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.
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…..
“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.
A surprisingly comfortable nights sleep was had by everyone, the new sleeping bags, although cheap, proving to work quite well. The temperature of the chamber was around 7 degrees all night, which helps. A lot warmer than other camps in the cave.
Over muesli some debate was had on whether to explore a bit of new passage, near camp (Joe’s Crack) but ultimately we decided to strike camp with a view to get out in time for the bar and guarantee a full Monday for any other plans.
Camp equipment was catalogued, packed and stored ready for July and then we started the long slog out of the cave, with three lightly packed bags between the five people (2pm). We gradually split into smaller groups, myself and Gareth at the front, for all of 20 minutes until we got slightly lost in a boulder choke. Hannah soon turned up and pointed out the obvious way on.
The way down the ramps is a lot quicker and we arrived back at The Hall of the Green Domino in just over an hour. BJ had some cheese and chorizo wraps stashed here, which was a nice boost over the rather bland muesli earlier. Once up the muddy pitches into Dan’s Big Room the cave seems to feel it’s going downhill, so a further boost to morale. Consort Hall is the next major stop and we all reconvene. All we are making good progress there is rising concern that we won’t make it out to the bar in time for dinner. Myself and BJ attempt to race ahead but are soon caught up by Chris at Flake Pitch who then runs off to get dinner in, and BJ not far behind him.
While waiting for my turn up the pitch, Hannah turns up, having fallen and possibly twisted her ankle, is now approaching my preferred caving speed…. We cave for a bit, with me still running behind and upon reaching the Sump, realise we haven’t seen or heard from Gareth in a while. I move onto the next awkward bag obstacle while Hannah waits for Gareth. It’s not long before they both arrive and we get the bags through the Hole in the Wall. Gareth had gone the wrong way down a pitch and had a slight fall, hence slight delay.
My entire body is cramping at the moment but I know it’s nearly all over. A few more abseils lead back to the big 22m up pitch ( needs a name!) and then back into Boulder Hall. It’s all down hill from here, down the ramp and into the entrance series. Exit at 8:00pm.
Only an hours hike up the gorge left to complete………
A leisurely morning was spent packing, avoiding leaving and, for some, three breakfasts. Eventually everything was packed and excuses had run out. The 500m descent down the gorge was its usual enjoyable self but due to the time of year a lot less tree cover, meaning we could see a lot more of the cliff sides and panoramic views.
However all too soon we arrived at the bottom. Gareth had already pumped the dinghy up, so no further procrastination allowed. Into the cave at 15.30. Promptly I decided I didn’t want to be there… I’m convinced the entrance series gets harder each year. It’s dark, water thundering about everywhere and seems to take forever to get anywhere. Water levels up slightly, but traverse line still up across waterfall, with only one slight wear point. I decided to clip in for safety, and promptly fell in head first, great cold and wet right at the start. Thankfully BJ did exactly the same so I didn’t feel totally stupid.
A lot of teamwork required to get our rather large tackle bags up and down the climbs but slowly we made progress. At Clapham Junction equipment was left in situ (waterproof first aid, 4 man bothy, 1 AV tackle bag) as this point is the most suitable to sit out a flood in the entrance series. The rescue kit is usually a bit more comforting, but we couldn’t carry everything this time round.
The character of the cave starts to change now, starting with The Ramp, a 70m steep climb, generally at a 45 degree angle. More up and down climbs, continue until Boulder Hall, a large chamber. At the top of the chamber a few more climbs up lead to a 22m pitch, dropping down to the start of a large impressive passage that steeply rises up via a number of up pitches. Normally, you start to hear a roaring noise, that sounds like water, but is the rushing of air through a constriction. This time it’s ominously silent… If I’m lucky it’s blocked and we can turn around and go home. No such luck and we continue down through The Hole in the Wall and more climbs up before we reach the Sump. Water levels are normal and we chain up the five tackle bags and quickly pull them through so we don’t spend anymore time that strictly necessary in the water.
Normally my spirits would start to lift as we are getting close to Consort Hall, one of the old underground camps, however as our main objectives are in the Death Race 2000 area, camps further in have become the norm and now Consort Hall just reminds me that we are still only a third of the way into the cave! We stop for some lunch (at 8pm) before carrying on.
The next hour and a half of caving is probably some of the nicest passage in the cave, big and dry with lots of old formations. This is soon forgotten at the next set of down pitches, from the top of Dan’s Big Room a series of muddy pitches, prove both frustrating and unnerving in equal measure. The ropes were placed on the 2011 expedition and have become more and more muddy and fast, plus all personal equipment is now of the same mud colour, so clipping into the right rope becomes a critical requirement.
At the bottom of the pitches The Hall of the Green Domino provides a definite landmark for the start of the next challenge… Death Race 2000 is now approx. 250m above us, up the aptly named Beasts Ramp, Satan’s Ramp and Hellsmouth.
By now I’m feeling pretty tired, those training days at the spa and facial massages seem to have been the wrong choice, maybe more caving would have been the better option. However, once more my spirits are lifted, BJ looks positively white and slumped in the corner. He might be feeling worse than me. Chris, of course, looks like he only started the trip 5 minutes ago.
By now we have sent Gareth and Hannah on to Death Race, the only water source in the area is down a broken 70m pitch that can take a couple of hours to manoeuvre water carriers up. We are all going to be dehydrated and wanting food later and in the morning, so it seems a sensible idea to do it now rather than post sleep…
These ramps were first climbed in the late 80’s by members of the SWCC, all free climbed or hand bolted, a massive achievement given the scale and conditions of the climbs. We make steady progress up the ramps, again the condition of the ropes leaving a lot to be desired, either muddy, super fast, super thick or, in one case, a dynamic rope meeting back to 1987, that was found a few years back and put back into service (really needs replacing!)
Finally the pitches up stop and we are back on relatively flat land. It’s been a few years since I was last in the Death Race area and only small parts look familiar. A few navigation issues delay us slightly but soon we can hear voices in the distance. We reach The Death Race chamber at around 2:30am, a trip in of around 11 hours. The kettle is already on and it’s time for as cup of tea and dinner. Equipment is then unpacked (the reason we came) and everyone finds a comfortable place to sleep. I don’t have my usual underground camping clothes this time round, but a rather haphazard collection of; base-layers (20 years old), woolly hat (found in gym), bin bags (for wet feet) and a pair of Ron Hill trousers, which should only see the light of day, if that light is down a cave.
After a 30hr or so trip to deathrace we’ve stocked camp with enough gear for 5 persons and approx 50man days worth of wet rations and camp gear. Come July all that will be needed is exploration and personnal gear.
A good trip without incident save a few navigational errors and out just in time for a bit of food and beer at the bar.
A leisurely morning packing a few final things soon turned into a frenzied panic when I reweighed and realised I had somehow packed only 8kg fully into a bag and, via a broken luggage scale, thought that it weighed 20kg. I thought I must have just been getting fitter and stronger, but no just a bit stupider.
Luckily this meant I could fit in more group equipment, namely lots of ration packs and another sleeping bag, destined for the Death Race camps. An hour later I was over my weight limit, so final few things into the coat pockets and full hiking clothes for the flight over. A rather fetching pair of trousers and braces made me look like I was about to go yodelling in Austria.
Strensham services at 1pm to meet Gareth and transferred over equipment. Promptly set off and got stuck in the Bank Holiday traffic. Finally got to Manchester airport around 4pm to meet Hannah and Chris. Further repacking and off to the airport.
Incredibly slow security lines, gave me plenty of time to think about how much I didn’t really like caving and not sure how I got talked into coming out to Spain. It’s fine in then summer, I can lord it over people and pretend I know what I’m doing by barking orders and nodding sagely when the Spanish talk to me. However, this time I have to go once more to the back end of Cueva del Nacimiento carrying a ridiculously heavy bag, sleep in the dirt and generally feel bad about the state of my predicament. It is snowing in Tresviso so maybe it’s flooded and we can’t go down……
Naturally we were stopped at security, mine was due to some batteries that I had placed in a glove, so obviously I was trying to smuggle a robotic arm out the country. Chris however was stopped due to an unidentifiable item in the top of his caving helmet….. a salad.
Everyone seems excited, although bit shell shocked that we are now on the way and going to have to do some caving….
There must be nearly 30kg of food between the four of us, 5kg of sleeping bags, 1kg of first aid kits, stoves, petrol and that’s before we meet Alex and then pick up the obligatory Tresviso cheese….
Now in Spain, 5 people and 10 bags crammed into a Nissan Juke…. 2 more hours to go