Oxford University Cave Club

1985 Expedition: "Jultayu"

Picos de Europa, Spain

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1985 Reports

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Steve Roberts

The objective of the 1985 OUCC expedition was to find a new system in the region of Jultayu. In this, we had a marked lack of success; however this was more than counterbalanced by the discovery of two fine new caves at high altitude. These caves are still 'going' at depths of 360m and 460m, and there are excellent prospects for further exploration.

The expedition started by establishing camps at Ario and at 'Top Camp' (see map). An early objective was the finishing of Cueva 3/5. This had bee known since 1979 to be a probable entrance to the upper reaches of Pozu del Xitu, the Club's biggest ever discovery (1169m deep, and taking three expeditions to explore). Each year, 3/5 had been given up as 'too tight', but the forcing through of the 'impossible' entrance to 12/5 (Pozu de la Cistra) last year had given us hope. An early breakthrough in 'Wingnut's rift', very tight indeed - led to a sizable pitch. Hopes of a quick connection to Xitu were high. However, 'last' trip succeeded 'last' trip as the cave closed up, then opened out, spiralling ever downwards. Finally the connection came, much to the delight of William Stead; 3/5 has been his personal project since he found it in 1979.

During this time, 'hole-hunting' parties had been scouring the slopes across from the Ario refuge, looking for the elusive 'Third System'. The biggest entrance in the area, Tras la Jayada, a 315m deep shaft - was rigged in the hope of finding new ways on; only minor extensions were found, but some fine vertical trips were enjoyed in this spectacular cave. Many other entrances in the area were found, and explored to hopeless chokes or constrictions within, typically, only a few metres. Soon, the shaft-bashing activity ground to a halt as the good news came down from Top Camp.

At this time, an entrance found last year ('F20') had been-explored down an impressive series of vertical shafts. One of these was partially filled with a 100' high tower of snow ('The Ivory Tower'). From here down, the complicated shaft system led to some interesting rope manoeuvres, including a 30' pendulum. At the bottom of the vertical section, a narrow, deep streamway meandered away. Exploration here was difficult. The walls were unstable, and most of the cave was very tight; progress was only possible in most places by traversing high in the canyon, with neither floor nor roof visible. The stream was only gained at the foot of pitches, and soon dropped away into the impenetrable base of the rift. Several weeks of exploration left the cave still continuing at a depth of 380m, with 578m of passage explored and surveyed.

However, this was not all the 'good news'. In 1980, a walk in the mist led to the discovery of two fine - looking entrances by Dave Rose. They were not found again, despite much effort, and became OUCC legends:- until this year, Dave got lost again, near Top Camp. He found himself faced with the inscription "1/6, OUCC 1980" - and F20 temporarily took a back seat, as the first exploration trip down 'Ridge Cave' pushed it to a depth of 210m through some fine and varied caving. The entrance was a large tube running into the hillside, leading quickly to a 30m shaft. This was followed by a series of squeezes, climbs and pitches to the head of a deep shaft. Subsequent exploration followed down the pitches 'Barney Rubble' and 'Fred Flintstone', adding another 100m of depth. Here the cave changed character. The next pitch appeared to land in a narrow passage, but on descent, one wall disappeared, and a huge, black, boulder-filled space took its place. The way on from here was not obvious. All routes from the base of 'Dinosaur Beach' led to very unstable rock-walled chambers. Eventually a non-lethal route was found, down a deep rift to a streamway. This proved to be choked at both ends; some progress was made through the blockage, but finally exploration of the stream had to be abandoned, owing to fear of death

Luckily, a way into another large chamber ('The Big Crunch') had been found. Unluckily, the only way out was 100` up an unstable wall. This was finally bolted and climbed up after several trips, during which both climbers fell several times. Their efforts were rewarded by the discovery of a passage leading on; it could so easily have choked... A pitch was soon encountered, and finally exploration ended at yet another big chamber. Here, a hole in the floor draughts strongly, calling us back next year! 460m had been gained, and 756m surveyed.

The other 'new' cave, 2/6, had been explored to the bottom of the 80m entrance shaft before the pressing need for ropes in F20 and Ridge Cave forced its detackling. The way on from here is open, and will be pushed next year.

On return, the surveys were drawn up quickly. We anticipated that F20 and Ridge cave would lie very close, and looked forward to making a connection- but they were found to head in opposite directions. The current end of F20 is close to the Jorcada Blanca system. It may join the known part of the system or (we hope) may lead to its extension beyond the sump. Ridge Cave is heading into completely unknown territory. We hope it will not remain unknown for long! Water tracing in the area last year indicated that the water from the Jorcada Blanca system might not resurge in the Cares gorge, as was thought before, but at Hoyo la Madre, several kilometres away near base camp at Lago Ercina. This has yet to be confirmed, but would give this area enormous potential. Ridge Cave may be hydrologically independent, perhaps resurging in the Rio Dobra, again a considerable distance away.

This year's expedition must rank as one of our best. The potential of the Top Camp area has been affirmed yet again: it seems that one only has to walk ten minutes away from the tents to find another new system! The third system that we found was not where we expected, but gave us a fine spectacular cave heading into the unknown. Prospects for next year look very good indeed.