Castillo, the snow plug “dig” and boulder chocking. I’ve heard a lot about it, after some prospecting on the surface. We kitted up, all were going light just to see what the snow plug and block in the roof looked like. Stories of three previous trips to the snow choke saw the snow plug with too much snow in it, forcing people across to the left of the passage, looking directly up at a set of 4-5 fridge sized blocks held up by fresh-air and rotting wooden stemples.
Fast forward to this year, we entered briefly to work out what the snow plug looked like, Alistair was posted in first and reported that it looked open. The first visit saw that there were a few blocks on the left and an open pitch past the snow on the right. Lying to the left-hand side of the snow plug was a winch made mostly of wood with some added metal for the winch handle, the winch itself was approximately 6 foot in length and 1 foot wide. We decided with the addition of some rope, a drill and some bolts and hangers, we could drop the pitch today.
Kitting up further with SRT kits, drills and other paraphernalia, we re-entered the mine, and quickly found ourselves showing Joe how to put bolts in.
Joe bolted down a 3m pitch to boulder floor, with some rope rub. Pitch descends wall of chocked boulders assumed unstable. Deviation required to pull away and reduce rub. Rebelay bolted and passage through snow plug followed to RH wall, culminating in second 3m pitch. Base of pitch lands at T junction of natural passage leading to mined level, assumed recently uncovered by retreating snow. Mine explored to discover too tight phreatic heading down 60 degrees, small draught. Found several mine artefacts including woven baskets. Mine exited and Joe pressed on following RH wall to reach open hole in snow plug heading up into black void, ~50m. Alistair bolted deviation and all entered Segura 2 into sunshine. Coke at refugio and cushy disco descent to Tresviso.
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.
The 2018 expedition is now only 4 weeks away. A few red tape problems have now been resolved and everything is set, including last minute equipment orders, turning over the shed looking for old equipment and herding everyone into position.
The latest edition of Descent (No 263 – Aug/Sep 2018) includes an article on Tresviso exploration, giving an overview of the recent work by the team, and is well worth seeking out a copy. Available from 4th August.
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).
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)
4/5m 6mm cord
16 hangers (NO BOLTS)
4 hangers (with spits)
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.
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!
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.