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…