AR and GD dived through sump one, as it was AR’s first cave dive GD carried the srt kits and gear for aid climbing the 80m aven which was the aim. After a hot brew we headed upto the ledge found a few days earlier to assess the aven. Using a tight beam which AR had brought showed that the holes that GD thought existed were more likely to be overhangs. With AR being the more compitent climbed first lead using slings to give a vantage point some 25m up the Aven (the ledge being at 11m), this yielded no prospect. A second area of the aven was climbed second and at the top of the first pitch GD joined AR at that appeared to be ongoing passage. After a short distance the roar was found to be the stream some 20m below so it was just a continuation if the downstream passage. AR then belayed GD around a traverse to see if an opening would yield passage, a small tube was acended for 3m to a mud filled conclusion. AR then lead again using aiding gear to reach another shelf at some 47m above the floor. This was time consumisng as the rock was poor and use of naturels was difficult. No obvious leads or a draught was noted. With little prospect of passage a return to the surface was made after 12hrs underground, with he rope was left in place.
More details to follow but a quick taster
Cueva del Nacimiento – new height reached at back end of cave
Fallen Bear – new leads discovered
Torca de la Carneros – possible leads on hill above Tresviso
Cueva de la Marniosa – Sump 2 (previously undived) passed last night…
Oh and Pozo Castillo – still collapsed
A total of six caves found with four of them believed to have never have been descended. The two previously we believe that have previously been descended included Rotten Sheep Cave and the unnamed ‘Sheep Skull Cave’.
The first cave found during the prospecting trip was a small chamber (4m x 4m x 3m) entered from a narrow body sized slot from a small break in the valley limb. Although the cave died instantaneously, it provided confidence for the team that there was potential for caves of a ‘human’ size in the mountain.
The second cave found included another small ‘human’ sized slot in the valley side which Fernando entered in haste. The narrow opening had the appearance of an animal burrow, with both Sam and Pyro envisaging a small bear snarling at a yellow suited Fernando disrupting their afternoon meal. Unfortunately the cave ended after approximately 10m at a narrow constriction.
We progressed further up the mountain, through the thick hill fog, and stumbled across a pot demonstrating great potential.
Approximately 50m from the summit and hidden in a secluded bowl.
As Pyro approached the cave he was confronted by a gentle mountain dog, tasked with protecting the sheep herds of the mountain. The gentle white beast approached Pyro through the dense clouds, offering a hand of friendship before Pyro stood in panic, shivering in the wake of his own futile failure as a ‘man of a mountain’. Fernando kindly intervened, whispering through the white mist, reminding the temperate beast that Pyro was a mere guest in the fortitude of his domain. Kindly, the giant walked off, in the wake of a Pyro shivering like a coward on the hill.
After a quick check through Fernando’s ‘cheat sheet’ we concluded that the pot in question mirrored the description of ‘Rotten Sheep Cave’, where several carcasses of fallen livestock were dumped on the mountain top.
We continued up, through the cloud.
Scattered across the mountain Sam, whilst taking a rest stop, noticed a flight of birds rising through the karstic landscape. He scrambled up to the hollow to discover a pot, typical of a shaft of titans’ proportion. He called across the mountain, waiting for Pyro and Fernando to venture back across the terrain.
Pyro descended the pot, traversing across the top edge and rigging a y-hang to descend the bottom of the pot. After a 15m free-hang Pyro discovered that the pot, only 25m from the summit of the mountain, terminated with a floor of boulders and mud, with the odd sheep skull for seasoning.
We descended the mountain as the cloud set in, taking the direct route down in an effort to cut short the long wandering route we had taken whilst ascending. As Pyro led the way down we stumbled across an entrance which has clearly been used historically by local hill farmers. Fernando logged the location happy in the knowledge that it matched the description of a previously logged cave.
Again, Pyro led the way down the mountain and through the poor visibility located an open shaft! Measuring approximately 8m x 4m the void clearly showed the characteristics of a cavern of potential. Under the guidance of Pyro, Sam launched a rock down the pit, crashing through the darkness with all three party members confident that the debris plummeted at least 30m. Unfortunately, we only discovered the shaft at 1815 and as the thick cloud was setting in. Definitely waiting for us to return and descend the shaft!
Thursday 13th July
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.
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.
After being promised a four day camping trip in cave where, I wouldn’t get wet and in the warmest cave passage in the world, I was keen to get going. Less than 24hours after leaving Cardiff we were standing in the entrance of Cueva del Agua, a steaming resergence, 15m in diameter.
They said I didn’t need wet socks, but I was dubious so chose to take them anyway, this turned out to be a wise decision.
After inflating the boat to get across the lake, which was good fun, the next section of passage was flooded and would either be a swim or a new high traverse – so much for not getting wet. This is the wettest the team have ever seen it, its normally totally dry and you can just walk through! And it was blowing a gale,so not that warm either.
After Chris rigged a new hand line to traverse above the water, and a near miss for me when I nearly fell in the water (thanks for a hand Chris) we were on our way.
Our four day trip was then cut short when it was decided we needed to replenish our rope and have a beer. So our epic turned into a half day.
Try again tomorrow I suppose. Time for the veggie option in the bar…
Alex here, not really sure what to say. This is my first trip to my Picos and I have no idea what to expect. All I know so far is that its going to be tough, I need a big bag and it’s completely dry; that was until I heard that there was a popped boat to deal with.
So far I’ve had fun being gassed out by Dave, packing & re-packing bags and walking around airports in wellies.
After a fairly long journey we were welcomed to the Picos with cheese toasties and beer by Carolyn, one of the early explorers of Cueva delicious Agua (1970’s). A good night’s sleep and a breakfast of pasty, with no leaves in it at all, we were on our way.
Let’s see how we go!