The Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20km inland from the northern coast of Spain, forming a Westerly extension 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 all 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 found a number of deep caves around this ‘top camp’ area. Sara, Tere, Flowerpot and Sima 56 were all pushed to respectable depths. At the time Sima 56 was the deepest in Spain at –1169m deep.
Many years were spent pushing the top camp systems but the way through remained elusive and interest dwindled.
In 1986 / 87 SWCC and LUSS briefly turned their attention back to Nacimiento and investigated a number of sumps and pushed a bold steeply ascending ramp, gaining over 200m of height at the back end of the Nacimiento system, with a number of leads left unexplored.
Later lightweight expeditions by LUSS and SWCC in the 1990’s and 2000’s have investigated caves and shafts around the Sierra del Corta region of the massif, an obvious middle area between the deep systems and the resurgence, which may have provided a middle entrance to the larger system
Since the 1980’s Spanish caving groups have been exploring the area in parallel with the UK trips, concentrating around the Andara region, including the on-going exploration of the -1000m deep Torca Jou Sin Tierre.
Recent SWCC Activity
In 2005 a small SWCC trip found a number of undescended shafts on the top of the Sierra del a Corta.
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, but draughting, stream way.
In 2010 SWCC and SBSS spent 10 days examining leads around the Sierra del Corta and Valdediezma, including a number of promising draughting shafts. (T69, T507, T504). Torca Septrin, on the Pico del Moro, was also revisited and extended for around 100m length and -40m depth, with a draughting continuation.
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.
2012 EXPEDITION PLAN:
The 2012 expedition will be undertaken over 2 weeks from 28th July to 12th August.
There are 2 main objectives of this year’s expedition;
There are two sumps in Nacimiento which will be the focus of our attention both having huge potential and are certainly the portals into the main drainage network beneath the mountain. The main upstream sump was last dived by the late Rob Parker, in 1986, and remains a significant challenge due to its remoteness, over 4km from the entrance.
Tackling this sump will involve multi-days camping within the cave. The known end of the sump is at a depth of -28m and to increase our diving range we plan to use newly developed micro-rebreathers. These devices allow dive times of up to 3 hours in duration and vastly reduce gas consumption and will allow the same cylinders to be used for multiple dives. This approach greatly reduces the amount of equipment that will have to be transported into the cave. The use and development of micro-rebreathers is very much a recent innovation in which members of the team are leaders, this is certainly a scenario in which they have great potential. Should the range of the micro-rebreathers be reached then the team have larger rebreathers at their disposal.
Death Race 2000
The 2011 expedition successfully re-rigged the whole cave to the furthest and known highest point in the cave, the ‘Death Race 2000’ chamber at the top of a series of climbs known as the ‘Teeth of Satan’. Over the deepest part of the chamber are there are 2 unexplored avens. An attempt will be made to bolt climb the avens.
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 .
- Torca Septrin, pushed to -140m in 2010. Depth potential of at least -800m, heading for Cueva del Nacimiento.
- Continued re-logging of 1970’s, 1980’s co-ordinate data at numerous sites for publication on re-launched website. (http://www.picosandaracaving.info)