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.
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.
Phil and myself embarked on another three day trip down Agua on Saturday 15th. With significantly lighter bags, the trip to Death Race was much quicker than the first time. I was able to appreciate the cave more on this trip, the trip to Death Race really is a good varied day of caving. We met Dan and Dave near Death Race heading out for a night of exploring.
The next day the plan was to push Joe’s Crack, the tight rift I had looked at previously. Phil decided this last was too tight for him, so it was up to me to bolt the traverse until it became wide enough to abseil down to the bottom of the rift.
The bottom of the rift widens slightly and the floor dips down below the traverse heading back towards Death Race. Part way along there is an opening into a much wider rift, estimated at 4m across, into which a pitch could be dropped, this was not done on this trip but is an open lead. The small rift turned a corner and chokes.
Returning up the pitch to get the survey kit turned out to be fairly unpleasant, due to the very tight nature of the pitch. Phil reaffirmed his belief that he wouldn’t fit, leaving me to do the survey alone. A shot down the large passage revealed it is at least 12.5m deep, so worth returning to by anyone keen to go down the tight pitch.
Left Death Race the day after in good time, including Phil doing the sump five times to get some video footage of it. Good effort, once is enough for me. Shame the video turned out to be pretty rubbish.
Thanks to Phil for the trip and making the necessary cups of tea throughout the day.
Sam and myself went down Agua looking for a traverse discovered by Derek the year before; the traverse starts at the top of Boulder Hall, it was not fully crossed so the far side was new passage. This excursion have me an opportunity to bolt and rig a traverse for the first time.
The traverse went well, the last section involved balancing off a bridge that seems to be entirely made of mud, I was glad of the bolts and rope at this point. At the far and was a constriction, I squeezed up this into the a small area. To one side there is a further squeeze and there appears to be a large section beyond it. Unfortunately we were out of bolts by this point, so we had to leave it for another day.
That evening we were discussing the day in the hut, and we had to decide on a name for the traverse. Chris suggested “Combine Harvester Traverse” as a few days before we had sung it down at Death Race, I had to teach Chris the words, and the name has stuck. Brilliant.
Thanks to Sam for the trip and his instruction on bolting.
After going across the lake on the leaky boat again, we picked up the bags from where we stopped the day before, and headed on into the cave, psyched up for the biggest caving trip I’ve attempted.
The trip in was hard but good fun, with some really varied caving. Going up the ramps was hard work, especially carrying a bag of kit. The hole in the wall was impressive, and the duck was a bit grim, but on the whole a really good trip.
Finally I spotted camp, and dropped down the final climb. I was definitely ready for a rest and some hot food. However it became clear that neither of us knew how to operate the petrol stove, and after an hour of trial and error, we gave up and used the lunch stove to make some cous cous. I then attempted some bolting down Joe’s Crack, turns out it is harder than I expected. Then Chris and Hannah turned up, Chris fixed the stove and we had some food. The it was time for my first night camping underground, and it was much nicer than I expected.
The next day we headed on, up some pitches; I quickly got stuck in a hole. Then I came across a down pitch where the rope was caught, so time for some down prussicking on to the traverses. Which are scary (for more detail on this point, ask Dave). After much terror we reached the other side, and we were away. After a few hours of good sporting caving, we reached a very slippery, muddy pitch, which was a sod. At the top of this was some of the most amazing passage I have seen. The difficulty here was not damaging any fomations when passing through. We then started scouting for interesting leads, and stopped very near the end of the cave. We used the stove to make some lukewarm tea and noodles, before we got ready to go. Dave then started his aid climb, whilst I sat on a ledge belaying for a good few hours, which was fairly cold, made much better by the down jacket and warm tea. After several hours it appeared that Dave had made good progress, and that the climb was still going.
The climb was named Terror-firma by Dave, the climb went up around 25m to a narrower bit; it is a promising lead, and Dave intends to return to push it further.
We made our way back to camp, over the traverses (still scary), for some sleep before heading out.
We were relived to find a new boat at the lake, and I overjoyed to find some beer stashed by the entrance. Best tasting beer I’ve had in a while.
A surprisingly comfortable nights sleep was had by everyone, the new sleeping bags, although cheap, proving to work quite well. The temperature of the chamber was around 7 degrees all night, which helps. A lot warmer than other camps in the cave.
Over muesli some debate was had on whether to explore a bit of new passage, near camp (Joe’s Crack) but ultimately we decided to strike camp with a view to get out in time for the bar and guarantee a full Monday for any other plans.
Camp equipment was catalogued, packed and stored ready for July and then we started the long slog out of the cave, with three lightly packed bags between the five people (2pm). We gradually split into smaller groups, myself and Gareth at the front, for all of 20 minutes until we got slightly lost in a boulder choke. Hannah soon turned up and pointed out the obvious way on.
The way down the ramps is a lot quicker and we arrived back at The Hall of the Green Domino in just over an hour. BJ had some cheese and chorizo wraps stashed here, which was a nice boost over the rather bland muesli earlier. Once up the muddy pitches into Dan’s Big Room the cave seems to feel it’s going downhill, so a further boost to morale. Consort Hall is the next major stop and we all reconvene. All we are making good progress there is rising concern that we won’t make it out to the bar in time for dinner. Myself and BJ attempt to race ahead but are soon caught up by Chris at Flake Pitch who then runs off to get dinner in, and BJ not far behind him.
While waiting for my turn up the pitch, Hannah turns up, having fallen and possibly twisted her ankle, is now approaching my preferred caving speed…. We cave for a bit, with me still running behind and upon reaching the Sump, realise we haven’t seen or heard from Gareth in a while. I move onto the next awkward bag obstacle while Hannah waits for Gareth. It’s not long before they both arrive and we get the bags through the Hole in the Wall. Gareth had gone the wrong way down a pitch and had a slight fall, hence slight delay.
My entire body is cramping at the moment but I know it’s nearly all over. A few more abseils lead back to the big 22m up pitch ( needs a name!) and then back into Boulder Hall. It’s all down hill from here, down the ramp and into the entrance series. Exit at 8:00pm.
Only an hours hike up the gorge left to complete………
A leisurely morning was spent packing, avoiding leaving and, for some, three breakfasts. Eventually everything was packed and excuses had run out. The 500m descent down the gorge was its usual enjoyable self but due to the time of year a lot less tree cover, meaning we could see a lot more of the cliff sides and panoramic views.
However all too soon we arrived at the bottom. Gareth had already pumped the dinghy up, so no further procrastination allowed. Into the cave at 15.30. Promptly I decided I didn’t want to be there… I’m convinced the entrance series gets harder each year. It’s dark, water thundering about everywhere and seems to take forever to get anywhere. Water levels up slightly, but traverse line still up across waterfall, with only one slight wear point. I decided to clip in for safety, and promptly fell in head first, great cold and wet right at the start. Thankfully BJ did exactly the same so I didn’t feel totally stupid.
A lot of teamwork required to get our rather large tackle bags up and down the climbs but slowly we made progress. At Clapham Junction equipment was left in situ (waterproof first aid, 4 man bothy, 1 AV tackle bag) as this point is the most suitable to sit out a flood in the entrance series. The rescue kit is usually a bit more comforting, but we couldn’t carry everything this time round.
The character of the cave starts to change now, starting with The Ramp, a 70m steep climb, generally at a 45 degree angle. More up and down climbs, continue until Boulder Hall, a large chamber. At the top of the chamber a few more climbs up lead to a 22m pitch, dropping down to the start of a large impressive passage that steeply rises up via a number of up pitches. Normally, you start to hear a roaring noise, that sounds like water, but is the rushing of air through a constriction. This time it’s ominously silent… If I’m lucky it’s blocked and we can turn around and go home. No such luck and we continue down through The Hole in the Wall and more climbs up before we reach the Sump. Water levels are normal and we chain up the five tackle bags and quickly pull them through so we don’t spend anymore time that strictly necessary in the water.
Normally my spirits would start to lift as we are getting close to Consort Hall, one of the old underground camps, however as our main objectives are in the Death Race 2000 area, camps further in have become the norm and now Consort Hall just reminds me that we are still only a third of the way into the cave! We stop for some lunch (at 8pm) before carrying on.
The next hour and a half of caving is probably some of the nicest passage in the cave, big and dry with lots of old formations. This is soon forgotten at the next set of down pitches, from the top of Dan’s Big Room a series of muddy pitches, prove both frustrating and unnerving in equal measure. The ropes were placed on the 2011 expedition and have become more and more muddy and fast, plus all personal equipment is now of the same mud colour, so clipping into the right rope becomes a critical requirement.
At the bottom of the pitches The Hall of the Green Domino provides a definite landmark for the start of the next challenge… Death Race 2000 is now approx. 250m above us, up the aptly named Beasts Ramp, Satan’s Ramp and Hellsmouth.
By now I’m feeling pretty tired, those training days at the spa and facial massages seem to have been the wrong choice, maybe more caving would have been the better option. However, once more my spirits are lifted, BJ looks positively white and slumped in the corner. He might be feeling worse than me. Chris, of course, looks like he only started the trip 5 minutes ago.
By now we have sent Gareth and Hannah on to Death Race, the only water source in the area is down a broken 70m pitch that can take a couple of hours to manoeuvre water carriers up. We are all going to be dehydrated and wanting food later and in the morning, so it seems a sensible idea to do it now rather than post sleep…
These ramps were first climbed in the late 80’s by members of the SWCC, all free climbed or hand bolted, a massive achievement given the scale and conditions of the climbs. We make steady progress up the ramps, again the condition of the ropes leaving a lot to be desired, either muddy, super fast, super thick or, in one case, a dynamic rope meeting back to 1987, that was found a few years back and put back into service (really needs replacing!)
Finally the pitches up stop and we are back on relatively flat land. It’s been a few years since I was last in the Death Race area and only small parts look familiar. A few navigation issues delay us slightly but soon we can hear voices in the distance. We reach The Death Race chamber at around 2:30am, a trip in of around 11 hours. The kettle is already on and it’s time for as cup of tea and dinner. Equipment is then unpacked (the reason we came) and everyone finds a comfortable place to sleep. I don’t have my usual underground camping clothes this time round, but a rather haphazard collection of; base-layers (20 years old), woolly hat (found in gym), bin bags (for wet feet) and a pair of Ron Hill trousers, which should only see the light of day, if that light is down a cave.