Oxford University Cave Club


Expedition to Northern Spain

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Preliminary Report

Where? Picos de Europa, Asturias, Spain Who? Fifteen members (all British, 9 Male 6 Female)
When? 6 July 1999 - 27 August 1999 What? Cave exploration, radon & radio experiments
Surveys: 2/7 Elevation; 2/7 Plan; Area Plan; Survex data

With a smaller and less experienced team than expected, tackling such a serious cave as Pozu Jultayu was a gamble. The Big Ledge camp, from where we were pushing, is 700m underground and the entrance rifts are arduous. Of the initial team of seven, three had no expedition experience, four had never camped underground, and five had done little or no rigging! Fortunately we were able to turn this weakness into one of the expedition's strengths - training young, inexperienced cavers in both general caving skills and those specific to exploration. We managed to do this without sacrificing the primary aim of the expedition: to explore further upstream in Pozu Jultayu.

The first week was spent rigging the rifts and shafts that lead down to the Big Ledge camp, two thirds of the way down Just Awesome chamber. Everyone was very conscious of the time constraints on the exploration - numbers after the end of July were going to be very low and we worked hard so that the number of underground camping trips could be as high as possible. This was immediately rewarded on the very first camping trip, when a difficult free climb yielded 250m of passage in the right hand inlet. The inlet ended in a beautifully clear deep rising sump, Full Moon Rising, but the strong outward draught disappears up a climb about 30m back from the sump. This is a very promising lead, but unfortunately we had to leave it due to lack of time.

Before going out to Spain we thought that this inlet was a good candidate for connecting the downstream end of Sistema Verdelluenga. This seemed to be backed up by the discovery of the rising sump, given that the downstream end of Sistema Verdelluenga finishes at a deep sump. However, the amount of water flowing out of the inlet did not seem as large as the streamway in Sistema Verdelluenga. A look at the survey showed that the inlet had taken a sharp turn away from the direction of Sistema Verdelluenga, and a connection by this route now seems unlikely.

The next major achievement came when some new arrivals, Tim Guilford and Lou Maurice, took on the intimidating task of bolting up Viagra Falls, a 15m waterfall which was the gateway to the main route continuation. Lou's description was the best when she wrote in the logbook: "I can't describe the next eight hours, at least not easily. I think it was probably the most intense eight hours either of us have spent underground. The bolting was very very difficult. The rock wasn't always good, the angle was awkward, the decisions were difficult and crucial, and the waterfall was right there." Their labours were rewarded when, after eight hours' bolting, they reached the top. Too cold and exhausted to take advantage of their achievement, they returned to camp where the next team was very excited to hear the news.

Hilary Greaves and Richard Gerrish did long pushing trips in the After Eight series upstream of Viagra and after two days had explored and documented over 400m of stream passage. They were stopped by lack of time and a minor obstacle, a deep green canal too wide for a low traverse, but with possible routes higher up. An exciting development is that the survey results suggest a possible connection, not with the close-by Sistema Verdelluenga, but with Sil de Oliseda over a kilometre distant.

Other finds in Pozu Jultayu included 150m in Coral Corner (another upstream inlet) and GSP, a parallel shaft series which bypasses most of the awkward entrance rifts and the original shafts. This will provide an easier route for future expeditions.

All these discoveries were surveyed to British Cave Research Association Grade 5, and both computer generated and detailed drawn surveys will be included in the final report. A selection of "Survex" surveys is enclosed with this preliminary report. I have marked some of the discoveries on the plan of Pozu Jultayu, and the rest on the elevation view.

Some minor caves, up to 60m in length, were also explored including 10/9, 41/9 and Pozu Jenga. Some surface work was carried out, hampered by bad weather, and several new entrances were logged. During the surface work it was noted that there were inconsistencies between the two maps we have of the area. There were several worrying differences in nomenclature of certain peaks, ridges and other features.

A dye trace from Sistema Verdelluenga to Pozu Jultayu was performed to test the hypothesis of a connection between the two caves. The results of this will be published in the main report.

Both the radon detection and radio testing projects were carried out, despite a serious lack of numbers, and the radio project was very successful. We achieved a clear connection between the two radios, one underground and one above ground, which were separated by over 500m of rock. The radon detectors have not yet come back from being processed.

In conclusion, the expedition was very successful. We did not achieve our stated main objective, to connect Pozu Jultayu with Sistema Verdelluenga, but we did discover and document well over a kilometre of new cave passage. There are still three open leads upstream in Pozu Jultayu and it seems likely that next year's expedition will return to these exciting prospects. The radon and radio projects went well and most people benefited from the large amount of training. Just as importantly, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves!

Joanne Whistler
Leader, Extremero 1999 Expedition