Oxford University Cave Club

Cabeza Julagua Expedition

28th June - 20th August 1993

Spanish Expedition Reports

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Top Camp campaign

Gavin Lowe

Towards the end of expedition, a short "recce" was made up to Top Camp. In a period over about two weeks, with on average four cavers, a number of caves were explored, and some good leads discovered.

F57: Cueva del Arco

The cave is located on a bearing of 248° from Top Camp. An obvious shakehole on the hillside is visible from camp; this is choked with snow. Twenty meters higher is a large rock arch at the mouth of a large tunnel heading into the hillside. A strong draught blows from the entrance; in some conditions this can be seen as steam from Top Camp.

The entrance pitch (P6) lands on a snow slope, descending at an angle of 40° , down a tunnel about 5m wide and 10m high. The snow slope can be followed for about 70m, to a 10m pitch. The snow slope continues for a further 20m, to the top of a 7m pitch, which is followed almost immediately by a steep descent down boulders. [A large hole is visible in the roof at this point, which might be reachable by traversing, or possibly via one of the entrances F11 and F12 which are roughly above this point.] Ten metres ahead, the snow slope flattens out to a junction. [Straight ahead, a small slide down over snow leads to a choke and aven.] Following the main passage round a bend to the right, leads past a beautiful frozen waterfall to the base of a vertical wall. It is conjectured that a pitch may lie under the snow at this point (don't unclip!).

Two climbs of 6m and 5m lead up onto a ledge, from where a 10m pitch can be rigged down the other side. [Alternatively, a further climb leads to a possible traverse to a ledge, but this does not look very hopeful.] The pitch lands on a ledge from where two short climbs lead to a cobble floor. Round the corner, a solid wall suddenly appears, blocking the way on. The floor draughts noticeably, but the prospects for digging do not look good. [From the ledge, a climb up the opposite wall leads to a balcony, from where a tube descends into a too-tight rift.]


Entrance pitch (P6)      200m    Y-hang from two spikes; spike deviation  
                                 (would be best rigged with a ladder)     

First snow slope (70m)   ``      Two spike rebelays.                      

Second pitch (P10)       ``      Bolt backup and bolt belay on left hand  

Second snow slope       ``       Rebelay from huge boulder.               

Third pitch (P7)         ``      Spike and bolt belays on right hand      
                                 wall; spike deviation.                   

Descent down boulders    ``      Natural belay.                           

Final snow slope (20m)   ``      Natural rebelay.                         

Climbs up (C6, C5)       ``      Bolt and natural; two bolts.             

Final pitch (P10, C6)    20m     Y-hang from bolts for climbs; bolt       


The cave is located in the karst between the scree slope running up to F13, and the Verdelluenga thrust. At about the same height as F13, bearing 204° . is a very large shakehole.

Scramble down to a snow slope. At the bottom, a short pitch can be rigged onto a descending snow slope. At the bottom of this another short pitch drops into a chamber. To the right is a near vertical rift, with a large jammed boulder above, and with thick ice on the walls. A 20m pitch, Ice Rift Pitch, can be rigged down this.

The pitch lands on a snowslope. [Upslope, a small hole soon leads to a choke.] A rope can be rigged down the snow slope, under a large icicle, The Sword of Damocles. At the bottom of the chamber, the snow slope goes through a small hole, before opening out at the top of a large chamber. The snow slope continues past some amazing ice formations, to the limit of exploration, where the rope ran out. Beyond is a rift with a 2-3 second rattle.


First pitch (P12)     100m       Spike and bolt Y-hang.                   

Second pitch (P8)     ``         Large jammed boulder; needs bolt for     

Ice Rift Pitch        ``         Spike belay with bolt deviation; spike   
(P20)                           deviation 8m down.                        

Snow slope (C10)      ``         Bolt belay; needs another bolt belay or  

Next snow slope       ``         Large thread belay.                      

See also 1997 expedition

Small caves explored from Top Camp


From the col between F38 and F2, head up the gulley to the south. F28 is in the first flat bit; F5 is on the second flat bit, to the left. Bearing 286° to F2; 337° to Top Camp. Deep rift (8 by 2m at surface), trending 84° . Large snow plug in entrance, revealing two pitches at either end of the rift (W and E). West descent: 20m pitch to snow plug revealed as 3m block of snow jammed in the top of the pitch. 3m gap to large pile of snow in the bottom of the rift. Pitch ends when narrow rift meets snow (at West end). Shaft appears to continue but is full of snow. East descent: 20m to the top of the snow, where a water drip had made a 1m wide by 20m deep hole down to the floor of the rift. This was explored but did not go.

Continuing in towards the East leads down into a rift approximately 20m high and long. This had a solid stony floor and closed, both up and along, with no leads.

The following two caves were relocated, but not descended. They are of interest because they may drop into F57, and are worth re-examining.


Above F57, but below F54, roughly on the same fault line. A 20m drop, the first 5m freeclimbable. Below this narrow entrance, a drip enters, and the cave develops into a rift, down which "stones rumble for some time". 20ft climb leads to a pitch, 40m freehang to the bottom, which is choked. A window 20ft up from the base of the shaft is also choked.


20m away from F11 on bearing 10° . Descended for 15m on ladder. Three ways on: (a) down, where stones bounce and crash; (b) across into an ascending passage; (c) along a rift. Chokes--at least on route (a).


To Top Camp: 322° . Impressive rift-like entrance above scree slopes to SE of Top Camp, at the base of cliff with cross-shaped cracks. Cave is 25m long (large walking-size passage) with a 10m climb at the end. Choked, but with a very good draught.


To Top Camp: 301° . An impressive-looking hole in the hillside surrounded by very chossy shattered rock. This cave was originally explored in 1984 when snow levels were much higher. A return this year confirmed that there is no way on.

The following six caves were relocated, but not descended.


East of F18, at edge of top level of pavement overlooking the depression below F38, in a fracture system on a 30° strike. Bearing 152° to F38. Open rift 1m wide and more than 10m long, hading 70° NW, with a snowplug some 10m down that looks passable, draughting.


In tributary gully downhill from F20 and to the left off the main gully. Erroneously relabelled "F23'" from 1985 to 1989, and referred to under that number in Proc. 12, p.57 (but not on p.61). To Top Camp: 83° . Entrance is a large shaft near the bottom of a gully (R.H. side), a little higher than Top Camp. The shaft is 10m deep. There may be a way on under the snow, but it's a bit near F20 to be very useful.


In platform on lefthand verge of the Argayo Cortado below F20, just above F36. To Top Camp: 85° . Near F22, but lower down on the right. 25 foot shaft. F23A was reported blind in 1984 but all three openings seem to be sound-connected (certainly the latter two are). F23B is an impenetrable fissure with a 6 second rattle. F23C might go after shifting some large boulders, or there might be a horizontal link from F23A into the "audible chasm". NB F20 is not underneath but some 60m off sideways so this one might well go deep independently. Well worth checking out.}


On limestone pavement NW from F23; visible from Top Camp but difficult to access. To Top Camp: 93° Entrance about 25m above Top Camp. Large shaft about 10-15m deep. Awaits exploration.


On lefthand (true left: looking down) verge of the "Brown Gully" (Argayo Pardo) just below where it crosses the Ridge. To Top Camp: 94° . Meander with skylights ending after 15m in a choked little rift. Thought at one time to belong to the 2/6 shaft system nearby, but it rather seems it once was part of a cave system underneath the fault-controlled Brown Gully itself.


Halfway up the Argayo Pardo, in lefthand verge (looking down), below the rift containing F26, and just above a car sized boulder. To Top Camp: 100° . 10m entrance pitch. Awaits exploration. This, as well as F24 and possibly F34, is another candidate for a way into the hypothetical Systema del Argayo Pardo just alluded to.


At S verge of grass field where the Verdelluenga thrust and the path to Ridge Cave re-emerge from the large boulder-filled Jou W of Top Camp and start to rise towards the Ridge. A 1m diameter shaft. 11m pitch or awkward climb. Way on is obstructed by a large but removable boulder. Beyond is a boulder pile descending for 2.5m until it meets the roof. It is difficult to say whether a continuation to either side exists, though this seems unlikely.

Unmarked rift

25m SW from F31 (uphill). 3m climb and 3m pitch in south-trending rift lands on cobbles and snow. Tiny hole in south end gives view of floor 4m down. Alternatively climb back up 2m above hole, and thrutch forward in tight rift to look down an oval 80cm by 30cm shaft, ending at a similar level.


Walk up Brown Gully from the very bottom end and leave it early, just past a blind oblique "doorway" on the left, going left and up. Entrance is tiny manhole ("dwarfhole" would be more appropriate) on a limestone clint just above the gulley. To Top Camp: 97° . Originally described as a 5m tight pitch. The squeeze is less than 15cm wide, and completely ridiculous.


From Brown Gully, climb up NW verge into what looks like a big wiggly meander when seen from Top Camp. The first wiggle turns out to end at a rock wall but climbing up to the pavement and back down into the continuation leads to the entrance in a rift on 30° hading 50-60° E intersecting the meander. To Top Camp: 97° ; to La Verdelluenga: 113° . Pitch 6m to boulders. From here, another 3.5 metres down to snow plug and boulder floor. Possible way on through boulders upslope; slight draught. Looks interesting and is well worth checking.}

The following 3 entrances were found, but not marked.

Unmarked crawl

On the left of the F20 gulley, very near the top, near where the gulley narrows. This was previously found by Paul Brennan in 1986, and is marked on Gerhard's map.

Unmarked entrance

Bearing 150° from camp, about 200m away, overlooking the route to F38. An awkward scramble down a gulley to a snowplug (not fully checked out) and a small draughting hole on the right, passable, possibly with a little digging.

Unmarked shaft

Roughly below F19, bearing 180° to F38. An open rift with snow at the bottom--may be passable.


100m downhill from F57, bearing to Top Camp 66° . When walking downhill from F57, in the second hillock on the right hand side. Open shaft (P7) lands in choked cobble-floored chamber; all ways on lead back up to the surface.


In pavement just E of a shallow depression in N flank of the hills SE of Top Camp. Bearing 155° from Top Camp. 2.5m by 1.6m shaft visible only from close quarters. 15m pitch, choked at the bottom.


Some 30m NE of F7D in obvious fracture trending 15° and hading NW. Take care, surface rock is very loose. Rift in floor of surface meander. Rig rope from natural at top of gully, then another natural at top of entrance pitch (P8). Pitch lands on snow, from where continuation on NW wall (P6) lands on snow-covered false floor in intersection of four rifts, two coming down from entrance, while the other two carry on downwards but are very narrow. Pebbles hit more snow after 3-4m. A chisel would be needed to make this passable; a short pitch would follow immediately.


30m W along fault (trending 73° hading 85° S) from F7A. Shelf broken by three shafts into underlying chamber, The Vestibule, 15m by 5m wide. Rig down largest skylight from naturals, then rebelay from another natural to drop past the snow into a rift (35m rope needed). Looking back offers interesting views of VW sized holes supporting much of the snow in the Vestibule, while walking forward eventually gains a decent floor in a tall 2-3m wide by 5m chamber.

Ascend boulder slope to the left to enter continuation of rift 50-80 cm wide after right hand bend, with chockstones at various levels. This was followed at floor level to where a well-developed pair of ramps betrayed the original flow direction (inward). [Ahead, it is possible to drop down a couple of feet into the bottom of the rift, but this route becomes too tight.] Traversing above the drop, the rift continues to a point where the team ran out of rope.


On the same fault as F57, about 30m left (true right) of the dolomite band, at the highest comfortable traverse level. A large shakehole, only visible from above, with a scree slope running into it from above. Bearing 68° to Top Camp. The entrance shaft can be rigged from the eastern side (spike belay). This lands on the snow slope, but a small tube can be penduled into (bolt at entrance of tube). At the end of the tube are three ways on: [to the right, a climb down soon becomes too tight; traversing forward, a tube continues before dropping back into the cave further down: this may provide an easier route.] The original route was to rig a pitch at the end of the tube (spike belay) back down to the snow slope. The rope can be deviated from a spike through a hole in the snow, down into passage below. A snow slope (bolt belay) continues down to the start of a rift. The rift leads into a large chamber (where the alternative route enters from above). Here a climb over some boulders enters a continuation of the rift. The rift can be followed for some way; several chokes are encountered, but these can be climber over. At the final choke, a slot in the roof leads into a large chamber with an inlet coming in, and the continuation choked.


In F20 Gulley, 20m below F36, on true right, in a shakehole with snow, 10m south of survey station T7. Walk into chamber with two tight crawls continuing. Top one draughts well, but may just connect with rift on surface above.


To the right (true left) of the Verdelluenga thrust, near the ridge, in a small depression in an area of karst, near the base of a cliff. Shaft of about 40m, undescended.


In the sloping karren above the F7 entrances. A diggable slot.


On left-hand side of outcrop of limestone, halfway up green valley from Top Camp to La Verdelluenga, level with overhanging bluff. Bearing 302° to Top Camp. Two entrances. Entrance A is a 7m deep shaft leading to bouldery floor with no way on. B is an immediately adjacent 5m deep shaft with a bouldery floor. A hole at the bottom gives a visual connection between the two shafts.


To the right (true left) of the Verdelluenga track, about 50m below the level of F41. A 2m by 4m hole surrounded by jagged, loose rock. A snow slope descends about 30m to a snow and rock floor. No way on. Not a nice place.


Three entrances on the opposite side of Brown Gulley from F25, but higher up. The left-hand entrance is a rift closing down to 3-4 inches at all levels. The middle entrance ends 5m down on a pebble floor. The right-hand entrance is a choked manhole just big enough to insert your legs. Mentioned in shaft bashing guide a propos F25


Behind and to the left (true right) of climb over cliff, east of camp. Bearings: Verdelluenga 111° , Sphinx 129° . Obvious surface rift choked in places. 8m climb down, sharp in places, to choked floor.


Near the ridge, just south of F20 Gulley. Scramble down west side of ridge, and walk into a small shake hole. Originally numbered F58, but unmarked. To the right is a shaft 5-10m deep. Ahead are two passages which seem to choke, but need checking with a light.


Hidden, impressive entrance, high up on Verdelluenga on steep slope. Just up and west a bit from~E9. Bearings: 298° to Conjurtao; 342° to snow pole. 8 second rattle. Other entrances nearby are also worth checking.

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