PicturesPauline Rigby and Nathaniel Mumford
UTM coordinates : 0342574 4788050 Altitude : 1849m Depth : 587.89m Surveyed length: 1359.74m Total surveyed length of Sistema Verdelluenga : 4564.68m (All readings from 1996 survey).
The entrance is in a complex area of karst on the east face of Verdelluenga. The approach route first follows a path across the grassy bowl east of camp and then passes between big shakeholes (which always contain snow) in an area of dolomitised limestone. From there follow the lowest possible and easiest line above the cliffs, gaining a bit of height and aiming for a gully just before El Regallón, a tiny peak just before the ridge starts to fall away. After entering the gully, climb directly over the ridge on your right and down a scree slope into the bowl on the other side. A long ridge of limestone ahead ascends back to the right and ends at a cliff deeply marked by canalizos. The entrance shaft is just beyond but can only be seen from the other side. Traverse below the canalizos and then carefully out left above the shaft before climbing down. The aluminium cave tag is on the right of the shaft at shoulder height.
The entrance pitch (P11) is best laddered as it is really a climb not a pitch. The next shaft is blind but a window on the left opens onto the top of a 15m pitch, immediately followed by a 12m pitch. At the bottom of the ropes the main route follows the boulder chamber around to the right. [An inlet can be heard on the left, and there is also a too-tight rift above it.] A clamber up to a narrowing of the passage reaches the top of a loose boulder slope. WARNING - rocks dislodged from here land at the bottom of Space, the Final Frontier'. Traverse on the right to a short pitch onto a ledge from where the main hang can be rigged out of the line of fire.
At the foot of the pitch a rift can be entered in several places, all of which are too tight. The way on is to climb up onto a shelf and then enter the rift, keeping to the same level. Past the first constriction, there is an aven directly above. Traverse up a ramp and then ease through the breakthrough squeeze over a 1m drop to emerge at the head of a short pitch.
Pitch Rope Belays Entrance pitch (P11) ladder spike belay Window (P15) 40m thread (L), spike deviation (L) at -4m Alvaro's Leap (P12) " bolt rebelay (L) Traverse 15m thread backup (R) to bolt belay (L). rope protector essential. Space, the final frontier (P39) 65m bolt backup (R) and bolt belay (R). bolt rebelay at -4m.
Watershed pitch (P6) leads immediately to Fizzy Willy (P7) which was rigged by squeezing down over a block at floor level, but may perhaps be more easily rigged by traversing out. Beyond the boulder chamber at the pitch base, three inlets converge. The passage is now flat floored with a trench from one of the joining inlets. The next pitch, As Advertised (P12), can be rigged from floor level or from higher up. Next to the bottom of the rope, a hole between boulders is the top of the next pitch, Maria Rosa (P21). The floor is essentially a plug of wedged boulders and several other places also drop to the cave below. A boulder slope ascends straight ahead to an exposed rock bridge, and a inlet on the right. On the left is a 2m climb down to a pool which empties itself down a slot into the passage below. This water is met near the bottom of the pitch.
Going forward over boulders, a step up reaches a trench. Traversing over the trench leads to the bottom of another shaft with water coming in, and an awkward rift continues beyond it. [Continuing in the rift leads to a window half way down Double Fisherman's (P19), and also to a window high up above The Monster.]
The way on is a climb down in the trench to the head of the next pitch, Double Fishermans. Poxy Pitch follows immediately and lands in a small pool at the beginning of a chossy section of rift. Climb down next to a small cascade, then turn the corner into Nobby's Impenetrable Rift which pops out unexpectedly at the top of The Monster. [On the right what looks like a large passage going off is just a scoop.]
Part I of The Monster is rigged with a very wide deviation to keep the rope away from the water, but everything on the ledge at the bottom is in the spray. An airy traverse around the right wall leads to the next takeoff. The rope is rebelayed on a sloping undercut 5m down and hangs free from there to the bottom of the pitch 76m below. About half way down an inversion layer traps moisture, forming clouds in the shaft. Looking through the clouds, Olly's Perched Sump, really a ring of calcite around the walls, can be seen.
In fact The Monster is one end of an enormous rift, rather than a conventional shaft, and the scale of the passage is awe-inspiring. The oversized rift can be followed for 100m without any sign of the roof. Just before the loose shingle slope leading to the next pitch, Growing Up (P18), a large block on the right can be passed on either side to an aven.
Pitch Rope Belays Watershed (P7) 15m Bolt backup (R) and belay (L). Bolt rebelay (L) Fizzy Willy (P7) 20m Spike backup (L). Bolt belay (R). As Advertised (P12) 25m Block backup, bolt belay (L), thread deviation (R) at -3m. Alternative rig: climb up, spike (L) for traverse line, bolt belay (L) and 2 bolts (L,R) for rebelay. Maria Rosa (P21) 40m Bolt backup (R), bolt belay (R), chock deviation at pitch head (L) and thread deviation (R) at -11m. Double Fisherman's (P19) 30m Bolt traverse on ledge (R), bolt Y-hang (R,R), spike deviation at pitch head. Poxy Pitch (P6) 10m Spike (L), thread (R) Y-hang. The Monster Part I (P40) 155m Flake traverse (L), bolt (L), bolt rebelay, spike deviation on far L, bolt rebelay just below thread with tape. The Monster Part II (P76) " 3 bolt traverse (R,R,R), bolt belay (R), main hang from bolt Y-hang (R,R).
The rift at the bottom of Growing Up is tight but several squeezes have been passed to reach Hash Brown (P11). However a larger route is gained by penduling into a phreatic tube part way down. At the end of the tube, some inclined abseiling followed by a 10m pitch reaches the same spot. The pitch head is narrow, but opens up into a chamber where the water can be followed through a vertical squeeze on the right side. Alternatively a pitch, Bugger Bognor (P8), can be rigged from a cleft near the pitch base. This lands in a sandy spot, Cuevas del Mar, which is a good brew site, because it is dry and out of the draught
Cat o' Nine Tails (P65) is split into 2 parts by a wet ledge. The water follows the main rift and soon tumbles down another pitch, but the take off is from a platform further out, reached by a subsidiary rift on the left. Free and Easy (P45) is a fine pitch in a tall rift, which then continues as walking passage for a short distance. The passage becomes narrow at floor level, forcing a traverse as far as a climb down to the head of Gooseberry Pot (P11). The outlet from the pool at the bottom disappears down another pitch, but a wide ramp on the right hand side provides a way over the impassable rift below. Several routes at different levels in the rift lead back to the stream, but the easiest of these is Hope Street, a slanting pitch in the widest part of the rift, rigged from a prominent conical rock.
The chilling draught is funnelled into Clinkers Crawl which begins at a left turn into a cross fault. Although sandy ledges higher in the rift provide an insecure route to the next pitch, it cannot be rigged from here; instead, a hole on the right at floor level, followed by an awkwardly enclosed climb down, emerges next to a water spout in the side of the shaft. The Cheated Necromancer (P18) a wet pitch, lands on the second of two ledges and is followed immediately by Here be Dragons (P33). [At the bottom of the rift, 8m below the obvious ledge, the only way forward is an excavated squeeze over a block which regains the rift, but the passage soon becomes too tight.]
Back at the ledge, the rift can be entered high up on the right. After a few minutes struggle, the narrow rift suddenly opens over the last pitch, Marie Celeste. The rock here is deeply fractured, loose, and totally unsuitable for bolting, so a ladder and line are advised. The base of the pitch is gloomy, as all the rock is covered in thick layers of black mud. The way on is not easy to find, but is the only feasible route, entering an improbable inclined rift at its lowest point. A strenuous thrutch through mud ends at a drop into a 1m wide clean streamway; this place is easy to miss on the way back.
Pitch Rope Belays Growing Up (P18) >40m Natural backup (L), 2 bolt Y-hang (L,R), to bolt (R) in phreatic tube at -20m. Olly's phreatic tube and " Bolt traverse (R), bolt belay (R), thread rebelay Cruciform pitch 1 (R), thread rebelay (R) at -12m Cruciform pitch 2 35m Bolt Y-hang (L,R). Hash Brown (P11) " Bolt Y-hang (L,R), spike deviation at -2m, spike deviation. Bugger Bognor (P8) 15m 2 bolt Y-hang (L,R), spike backup. Cat o' Nine Tails (P65) 85m Bolt traverse (L), bolt Y-hang (L, high L), bolt (R) and spike on ledge, bolt rebelay (R) at -3m, bolt rebelay (far on R). Free and Easy (P45) 60m Enormous spike backup (L), natural belay (R), spike deviation (R). Gooseberry Pot (P11) 15m Bolt backup (R), spike belay (R).Must be rerigged. Hope Street (P15) 40m 3 bolt and huge spike traverse (R,R,R,R), spike backup (R), spike belay (R), spike deviation (R). The Cheating (P18) <125m thread across passage for traverse, Necromancer dubious thread (R) and bolt (L) Y-hang. Here Be Dragons (P33) " Bolt traverse (L), bolt Y-hang (L,L). Marie Celeste (P14) 2 ladders Spike for ladders. 40m line Spike (crab and sling) for life-lining from bottom .
Soon the passage joins the master Verdelluenga streamway. Upstream, 80m of easy passage reaches a chamber with a 15m waterfall. Going downstream, the passage continues with only minor route finding difficulties, the most problematic of which is the climb up to the first boulder chamber via a friable ramp back on the right. In the second boulder chamber, a committing climb over car sized poised blocks (now roped for the return journey) connects with the upstream limit of the C3 survey.
From here, romp down the increasingly large streamway, past the inlet from C3, through ever more sweeping meanders, to the sandy shores at the terminal lake where the inflatable dingy is moored.