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.
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.
I first visited the Eastern Massif (or Andara) region of the Picos de Europa in 1996, as part of a small Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) expedition. LUSS’s heyday had long since waned, but a very small contingent of students (and ex-students) were keeping the club going during term time and trying desperately to kick start the Tresviso expeditions in the summer.
The last large scale LUSS expedition had occurred in 1987, but since that time the majority of LUSS cavers had moved onto bigger and greater things, so due to lack of information and resources, these 90’s expeditions concentrated on smaller scale objectives, without the manpower or time to embark on anything of the size of the 70’s and 80’s LUSS expedition (where 50+ cavers descended on the mountain for up to 3 months!).
For me, relatively new to caving, an expedition of any size was a grand undertaken and I would bore anyone who would listen about the great adventures I was sure to have, and the dangers I was sure to face. The reality was slightly different.
This of course was the 90’s, so although caving attire was not much different, the obligatory floppy haircuts and lumberjack shirts were the travel clothes of choice and crammed into our very own minibus, with the club name on the bus changed to Wancaster by some wag in Inglesport we embarked on what seems a journey of epic proportions. The minibus was long bench style with 1km of rope piled up in the middle and 2 people half sat, half lying down on the benches, the rest of the team in the front. Not the most comfortable of journeys and the initial travel down to Portsmouth must have taken a good 12 hours, sat in various stress positions, with a broken heater and no radio. However, as a newbie to the expedition scene, the talk of huge resurgence caves and unexplored passage was more than exciting and I couldn’t wait to get out to Spain!
The ferry crossing was then, as it is now, pretty horrible. I personally suffer from really bad sea sickness, that can only appear to be cured by far too much drinking, presumably ‘scientifically’ correcting the imbalance in my head caused by the motion, to one caused by alcohol. Needless to say the journey passed in a haze of stumbling stupor…. for 24 hours. One positive was that at some point during the journey I ended up in a posh cabin, next to the captain’s quarter, a fine upgrade from sleeping on reclining seats. To this day I’m still not sure how I ended up there.
The following day the ferry slowly docked in Santander, the motion sickness and hangover now no longer working together and I just needed to get off that boat! Eventually I staggered back to the minibus and the other expedition members and finally we landed on Spanish soil. A times round the first roundabout before Sean (as designated Spanish driver) got the hang of driving on the wrong side and we headed off South towards the Picos.
The drive up through the Picos is always a fantastic view, the mountains getting larger and larger until you are driving up through huge gorges, with very large drops on either side. The roads are a lot safer now but even in 1996, a lot of the side barriers were made of wood and missing large sections where the snow had taken them off down the side. In a few places, far below, you could see often see cars that had been taken over the edge as well!
At Poncebos and the Cares Gorge (for those more interested in the Ario Caves Project) we turned off to the East and continued to climb up into the mountains, along further windy roads until the mountains level out on an obvious plateau and the village of Sotres (highest village in the Picos). Above the village the main mountain range of Andara reaches around 2200-2300m high and it’s only a few miles further that the ‘crossroads’ is reached. (The crossroads now, is actually a parking space for tourists and mountaineers, but at the time it was a mud turning circle, marking the junction between a dirt track to Tresviso, a dirt track to Bejes or a rocky track to the higher mountains.
The 1996 expedition was not actually based in Tresviso. A small camp site a couple of km’s up the mountain track and down into a meadow was the best site for pitching tents and having a suitable water source. The amount of equipment in the minibus meant 3 trips back and forth back were required and by the time tents were pitched and bags unpacked it was getting quite late. A quick meal (can’t remember what) and off to bed with the exciting promise of caving the next day!
The next day I had my first taste of expedition caving. The Cheese Cave, as it was called, was about 200m down the valley in a wooded clearing. First discovered in the mid 1980’s, it was a -120m deep cave with a drafting rift at the very end. The cave sat in the middle area between the resurgence cave, Cueva del Agua and the notorious higher altitude deep pot hold caves, such as Sima 56 (at that time the deepest in the Andara region at -1169m). That was pretty much all I knew about it, apart from a notorious squeeze near the start of the cave, called The Constriction of Doom, followed by the Corkscrew (probably of Doom as well). I’m not sure why cavers need to name parts of the cave with such hyperbole, maybe too much Harry Potter reading, or in the 90’s too much Xena, but it usually sets my mind racing about how bad it must actually be to earn such a name.
The passage of time (not another part of the cave…) has dulled what I can remember of that constriction and it has long since been widened by later expeditions, but it was pretty tight, think the Blowhole in Gaping Gill or Birthday Squeeze in Swildons, but 5m long, lying flat out on one side, starting in a puddle of water.
The Corkscrew (of certain death) was actually more intimidating than the constriction, starting in a small chamber full of shattered rocks, that appeared to be the only thing holding the entire roof up. In the centre a tight vertical drop requires an acrobatic sit / squat / twist combination, turning onto ones back and then rolling sideways to face the front, all of this with no space to turn head and look below.
A further 5m crawl then leads to the first pitch and the start of some ‘easier’ caving. A team was already in the cave from earlier in the morning, so all pitches were rigged. This was before easy access to drills andthrough bolts so all the pitches had a generous amount of natural rigging from any available rock, and in some cases mud, that provide a good anchor point.
The first couple of pitches are typical of the type of potholes in the area, being rather tight and rifty, with a lot of old decayed rock and calcite hanging precariously all over the place. In particular, the 3rd pitch Sword Pitch, starts for the first 5m over a hanging curtain of old calcite that rings with every touch. Even now the pitch requires a generous amount of rope protectors to rig with any sense of safety. Further pitches follow, but now an obvious draft is encountered, coming from lower down in the cave. At the Waiting Room, a low crawl leads off, which requires removal of all equipment, before popping out into a keyhole shaped passage with a cold breeze coming through a tight, impassable rift. It is at this rift that the previous expedition had spent many hours hammering away with a lump hammer and again this year the intended focus of our effort.
Out team of three spent a few hours hammering away, until the smallest member could just squeeze the top part of her body through the rift, tiredness and coldness prevented much further work and we exited the cave.
As my first taste of expedition caving, it was a nice gentle introduction. My second lesson was immediately after exiting the cave. Bearing in mind the cave was only 200m from the camp, the next 24 hours were spent lost in the mountains with no water and only a handful of alpine strawberries for food…..
A leisurely morning packing a few final things soon turned into a frenzied panic when I reweighed and realised I had somehow packed only 8kg fully into a bag and, via a broken luggage scale, thought that it weighed 20kg. I thought I must have just been getting fitter and stronger, but no just a bit stupider.
Luckily this meant I could fit in more group equipment, namely lots of ration packs and another sleeping bag, destined for the Death Race camps. An hour later I was over my weight limit, so final few things into the coat pockets and full hiking clothes for the flight over. A rather fetching pair of trousers and braces made me look like I was about to go yodelling in Austria.
Strensham services at 1pm to meet Gareth and transferred over equipment. Promptly set off and got stuck in the Bank Holiday traffic. Finally got to Manchester airport around 4pm to meet Hannah and Chris. Further repacking and off to the airport.
Incredibly slow security lines, gave me plenty of time to think about how much I didn’t really like caving and not sure how I got talked into coming out to Spain. It’s fine in then summer, I can lord it over people and pretend I know what I’m doing by barking orders and nodding sagely when the Spanish talk to me. However, this time I have to go once more to the back end of Cueva del Nacimiento carrying a ridiculously heavy bag, sleep in the dirt and generally feel bad about the state of my predicament. It is snowing in Tresviso so maybe it’s flooded and we can’t go down……
Naturally we were stopped at security, mine was due to some batteries that I had placed in a glove, so obviously I was trying to smuggle a robotic arm out the country. Chris however was stopped due to an unidentifiable item in the top of his caving helmet….. a salad.
Everyone seems excited, although bit shell shocked that we are now on the way and going to have to do some caving….
There must be nearly 30kg of food between the four of us, 5kg of sleeping bags, 1kg of first aid kits, stoves, petrol and that’s before we meet Alex and then pick up the obligatory Tresviso cheese….
Now in Spain, 5 people and 10 bags crammed into a Nissan Juke…. 2 more hours to go
The Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20km inland from the northern coast of Spain, forming part of the Cantabrian Mountains. It consists of three main areas, the Central, Eastern and Western Massifs. It was the Eastern Massif that drew the attention of Lancaster University Speleological Society (LUSS) in the early 1970s.
The early years were spent pushing Cueva del Nacimiento (Cueva del Agua) located at the foot of the mountain range. Over the years this was pushed to around the 11km and +300m mark, but after several years the cave was abandoned as the major routes sumped and no continuation could be found. LUSS turned their attention to the Andara region higher up the mountain range and sought caves that would drop into the Nacimiento system and create a record-breaking 1500m through trip.
They eventually found a number of deep caves around this ‘top camp’ area. Sara, Tere, Flowerpot and the -1169m deep Sima 56 (at the time one of the deepest in Spain) were all pushed to respectable depths.
Many years were spent pushing the top camp systems but the way through remained elusive.
The idea was always to connect Sima 56 through to Nacimiento, a through trip of around 1500m vertically and ~5.9km horizontally.
Exploring Sima 56 downwards is an incredibly large undertaking (approx. -1129m deep, lots of pitches). Upwards from Nacimiento will also be difficult, the furthest point in 1986 was a +200m ascending ramp, followed by some avens with surface debris.
Depending on what you look at, the difference between Sima 56 and Nacimiento is about 3km, but they have overlapped height wise. Some of the known undescended shafts on the Sierra del a Corta are right above the furthest point of Nacimiento.
Recent SWCC activity
In 2005 a small SWCC trip found a number of undescended shafts on the top of the Sierra del a Corta. Al2 remains unfinished.
In 2009 a joint SWCC & SBSS trip further explored Cueva del Entre Cuetos, located on the Sierra del Corta. The 1996 limit at -100m was passed and the cave extended down a number of new pitches to an immature stream way that may repay a further visit
In 2010 SWCC and SBSS spent 10 days examining leads around the Sierra del Corta and Valdeladiezma, including a number of promising draughting shafts. (T69, T507, T504). Torca Septrin, on the Pico Boro, was also revisited and extended for a few more metres and remains an ongoing project.
In 2011 SWCC Cueva del Nacimiento was successfully bolted and re-rigged all the way through the cave and up to the current limit of exploration in the final Death Race 2000 chamber. T69 was investigated further with some digging revealing the head of an un-descended shaft.
In 2012 SWCC spend 3 weeks further exploring Cueva del Nacimiento, including a successful dive of the Upstream Sump, not visited since 1986, extending the sump further and deeper. Death Race 2000 was climbed and a series of pitches descending back toward stream level was discovered.
In 2014 SWCC and others further explored leads in Cueva del Nacimiento and revisited Torca Septrin
In 2015 the Tresviso Caves Project spent 2 weeks exploring Cueva del Nacimiento and discovered new extensions above the Death Race 2000 chamber.
The 2016 expedition will be undertaken over 2-3 weeks from end of July into August (dates TBC)
The expedition has a number of objectives. The following are a few primary objectives:
Cueva del Nacimiento – Die Hard – Jurassic World
The 2015 expedition successfully reached the highest known point in the cave, the ‘Jurassic World’, with a number of leads left open
Sandy dig at end of Jurassic World
Multiple climbs in Jurassic World
Multiple climbs in Die Hard
Cueva del Nacimiento – Pina Colada Bypass
A 3-10m rift heads off from the Pina Colada sump
Cueva del Nacimiento – Teeth of Satan – Wet Aven
The 2014 expedition partly climbed a promising aven, part way up the Teeth of Satan ramps. The aven requires completing with a possible continuation at the top.
Cueva del Nacimiento – Grand Circle
The Grand Circle is an area of passage around the main stream way at the far end of the cave. Although explored fairly rigorously in the late 70’s this was before the advent of more powerful lights and better equipment. Given the profile of the cave, exploration in this area would be worthwhile to try and find a middle dry phreatic level above the Far Upstream Sump.
Cueva del Nacimiento – Parting Friends
This sump lies about an hour from the entrance and is a short 8m dive to a second sump, currently at 200m still ongoing. A dive at this site is planned towards the end of the expedition.
Approx. 200m above the furthest point 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 to aid exploration
Cueto de Entre Cuetos
The 2009 trip pushed this cave down to a small stream way, this still requires pushing and the cave is in a good central location for dropping into the top of Nacimiento
The 2014 trip re-discovered a large 100m shaft on the Sierra del a Corta. Another good central location for dropping into Nacimiento, this requires some digging at the bottom
Discovered in 2005. A drafting shaft not yet bottomed. Jurassic World in Nacimiento appears to be heading directly towards this site
Time and resources permitting there are a number of secondary objectives that will be attempted:
Pozo Del Castillo. Reinvestigate the possibility of resuming exploration of the Castillo system, currently at -293m .
Locate draughting surface entrance, close to 80m aven beyond Sump 1 in Cueva del Marniosa
While on the diving, swearing and suffering was going on, a similar miserable experience was being undertaken by the a separate climbing team. Based up in the the Death Race 2000 aven, the plan was to attack one of the unclimbed avens, coming into the chamber.
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….