OUCC Proceedings 3 (1964)
The Oxford-Derbyshire Spelaeological Expedition to North-West Spain 1963
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The expedition had its origins back in 1962 when members of our club were interested in spending a third season in the Spanish Picos de Europa, a range of limestone peaks in the Cordillera Cantabrica. Rumour had it that certain members of the 1962 Gouffre Berger team were also interested in the area, but it was not until after Easter in 1963 that the two teams joined forces and the Oxford-Derbyshire Expedition was born. The Chairman of the expedition was Antony Huntingdon of the Eldon P.C. and its Secretary Mrs Margaret Oakley of P.D.M.H.S. The members of O.U.C.C. taking part were T.M. Cooke, R. Cooper, A. Foss, P. Grimwood, M.J. Walker, and a guest of Adrian Foss, Bernard Wilson, B. Sc., who helped with the transport of equipment in his van. Four vehicles, including a Land Rover, carried the tackle and some of the 21 expeditioners. A great deal of ladder, in fact, some 2,000 feet, was borrowed from the clubs of members taking part, and about 4,500 feet of rope were obtained, which included a gift of 1,440 feet from British nylon Spinners. As in previous years the refuge by Lago Enol was used as the party's base camp.
As a detailed report is being at present (March 1964) prepared for publication, this article is going to be no more than a sketch of the expedition's activities, and for detailed descriptions of caves and pots, surveys etc., the forthcoming publication should be consulted.
High hopes were pinned on a pothole close to the track up to Lago Enol which the previous year's team were only able to peer into, as it had been hoped that it would be associated with the drainage of the lake and with the polje, Vega de Comeya, lying several hundred feet lower down. However, exploration revealed that its depth was a mere 250 feet, and a neighbouring pothole partially explored in the previous year, again did not live up to our expectations. (The system of numbering caves C1, C2, etc. and of pots P1, P2, etc. adopted in 1961, has been continued, but the final classification of the 1963 discoveries must again be left until the complete paper appears.)
Many small caves and pots were visited by the author as well as other members, including the Cueva del Buxu near Onau, which has yielded palaeolithic deposits and reputedly cave paintings, although none could be detected by us. Mention will be omitted of further small holes on account of the interesting major discoveries which were made, and which because of their extent, also precluded return visits to C15 and to Cueva Orandi. One such important hole was the Pozo los Texos in the remote Vega Maor, a dry valley at about 4,500 feet above sea-level above the canyon of the Rio Cares. In previous years we had heard much of this hole from the shepherds, and at first glance it appeared to be a most exciting pot. The entrance was about 150 yards across, and looking down one could detect a bank of snow at the bottom. A party consisting of Tim Cameron, Dave Judson, Dave Shotton, and Mike Walker put on 200 feet of ladder, which proved inadequate, and the next day a larger party strengthened by Reg Howard and Margaret and Ivor Lawrence bottomed it with a further eighty feet of ladder. A scree slope led down to passages some 600 feet deep, but these soon sumped after less that a quarter of a mile. A nearby pot which was no less that 450 feet deep in a single pitch was equally unproductive, except for a lone hawk unable to fly out which was rescued by the pot's explorer, Tim Cameron.
Closer to Lago Ercina another pothole of about 600 feet in depth was descended by members of the expedition. This had been shown to us by a shepherd, Alfonso, and was appropriately named after him. However, here again a promising start led to disappointment.
More fortunate were those members who joined Antony Huntingdon, 'Wingnut', in the valley of the Rio Redumana. Wingnut explored a resurgence cave probably the cave shown on our map as "El Burdio la Pena", and which was known to us as Coventry Cathedral Cave on account of the fine main chamber. This cave had an enormous entrance above the stream and a dry start soon led to the stream passage sinking near the entrance relatively speaking. Complicated traverses ending in a descent to water did not save the explorers from getting wet feet, or rather, hands, since they were wearing neoprene suits. A fine stream passage brilliantly photographed by Paul Thompson, led into the main chambers, after which a climb up a 50 foot waterfall followed by two other climbs of about twenty or thirty feet brought the party into an older part of the system with interesting contorted formations covered with bergmilch. The cave was surveyed by Wingnut and Dr. John Robey of Sheffield University and gave the expedition great sport, especially when Reg Howard with Barney Rosedale, (the team's M.O.) Chris Bishop, Ron Cooper, Paul Grimwood and the author were caught in the roof series when a freak thunderstorm broke outside. Difficulty in descending the 50 foot waterfall pitch, by then a torrent, led to loss of several helmets and lamps, but the excellent efforts of Reg and Barney in maintaining morale and order saved the day. As only two members of the party were wearing exposure suits, normally unnecessary in the cave, the other members were suffering considerably by the time they reached the entrance, after delicately traversing the entire stream passage, on account of the torrent it had turned into, and were extremely glad of the hot soup brought over by Wingnut and a relief party.
Wingnut also pioneered with Tim Cooke and other members of the expedition, the Pozo Altiquer to the south-east of the refuge of Vega Redonda. A fine shaft led down about 300 feet, and claims of further shafts gave hope for future exploration, which could not be carried in 1963 on account of the heavy rains which hit the last few days of the expedition's stay. The Jou Cabou on the ridge to the south-west of the Redonda refuge also appears promising and may well be over 250 feet deep. Another enormous entrance of Alum Pot proportions is here encountered.
As the expedition was as much a holiday as a fierce expedition of explorers at least one day-off was celebrated, when members went to the coast at Ribadesella and tasted the typically Asturian delights of the cidreria and swam under the threat of a rather menacing sky. Even here Reg, Margaret and John Robey could not help exploring a small cave, however! More adventurous spirits roamed further afield and hit Oviedo where they watched their first corrida. To coin a phrase, A Good Time was Had By All, and we wish every success to Dave Judson, Tim Cameron and Jim Garraty, when they visit the area this summer.