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 

 

T69 Breakthrough

Very hot weather of the past 2 days but the walk was not too bad going round the track. Arrived at cave and promptly had second lunch. By now most of my kit is strewn across Spain or broken. Today’s kit was partly borrowed from Mark, Derek and Martin G. Following on from previous post and Kirkpatick’s article on caving, I decided to try and bring some urban street appeal to caving by wearing just longjohns, jumper and some trainers.

 

Into the cave Alan was quickly at the dig face. Initially the plan was for Alan to try and get down the current restriction but it soon became clear it was still too tight, so the following hour was spent using some more ‘violent’ means to enlarge the constriction.

As most of my vertical equipment was down in Nacimiento I spent most of the hour sat in the dark above Alan with my hands over my ears, you can’t get holidays like this in Portugal.

Eventually Alan was confident to take a chance at getting down the hole. I quickly drilled a hole in the rock near me for the rope to be rigged from, and something I could clip onto. Another rope was dropped for Alan to clip into so I could haul him out, if it all went wrong. Excitement built as Alan slowly edged himself down the constriction, until reaching his chest. A few moments of silence and then the announcement he was through! Off he went down into the darkness, seemed to take ages for him to get down and then further silence before what sounded like rock falling. Eventually a faint shout up, that he had reached the end of the rope, but not the bottom!

Retuning back up the rope meant getting back through the constriction, this was the bit we were both worried about. Cunning plan was for Alan to slowly prussik on his chest and foot jammer, while I hauled the second rope with his hand jammer. Slowly (2cm) at a time, he came through the constriction as I pulled on the rope, without trying to fall down the hole on top of him! The urban trainer ensemble not holding much traction on the rocks.  Eventually he popped out like a cork and back to more spacious surroundings.

So currently the shaft is approx. 60m deep. The floor was about 10m from the end of the rope. Alan’s light not enough to give a good picture of the bottom, ‘sounded flat’ and it was still cold. It could be the size of a Sainsbury car park, but also possibly trolley sized. Need to decide if we try and close this one off in the next 2 days of leave for next year……

The Big Kahuna

So the day dawned where we had to put our money where our mouth was and actually dive this sump and get back in one piece. madPhil, Matt, Martin T and Dave set off early with the plan to go the Death Race 2000 aven to ready things for climbing. MadPhil and Dave to set up a camp in the aven and Martin and Matt to help out before returning to the Consort Hall camp to meet up with the rest.

Our days starts quite leisurely, myself, Martin G and Al having numerous cups of tea and a big lunch before a 12pm start down the hill. A couple more bags of diving equipment loaded up, somehow I end up with the bag of £3000 of electronics. Given in the past 6 months I have lost one ipod and broken another, I’m probably not the best person for the job.

Easy going through the entrance series and then just beyond the “Black Hole” we bump into Dave, returning back through the cave. He only got as far as the “Hole in the Wall” and beat a retreat, suffering from a cold and weeks of carrying equipment.

Alan seems to be cursing the cave, me or both, for talking him into coming back to Spain. But like all good miserable trips we form a plan for heading back to the tropics next year for far less misery out in the jungle.

Some discussion ensures about Andy Kirkpatrick’s article about extreme sports….. “In the end we decided that caving – perhaps also fell running – where one of the last bastions of true hardcore sport because they are so unsexy, and could never be made so.”

We summarised it as being due to it generally involves “rolling around in sh!t”

The usual landmarks are passed, the climbs muddy, the hole howling and the sump wet. We arrive at Consort Hall around 5ish after a four hour trip in. Camp is a grateful respite, dinner being a MOD Corned Beef Hash mix with some Tresviso blue cheese to accompany it. More tea drunk.

Message left by Martin suggests he went onto the Death Race aven with Matt’s camping kit, in order to replace Dave. All confusing. Around 9pm he returns, after nearly 12 hours caving on his own). We are all in bed, so only half aware of what was going on.

Day Two

Morning comes, bad nights sleep once more. Too hot, too many toilet breaks, too much snoring.

MOD Sausage and Beans for breakfast and some cups of tea, all very quaint and British. Next challenge involved getting out of nice dry and warm camp clothes and back into the wet, gritty and smelly caving clothes. My undersuit sticks to me instantly, sending a nice cold feeling right through my body. Wet socks even worse. SRT equipment back on, mud everywhere and grit rubbing into all the cuts, bruise and insect bites. A low point. Another cup of tea.

Team of 4 of us now make our way to the sump, somehow we have ended up with an extra bag of 100m rope destined for the climbs.

Most of the cave is pleasant from here on and we make good progress to the sump. While I help Martin kit up, Martin T and Al go off for a bit of an explore.

It takes a good hour and a half of setting up and checking equipment before Martin is ready to dive. At one point we have a large fright when a rock the size of beach ball lands in the sump 2 yards from me. We think it might be Alan and Martin high up in the roof, some shouting is unreturned so the next 10 minutes are rather cautiously spent checking for further projectiles.

At 14:20 Martin is all kitted up and he sets off. I film him setting off, and it’s a good 2 minutes before he is out of sight. The sump descending down a large ramp almost immediately.

It all suddenly becomes quite dark and eerie and I notice how cold I’ve become. I dig out the survival bag and crawl inside. I slowly doze off for about 30 minutes, before Martin and Alan return. Another cup of tea made and then all 3 of us climb into the bag.

At around 15:40 Martin returns after an 80 minute dive.

 

Another hour and a half is spent de-kitting and then we start ferrying equipment, in stages, back to the “Hall of the Green Domino”. We have 9 bags, including the 2x12litre dive cylinders, between the 4 of us and at one point my maths fails and I end up carrying 3 bags at the same time as trying to climb the muddiest part of the cave

It takes nearly two hours for us to get the 9 bags back to Green Domino, a trip that would normally take 20 minutes. We get all but one of the 12 litre cylinders back to the foot of the pitches out of the chamber. We are all pretty tired and just after 7PM we start back start back for Consort Hall.

It’s pretty slow going and I instantly get caught up 1/3 of the way up “Dan’s Big Pitch”, just where you have to lie on your side through squeeze at top of pitch, the cord on my tackle bag catches in my pantin (for the non-cavers a cam device attached to my foot) Unfortunately, working as designed each time I move my foot the cam moved further up the rope, until I was paralysed in a z position, unable to move forward or reach the pantin. As I had already removed my chest and hand jammers from the rope, it was just my safety cords stopping me from dropping back down the pitch (all while in this stupid contorted z position). Eventually, I was able to unclip the bag, which promptly seemed to weigh like a block of lead and nearly sent me plummeting down the shaft, and remove the rope. I was probably only stuck about 15 minutes but it seemed far longer and it had sapped what little energy I had left.

From here it was a struggle, slow and painful as my body starts shutting down, and I was consciously having to check and double check my equipment before abseiling or ascending the rope. The time for stupid mistakes was right about now, elegant climbs now just involved throwing myself up them and splaying myself out, like a spider being washed down the plug hole. The bag weighs a ton and cursing everyone and anyone. In particular the person who came up with the idea of diving this sump, so a few choice words with myself….

Eventually crashed back into around 9PM, Beef Ravioli in Mushroom Sauce then a horrible custard sponge pudding, the custard being solid yellow gelatine substance. Cup of tea, bed.

Day 3

Awoke 8ish after a rather cold nights sleep. Plan was for Alan and Martin T to go to “Death Race 2000”. Although we had not seen anyone from the climbing party, they would surely be aware that Dave had not turned up. Martin G and I to start for the entrance carrying out some of the more delicate and expensive dive stuff.

I ended up with a the most stupidly shaped bag, 2 fins creating a comic shape that wedged into every boulder. The first hour and a half of caving was a nightmare. My body is still screaming at me, every other step seems to be a slip or the bag catches, it still weighs a ton and each time I drop it or place it over a climb, the pull almost drags me down after it.

Its only at the 22m pitch that I seem to regain some sense of what I’m doing. Probably as I know we are nearly out. Energy seems to return to me and we get out through the entrance series very efficiently, and out for 3pm, back up the hill by 4.

The Upstream Sump

So the bit everyone is interested in, what happened in the sump?

The knowledge of the sump was limited to published journals and word of mouth as the original divers are no longer around.

Log extracts “Dived 3.15am, reached the limit and laid a further 42m to a maximum depth of -27m. (Rob Parker)

From Caves and Caving “Rob’s dive followed, and a further 47m of line was added at -27m until the diver turned around because he was scared (he is human after all)”

The survey shows the tantalising words “continues…

Martin reached the limit of Rob Parker’s line and found what had scared the divers away! It does continue but straight down! The line is tied off at the head of a 20m shaft. Martin descended the shaft to a depth of -46m. It then levels out. He followed for another 100m or so in a large canyon (on a similar size to Consort Hall) before returning due to gas mixture restrictions.

Martin’s words “have you seen that film Sanctum? It’s was just like that sh!t

Cueva del Nacimiento (2)

I pushed on and caught up with Martin G and Dave who had got lost close to the Black Hole. We carried on together and knocked off the next few bits of cave before we reached the Ramp and headed up to Boulder Hall. All the bags were stashed with the 2 diving bottles.

On the way back down we bumped into a LUSS reunion of sorts at the top of the Ramp. Jes Peterson and Mark Sefton, along with Derek were on their way to Boulder Hall to undertake some resurveying for me.

Martin T, Anthony and Simon arrived. Bunkhouse getting crowded.

Plan for tomorrow is for Martin G, madPhil, Dave and myself to start ferrying all the dive equipment from the top of Boulder Hall to the camp at Consort Hall. One night camp and then move diving equipment from Consort Hall to the upstream sump, before exit same day. Its going to be two long miserable days….

Cueva del Nacimiento

The rising roaring noise in the distance marks the arrival at the Hole in the Wall, a small hole in the side of the cave passage that channels all the air coming down through the cave. Looking into the hole, is like sticking your head out of a car window…. with a face full of grit for good measure.

A small pitch soon follows and then once more the cave climbs up, until leveling out briefly at the sump. It’s at this point that I notice my chest harness has snapped, bit of a sobering thought as I’d just been pruskking up the last few climbs. The sump is more of a duck now, and the level has remained the same as last year, so we get through relatively dry. A couple more pitches and we reach Consort Hall, it’s taken about 4 hours, so quicker than we were expecting but a slow dawning of realization to the task we have undertaken.

Lunch is eaten and we set off once more, heading toward the back of the cave. The next few parts of the cave are probably the best, large, well decorated passages that slowly head up through some more climbs into Dan’s Big Room. From here we gradually climb down once more towards the start of the climbs for the Teeth of Satan and the route onto the stream way.

None of us have been to the stream way before, so armed with a 1979 map and various contradictory descriptions we climb up and over an obvious calcite blockage and into a large passage heading downwards. Gradually a rumbling can be heard in the distance and we pop out into a large stream way with deep pools. It’s great to be at the stream way, but it becomes quite obvious we cannot move up the stream way to the sump without full on immersion in the water.

We try a few different routes around the stream but they all lead to more deep pools. Eventually we backtrack around 50m up the passage to what initially looks like a rope coming in from the ceiling, but turns out to be 6mm dive line. Martin and madPhil make a start on climbing the wall once more while myself and Dave return to the calcite climb to fetch the rope and drill.

On returning to the climb, the others have returned having reached the sump via this route. The drill and rope is hauled up so that they can get down! Diving lead is dumped at the foot of the climb and we start the slow trip back out. The landmarks pass quickly and we are back at Consort Hall in about an hour and half. A bit more food and we set off for the entrance. It all seems a lot quicker on the way out and we reach the entrance at 9:30PM. Total cave time of 12 hours 30 minutes. Slog up the hill and dinner just before going to bed.

T69

T69

A part rest day prior to a big equipment carry tomorrow. A short trip to my favourite named cave, T69. Still unfinished after the last couple of years, we keep coming back to 69 as a possible quick route into the back end of Nacimiento. The current limit is a false floor of mud and large flakes of rock, with a big hole beneath, that rocks fall a considerable way down. The entrance gives of a slight draft, so it’s a promising site.

Martin arrived in the morning after a long drive from his French diving drip in the Lot so came along with myself and MadPhil.

Not much to report, the spoil and rocks from previous visits was cleared up, but an attempt to remove some of the rock with more explosive methods failed, when my firing pin failed to work and got stuck in the rock.  Packed up and came back to Tresviso

Revised GPS co-ordinates paces very close to Dans Big Room in Nacimiento, albeit 500m vertically apart.

Sima Bromista

Derek and Mark spent the afternoon relocating Sima Bromista, a cave we had failed to locate on 2 previous years out in the area. It took them all day, but it transpired that it was only 50m from a cave marked by Bob in 2010…..

Previously..

Once back in the UK only a couple of days rest were afforded before the various post-trip activities needed to be completed.  Finances and various reports for the sponsors were prepared and the annual Hidden Earth conference was attended to give a brief lecture on the trip.  Post lecture the serious discussions,  stimulated by alcohol, began.  Alan had vowed never to return to Spain after spending days underground covered in mud and grit, however, a couple of beers later and he was softening.  madPhil was still interested, so that meant continuing the Teeth of Satan climbs was still on.  All I needed to do now was convince a diver that we could carry all his kit to the back end.  One short dive and history beckoned the lucky person…..

As luck would have it, a diver was keen, and not much alcohol required to convince further.  SWCC stalwart and CDG regular, Martin Groves, had expressed general interest in the trip previously, but other expeditions had gotten in the way.  This year it looked like a free space in his diary meant no more excuses were allowed.

So the next few months were spent one more pouring over the journals, in particular the last accounts of the 86 SWCC trip to Nacimiento, the last time anyone was at the backend of Nacimiento and the last time a diving trip had been attempted that far into the cave.

The 1986 journal merely states:

Our next aim was the upstream sump itself which appeared to be the only way on.  Gear was carried into the cave by Rob, Ian and Howard Jones and the sump was dived on a subsequent trip.  Ian supported by Colin was the first to dive.  He laid out all of his 120m of line at a depth of -24m in passage varying from 10m to 20m diameter.  Rob’s dive followed, and a further 47m of line was added at a depth of -27m until he turned back.  No more dives were made at this site.

Various second hand accounts note that the passage was large and on-going, but so big as to cause agoraphobia and the last dive was undertaken at about 3am in the morning, psychological probably not the best time for a dive.  Unfortunately Ian Rolland and Rob Parker are no longer with us to tell us more about the dives.

Advancements in lights, equipment and re-breather technology meant that the upstream sump was becoming a more and more an encouraging prospect for us and with Martin suitable enthused, planning got going in earnest.  Leaving the logistics of bottles, gas mixtures and rebreathers to Dr’s Groves and Rowsell, I got on with the exciting business of permissions and people!

Permissions in the Eastern Picos have been fairly complicated for a few years, with the area ‘split’ between 3 Spanish groups, with the boundaries of said groups changing and overlapping from year to year.  Luckily a good relationship has been set up with the AD KAMI club of Madrid and all our permission requests go via them and we operate as part of their expeditions.  Generally working in the area at the same time, it is surprisingly difficult to get together at the same time to meet face to face and help each other out, with KAMI working high up on Andara at CS-9 (Torca Jou Sin Tierre) and the SWCC either in the middle ridges of the area or at the foot of the Urdon Gorge where Nacimiento resurges.   However, given that the water from CS-9 probably drains into Nacimiento they always take a keen interest in our activities and even suggested, resources permitting, they would help us with the equipment carry.

Recruiting of a team for the expedition was relatively easily, reaching a peak of 26 interested people at one point.  This eventually settled around the 18 marks, as per last year.  The core, previously made up of SWCC members, has slowly shifted with the majority of members being drawn from the ranks of the NUCC.  An encouraging sign and something we have been keen to cultivate.  Potential is still high in the area and the decline in student numbers within LUSS was the beginning of the loss of interest in the area in the late 80’s.  Hopefully, a successful trip once more this year might encourage even more interest and before long we will be back down Sima 56…..

Into the start of 2012 and the sponsorship and funding requests started to bear fruit.  Lyon Equipment once more generously provided a number of high quality tackle and dry bags for transporting all the dive equipment.   More rope was purchased and the previous years dusted off and partly cleaned.

Sports Council WalesGhar Parau and the SWCC all provided further funding and theWelsh Section of the Cave Diving Group provided dive line.

All seemed set, ferries were being booked, car and travel arrangements made and excitement was building.  For me the just the small matter of some knee surgery 8 weeks before my departure date……