Cueva de la Marniosa – Setup

Cueva de La Marniosa (2016)
Cueva de La Marniosa (2016)

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.

Marniosa entrance 2011
Marniosa entrance 2011

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.

Typical passage, Marniosa 2016)
Typical passage, Marniosa 2016)

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.

A small dive base, Marniosa (2017)
A small dive base, Marniosa (2017)
Gareth swims, Marniosa 2017)
Gareth swims, Marniosa 2017)

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.

 

 

 

My first trip to Andara.. (Part One)

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.

70's caving
70’s caving

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!

Map to camp, still used today
Map to camp, still used today

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.

Constriction of Doom, Cheese Cave (1995)
Constriction of Doom, Cheese Cave (1995)

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.

The Corkscrew, Cheese Cave (1995)
The Corkscrew, Cheese Cave (1995)

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…..

Sword Pitch, Cheese Cave (1995)
Sword Pitch, Cheese Cave (1995)

Tresviso 2016 expedition begins

Overview & brief history: 

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.

location

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.

 

Brian Baru's Place by Phil Walker (2011)
Brian Baru’s Place by Phil Walker (2011)

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.

Previous reports are available here: http://www.tresvisocaves.info/reports.html

The Plan

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
Satan's Ramp, Cueva del Nacimiento by Phil Walker (2011)
Satan’s Ramp, Cueva del Nacimiento by Phil Walker (2011)

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.

Middle Camp

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

T554

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

Al2

Discovered in 2005.  A drafting shaft not yet bottomed.  Jurassic World in Nacimiento appears to be heading directly towards this site

Secondary Objectives:

 Time and resources permitting there are a number of secondary objectives that will be attempted:

  1. Pozo Del Castillo. Reinvestigate the possibility of resuming exploration of the Castillo system, currently at -293m .
  1. Locate draughting surface entrance, close to 80m aven beyond Sump 1 in Cueva del Marniosa 

 

Death Race 2000

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….

The passage continues….