Cueva de la Marniosa – Terminal Sump 2 dive

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!

In search of a sump

Emily, Gareth and Duncan visited Agua today in search of the sump and a bypass to it in a section called road to Wigan pier. We had a late start and got into the cave at 13:30. Duncan lead the way in as the others had not visited Agua before. We installed the hose to drain that annoying pool, it had worked a treat as the pool was almost empty on our way out.

All our efforts kept leading us in loops back to Clapham Junction.

We went back to Black hole and went left. Here we entered large passage with a blue rope hanging from the roof. This was the marker we had been looking for and found the sump. We left our kit in this area and headed out for the punishing walk up and out of the gorge. Absolutely knackered and a great first day exploring lots of new passages to me (Duncan).

I also have the dubious honour of being the first to fall out of the boat… 😉

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….

De-rigging, Death Race 2000

Monday saw myself, Martin G and Alan returning to the cave, with the plan to do a day trip to the back end, pick up the last 12litre cylinder, returning via Consort Hall to collect more equipment and then out of the cave.

Early start saw us down at the entrance and underground for 10, Alan coming straight from a 4 day stint underground with no day off.,,, by the bottom of the Ramp he was regretting that decision.

Quick progress to Consort Hall, where Alan had had enough, picked up the 6l dive cylinders and started for the entrance. Myself and Martin carried on to the remaining bottle. Only just over an hour to get to the backend and once collected we started on a steady trip out, with me occasionally coaxing Martin along with fizzy sweets as he was dragging the cylinder along. A short break at Consort Hall to have a cup of tea and pick up one more bag.

Everything passed smoothly, until a slight accident in the entrance series, where the increasing sized hole in my welly, eventually succumbed, offering no protection when a particular sharp piece of rock, sliced through the hole, through my wet socks and through my big toe. Rather painful.

8 hour trip, all diving equipment now out the cave.

Death Race 2000

Progress report from the climbing camp. General lack of water at the camp resolved by a 60m abseil down the Death Race chamber to a water source. The streamway rift at the bottom of the chamber has been pushed to a small sump… not mentioned in the 87 report but evidence of previous’ explorers.

Main target is the aven coming in over the main part of the chamber. This has now been bolted approx. 100m upwards, initially into a small alcove, that has popped back out into the main aven. Continuing upwards. Second 3 man camp on way.

Cueva del Nacimiento (3)

Last night the bulk of people arrived. Martin T, Anthony and Simon arrived in the afternoon after a fast non-stop drive down through France. Alan, Duncan and Matt arrived a few hours later.

Just as well, doubts had begin to set in as to whether we could get all the equipment through the cave and too the sump. With more people, no problem? All were quickly press ganged into carrying bags to Consort Hall.

In the morning Martin G, Dave, Matt and madPhil set off around 8ish with the intention of heading toward Consort Hall, picking up the 12litres dive cylinders where I had stashed them at the top of Boulder Hall and take as far as the camp. A second group left an hour later, compromising myself, Alan, Simon, Martin T, and Anthony, we would collect up all other bags on route, mainly personal camp equipment, stoves and a collection of neck braces and first aid kits, in case of accidents.

Down at the entrance Simon has forgotten his helmet and light, undettered (or forced) he donned 3 balaclavas and a survival bag wrapped under them to protect his head. The state of my kit was no much better. My oversuit completely trashed I had borrowed Laurence’s oversuit, which was slightly too short for me and a chest harness. Holes in wetsocks and a ripped undersuit that didn’t keep me warm at the best of time.

On the way through the entrance series I placed a couple of reflective markers to aid route finding for the others who would be coming out of the cave later in the day.

The trip was at a good pace, although eventually we separated into two groups, myself and Martin T with the stoves and 2 sets of camping gear. The rest following with more camping gear. Just before the pitch down to Consort Hall, Matt and madPhil appeared and helped get the bags through the calcite squeezes leading up to the pitch.

At camp a quick conflab, dive bottles as far as Dan’s Big Room, an added bonus and speed up the trip in the morning.

The rest of the team quickly departed for the entrance, leaving the team of 4 (me, Martin G, madPhil and Dave) at camp.

Camp always seems a rather dismal affair, like some low budget wedding on the beach. Wet tarpaulins draped over pieces of string, stove in the center with a collection of bags and plastic drums to sit on. Food is generally some dehydrated affair or ration packs for those splashing out.

Cold soon starts to set in, so I change into my dry clothes. Undersuit has shrunk at some point over the past year, with the arms now only coming up to my elbows. Incredibly tight, so I’m partly bent over double. Few extra layers over the top, 2 balaclavas and some tesco carrier bags wrapped round my feet. A fashion icon. Opening my camping mat, I found a great big hole through the middle! A bit of gaffer tape (previously wrapped round a cut across my hand) quickly patches things up.

Food eaten and with no much to do now I’m in bed by 6.30. Still awake at 9 before slowly dropping off. I wake around an hour later and hear some boulder falls deep in the cave, then I hear what I think is someone calling for help. Really quite freaky, then I realise it’s the acoustics in the chamber and it’s just Martin snoring.

Rather uncomfortable nights sleep, just can’t get a spot without a rock sticking in my back and then too hot in my down sleeping bag. A few layers shed and I spend a few hours sleeping part out of the sleeping bag. A first for an underground camp for me, normally I’m freezing!

Cueva del Nacimiento (Camp – Day 2)

We are all up around 7ish. More dehydrated food stuffs and a cup of tea and we set off for the upstream sump. I’m still half asleep and most of the landmarks pass in a blur. I wake up around the time we reach the bottles at Dan’s Big Room, where I’m handed an oxygen cylinder to carry.

Most obstacles now are easily passed with a combination of hauling and dragging employed to get up and down some of the pitches. We arrive at the upstream sump around 12ish. It’s an impressive place, a large (15mx6m) blue sump pool heading off, Rob Parkers dive line still in place from the late 80′s. Madphil and Dave shoot off to take more gear up the Teeth of Satan climbs ready for their push on these later in the week, leaving myself and Martin to sort out diving gear. Well Martin to set it all up and me to clean mud of the bits and pieces. Close call at one point, while I was holding the oxygen cylinder, when the two rocks I was standing on decided to collapse, dropping me 2 foot. Somehow I managed to keep the cylinder perfectly upright and not injure myself. Not sure it’s the kind of place I would want to be rescued from (if possible to be rescued safely).

We exit the cave from the sump in just over 4 hours and slog up the hill once more. The holiday in Cuba looking for more appealing about half way up.

In addition the second depth sensor was set up at Colin’s Climax.


P.S Photos will appear eventually, once I take my camera into the backend of the cave…

Satan’s diving bottle

So when I talked in the last post about the diving bottle filled with the heavist gas known to man, I lied, today’s diving bottle was filled with an even heavier gas…

Plan today was for madPhil and Dave to take a bag of rope and rig all the down pitches to Consort Hall, the location of the main underground camp. At the same time, myself and Derek would bring the next diving bottle through the entrance series, picking up the original one on route and depositing them both at the top of Boulder Hall.

As most of my caving equipment was already down at the entrance to Nacimiento, a very quick pack should have occurred, but a lot of faffing occurred trying to get the diving bottle into a comfortable position on my back. Lunch hastily prepared, something to look forward to today, a tin of sardines and a half chewed salami.

Walk down to the cave not too bad today, borrowing a couple of walking poles to ease the pressure on my knee. No sign of the others on arrival at the entrance, so a quick change and we crossed the canal with the bottle and some small bags.

Nearly a disaster when the metal ring on the tackle sack come off nearly sending the diving tank and me through Derek and back into the canal. Changed over to a better bag, picked up first aid kit and stove destined for the camp and set off.

This time round lugging the diving bottle was considerably harder work. Each pull and push on the bag was accompanied by a grunt and an unrepeatable expletive. It was if the bag was nailed to the floor.

Eventually we slowly made our way through the entrance series and up toward the start of the Ramp.

Lunch was a sorry affair with the main excitement being when I opened the tin of mackeral and sprayed fishy tomato sauce all over my face. Spent the rest of the trip smelling of fish.

The Ramp is a 100m 45 degree angle muddy slope. The intention was to pick up the original dive bottle here, but as luck would have it, it had gone. Hope was shortlived as it was at the top of the ramp now, having been moved by madPhil and Dave.

Easy going to Boulder Hall, where we took the bottles up to the top of the chamber, and pulled them up a short climb into Brian Baru’s place. I had hoped to get them just slightly further to the top of the main pitch, but an awkward muddy climb was impossible for me to get up without some form of protection.

Bottles deposited we started to make our way back down Boulder Hall, about half way down I spotted another slope heading off and had a quick poke up it. It lead to a series of interconnected chambers and passages, quite extensive with a lot of formations. I headed down a rather steep slope, around 10m, and dropped off the end. Looking back up it, and being on my own now, a slight moment of concern when I realised I might not be able to get back up. I was down anyway so I had a quick look round, no obvious way on and no draft, so I headed back to the climb. Derek appeared at the top of the climb and probably sat trying not to laugh, as I did my best Spiderman impression, trying to cram myself into one side of the climb and wiggle up the side of the climb. Eventually I reached the top and breathed a small sigh of relief, that could have been quite embarrassing and I had already eaten my emergency chocolate bar.

We carried on back towards the entrance to finish off a little bit more of the depth readings for Derek and we exited the cave.

Trip back up the hill was slow, with horseflies being the source of further swearing. By far the most evil of sciences creation, after Martin’s diving bottle.


MadPhil and Dave returned back to the bunkhouse later, with news that cave rigged as far as Consort Hall now. A couple of pitches had to be re-rigged, as the rope had been mistakenly removed last year. Good news was the sump part way through the cave had not filled again, and was at the same level as last year.