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.
One of the objectives of the 2017 expedition is the aid climb of an 80m aven, in Cueva de la Marniosa. Unfortunately, the aven lies beyond a sump, so divers are required to pass the sump before attempting the climb beyond. The climbing of the aven is more for the desire to connect to any nearby surface sites, as such a connection would allow teams of non-divers to enter beyond the sump and then support divers at the currently undived sump 2, further into the cave and considerably more challenging for divers to work on their own.
Marniosa lies just up valley of Cueva del Nacimiento, and is probably a feeder into the larger system. The entrance is a small 1m high fissure in the side of the hillside, where a cool strong draft emits constantly.
Originally the cave was a cheese cave, typical of the area, and used to store the local cheeses, a particularly strong blue veined variety. However, beyond the old abandoned cheese racks, lies nearly 5km of cave from large dusty chambers in the higher entrance series, to an active streamway at around -230m depth. Marniosa was heavily explored in the late 70’s by Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS), but following a tragic accident, visits become less and the neighbouring Nacimiento cave was proving to be giving up its secrets far more easily. It wasn’t until the mid-80’s that a team from the South Wales Caving Club (SWCC) returned to Marniosa with the aim of exploring the undived sumps. This was a highly successful trip that not only dived the first sump, but also discovered nearly a 1km of passage beyond, terminating in a second sump pool.
Initially, we wanted to transport some dive bottles to sump 1, ready for the divers, to dive sump 1 later in the week. A team of 4 assembled with various size bottles attached to their backs and other assorted bits and pieces. Normally a 45 minutes slog down the track to the cave is required, but now, with the benefit of a 4×4, we drove straight to the cave and only a short 5 minute climb to the entrance was required.
After the initial entrance chamber, the cave quickly starts to descend rapidly via a series of initially small pitches to the impressive Morning Chamber, full of old stalagmites and stalactites. As we had all been in Marniosa a few times over the years, we didn’t stop to admire the scenery and we continued onto the next large 20m pitch. The cave had been left rigged from the previous year, so we had no hassle of carrying rope and metalwork to rig the pitches and we all reached this point with ease. From here the cave changes character again, with large fossil galleries and abandoned streamways. This is the nicest section of the cave, with lots of interesting formations and pleasant passage.
All too soon, the cave changes again, with more muddy passage taking over and we knew we would be approaching the drop into the streamway. Papoose Pitch, as it is called, is a very muddy affair, with no real clean rigging possible and just a lot of mud to slip and injure something. At the bottom a series of platform are reached, that lead down via some exposed climbs, into the streamway. The active streamway makes a nice change from the rest of the cave, upstream in particular containing a lot of passage to a terminal chamber with a number of avens to be climbed. However, we were interested in downstream, so we set off again. It’s been a few years since I have been downstream in Marniosa, but I had forgotten how tricky some of the passage is, with high level traverses or exposed climb downs required for most of the 400m between the bottom of Papoose Pitch to Sump 1. There are 3 pitches in the streamway, again rigged last year, and there was a danger that winter floods might have damaged some of the rope, but luckily the first 2 pitches were fine. The third one was different. Not only was it rigged with deviations using maillons (ran out of carabiners), the core was exposed (found this out after I had already reached the bottom of the pitch). This will need re-rigging when we come back.
Not long after this final pitch, the start of a series of swims marks the approaching sump. Gear was stashed here while Gareth took a quick jump into the deeper streamway to check out the sump.
Although he was only gone for 5 minutes, it’s a very chilly place in the stream and we were all starting to get cold. A few jelly beans for energy and we set off back. The original plan had been to look at some leads upstream but as time was getting on, an exit was preferred. Progress was slow coming out, and there was some opportunity for photos while waiting to ascend the pitches
Eventually, we exited after 7 hours underground, but still more ferrying trips required, before a proper dive can be launched.
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
Just up valley from Agua is Cueva del Marniosa, a 4k + system that is probably hydrologically connected (although never proven) to Agua. A number of pitches and decorated chambers lead to the main streamway. Plans had been made this year to dive the downstream sump (approx. 20m long) with a view to look at an unclimbed aven just beyond the sump. The diving bottles had previously been left near the streamway and a team of myself, Dave Collins and Fernando (President of the A.D.KAMI club and recently arrived from Madrid) had intended to take the bottles further into the cave, ready for a dive. However, plans changed the night before and the dive was cancelled. The trip was altered to bring the bottles out and also take some time to look upstream in the cave.
Although heavily visited by LUSS in the 70’s the description for Marniosa suggest some possibilities for unexplored passage.
Upstream of the ladder pitch …… small inlets enter at the point of many of these falls and often there are large black holes in the roof. Climbs in the roof of these area many be very rewarding.
However, there is some contradictory information between reports, suggesting these leads may have been visited but not always pushed to conclusion. On area we wanted to visit was a unsurveyed section shown on the survey. However, other reports suggest this was surveyed, yet no data seems to exist and not shown on the latest surveys.
The journey up the upstream sump was very entertaining. A very nice section of streamway, with numerous climbs out and back into the streamway. As we went along, I noticed a lot of sections of cave (high in the roof) that are not marked on the survey, supporting the claims in the intial reports. In particular, one section of streamway, had a very large boulder chamber / choke above, possibly 20m high, not marked on the survey. Any SLUGS reading? Drop me an email on any of this 🙂
The upstream continuation was followed to an immense chamber, called The Hall of the Mountain King. It consists of numerous connected avens, some with waterfalls, others dry and could be anything from 150′ high. The floor is littered with sandstone boulders, suggesting that there is a route through to the surface nearby.
We reached the final chamber after a few hours and it was very impressive, at least 3 x 50m avens in the roof, with water coming down and very cold. One small climb / meander leads to an aven marked in the survey, but just to one side was a tight squeeze to a 9m pitch (not descended). Again not shown on the survey.
On the way back I found the passage we wanted to check out and we surveyed the passage. By now it was getting very late and we exitted the cave. On the way we collected the dive bottles but after passing our call out time we left them behind for another trip and exitted at midnight. An enjoyable trip with some new questions raised.
Today (1st August) was Yorkshire Day, celebrating all things Yorkshire including famous Yorkshireman like James Henry Atkinson, the inventor of the Little Nipper mousetrap.
Hence we called the (new) section of cave Yorkshire Inlet and the aven, Bradford Aven.
Today after a very late start, Emily, David, Derek and Duncan left for Marniosa. The 40 minute walk from the top of the sobra valley was pleasant, get into the cave was not fighting our way through brambles and gorse…
I (Duncan) had been the only person to have previously visited the cave and thus lead the trip. We planned to rig the entire route to the steam but because of our very late start time and my painfully slow rigging we bailed out on the 4th pitch once we had rigged it, in favour of going home and getting a relatively early night.
Also I learnt a valuable lesson, it’s all very well spending quality time reading the topo guide and getting the ropes ready but not remembering which rope you need for which pitch well…makes for a trip that ain’t gonna go right!
On the big pitch the rope did not touch the floor so David went back to the previous pitch and cut the excess off (because we had used the wrong length rope for a short pitch) and turned that into a traverse line, releasing the main rope for the main pitch.
At this point we all headed out.
Whilst we had only achieved half of our mission it was a good introduction to the system, tomorrow we will head back and complete the rigging ready for the cave divers and do some exploring upstream.