2019 Summary

A distinct lack of enthusiasm from people for writing up the expedition….. A post trip summary follows:

The Tresviso expedition returned back to the UK last week and the following is a brief summary:

Cueva del Nacimiento – Parting Friends

In the entrance series of Nacimiento is an area called the Road to Wigan Pier and at the end if a waterfall climb to the Parting Friends sump.  This was originally discovered in the late 80’s and later dived by Gavin Newman / Phil Short, during the filming of ‘Extreme Lives – Road to Certain Death’.  Unfortunately, no survey exists, but the sump was described as around 150m, still continuing and, unlike a lot of the other sumps in Nacimiento, was not at depth.

It took nearly 4 days to rig the stream ready for the dive.  The grade 2 survey of the approaching passage proved to be misleading… 9m up pitches, were actually preceded by 60m of steep ramps, aid traverses and bolt climbs, all while stood next to (or under) a raging torrent of water. 

Cueva del Nacimiento – Cascade Inlet, Joe Daniels (2019)

Eventually, all was set up and the divers, Rob Middleton and Joe Daniels, could attack the sump.

Dive 1 – passed after 25m (at -6m depth) to 30m of streamway and climbs.  Second sump, 4m diameter passage, 115m line laid

Dive 2 – sump 2 to -165m

Dive 3 – way on found, passing believed previous limit to large airbell.  Sump continues in typical Nacimiento ramp style passage to another large airbell.  Fourth sump found and way on in open sump passage.

Total length of passage 439m.

Cueva del Nacimiento, Parting Friends Sump 1, Arwel Roberts (2019)

The day after the final dive, the rain came in and flooded us out of the cave for 3 days.  A lot of equipment lost and the crucial dinghy to get across the entrance lake washed away, probably now wrapped round a turbine at the hydro-electric plant.

Cueva del Nacimiento entrance (post flood), Derek Cousins (2019)

Cueva de la Marniosa – Free Willy

In the upper series of Marniosa, before the streamway is encountered, is a section of cave called Extra Caverns.  Discovered in the late 70’s a number of leads and unclimbed avens exist.  Phil and Howard attacked the avens over a number of trips.  At the very far end, two small 5m avens lead to the same connection at the top (subsequently bypassed without the need for any climbing) leading to a tight rift and a draughting immature streamway.  2 further avens  (approx.. 10m) were found at the end but not attempted. 

Further back in the main passage, an obvious wet aven was scaled for 10m to where it split into 3 further ‘avens’.  The left hand route led up for a further 20m to a narrowing rift, with limited potential.  The first right hand route led, after another 5m, to a tight upwards squeeze, passed by Leo to around 5m of passage and another 15m aven.  The final route from the junction leads back out of the main aven, but was only scaled for another 2-3m in poor rock, before time ran out.  This remains the most promising lead, with an obvious lip a further 5m up.

Cueva del la Marniosa – new discoveries

On a final surveying trip, Phil and Alastair ‘stumbled’ upon two exciting new discoveries in the upstream Marniosa streamway.  Although not shown in the 70’s survey an obvious bend in the streamway has a dark space above.  A 3m climb up lead to a huge new chamber, 50m x 20m x 20m, with a large 35m aven at one end and a high level route at the other. 

Just at the bottom of the same climb up to the chamber, was a large boulder hiding a second streamway / inlet, entering the main stream.  This was pushed for around 50m and still continues.  The high level route in the chamber was revisited and extended for another 50m in large passage to a ramp down, probably into the same new streamway.

Silvestre Pot – Marniosa – First through trip

The first through trip from Silvestre Pot to Marniosa was complete by 2 teams during the expedition, before the Silvestre section was derigged – see early post for a write up.

Silvestre Pot – Sumps

Two sumps in the upper levels of Silvestre were dived.  Bob’s Crusade sump was dived for 32m (-6m depth) to an airbell, tight continuation possible but not appealing.  The Wet Willy sump was passed after 3m to a second sump aftetr 40m of passage.  Sump 2 is largely ‘organic’ and was abandoned after 2m.

Andara, Lisa Boore (2019)

Through-trip!

Cueva de la Marniosa

In the early 1970’s a group of students from Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) touring Northern Spain heard about some caves near Tresviso, Eastern Picos de Europa.  In 1975, their first year visiting caves of Tresviso, they explored upstream, into the Sobra valley and found a crack in the side of a cliff that is Cueva de Marniosa.  They explored this cave down a few pitches and along some well decorated fossil passage to a high rifty passage with a small streamway in the bottom. Over a kilometre upstream, the streamway ends at the impressive Hall of the Mountain King chamber- a 50 m x 20 m chamber with a height of over 50 m.  The whole cave has a length of 5 km and a depth of 290 m.  Over the next 40 years a few extra bits were added, but other caves in the area were more interesting.

During the summer expedition of 2018 a small group were tasked with surface prospecting in the brambles, bracken and beech at the head of the Sobra valley and found a number of surface shafts. One of the surface shafts, Cueva del la Silvestre, descended a series of pitches to an impressive large 45 m deep, 20 m diameter shaft.  From the bottom of this shaft several ways on were found.  A few days later, on the final day of the expedition, more pitches and climbs were descended and a message from the past was found: LUSS.  A short walk upstream and the explorers entered Hall of the Mountain King.  Much to the chagrin of those involved the 500 m deep traverse of Silvestre to Marniosa would have to wait until next year…

Cueva de la Silvestre to Cueva de la Marniosa through trip (Lydia Leather)

We got to the Silvestre layby at about 11am, kitted up and started walking down the track. This time round it was a lot easier to find having been well travelled. Stu’s white tape on silver birch trees was not so great in the day light as it had been the night before. Whilst we were doing the through trip, Joe and Rob where diving the sumps in Wet Willy and had stolen Alastair for the day to carry for them. As Stu and I weren’t carrying much we took two of their bags down for them (on the basis that Rob would later repay us with a create of beer, but failing that, dancing bear coffee liquor).

The Silvestre entrance had been rigged the day before down to waterfall chamber, where Bob needed to re-bolt before we continued on with the through trip, so Bob and Arwel headed in whilst the rest of us followed behind. The day before Stu had found the jaw of what we think is horse, to match the skull he’d found the year before. Now Bingo (see photo for scale) lives happily in the entrance chamber.

Following through the rest of the cave, Rob who hadn’t been in the cave before grew increasingly more impressed at the fact that it was indeed a cave. We took our time marvelling at the finest bolder I’ve ever seen that sat in the middle of the stream way and is a conglomerate, at first I assumed it was originally the floor of the streamway and had been eroded away, but not all that convinced, think it might just be a boulder.

When we reached Bob an Arwel, there was a short wait for the bolting to be finished before we could reach the bottom of waterfall pitch 
When everyone was down waterfall pitch we left the diving team and their bags and continued on. From waterfall chamber we continued up the aided climb and through into old stream way rift passage. This continued on (picture below), getting slightly small in places (for Bob and Stu) and down climbs and eventully leads to a junction, left being the way on and right being Hall of the MountainKing.

As Stu and I hadn’t been before we went to Hall of the Mountain King which is an aven roughly 50m in height and 20m width, with a mud slope to the left of the chamber and 2 water inlets coming in through the aven above to the right. Here was where we stopped to take a group photo.

From Hall of the Mountain King back to the Silvestre junction we followed the stream and continued down the active passage way. The passage follows onward with multiple down climbs, some more exposed than others. Eventually the passage follows a fault and here the bolder choke began. Alastair Gott had been in Marniosa the day before and placed reflectors along the bolder choke which were extremely helpful and saved a lot of time as there are multiple ways along the choke in which you can go wrong. When the choke ends, the passage re-joins into stream way and this follows straight towards the bottom pitch of Marniosa

We headed up the muddy pitch out of the streamway, where Bob showed us “the boulder” which must not be touched or moved in anyway as it was wedged right between the wall and multiple boulders which became the false floor of the next slope.
Following this onwards the passage is very well decorated series of chambers (see photos), with various calcite flow slopes and formations, including this flying pizza like disc thing… Eventually reaching the bottom of a 22 m pitch. From here there’s 3 more small pitches until eventually you get into the old cheese chamber and we were at the Marniosa entrance. The trip in total took 6 hours and we got out with plenty of time to spend in the bar drinking celebratory beers and eating local cheese. Rob and Joe eventually turned up and kept the promise of buying Stu and I a dancing bear coffee liquor.

The times they are a changin’

by Howard Jones

Brief history

In the 1970’s LUSS were caving in Northern Spain, inland from Santander. They learned about a village where cheese was made and matured in caves. Nearby a resurgence cave fed a hydroelectricity scheme. Add in some high mountains in the vicinity and it was Xmas for cave explorers. Tresviso was first visited in 1974 and cavers from LUSS and other clubs, both UK and foreign, have been visiting ever since. The resurgence cave (Agua ) has been surveyed in excess of 15km and Sima 56 was pushed to a depth of 1169m. Vertically they have over lapped, horizontally they are 4km apart. If joined they would establish a world class system, and maybe through trip!

The Village

Tresviso is a lovely village of some 25 houses sat at the top of the Urdon gorge. The families used to be subsistence farmers living off the proceeds of goats and cheese. When we first arrived in vast numbers and camped just outside the village, we must have swamped their existence. Yet we were absorbed into their company without rancour and have been so ever since.

When the track from Sores was improved to a road village life changed and nowadays many villagers leave in the winter a return in the summer. There are far more visitors than before and life in the village has changed for ever.

Arrival

In the 70’s there were two ways to Tresviso. A track came in from the village of Sotres some 10k away which could usually be passed by a land rover, though was sometimes blocked by rock fall. The other way in was up from the Urdon gorge, a 6k march with 900m of ascent. The bus from Santander would drop us at the bottom and the nightmare ascent would begin. For many of us this was our introduction to Tresviso expeditions and it was brutal, staggering up this donkey track in the mid-day heat with your caving gear on your back. As a way of making you cave fit it was ideal. Hopefully the expedition land rover had made its way in via Sotres and you could unpack your tent, home for the next 9 weeks.

10 years ago, the track from Sotres was engineered into a metalled road and saloon cars can now drive to Tresviso. This has changed a lot of aspects of Tresviso life, not least cavers can drive to Tresviso and no longer sweat up the track!

Accommodation

In the 70’ we would camp in a field just above the village in a sloping field which had been harvested early. Water was gained from a trough and flies were a problem. A big communal cooking tent was used to store food, you slept in your own. Life was pretty basic and there was little incentive to hang around camp all day. Evenings were spent in the bar, a red wine often lasting all evening for an impoverished student.

Nowadays we stay in a hostel in the village. Bunk beds, electricity, hot water, an oven all make life a lot more comfortable. A store room downstairs is used to leave gear in from year to year which makes logistics much easier. Some things have not changed though, evenings are still spent in the bar.

Technology

Caving in the 70’s meant wet suits, carbides (stinkies) and texolex helmets was all we knew. Over suits were proofed cotton which ripped to bits in rifts, under suits bought second hand from the air force which for some reason had short arms and legs. Harnesses were homemade or the dreaded Whillans which rearranged genetalia. In short caving gear was a mixture of home made or adapted from other uses.

Petzl changed all that and LED and battery technology has made life underground much safer and pleasant. Cave photography and surveying can now be undertaken for hours without the risk of imminent exposure, with better results to boot.

Weather

Snow fall has decreased remarkably over the 40 years. The days of digging out the White house door and cave and mine entrances are largely gone. In May 2019 there was little snow at Andara (top camp area) and by September there was none. A few shafts are still snow plugged, but this must be yearlong. The river caves of Agua and Marnioasa are thus drier and safer and the tracks and roads keep in better condition.

Cave names

One of the joys of exploring caves is you get to name them and the passages within. In the 70’s Bob Dylan songs were popular and a quick glance at the Agua survey proves this to be the case. As time moved on other influences have been reflected.

I was always surprised that the Spanish caving authorities allowed us ( and other foreigners) to come and explore their prime areas, surely in years to come the next generation would be appalled that so many of the world class Spanish caves had been explored by non-Spanish teams, and yet despite changes to the permission rules we are still allowed to keep control of “our area” 40 years on.

However, the Spanish cavers have got their own back by renaming our caves! The Cueva del Agua is now Nacimiento, which is very confusing to us old timers.