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.

Cueva de la Marniosa – Terminal Sump 2 dive

Gareth had been having trouble sleeping over the few days previously, possibly due to the heat. This meant going on a push trip to the end of Cueva Marniosa to the Terminal Sump 2 would not be sensible. Josh was still determined to go but was not keen on the idea of a solo trip to the end (with or without dive kit), based on various reports of the cave suggesting a hard trip was in order (see reports from Boothroyd et al.). Therefore Josh persuaded Arwel to join him since Arwel, despite not being a cave diver, had previously passed Sump 1 without issues to help Gareth in the 80m aven beyond. Thankfully Arwel agreed and an uneventful trip down to Sump 1 was had in good time (45 mins) where both dived through, Josh carrying a bag with SRT kits plus other bits and bobs in a Daren drum (floaty!). On the other side Arwel started to brew a hot chocolate whilst Josh sorted equipment for the Sump 2 dive, including a makeshift dive harness (etriers), a single full 3L cylinder (one of two left on that side of Sump 1 by Josh two days prior), some bolting kit and general dive accessories.

The journey down to the limit explored by Josh on a solo trip two days before was much nicer this time, with company, and the obstacle turned out to be an awkward squeeze between a fallen block and the passage wall (which Arwel climbed on the way back, whereas Josh squeezed back up). After this, relatively pleasant stream passage with the usual climbing, traversing, rifts and stooping was followed for some time, via some large chambers, passing a sump pitch to the left noted on the survey, to the 14m pitch into the “bear pit” obstacle. This area had been the site of frustration for multiple previous explorers, as evidenced by equipment left behind, including Brian Judd’s lead and diving cylinders. Multiple lengths of rope were left on or near the pitch, and the first attempt to descend by Josh was shaken by one of the Y-hang “anchors” failing, when a natural rock flake inconveniently broke away. During the subsequent fall/swing encountered by Josh, an impact onto an extended left arm caused some pain and aches for the remainder of the trip. The anchors were re-rigged and the pitch descended into a large resurging pool, likely the regained streamway after it is lost in one of the aforementioned chambers. A swim across this and a short section of walking passage lead to a tight rift and a climb above.

This area is not well represented on the survey, no climb is specified in this large walking section however having communicated with MadPhil Rowsell previously, who had bolted up this climb, Josh was aware that a rope should be nearby. This was found to be about 4m up, anchored to a bolt. Josh went back to cut a short section of excess rope from the bottom of the previous pitch before Arwel, being by far the better climber, clipped it onto the 4m bolt and continued up, carefully, to the top. Midway AR found another rope from across the void attached to the rope he was climbing, which turned out to be the main hang rope installed by MadPhil for the pitch after climbing the corner. This ascending pitch is around the same height as the previous descending pitch (15m or so) and is not on the survey, despite having been climbed by the 80’s explorers (dive line was found above and below the pitch).

There are a couple of ways on at the top, and given the inconsistency of multiple descriptions a long while was spent looking around for what matched the descriptions and survey best. A retreat to the bottom of the pitch to explore the rifts below was carried out, to cover all routes, until after a discussion on whether to continue or not, it was decided to choose the ongoing large passage at the top (which didn’t match survey direction or description). This continued into sharp, snaggy, nasty traversing at high level and became obvious that it was the way, where there was no possibility of staying at the same height, with lots of up and down climbing on extremely weak and sharp rock (a fall would NOT be conducive to life). A point high up, on an S-bend was reached where progress began to look bleak and dangerous. More discussions were had where Arwel seemed happy to turn around, with Josh agreeing subject to one more attempt to bottom the rift. This turned out to be fruitful, where an exposed, cautious, but relatively straight-forward series of descents led to rifted streamway and eventually the difficult, tight, friable jagged rifts that were expected based on prior reports.

With the bag of dive gear, the journey through this rift had to be methodical, slow and careful. Everything snagged, at all levels, with multiple restricted and resistive climbs up and down, chest-tight squeezes and a deep pool midway through, requiring a cold swim across. Finally the rift widened slightly, leading to a boulder choke (easily passed) and more pleasant streamway. This got appreciably easier until stomping streamway lead off, with periodic obstacles, to the final chamber with the large, clear blue Terminal Sump 2 at the far end.

Without wanting to waste time, Josh kitted up into his dive kit and entered the water, buoyant, using two compact reels (i.e. search reels) as dive line. The crystal clear underwater passage dipped gradually down to a shallow 5m depth, where it continued to an elbow. Surface was visible ahead and was reached after approximately 25-30m, using both reels with only a metre to spare to tie off on the far side. Approximately 40m of open, lightly cascading stream passage was explored, after removing some kit, to a calcite/mud climb on the right and rifted stream passage on the left. The climb was pushed until it became too exposed for the divers’ situation, but was seen to choke ahead. Down on the left, a very short foray into the narrow stream passage saw an ongoing rift continuation, relatively pleasant with no sign on an imminent sump. Aware that Arwel was waiting on the far side and would be getting cold/feeling isolated, Josh began a return. The security of the join between the two line sections was inspected once more, in doing so, due to very positive buoyancy, Josh found himself stood upside down near the far side of the elbow of the sump with feet on the roof and head on the gravel bottom – an amusing situation in such a place. The line was left in place, and an exit was made to a pleased Arwel.

The trip back to Sump 1 was a long, uneventful journey, where Arwel got a brew on and heated some ration packs, while Josh prepped all kit for bringing back through the sump (it was at the time improbable that either Gareth or Arwel would return with Josh to Sump 2, hence all kit was due to exit from the diver-only section of the cave). This included all kit used to aid the aven downstream, plus cooking and excess dive kit. This amounted to three large bags for Josh to exit with, which were tied together and made as neutral as possible for the return, which was successful and unhindered. AR being uncomfortable in deep canals (which are extensive on the exit side of Sump 1) continued through after the dive to warm up at the dryer Sump 1 dive base, whilst Josh ferried the remainder of kit through the canal and up the cascade to meet him. Kit was then sorted, a brew was heated, and a further uneventful exit was made, reaching the surface 16 hours after entering the cave (at least 12 of which beyond Sump 1). Thanks to Arwel for enduring yet another Marniosa Sump 1 cave dive!

Cueva de la Marniosa – Further setup

It was decided that an assault on the final Sump 2 would need full cylinders, since the ones currently in the cave had been used to the point where it’d likely not be worth taking them the distance. Since GD decided to have a rest day after the previous days trip had caused much aching, and JB had arrived in Spain the previous day, JB chose to head in solo and transport some full cylinders into the cave and leave them beyond the sump, with a stretch aim of investigating the ongoing downstream passage beyond the 80m aven.
The trip down to Sump 1 was uneventful, though some route finding was required prior to the streamway and the bag with 2 cylinders, full diving kit and bolting kit/neoprene certainly caused some less energy-efficient circumstances. Kitting up at the sump JB put his wetsuit on straight over his base layer undersuit, and dived through with 2 x 3 and 1 x 5 litre cylinders. Visibility was OK after the previous few trips and upon surfacing JB dumped the cylinders and continued downstream.

The cave beyond the aven continued in periodically energetic climbing/traversing fashion on crap rock, not helped by the layers of neoprene being worn – perhaps changing back into normal caving kit might be worth considering for the passage between Sump 1 & 2. Eventually a turn was made at a slippery climb/squeeze with no visible simple way back up. Being aware of his isolation JB chose it a good place to turn around. An uneventful exit of the cave was made, leaving the two 3 litre cylinders beyond Sump 1 and diving back on a single 5 litre cylinder.

Quick Updates

More details to follow but a quick taster

Cueva del Nacimiento – new height reached at back end of cave

Fallen Bear – new leads discovered

Torca de la Carneros – possible leads on hill above Tresviso

Cueva de la Marniosa – Sump 2 (previously undived) passed last night…

 

Oh and Pozo Castillo – still collapsed

 

Cueva de la Marniosa – Setup

Cueva de La Marniosa (2016)
Cueva de La Marniosa (2016)

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.

Marniosa entrance 2011
Marniosa entrance 2011

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.

Typical passage, Marniosa 2016)
Typical passage, Marniosa 2016)

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.

A small dive base, Marniosa (2017)
A small dive base, Marniosa (2017)
Gareth swims, Marniosa 2017)
Gareth swims, Marniosa 2017)

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.

 

 

 

A few updates

Cueva del Nacimiento

Draughting hole at end of Jurassic World, was hammered and dug out for 4 hours. No progress made. Easy sand gave way to large sections of calcite. Long term dig.

Dinosaur Aven, climbed to a height of 50m, narrow to impenetrable draughting crack

Iam Not into Yoga another aven above Die Hard climbed to 50m

Joes Crack, newly discovered pitch near main Death Race chamber. 20M heading downwards away from Death Race. Draughting

Howling Hole, small aven above hole climbed, minor gains

Cueva del Marniosa – Diving bottles retrieved

New cave discovered near Tresviso, approx 180m long with a few undescended pitches. Appears not to have been explored.

Pozo Natacha – Still being rigged. French survey and rope lengths are completely wrong. Proving a challenge

DR

Cueva del Marniosa – Upstream

Just up valley from Agua is Cueva del Marniosa, a 4k + system that is probably hydrologically connected (although never proven) to Agua. A number of pitches and decorated chambers lead to the main streamway. Plans had been made this year to dive the downstream sump (approx. 20m long) with a view to look at an unclimbed aven just beyond the sump. The diving bottles had previously been left near the streamway and a team of myself, Dave Collins and Fernando (President of the A.D.KAMI club and recently arrived from Madrid) had intended to take the bottles further into the cave, ready for a dive. However, plans changed the night before and the dive was cancelled. The trip was altered to bring the bottles out and also take some time to look upstream in the cave.

Although heavily visited by LUSS in the 70’s the description for Marniosa suggest some possibilities for unexplored passage.

Upstream of the ladder pitch …… small inlets enter at the point of many of these falls and often there are large black holes in the roof. Climbs in the roof of these area many be very rewarding.

However, there is some contradictory information between reports, suggesting these leads may have been visited but not always pushed to conclusion. On area we wanted to visit was a unsurveyed section shown on the survey. However, other reports suggest this was surveyed, yet no data seems to exist and not shown on the latest surveys.

The journey up the upstream sump was very entertaining. A very nice section of streamway, with numerous climbs out and back into the streamway. As we went along, I noticed a lot of sections of cave (high in the roof) that are not marked on the survey, supporting the claims in the intial reports. In particular, one section of streamway, had a very large boulder chamber / choke above, possibly 20m high, not marked on the survey. Any SLUGS reading? Drop me an email on any of this 🙂

The upstream continuation was followed to an immense chamber, called The Hall of the Mountain King. It consists of numerous connected avens, some with waterfalls, others dry and could be anything from 150′ high. The floor is littered with sandstone boulders, suggesting that there is a route through to the surface nearby.

We reached the final chamber after a few hours and it was very impressive, at least 3 x 50m avens in the roof, with water coming down and very cold. One small climb / meander leads to an aven marked in the survey, but just to one side was a tight squeeze to a 9m pitch (not descended). Again not shown on the survey.

IMG_2509

On the way back I found the passage we wanted to check out and we surveyed the passage. By now it was getting very late and we exitted the cave. On the way we collected the dive bottles but after passing our call out time we left them behind for another trip and exitted at midnight. An enjoyable trip with some new questions raised.

Today (1st August) was Yorkshire Day, celebrating all things Yorkshire including famous Yorkshireman like James Henry Atkinson, the inventor of the Little Nipper mousetrap.

Hence we called the (new) section of cave Yorkshire Inlet and the aven, Bradford Aven.

yorkshire inlet

Marniosa: final rig and photos

Yesterday three teams entered Marniosa (2pm) with all three initially helping with the transport of dive cylinders to the top of the short pitch down into the main streamway.

Russ and Nick then headed back towards the entrance photographing the cave. Russ has a proper camera with fancy flash units so has captured some pretty awesome pictures that show off Marniosa.

Nick in main passage
Nick in main passage
Nick in main passage
Nick in main passage
Duncan in morning chamber near the entrance.
Duncan in morning chamber near the entrance.

Emily and David headed upstream with the intention of pushing as far as they could but were soon tharwted by a boulder choke. With a too tight squeeze and sketchy traverse they decided to head back and join up with Russ and Nick to support the photography team.

Bob and Duncan headed downstream to complete the rigging of the instream pitches. With a 33m rope left from the earlier rigging trip and about 6m cut off some unused rope from a higher pitch we travelled downstream rigging the 3 remining pitches.

Bob rigging one of the pitches in the streamway.
Bob rigging one of the pitches in the streamway.

The Main stream has many chert nodules offering good hand-holds that can break off at any time! There is a steeply descending section with amazing eroded rock and pot-holes providing a very sporting up and down trip, often requiring one to traverse several metres above the stream to continue. We rigged the final pitch, ran out of rope and got to a large pool, which was just upstream of the sump.

Duncan at the pool before the sump.
Duncan at the pool before the sump.

Neither of us wanted a swim; we had achieved our primary goals (drag dive cyclinders in and complete rigging) so we returned to the entrance and caught up with the photography team at the big pitch.

When we finally got to the surface (9pm) we were greeted with mist and rolling thunder!

Marniosa rigging trip part 1

Today after a very late start, Emily, David, Derek and Duncan left for Marniosa. The 40 minute walk from the top of the sobra valley was pleasant, get into the cave was not fighting our way through brambles and gorse…

I (Duncan)  had been the only person to have previously visited the cave and thus lead the trip. We planned to rig the entire route to the steam but because of our very late start time and my painfully slow rigging we bailed out on the 4th pitch once we had rigged it, in favour of going home and getting a relatively early night.

Duncan next to impressive formations near the entrance.
Duncan next to impressive formations near the entrance. Photo by Emily Mackinven.

Also I learnt a valuable lesson, it’s all very well spending quality time reading the topo guide and getting the ropes ready but not remembering which rope you need for which pitch well…makes for a trip that ain’t gonna go right!

On the big pitch the rope did not touch the floor so David went back to the previous pitch and cut the excess off (because we had used the wrong length rope for a short pitch) and turned that into a traverse line, releasing the main rope for the main pitch.

At this point we all headed out.

Whilst we had only achieved half of our mission it was a good introduction to the system, tomorrow we will head back and complete the rigging ready for the cave divers and do some exploring upstream.