Oxford University Cave Club

1987 Expedition: "Cuvicente"

Picos de Europa, Spain

Preliminary Report

1987 Expedition Reports

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Dan Mace

In 1986, the Oxford University Cave Club Conjurtao Expedition bottomed the two cave systems that had been found the previous year. F20 sumped at -582m and Sistema Conjurtao at -655m, the second deepest O.U.C.C. find.

This left the 1987 Cuvicente Expedition with no going cave. Consequently before leaving for Spain, the logbooks from the previous seven expeditions were consulted and a shaftbashing booklet written to aid the search for a new cave.

The expedition arrived at Las Lagos, where base camp was situated, on the evening of Tuesday 7th July. Five days later, Ario camp was well established and ten caves had been investigated. Unfortunately most were only a few metres long, the longest being 39/5, a 45m deep shaft that was blocked by a snowplug.

On Sunday 12th July several very promising caves were found. One of these, 2/7, had been investigated in 1981. Then it had been bottomed at 65m. However the 1987 explorers noticed a strongly draughting slot 10m from the 'bottom' of the cave that, although tight, looked as if it could be hammered to allow a caver to pass.

Even more promising was 9/7. This was a surface shaft down which rocks rattled and crashed for several seconds. It was rigged down to 30m (using all the rope that was then available) and rocks dropped from this point fell for at least 3 seconds before hitting the floor. The next day a team returned with enough rope to reach the bottom of the shaft. Unfortunately, it was found that the bottom of the shaft was the bottom of the cave. There was no way on beyond the bouldery floor that lay a little over 100m below the surface. Once again the expedition was without a promising cave.

A day later, the 14th July, a team went to 2/7 to attempt to dig through the loose soil that lay underneath the draughting slot, in the hope that an easy way around it would be found. All that was found was a continuation of the rocks that formed the slot. It would have to be hammered.

The expedition had now been in Spain for almost a week and still had not discovered a cave that promised to go deep. By now some 25 caves had been investigated and it was decided to survey some of the larger ones, in spite of the fact that they were at least ten times smaller than previous O.U.C.C. finds. 23/5 was surveyed and found to be 40m long and 11m deep. 5/5 was deeper at 21m but was only 31m long. 9/7 proved to be 101m deep with a total length of him.

Meanwhile, a team had been looking in a previously unexplored area to the north of Ario, that was designated area four. Two caves had been found in the area; 1/4 looked particularly promising. A team was sent to examine 1/4 and they reported a 13m entrance pitch with a much larger pitch following it. Within two days, three pushing teams had been down the cave. One team would enter as the previous team left. By the 18th July, the cave had been pushed to a depth of 150m.

During that period, one team had spent six hours hammering at the slot in 2/7, but had failed to pass through the slot. On the 21st July, a team went down to attempt to enlarge the slot even more. Very little hammering was required before it was possible to squeeze through the slot to the head of a 46m pitch. The team pushed on through a tight rift, Paradise Rift, down a 20m pitch and along a second rift to the head of a 10m pitch.

However, as one team broke into new cave in 2/7, another pushed on in 1/4 and found an impossibly tight rift at 162m below ground. The cave had been bottomed. During the next few days 1/4 was surveyed, detackled and lissamine dye was placed in the stream. 2/7 was pushed on down through a long rift section. On the 23rd July, a pushing team broke into a large shaft, 220m below the surface, that was obviously part of a different system to the tortuous rift. The team did not have enough rope to reach the bottom of the shaft, but descended 20m and estimated that they were still 30m from the floor. In fact the pitch proved to be 70m deep and was the first of a series of pitches in a continuous shaft.

By now the survey was a long way behind the limit of exploration. Four survey trips were required to survey the cave to the bottom of the first long pitch, Pessimists' Pot. However, the pushing carried on at a great rate. Three pushing trips pushed down a series of pitches following in quick succession down one wall of the shaft. The third team reached what appeared to be the floor of the shaft on the 30th July. However, there were two holes in the floor and the shaft continued on below what was in fact a number of very large boulders jammed in the shaft. The next team explored the smaller hole for a further 100m below the First False Floor.

The limit of survey was now 320m behind the limit of exploration. There were ten caving days left before the cave had to be detackled and so all pushing stopped until the survey reached the limit of exploration. Rhodamine dye was placed in the streamway near the limit of exploration. While the survey and photography teams worked down 2/7, a large number of new caves were found and marked. These included seven caves in area E and 30 caves in area 7. La Jayada, the huge entrance visible from Ario, was investigated and a team descended past the snowplug for the first time to find a huge chamber 16m wide and over 70m long. This was surveyed and photographed.

At this stage 2/7 was 620m deep. A final pushing team descended on the 9th August before detackling began. At the limit of exploration they went down a short climb among pinnacles of rock and down an 8m pitch. At the bottom, the stream flowed into a rift that was only a few centimetres wide. The alternative route at the First False Floor was investigated and also found to descend into what was thought to be the same rift. The huge shaft simply disappeared into impenetrable rift. The final 15m were surveyed and the cave detackled. It was 635m deep and 1067m long.

By now a total of 60 caves had been investigated, and of those, three (1/4, 2/7 and 9/7) were found to be greater than 100m deep. However several remained uninvestigated, including a series of large holes near La Jayada. On drawing up the 2/7 survey, it was found that it was possible that the rift at the bottom of the alternative route was not the same as the one encountered further down the cave. This will require further investigation. There is much to be done next year.

Dye detectors were collected from resurgences in the Dobra, Hoyo le Madre, Culiembro and the Canal de Trea. Results will be published in the final report. Descriptions of all the caves will also be published in the final report. The positions of all the new caves found this year will be determined accurately next year when a group from Munich University are hoping to produce a photogrammetric survey.