The 2018 expedition is now only 4 weeks away. A few red tape problems have now been resolved and everything is set, including last minute equipment orders, turning over the shed looking for old equipment and herding everyone into position.
The latest edition of Descent (No 263 – Aug/Sep 2018) includes an article on Tresviso exploration, giving an overview of the recent work by the team, and is well worth seeking out a copy. Available from 4th August.
1st September to 15th September 2018 – main expedition dates
The expedition has a number of goals. The following are a few primary objectives:
Cueva del Nacimiento
Jurassic World – Terror Firma – multiple avens and climbs,
Pina Colada Bypass – a 3-10m rift leads off from the Pina Colada sump.
Joe’s Crack – un-descended shaft behind Death Race camp.
Teeth of Satan – Wet Aven – +30m aven with draft and calcite squeeze, requires enlarging.
Dan’s Big Room – unexplored section of maze in area of Dan’s Big Room and Winter Gardens
Parting Friends – a dive of the Parting Friends sump is planned.
Cueva de la Marniosa
Beyond Sump 2 – a dive of sump 2 and exploration beyond is planned
Pico Boro (SUSS)
SUSS are also involved and will take on responsibility for exploring either Flowerpot on the Pico Boro area.
FlowerPot – re-rigging and exploration of leads
Surface sweep and logging of entrances in Sara Depression (around camp)
Surface sweep and logging of entrances in Pico Boro area
Time and resources permitting there are a number of secondary objectives that will be attempted:
A large mine and natural cave complex in the Minas de Mazarrasa area. Pozo del Castillo series was explored to -292m depth in 1983, with either a howling draft or roaring waterfall beyond a constriction at the limit. The potential of the cave is significant but currently a collapse prevents getting to the end. Pozo Natacha series ends at -309m depth and is close to the same point in Castillo.
Pozo Del Castillo– shoring and bypass of rock collapse Castillo remains a major lead, if we can get past the blockage!
Pozo del Castillo – other entrances. FT16 entrance snow plug would appear to be the same blockage in lower Castillo passage. Snow plugs are reported further into the cave, so another entrance must exist!
Pozo del Castillo – surveying of Natacha upper series and locating possible surface entrance,
Pozo del Castillo – Natacha 1983 series. Attempt to get small, skinny person through current limit, otherwise derig and survey.
Valdelafuente / Sobra Valley
Re-locate draughting surface entrance on Valdelafuente, close to 80m aven beyond Sump 1 in Cueva del Marniosa,
T20 (Sobra Valley) – sandstone sink above Hall of the Mountain King in Cueva del Marniosa,
Yorkshire Inlet in Cueva del Marniosa. Exploration of col above aven (also close to T20),
Upstream series in Cueva del Marniosa. Large black voids above the streamway, if leads head to the South this is up the Valdelafuente
Sierra del a Corta
Above the furthest reaches 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-end to aid exploration at the far reaches.
T554 – large 100m shaft on the Sierra del a Corta, this requires some digging at the bottom,
Al2 – a drafting shaft not yet bottomed. Jurassic World in Nacimiento appears to be heading directly towards this site,
T294 Oh What Pot (La Gobia) – continuing passage,
Surface prospecting close to vicinity of Terror Firma in Nacimiento. Terror Firma is only 40m vertically and 200m horizontally from some parts of the surface in the Sierra del a Corta region.
Locate and survey General This may be another way into T87 Mazarrasa, bypassing entrance collapse. (most likely T88 Suerte or T89. T88 draughts strongly at junction inside)
Locate and descend FT43, this draughts strongly. It is almost directly above Boulder Chamber in T87 Mazarrasa and would provide bypass to collapse at T87 entrance.
Surveying of Nacimiento top entrance series. There are a number of unsurveyed and minor leads in the area,
Prospecting on Hoyo Oscuro and Hoyo Evangalista. Highest entrances on the mountain range.
Mine 2.32a – there is large unexplored level (with tram lines) leading to unexplored passage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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)
4/5m 6mm cord
16 hangers (NO BOLTS)
4 hangers (with spits)
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.
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.
A total of six caves found with four of them believed to have never have been descended. The two previously we believe that have previously been descended included Rotten Sheep Cave and the unnamed ‘Sheep Skull Cave’.
The first cave found during the prospecting trip was a small chamber (4m x 4m x 3m) entered from a narrow body sized slot from a small break in the valley limb. Although the cave died instantaneously, it provided confidence for the team that there was potential for caves of a ‘human’ size in the mountain.
The second cave found included another small ‘human’ sized slot in the valley side which Fernando entered in haste. The narrow opening had the appearance of an animal burrow, with both Sam and Pyro envisaging a small bear snarling at a yellow suited Fernando disrupting their afternoon meal. Unfortunately the cave ended after approximately 10m at a narrow constriction.
We progressed further up the mountain, through the thick hill fog, and stumbled across a pot demonstrating great potential.
Approximately 50m from the summit and hidden in a secluded bowl.
As Pyro approached the cave he was confronted by a gentle mountain dog, tasked with protecting the sheep herds of the mountain. The gentle white beast approached Pyro through the dense clouds, offering a hand of friendship before Pyro stood in panic, shivering in the wake of his own futile failure as a ‘man of a mountain’. Fernando kindly intervened, whispering through the white mist, reminding the temperate beast that Pyro was a mere guest in the fortitude of his domain. Kindly, the giant walked off, in the wake of a Pyro shivering like a coward on the hill.
After a quick check through Fernando’s ‘cheat sheet’ we concluded that the pot in question mirrored the description of ‘Rotten Sheep Cave’, where several carcasses of fallen livestock were dumped on the mountain top.
We continued up, through the cloud.
Scattered across the mountain Sam, whilst taking a rest stop, noticed a flight of birds rising through the karstic landscape. He scrambled up to the hollow to discover a pot, typical of a shaft of titans’ proportion. He called across the mountain, waiting for Pyro and Fernando to venture back across the terrain.
Pyro descended the pot, traversing across the top edge and rigging a y-hang to descend the bottom of the pot. After a 15m free-hang Pyro discovered that the pot, only 25m from the summit of the mountain, terminated with a floor of boulders and mud, with the odd sheep skull for seasoning.
We descended the mountain as the cloud set in, taking the direct route down in an effort to cut short the long wandering route we had taken whilst ascending. As Pyro led the way down we stumbled across an entrance which has clearly been used historically by local hill farmers. Fernando logged the location happy in the knowledge that it matched the description of a previously logged cave.
Again, Pyro led the way down the mountain and through the poor visibility located an open shaft! Measuring approximately 8m x 4m the void clearly showed the characteristics of a cavern of potential. Under the guidance of Pyro, Sam launched a rock down the pit, crashing through the darkness with all three party members confident that the debris plummeted at least 30m. Unfortunately, we only discovered the shaft at 1815 and as the thick cloud was setting in. Definitely waiting for us to return and descend the shaft!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I first visited the Eastern Massif (or Andara) region of the Picos de Europa in 1996, as part of a small Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) expedition. LUSS’s heyday had long since waned, but a very small contingent of students (and ex-students) were keeping the club going during term time and trying desperately to kick start the Tresviso expeditions in the summer.
The last large scale LUSS expedition had occurred in 1987, but since that time the majority of LUSS cavers had moved onto bigger and greater things, so due to lack of information and resources, these 90’s expeditions concentrated on smaller scale objectives, without the manpower or time to embark on anything of the size of the 70’s and 80’s LUSS expedition (where 50+ cavers descended on the mountain for up to 3 months!).
For me, relatively new to caving, an expedition of any size was a grand undertaken and I would bore anyone who would listen about the great adventures I was sure to have, and the dangers I was sure to face. The reality was slightly different.
This of course was the 90’s, so although caving attire was not much different, the obligatory floppy haircuts and lumberjack shirts were the travel clothes of choice and crammed into our very own minibus, with the club name on the bus changed to Wancaster by some wag in Inglesport we embarked on what seems a journey of epic proportions. The minibus was long bench style with 1km of rope piled up in the middle and 2 people half sat, half lying down on the benches, the rest of the team in the front. Not the most comfortable of journeys and the initial travel down to Portsmouth must have taken a good 12 hours, sat in various stress positions, with a broken heater and no radio. However, as a newbie to the expedition scene, the talk of huge resurgence caves and unexplored passage was more than exciting and I couldn’t wait to get out to Spain!
The ferry crossing was then, as it is now, pretty horrible. I personally suffer from really bad sea sickness, that can only appear to be cured by far too much drinking, presumably ‘scientifically’ correcting the imbalance in my head caused by the motion, to one caused by alcohol. Needless to say the journey passed in a haze of stumbling stupor…. for 24 hours. One positive was that at some point during the journey I ended up in a posh cabin, next to the captain’s quarter, a fine upgrade from sleeping on reclining seats. To this day I’m still not sure how I ended up there.
The following day the ferry slowly docked in Santander, the motion sickness and hangover now no longer working together and I just needed to get off that boat! Eventually I staggered back to the minibus and the other expedition members and finally we landed on Spanish soil. A times round the first roundabout before Sean (as designated Spanish driver) got the hang of driving on the wrong side and we headed off South towards the Picos.
The drive up through the Picos is always a fantastic view, the mountains getting larger and larger until you are driving up through huge gorges, with very large drops on either side. The roads are a lot safer now but even in 1996, a lot of the side barriers were made of wood and missing large sections where the snow had taken them off down the side. In a few places, far below, you could see often see cars that had been taken over the edge as well!
At Poncebos and the Cares Gorge (for those more interested in the Ario Caves Project) we turned off to the East and continued to climb up into the mountains, along further windy roads until the mountains level out on an obvious plateau and the village of Sotres (highest village in the Picos). Above the village the main mountain range of Andara reaches around 2200-2300m high and it’s only a few miles further that the ‘crossroads’ is reached. (The crossroads now, is actually a parking space for tourists and mountaineers, but at the time it was a mud turning circle, marking the junction between a dirt track to Tresviso, a dirt track to Bejes or a rocky track to the higher mountains.
The 1996 expedition was not actually based in Tresviso. A small camp site a couple of km’s up the mountain track and down into a meadow was the best site for pitching tents and having a suitable water source. The amount of equipment in the minibus meant 3 trips back and forth back were required and by the time tents were pitched and bags unpacked it was getting quite late. A quick meal (can’t remember what) and off to bed with the exciting promise of caving the next day!
The next day I had my first taste of expedition caving. The Cheese Cave, as it was called, was about 200m down the valley in a wooded clearing. First discovered in the mid 1980’s, it was a -120m deep cave with a drafting rift at the very end. The cave sat in the middle area between the resurgence cave, Cueva del Agua and the notorious higher altitude deep pot hold caves, such as Sima 56 (at that time the deepest in the Andara region at -1169m). That was pretty much all I knew about it, apart from a notorious squeeze near the start of the cave, called The Constriction of Doom, followed by the Corkscrew (probably of Doom as well). I’m not sure why cavers need to name parts of the cave with such hyperbole, maybe too much Harry Potter reading, or in the 90’s too much Xena, but it usually sets my mind racing about how bad it must actually be to earn such a name.
The passage of time (not another part of the cave…) has dulled what I can remember of that constriction and it has long since been widened by later expeditions, but it was pretty tight, think the Blowhole in Gaping Gill or Birthday Squeeze in Swildons, but 5m long, lying flat out on one side, starting in a puddle of water.
The Corkscrew (of certain death) was actually more intimidating than the constriction, starting in a small chamber full of shattered rocks, that appeared to be the only thing holding the entire roof up. In the centre a tight vertical drop requires an acrobatic sit / squat / twist combination, turning onto ones back and then rolling sideways to face the front, all of this with no space to turn head and look below.
A further 5m crawl then leads to the first pitch and the start of some ‘easier’ caving. A team was already in the cave from earlier in the morning, so all pitches were rigged. This was before easy access to drills andthrough bolts so all the pitches had a generous amount of natural rigging from any available rock, and in some cases mud, that provide a good anchor point.
The first couple of pitches are typical of the type of potholes in the area, being rather tight and rifty, with a lot of old decayed rock and calcite hanging precariously all over the place. In particular, the 3rd pitch Sword Pitch, starts for the first 5m over a hanging curtain of old calcite that rings with every touch. Even now the pitch requires a generous amount of rope protectors to rig with any sense of safety. Further pitches follow, but now an obvious draft is encountered, coming from lower down in the cave. At the Waiting Room, a low crawl leads off, which requires removal of all equipment, before popping out into a keyhole shaped passage with a cold breeze coming through a tight, impassable rift. It is at this rift that the previous expedition had spent many hours hammering away with a lump hammer and again this year the intended focus of our effort.
Out team of three spent a few hours hammering away, until the smallest member could just squeeze the top part of her body through the rift, tiredness and coldness prevented much further work and we exited the cave.
As my first taste of expedition caving, it was a nice gentle introduction. My second lesson was immediately after exiting the cave. Bearing in mind the cave was only 200m from the camp, the next 24 hours were spent lost in the mountains with no water and only a handful of alpine strawberries for food…..
“Watch, you might learn something, this is how you remove a harness while at the top of a 70m pitch…”
The BCA AGM weekend was chosen as a suitable venue for the Tresviso 2017 pre-expedition meet-up. A good turnout of the entire expedition contingent (minus 10 people…) meant a comprehensive planning meeting was not required, so it was settled on bucking the trend and undertaking some caving. Friday night was spent catching up and trying to remember what rope lengths were in the car, and whether anyone had any rigging guides for any cave in the area. A few tentative plans were made before retiring for one of the wettest and most uncomfortable night’s sleep in a tent for a long while. The £5 festival pop-up tent just not cutting it in a thunderstorm, but all good training for the hardships of Tresviso…..
A leisurely start on the Saturday, largely due to the continued torrential rain but also waiting for Dave and Dan to turn up, gave way to a greasy bacon and egg bap, another element of the strict training regime. An initial planned trip to JH fell through, so Rowter Hole was settled upon. Further quality faffing time was spent, mainly measuring rope lengths and admiring the new shiny thermal mugs for the expedition. Following complaints from everyone that they had too many t-shirts from various caving expeditions, marathons and fun runs, we went for something slightly different, a mug that can get battered and scuffed, but most importantly allow the transport of alcohol to the underground camps.
Finally, 2 cars were packed and we set off to Rowter. A slight detour was considered, just so that Dave had longer to charge his lamp battery via the car charger, but by now it was getting close to lunchtime, so we thought we should get our act together, as 6 people down Rowter, could take some time. The rain was slowly easing but it was pretty wet all over the Peaks. Rowter Farm was windswept and cold but the intrepid team had time to stop and get a nice photo showing the scenery.
The entrance to Rowter sounded decidedly wet and given it’s a 70m pitch, a bit disconcerting. Luckily I had help in the guise of a lost chest jammer. I definitely had it with me back at Castleton, but it had vanished somewhere on route. I trudged off across the field to the sound of jeers from the rest of the team. All the way back to the car and no sign off the jammer. However, just to spoil my fun Chris had followed and ,although not finding the missing item either, he had a spare one in the car. Excuses now gone, I headed back over to see the last few people dropping down the entrance pitch.
The pitch is quite impressive, a long way down, and seems to take an age with my shiny new descender. The lack of my usual SRT equipment (it’s all in Spain after the May weekend trip) making me slightly uncomfortable, as to whether the harness was done up, cowstails long enough or old jammers might break. In the end there were no issues and I landed at the bottom of the pitch, to find everyone had gone…didn’t think I had taken that long.
I could hear Dave someone below, so I followed the obvious way down the cave and soon caught up with Dave and Alan, about to climb down a large scaffold climb. At the bottom a few more climbs before we met the others, coming back! The lower pitches were not rigged (after been told the previous night they were). No problem, who’s got the extra bag of rope? It’s back in the car.
No other option but to go out of the cave. A few slight diversions (not much to see, that we could find) and back to the big pitch out. A uneventful prussic out for everyone… .other than me, where I somehow ended jammed against the top knot at the top of the pitch. The less said about a performance of comedic proportions with people pulling my legs one way, and my harness the other, the better. It’s a training meeting after all.
All feeling a bit annoyed with our performance in planning so far we made a quick detour to Winnats Head Cave. Does anyone know the way? No, but luckily someone was left a guidebook at the entrance. A quick swot up and we enter the cave.
A really nice cave, albeit a bit wet on this weekend. An hour or so spent having a look round and then out. Back at the car, found my chest jammer!
In the pub later, Dave was press ganged into booking his Spain flight immediately and then further equipment requirements gathered before the BCA sing a long event started, at which point I left in haste.