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

 

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.

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

 

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