Oxford University Cave Club
Huerta del Rey Expedition 1992
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From the Ario Refugio, follow the path that crosses the flank of Cabeza Julagua, skirting round above the Jou de Ario. After a while, the col between Cabeza Julagua and Cabeza de las Campañas will be seen; on the far side of this col is a valley, split near the top by a spur. The cave entrance is located in the right hand side of this spur: a large hole in the cliff with a perched boulder above, bushes growing from the sides, a tarpaulin in the entrance and a faded 'SIE ø 84' mark. Bearings: Cabeza Julagua 126°, Cabeza de las Campañas 300°, Cabeza Forma 227°.
[In all the formal cave descriptions in this report, side passages are indicated in a different typeface.]
The 9m entrance pitch descends over boulders and lands on a boulder slope: this is somewhat unstable and should not be descended while other cavers are on the pitch below. At the bottom of the slope are two alternative descents on either side of a jammed boulder: the normal route is to the left, a 7m pitch. To the right at the bottom of the pitch is a chamber containing a snow plug: this is where the alternative descent route lands.
The way on is to the left where a short boulder slope leads to a 2m drop into a chamber - the normal place to wait while avoiding boulders knocked down from above. A typical Picos-style ascending rift passage leads to a slight squeeze - easily passed at roof level - to the top of the third pitch. The first 4m is constricted and is probably the hardest part of the cave. Descent is best made by clipping into the line with a cowstail and sliding down the rift, using your left hand on the ladder to control your descent. Where the rift bells out, the rope is tied off to a bolt so as to catch cavers who pop out of the tight part. The rift is best ascended by climbing the ladder to get into the tight part, and then using your left hand and foot on the ladder, your right hand on the rope, and your right foot on the rock, climbing the ladder one rung at a time. This can be made easier by removing gear and hauling it up on the ladder afterwards. Friends below can also help by providing foot holds for the right foot, and by guiding the left foot into the ladder.
From the bottom of the tight section, the pitch continues as a 21m abseil down the rift. At the bottom, a short traverse leads to a further 8m descent. Larger rift passage continues to a boulder pile at a three-way junction. To the right, a descending passage passes two inlets before ending at another inlet after 12m. To the left at the three-way junction is a small chamber from where a 5m climb down a rift lands on boulders. Looking back, one can see down into a chamber. Climbing down through boulders reaches a junction: the way on is back underneath the descent route, an easier 4m climb down into the chamber noted above. Alternatively, a hole in the other direction is the top of a 2m climb down to the floor of a passage, about 15m long and 3m wide. This ends in a steep slope, which can be climbed up for some way. At the base of the slope is a small crawl, starting about 1-2m up the wall, which becomes too tight, although there is an audible connection with the crawl to the top of Peanut Pitch Isee below).
At the base of the climb is a chamber. Ahead closes down to a too-tight inlet, which communicates with a point reached by descending through boulders at the three-way junction. The way on is to double back under the climb down into the chamber, following the stream: ducking under a boulder reaches the start of a crawl. The crawl starts off over sand, before the streamway cuts down suddenly to form a T-shaped passage: following the top of the passage soon leads to the top of Peanut Pitch.
Five metres down the pitch is a large ledge with a convenient pool for filling generators; the bottom 2m is normally free climbed. At the bottom is an unstable boulder slope with a choice of two ways on: ascending the boulder slope leads to Insalubrious Route, doubling back under the pitch and crawling through a choke is the way to Very Big Chamber. The latter route is the normal one taken.
From the bottom of Peanut Pitch, ascending the boulder slope (handline useful) leads into The Big Chamber. To the right a 30m long, 450 boulder slops ascends to a boulder choke. Opposite the point of entry, a narrow rift leads for 5m to a mud choke. To the left, 6m above the floor, is a balcony overlooking the chamber. The way on is below and slightly to the left of this balcony, where a crawl at floor level leads into a small chamber. Straight ahead leads to a choke after a few metres. Doubling back and climbing up boulders leads to the balcony. From here a 2m climb on the right leads to an ascending slope leading back away from the chamber, at the top of which is a further 3m climb up onto a calcite platform looking back down onto the chamber. A Im diameter hole opens out into Insalubrious Passage.
Insalubrious Passage is 20m long and 8m wide and is the best-decorated part of the cave found to date, containing many calcite columns and with a moon milk floor. A route along the passage is taped off. High up to the right at the point of entry is a hole back into The Big Chamber above some formations; from the top of the formations an exposed traverse out over the wall of Insalubrious brings you to directly underneath an overhang with a hole above; reaching this would involve bolting. A passage to the left of the taped route through Insalubrious drops down a steep slippery slope to a mud choke. At the and of Insalubrious, a climb on the right to a promising looking hole unfortunately doesn't go.
The way on is a crawl to the left by a small cairn. This leads into a 1.5m diameter passage which opens out at the top of a chamber with a sloping wall, Sloping Chamber. A rope can be rigged down the wall. At the bottom, a hole under a gravity-defying perched boulder is the top of an 11m pitch landing in Passage With No Name Yet.
From the bottom of the pitch are a number of possible routes. Directly opposite the pitch, a chossy climb down leads into a short rift which opens out into Very Big Chamber (see below). Upslope from the bottom of the pitch leads after about 15m to a drop into Very Big Chamber. The most obvious way on is along the passage, slightly downslope. Halfway along the passage a triangular gap in the right hand wall gives a 2m climb down to 3m of passage. leading to a 45° descending. body-sized tube to an undescended pitch head. Above this hole is the route to Eleven O'Clock High and The Map Room (see below).
Slightly further on is a smaller hole. This is about 5m deep and can be free climbed with the aid of a rope. A shingle slops leads down at 45° and round a bend to a junction. To the right the narrow passage seems to disappear under the boulder ruckle forming the floor of Passage With No Name Yet, but was unexplored. To the left the passage continues for a short section to a wet two-way junction, with both routes narrow and remaining unexplored.
At the end of Passage With No Name Yet, the floor drops away and a descending traverse line can be followed to a bolt, from where a descent can be made to a boulder a few metres above the floor. This is Rio Pequeño.
Alternatively, from the end of Passage With No Name Yet, a traverse on the right hand wall follows a small abandoned watercourse out above the upstream section of Rio Pequeño, through a rock arch to a point where it is possible to climb down to the dry stream passage. Above connects to Eleven O'Clock High. A slightly exposed traverse then continues at this level to a short pitch into an inlet: this probably feeds Rio Pequeño, but was not descended.
Just before the triangular hole in Passage With No Name Yet, a way through large boulders on the right leads to a 4m climb up through a hole in the floor of the passage to a junction: to the right leads to Eleven O'Clock High; to the left leads to The Map Room.
To the right a short, exposed traverse above Passage With No Name Yet is soon found leading into the start of a rift, Eleven O'Clock High. After 10m a junction is met: to the right an inlet leads to a pool with a too narrow climb above. The main passage continues to a second junction: a large inlet enters from the right; a climb leads to a larger, unexplored high level. The way on is up a 1.5m step into a large passage leading to a rift chamber. Ahead a pitch down has been visually connected to the dry, upstream section of Rio Pequeño. A steep slope to the right is unexplored. The way on from the rift chamber is a short traverse which leads to a step up into a rift passage, leading to another chamber. Ahead an undescended pitch again probably connects with upstream Rio Pequeño. To the right the passage continues up a steep slope into a high level connection with the previous chamber. An easy traverse passes a squeeze into an active inlet, leading to a rift with a boulder choked floor. The rift continues past formations, and a continuing traverse leads to a short climb down. Here the passage doubles back underneath and leads to a short pitch: this probably drops into Rio Pequeño near the sump.
The passage continues from the climb down, round a comer, up a climb, before eventually closing down at a draughting choke.
Alternatively, to the left from the top of the climb out of Passage With No Name Yet, a hading passage continues for about 15m to a high, hading, draughting rift, The Map Room. Here there are at least two leads. The first, a high, dry inlet reached after about 20m, contains detailed map-like wall markings, and continues past an oxbow. The second, reached after a further 15m, is a small active inlet entering from the right (with easily hammered route down) which goes upstream for about 25m to a junction. To the left is a climb to a hole. Ahead the passage continues for 20m to a muddier section, which remains unexplored. The Map Room and passages leading from it are unsurveyed.
From the boulder at the foot of the descent from Passage With No Name Yet, continuing straight ahead is the 'upstream' route along an abandoned stream passage. After 20m of scrambling passage, a junction is met. To the right, a short climb leads to a few matres of passage ending at an aven: this connects with Eleven O'Clock High. To the left at the junction, the passage becomes more meandering until the roof shelves down into what must once have been a sump. This is now choked with mud to within a few centimetres of the roof, although it appears that it could be dug open.
Alternatively, from the boulder at the descent from Passage With No Name Yet, doubling back and continuing down to the floor leads to the start of the 'downstream' route. After 8m is a small chamber with a picturesque false floor and a choice of two routes. To the right. under the false floor, is a passage taking a small stream; after about 2m this splits in two with both ways rapidly becoming too tight. To the left, a short crawl leads to the top of an annoying 3m pitch, called The Hundred Metre Pitch because of its distance below the surface rather than the length of rope that it needs. To the left from the top of the pitch, a muddy crawl has been forced to a junction, but no further.
At the foot of The Hundred Metre Pitch, the passage turns into a meandering rift, El Meandro. A stream enters from the right: this can be followed upstream along a small passage which lowers to a hand and knees crawl; the water emerges from a wet, flat-out crawl with wall sculpted mud banks. This route was not fully pushed and may connect with the streamway at the bottom of The Very Big Chamber. Following the water downstream leads after only a couple of metres to a smaller inlet entering from the left: this can be followed upstream for 5-6 m to a pool at the foot of a 2.5m climb with a seemingly passable crawl at the top. Continuing along the main rift, a traverse leads to a bold step, best rigged with a rope to help cavers with short legs. Just before the bold step is a draughting roof tube which has not bean pushed. Ahead, the easiest route is to traverse at roof level, until the rift opens into a chamber. Down a Picos-style ramp to the left is an inlet at the base of a tall aven. To the right, a slot is the top of a 10m pitch.
The pitch lands in a chamber where the base of the El Meandro rift enters from one side. Part way down the pitch, a large passage leads off, but this soon drops back into the downstream continuation. Downstream, the passage can be followed mostly at floor level until a boulder choke is reached. This can be bypassed by climbing up into a grotto, from where a calcite squeeze leads into a well decorated passage, with a trench in the floor which after 5m becomes wide enough to descend back to stream level. A short crawl in the streamway is passed to a short traverse. A decorated passage to the right soon becomes too tight, but may deserve further attention. Ahead, the passage becomes more meandering until suddenly a sump is met. About 50cm underwater, a tube continues, sloping downwards at about 45°. The passage near the sump draughts quite well, so there are hopes of finding a sump bypass.
From the bottom of Peanut Pitch, a short, unstable boulder choke (care!) can be passed into larger passage. To the left, a short ascending passage leads to a choke: this can be passed to a further choke. To the right, the passage continues, along the bottom of a boulder slope, to a calcite platform at the top of a 10m pitch.
At the bottom of the pitch is a choice of routes. To the left. a large rift passage appears to choke, but has not been thoroughly investigated. Doubling back under the descent route leads to the start of Rio de los Emfermos (see below). To the right leads into Very Big Chamber. This is about 30m long and 20m wide, split into two by a rock arch, and has a boulder floor sloping down from right to left. At the far end, low down to the left. a climb down through unstable boulders emerges in a stream passage, 2-3m high and a metre wide. The upstream route is blocked with boulders; downstream gets steadily smaller until a wet crawl is reached with nice mud formations. This streamway is believed to be the main source of the water in Rio Pequeño. Straight ahead in Very Big Chamber a rift leads to a chossy climb up into Passage With No Name Yet. To the right a slope leads up to a drop down from Passage With No Name Yet.
The route to Rio de los Emfermos starts as a walking sized rift passage. After 10m is a boulder choke; this can be bypassed by climbing up into the top of the rift (ladder useful). This leads out onto a boulder slope, descending to the left. Upslope leads to a hanging-death boulder choke. Downslope, a stream is encountered at the bottom of a very pleasant rift, Wet Cheeks Rift. After a while, chert is found on the walls. A few metres ahead is a bold step; this is best avoided by climbing up slightly from the chert to a much easier step. The rift continues until the passage opens out above a small chamber. Here it is necessary to descend to floor level; a short crawl in the stream is followed by a climb up to a ledge from where a window looks back over the chamber. This section would be much easier if a pitch were rigged from the top of the rift on the near side, penduling across the pit and in through the window.
Traversing along the rift, following a good draught, leads, via an oxbow, to the head of Fever Pitch. This is in two sections of 13m and 16m. From the ledge at the bottom of the first section a rift leads off; this can be followed for about 20m to the top of a drop which is believed to connect back into the main passage. A sizeable stream enters partway down the second section. At the bottom a climb up leads to the top of The Unwell, a 10m pitch. This lands in larger passage which runs under a large aven before closing down at the start of a traverse along Codeine Phosphate Rift. The rift meanders, with an awkward climb up on the second corner of an S-bend after 10m. A further 8m of traversing leads to the top of a 14m pitch, October.
At the base of the pitch the stream is met again. This can be followed upstream for a few metres via an oxbow and a pool, before the rift closes in. Downstream the passage continues as a pleasant, tall, meandering rift until suddenly the roof appears and a few metres further on a sump pool is reached. To the left an inlet enters: walking up this for a few metres, and then climbing up and doubling back leads to a balcony looking back down on the sump pool: this is the start of a phreatic high level series, Big Wind.
The passage starts as a pleasant 2m diameter phreatic passage, carrying a strong draught. A couple of side passages on the right are passed: these appear to head off over the sump but have not been explored. After 10m is a hole in the floor. Climbing 4m down through the hole leads to a choice of three ways: straight ahead, a squeeze down between loose boulders to a crawl, which is probably too tight; behind, a short, small passage to a sandy choke; to the right, a sandy crawl upwards which may connect with one of the previous unexplored side passages.
The way on is to climb up above the hole for 5m to a window (rope useful). The passage continues and becomes more vadose. An unexplored side passage is passed after 5m; after a further 20m the wind is followed up a climb to the left; the passage straight ahead remains unexplored. At a widening of the passage, two holes lead downwards towards the sound of water: the larger of these can be descended for about 15m to a chamber, although this appears to only contain an inlet rather than the main stream. A further 25m ahead, past yet more unexplored side passages, is the current limit of exploration, a small chamber with two passages leading off: the passage to the left seems to carry the wind, and appears to continue without obstacle.