Oxford University Cave Club

1998 Expedition: "Jultayu"

Picos de Europa, Spain

1998 Expedition Report - Contents

Other Expedition reports
OUCC Home Page

Isn't it Dark?

I was supposed to be one of the veterans of 2/7, but this was only my second visit to the London Underground. In 1992, Tony Seddon and I had pirated the passage. By this I mean we had gone downstream when the expedition's aim was exploration upstream. At the time it seemed a smart move; the ropes were still in place, albeit circa 1989, Tony had a great lead in mind and I'd never seen the really big stuff as I'd had a life in '89, '90 and '91 when downstream exploration was going strong. The "great lead" turned out to be a bold rope climb on mud and choss out of Postman Pat, which led into a steeply ascending rift that eventually pinched out a good 50 to 60m above where we'd started. We had, however, left an undescended 70m pitch at the base of the climb.

This was one of our objectives on the return trip, six years later. We'd come down for the first underground camping trip of the expedition on The Big Ledge of the huge Just Awesome chamber, 100m long, 50m across and about 150m high. On the first evening, Tony free-climbed Dead or Alive, a greasy 30m climb out of the bottom of Just Awesome into Heathrow at the start of The London Underground, the short-cut to the end of the cave. My task was more mundane, but potentially more fraught with danger; washing up the pots and pans left over from the 1992 camp. Sorting out the very nasty Raven Meal packets that had not been split from the less nasty Raven Meal packets that had been split and were covered in green slime required levels of hygiene not possible at an underground camp, but at least it was nice to know that something finds them edible. Countless brews later, Dead or Alive was re-rigged and we could sleep on the next day's adventures.

It all came back to me like a bad dream. The London Underground: nearly a mile of huge passage, no roof and no walls, house sized boulders and a thin blue cord, marking the shortest or easiest route. I had to admit the place intimidated me and I was far from happy with the concept of leading from the front. Tony's tales of crawling back to the Big Ledge after a rock-fall did me no favours at this point. Our next job was to re-rig Zazudska (Polish for life's a bitch or something like that) Way, an awkward series of pitches that drop down from the end of London Underground back to the active stream. The team that pushed this had hoped to find themselves beyond Egbert (originally found by following the stream), or at the very least beyond Druscilla. To their horror and dismay, they had dropped straight into Primula Point, the downstream camp, providing a handy short-cut, but not the way on they desired. Perhaps because of this disappointment, little effort had been expended in rigging the pitches, so we set about re-bolting the pitches to make life easier for later exploration.

The evening was still young by the time we'd hit the streamway and the temptation to check out the high level leads strong. The '89 rope did not let us down and soon we were climbing around in the upper reaches of Postman Pat, to find mountains of boulder chaos, a decent looking pitch (Black and White Cat) though not the one we were after and a seriously gripping retreat. Our big lead must have been in Bod. Scrambling on choss, overhanging bottomless voids was beginning to fray the nerves, so it was with little sorrow that we called it a day (a grand day) and headed back to the Big Ledge and Sosmix surprise. The surprise was that sosmix does not make good soup.