Oxford University Cave Club

2005 Expedition: Asopladeru La Texa

Picos de Europa, Spain

Leader: Gavin Lowe

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10 August

Gavin Lowe

The expedition has now returned. The main achievements were:
  • A traverse was made across the first pitch beyond camp, into a phreatic series, One Man and His Dog; the main route in this series eventually dropped back into the series beyond camp.
  • The pool at the previous bottom of the cave was floated across, to enter a large phreatic tube; this was followed for over a hundred metres to a muddy area; a route was followed down through a choke to meet a small streamway, which led to a larger streamway; this quickly sumped downstream, and reached a 10m waterfall upstream; various leads were investigated, but no way-on found
  • Pozu Chicago was extended to reach a pitch estimated at 50m or more; this cave seems to be going; I think it should be the main aim of next year's expedition. (Cave description - pdf)

I want to arrange a trailer-unpacking and gear-sorting session for this weekend. I'll advertise details on the oucc-local list; if anybody non-local can make it, please let me know.

We also need to start work on the report. I'll send details to expedition members within the next couple of days, but in the meantime please have a think about whether you'd like to volunteer an article.

Thanks to all expedition members for their hard work and good humour, which made the expedition such a success.

3 August

Harvey Smith

Departed Ario Wed 3rd, leaving behind a heroic de-rigging team comprising Neil Pacey, Paul Windle, Rosa Clements, Gareth Philips, Gavin Lowe. De-rigging had been totally completed a day ahead of schedule, a few ruck-sack loads of tackle still at cave entrance Wed morning, and a lot of carries down to the trailer still to be done (for which the above should be rewarded with beer at president's invite!)

I only got out to Spain in time for start of La Texa de-rigging (justified trip to see bottom of cave!), but consistent vibe and feedback from remaining cavers was that expedition has been big success, and Gavin has done a fantastic job in planning everything to make it run well, while ensuring that everyone had opportunities to benefit from the experience. Well done to ALL the team who put tons of effort into Asopladeru La Texa 2005 !
2 August

Paul Mackrill

I'm back from sunny Spain after nipping down for a 3 night camp down La Texa with the gang. I had to slip it into the family holiday without it being noticed I'd gone.

I was on the "tie up loose ends trip" with Gavin Lowe and that's pretty well what we did. Downstream is a convincing sump, but of unknown length, which goes down. Upstream ends in a 10m waterfall. I tried to climb downstream of the fall [true right hand side just downstream of a natural rock bridge] but I had a lot of trouble with liberal quantities of wet and soft moon-milk on overhanging walls. Climbing on slings and wire belays whilst using static SRT rope as my running lifeline didn't seem like a good thing as I was getting close to a 100% chance of slipping. We also tried lassoing a natural bridge, but that seemed likely to lead to even more hair-raising antics, so we gave that one up.

After withdrawing I saw the main passage led off from the head of the waterfall [not following the rift ahead but to the left looking upstream]. It seems I was headed for a potentially lethal moon-milk carpeted sloping ledge and not the open mouth of a passage after all, so a more direct approach [closer or below the fall] is needed. Climbing the waterfall would lead to a theoretically "short" streamway down-stream of the window into the streamway already found where the Tormenta streamway enters with La Texa. However climbing the fall might find a way into a bit of fossil streamway between the sumps.

We returned back up the entry passage and had a look at a climb up at the continuation of the main phreas below what I call "Knife edge" pitch. The main passage seems to be stepping back up and Gavin completed a climb to the base of an aven we estimated at being 10 metres high. I joined him and we found that the walls were made of pure solidified Moon-Milk. I hammered through a brief layer of solid skin to a mix of hard and soft goo, a bit like the stuff you find when you lift the lid off an old DIY putty tub. The way on looks like being either by cutting steps and hand-holds old Alpine style or go the full hog and attack the wall with ice axe and crampons. Belays might be created by hacking out bollards in the wall. A helium balloon and good underpants would be useful too.

I finished our affair with sludge climbs by climbing a 6 metre wall of the stuff above camp to a descending 3 m diameter tube that infilled after 10 metres. My sort of find.

There is a question mark that remains concerning the air balance. Firstly all the air at camp goes into the cave. At the entry to the river the air is into your face i.e.back towards camp. Somewhere between the two there is likely to be something else going off.... But where? The strong air currents in the entrance series seems to weaken significantly at the Acrobatica pitch. I suspect it communicates to a higher entrance series at this point.

After I left I persuaded the family [wife and daughter] that a nice little walk back up the Cares Gorge [which they'd already done] would be a nice trip. I succeeded in finding and entering Culiembro, the cave, nearly falling in the pool/lake a little way in thanks to the nearly flat batteries failing to power my LEDs.

We climbed the path opposite the rising, ie the East side of the gorge. I took photographs of the far [Ario] side. HOWEVER these are likely to be a bit poor in quality due to the lighting [matt grey], wind on the zoomed shots vibrating the camera and a little light rain later on. The results are likely to be of a quality that discoverers of Lock Ness Monsters thrive on where blurr interpretation allows hours of fireside/pub level bullshitting and conjecture. When I have the results I'll send the over using a low density .jpg format scan [say 50kb] and, Yes, they'll be colour prints probably on matt paper.... What I did see, at about 830 metres altitude, was a small railway tunnel [diameter est. 5 m] in the cliff between the Culiembro rising and the Extremero gorge. Above this are more cracks and small holes. To it's right is a great fault, heavily eroded, going most of the way down to the rising. Extremero may have holes in the great cliff face at 1000m. The area below Jultayu looks more compact, but I couldn't get a good look at it before we were engulfed in the rest of our gorge that finished with over 2000' of loose scree which did not get me brownie points from my women folk. At least we had a nice picnic at the top until rain and gales stopped play. After that I had to abandon the Picos and take the lasses to the Costa Brava for sun and warmth to allow communications to be reopened.
27 July

John Pybus

Since the last news on 22nd, we haven't been able to find any further depth in La Texa and are now in the middle of the inevitable hassle of derigging.

In the meantime people have been looking at Pozu Chicago, an entrance almost directly over the Cabeza Muza sump. This was left last year at almost -200m in tight rifts which were struggling to go. A way has been found over the top of these via climbs at a higher level, and when the cave was derigged yesterday the end point was an undecended 50m pitch in an 8m diameter pot which I could get stones to rattle down for 12 seconds. There's no doubt, this cave feels like it goes!

25 July

Fleur Loveridge


Here is the news as of Monday 25th when Pete T and I headed down the hill.

As I left, downstream Texa appeared to be dead. The pool found by the Spaniards was crossed by the nightshift team of Hils, Neil and Paul W using the boat and found to be terminal. Upstream terminates in a 15m high waterfall. Two climbs up have been pushed in this area without success.

However, a late last night 43 and Ponche sesh aimed to trace the drafts from the lower parts of the cave. Paul M expounded various theories and all were convinced that the lower drafts converge on the first pitch after camp and this 'missing draft' must go across Lee's Song's of Praise traverse into the One Man and his Dog area. This area is complex and phreatic and leads remain. On Monday Pete E, Tom, Harvey and Geoff were going down to camp, with Paul W and Neil to following on Tuesday, with aim of de-rigging the downstream cave and making a final push to follow the draft.

Elsewhere, a decisive trip to Pozu Chicago by Paul W and Gareth finally found the way on - a gaping undescended 50m shaft - so its looks like Chicago is through the difficult upper few hundred metres and going into the deep time.
25 July


Somewhat later than planned you will find a selection of (surface) photos taken during my stay in the Picos at:
22 July

John Pybus

Spanish team have exited from camp. Big streamway has hit a pool which was being bolted round to see if there's a way over. we may have lost the draught a bit higher up. It's hot and dry in the Ario bowl. Surveyed system depth now 1044 +/- 25m.
18 July

John Pybus

So, in short: IT GOES!!!!!!!!!

The first camp, by Pip and Lee, pushed a bold traverse "Songs of Praise" over the top of the Spanish pitch at the end of the large phreatic level in Texa where camp is situated. A few hundred m of passage was found, including another route down the to the original Spanish pitches below.

The next set of campers were Gavin and Hils, plus Pete Eastoe and myself. Gavin decided to brave a swim in the dark pool at -837 (from Texa entrance). This wasn't the sump pool everyone had feared but leads to major phreatic extensions with a very small stream and several more traversable pools (the Spanish streamway beyond camp, isn't the same as the Tormenta stream before camp which heads into the Muxa collector). Getting across the lake is fun involving "floating" on a raft of Daren Drums being hauled by your mate. It is sometime possible to keep partly dry. Some of the extension is very beautiful with gour pools and large flowstone formations. During camp this was pushed for several hundred m down 5 or so short pitches ending a very muddy pitch through a boulder choke which entered more small streamway this leads for a short way to a T junction with more BIG streamway - 3m wide with a considerable flow. We're not yet sure if this is the Muxa water again, but it is a fairly major collector. This was left wide open in both directions.

Before even having remove wellies and wetsocks arriving back at Ario yesterday from underground camp, the data were entered into the survey and the depth from the Texa entrance is now -879m surveyed, with maybe 20m+ unsurveyed. Even taking the most pessimistic loop closure info, the Tormenta depth is now comfortably over 1000m -- break out the Don Simon!!!

Less than 24 hours after exiting from camp, I am currently in Ribedesella having accomplished our mission to acquire a Barco Infado so future explorers don't have to get as wet as we did crossing the pool. The Spanish contingent also arrived yesterday and several teams go in today. We estimate Culiembro cave is maybe five or six hundred m horizontal and less than 150m vertical.

12 July

John Pybus

Am in Cangas after meeting Juan Jose and sorting permits with the National Park, not to mention a mammoth food shop, so here's a quick update:

One week into expedition, spirits are generally good. La Texa has been rigged down to camp at -750; almost everyone has been to various depths in the cave ferrying in camping kit, and on Sunday the first team went in to camp.

We believe that we have found "the way on" already, a continuation of the fossil level where camp is situated can be seen beyond the pitches down to the streamway. A team has gone to bolt over to it. More news soon...

1 July Expedition departs