Cueva del Marniosa – Sump 2 push         

   Josh Bratchley, Rob Middleton, Joe Daniels, Arwel Roberts

A late start saw us in the cave not long after 13:00 (much better via Land Rover) and good progress was made down the entrance series to the 1st Pitch in the downstream passages where we’d left our 3 bags of cylinders the day before. Here we met Bob and Dave who had kindly diverted from their aid climbing trip upstream to re-rig the damaged rope and check the other two streamway pitches. Fortunately, the other pitches were unscathed and good progress was made to Sump 1 having lugged 7 bags between the 4 divers. The trip in was warmer than last year as we’d chosen to wear wetsuits the whole way, compared to last year when we opted to get changed at Sump 1.

At the sump, kit was sorted (Josh & Rob taking 1 x 3L cylinder each, with Joe and Arwel taking 2 each) and Josh dived first and inspected last years line. All was well, so all divers soon passed the sump without issue. Kit was again sorted, with 2 cylinders, 1 x 30m rope, slings/tat and regulators in a drum packed into 3 bags to be taken to Sump 2 between the 4 divers. Good progress was made through the often-awkward stream passage, past the two pitches and to the start of the traverse/rifts where SRT kits were dropped.

Slow progress was made through, in and over the sharp traverses with only a few small navigation errors – Josh luckily managing to remember most of the route and way down from last year. Eventually the main rifts were reached where the team squeezed, thrutched, clambered and grunted through, passing bags between them regularly. The deep pool halfway was no warmer than last year! This section of cave felt much better than last year as a larger team allowed longer chains to be made for bag passing.

After the rifts and boulder choke marking the end of the hard stuff, the lovely roomy stream passages were enjoyed down to Sump 2. Josh and Rob kitted up and Josh dived first with a single 1.5 L cylinder, laying a 9mm rope as line and a tape to measure the sump length and survey. The old thin line from last year was still intact, but didn’t feel secure enough. A bag of rocks on the back ensured that Josh sank enough to complete all tasks. Rob unattached the tape afterwards and Josh reeled it in before Rob followed through with a single 3 L cylinder, a drum of survey kit and compulsory rocks.

On the other side, kit was dumped and surveying commenced into the passage explored last year to the limit of exploration. The two leads from last year (left hand rifty stream passage and right hand stal climb) were investigated. The left-hand route led to a loose choke which was bypassed via the right-hand climb (a rope would be useful here 8m), with a drop back down on the other side of the choke to ongoing streamway. This sadly ended in another choke, so a retreat was made to a side lead noted further back towards the first choke. This was large, and continued in impressive fashion to a few down climbs, ending in a 6.5m pitch. With no ropes or SRT kit a retreat had to be made. Diving back through Sump 2, Josh removed the old thin line and Rob followed both passing the sump without issue. Joe and Arwel who had been keeping themselves occupied in the chambers and climbs further upstream were found with their bothy feeling rather cold after 3.5 hours alone.

 After Josh and Rob had gone through sump 2 Joe and Arwel waited and listened for the sound link but there was nothing to be heard. After waiting a few minutes to make sure Josh and Rob would not return imminently Joe and Arwel moved back up the stream way to look at a ramp on the stream right a few bends before sump two. Arwel climbed the muddy ramp to discover some old boot prints and decided it was too exposed to continue without a rope. Moving back to ‘Steve and Colin’s Aven’ a short free climb led to a moon milk flow of about 60m. There appeared to be evidence somebody had previously tried to ascend but we did not follow. There was a lot of surface debris in the area including worms, leaves and plant matter. Joe and Arwel then returned to the sump, collected the bothy and made for a sloping soft mud ledge around the bend from sump 2 to try and make home for a few hours.

A slow, tired return was made upstream, with Sump 1 being passed by all without issue, and back to the bottom of the entrance pitches. All divers struggled up these and through the between-pitch obstacles with all kit (two bags each, including cylinders) before giving in and having to leave the cylinder bags at the bottom of the 20m pitch near the entrance. A return was made to collect the remainder of these and get a few photos two days later. Surfacing after 15 very tiring hours of effort to the Land Rover was welcomed by all. Great trip!

P.S. Thanks to Dan and Sam for pulling 2 cylinders out from here to the entrance chamber the next day.

Tresviso 2018

Prospecting for caves (Sam Deeley)

Expedition Dates

  • 1st September to 15th September 2018 – main expedition dates

Objectives

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.
DR traverse (Chris Jones)

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


Secondary Objectives:

Time and resources permitting there are a number of secondary objectives that will be attempted:

Sistema Castillo

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.
Pozo Castillo (Chris Jones)

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.

  • T554large 100m shaft on the Sierra del a Corta, this requires some digging at the bottom,
  • Al2a 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 NacimientoTerror Firma is only 40m vertically and 200m horizontally from some parts of the surface in the Sierra del a Corta region.

Other

  • 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 de la Marniosa – Terminal Sump 2 dive

Gareth had been having trouble sleeping over the few days previously, possibly due to the heat. This meant going on a push trip to the end of Cueva Marniosa to the Terminal Sump 2 would not be sensible. Josh was still determined to go but was not keen on the idea of a solo trip to the end (with or without dive kit), based on various reports of the cave suggesting a hard trip was in order (see reports from Boothroyd et al.). Therefore Josh persuaded Arwel to join him since Arwel, despite not being a cave diver, had previously passed Sump 1 without issues to help Gareth in the 80m aven beyond. Thankfully Arwel agreed and an uneventful trip down to Sump 1 was had in good time (45 mins) where both dived through, Josh carrying a bag with SRT kits plus other bits and bobs in a Daren drum (floaty!). On the other side Arwel started to brew a hot chocolate whilst Josh sorted equipment for the Sump 2 dive, including a makeshift dive harness (etriers), a single full 3L cylinder (one of two left on that side of Sump 1 by Josh two days prior), some bolting kit and general dive accessories.

The journey down to the limit explored by Josh on a solo trip two days before was much nicer this time, with company, and the obstacle turned out to be an awkward squeeze between a fallen block and the passage wall (which Arwel climbed on the way back, whereas Josh squeezed back up). After this, relatively pleasant stream passage with the usual climbing, traversing, rifts and stooping was followed for some time, via some large chambers, passing a sump pitch to the left noted on the survey, to the 14m pitch into the “bear pit” obstacle. This area had been the site of frustration for multiple previous explorers, as evidenced by equipment left behind, including Brian Judd’s lead and diving cylinders. Multiple lengths of rope were left on or near the pitch, and the first attempt to descend by Josh was shaken by one of the Y-hang “anchors” failing, when a natural rock flake inconveniently broke away. During the subsequent fall/swing encountered by Josh, an impact onto an extended left arm caused some pain and aches for the remainder of the trip. The anchors were re-rigged and the pitch descended into a large resurging pool, likely the regained streamway after it is lost in one of the aforementioned chambers. A swim across this and a short section of walking passage lead to a tight rift and a climb above.

This area is not well represented on the survey, no climb is specified in this large walking section however having communicated with MadPhil Rowsell previously, who had bolted up this climb, Josh was aware that a rope should be nearby. This was found to be about 4m up, anchored to a bolt. Josh went back to cut a short section of excess rope from the bottom of the previous pitch before Arwel, being by far the better climber, clipped it onto the 4m bolt and continued up, carefully, to the top. Midway AR found another rope from across the void attached to the rope he was climbing, which turned out to be the main hang rope installed by MadPhil for the pitch after climbing the corner. This ascending pitch is around the same height as the previous descending pitch (15m or so) and is not on the survey, despite having been climbed by the 80’s explorers (dive line was found above and below the pitch).

There are a couple of ways on at the top, and given the inconsistency of multiple descriptions a long while was spent looking around for what matched the descriptions and survey best. A retreat to the bottom of the pitch to explore the rifts below was carried out, to cover all routes, until after a discussion on whether to continue or not, it was decided to choose the ongoing large passage at the top (which didn’t match survey direction or description). This continued into sharp, snaggy, nasty traversing at high level and became obvious that it was the way, where there was no possibility of staying at the same height, with lots of up and down climbing on extremely weak and sharp rock (a fall would NOT be conducive to life). A point high up, on an S-bend was reached where progress began to look bleak and dangerous. More discussions were had where Arwel seemed happy to turn around, with Josh agreeing subject to one more attempt to bottom the rift. This turned out to be fruitful, where an exposed, cautious, but relatively straight-forward series of descents led to rifted streamway and eventually the difficult, tight, friable jagged rifts that were expected based on prior reports.

With the bag of dive gear, the journey through this rift had to be methodical, slow and careful. Everything snagged, at all levels, with multiple restricted and resistive climbs up and down, chest-tight squeezes and a deep pool midway through, requiring a cold swim across. Finally the rift widened slightly, leading to a boulder choke (easily passed) and more pleasant streamway. This got appreciably easier until stomping streamway lead off, with periodic obstacles, to the final chamber with the large, clear blue Terminal Sump 2 at the far end.

Without wanting to waste time, Josh kitted up into his dive kit and entered the water, buoyant, using two compact reels (i.e. search reels) as dive line. The crystal clear underwater passage dipped gradually down to a shallow 5m depth, where it continued to an elbow. Surface was visible ahead and was reached after approximately 25-30m, using both reels with only a metre to spare to tie off on the far side. Approximately 40m of open, lightly cascading stream passage was explored, after removing some kit, to a calcite/mud climb on the right and rifted stream passage on the left. The climb was pushed until it became too exposed for the divers’ situation, but was seen to choke ahead. Down on the left, a very short foray into the narrow stream passage saw an ongoing rift continuation, relatively pleasant with no sign on an imminent sump. Aware that Arwel was waiting on the far side and would be getting cold/feeling isolated, Josh began a return. The security of the join between the two line sections was inspected once more, in doing so, due to very positive buoyancy, Josh found himself stood upside down near the far side of the elbow of the sump with feet on the roof and head on the gravel bottom – an amusing situation in such a place. The line was left in place, and an exit was made to a pleased Arwel.

The trip back to Sump 1 was a long, uneventful journey, where Arwel got a brew on and heated some ration packs, while Josh prepped all kit for bringing back through the sump (it was at the time improbable that either Gareth or Arwel would return with Josh to Sump 2, hence all kit was due to exit from the diver-only section of the cave). This included all kit used to aid the aven downstream, plus cooking and excess dive kit. This amounted to three large bags for Josh to exit with, which were tied together and made as neutral as possible for the return, which was successful and unhindered. AR being uncomfortable in deep canals (which are extensive on the exit side of Sump 1) continued through after the dive to warm up at the dryer Sump 1 dive base, whilst Josh ferried the remainder of kit through the canal and up the cascade to meet him. Kit was then sorted, a brew was heated, and a further uneventful exit was made, reaching the surface 16 hours after entering the cave (at least 12 of which beyond Sump 1). Thanks to Arwel for enduring yet another Marniosa Sump 1 cave dive!

Cueva de la Marniosa – Further setup

It was decided that an assault on the final Sump 2 would need full cylinders, since the ones currently in the cave had been used to the point where it’d likely not be worth taking them the distance. Since GD decided to have a rest day after the previous days trip had caused much aching, and JB had arrived in Spain the previous day, JB chose to head in solo and transport some full cylinders into the cave and leave them beyond the sump, with a stretch aim of investigating the ongoing downstream passage beyond the 80m aven.
The trip down to Sump 1 was uneventful, though some route finding was required prior to the streamway and the bag with 2 cylinders, full diving kit and bolting kit/neoprene certainly caused some less energy-efficient circumstances. Kitting up at the sump JB put his wetsuit on straight over his base layer undersuit, and dived through with 2 x 3 and 1 x 5 litre cylinders. Visibility was OK after the previous few trips and upon surfacing JB dumped the cylinders and continued downstream.

The cave beyond the aven continued in periodically energetic climbing/traversing fashion on crap rock, not helped by the layers of neoprene being worn – perhaps changing back into normal caving kit might be worth considering for the passage between Sump 1 & 2. Eventually a turn was made at a slippery climb/squeeze with no visible simple way back up. Being aware of his isolation JB chose it a good place to turn around. An uneventful exit of the cave was made, leaving the two 3 litre cylinders beyond Sump 1 and diving back on a single 5 litre cylinder.

Cueva de la Marniosa – Setup

Cueva de La Marniosa (2016)
Cueva de La Marniosa (2016)

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.

Marniosa entrance 2011
Marniosa entrance 2011

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.

Typical passage, Marniosa 2016)
Typical passage, Marniosa 2016)

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.

A small dive base, Marniosa (2017)
A small dive base, Marniosa (2017)
Gareth swims, Marniosa 2017)
Gareth swims, Marniosa 2017)

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.

 

 

 

Death Race 2000

On the first camp the aven was scaled for around 70m high above the ‘middle’ of Death Race, a few diversions and detours were needed, moving into various alcoves and back into the aven.

The boulder slope down the Death Race chamber was rigged, first to allow water to be gathered for the camp, but also to check for any leads at the bottom. At the bottom a small streamway was entered, known about by the 86 explorers. Upstream lead to a small sump and downstream lowered.

On the second camp the main aven reached a well decorated chamber. The slope of the chamber continues up and disappears out of site.

Back in the stream way the narrows downstream were passed, into totally new ground. Over -150m depth has been gained and 700m plus of passage. Intriguingly the passage and water flows South West, which is the opposite direction to all other water in the cave….

The passage continues….

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.