Death Race 2000

On the first camp the aven was scaled for around 70m high above the ‘middle’ of Death Race, a few diversions and detours were needed, moving into various alcoves and back into the aven.

The boulder slope down the Death Race chamber was rigged, first to allow water to be gathered for the camp, but also to check for any leads at the bottom. At the bottom a small streamway was entered, known about by the 86 explorers. Upstream lead to a small sump and downstream lowered.

On the second camp the main aven reached a well decorated chamber. The slope of the chamber continues up and disappears out of site.

Back in the stream way the narrows downstream were passed, into totally new ground. Over -150m depth has been gained and 700m plus of passage. Intriguingly the passage and water flows South West, which is the opposite direction to all other water in the cave….

The passage continues….

T69 Breakthrough

Very hot weather of the past 2 days but the walk was not too bad going round the track. Arrived at cave and promptly had second lunch. By now most of my kit is strewn across Spain or broken. Today’s kit was partly borrowed from Mark, Derek and Martin G. Following on from previous post and Kirkpatick’s article on caving, I decided to try and bring some urban street appeal to caving by wearing just longjohns, jumper and some trainers.

 

Into the cave Alan was quickly at the dig face. Initially the plan was for Alan to try and get down the current restriction but it soon became clear it was still too tight, so the following hour was spent using some more ‘violent’ means to enlarge the constriction.

As most of my vertical equipment was down in Nacimiento I spent most of the hour sat in the dark above Alan with my hands over my ears, you can’t get holidays like this in Portugal.

Eventually Alan was confident to take a chance at getting down the hole. I quickly drilled a hole in the rock near me for the rope to be rigged from, and something I could clip onto. Another rope was dropped for Alan to clip into so I could haul him out, if it all went wrong. Excitement built as Alan slowly edged himself down the constriction, until reaching his chest. A few moments of silence and then the announcement he was through! Off he went down into the darkness, seemed to take ages for him to get down and then further silence before what sounded like rock falling. Eventually a faint shout up, that he had reached the end of the rope, but not the bottom!

Retuning back up the rope meant getting back through the constriction, this was the bit we were both worried about. Cunning plan was for Alan to slowly prussik on his chest and foot jammer, while I hauled the second rope with his hand jammer. Slowly (2cm) at a time, he came through the constriction as I pulled on the rope, without trying to fall down the hole on top of him! The urban trainer ensemble not holding much traction on the rocks.  Eventually he popped out like a cork and back to more spacious surroundings.

So currently the shaft is approx. 60m deep. The floor was about 10m from the end of the rope. Alan’s light not enough to give a good picture of the bottom, ‘sounded flat’ and it was still cold. It could be the size of a Sainsbury car park, but also possibly trolley sized. Need to decide if we try and close this one off in the next 2 days of leave for next year……

De-rigging, Death Race 2000

Monday saw myself, Martin G and Alan returning to the cave, with the plan to do a day trip to the back end, pick up the last 12litre cylinder, returning via Consort Hall to collect more equipment and then out of the cave.

Early start saw us down at the entrance and underground for 10, Alan coming straight from a 4 day stint underground with no day off.,,, by the bottom of the Ramp he was regretting that decision.

Quick progress to Consort Hall, where Alan had had enough, picked up the 6l dive cylinders and started for the entrance. Myself and Martin carried on to the remaining bottle. Only just over an hour to get to the backend and once collected we started on a steady trip out, with me occasionally coaxing Martin along with fizzy sweets as he was dragging the cylinder along. A short break at Consort Hall to have a cup of tea and pick up one more bag.

Everything passed smoothly, until a slight accident in the entrance series, where the increasing sized hole in my welly, eventually succumbed, offering no protection when a particular sharp piece of rock, sliced through the hole, through my wet socks and through my big toe. Rather painful.

8 hour trip, all diving equipment now out the cave.

Death Race 2000

Progress report from the climbing camp. General lack of water at the camp resolved by a 60m abseil down the Death Race chamber to a water source. The streamway rift at the bottom of the chamber has been pushed to a small sump… not mentioned in the 87 report but evidence of previous’ explorers.

Main target is the aven coming in over the main part of the chamber. This has now been bolted approx. 100m upwards, initially into a small alcove, that has popped back out into the main aven. Continuing upwards. Second 3 man camp on way.

The Big Kahuna

So the day dawned where we had to put our money where our mouth was and actually dive this sump and get back in one piece. madPhil, Matt, Martin T and Dave set off early with the plan to go the Death Race 2000 aven to ready things for climbing. MadPhil and Dave to set up a camp in the aven and Martin and Matt to help out before returning to the Consort Hall camp to meet up with the rest.

Our days starts quite leisurely, myself, Martin G and Al having numerous cups of tea and a big lunch before a 12pm start down the hill. A couple more bags of diving equipment loaded up, somehow I end up with the bag of £3000 of electronics. Given in the past 6 months I have lost one ipod and broken another, I’m probably not the best person for the job.

Easy going through the entrance series and then just beyond the “Black Hole” we bump into Dave, returning back through the cave. He only got as far as the “Hole in the Wall” and beat a retreat, suffering from a cold and weeks of carrying equipment.

Alan seems to be cursing the cave, me or both, for talking him into coming back to Spain. But like all good miserable trips we form a plan for heading back to the tropics next year for far less misery out in the jungle.

Some discussion ensures about Andy Kirkpatrick’s article about extreme sports….. “In the end we decided that caving – perhaps also fell running – where one of the last bastions of true hardcore sport because they are so unsexy, and could never be made so.”

We summarised it as being due to it generally involves “rolling around in sh!t”

The usual landmarks are passed, the climbs muddy, the hole howling and the sump wet. We arrive at Consort Hall around 5ish after a four hour trip in. Camp is a grateful respite, dinner being a MOD Corned Beef Hash mix with some Tresviso blue cheese to accompany it. More tea drunk.

Message left by Martin suggests he went onto the Death Race aven with Matt’s camping kit, in order to replace Dave. All confusing. Around 9pm he returns, after nearly 12 hours caving on his own). We are all in bed, so only half aware of what was going on.

Day Two

Morning comes, bad nights sleep once more. Too hot, too many toilet breaks, too much snoring.

MOD Sausage and Beans for breakfast and some cups of tea, all very quaint and British. Next challenge involved getting out of nice dry and warm camp clothes and back into the wet, gritty and smelly caving clothes. My undersuit sticks to me instantly, sending a nice cold feeling right through my body. Wet socks even worse. SRT equipment back on, mud everywhere and grit rubbing into all the cuts, bruise and insect bites. A low point. Another cup of tea.

Team of 4 of us now make our way to the sump, somehow we have ended up with an extra bag of 100m rope destined for the climbs.

Most of the cave is pleasant from here on and we make good progress to the sump. While I help Martin kit up, Martin T and Al go off for a bit of an explore.

It takes a good hour and a half of setting up and checking equipment before Martin is ready to dive. At one point we have a large fright when a rock the size of beach ball lands in the sump 2 yards from me. We think it might be Alan and Martin high up in the roof, some shouting is unreturned so the next 10 minutes are rather cautiously spent checking for further projectiles.

At 14:20 Martin is all kitted up and he sets off. I film him setting off, and it’s a good 2 minutes before he is out of sight. The sump descending down a large ramp almost immediately.

It all suddenly becomes quite dark and eerie and I notice how cold I’ve become. I dig out the survival bag and crawl inside. I slowly doze off for about 30 minutes, before Martin and Alan return. Another cup of tea made and then all 3 of us climb into the bag.

At around 15:40 Martin returns after an 80 minute dive.

 

Another hour and a half is spent de-kitting and then we start ferrying equipment, in stages, back to the “Hall of the Green Domino”. We have 9 bags, including the 2x12litre dive cylinders, between the 4 of us and at one point my maths fails and I end up carrying 3 bags at the same time as trying to climb the muddiest part of the cave

It takes nearly two hours for us to get the 9 bags back to Green Domino, a trip that would normally take 20 minutes. We get all but one of the 12 litre cylinders back to the foot of the pitches out of the chamber. We are all pretty tired and just after 7PM we start back start back for Consort Hall.

It’s pretty slow going and I instantly get caught up 1/3 of the way up “Dan’s Big Pitch”, just where you have to lie on your side through squeeze at top of pitch, the cord on my tackle bag catches in my pantin (for the non-cavers a cam device attached to my foot) Unfortunately, working as designed each time I move my foot the cam moved further up the rope, until I was paralysed in a z position, unable to move forward or reach the pantin. As I had already removed my chest and hand jammers from the rope, it was just my safety cords stopping me from dropping back down the pitch (all while in this stupid contorted z position). Eventually, I was able to unclip the bag, which promptly seemed to weigh like a block of lead and nearly sent me plummeting down the shaft, and remove the rope. I was probably only stuck about 15 minutes but it seemed far longer and it had sapped what little energy I had left.

From here it was a struggle, slow and painful as my body starts shutting down, and I was consciously having to check and double check my equipment before abseiling or ascending the rope. The time for stupid mistakes was right about now, elegant climbs now just involved throwing myself up them and splaying myself out, like a spider being washed down the plug hole. The bag weighs a ton and cursing everyone and anyone. In particular the person who came up with the idea of diving this sump, so a few choice words with myself….

Eventually crashed back into around 9PM, Beef Ravioli in Mushroom Sauce then a horrible custard sponge pudding, the custard being solid yellow gelatine substance. Cup of tea, bed.

Day 3

Awoke 8ish after a rather cold nights sleep. Plan was for Alan and Martin T to go to “Death Race 2000”. Although we had not seen anyone from the climbing party, they would surely be aware that Dave had not turned up. Martin G and I to start for the entrance carrying out some of the more delicate and expensive dive stuff.

I ended up with a the most stupidly shaped bag, 2 fins creating a comic shape that wedged into every boulder. The first hour and a half of caving was a nightmare. My body is still screaming at me, every other step seems to be a slip or the bag catches, it still weighs a ton and each time I drop it or place it over a climb, the pull almost drags me down after it.

Its only at the 22m pitch that I seem to regain some sense of what I’m doing. Probably as I know we are nearly out. Energy seems to return to me and we get out through the entrance series very efficiently, and out for 3pm, back up the hill by 4.

The Upstream Sump

So the bit everyone is interested in, what happened in the sump?

The knowledge of the sump was limited to published journals and word of mouth as the original divers are no longer around.

Log extracts “Dived 3.15am, reached the limit and laid a further 42m to a maximum depth of -27m. (Rob Parker)

From Caves and Caving “Rob’s dive followed, and a further 47m of line was added at -27m until the diver turned around because he was scared (he is human after all)”

The survey shows the tantalising words “continues…

Martin reached the limit of Rob Parker’s line and found what had scared the divers away! It does continue but straight down! The line is tied off at the head of a 20m shaft. Martin descended the shaft to a depth of -46m. It then levels out. He followed for another 100m or so in a large canyon (on a similar size to Consort Hall) before returning due to gas mixture restrictions.

Martin’s words “have you seen that film Sanctum? It’s was just like that sh!t

Cueva del Nacimiento (3)

Last night the bulk of people arrived. Martin T, Anthony and Simon arrived in the afternoon after a fast non-stop drive down through France. Alan, Duncan and Matt arrived a few hours later.

Just as well, doubts had begin to set in as to whether we could get all the equipment through the cave and too the sump. With more people, no problem? All were quickly press ganged into carrying bags to Consort Hall.

In the morning Martin G, Dave, Matt and madPhil set off around 8ish with the intention of heading toward Consort Hall, picking up the 12litres dive cylinders where I had stashed them at the top of Boulder Hall and take as far as the camp. A second group left an hour later, compromising myself, Alan, Simon, Martin T, and Anthony, we would collect up all other bags on route, mainly personal camp equipment, stoves and a collection of neck braces and first aid kits, in case of accidents.

Down at the entrance Simon has forgotten his helmet and light, undettered (or forced) he donned 3 balaclavas and a survival bag wrapped under them to protect his head. The state of my kit was no much better. My oversuit completely trashed I had borrowed Laurence’s oversuit, which was slightly too short for me and a chest harness. Holes in wetsocks and a ripped undersuit that didn’t keep me warm at the best of time.

On the way through the entrance series I placed a couple of reflective markers to aid route finding for the others who would be coming out of the cave later in the day.

The trip was at a good pace, although eventually we separated into two groups, myself and Martin T with the stoves and 2 sets of camping gear. The rest following with more camping gear. Just before the pitch down to Consort Hall, Matt and madPhil appeared and helped get the bags through the calcite squeezes leading up to the pitch.

At camp a quick conflab, dive bottles as far as Dan’s Big Room, an added bonus and speed up the trip in the morning.

The rest of the team quickly departed for the entrance, leaving the team of 4 (me, Martin G, madPhil and Dave) at camp.

Camp always seems a rather dismal affair, like some low budget wedding on the beach. Wet tarpaulins draped over pieces of string, stove in the center with a collection of bags and plastic drums to sit on. Food is generally some dehydrated affair or ration packs for those splashing out.

Cold soon starts to set in, so I change into my dry clothes. Undersuit has shrunk at some point over the past year, with the arms now only coming up to my elbows. Incredibly tight, so I’m partly bent over double. Few extra layers over the top, 2 balaclavas and some tesco carrier bags wrapped round my feet. A fashion icon. Opening my camping mat, I found a great big hole through the middle! A bit of gaffer tape (previously wrapped round a cut across my hand) quickly patches things up.

Food eaten and with no much to do now I’m in bed by 6.30. Still awake at 9 before slowly dropping off. I wake around an hour later and hear some boulder falls deep in the cave, then I hear what I think is someone calling for help. Really quite freaky, then I realise it’s the acoustics in the chamber and it’s just Martin snoring.

Rather uncomfortable nights sleep, just can’t get a spot without a rock sticking in my back and then too hot in my down sleeping bag. A few layers shed and I spend a few hours sleeping part out of the sleeping bag. A first for an underground camp for me, normally I’m freezing!

Cueva del Nacimiento (Camp – Day 2)

We are all up around 7ish. More dehydrated food stuffs and a cup of tea and we set off for the upstream sump. I’m still half asleep and most of the landmarks pass in a blur. I wake up around the time we reach the bottles at Dan’s Big Room, where I’m handed an oxygen cylinder to carry.

Most obstacles now are easily passed with a combination of hauling and dragging employed to get up and down some of the pitches. We arrive at the upstream sump around 12ish. It’s an impressive place, a large (15mx6m) blue sump pool heading off, Rob Parkers dive line still in place from the late 80′s. Madphil and Dave shoot off to take more gear up the Teeth of Satan climbs ready for their push on these later in the week, leaving myself and Martin to sort out diving gear. Well Martin to set it all up and me to clean mud of the bits and pieces. Close call at one point, while I was holding the oxygen cylinder, when the two rocks I was standing on decided to collapse, dropping me 2 foot. Somehow I managed to keep the cylinder perfectly upright and not injure myself. Not sure it’s the kind of place I would want to be rescued from (if possible to be rescued safely).

We exit the cave from the sump in just over 4 hours and slog up the hill once more. The holiday in Cuba looking for more appealing about half way up.

In addition the second depth sensor was set up at Colin’s Climax.

 

P.S Photos will appear eventually, once I take my camera into the backend of the cave…

Cueva del Nacimiento (2)

I pushed on and caught up with Martin G and Dave who had got lost close to the Black Hole. We carried on together and knocked off the next few bits of cave before we reached the Ramp and headed up to Boulder Hall. All the bags were stashed with the 2 diving bottles.

On the way back down we bumped into a LUSS reunion of sorts at the top of the Ramp. Jes Peterson and Mark Sefton, along with Derek were on their way to Boulder Hall to undertake some resurveying for me.

Martin T, Anthony and Simon arrived. Bunkhouse getting crowded.

Plan for tomorrow is for Martin G, madPhil, Dave and myself to start ferrying all the dive equipment from the top of Boulder Hall to the camp at Consort Hall. One night camp and then move diving equipment from Consort Hall to the upstream sump, before exit same day. Its going to be two long miserable days….

Cueva del Nacimiento

The rising roaring noise in the distance marks the arrival at the Hole in the Wall, a small hole in the side of the cave passage that channels all the air coming down through the cave. Looking into the hole, is like sticking your head out of a car window…. with a face full of grit for good measure.

A small pitch soon follows and then once more the cave climbs up, until leveling out briefly at the sump. It’s at this point that I notice my chest harness has snapped, bit of a sobering thought as I’d just been pruskking up the last few climbs. The sump is more of a duck now, and the level has remained the same as last year, so we get through relatively dry. A couple more pitches and we reach Consort Hall, it’s taken about 4 hours, so quicker than we were expecting but a slow dawning of realization to the task we have undertaken.

Lunch is eaten and we set off once more, heading toward the back of the cave. The next few parts of the cave are probably the best, large, well decorated passages that slowly head up through some more climbs into Dan’s Big Room. From here we gradually climb down once more towards the start of the climbs for the Teeth of Satan and the route onto the stream way.

None of us have been to the stream way before, so armed with a 1979 map and various contradictory descriptions we climb up and over an obvious calcite blockage and into a large passage heading downwards. Gradually a rumbling can be heard in the distance and we pop out into a large stream way with deep pools. It’s great to be at the stream way, but it becomes quite obvious we cannot move up the stream way to the sump without full on immersion in the water.

We try a few different routes around the stream but they all lead to more deep pools. Eventually we backtrack around 50m up the passage to what initially looks like a rope coming in from the ceiling, but turns out to be 6mm dive line. Martin and madPhil make a start on climbing the wall once more while myself and Dave return to the calcite climb to fetch the rope and drill.

On returning to the climb, the others have returned having reached the sump via this route. The drill and rope is hauled up so that they can get down! Diving lead is dumped at the foot of the climb and we start the slow trip back out. The landmarks pass quickly and we are back at Consort Hall in about an hour and half. A bit more food and we set off for the entrance. It all seems a lot quicker on the way out and we reach the entrance at 9:30PM. Total cave time of 12 hours 30 minutes. Slog up the hill and dinner just before going to bed.

Satan’s diving bottle

So when I talked in the last post about the diving bottle filled with the heavist gas known to man, I lied, today’s diving bottle was filled with an even heavier gas…

Plan today was for madPhil and Dave to take a bag of rope and rig all the down pitches to Consort Hall, the location of the main underground camp. At the same time, myself and Derek would bring the next diving bottle through the entrance series, picking up the original one on route and depositing them both at the top of Boulder Hall.

As most of my caving equipment was already down at the entrance to Nacimiento, a very quick pack should have occurred, but a lot of faffing occurred trying to get the diving bottle into a comfortable position on my back. Lunch hastily prepared, something to look forward to today, a tin of sardines and a half chewed salami.

Walk down to the cave not too bad today, borrowing a couple of walking poles to ease the pressure on my knee. No sign of the others on arrival at the entrance, so a quick change and we crossed the canal with the bottle and some small bags.

Nearly a disaster when the metal ring on the tackle sack come off nearly sending the diving tank and me through Derek and back into the canal. Changed over to a better bag, picked up first aid kit and stove destined for the camp and set off.

This time round lugging the diving bottle was considerably harder work. Each pull and push on the bag was accompanied by a grunt and an unrepeatable expletive. It was if the bag was nailed to the floor.

Eventually we slowly made our way through the entrance series and up toward the start of the Ramp.

Lunch was a sorry affair with the main excitement being when I opened the tin of mackeral and sprayed fishy tomato sauce all over my face. Spent the rest of the trip smelling of fish.

The Ramp is a 100m 45 degree angle muddy slope. The intention was to pick up the original dive bottle here, but as luck would have it, it had gone. Hope was shortlived as it was at the top of the ramp now, having been moved by madPhil and Dave.

Easy going to Boulder Hall, where we took the bottles up to the top of the chamber, and pulled them up a short climb into Brian Baru’s place. I had hoped to get them just slightly further to the top of the main pitch, but an awkward muddy climb was impossible for me to get up without some form of protection.

Bottles deposited we started to make our way back down Boulder Hall, about half way down I spotted another slope heading off and had a quick poke up it. It lead to a series of interconnected chambers and passages, quite extensive with a lot of formations. I headed down a rather steep slope, around 10m, and dropped off the end. Looking back up it, and being on my own now, a slight moment of concern when I realised I might not be able to get back up. I was down anyway so I had a quick look round, no obvious way on and no draft, so I headed back to the climb. Derek appeared at the top of the climb and probably sat trying not to laugh, as I did my best Spiderman impression, trying to cram myself into one side of the climb and wiggle up the side of the climb. Eventually I reached the top and breathed a small sigh of relief, that could have been quite embarrassing and I had already eaten my emergency chocolate bar.

We carried on back towards the entrance to finish off a little bit more of the depth readings for Derek and we exited the cave.

Trip back up the hill was slow, with horseflies being the source of further swearing. By far the most evil of sciences creation, after Martin’s diving bottle.

 

MadPhil and Dave returned back to the bunkhouse later, with news that cave rigged as far as Consort Hall now. A couple of pitches had to be re-rigged, as the rope had been mistakenly removed last year. Good news was the sump part way through the cave had not filled again, and was at the same level as last year.

T69

T69

A part rest day prior to a big equipment carry tomorrow. A short trip to my favourite named cave, T69. Still unfinished after the last couple of years, we keep coming back to 69 as a possible quick route into the back end of Nacimiento. The current limit is a false floor of mud and large flakes of rock, with a big hole beneath, that rocks fall a considerable way down. The entrance gives of a slight draft, so it’s a promising site.

Martin arrived in the morning after a long drive from his French diving drip in the Lot so came along with myself and MadPhil.

Not much to report, the spoil and rocks from previous visits was cleared up, but an attempt to remove some of the rock with more explosive methods failed, when my firing pin failed to work and got stuck in the rock.  Packed up and came back to Tresviso

Revised GPS co-ordinates paces very close to Dans Big Room in Nacimiento, albeit 500m vertically apart.

Sima Bromista

Derek and Mark spent the afternoon relocating Sima Bromista, a cave we had failed to locate on 2 previous years out in the area. It took them all day, but it transpired that it was only 50m from a cave marked by Bob in 2010…..

Second dates.

The second date however should be a better affair, a bit more relaxed and comfortable with each other, wanting to find out more. The conversation more flowing, the laughs bigger. The looks are less furtive, maybe more longing. The bravado may be gone and some serious questions can be asked and answered.

I have a second date with Martin’s diving bottle tomorrow, keep your fingers crossed.