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.

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

 

Second trip down Agua, Joe’s Crack

Alex again,
Phil and myself embarked on another three day trip down Agua on Saturday 15th. With significantly lighter bags, the trip to Death Race was much quicker than the first time. I was able to appreciate the cave more on this trip, the trip to Death Race really is a good varied day of caving. We met Dan and Dave near Death Race heading out for a night of exploring.
The next day the plan was to push Joe’s Crack, the tight rift I had looked at previously. Phil decided this last was too tight for him, so it was up to me to bolt the traverse until it became wide enough to abseil down to the bottom of the rift.
The bottom of the rift widens slightly and the floor dips down below the traverse heading back towards Death Race. Part way along there is an opening into a much wider rift, estimated at 4m across, into which a pitch could be dropped, this was not done on this trip but is an open lead. The small rift turned a corner and chokes.
Returning up the pitch to get the survey kit turned out to be fairly unpleasant, due to the very tight nature of the pitch. Phil reaffirmed his belief that he wouldn’t fit, leaving me to do the survey alone. A shot down the large passage revealed it is at least 12.5m deep, so worth returning to by anyone keen to go down the tight pitch.
Left Death Race the day after in good time, including Phil doing the sump five times to get some video footage of it. Good effort, once is enough for me. Shame the video turned out to be pretty rubbish.
Thanks to Phil for the trip and making the necessary cups of tea throughout the day.

Trip to Death Race

Alex again, feeling good if tired.
After going across the lake on the leaky boat again, we picked up the bags from where we stopped the day before, and headed on into the cave, psyched up for the biggest caving trip I’ve attempted.
The trip in was hard but good fun, with some really varied caving. Going up the ramps was hard work, especially carrying a bag of kit. The hole in the wall was impressive, and the duck was a bit grim, but on the whole a really good trip.
Finally I spotted camp, and dropped down the final climb. I was definitely ready for a rest and some hot food. However it became clear that neither of us knew how to operate the petrol stove, and after an hour of trial and error, we gave up and used the lunch stove to make some cous cous. I then attempted some bolting down Joe’s Crack, turns out it is harder than I expected. Then Chris and Hannah turned up, Chris fixed the stove and we had some food. The  it was time for my first night camping underground, and it was much nicer than I expected.
The next day we headed on, up some pitches; I quickly got stuck in a hole. Then I came across a down pitch where the rope was caught, so time for some down prussicking on to the traverses. Which are scary (for more detail on this point, ask Dave). After much terror we reached the other side, and we were away. After a few hours of good sporting caving, we reached a very slippery, muddy pitch, which was a sod. At the top of this was some of the most amazing passage I have seen. The difficulty here was not damaging any fomations when passing through. We then started scouting for interesting leads, and stopped very near the end of the cave. We used the stove to make some lukewarm tea and noodles, before we got ready to go. Dave then started his aid climb, whilst I sat on a ledge belaying for a good few hours, which was fairly cold, made much better by the down jacket and warm tea. After several hours it appeared that Dave had made good progress, and that the climb was still going.
The climb was named Terror-firma by Dave, the climb went up around 25m to a narrower bit; it is a promising lead, and Dave intends to return to push it further.
We made our way back to camp, over the traverses (still scary), for some sleep before heading out.
We were relived to find a new boat at the lake, and I overjoyed to find some beer stashed by the entrance. Best tasting beer I’ve had in a while.
Thanks to everyone for a good trip.

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.

 

 

 

Sunday 30th April 2017 – Cueva del Nacimiento

 

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.

Son of Ramp
Son of Ramp

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………

Saturday 29th April 2017 – Cueva del Nacimiento

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.

The Ramp - Cueva del Nacimiento
The Ramp – Cueva del Nacimiento

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.

entance to claphamThe 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.

clapham to holeNormally 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.

hole to consort

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.

conosrt to danAt 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!)

dan to dr

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.

 

A day setting up camp

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
BJ enjoying a cuppa
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Stall near PI chamber
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
More stall ‘can’t remember where’
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Phil getting changed.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Chris, H and I waiting at ‘hole in wall’
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Life at camp
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
More stall near PI chamber
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Enjoying a cuppa at camp
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Like moths in the flame

 

Tresviso 2017 – the May Bank warm up

Over the weekend of 28th April to 2nd May, a team of 5 cavers are going out to Tresviso with the brave (or foolhardy) plan to set up the Death Race 2000 underground camps, ready for the summer trip.

Die Hard Traverse Chris Jones 2016
Die Hard Traverse, Cueva del Nacimiento – Chris Jones 2016

Over recent years the time and effort spent getting people and equipment to the furthest reaches has caused significant lost time that would be better spent pushing leads. A team of 4 people, with large packs of underground camping, drills and rope can take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours to get to the Jurassic World section of the cave. However, a team with minimal equipment can get to the Death Race camp in around 4 hours.

In 2016 a number of ‘base camp’ items were left at Death Race, including sealed food and sleeping bags. The May trip plans to take some more equipment in to be left in situ ready for the summer trip.

The trip will only really have 3 days in the field, 2 of which spent underground in Nacimiento. Weather is currently good, with minimal snow over the past few months and only light showers of late.

Updates to follow, where possible….

Phil Walker, Chris Jones, Hannah Moulton, Gareth Davies, Alex Burton-Johnson

agua surface overlay
Cueva del Nacimiento – Google Earth Surface Overlay (2016)