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.

Torca del Oso Caido (Fallen Bear)

On the northern slope of Samelar is an area called Brañaredonda, where Torca del Oso Caido or Fallen Bear is located.  In the 70’s LUSS explored down the main pitch and discovered a few smaller pitches before leaving the cave to explore elsewhere.  AD KAMI revisited the cave in the 90’s and allegedly moved a small rock at the foot of one pitch and discovered nearly -400m depth of new cave.  Accurate descriptions of what is at the end of the cave, vary from ‘nothing’ to a half-submerged passage onto an undescended 40m pitch.

The nature of the cave passage (huge ramps) is similar to Nacimiento and the location places it coming down the mountina between Nacimiento and Rio Chico, so a cave of much interest.  Finally, on this expedition I was able to convince a number of people to visit and report back.

Fallen Bear Entrance
Fallen Bear Entrance

 Friday 14th July (Chris Jones, Hannah Moulton, Emma Battensby)

 Excited by the prospect of some sunshine above the cloud at the top of the hill, the air conditioned drive to the White House was enjoyed. Armed with two different sets of GPS coordinates (following a very quick lesson)  Emma, Chris and Hannah set off on a bear hunt. Initially following the LUSS coordinates we located an entrance below the Bejes track. Having decided that the entrance did not match the (minimal) description of Fallen Bear we figured out how to input the AD KAMI coordinates and continued to search. These took us above the road but to no avail. It was clearly lunchtime. Tasty sandwiches and tea (from some lovely thermos flasks) were enjoyed before deciding to drop the entrance on the LUSS coordinates just to be sure. Whilst Chris and Hannah kitted up, Emma wandered down the track to try and make more sense of the description from Bejes. After watching Chris and Hannah disappear down the shaft Emma walked back up past the White House to join the team at Castillo/Segura II, narrowly avoiding being mauled by a large, scary canine!

Hannah rigged, following spits. Chris followed surveying. ~70m deep. A small climb at the bottom (not previously passed) lead to a small sump (5-10m of passage). De-rigged.

Saturday 15th July (Hannah Moulton, Chris Jones, Bob Clay)

 Previous coordinates followed to exact location as yesterday despite grid change.  Kit retrieved from Friday cave and mark followed back to GPS point successfully.

 Underground

The entrance shaft was cool. Hannah rigged with an entourage of birds flying around. Chris and Bob followed doing an awful survey (an 18m leg is missing between stations 3 & 4…). Hannah was located happily rigging on the way we’d decided to go while Chris and Bob looked at some dead dogs. When it became clear it lead to the LUSS deep point it was de-rigged and the main chamber explored to find the way on, which continues under a breakdown chamber into smaller ancient phreatic passage, where the bear lives.

Hannah on Fallen Bear Entrance Pitch
Hannah on Fallen Bear Entrance Pitch

Sunday 16th July (Hannah Moulton, Chris Jones, Bob Clay)

The 1996 KAMI route was located by passing the bear and dropping the 13m shaft. A small muddy ramp leads to the ‘50m pitch’. On the way a small down climb lead to a short continuation, but it did not go. The 50m pitch was a long ramp, split by a breakdown chamber and a stal ledge, was very Aguaesque. Part way down a parallel shaft was spotted through some stal, Bob bolted his way down this while Chris and Hannah began to explore El Chaos. One lead (window) in the ceiling was spotted early on which would require a short bolt climb, not that promising to be fair. The Chaos is fairly chaotic. We returned to the base of the 50m pitch to cook Bob some lunch and returned to the surface, his shaft went down ~12m, where he could get off the rope and walk to a large clean aven, a further short pitch lead into a meander back under the original pitch, no way on. The remaining kit was stashed at the base of the entrance shaft (which probably needs de-rigging). There is a lot of air movement in this lower part of the cave and it is cold!

  • A good sling is required to replace Chris’ belt rebelay at the top of the 13m pitch.
  • A deviation just above the 1st ledge on the main pitch would be nice to reduce a short section of rope rub (which can be avoided with long legs or a walk along the boulder ledge).
  • Kit left:
  • 1x petzl portage + Dick
  • 50m and 20m static
  • Hitachi Drill (TL)
  • 1 full drill battery
  • 2 drill bits (TL and PW)
  • 1 Hammer (CJ)
  • 1 Skyhook (CJ)
  • Electrical tape
  • 4/5m 6mm cord
  • 16 hangers (NO BOLTS)
  • 4 hangers (with spits)
  • 21 maillions
  • Survey and description of cave
  • No deviation krabs.

 

Wednesday 19th July (Dave Powlesland, Tom Lia)

 The night before had started with extensive planning and much deliberation as to what we were going to look at in Fallen Bear Cave… Although the bar had distracted us a fair amount, leaving us weary for our early start when we awoke the following morning.

Fallen Bear Entrance Pitch
Fallen Bear Entrance Pitch

So we had an early 11am start (expedition early) we marched up the hill via the many shortcuts to be at the cave for around midday. Neither of us had been down the cave before, but heard route finding was a blast. After a quick descent of the gaping gill sized chamber we immediately got lost. EAST WEST EAST WEST – — – – -yes the old description was incorrect!!!!  After finally finding the correct direction out of the way down to the end of the cave we swiftly descended through a maze of smaller, tight pitches to El Caos (after picking up drill, rope and bolting kit from the main entrance chamber).

As per previous reports…. This really was the CHAOS!!! (El Caos) Fallen, stricken, loose, dodgy, formidable boulders everywhere we could go.  We continued down a 45 degree slope, over boulders, loose rocks and mud.  Several free climbs and a few scree slope traverses lead us eventually toward the end of the broken down passage. But this wasn’t the end of it. The height of the passage reduce to body width, where we had to thrutch our way down and through the narrow, low passage.

Several attempts at finding possible side passages and unexplored areas had lead us in circles with only a few small avens confirmed as possible leads. As we progressed to the lower reaches of the cave we encountered the lower pitches that Dave swiftly drilled and rigged for us to continue. We dropped the ‘27m’ pitch that soaked up a 50m rope (left rigged). This whole section a cave is a bit of a variation and the pitch we rigged seemed the most straightforward to descend.  After a crawl through boulders and a short squeeze, we popped our head over the final pitch, which was described as a 37m pitch, however it looked as though a 50-60m rope was needed. The final pitch into the chamber was very impressive and presented a different character to the rest of the cave, this was an atmospheric wet, draughty cold chamber. One of our aims was to see one of the marked avens at the top of this chamber. There is clearly a large window with a mender/shaft heading away from us, and away from the rest of the cave. It should be aim of the next expedition to push this meandering window to see if it links into another system.

AAARRRRGGHH FLAP FLAP – ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYY (Dave says) but the flap was not from a human ….. It was from some sort of beast!!!  FLAP FLAP the beast (small bird), was a crow, who had chosen to make its nest in the entrance shaft. The crow perched itself on Dave’s shoulder in a displeased manner. Tom had no such problems. The crows were merely dispersed by a swift backhander.

Entrance pitch derigged – need deviation for very top – need deviation for ledge half way down main pitch. 79m pitch marked – say 60 and 40 would work well on re-rigging.

50m rope required for lowest pitch

Lightweight aid climbing gear for numerous marked leads on survey at lower areas of cave.

The fallen bear
The fallen bear

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

 

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.

Combine Harvester Traverse

Sam and myself went down Agua looking for a traverse discovered by Derek the year before; the traverse starts at the top of Boulder Hall, it was not fully crossed so the far side was new passage. This excursion have me an opportunity to bolt and rig a traverse for the first time.
The traverse went well, the last section involved balancing off a bridge that seems to be entirely made of mud, I was glad of the bolts and rope at this point. At the far and was a constriction, I squeezed up this into the a small area. To one side there is a further squeeze and there appears to be a large section beyond it. Unfortunately we were out of bolts by this point, so we had to leave it for another day.
That evening we were discussing the day in the hut, and we had to decide on a name for the traverse. Chris suggested “Combine Harvester Traverse” as a few days before we had sung it down at Death Race, I had to teach Chris the words, and the name has stuck. Brilliant.
Thanks to Sam for the trip and his instruction on bolting.

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.

Pozo Castillo / Segura

Thursday 13th July

Chris and Hannah required a dry way into Segura. Phil responded by rigging a few pitches down Pozo Castillo. Pyro lead us to the start of the ropes from the previous trip. There was a snow plug. We went down it. A few blind pots and cold feet later and a sump was located. Time to find the sun!

Andara (2017)
Andara (2017)

Phil and Pyro started some surveying, as an attempt to connect the dots with Castillo and try and find some missing bypass to the collapse.  Using a Distox and a Nexus 7 with Topodroid (excellent bit of kit!) we started surveying a number of areas; Castillo pitches down to main junction, Castillo crawl and a few further upper series passage.  While approaching the Castillo crawls, Pyro pointed out that he had taken team over the top of the crawl, and that the crawl lead to FT16 probably.  I felt a bit of disappointment, in that I had hoped that the area of the snow plug that the others were working may have been beyond the collapse, but it was looking more likely that they were in Segura 1 or an undiscovered mine area near the surface.  We went into the collapse and I had a quick look, compared to last year the snow appears to have melted further (no much snow in the picos this winter) and exposed more wooden props.  Maybe it just needs some balls of steel and slide down the snow plug at one side, into lower ‘ante-chamber’.  80’s description suggest this is the way forward, possible the collapse is no worse than it ever was, just we are not as hard as the French.

Castillo collapse (2017)
Castillo collapse (2017)

After a quick stop at the snow plug entrance, where we couldn’t hear Hannah or Chris, we exited and located Segura 1.  A short adit, straight onto a wooden winch platform, with nice soft rock and muddy underneath (scary).  This was the same winch platform as can be seen from below, in the snow plug cave.  Again disappointing, but serving to clarify points of entry and conditions.  Exit again and met up with others.

Pyro in FT16 (2017)
Pyro in FT16 (2017)

Friday 14th July

Lots of illness and injuries running through the expedition personnel, myself and Bob headed up to the White House, so that I could survey the ‘new’ snow plug (FT16) and derig.  Bob had no SRT kit and Emma was taking some kit to Fallen Bear  with others before meeting us with her SRT kit (never happened).  Bob and Phil surveyed, Segura 1, Upper Crawl Series and a few little passages. There was still no sign of Emma so I donned my SRT kit and started surveying FT16.  One massive snow plug with various stages of melt, proving tricky and unnerving.  Obviously the survey equipment malfunctioned, requiring a long sit on a patch of snow.  The bottom of the plug suddenly ends in some driven mine passage, containing old mining ladders, before a final pitch down to a sump / flooded level (probably same level as flooded pot in Segura 2.

Started de-rig to eventually greet a worried Bob, who thought I was either buried under snow, or taking too long and he would miss the pub.

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.