Oxford University Cave Club

"Ario 2000" Expedition Final Report

Picos de Europa, Spain

3rd July - 22nd August 2000

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A Slight Sketch

Dick Gerrish

NB The following report is taken from the expedition log book. In order to preserve accuracy, much of the original material has been retained. The reader is warned that this piece contains some strong language...

After swift progress to Tumbling Dice, we were well up for a big trip. However, the events that followed prevented us from achieving our aims. Upon arrival at Tumbling Dice Two we found that the rope was taught. It was caught on a projection further down the pitch making descent tricky. Lev attached his jammer onto the rope and pulled it up enough for me to rig my Stop. I then abseiled down to where we wanted to place the deviation but found the rope too tight to swing across. I left the tape for Lev to put in the deviation after I had freed the rope from below and continued down, attaching the second bolt at the rebelay on the way.

After I was well clear(?) at the bottom I shouted up for Lev to head on down. Tucked in between two very large boulders, I awaited Lev's arrival. Lev abseiled down to the large pendant of rock and began scrabbling across the shaft to it using his sky hook. Wrapping his legs around the pendant, he began tying the deviation tape around it. At that point the bottom two feet of the pendant broke away and fell. "Below!!!"

I cringed in my little shelter as loud crashes of big boulders falling a long way hit the bottom of the pitch. Medium sized rocks flew in front of my field of vision clattering off the walls and small pebbles rattled into my hideout, pattering over my helmet and oversuit. "Shit! Missed!" I breathed a sigh of relief.

Lev, who had swung back across the shaft the moment it broke, began moving back across to the stable looking pendant. Once again he clung to it but this time managed to tie the sling around it. Pulling it tight, he gave the rock a sharp kick - just to confirm its obvious stability. At this point, the whole goddam fuckin' enormous megalith peeled away from somewhere way out of Lev's field of vision high up in the roof.

In slow motion the rock cruised past him like the star destroyer at the start of Star Wars, falling past him with seeming endlessness. His first thought was one of penduling back across the shaft to bash into the far wall. His second was that, in order to prevent dropping the five-metre sling down the shaft, he had tied the other end to his short cowstail. As the rock's momentum grew, the sling tightened on Lev sending him spinning and swinging in all directions. Miraculously, just as the rope tightened, the rock hit a ledge either breaking it or tumbling it out of the loop in the sling.

"BELOW!!!" The urgency in Lev's voice conveyed the sheer size of the four metre long bastard that now whistled with increasing venom down the 65m shaft. The pregnant pause and distant booms caused fear to well up deep inside me. I braced myself for what was to come. Forcing my arse as far back as I could, I concentrated on making myself as small as possible. BANG!!! The most fuck-off almighty crash sent shrapnel flying in front of me again. This time the broken rocks were much larger and crashed all over the base of the shaft. One struck the rock I was sheltering beside not two metres from my head. The Transit Van sized boulder reverberated sending me into uncontrollable shakes of terror. It was official... I was fucking bricking it. "Okay!" I quivered back up to Lev. "Fuck... Fuck... Fuck!" came the reply. Lev was held taut on the rope. Below on the ledge, a large boulder pinned the rope tight preventing him from unlocking his Stop. Once again he inverted his jammer freeing up enough slack to unlock and continue down. "There's more stuff to come down," he hollered. "Wait!" I shouted back before scrambling off to an even safer hiding place, "Okay! "Crash! Bang! BOOM!!! Tinkle, tinkle, as pebbles fell through the gaps in between the boulders. I listened carefully for the sound of Lev abseiling as he slowly inspected the entire length of rope on the big hang. When he reached the bottom he called out for me to come out from hiding. We swapped stories and giggled with relief. Lev showed me his cowstails. They had taken quite a shockload and were ridiculously tight. His short cowstail was now almost the same length as his long cowstail. We hurried back to my hiding place stopping to look at the large white crush mark where the rock had hit the boulder I was hiding against. Once in safety we considered our choices. Despite escaping all injury we decided that carrying on with Lev's badly shockloaded cowstail was unwise. We ferried the tackle to the head of the next pitch and returned to the bunker to eat peanuts.

It was here whilst putting our ascending gear on that Lev noticed that one of the straps on his sit harness had been ripped off. I could see the wave of nausea cross his face as he realised just how close it had been. After steeling ourselves to prussik back up a shockloaded rope, we began our ascent out of the cave. We were both very glad to see daylight, eat food and drink wine! Tomorrow we will visit the spares kit. A fresh bag of nerves and replacement sphincters all round!!!

[Awarded The Lemming for 2000-01]