceptibly, a feeble candle flame is dying out… Time to go back… One passageway, another, the third one… Where is the exit? A cold stone keeps silence implacably, dumb chimeras of the dungeon watch indifferently out of the darkness. Last flashes of a feeble candle light… But there is no exit… Gloom. Infinite despair… Brutal death, lost life in vain.

Automatically the words of French speleologist, Nobel Prize laureate, Norbert Caster are recalled: "I started with the worst and completely unacceptable: I set off to underground searches on my own. But all this is because of inexperience, of danger unawareness… There is difference between the wise courage ... and blind recklessness, extremely dangerous and unacceptable."

It may not be agreed.  The tragedy that happened in the “Skeleton” labyrinth is a severe warning to imprudent. Caves do not forgive frivolity.