Oxford University Cave Club

1998 Expedition: "Jultayu"

Picos de Europa, Spain

1998 Expedition Report - Contents

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Alex Pitcher Award

Lev Bishop's participation in Jultayu'98 was supported by The Alex Pitcher Memorial Award, an individual grant from the Ghar Parau Foundation to young cavers, in memory of Alex Pitcher, who lost his life in the Gouffre Berger. This report is a novice's eye view of the expedition.

This Summer I was privileged to receive an Alex Pitcher award, which I put towards participating in the 1998 OUCC expedition to the Picos de Europa. This being my first foreign expedition I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd done long trips in Wales, and some vertical trips in Yorkshire, but I'd never camped underground or been very deep before. I'd also been hearing mixed reports on the severity of the "rift series" of 2/7, the cave which was to be the main aim of the expedition, so I didn't want to get any hopes up for being involved at the sharp end, lest I be disappointed. I did my best to wangle my way onto every early rigging trip as possible so as not to get left behind when the real caving started, and this must have worked as with some surprise and much delight I found myself comprising half of the pair going in to set up the downstream camp and do the first pushing at the bottom of the cave.

After abseiling down pitch after pitch, seeming to go further down than I could believe, we were able to hear the roaring of the waterfall in the "Just Awesome!" chamber. I'd heard a lot about this place - everyone I'd spoken to kept raving about the size of it, and I'd even seen photos of it, so I was expecting something impressive, but deep down I couldn't believe it would live up to the hype. I was wrong! It seemed big at first, but it was only about half an hour later, while I was paying out rope from the ledge on one side of the chamber to Paul on the opposite side (we chose to do this rather than carry the rope down and then up the 50m pitches in bags), that I realised how huge it was. Tony and JC, who were camping at Just Awesome! had found a way to traverse up in a rift and had appeared high above me shining a bright light around. Paul was also shining a bright light and with all this illumination, I finally grasped the scale of things. The rest of the trip was equally impressive with huge passages, awkward rifts, fun traversing, and lovely streamway, and apart from soaking my legs and dry socks at the camp by walking straight into the frigid streamway because the water was so clear I didn't notice it, I had a generally pleasant time.

I had two more deep trips into 2/7. One more pushing camp, spent mainly at a thoroughly miserable and ultimately pointless dig in freezing liquid mud, in a howling draught and generally getting very cold (it was fun, really), and one trip which was supposed to be in to Just Awesome! to pick up some bags and head straight out, but ended up being a 17 hour epic when we got Shanghaied into going much further into the cave to finish off some more derigging. The Rehidrat which Nobby and I shared in the shakehole as dawn started to break and we steeled ourselves for the walk back to camp was the nicest thing I've tasted for a long time!

Overall, I had a brilliant time on expedition. The scenery was stunning, the people were fantastic, and the caving far surpassed all my expectations. The only thing lacking was major success in exploration, but that didn't tarnish my experience. I can now see why 2/7 has something of a spell on many members of OUCC and why we keep going back to it!

Lev Bishop