2017 Summary

Cueva del Nacimiento – Jurassic World – Terror Firma

The ‘final’ aven at the end of the cave was climbed to over 40m, a split in the aven was followed to a new height of 534m above the entrance, but closed down.  The second aven remains unclimbed and is ongoing 

Cueva del Nacimiento – Jurassic World – Pterodactyl Crumble

Another aven at the end of the cave was explored upwards before reaching horizontal passage for another 60m, then finally closing down. 

Cueva del Nacimiento – Death Race 2000 – Joe’s Crack

Initial constriction was passed and the passage continues down another 35m, to head of undescended 12m pitch.  The passage heads under the Death Race chamber, toward the Death Race pitches.

Cueva del Nacimiento – Teeth of Satan – Wet Aven

The Wet Aven was not attempted on this trip, in part due to 2 trips getting lost on the way to the far end and running out of time to climb.

Cueva del Nacimiento – Other

180m of passage found near Death Race passage.

A new aven (+30m) found near P Chamber in Death Race passage, continues.

Cueva del La Marniosa

Sump 1 was dived and the 80m aven beyond was climbed to approx. 47m.  The rock is extremely poor and no obvious continuations could be seen at the top of the aven, using powerful lights.

The Marniosa team diverted attention to trying to dive Sump 2,  an undived sump, discovered in 1987 and unvisited since.  A rather ambitious trip saw two cavers reach sump 2 and allowed one diver to pass sump 2 (30m long t 5m depth) to surface in stream passages.  A further 40m of cave was explored and still continues, before safety concerns forced a retreat.

 Pozo Del Castillo.

Pozo Castillo continues to be surveyed (2km +) and leads explored, attempting to bypass the 1987 snow collapse.  The rediscovery of FT16 and the lower snow levels, allowed further progress in the system, but a sump was encountered at -110m.

Pozo Natacha (a series of pitches in Castillo, rather than a separate cave) was pushed past it’s 1983 limit, down a tight right to the head of a tight 20m pitch.  This pitch head would need serious enlargement before further exploration can continue.

Other exploration

Torca del Carneros was (re)discovered and surveyed.  This lies on La Mesa, above Tresviso, and probably would be connected to caves draining away from Tresviso toward the San Esteban valley.

Fallen Bear was also rigged ready for further exploration in 2018.  The bulk of the cave is a steeply descending ramp, similar to Nacimiento, and contains a number of leads of potential.

Summary:

In total over 2km of cave was surveyed in 2017.  Exploration of Nacimiento continues and has now pushed the height to over 534m from the entrance.  A logistical challenge that is not proving to get any easier, despite fixed camps toward the end of the cave.  Trips to the far end require 4-5 nights of camping, and advanced camps at the far (far) end now need to be considered.  Passing the second sump in Marniosa is a major achievement and unexpectedly has surfaced in passage heading away from Nacimiento and into the mountain, possible towards a hypotheses trunk route that may also feed the upstream sump in Nacimiento.  The rigging of Fallen Bear, and discovery of some new leads, opens up further possibilities of closer deeper systems lying between Nacimiento and the deep potholes high on the mountain.

My first trip to Andara.. (Part One)

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.

70's caving
70’s caving

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!

Map to camp, still used today
Map to camp, still used today

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.

Constriction of Doom, Cheese Cave (1995)
Constriction of Doom, Cheese Cave (1995)

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.

The Corkscrew, Cheese Cave (1995)
The Corkscrew, Cheese Cave (1995)

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…..

Sword Pitch, Cheese Cave (1995)
Sword Pitch, Cheese Cave (1995)

Did you pack this bag sir?

Friday 28th April

Manchester Airport
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

Tresviso 2016 expedition begins

Overview & brief history: 

The Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20km inland from the northern coast of Spain, forming part of the Cantabrian Mountains.  It consists of three main areas, the Central, Eastern and Western Massifs.  It was the Eastern Massif that drew the attention of Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) in the early 1970s.

location

The early years were spent pushing Cueva del Nacimiento (Cueva del Agua) located at the foot of the mountain range.  Over the years this was pushed to around the 11km and +300m mark, but after several years the cave was abandoned as the major routes sumped and no continuation could be found.  LUSS turned their attention to the Andara region higher up the mountain range and sought caves that would drop into the Nacimiento system and create a record-breaking 1500m through trip.

They eventually found a number of deep caves around this ‘top camp’ area.  Sara, Tere, Flowerpot and the -1169m deep Sima 56 (at the time one of the deepest in Spain) were all pushed to respectable depths.

Many years were spent pushing the top camp systems but the way through remained elusive.

The idea was always to connect Sima 56 through to Nacimiento, a through trip of around 1500m vertically and ~5.9km horizontally.

Exploring Sima 56 downwards is an incredibly large undertaking (approx. -1129m deep, lots of pitches).  Upwards from Nacimiento will also be difficult, the furthest point in 1986 was a +200m ascending ramp, followed by some avens with surface debris.

Depending on what you look at, the difference between Sima 56 and Nacimiento is about 3km, but they have overlapped height wise.  Some of the known undescended shafts on the Sierra del a Corta are right above the furthest point of Nacimiento.

 

Brian Baru's Place by Phil Walker (2011)
Brian Baru’s Place by Phil Walker (2011)

Recent SWCC activity

In 2005 a small SWCC trip found a number of undescended shafts on the top of the Sierra del a Corta.  Al2 remains unfinished.

In 2009 a joint SWCC & SBSS trip further explored Cueva del Entre Cuetos, located on the Sierra del Corta.  The 1996 limit at -100m was passed and the cave extended down a number of new pitches to an immature stream way that may repay a further visit

In 2010 SWCC and SBSS spent 10 days examining leads around the Sierra del Corta and Valdeladiezma, including a number of promising draughting shafts. (T69, T507, T504).  Torca Septrin, on the Pico Boro, was also revisited and extended for a few more metres and remains an ongoing project.

In 2011 SWCC Cueva del Nacimiento was successfully bolted and re-rigged all the way through the cave and up to the current limit of exploration in the final Death Race 2000 chamber. T69 was investigated further with some digging revealing the head of an un-descended shaft.

In 2012 SWCC spend 3 weeks further exploring Cueva del Nacimiento, including a successful dive of the Upstream Sump, not visited since 1986, extending the sump further and deeper.  Death Race 2000 was climbed and a series of pitches descending back toward stream level was discovered.

In 2014 SWCC and others further explored leads in Cueva del Nacimiento and revisited Torca Septrin

In 2015 the Tresviso Caves Project spent 2 weeks exploring Cueva del Nacimiento and discovered new extensions above the Death Race 2000 chamber.

Previous reports are available here: http://www.tresvisocaves.info/reports.html

The Plan

The 2016 expedition will be undertaken over 2-3 weeks from end of July into August (dates TBC)

The expedition has a number of objectives.  The following are a few primary objectives: 

Cueva del Nacimiento – Die Hard – Jurassic World

The 2015 expedition successfully reached the highest known point in the cave, the ‘Jurassic World’, with a number of leads left open

  • Sandy dig at end of Jurassic World
  • Multiple climbs in Jurassic World
  • Multiple climbs in Die Hard
Satan's Ramp, Cueva del Nacimiento by Phil Walker (2011)
Satan’s Ramp, Cueva del Nacimiento by Phil Walker (2011)

Cueva del Nacimiento – Pina Colada Bypass

A 3-10m rift heads off from the Pina Colada sump

Cueva del Nacimiento – Teeth of Satan – Wet Aven

The 2014 expedition partly climbed a promising aven, part way up the Teeth of Satan ramps.  The aven requires completing with a possible continuation at the top.

Cueva del Nacimiento – Grand Circle

The Grand Circle is an area of passage around the main stream way at the far end of the cave.  Although explored fairly rigorously in the late 70’s this was before the advent of more powerful lights and better equipment.  Given the profile of the cave, exploration in this area would be worthwhile to try and find a middle dry phreatic level above the Far Upstream Sump.

Cueva del Nacimiento – Parting Friends

This sump lies about an hour from the entrance and is a short 8m dive to a second sump, currently at 200m still ongoing.  A dive at this site is planned towards the end of the expedition.

Middle Camp

Approx. 200m above the furthest point in Nacimiento is the Sierra del Corta.  A heavily wooded area with a number of promising leads, that could potentially drop into Nacimiento and provide an easier route into the back to aid exploration 

Cueto de Entre Cuetos

The 2009 trip pushed this cave down to a small stream way, this still requires pushing and the cave is in a good central location for dropping into the top of Nacimiento

T554

The 2014 trip re-discovered a large 100m shaft on the Sierra del a Corta.  Another good central location for dropping into Nacimiento, this requires some digging at the bottom

Al2

Discovered in 2005.  A drafting shaft not yet bottomed.  Jurassic World in Nacimiento appears to be heading directly towards this site

Secondary Objectives:

 Time and resources permitting there are a number of secondary objectives that will be attempted:

  1. Pozo Del Castillo. Reinvestigate the possibility of resuming exploration of the Castillo system, currently at -293m .
  1. Locate draughting surface entrance, close to 80m aven beyond Sump 1 in Cueva del Marniosa