I’m not going to go into the usual arguments around, exploration, adventure, ‘because it’s there’ etc. but the following post briefly details a little bit of the motivation and competition related to the specific exploration in this area.
The main goal of the work, undertaken by LUSS and now by SWCC, is to attempt to find a route through the Eastern Massif mountain range from the deep potholes on top of the range to the resurgence (where all the water draining through the mountain range re-emerges) at Cueva del Nacimiento.
At the time of the original exploration, it was believed that such a cave would be one of the deepest in the world. Around the same time as LUSS was exploring the caves of the Eastern Massif the Oxford University Caving Club (OUCC) was in the neighbouring mountain range looking for a similar deep cave to break the records.
OUCC, centred around the Ario plateau, were looking for a connection between the potholes in the Western Massif and the resurgence, Culiembro. In particular a deep pothole called Xitu on the plateau was the centre of attention.
In 1981 OUCC broke a couple of records, extending Xitu below -1000m, the first British team to achieve such a feat. At the end of the 1981 expedition the cave had reached a depth of -1139m and exploration terminated at a sump.
Within 2 years LUSS, concentrating on Sima 56 (Cueto de los Senderos) surpassed this limit by 30m, reaching a depth of -1169m, with the last few bits of passage referred to as the ‘Oxford By-Pass’ and ‘FUZ2’ (you can work this one out..)
Despite numerous expeditions in the following years these limits in both the caves were not passed.
In 2010 the sumps at the end of Culiembro were finally passed and the divers reached the terminal point reached in 1981 at the bottom of Xitu, making a -1264m traverse a possibility.
Finally the first full traverse from Culiembro to Xitu (and back) was achieved on the OUCC 2012 expedition.
This makes it the 3rd deepest traverse and the World’s deepest diving traverse.
The caving world and exploration has moved on since the original exploration and the deepest cave goal is no longer geologically achievable.
However, modern mapping and GPS techniques still provide some exciting reading and recent extensions in another deep cave (Torca Jou Sin Tierre) in the Eastern Massif, still give hope for some records to be broken in the next few years.
Torca Jou Sin Tierre – Cueva del Nacimiento would be a -1530m deep underground traverse. This would make it the 8th deepest cave in the world, 2nd deepest in Spain and the 2nd deepest traverse in the world (I still need to confirm this… any takers?)
It would be a close one but we would just miss out on the deepest cave in Spain which is currently Torca del Cerro del Cuevon-Torca de las Saxifragas at a depth of -1589m.