An early start was arranged, which would normally mean an early night. 2am was the actual bedtime for most on the trip. The agreed start time of 9am was fairly well stuck to and saw us at the cave by 9.45am. Upon arrival at the track, AG decided to put his caving kit on and walk down. As we walked away the shout of ‘Oh no, these aren’t my wetsuit socks!’. Bob cast his sceptical eye over the previous days rigging and gave it a rating of ‘Misplaced, must try harder’. In actual fact the bolting was fine and the rigging was good, but we thought we may need any extra rope lower down and not around the entrance. Bob re-rigged with Jason following ready to add a bolt to the next rope and continue. Kelda then followed on to mark the survey points, Stu followed with the Disto and Alistair brought up the rear with a PDA to draw up. This was working well, until the request for more rope came fairly quickly in order to rig more economically. The survey team quickly caught the rigging team who were discussing the best way to rig with some less than inspiring rock to go at, whilst crucially staying dry! This pitch dropped us about 15m (see survey) into a large chamber. Onwards from here we continued through a selection of boulder slopes and short pitches which brought us into some large clean washed passageway with very little in the way of stooping or obstructions. The one obstruction that we did come across was a small puddle that we had to duck down to cross. Jason said when he first got there it was knee deep. We all got wet feet. Upon the return journey we broke the plug on this puddle and its has now dropped to just below ankle deep. After this another couple of pitches and passageway led us to a big pitch into a large hall. At the top of this pitch is where the PDA ran out of battery so we stopped surveying. Whilst waiting for Jason to bolt down the pitch, a lot of chatting happened. One of the more notable comments was from AG who said ‘why did we spend all that time digging?’ Jason did a sterling job of the bolting on the large pitch, putting several rebelays in place to keep us all out of the water. At the bottom of this pitch a ledge was reached, followed by another short drop of a laser calibrated Bob’s arm length of 17m. The rope reached, so we assumed this was correct. A quick potter around the chamber to take in its size led us on to a rift passage and another short pitch. We left it there, having run out of drill battery at the top of the short pitch. 2 hours saw us all back at the surface, with a nice walk back to the road in the dusk. Toby was contacted and we watched the stars whilst waiting. A good end to a top days holidaying.
By Stu Coxon
We left the hostel with the intention and kit to look at the tight section in Cueva Donga and hopefully enlarge it. Our secondary objective was to have a look at the pitch in the entrance of what is now known as Practice Pot. Alistair and Dreads went over to Practice Pot to start the day. Alistair quickly donned his SRT kit, tied a rope around the tree above and took everything he needed to bolt down the pitch. Very quickly a shout from the hole came asking for a hammer. The hammer was lowered. A sound of drilling commenced. Tapping of the bolt followed. Another shout came. This time asking for a screwdriver. Much amusement on the surface followed and the request was rejected on the grounds we didn’t have one and Alistair should not be doing D.I.Y when on holiday. Instead we lowered down a rachet spanner, which on the whole was more useful. Alistair placed another bolt and then returned to the surface, muttering about the rope not being long enough.
Stu then took the sharp end and re rigged the rope off a sling round the tree, creating enough extra rope to place one more bolt and reach the bottom on a second rope. Alistair followed on surveying in. Upon reaching the bottom Stu voiced that we were at the end of the cave for us as it narrowed off into a muddy rift. Alistair disagreed and promptly got stuck into a dig. We made a few extra metres with the use of Alistair’sshovel hands and a hammer.
Upon returning to the surface we were greeted by Kelda and Will. Will had been down Cueva Donga looking for insects and had also been digging and extended Cueva Donga 4m (unsurveyed) upstream. Kelda had been prospecting.
After looking down several large shakeholes with no obvious entry points one had a large tree stump with the rest of the tree down the shakehole with just a small section of it exposed above the mud and leaf that has fallen into the hole. This had no entry point but just to the side as heading up out of the shakehole is an entry rift going down 10m to a large ledge of rock, mud and leaf. KJ went to get the rope and kit to descend the hole and see if it went. KJ met WB and he also came. KJ descended to the ledge and dropped a rock down the continuation of the rift which gets considerably tighter for a section. The rock hit the bottom and then rolled – an estimate of 30m so KJ came back up and went to find SC and AG to see if they had finished investigating the hole they were in and if could get some help and kit from them.
KJ and WB had also been wandering around prospecting and had looked at a few holes and were very excited about one in particular.
We wandered over and logged the hole as KJ1. KJ went down first and wasn’t confident in the rock for placing her first bolt. AG then took the lead, followed by KJ and SC. Upon descending we became quickly aware we were into a big hole. The start is an open shaft to a leaf, mud and boulder ledge. From here the cave changed into narrow rift down to a boulder slope with lots of animal bones! That was not the only thing of interest! The cave opens into a rift chamber with 3 onwards leads. We explored the dry rift to the right upto a boulder jammed in where the passage changes from walking to hands and knees crawling. Not explored beyond the boulder. Boulder is marked. A little further on from the rift chamber is a streamway. Upstream we explored 10/15m to a wet crawl but did not go into the wet crawl. Downstream from the rift chamber we quickly found a cascade (6m) which we handlined down due to running out of drill battery. Downstream from this a short section of passageway leads to another pitch. Due to not having any drill battery we did not descend this pitch. We returned to the surface to meet WB with tales of caverns measureless to man (mainly because AG would not let us survey!) a top days holidaying had by all!
Pozo del Castillo
After 30 years of a blocked snow plug, preventing access to the lower reaches of Castillo, the snow plug has melted. The previously scary boulder held up by snow, is now held up by air and luck. A 100 year old winch has now been revealed, and more large scary boulders. The ‘pitch’ has been dropped down under the snow plug into continuing passage, but not currently bearing any relation to the descriptions from the 1980’s French description.
A second trip explored further under the snow plug to arrive at some Screwfix through bolts…. FT16 explored in 2017. It’s not clear how this has happened, no survey detailing such a connection, quite possibly a link revealed by the receding snow. More work to do….
Cueva del Marniosa
Following a successful set up trip by 2 divers, a team of 4 passed Sump 1 to reach Sump 2 and get 2 divers into the new passage found last year. The 2 divers explored 185m of passage before hitting a 6m pitch. Logistics of exploration at such a remote site prevented further exploration.
SUSS updates: https://ukcaving.com/board/index.php?topic=23537.0
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…..