Oxford University Cave Club

1998 Expedition: "Jultayu"

Picos de Europa, Spain

1998 Expedition Report - Contents

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2/7: Pozu Jultayu. The Road to Egbert

Main route only. A more detailed description with rigging guide and historical notes is available in Proc 13 and on Gavin Lowe's caving website.


113' 48'' W, 4314' 00'' N. Altitude: 1860m; Depth: 820m.
Surveyed Length: pre-1998: 9215m, post-1998 11264m; Plan Length: 5915m.

The entrance is approximately 30m below the eye-hole (el Ojo de la Bruja) on the Juracao ridge linking the peaks of Jultayu and Cuvicente. The best route from the Ario Refugio is to follow the cairned path as far as the Jou del Jultayu and then to cross the Jou, aiming a little to the west of the Jultayu summit. The cave is situated below the most easterly of two obvious notches in the ridge.

Entrance Series

The entrance is an impressive cleft in the hillside in a large shakehole. Almost immediately a 10m pitch lands on a very loose bouldery slope. Rocks from here fall straight down the second pitch. Originally, it was recommended that no-one move on this section while anyone was on the pitch below. Now, however, three years of use has gardened the slope to the point where, with care, it is possible to avoid dislodging the still-plentiful ammunition.

The second pitch lands on an earthy ledge next to a strongly draughting (hammered) slot 36m below the boulder slope. The pitch continues for a further 10m before ending in a boulder choke. Beneath the slot is a tight 3m climb below which is a 42m pitch, Seventh Heaven. A rope is best rigged above the slot, so that descenders may be attached before the squeeze. There is room in the climb to put on descending gear, although this situation is rather more exposed. The main hang, 10m down gives a free hang to the steeply sloping floor of a chamber. The slope is now very eroded by the repeated passage of most of OUCC, and a handline cum haul line is useful. At the bottom of the slope is a 3m climb, followed by the first of the squeezes in Paradise Rift: a vertical squeeze with few footholds.

From here a rift leads off which almost immediately becomes tight. The largest route is at ceiling level until a left hand bend when it is possible to descend the rift through a succession of squeezes. A line is useful on this section, for clipping tackle bags to (to guide their fall on descent, or to slide them up on jammers, with pauses for the extensive cursing necessary to aid their passage). The climb lands on a small ledge above a 20m pitch, the Flying Rébellés.

Rift Series

Flying Rébellés lands in a small chamber with a rift leading off. The original route was an easy, lined traverse through a squeeze to a thrutch along the rift. At an aven it is possible to redescend the rift. This is Pablo Pot, which although free climbable, is best rigged with a ladder. The current, easier route from Flying Rébellés is to follow the bottom of the rift, along a crawl, to the foot of Pablo Pot. A hole is passed on the left, down which the water disappears: this is believed to drop into G.S.P. and may be worth further exploration.

Pablo Pot marks the start of Popcorn Rift. The rift is at first easy to follow, with a couple of short climbs down. After a while, the rift becomes narrower, with various ways on. The easiest route is a narrow rift to the right, leading to a climb down to a small chamber (3m x 3m). From here a traverse along a piece of white rock reaches the head of Gripper Pitch (10m).

The pitch lands in a chamber with a 2m climb up. From here another squeeze, Stimulated Emission Squeeze, is followed by a right angled bend into Black Crystal Rift. A 6m climb is met halfway along the rift. The route leads back up through a hole in the rift to a wider section, which ends at a small chamber with a trench in the floor. The trench may be descended to a traverse, leading to the head of a fine 17m pitch, Graham's Todger Pitch. The original route descended the pitch fully and then climbed seven metres up the rift opposite the landing. The current route uses a Tyrolean tight line connecting the top of the pitch and the top of the climb; abseiling clipped to this line saves much effort.

The rift bends to the left to a small chamber (4m x 3m) with a trench in the floor. The trench may be descended for 5m to a wider section of rift. From here there are two possible ways on. A tight, awkward rift, Travellers' Scrabble, leads off horizontally. It is possible to avoid this by an exposed climb through a hole in the roof and a traverse above the tight rift until it becomes wide enough to descend. This reconnects with Travellers' Scrabble just before Ascension Pot, an 8m pitch. This pitch is now avoided by a lined traverse over the top and a climb down the rift on the other side. The rift here is narrow with a number of passable levels. The lowest route is the best. Care should be taken as the rift ends at a 70m drop, Pessimists' Pot. High level routes in the rift open out directly above Pessimists' and are not recommended.

Shaft Series

From the small chamber at the foot of the climbs, a traverse slightly upward gains the head of Pessimists' Pot, the beginning of an impressive 400m shaft system. The initial short section bypasses the original belay ledge (The Fun Starts Here) and the main hang is a fine 70m drop: the longest freehang in the cave. Large pinnacles of rock are visible on a ledge on the opposite side of the shaft approximately 35m below The Fun Starts Here, and one wall has massive calcite crystals, round which detackling ropes can snag quite firmly. The pitch lands on a boulder strewn ledge, Supper Time, which has a supply of clean water entering from the inlet above Pessimists' Pot.

A short ascent up the ledge, using a traverse line, leads to the 31m pitch, Sing to the Devil. A short steep slope leads to the pitchhead; halfway down, the shaft splits, the route on being the larger and deeper of the two. From the bottom, a short traverse round a large hole in the floor leads to a spiky rock bridge from which the next pitch, The Bells, is reached. The pitch lands on a large (5m x 3m) wet ledge with a pool, a useful carbide fettling spot, from where it is possible to look down to the First False Floor, 140m below.

A 44m pitch, Armageddon, leads to another ledge, from where the next pitch descends in a series of drops, separated by small ledges. This pitch is awkward to rig as the walls slope outwards at approximately 5 degrees to the vertical. The pitch must be rigged near to the drips as, away from the water, the walls are coated in thick mud. The pitch lands on another wet ledge, from where a lined traverse leads to the head of a 22m pitch, landing on the First False Floor.

First False Floor to Just Awesome

The First False Floor is a fine chamber divided by a 5m ridge. Climbing up onto the ridge reaches a short pitch down to the other side of the chamber. From here, there are a number of possible ways on. A large rift enters from the right. This can be climbed for about 5m ending in a very steeply ascending muddy slope. Below the ridge, a short climb leads to a route through a very loose boulder pile to a 30m pitch, Great Expectorations. This lands in a rift with a stream running south to north. This rift was later explored, and lands back in the main shaft at the bottom of Rosy Crucifixion.

The main way on from the below the ridge is a route to the right which leads between boulders to the head of Rosy Crucifixion (38m). The head of the pitch is beneath a very large poised boulder. This pitch, is against a muddy, sloping wall. A number of deviations fails to prevent the rope becoming quickly clogged with mud. The pitch lands in a small chamber with a stream that disappears down a crack in the floor. This may be the same stream that flows down Great Expectorations. The way on is to traverse along a ledge 5m above the base of the pitch to reach the next pitch, Cemetery Gates. Part way down, a swing right onto a wall leads to the final 10m drop to the start of Gusamo Grovel. The 1988 extension was found at the bottom of Cemetery Gates where the water is left behind and a dry high level followed. A short climb down with the help of a handline attached to a large spike led to a roped climb up into Gusamo Grovel.

Following the draught through the sandy crawls and stoops of the Grovel, past the squalid 1988 campsite, soon produces results in the form of the noise of a very large amount of falling water. A descent down a dry muddy slope (rope useful) leads to a chamber, from where the first of the pitches into Just Awesome is rigged.

Just Awesome

A 17m pitch in a rift is followed by a lined (semi-tension) traverse onto a ledge. A large block forms the initial belay for the next pitch. The bolt for the main hang is just above a large undercut, making the changeover airy and somewhat strenuous. This 42m pitch lands on the Big Ledge. A very large stream (flow rate measured as 250 litres per second in 1989) enters the chamber on this ledge. The stream flows into a 2m wide passage and falls 50m down to the chamber floor, from a hole about 15m below the level of the ledge. From here, the full size of the chamber is apparent, if not visible. The chamber is 40m by 70m and over 120m high, the largest chamber by far at comparable depth in Spain. The Big Ledge is horseshoe shaped, and roughly 100m by 100m.

The descent from the Big Ledge is against the wall for about 10m to the final bolt. Here, the wall is sharply undercut, leaving the caver struggling in space 5m from the waterfall to accomplish the last changeover. 38m lower, this superb, very free-hanging drop lands in the boulder-strewn immensity of the base of Just Awesome. From here there are two ways on. The original route follows the stream; the present route ascends the cemented boulder pile to the right, to the climb up to the London Underground.

The London Underground

The boulder pile in Just Awesome ascends for 30m to the base of a flowstone waterfall. A 40m bold climb up this (rope in place) reaches the enormous sloping sandy plain of Heathrow. This is an excellent vantage point for the Just Awesome Chamber. Following the well-trodden route on the left side of the passage (further damage to the sand and mud floor must be avoided) leads up to the base of a wide boulder slope. It is possible to go wrong here by heading too far right; if in doubt, follow a bearing of 40. At the top of the boulder slope a cairned route leads off down the 1000m length of the London Undergound. The passage here is about 70m wide, and is sufficiently straight that lights can be seen 400m away in places. The route ascends and descends steeply in several places.

After 400m, the route bears slightly right, becoming narrower (about 10m width), and descends for 50m. One then passes a particularly large block, by which is a 20m diameter shaft (Marble Arch). Descent of this (15m) leads to the Piccadilly Line, another large boulder-strewn passage. Continuing along the London Underground, the route leads to Euston Choke. This is a steep strenuous ascent up loosely packed sand and rocks, first up the right-hand side and then crossing over to the left (the descent is easier on the return). A handline is now rigged most of the way up. The last steep section may be avoided by heading to the right, and ducking under some large boulders. Near the top of the handline, on the left hand side, a promising-looking rift leads off, but all routes here end in mud chokes.

Once over the top of Euston Choke, the descent is easy into a tall rifty passage about 8m wide. A short walk leads to the base of Paddington Choke. A rope is rigged up the left-hand side, ascending about 20m. Alternatively, it is possible to ascend to this point by an ``interesting'' climb on the right-hand side. At this point, it is possible to penetrate the choke, and various routes have been pushed to no conclusion as yet. The most explored of these is Lost Paul's Rift. Another way on may be to continue the climb up the left-hand wall. Behind a large block at the base of Paddington Choke lies a hole in the floor, giving the entrance to Zasadska Way. Short, oversuit-ripping squeezes and rifts open out at the top of a series of six short, awkward pitches. The last of these lands in the stream just before Primula Point. It bypasses neither Druscilla nor Egbert, as its optimistic explorers hoped.

Primula Point to Pimpernell Streamway

Beyond Primula Point, the stream deepens in a tall 6m wide passage, and the easiest route is to traverse along ledges on the left-hand wall. A four metre pitch, with an irritating take-off at the top, leads up to the first of these. An easy walk (line for safety) reaches a broader ledge, and then a tension traverse to another ledge. Here, two routes diverge. From the junction described above, a rope ascends on muddy walls past a ledge to a 3m diameter rocky chamber about 2m high. From here, a window looks down onto the start of Choke Druscilla. Traversing past this reaches another small sloping chamber. Upslope a narrow exit emerges into a vast, steeply sloping, boulder-filled chamber (Postman Pat).

The route into Bod is a hole in the right hand wall, near the base of Postman Pat. A `bold splits' across a drop emerges into a large boulder floored passage, about 10-20m across, and very reminiscent of the London Underground. The main route through follows the right hand wall, and is well cairned. At the top of a ridge, two routes diverge. The original route descends a 20m pitch over loose rocks on the right-hand wall. The main route from the ridge in Bod, is a short climb up the left hand wall. This reaches a descending traverse cum sloping pitch, onto a large ledge above Bod, Soup Dragon. In the left wall is a large hole, the entrance to Tantalus.

The route in Soup Dragon continues to the base of two small inlets, the White Inlets which flow down over moonmilk. Crossing to the right hand wall at the White Inlets, and passing behind a very large boulder, the route descends over muddy boulders to the top of a short pitch, Clanger Pitch. This drops back into the original route through Bod, much to the disappointment of the original explorers, who were expecting the passage to continue further. Continuing along Bod, a second pit is passed on the left. Continuing above the pot reaches the top of a muddy, sloping pitch, Pimpernel Pitch (P30), which lands on a rockpile in the streamway, halfway between chokes Drucilla and Egbert.

Pimpernel Streamway to Choke Egbert

Upstream, a climb down from the rockpile lands in an 8m wide rift, carrying the stream. Easy progress in the stream or close to the walls in deep sections leads to the survey cairn on the downstream side of Choke Drucilla. Downstream, a route following first the right hand wall, then the left hand wall, descends to a small beach at stream level. The stream in the 3m wide, tall, rift is 2-3 feet deep, and the wetting can be avoided, by a tension traverse along a muddy ledge on the left. At the end of this, crossing to the right hand side of the stream, reaches a beach, at the foot of Colostomy Climb.

From the base of Colostomy Climb, the stream continues about 4-5 feet deep. This can be avoided by recrossing the stream to the left bank, via a rock island. In wet conditions, a pendule or a deathslide can help to avoid the water, or can simply dunk the caver in the middle of the streamway. From here, a roped, semi-tension traverse leads to a beach. From the beach, the streamway cuts right, and completely changes character, becoming a phreatic tube, about 5m in diameter; previously the stream had run in a high rift, with the roof out of sight.

This soon reaches Choke Egbert: a dense and dangerous choke of small boulders. Just before Egbert, a low, wide crawl leads off from the right hand side of the stream to Tim's Bit. After several grovels in gravel, the passage splits. To the left is a series of very loose climbs up into a chamber in a boulder choke; several routes lead off but none go. Ahead, the passage continues as a low, wide, flat roofed phreas with boulders on the left. The passage ends at a boulder blockage which may be diggable. It is possible to climb into the choke at various places, but no way on was apparent. The stream splits in two, with both branches sinking. A Flood Overflow continues straight ahead, between the two branches. This leads into the choke for about twenty metres, to a short drop which needed some boulders removing from it. Just above this was a very dangerous chute, which had the annoying habit of dropping boulders onto unsuspecting diggers.

A caver at Choke Egbert is only 10m or so below the level of the camp, and about 700m metres above resurgence level, at an unusually remote and difficult barrier to exploration.