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…..
Over the weekend of 28th April to 2nd May, a team of 5 cavers are going out to Tresviso with the brave (or foolhardy) plan to set up the Death Race 2000 underground camps, ready for the summer trip.
Over recent years the time and effort spent getting people and equipment to the furthest reaches has caused significant lost time that would be better spent pushing leads. A team of 4 people, with large packs of underground camping, drills and rope can take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours to get to the Jurassic World section of the cave. However, a team with minimal equipment can get to the Death Race camp in around 4 hours.
In 2016 a number of ‘base camp’ items were left at Death Race, including sealed food and sleeping bags. The May trip plans to take some more equipment in to be left in situ ready for the summer trip.
The trip will only really have 3 days in the field, 2 of which spent underground in Nacimiento. Weather is currently good, with minimal snow over the past few months and only light showers of late.
Updates to follow, where possible….
Phil Walker, Chris Jones, Hannah Moulton, Gareth Davies, Alex Burton-Johnson
The latest Tresviso Caving Expedition is planned for this summer and once more a blog will be attempted. Additionally, a long weekend pre-expedition trip is planned.
Overview & brief history:
The Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20km inland from the northern coast of Spain, forming part 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 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 eventually found a number of deep caves around this ‘top camp’ area. Sara, Tere, Flowerpot and the -1169m deep Sima 56 (at the time one of the deepest in Spain) were all pushed to respectable depths.
Many years were spent pushing the top camp systems but the way through remained elusive.
The idea was always to connect Sima 56 through to Nacimiento, a through trip of around 1500m vertically and ~5.9km horizontally. Exploring Sima 56 downwards is an incredibly large undertaking (approx. -1129m deep, lots of pitches). Upwards from Nacimiento will also be difficult, the furthest point in 1986 was a +200m ascending ramp, followed by some avens with surface debris. Depending on what you look at, the difference between Sima 56 and Nacimiento is about 3km, but they have overlapped height wise. Some of the known undescended shafts on the Sierra del a Corta are right above the furthest point of Nacimiento.
Recent expedition activity
In 2005 a small SWCC trip found a number of undescended shafts on the top of the Sierra del a Corta. Al2 remains unfinished.
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 stream way that may repay a further visit
In 2010 SWCC and SBSS spent 10 days examining leads around the Sierra del Corta and Valdeladiezma, including a number of promising draughting shafts. (T69, T507, T504). Torca Septrin, on the Pico Boro, was also revisited and extended for a few more metres and remains an ongoing project.
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. T69 was investigated further with some digging revealing the head of an un-descended shaft.
In 2012 SWCC spend 3 weeks further exploring Cueva del Nacimiento, including a successful dive of the Upstream Sump, not visited since 1986, extending the sump further and deeper. Death Race 2000 was climbed and a series of pitches descending back toward stream level was discovered.
In 2014 SWCC and others further explored leads in Cueva del Nacimiento and revisited Torca Septrin
In 2015 the Tresviso Caves Project spent 2 weeks exploring Cueva del Nacimiento and discovered new extensions above the Death Race 2000 chamber (Die Hard and Jurassic World). Additionally, a new large sump (Pena Colada sump) was discovered at the bottom of the Death Race steamway
In 2016 the Tresviso Caves Project spent 2 weeks exploring Cueva del Nacimiento and climbed a number of avens in the Die Hard – Jurassic World area. Additionally, Pozo Natacha (in the Mazarassa mine area) was rigged ready for the next expedition.
The 2017 expedition will be undertaken over 2 weeks from July 8th to July 22nd 2017.
The expedition has a number of objectives. The following are a few primary objectives:
Cueva del Nacimiento – Die Hard – Jurassic World
Multiple climbs in Jurassic World
Multiple climbs in Die Hard
Cueva del Nacimiento – Pina Colada Bypass
A 3-10m rift heads off from the Pina Colada sump
Cueva del Nacimiento – Teeth of Satan – Wet Aven
The 2017 expedition partly continued climbing a promising aven, part way up the Teeth of Satan ramps. The aven requires completing with a possible continuation at the top.
Cueva del Nacimiento – Passages above Dan’s Big Room
Unexplored sections of passage near the 1970’s Terminal Chamber.
Approx. 200m above the furthest point 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 to aid exploration
The 2014 trip re-discovered a large 100m shaft on the Sierra del a Corta. Another good central location for dropping into Nacimiento, this requires some digging at the bottom
Al2Discovered in 2005. A drafting shaft not yet bottomed. Jurassic World in Nacimiento appears to be heading directly towards this site
Time and resources permitting there are a number of secondary objectives that will be attempted:
Pozo Del Castillo / Natacha. Reinvestigate the possibility of resuming exploration of the Castillo system, currently at -293m .
Locate draughting surface entrance, close to 80m aven beyond Sump 1 in Cueva del Marniosa
Upstream series in Cueva del Marniosa. Large black voids above the streamway.
One of the secondary objectives of the expedition is to revisit the Pozo Del Castillo cave on the Andara mountain range. This cave, and a number of interconnected caves and mines were explored initially by the French Les Speleois Dromis (LSD) club in in the early 1980’s. The written report at the time talked of a ‘roaring sound’ at the limit of exploration but a return in 1987 by LUSS reported that part of the route through, in the early part of the cave, had collapsed with snow and rock.
The depth potential to Cueva del Nacimiento is approx. 1360m and with the encouragement of a roaring noise, possibly water or a draft, it has always been an interesting site to revisit. A few attempts in the past year have returned with vague descriptions of ‘yes it’s blocked’ to ‘we may have been in wrong cave’, so it finally came for me to go up the hill and put my mind at rest.
A large group of us went up the hill, 3 cavers (Phil, Martin and Joe) and 4 others (Duncan, Russ, Nicola and Emma). AS Castillo is made up of a number of entrances; Pozo Castillo, Pozo Natacha, Segura 2 and Clockwork Pot, the tentative plan was for the others to scout out, log and photograph the next entrance ready for the cavers. My intention was that if Castillo was blocked the other entrances might provide a way in to the system that dropped beyond the collapse.
Straight away we started to hit the same problem with ‘co-ordinates’ as previous years. Original co-ordinates from the 70’s have an error in them so can’t be fully trusted without converting and adding some degrees. Official co-ordinates from the various official guidebooks seem to either have used the conversion (but without the additional degrees) or used a set area as the official position and used for the same cave. The most accurate way appears to be a combination of open street map inputted co-ordinates (quite possibly scraped from the expedition website anyway) and a handwritten LUSS map from the 80’s!
The Pozo Castillo entrance was found quickly, after a few detours, and is a large open shaft of about 15m. Joe bolted down this and myself and Martin followed.
The bottom of the shaft is still in daylight being about 15m x 8m wide with a large snow plug in the middle. Under one wall is a crouching size hole that leads to another 15m pitch. This was bolted and dropped to enter the start of a complex series of mine passages. A couple of side passages were ignored as we followed the known description to a ‘crossroads’. From this point access to 3 of the entrances could be established. Firstly I went straight ahead, this lead through 200m of walking size mine passage to exit on the side of the hill, overlooking the Lake Depression. This is Segura 2. Unable to shout to the above ground team, I went back into the cave. Right from the crossroads, leads to another junction with an old wooden miners ladder in place. This is Pozo Natacha. We attempt to go up here for a while to try and find the entrance to Pozo Natacha from below, but after a few dodgy climbs we started to encounter proper pitches (about 2 from the entrance proper). Back at the junction the other route lead to a large 30m shaft (the top of which was encountered higher up when trying to climb out of Natacha. This was interesting, draughty and the first natural cave passage encountered in the system. A known system again, running almost parallel to Castillo, to a similar depth and similar reports of drafts at the end.
Finally, we then took the left hand route at the crossroads and went in the Castillo system proper. Around 200m of impressive min passage, with numerous stacked deads leads to a final flat out crawl. The reported blockage was described as here and we quickly found it. A small slumped passage requires a flat out crawl to a small chamber with a snow plug. Looking up is a rather scary affair, with two car engine sized boulders perched and a bit of rotten timber and the snow plug. The left hand side of the snow plug has started to melt and it possible to look down into the chamber further and see more of the snow plug.
No way we were going to get through this today and some discussion was needed on whether we should even attempt it. We exited the cave, regrouped and returned back home
Segura 2 – located and logged. Safest and easiest way into either Pozo Castillo and Pozo Natacha.
Clockwork Pot – not located, co-ordinates inaccurate from all sources. Would need to return and use approximation from the Castillo full survey and descriptions.
Pozo Natacha – entrance not located / confimed but enterable via Segura 2.
Pozo Castillo – still blocked, the snow is possibly melting. Would need to check how stable the boulders are and whether it’s only the snow holding them up