Satan’s diving bottle

So when I talked in the last post about the diving bottle filled with the heavist gas known to man, I lied, today’s diving bottle was filled with an even heavier gas…

Plan today was for madPhil and Dave to take a bag of rope and rig all the down pitches to Consort Hall, the location of the main underground camp. At the same time, myself and Derek would bring the next diving bottle through the entrance series, picking up the original one on route and depositing them both at the top of Boulder Hall.

As most of my caving equipment was already down at the entrance to Nacimiento, a very quick pack should have occurred, but a lot of faffing occurred trying to get the diving bottle into a comfortable position on my back. Lunch hastily prepared, something to look forward to today, a tin of sardines and a half chewed salami.

Walk down to the cave not too bad today, borrowing a couple of walking poles to ease the pressure on my knee. No sign of the others on arrival at the entrance, so a quick change and we crossed the canal with the bottle and some small bags.

Nearly a disaster when the metal ring on the tackle sack come off nearly sending the diving tank and me through Derek and back into the canal. Changed over to a better bag, picked up first aid kit and stove destined for the camp and set off.

This time round lugging the diving bottle was considerably harder work. Each pull and push on the bag was accompanied by a grunt and an unrepeatable expletive. It was if the bag was nailed to the floor.

Eventually we slowly made our way through the entrance series and up toward the start of the Ramp.

Lunch was a sorry affair with the main excitement being when I opened the tin of mackeral and sprayed fishy tomato sauce all over my face. Spent the rest of the trip smelling of fish.

The Ramp is a 100m 45 degree angle muddy slope. The intention was to pick up the original dive bottle here, but as luck would have it, it had gone. Hope was shortlived as it was at the top of the ramp now, having been moved by madPhil and Dave.

Easy going to Boulder Hall, where we took the bottles up to the top of the chamber, and pulled them up a short climb into Brian Baru’s place. I had hoped to get them just slightly further to the top of the main pitch, but an awkward muddy climb was impossible for me to get up without some form of protection.

Bottles deposited we started to make our way back down Boulder Hall, about half way down I spotted another slope heading off and had a quick poke up it. It lead to a series of interconnected chambers and passages, quite extensive with a lot of formations. I headed down a rather steep slope, around 10m, and dropped off the end. Looking back up it, and being on my own now, a slight moment of concern when I realised I might not be able to get back up. I was down anyway so I had a quick look round, no obvious way on and no draft, so I headed back to the climb. Derek appeared at the top of the climb and probably sat trying not to laugh, as I did my best Spiderman impression, trying to cram myself into one side of the climb and wiggle up the side of the climb. Eventually I reached the top and breathed a small sigh of relief, that could have been quite embarrassing and I had already eaten my emergency chocolate bar.

We carried on back towards the entrance to finish off a little bit more of the depth readings for Derek and we exited the cave.

Trip back up the hill was slow, with horseflies being the source of further swearing. By far the most evil of sciences creation, after Martin’s diving bottle.

 

MadPhil and Dave returned back to the bunkhouse later, with news that cave rigged as far as Consort Hall now. A couple of pitches had to be re-rigged, as the rope had been mistakenly removed last year. Good news was the sump part way through the cave had not filled again, and was at the same level as last year.

T69

T69

A part rest day prior to a big equipment carry tomorrow. A short trip to my favourite named cave, T69. Still unfinished after the last couple of years, we keep coming back to 69 as a possible quick route into the back end of Nacimiento. The current limit is a false floor of mud and large flakes of rock, with a big hole beneath, that rocks fall a considerable way down. The entrance gives of a slight draft, so it’s a promising site.

Martin arrived in the morning after a long drive from his French diving drip in the Lot so came along with myself and MadPhil.

Not much to report, the spoil and rocks from previous visits was cleared up, but an attempt to remove some of the rock with more explosive methods failed, when my firing pin failed to work and got stuck in the rock.  Packed up and came back to Tresviso

Revised GPS co-ordinates paces very close to Dans Big Room in Nacimiento, albeit 500m vertically apart.

Sima Bromista

Derek and Mark spent the afternoon relocating Sima Bromista, a cave we had failed to locate on 2 previous years out in the area. It took them all day, but it transpired that it was only 50m from a cave marked by Bob in 2010…..

Second dates.

The second date however should be a better affair, a bit more relaxed and comfortable with each other, wanting to find out more. The conversation more flowing, the laughs bigger. The looks are less furtive, maybe more longing. The bravado may be gone and some serious questions can be asked and answered.

I have a second date with Martin’s diving bottle tomorrow, keep your fingers crossed.

Travelling

Derek arrived the night before and we packed the car to the roof, ready for an early start. Looked like plenty of space for more equipment.

Left at 10 on the Sunday for a straightforward drive down, picking up Mark Sefton outside the Premier inn, Dover. Having never met Mark before I took the most obvious option and looked for someone who looked like a caver. Easy, the warmbac tackle bag giving him away.

Packed 2 more bags into car and off to ferry port.

Uneventful crossing followed by the long drive through France, stopping just outside of Bordeaux at 3AM for a couple of hours sleep.

Monday 23rd

Up at 6AM, feeling rather cold. I picked the one lorry, that was carrying refrigerated goods and the loud hum kept me awake for at least an hour, so 2 hours sleep. Coffee and some left over quiche and we are off once more.

Arrive in Torrelevega around 1PM to complete group shop. The Yorkshire in me takes over and I spend most of the time picking up 50 cent salami and chorizo, rather than the 1.50 ones. It’s only for cavers and not like Gordon Ramsay is turning up. Finally headed up to Tresviso.

Weather extremely good, no clouds and baking sun.

Arrive in Tresviso around 4.30ish. Unpack, car suspension spring back to its normal state. Only 1 hub cab lost in the process (suspension and wheels another matter)

Others are not about (still at Marniosa) so I spend some time packing various bags ready for a trip to Nacimiento tomorrow.

Others arrive 9ish and we have some dinner. Then I fall asleep, while the others have some beers.

Hypothetically…

This is a word I use far too often. In the past few weeks I must have mentioned it at least 10 times a day at work. Generally used by me to avoid telling what I really think about a question I’ve been asked. So I’m vowing to stop use it.

Saying that it’s probably going to be used a lot on this trip by everyone. There is a lot of hypothetical scenarios that may come up. Hypothetically there is a huge cave system right under our feet, hypothetically we may break into new ground this trip, hypothetically it might all turn to sh!t tomorrow.

However, with the presence of some scientist types on the trip, the new phrase today was “hypothetical conjecture”. It’s a double whammy, it’s conditional and pure guesswork. I may start using this one instead.

Cueva del Nacimiento

Up at 7am with a banging headache, probably dehydration. Breakfast was a rather bland muesli, purchased by myself so no excuses, and some bread. As bags were largely packed an early start was a possibility, but it was not until 10 that we got away.

Everyone headed down the hill with a bag. My plan was to at least set up the dingy and get a lot of the bags across the canal and into the cave. In addition Derek had some science type stuff that needed setting up and I was along to help hammer a hole for him to set up his gadgets, plus learn what I needed to do for the same setup at the back end of the cave.

Sun was baking on the way down which didn’t help my headache, but grand views as always and down at the bottom in a reasonable time.

Unpacking the dinghy, found out that it had a peculiar valve and I didn’t have a pump. Some sheepish looks from myself and some half hearted offers that I would swim across the canal as punishment. However, Laurence pointed out that, you could put your whole mouth around the valve and blow, so no excuses now, dinghy was pumped up and placed in the water. I was first in, luckily nowhere near as flimsy as last year, so no dunkings.

Equipment was ferried across to myself and Derek and then the others left to go back up the hill. One small monster in the pile of bags was quite evident. Martin’s diving bottle, filled with what must be the heaviest gases known to man.

First off myself and Derek set off to the sump, in the entrance series to set up his gadgets.

The Science bit……

Plans earlier in the year to try and do some proper dye tracking of the deep caves on the hill had fallen by the wayside, but Derek had been chatting with an ex-LUSS and Draenan explorer, Ian Benson, about the possibilities of monitoring water flow in the cave.

Very last minute, Ian had kindly lent us to rather expensive depth sensors that we planned to set up, one near the entrance and one toward the backend of the cave. The sensors should give ‘w’ an indication of the amount of flow coming through the cave, possibly flood pulse rates and some indication of possibly inlets. However, a lot will rely on whether is subsequently rains!

The sensor and pipe to house it have been setup in the upstream sump (entrance series) and will log data for the rest of the trip. Hypothetically we may get some results.

Martin’s Bag from hell

Back at the entrance we had some lunch, a rather splendid water-logged salami sandwich. Cling film just doesn’t work in a cave.

Picking up the rescue kit and a diving bottle we set off back into the cave. Getting the diving bottle past the entrance series was the primary goal and despite the wait (and a rather bad back strap design on the bag) we moved through the entrance series. Main problem area was expected to be the bypass, out of the stream and up towards the Black Hole. A comedy puddle of water slowed me down a bit, failing miserable to stray dry. Eventually foot of the Ramp was reached and the two bags left. I pondered taking the diving bottle up to the top of the ramp, but Derek, with a wiser head than me advised against it due to the the weight and my lack of a hand jammer to stop my falling back down the ramp.

Quickly back to the entrance, marvelling at how bright my new Rude Nora was, seeing various parts of the cave I’d never seen before.

Back at the entrance and up the hill.

Plan tomorrow is for one group to start rigging (madPhil and Dave) and myself and Laurence to carry on ferrying gear, hopefully a second diving bottle and get them at least to Boulder Hall.

Knees…

I’m sure everyone doesn’t care about any of this and are waiting to hear the update on my knee, which may become more famous than the expedition. So in the cave and coming back up the hill, no problems. Going down in the morning another matter. All I can equate it too is feeling like my knee had been replaced with jelly. Every step was a small wobble that got progressively worse and when I stood still my leg shaked continually. Just being a weed. A week of walking down the hill will toughen me up.

Previously..

Once back in the UK only a couple of days rest were afforded before the various post-trip activities needed to be completed.  Finances and various reports for the sponsors were prepared and the annual Hidden Earth conference was attended to give a brief lecture on the trip.  Post lecture the serious discussions,  stimulated by alcohol, began.  Alan had vowed never to return to Spain after spending days underground covered in mud and grit, however, a couple of beers later and he was softening.  madPhil was still interested, so that meant continuing the Teeth of Satan climbs was still on.  All I needed to do now was convince a diver that we could carry all his kit to the back end.  One short dive and history beckoned the lucky person…..

As luck would have it, a diver was keen, and not much alcohol required to convince further.  SWCC stalwart and CDG regular, Martin Groves, had expressed general interest in the trip previously, but other expeditions had gotten in the way.  This year it looked like a free space in his diary meant no more excuses were allowed.

So the next few months were spent one more pouring over the journals, in particular the last accounts of the 86 SWCC trip to Nacimiento, the last time anyone was at the backend of Nacimiento and the last time a diving trip had been attempted that far into the cave.

The 1986 journal merely states:

Our next aim was the upstream sump itself which appeared to be the only way on.  Gear was carried into the cave by Rob, Ian and Howard Jones and the sump was dived on a subsequent trip.  Ian supported by Colin was the first to dive.  He laid out all of his 120m of line at a depth of -24m in passage varying from 10m to 20m diameter.  Rob’s dive followed, and a further 47m of line was added at a depth of -27m until he turned back.  No more dives were made at this site.

Various second hand accounts note that the passage was large and on-going, but so big as to cause agoraphobia and the last dive was undertaken at about 3am in the morning, psychological probably not the best time for a dive.  Unfortunately Ian Rolland and Rob Parker are no longer with us to tell us more about the dives.

Advancements in lights, equipment and re-breather technology meant that the upstream sump was becoming a more and more an encouraging prospect for us and with Martin suitable enthused, planning got going in earnest.  Leaving the logistics of bottles, gas mixtures and rebreathers to Dr’s Groves and Rowsell, I got on with the exciting business of permissions and people!

Permissions in the Eastern Picos have been fairly complicated for a few years, with the area ‘split’ between 3 Spanish groups, with the boundaries of said groups changing and overlapping from year to year.  Luckily a good relationship has been set up with the AD KAMI club of Madrid and all our permission requests go via them and we operate as part of their expeditions.  Generally working in the area at the same time, it is surprisingly difficult to get together at the same time to meet face to face and help each other out, with KAMI working high up on Andara at CS-9 (Torca Jou Sin Tierre) and the SWCC either in the middle ridges of the area or at the foot of the Urdon Gorge where Nacimiento resurges.   However, given that the water from CS-9 probably drains into Nacimiento they always take a keen interest in our activities and even suggested, resources permitting, they would help us with the equipment carry.

Recruiting of a team for the expedition was relatively easily, reaching a peak of 26 interested people at one point.  This eventually settled around the 18 marks, as per last year.  The core, previously made up of SWCC members, has slowly shifted with the majority of members being drawn from the ranks of the NUCC.  An encouraging sign and something we have been keen to cultivate.  Potential is still high in the area and the decline in student numbers within LUSS was the beginning of the loss of interest in the area in the late 80’s.  Hopefully, a successful trip once more this year might encourage even more interest and before long we will be back down Sima 56…..

Into the start of 2012 and the sponsorship and funding requests started to bear fruit.  Lyon Equipment once more generously provided a number of high quality tackle and dry bags for transporting all the dive equipment.   More rope was purchased and the previous years dusted off and partly cleaned.

Sports Council WalesGhar Parau and the SWCC all provided further funding and theWelsh Section of the Cave Diving Group provided dive line.

All seemed set, ferries were being booked, car and travel arrangements made and excitement was building.  For me the just the small matter of some knee surgery 8 weeks before my departure date……

A little bit of historical context

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 Goal….

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.

 The 80’s…

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.

 The 2010’s…

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.

http://www.casj.co.uk/index.php/culiembro-expediton

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1303152/A-mile-daylight-4-145-feet–deepest-British-caver-been.html

 Last Week…

Finally the first full traverse from Culiembro to Xitu (and back) was achieved on the OUCC 2012 expedition.

http://www.oucc.org.uk/expeditions/expedition2012/2012_index.htm

This makes it the 3rd deepest traverse and the World’s deepest diving traverse.

Next week…..!

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.

Sima 56 – Cueva del Nacimiento would be a -1475m deep underground traverse, this would make it the 12th deepest cave in the world.

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.

List of deepest caves in the world.

Update from the field (from archive July 21, 2012)

Update from the field

Cueva del Marniosa

3 members (Phil R, Laurence and David) have been out in Tresviso for the previous week, doing some work in Cueva del Marniosa.  Marniosa is situated a bit further up the valley from Cueva del Nacimiento and is probably a filter system into Nacimiento.  The cave was originally explored very activily in the 1970′s until the unfortunate death of Tony Harrison (tribute page appears to be down) in 1975.  Exploration was largely curtailed after this event.  However, some sporadic trips have since occured and the downstream sumps remain a promising lead, heading towards the Western series of inlets in Nacimiento.

In 1986 SWCC and others passed the downstream sump and found over a kilometer of new passage and another downstream sump.  This sump remains undived.

The challenge of diving this sump remains quite a hurdle:  “a lot of this section was tight and sharp and particularily unconducive to bottle carrying” (SWCC 1986)

Undettered a plan, outside of the main objectives, has been made to attempt to dive (or at least get to) this sump.

Tuesday – madPhil passed sump 1 and reached climb down into stream.  Route onwards is up other side of the climb.  Exact words were, “not sure how Colin did it, quite necky”.  Dive line hanging from roof appears to have been used as a lifeline to get back down the climb in 86.

Friday – madPhil half way up climb, manually bolting, expects to be at sump 2 on Saturday.

best laid plans and all that…. (from archive 4th July 2012)

As per normal, the grand plans of keeping a riveting account of the build up to the next Tresviso expedition have fallen by the wayside and it’s now only 3 weeks until the expedition starts properly and I’ve only just set up this newest feed.

If I hadn’t accidently deleted last years blog I would suggest it was a good place to start to get the background on the trip, but instead I’ll have to bring everything up to speed with a potted overview of the trip.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some blogs published while out on the trip, but this year longer underground camps are planned so access to t’internet may be limited.

However, there are a number of other expedition members I hope to press gang into publishing some posts.

The Plan – from archive (July 4th 2012)

BACKGROUND:

The Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20km inland from the northern coast of Spain, forming a Westerly extension 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.

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 all 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 found a number of deep caves around this ‘top camp’ area.  Sara, Tere, Flowerpot and Sima 56 were all pushed to respectable depths.  At the time Sima 56 was the deepest in Spain at –1169m deep.

Many years were spent pushing the top camp systems but the way through remained elusive and interest dwindled.

In 1986 / 87 SWCC and LUSS briefly turned their attention back to Nacimiento and investigated a number of sumps and pushed a bold steeply ascending ramp, gaining over 200m of height at the back end of the Nacimiento system, with a number of leads left unexplored.

Later lightweight expeditions by LUSS and SWCC in the 1990’s and 2000’s have investigated caves and shafts around the Sierra del Corta region of the massif, an obvious middle area between the deep systems and the resurgence, which may have provided a middle entrance to the larger system

Since the 1980’s Spanish caving groups have been exploring the area in parallel with the UK trips, concentrating around the Andara region, including the on-going exploration of the  -1000m deep Torca Jou Sin Tierre.

Recent SWCC Activity

In 2005 a small SWCC trip found a number of undescended shafts on the top of the Sierra del a Corta.

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, but draughting, stream way.

In 2010 SWCC and SBSS spent 10 days examining leads around the Sierra del Corta and Valdediezma, including a number of promising draughting shafts. (T69, T507, T504).  Torca Septrin, on the Pico del Moro, was also revisited and extended for around 100m length and -40m depth, with a draughting continuation.

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.

2012 EXPEDITION PLAN:

The 2012 expedition will be undertaken over 2 weeks from 28th July to 12th August.

There are 2 main objectives of this year’s expedition;

Upstream sump

There are two sumps in Nacimiento which will be the focus of our attention both having huge potential and are certainly the portals into the main drainage network beneath the mountain.  The main upstream sump was last dived by the late Rob Parker, in 1986, and remains a significant challenge due to its remoteness, over 4km from the entrance.

Tackling this sump will involve multi-days camping within the cave.  The known end of the sump is at a depth of -28m and to increase our diving range we plan to use newly developed micro-rebreathers.  These devices allow dive times of up to 3 hours in duration and vastly reduce gas consumption and will allow the same cylinders to be used for multiple dives.  This approach greatly reduces the amount of equipment that will have to be transported into the cave.  The use and development of micro-rebreathers is very much a recent innovation in which members of the team are leaders, this is certainly a scenario in which they have great potential.  Should the range of the micro-rebreathers be reached then the team have larger rebreathers at their disposal.

Death Race 2000

The 2011 expedition successfully re-rigged the whole cave to the furthest and known highest point in the cave, the ‘Death Race 2000’ chamber at the top of a series of climbs known as the ‘Teeth of Satan’.  Over the deepest part of the chamber are there are 2 unexplored avens.   An attempt will be made to bolt climb the avens.

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 .
  2. Torca Septrin, pushed to -140m in 2010.  Depth potential of at least -800m, heading for Cueva del Nacimiento.
  3. Continued re-logging of 1970’s, 1980’s co-ordinate data at numerous sites for publication on re-launched website. (http://www.picosandaracaving.info)