by Geoff Beaumont
Present : Tony, Sean,Derek, Becky, Mike, Andy and myself (Geoff Beaumont).
11/7/95 – Train to Aberdeen from Inverurie, then Aberdeen to Taunton. Stayed overnight at Eric and Robbie Lowe’s (Rebecca’s parents). The rest of expedition arrived later in the minibus.
12/7/95 – Train from Taunton to Plymouth. Overnight ferry to Santander. Slept 7 to a 4 berth cabin – cramped, but better than seats, and we all got a shower.
13/7/95 – Arrived at Santander. Met John with Discovery and Pelagh in small Toyota (the Landrover had broken down) – drove to their hotel an hour away in Arenas de Cabrales. After a drink and a walk into the village to get petrol for the stove, Jim and John drove us to our campsite up a rough track above Sotres. The campsite was in a small, sheltered plateau on the East side of the valley – food was stored in a small cave on the opposite side, and the water supply was a small resurgence above this (The entrance to the resurgence was man-sized, but closed down immediately).
14/7/95 – Derek, Mike and Sean went down the Cheese Cave to rig it. – They didn’t get down till about 3.00pm by the time we’d got up and found the cave, but we found a couple of interesting holes on the way there, and another on the way back, as well as investigating a dark hole we had spotted in a rock face. This last appeared to be a large shaft, which we determined to return to and rig for SRT. Mike became our first casualty, falling on a sharp rock while searching for the cheese cave – luckily he recieved only a cut to the knee. Tony spent the rest of the afternoon exploring, while Becky, Andy and I for a cheese cave with a pitch in it, described by Jim and John (John had been to the top of the pitch, but had not descended). The search area was small – we knew it was within a group of huts beside the spring – but it still took some time to locate. The first cave we entered was a cheese cave, the location of which answered the description given by John. However, it was only a small chamber with no pitch. A rift in the roof proved a tricky wriggle, and closed down about six feet up – in any case, it was heading for the surface – but throwing stones into holes along one side of the till floor, which we dug into. The tight passage uncovered became too tight after about ten feet, whith two continuations. Moving on to an obvious large cave entrance above the huts, we passed a well which had been filled up but may lead to a cave, though only with a major dig. The large cave was obviously a sizeable tube, but was filled to the roof with black mud. At the back of the cave, it appeared that a dig had at some time been attempted, but abandoned. We split up to continue the search for Jim and John’s cave, and shortly after Becky found another cheese cave behind one of the huts. While not where we expected to find it, this answered John’s description. The steel door and intact shelving were evidence of recent use. At the back of the cave, a decent sized opening led onto the top of a steep loose floored tube. Beyond the tube was a large inclined rift, which Becky and I descended on a ladder to the floor thirty feet below (check against survey – estimate). The rift extended for about fifty metres in each direction – at one end was a constriction, which required the attentions of a lump hammer, and at the other the roof came down to meet the floor. The tube observed by the top of the pitch came down into the rift, and between this and the pitch a short climb up a tube with a loose rock floor led to a possible way on. However, it was obstructed by rocks, and to have moved them would have been extremely dangerous, as they supported a large mass of very unstable rocks further up the tube. It was, in any case, most likely to be an inlet. A further possible way on was presented by a hole in the floor, which we did not investigate at the time – I did not think that this would go, while Becky felt that it was the most likely continuation. Two large boulders were sitting on the first pitch above the hole, very loosely held with mud. One of these held all the others in place, and showed signs of recent movement, but we hesitated to push them down because of the danger involved and the risk of blocking the hole in the floor. As no movement occurred during the duration of the expedition, we opted to leave well alone. We returned to find dinner already cooked by Tony who had spent the afternoon exploring above the camp. As well as eliminating two dark shadows visible from the camp, he had turned up a cave just below the top of La Gobia. Later in the evening we went up to investigate Tony’s find. There was a short entrance shaft, dropping directly into the side of the mountain. This could be bypassed by walking into a larger but less obvious entrance alongside. A low passage on the right led to the bottom of the pitch. Tony went down alone, and reported that it led down and went for a reasonable distance, but he wasn’t too excited about it, so we didn’t follow it up. We also investigated a descent sized shakehole near the cave, but it would have required a dig beyond our capabilities. As the number of shakeholes in the area above the camp suggested a major system below, we spent the rest of the evening scouring it for further entrances, but the only serious lead we found was a manside hole on the North side of La Gobia. This turned out to be only five feet long, and caused Tony to exit at high speed in reverse, with a mouthful of gnats. He was not amused – we were. The Cheese Cave team returned at about about half past eleven, having rigged almost to the bottom. Various names were suggested for the new cheese cave, including Cueva del Jim y John and Cueva Torreserados (the name of their hotel). It was unanimously felt that the name should honour Jim and Johns’ contribution both to the expedition and to caving in the Picos in general.
15/7/95 – Derek and Sean went down the Cheese Cave to finish rigging it, and to rerig some of the upper pitches to eliminate rope rub. Becca, Tony, Andy and I went down YingYohn with a lump hammer and photographic equiment. We destroyed the obstruction at the end of the rift, but after clearing rocks from behind it we discovered that it became too smal and abandoned it, after taking some “before and after photo’s”. Meanwhile Becky and Andy had investigated the hole in the floor, which was draughting, and found a tight way on, which they were extending with the aid of the lump hammer. Becky handed over to Tony (he was to prove himself very useful with a hammer), who extended the passage to the top of a pitch, at which point we withdrew to camp as we had no more rope for belaying. a quick tea break extended to two tea breaks, and then a decision was made to investigate a black hole in a rock face seen on the way back from the Cheese Cave the previous day. It turned out to be a shaft, fulll of rubbish and bones leading into a large chamber, which was plugged at the bottom with a huge mass of rocks. I abseiled into the chamber, but could find no way on, although a hole in one corner looked promising at first. As I emerged from the shaft, Andy spotted some red paint beside the entrance, which we decyphered as: T LUSS 71
– The cave had already been explored by LUSS! However, we have so far been unable to find any references to T71 in the club records. On our return we cooked dinner, which was virtually inedible due to the terrible rice – still hard after being cooked for an hour and a half. (We later worked out that the Spanish instructions on the packet said to soak the rice before cooking, and after this it was merely stodgy). When, at about ten o’ clock, the Cheese Cave duo showed up scrambled eggs was turned to as a more edible alternative. They had bottomed the Cheese Cave, and derek had spent an hour bashing the constriction. Later, Andy and I very nearly became lost in the fog after returning to YingYohn to collect the SRT and photographic gear we had left there earlier, with the intention of returning.
16/7/95 – Mike, Becky and Andy went down the Cheese Cave and returned about eight hours later having bottomed and bashed it. Derek took the day off and walked up Macondiu (2000m) to the SE of the camp, while Sean, Tony and I tackled YingYohn. Tony got through the constriction at the top of the second pitch, after Sean had rigged a belay fronm three naturals three metres back from the edge of the pitch. – He then had to remove most of the projections from the constriction in order to get back out, a feat which also involved me remaining wedged at the top of the constriction in order to pass tools and light Tony’s work, as his carbide was playing up. Having managed to squeeze back through, Tony attacked the constriction again from the top, then I took over and finished his work, so that the constriction was a viable size for the larger members of the expedition. I then descended the pitch, belayed by Tony as Sean was too cold from sitting in the same spot belaying us while we bashed. I emerged into a small chamber surrounding the ledge which Tony had observed the previous day, which appeared to have been formed by the flow from a two feet diameter phreatic entering the chamber at about chest height. The rift continued for at most ten feet beyond this, on one side of the ledge, but with a tight constrictin which would have to be bashed. I crawled about a body length into the phreatic, to the first bend. It appeared to go, but will almost certainly close down before to long as the direction of travel is upstream. There appeared to be a larger chamber at the bottom of the third pitch, but only another day would tell as I pulled the tube off my carbide while ascending the second pitch, then tuned the tap on my generator the wrong way, and we were forced to evacuate the cave whie the fumes cleared. We spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing. In the evening John delivered food for the next days barbeque, and took Tony to Tresviso for beer and wine.
17/7/95 – We got up early (ten o’clock!) to walk down the valley to the barbeque site. By the time Jim and his walking party arrived we had the fire ready for the sausages and huge slabs of spare ribs, both of which went down very well along with the marrow and onions. Not only did we eat well but we came out of it a side of ribs and a few condiments better off – including some desperately needed salt. After the barbeque we walked with Jim’s party over the mountains to Sotres, were we managed a shower, meal and bar crawl. Part way there, at the top of the mountain, Jim realised that he had the meat in his rucsac, and we had a box of rubbish in our food cave, so it did the round trip with us. Jim introduced Tony, Derek and Andy to the local moonshine, distilled from the second pressing of the grapes, and we spent the night in the loft of Gariagas’ (check spelling) warehouse with him.
18/7/95 – The next morning we had breakfast in Gariagas’ and stocked up on food and gas, then returned to camp along the road. We started moving our food up to YingYohn, as it was far better than the original food cave. We opted out of caving and spent the rest of the day sunbathing instead (what’s new).
19/7/95 – Sean, Tony and I went to the bottom of the Cheese Cave to bash the constriction, while Becky, Derek and Mike surveyed the first section of the cave, and Andy took the day off. The first part of the Cheese Cave is a low walking passage opening out into a cheese room, with the remains of the cheese shelving still standing. As I had taken photographic gear down with me we paused here to take some photo’s, using Andy’s newly aquired toy, a flash slave. In the cheese room a drip from the roof with a can under it provides a supply of clean water for drinking and filling carbides. The muddy passage on drops down and doubles back on itself, entering the Foetal Ball Room, a tiny chamber at the start of the Constriction of Doom. The constriction itself no longer holds any terrors, as it was severely bashed by last years expedition, but was originally impassable to larger cavers. It opens out into the Room of Doom, a small chamber with a roof of unstable rubble, where cavers must wait for access to the Corkscrew. The Corkscrew is a contorted crawl, with its vertical entrance in the floor of the Room of Doom. Just below the entrance is a shelf known as the Seat, where someone must sit in order to pass tackle bags through the most constricted part of the Corkscrew. The crawl emerges in a small chamber at the top of the first pitch, where SRT gear was donned. The pitch is descended by treating the section to the first pitch as a traverse, then abseiling down a domed structure to the top of the second pitch. In the face of the first pitch is a tight slot, which leads directly onto a climb down into the Drinks Cabinet (I seem to remember you telling me that this was not the name), a chamber with clean running water suitable for drinking. The second pitch drops, via a deviation, to the top of aclimb down to the right of a calcited butress, with a feasible but more difficult climb to the left. It is only on reaching the bottom of this chamber and looking back that its true beauty is appreciated – it is easily the most attractive part of the cave, with extensive calcite decoration, largely in the form of flowstone. A climb down a short passage from here leads to the top of the third, and largest, pitch. The big pitch, as it is inevitably referred to, is thirty three metres (108ft) long, and after a rebelay and two deviations on the top twenty feet is a free hang. Again, the full grandeur of the chamber is not appreciated until you reach the bottom. It is a huge aven, which continues for a considerable distance above the pitch head, and opens out at the top. As access to the upper regions of the aven has never been gained, and it is beyond the forty feet range of a zoom, the full extent of the aven remains unknown. In addition to this, there is a large unexplored passage entering the aven about forty feet above a large mud ledge, which must be gained by climbing a short distance from the floor of the aven, avoiding some attractive pools. From this ledge, access is gained to the short fourth pitch (the water flows under the ledge, which is in fact the remains of a false floor). The fourth pitch has been nominated the name Bastard Rub Pitch, for reasons which became immiediately apparent on descending it. Despite some remarkably contorted rigging, involving two deviations, the second best treated as a rebelay while standing on the large ledge halfway down, there are several significant rubs which could not be illiminated. At the bottom there are two ways on. In the upstream direction, a dead end is reached in a fairly well decorated chamber, but the other direction leads to another short pitch into the Waiting Room. The descent is made above a shallow circular pool, but is possible to pedulum out onto the higher false floor of the chamber. Though the pool and walls around the pitch are of clean and attractively coloured rock, the rest of the Waiting Room is characterised by mud formations. It is here that bashing teams awaited their turns at assaulting the terminal constriction, access to which is gained by climbing down to a crawl at the far end of the chamber. The crawl, noted for its ability to wreck oversuits, emerges into another, almost equally tight, fossil streamway. It is here that the strong draught, noticeable throughout the crawl, begins to affect carbide flames, and at the constriction itself, about three metres downstream, they roar continuously. The constriction, keyhole shaped, is of solid rock, and its location in a narrow section of the streamway made it awkward to bash. Beyond it, a small chamber could be seen, with a narrow slot in the floor, from which the draught appeared to emmanate. It was made even more frustrating by the loud boom caused by pieces of rock dropping down the slot. While Tony took first bash, Sean and I photographed the Waiting Room. Tony returned to report that he could now get his head through the constriction. He then left the cave, as his carbide was mysteriously consuming vast quantities of water to very little effect. I took next bash, and was able to get an arm through as well by the time Sean arrived to releive me. This allowed me to see the roof of the chamber and confirm, as suspected, that there was no way on other than the slot in the floor. Sean removed some more rock, but was still only able to get one arm through when we left. – We had cleared the thinner section of the constriction, and progress was evidently going to be slower from then on.
20/7/95 – Derek, Andy and Mike went down the Cheese Cave to complete the survey, while Becky and I were supposed to be bashing the constriction in YingYohn, and Sean and Tony taking the day off and repairing Seans damaged generator. However, I went down YingYohn by myself, expecting Becky to follow me shortly afterward. I arrived at the constriction and began bashing it, then noticed that my (Tony’s) carbide generator was lying on the floor beside me. The rivet holding the bottom of the handle had pulled out, allowing the water chamber to empty – and explaining where Tony’s water had been going the previous day. I was forced to leave the cave, and Sean later replaced me in YingYohn. Both generators were successfully repaired.
21/7/95 – Becky, Sean and Mike went down the Cheese Cave to bash the constriction, while Derek, Andy and I surveyed above ground to a large shakehole suspected of being above the big pitch, and back from the entrance to the streambed in the centre of the valley, in order to get a more accurate fix on the cave. We also took bearings from some of the nearby peaks. Comparison of the survey figures later showed that the shakehole was well to the West of the explored part of the cave, though it may be associated with the unexplored passage in the wall of the aven, or an unknown inlet leading to the top of it. It is also possible that the shakehole, and several others around it, are associated with a part of the cave beyond the constriction, although it is currently heading East.
22/7/95 – Mike, Tony and Becky went into Sotres to stock up on food. Derek and Sean were to have bashed the constriction in the cheese cave, but Derek didn’t feel up to it, so they spent several hours bashing the far more easily accessable one in YingYohn. Meanwhile, Andy and I photographed the Cheese Cave as far as the big pitch, spending most of our time in in the attractive second pitch chamber. We were forced to give up as the lack of physical activity involved resulted in us both becoming cold. The shoppers returnedin high spirits at dinner time, having eaten out and drunk a considerable amount.
23/7/95 – Mike, Sean and Derek made a final assault on the constriction in the Cheese Cave, while Tony bashed its counterpart in YingYohn. At the same time Andy, Becky and I surveyed YingYohn. The surveying went well ’till Becky dropped the compass while hanging upside down on the second pitch. It dropped past me, through the constriction and down hte third pitch, forcing us to make an attempt to get through the constriction. It turned out that Tony’s bashing had made it just large enough, and I was able to exhale and drop through. – Getting out, with gravity hindering not aiding, was a much less simple process, especially as it was neccesary for me to lift me hip over the edge of the pitch while simultaneously working my chest through the tightest part of the constriction – a manouver which took five minutes to complete. Climbing down the third pitch ( pitch is definately stretching it a bit) I found myself in an attractive area with a mud floor and a small, shallow pool. The compass was found on the pitch. To the right of the third pitch another inlet entered. It was not running, but was clean and had fresh water on it. Beyond the inlet, a short crawl led into another small chamber, with a hole in the floor filled with a muddy deposit which appeared to be the result of a section of false floors falling from above. The hole seemed to be draughting slightly around the edges of the mud plug. A small streamway with a trickle of water in it entered the hole from the West. I followed it back along a deeply downcut vadose passage into a small, well decorated aven. The water was flowing from a small heavily calcited phreatic tube high in the opposite wall. At least one of the several other tubes entering the aven is intermittently active, but one or two are obviously fossil, having become heavily calcited and muddied. A substantial false floor crossed one half of the aven at head height, and was extensively decorated with flowstone. Digging in the mud hole may well yeild a way on, as the number of decent sized inlets suggest that a good volume of water once flowed down it. However, it is also possible that the rift continues to close down, although the water must have gone somewhere. The Cheese Cave team returned in low spirits, having failed to break through their constriction, although it was now possible to get a persons chest into the constriction.
24/7/95 – Low spirits prevailled in camp, as the expedition appeared to have acheived very little. The Cheese Cave had not been extended, despite a week and a half of bashing, and YingYohn was only twenty five metres deep. However, this attitude overlooked the fact that both caves had been surveyed, with a survey of major surface features above the Cheese Cave, and that both caves had also been photographed. In addition to this, while progress has been hard won so far in YingYohn, if it goes beyond the mud plug its character is likely to change, as the rift cannot continue closing for much longer. I wanted to go down the Cheese Cave and see if I could manage the constriction, but I was unable to persuade anyone to go down with me, and I didn’t fancy digging out the mud plug in YingYohn by myself, so when Mike, Andy, Tony and Derek went for a walk to the White House, a refugio in the next valley up from ours, Sean suggested that the three of us remaining took a look down Tony’s find above the camp. It turned out to be far bigger than his report had led us to believe. Climbing down from the shaft by the entrance, we arrived in a huge cavern, which could have put many cathedrals to shame. In the centre of the cavern sat a huge boulder, basically the entire roof fallen in in one piece. It must have weighed something like a thousand tons and was the size of a house. This boulder sat on a floor composed of smaller boulders (which were still huge), but it did not appear that there had been any recent falls, as everything was covered in soft calcite and mud. In a lower section behind the large boulder were the remains of some cheese shelving, evidence that the cave has, or once had, a draught. Several forays down into the boulders drew blanks, although two hole near the floor were obviously a genuine outlets, but to small to permit access, and a room was found under the big boulder. Eventually Sean came across a pitch, formed by a space in one corner. It was lined with soft calcite and obviously undescended, but the roof above had been repaired, possibly by the cheesemaker, preserving his draught. He rigged it and descended five metres to the true floor of the chamber, but could find no way on through the boulders around the bottom. Sean suggested naming the cave Cueva del Siesta, as it had been ignored for most of our time out there, while I nominated Big Brother as a name for the large boulder, but as the cave has only one short pitch, it is more likely to be given a simple “T” designation. Becky and Sean spent the rest of the day searching for Oh What Pot, an early eighties LUSS find which has not been properly explored. Unfortunately, they were unable to find anything on the East side of La Gobia, where it was described as being. Since this also fell within the area of our earlier search above the camp, we suspect that the original description was a peak or two out. I returned to the camp, where I found the rest of the expedition resting in the shade, to collect my camera, then walked up Pica del Macondiu to take some photo’s of the surrounding area. I also came across a herd of goats who surrounded me and fought to get at the salt on my arms and legs. Some measure of the gradient of this mountain is given by the times taken by me – two and a half hours up (admitedly zigzagging to get views from both sides), and half an hour to get back down.
25/7/95 – Sean, Derek and Mike derigged the Cheese Cave, while I remained at the top of the first pitch to take tackle bags through the constrictions. This was completed successfully, with no more drama than both my light sources giving out simultaneously in the Constriction of Doom, reducing me to one of Mike’s light sticks – I was forced to concede that my scepticism about the usefulness of these items was unfounded. While we were derigging, Becky, Andy and Tony surveyed the cave above the camp, and in the evening we derigged YingYohn and began packing caving gear.
26/7/95 – We struck camp in the afternoon, and carried everything up to the track, were Jim picked us up in the Landrover.