A total of six caves found with four of them believed to have never have been descended. The two previously we believe that have previously been descended included Rotten Sheep Cave and the unnamed ‘Sheep Skull Cave’.
The first cave found during the prospecting trip was a small chamber (4m x 4m x 3m) entered from a narrow body sized slot from a small break in the valley limb. Although the cave died instantaneously, it provided confidence for the team that there was potential for caves of a ‘human’ size in the mountain.
The second cave found included another small ‘human’ sized slot in the valley side which Fernando entered in haste. The narrow opening had the appearance of an animal burrow, with both Sam and Pyro envisaging a small bear snarling at a yellow suited Fernando disrupting their afternoon meal. Unfortunately the cave ended after approximately 10m at a narrow constriction.
We progressed further up the mountain, through the thick hill fog, and stumbled across a pot demonstrating great potential.
Approximately 50m from the summit and hidden in a secluded bowl.
As Pyro approached the cave he was confronted by a gentle mountain dog, tasked with protecting the sheep herds of the mountain. The gentle white beast approached Pyro through the dense clouds, offering a hand of friendship before Pyro stood in panic, shivering in the wake of his own futile failure as a ‘man of a mountain’. Fernando kindly intervened, whispering through the white mist, reminding the temperate beast that Pyro was a mere guest in the fortitude of his domain. Kindly, the giant walked off, in the wake of a Pyro shivering like a coward on the hill.
After a quick check through Fernando’s ‘cheat sheet’ we concluded that the pot in question mirrored the description of ‘Rotten Sheep Cave’, where several carcasses of fallen livestock were dumped on the mountain top.
We continued up, through the cloud.
Scattered across the mountain Sam, whilst taking a rest stop, noticed a flight of birds rising through the karstic landscape. He scrambled up to the hollow to discover a pot, typical of a shaft of titans’ proportion. He called across the mountain, waiting for Pyro and Fernando to venture back across the terrain.
Pyro descended the pot, traversing across the top edge and rigging a y-hang to descend the bottom of the pot. After a 15m free-hang Pyro discovered that the pot, only 25m from the summit of the mountain, terminated with a floor of boulders and mud, with the odd sheep skull for seasoning.
We descended the mountain as the cloud set in, taking the direct route down in an effort to cut short the long wandering route we had taken whilst ascending. As Pyro led the way down we stumbled across an entrance which has clearly been used historically by local hill farmers. Fernando logged the location happy in the knowledge that it matched the description of a previously logged cave.
Again, Pyro led the way down the mountain and through the poor visibility located an open shaft! Measuring approximately 8m x 4m the void clearly showed the characteristics of a cavern of potential. Under the guidance of Pyro, Sam launched a rock down the pit, crashing through the darkness with all three party members confident that the debris plummeted at least 30m. Unfortunately, we only discovered the shaft at 1815 and as the thick cloud was setting in. Definitely waiting for us to return and descend the shaft!
Thursday 13th July
Chris and Hannah required a dry way into Segura. Phil responded by rigging a few pitches down Pozo Castillo. Pyro lead us to the start of the ropes from the previous trip. There was a snow plug. We went down it. A few blind pots and cold feet later and a sump was located. Time to find the sun!
Phil and Pyro started some surveying, as an attempt to connect the dots with Castillo and try and find some missing bypass to the collapse. Using a Distox and a Nexus 7 with Topodroid (excellent bit of kit!) we started surveying a number of areas; Castillo pitches down to main junction, Castillo crawl and a few further upper series passage. While approaching the Castillo crawls, Pyro pointed out that he had taken team over the top of the crawl, and that the crawl lead to FT16 probably. I felt a bit of disappointment, in that I had hoped that the area of the snow plug that the others were working may have been beyond the collapse, but it was looking more likely that they were in Segura 1 or an undiscovered mine area near the surface. We went into the collapse and I had a quick look, compared to last year the snow appears to have melted further (no much snow in the picos this winter) and exposed more wooden props. Maybe it just needs some balls of steel and slide down the snow plug at one side, into lower ‘ante-chamber’. 80’s description suggest this is the way forward, possible the collapse is no worse than it ever was, just we are not as hard as the French.
After a quick stop at the snow plug entrance, where we couldn’t hear Hannah or Chris, we exited and located Segura 1. A short adit, straight onto a wooden winch platform, with nice soft rock and muddy underneath (scary). This was the same winch platform as can be seen from below, in the snow plug cave. Again disappointing, but serving to clarify points of entry and conditions. Exit again and met up with others.
Friday 14th July
Lots of illness and injuries running through the expedition personnel, myself and Bob headed up to the White House, so that I could survey the ‘new’ snow plug (FT16) and derig. Bob had no SRT kit and Emma was taking some kit to Fallen Bear with others before meeting us with her SRT kit (never happened). Bob and Phil surveyed, Segura 1, Upper Crawl Series and a few little passages. There was still no sign of Emma so I donned my SRT kit and started surveying FT16. One massive snow plug with various stages of melt, proving tricky and unnerving. Obviously the survey equipment malfunctioned, requiring a long sit on a patch of snow. The bottom of the plug suddenly ends in some driven mine passage, containing old mining ladders, before a final pitch down to a sump / flooded level (probably same level as flooded pot in Segura 2.
Started de-rig to eventually greet a worried Bob, who thought I was either buried under snow, or taking too long and he would miss the pub.
One of the objectives of the 2017 expedition is the aid climb of an 80m aven, in Cueva de la Marniosa. Unfortunately, the aven lies beyond a sump, so divers are required to pass the sump before attempting the climb beyond. The climbing of the aven is more for the desire to connect to any nearby surface sites, as such a connection would allow teams of non-divers to enter beyond the sump and then support divers at the currently undived sump 2, further into the cave and considerably more challenging for divers to work on their own.
Marniosa lies just up valley of Cueva del Nacimiento, and is probably a feeder into the larger system. The entrance is a small 1m high fissure in the side of the hillside, where a cool strong draft emits constantly.
Originally the cave was a cheese cave, typical of the area, and used to store the local cheeses, a particularly strong blue veined variety. However, beyond the old abandoned cheese racks, lies nearly 5km of cave from large dusty chambers in the higher entrance series, to an active streamway at around -230m depth. Marniosa was heavily explored in the late 70’s by Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS), but following a tragic accident, visits become less and the neighbouring Nacimiento cave was proving to be giving up its secrets far more easily. It wasn’t until the mid-80’s that a team from the South Wales Caving Club (SWCC) returned to Marniosa with the aim of exploring the undived sumps. This was a highly successful trip that not only dived the first sump, but also discovered nearly a 1km of passage beyond, terminating in a second sump pool.
Initially, we wanted to transport some dive bottles to sump 1, ready for the divers, to dive sump 1 later in the week. A team of 4 assembled with various size bottles attached to their backs and other assorted bits and pieces. Normally a 45 minutes slog down the track to the cave is required, but now, with the benefit of a 4×4, we drove straight to the cave and only a short 5 minute climb to the entrance was required.
After the initial entrance chamber, the cave quickly starts to descend rapidly via a series of initially small pitches to the impressive Morning Chamber, full of old stalagmites and stalactites. As we had all been in Marniosa a few times over the years, we didn’t stop to admire the scenery and we continued onto the next large 20m pitch. The cave had been left rigged from the previous year, so we had no hassle of carrying rope and metalwork to rig the pitches and we all reached this point with ease. From here the cave changes character again, with large fossil galleries and abandoned streamways. This is the nicest section of the cave, with lots of interesting formations and pleasant passage.
All too soon, the cave changes again, with more muddy passage taking over and we knew we would be approaching the drop into the streamway. Papoose Pitch, as it is called, is a very muddy affair, with no real clean rigging possible and just a lot of mud to slip and injure something. At the bottom a series of platform are reached, that lead down via some exposed climbs, into the streamway. The active streamway makes a nice change from the rest of the cave, upstream in particular containing a lot of passage to a terminal chamber with a number of avens to be climbed. However, we were interested in downstream, so we set off again. It’s been a few years since I have been downstream in Marniosa, but I had forgotten how tricky some of the passage is, with high level traverses or exposed climb downs required for most of the 400m between the bottom of Papoose Pitch to Sump 1. There are 3 pitches in the streamway, again rigged last year, and there was a danger that winter floods might have damaged some of the rope, but luckily the first 2 pitches were fine. The third one was different. Not only was it rigged with deviations using maillons (ran out of carabiners), the core was exposed (found this out after I had already reached the bottom of the pitch). This will need re-rigging when we come back.
Not long after this final pitch, the start of a series of swims marks the approaching sump. Gear was stashed here while Gareth took a quick jump into the deeper streamway to check out the sump.
Although he was only gone for 5 minutes, it’s a very chilly place in the stream and we were all starting to get cold. A few jelly beans for energy and we set off back. The original plan had been to look at some leads upstream but as time was getting on, an exit was preferred. Progress was slow coming out, and there was some opportunity for photos while waiting to ascend the pitches
Eventually, we exited after 7 hours underground, but still more ferrying trips required, before a proper dive can be launched.
After being promised a four day camping trip in cave where, I wouldn’t get wet and in the warmest cave passage in the world, I was keen to get going. Less than 24hours after leaving Cardiff we were standing in the entrance of Cueva del Agua, a steaming resergence, 15m in diameter.
They said I didn’t need wet socks, but I was dubious so chose to take them anyway, this turned out to be a wise decision.
After inflating the boat to get across the lake, which was good fun, the next section of passage was flooded and would either be a swim or a new high traverse – so much for not getting wet. This is the wettest the team have ever seen it, its normally totally dry and you can just walk through! And it was blowing a gale,so not that warm either.
After Chris rigged a new hand line to traverse above the water, and a near miss for me when I nearly fell in the water (thanks for a hand Chris) we were on our way.
Our four day trip was then cut short when it was decided we needed to replenish our rope and have a beer. So our epic turned into a half day.
Try again tomorrow I suppose. Time for the veggie option in the bar…
Alex here, not really sure what to say. This is my first trip to my Picos and I have no idea what to expect. All I know so far is that its going to be tough, I need a big bag and it’s completely dry; that was until I heard that there was a popped boat to deal with.
So far I’ve had fun being gassed out by Dave, packing & re-packing bags and walking around airports in wellies.
After a fairly long journey we were welcomed to the Picos with cheese toasties and beer by Carolyn, one of the early explorers of Cueva delicious Agua (1970’s). A good night’s sleep and a breakfast of pasty, with no leaves in it at all, we were on our way.
Let’s see how we go!
I first visited the Eastern Massif (or Andara) region of the Picos de Europa in 1996, as part of a small Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) expedition. LUSS’s heyday had long since waned, but a very small contingent of students (and ex-students) were keeping the club going during term time and trying desperately to kick start the Tresviso expeditions in the summer.
The last large scale LUSS expedition had occurred in 1987, but since that time the majority of LUSS cavers had moved onto bigger and greater things, so due to lack of information and resources, these 90’s expeditions concentrated on smaller scale objectives, without the manpower or time to embark on anything of the size of the 70’s and 80’s LUSS expedition (where 50+ cavers descended on the mountain for up to 3 months!).
For me, relatively new to caving, an expedition of any size was a grand undertaken and I would bore anyone who would listen about the great adventures I was sure to have, and the dangers I was sure to face. The reality was slightly different.
This of course was the 90’s, so although caving attire was not much different, the obligatory floppy haircuts and lumberjack shirts were the travel clothes of choice and crammed into our very own minibus, with the club name on the bus changed to Wancaster by some wag in Inglesport we embarked on what seems a journey of epic proportions. The minibus was long bench style with 1km of rope piled up in the middle and 2 people half sat, half lying down on the benches, the rest of the team in the front. Not the most comfortable of journeys and the initial travel down to Portsmouth must have taken a good 12 hours, sat in various stress positions, with a broken heater and no radio. However, as a newbie to the expedition scene, the talk of huge resurgence caves and unexplored passage was more than exciting and I couldn’t wait to get out to Spain!
The ferry crossing was then, as it is now, pretty horrible. I personally suffer from really bad sea sickness, that can only appear to be cured by far too much drinking, presumably ‘scientifically’ correcting the imbalance in my head caused by the motion, to one caused by alcohol. Needless to say the journey passed in a haze of stumbling stupor…. for 24 hours. One positive was that at some point during the journey I ended up in a posh cabin, next to the captain’s quarter, a fine upgrade from sleeping on reclining seats. To this day I’m still not sure how I ended up there.
The following day the ferry slowly docked in Santander, the motion sickness and hangover now no longer working together and I just needed to get off that boat! Eventually I staggered back to the minibus and the other expedition members and finally we landed on Spanish soil. A times round the first roundabout before Sean (as designated Spanish driver) got the hang of driving on the wrong side and we headed off South towards the Picos.
The drive up through the Picos is always a fantastic view, the mountains getting larger and larger until you are driving up through huge gorges, with very large drops on either side. The roads are a lot safer now but even in 1996, a lot of the side barriers were made of wood and missing large sections where the snow had taken them off down the side. In a few places, far below, you could see often see cars that had been taken over the edge as well!
At Poncebos and the Cares Gorge (for those more interested in the Ario Caves Project) we turned off to the East and continued to climb up into the mountains, along further windy roads until the mountains level out on an obvious plateau and the village of Sotres (highest village in the Picos). Above the village the main mountain range of Andara reaches around 2200-2300m high and it’s only a few miles further that the ‘crossroads’ is reached. (The crossroads now, is actually a parking space for tourists and mountaineers, but at the time it was a mud turning circle, marking the junction between a dirt track to Tresviso, a dirt track to Bejes or a rocky track to the higher mountains.
The 1996 expedition was not actually based in Tresviso. A small camp site a couple of km’s up the mountain track and down into a meadow was the best site for pitching tents and having a suitable water source. The amount of equipment in the minibus meant 3 trips back and forth back were required and by the time tents were pitched and bags unpacked it was getting quite late. A quick meal (can’t remember what) and off to bed with the exciting promise of caving the next day!
The next day I had my first taste of expedition caving. The Cheese Cave, as it was called, was about 200m down the valley in a wooded clearing. First discovered in the mid 1980’s, it was a -120m deep cave with a drafting rift at the very end. The cave sat in the middle area between the resurgence cave, Cueva del Agua and the notorious higher altitude deep pot hold caves, such as Sima 56 (at that time the deepest in the Andara region at -1169m). That was pretty much all I knew about it, apart from a notorious squeeze near the start of the cave, called The Constriction of Doom, followed by the Corkscrew (probably of Doom as well). I’m not sure why cavers need to name parts of the cave with such hyperbole, maybe too much Harry Potter reading, or in the 90’s too much Xena, but it usually sets my mind racing about how bad it must actually be to earn such a name.
The passage of time (not another part of the cave…) has dulled what I can remember of that constriction and it has long since been widened by later expeditions, but it was pretty tight, think the Blowhole in Gaping Gill or Birthday Squeeze in Swildons, but 5m long, lying flat out on one side, starting in a puddle of water.
The Corkscrew (of certain death) was actually more intimidating than the constriction, starting in a small chamber full of shattered rocks, that appeared to be the only thing holding the entire roof up. In the centre a tight vertical drop requires an acrobatic sit / squat / twist combination, turning onto ones back and then rolling sideways to face the front, all of this with no space to turn head and look below.
A further 5m crawl then leads to the first pitch and the start of some ‘easier’ caving. A team was already in the cave from earlier in the morning, so all pitches were rigged. This was before easy access to drills andthrough bolts so all the pitches had a generous amount of natural rigging from any available rock, and in some cases mud, that provide a good anchor point.
The first couple of pitches are typical of the type of potholes in the area, being rather tight and rifty, with a lot of old decayed rock and calcite hanging precariously all over the place. In particular, the 3rd pitch Sword Pitch, starts for the first 5m over a hanging curtain of old calcite that rings with every touch. Even now the pitch requires a generous amount of rope protectors to rig with any sense of safety. Further pitches follow, but now an obvious draft is encountered, coming from lower down in the cave. At the Waiting Room, a low crawl leads off, which requires removal of all equipment, before popping out into a keyhole shaped passage with a cold breeze coming through a tight, impassable rift. It is at this rift that the previous expedition had spent many hours hammering away with a lump hammer and again this year the intended focus of our effort.
Out team of three spent a few hours hammering away, until the smallest member could just squeeze the top part of her body through the rift, tiredness and coldness prevented much further work and we exited the cave.
As my first taste of expedition caving, it was a nice gentle introduction. My second lesson was immediately after exiting the cave. Bearing in mind the cave was only 200m from the camp, the next 24 hours were spent lost in the mountains with no water and only a handful of alpine strawberries for food…..
Castleton, Derbyshire. 10th-11th June 2017
“Watch, you might learn something, this is how you remove a harness while at the top of a 70m pitch…”
The BCA AGM weekend was chosen as a suitable venue for the Tresviso 2017 pre-expedition meet-up. A good turnout of the entire expedition contingent (minus 10 people…) meant a comprehensive planning meeting was not required, so it was settled on bucking the trend and undertaking some caving. Friday night was spent catching up and trying to remember what rope lengths were in the car, and whether anyone had any rigging guides for any cave in the area. A few tentative plans were made before retiring for one of the wettest and most uncomfortable night’s sleep in a tent for a long while. The £5 festival pop-up tent just not cutting it in a thunderstorm, but all good training for the hardships of Tresviso…..
A leisurely start on the Saturday, largely due to the continued torrential rain but also waiting for Dave and Dan to turn up, gave way to a greasy bacon and egg bap, another element of the strict training regime. An initial planned trip to JH fell through, so Rowter Hole was settled upon. Further quality faffing time was spent, mainly measuring rope lengths and admiring the new shiny thermal mugs for the expedition. Following complaints from everyone that they had too many t-shirts from various caving expeditions, marathons and fun runs, we went for something slightly different, a mug that can get battered and scuffed, but most importantly allow the transport of alcohol to the underground camps.
Finally, 2 cars were packed and we set off to Rowter. A slight detour was considered, just so that Dave had longer to charge his lamp battery via the car charger, but by now it was getting close to lunchtime, so we thought we should get our act together, as 6 people down Rowter, could take some time. The rain was slowly easing but it was pretty wet all over the Peaks. Rowter Farm was windswept and cold but the intrepid team had time to stop and get a nice photo showing the scenery.
The entrance to Rowter sounded decidedly wet and given it’s a 70m pitch, a bit disconcerting. Luckily I had help in the guise of a lost chest jammer. I definitely had it with me back at Castleton, but it had vanished somewhere on route. I trudged off across the field to the sound of jeers from the rest of the team. All the way back to the car and no sign off the jammer. However, just to spoil my fun Chris had followed and ,although not finding the missing item either, he had a spare one in the car. Excuses now gone, I headed back over to see the last few people dropping down the entrance pitch.
The pitch is quite impressive, a long way down, and seems to take an age with my shiny new descender. The lack of my usual SRT equipment (it’s all in Spain after the May weekend trip) making me slightly uncomfortable, as to whether the harness was done up, cowstails long enough or old jammers might break. In the end there were no issues and I landed at the bottom of the pitch, to find everyone had gone…didn’t think I had taken that long.
I could hear Dave someone below, so I followed the obvious way down the cave and soon caught up with Dave and Alan, about to climb down a large scaffold climb. At the bottom a few more climbs before we met the others, coming back! The lower pitches were not rigged (after been told the previous night they were). No problem, who’s got the extra bag of rope? It’s back in the car.
No other option but to go out of the cave. A few slight diversions (not much to see, that we could find) and back to the big pitch out. A uneventful prussic out for everyone… .other than me, where I somehow ended jammed against the top knot at the top of the pitch. The less said about a performance of comedic proportions with people pulling my legs one way, and my harness the other, the better. It’s a training meeting after all.
All feeling a bit annoyed with our performance in planning so far we made a quick detour to Winnats Head Cave. Does anyone know the way? No, but luckily someone was left a guidebook at the entrance. A quick swot up and we enter the cave.
A really nice cave, albeit a bit wet on this weekend. An hour or so spent having a look round and then out. Back at the car, found my chest jammer!
In the pub later, Dave was press ganged into booking his Spain flight immediately and then further equipment requirements gathered before the BCA sing a long event started, at which point I left in haste.