OUCC Proceedings 2 (1963)

Caving in Spain, 1962

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August 1962 saw Oxford in the Picos de Europa for a second year running. In all, nine people spent up to three weeks at the mountain refuge of Lake Enol, and we are again grateful to the helpfulness of the Warden, Sr. Dn. Antonio Ramos, and his wife which made our stay so enjoyable. Four members had been present on the Oxford University Expedition of the previous year, but the general aim was a spelaeological holiday rather than the intensive expeditioning of 1961. Nonetheless, several new discoveries were made, and considerable extensions added to one major series. Some potholes were descended, but transport difficulties limited the amount of tackle available. However, some interesting deep holes were noted. which will doubtless attract our attention in future seasons.

Cueva del Viento (C. 15), the long fissure cave reported in no. 1 of our Proceedings, was the scene of considerable activity. One group set out to photograph formations and carry out further explorations. Some very winding and much-scalloped tubes were found running beneath the first part of the rift, but these were only explored for a short distance, and no general direction could be ascertained. Further exploration of these is required. At the far end of the fissure passage it was observed that the water was at the same level as in the previous year, despite the wetter weather prevailing. A small tube was examined above the final resurgence through which a wind could be felt. and the sound of running water heard. This tube may well be capable of entry, perhaps after a little hammer and chisel work.

Possibly the most interesting exploration in C. 15 was the discovery by a second party of Muddy Passage. This passage leads from the main chamber by a scalloped siphon passage. An alternative approach is from the development of the rift which crosses the entrance series near the prominent tufa wall noted in 1961. This approach shows the curious feature of two siphon tubes one above the other over a part of the distance. a feature which recurs in several parts of the cave. After the junction of these two initial passages, a series of dry mud-filled chambers is reached, linked by a complicated arrangement of scalloped tubes. These lead into a dry meander passage heading north-westwards and entering the long, dry rift of Muddy Passage. The general heading of Muddy Passage is roughly sixty degrees south of the direction of Muddy Passage. Formations were noticed, but were generally rather muddy. As the passage began to become smaller, formations became more common. The passage ended with a low crawl penetrated by Tim Cooke, who reported a boulder-filled chamber with two possible exit passages. The part so far explored was surveyed to C.R.G. Grade Two, and consists of some 1,200 feet of passages. Many further possibilities await further exploration. Throughout Muddy Passage the penetrating draught blows as strongly as it does in the Main Rift Passage, hence the name, Cave of the Wind. Does Muddy Passage perhaps lead into an undiscovered Master Cave upstream of the end of the Main Rift Passage?

Another cave at high altitude showing promise is entered by a fissure overlooking the path leading up from the Refuge of the Vega Redonda, near to a curious shakehole whose floor is filled by a score of smaller shakeholes, giving it the appearance of an egg-container, and which may represent the bed of a glacial tarn. The rift itself leads in for about two hundred feet, containing a bank of snow for the first twenty feet. In places it is about one hundred feet high. Lack of adequate lighting prevented complete exploration at the extremity of the cave, where a boulder slope was found to rise toward the roof. until the two met, leaving only a low bedding-plane filled with boulders. through which a considerable draught issued. Digging here may well be to advantage.

Several small caves were visited in the immediate vicinity of the refuge of Lake Enol. A very small cave was found with some delightful rimstone pools, in a dry valley forming a part of a sequence of sinks and risings plotted in that valley in 1961.

A small hole, Brown Mouse Hole, was noticed about three-quarters of a mile down the road from Lake Enol, was laddered, and turned out to be a pot 55 feet deep. There was a flat boulder floor, and no draught, as was indicated by the very strong smell of a dead sheep! Several large shakeholes nearby were investigated, and from some of them strong draughts emerged. These offer likely prospects, but involve removal of boulders and slight digging. Somewhat nearer the lake, a rift to the south of the road opens prominently in an outcrop. The rift was climbed down for about twenty feet, but there was little horizontal development. A window half-way down led into a small chamber with calcite concretions, and in which one member of the party reported seeing a snake several feet long. Investigations by other members failed to substantiate this, but a further look by its original observer revealed it again. It is curious that the snake was present only when there were no other witnesses, and that other visitors observed several blackened, dead branches in the cave.....

A cave in an advanced state of development was uncovered during a mist-enforced halt in the Vega las Mantegas, with good formations, all covered in a thick layer of bergmilch. A remarkable covering of calcite in different coloured layers could be chipped away from the roof and walls.

At high altitude near the Fuente Prieta, at rather less than 6,000 feet above sea-level, several caves full of snow were looked at, and several had two or more entrances. None appeared to be of any size, although in some draughts were felt. and there is always a strong possibility that extensive series may have their entrances blocked by snow.

Shakeholes in the vicinity of Lake Enol often appear to need digging. One promising dig was begun which may offer an alternative entrance into Pozu Palomeru (P. 1) to the present 160 foot entrance shaft. However, two of the more notable discoveries of the season were made in this region in shakeholes requiring no digging. One was a pothole descended among boulders into a dry chamber, in the floor of which two holes led to a pitch of at least fifty feet. Lack of ladder impeded further progress. another hole gave a pitch which took a stone eleven seconds to fall down, although it bounced en route. A clear pitch of perhaps five hundred feet is believed to exist. It is hoped to ladder this as soon as possible. Both holes are quite close to the road just after it leaves Lake Enol, and passes through a shallow valley. Is it perhaps possible that the potholes represent a glacial overflow system from the lake?

Three serious attempts were made to reach the summit of Peña Santa María de Enol, a limestone knife-edge of a peak rising to about 8,050 feet above sea-level, the second highest peak in the western massif of the Picos. Attempts were made from the south and also the northern snow-slope. One party attained a position a mere 60 feet from the summit, but had to retreat owing to the danger from the looseness of the rock, which demands exceptional caution.

A party also descended the canyon of the River Cares, a gorge over a mile deep, to the village of Caín, which is found in the Shangri-La of the Valdeón, a hidden valley whose only exit is through the canyon. The return to the refuge was made through the night via an ascent to the foot of Peña Santa María de Castilla. The twenty-three hour journey involved ascents and descents totalling some twelve thousand feet.

There is immense scope for further cave exploration in the Picos, both in partially explored as well as in unexplored systems. Between 2,500 to 4,00 feet abouve sea-level, the best possibilities appear to be in shakeholes, even if digging is required. Above that zone the main obstacles are inaccessibility and the difficulty of supplying a camp in so remote an area. The last difficulty may be relieved by the new refuges at present being built by the Spanish authorities to promote tourism in the area.

K.J. Mills