OUCC Proceedings 7 (1975)

Rales System

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Entrance Co-ordinates: Fuentica: 5020 9793 50
  Molino/Samoreli: 5015 9793 120
  Un-named 5015 9793 110
  Manantial de la Aldea 5022 9793 40

Cueva de la Fuentica Entrance Series

Martin Laverty

The prominent entrance of the Cueva de la Fuentica has a small stream course running up to it but the water sank about 50m away higher up the polje. In the past, however, water has cut a distinct trench through a rim of rock at the entrance, inside which is a barge chamber from which several routes head to the streamway and upper levels of the cave. On the right hand (E) side of the chamber is another chamber with a floor level several metres higher which has been formed by extensive collapse from the roof. Another chamber, this time sloping at an appreciable angle and, again, formed by collapse of the roof, can be reached by climbing several metres up the steep earthy slope outside the main entrance.

The passage originally used by us to reach the streamway is a generally high, narrow passage heading off from the far right hand corner of the entrance chamber. The floor is generally similar to that of the entrance chamber, being covered with medium-sized rocks, except for one or two places where the floor and walls are smooth, scalloped and water worn. The passage generally slopes gently down towards the stream, but this gradient is reversed in one or two short sections. The aptly named 'squalid pool' is about O.5m deep and displays a notable feature of this passage - the abundance of debris which testifies to severe flooding of this passage at certain times, possibly due to back-up from the sumps combined with a surface stream bringing in debris from the Fuentica entrance. Several passages head off to the left (before the passage comes out about 4m above the stream where it emerges from one sump, only to disappear into another), the steeply ascending passage heading to the Main Chamber series.

[Bill Collis' note 2003: The debris damming up the squalid pools were removed by the violent floods of the 80s making the Fuentica entrance series relatively easy. ]

Ascending a mud slope to the left above the sump gives access to a very barge, high, completely dry passage with impressive gour on its floor. A hole in the floor heads to a sump pool and another such pool can be reached by following a passage heading off from underneath an awkward short climb which must be passed on the way to the mud slope that heads down to the Pozo del Molino, or the unnamed, entrances.

The second group of passages heading to the barge passage near the streamway begins at the left-hand end of the entrance chamber about 2m above the level of the floor, up a dry slope. These passages are completely dry and do not contain flood debris although there are numerous bones of small animals and birds in various places. The floor is almost always covered by dry mud and a bow chamber near the entrance has two ways on up to higher levels (both had dry muddy boulder chambers with various passages and rifts leading off which were neither fully explored nor surveyed) as well as the main way on to the streamway and a passage which connects to the other entrance passage. This connecting passage is entered through boulders and is of smooth, clean rock with several pools of water. One of these pools is contained by a calcite bowl which has grown up to partially block a hole in the floor which heads to a water-filled rift. The actual connecting route crosses the head of this rift via a traverse on mud to reach a bow, wide crawl which emerges about a metre above the level of the main passage. The remainder of the passages leading to the streamway from the bow chamber are usually quite barge, muddy and undecorated and form a rather confusing network. Most of them emerge 3-4m above the floor of the barge dry passage and provide good vantage points from which to appreciate its size. One of them descends steeply to a barge circular stump pool, whence a passage heads to the foot of the awkward climb previously mentioned.

These passages had evidently been previously investigated by the Spaniards since old sheets of newspaper had been distributed through the dry series, possibly as survey markers. However we did not find out who these explorers had been. Potential treasure seekers may care to note a local idea that the Moors who built a castle on the hill above, which gives it the name Cueva del Castillo, may have buried a crock of gold in Fuentica. Since we had to admit to the villagers that we did not find any, it's presumably still there!

Summarising, the entrance series of Fuentica is complex, as the survey shows very clearly, the passages are generally trending N-S in direction and containing at least three distinct levels of passages, all at a higher level, than the East/West trending streamway.

Cueva de la Fuentica Main Chamber Series

Bill Collis & Neil Boulton

Although a considerable amount of interest was shown in the relatively uninspiring, bare, dry and sandy upper series near the entrance of Fuentica it was not until two days before we were due to leave Spain that this interest paid off.

Several passages to the left of the main route to the stream had not been explored and it was one of these, close to the stump, which turned out to be most significant. A sandy passage, ascending steeply, leads to a climb of some 5m into the floor of a large chamber, the way on crossing back over this passage. A strong draught encouraged negotiation of several squeezes, and we soon emerged into an old dry stream passage, some 3m high. This passage continued for some distance, ending in a steep and difficult climb of 7m down a stal-flow, free climbed initially but later laddered.

At the foot of the pitch, the passage was very large and seemed to have taken a flow of water occasionally, judging by the bare and pebble strewn floor. The passage proceeded in three different directions. To the left of the pitch there were found a number of chambers. The first of these contained an impressive calcite deposit which had engulfed three snail shells, thus indicating a surface connection. Two smaller chambers led to a larger chamber with a sandy floor; this was not fully explored and it is possible that there is a way on from this chamber.

A second series of passages led off underneath the pitch, descending steeply and narrowing down. A stream is met approximately the same size as that in the main streamway of Fuentica, at a junction. Upstream it stumps more or less immediately; the survey indicates that this position is relatively close to the downstream stump of the main cave. Downstream, the stream continues for some distance in a narrow meandering passage which has not been fully explored but which probably heads directly to the main chamber.

The third way on, to the right of the pitch, provided the greatest reward. A large passage some 5m high and 3m wide, containing several impressive stalactite columns and the sound of running water, led into a magnificent chamber, as impressive as the Samoreli main chamber. Although much of the floor was a steep, dry and somewhat dangerous boulder and sand bank, at the highest end were clusters of straws and red and white stalactites. All of these formations were kept clean by dripping water. The nature of these decorations and their similarity to those discovered in the Cueva de las Botellas, together with a water line of an equal level, led to the formulation of several hypotheses about the proximity of the top of the chamber to the surface, and the behaviour of the water in the system. At the other end of the chamber a steeply descending passage leads to the stream passage beyond the chamber from above. The stream itself flows along the floor of the chamber and then stumps almost as soon as the chanter is left. However, a passage of similar size to the one leading into it skirts the stump and continues for some distance, rejoining the stream from time to time, but fortunately avoiding the stumps to which the stream is prevalent.

Several loops and side passages were noticed but not surveyed. The main passage ends in a small chamber; to the left of this and over a rock and mud barrier is a large stump pool continuing for some 15m in a rift passage. It is possible to traverse along the edge of the pool, but rather less painful to get wet at the outset.

A surface traverse was made from the Fuentica entrance to the sumped resurgence, Manantial de la Aldea; the survey shows that there is only about 10m of flooded passage between here and the final stump in the Main Chamber series. Thus this final discovery fills the gap in the system between the downstream sump in the mainstream passage and the ultimate resurgence, leaving only two short stretches of passage through which communication has yet to be effected.

Since this series was only penetrated at the end of the expedition we only had time to explore and survey the main passages. As remarked earlier, a number of side passages were noticed in this series but were not surveyed, so more exploration and surveying was intended in this system. However, no major extensions have since been found and there has been insufficient enthusiasm or cause to complete the survey.

Fuentica-Molino Upper Streamway

John Forder

Upstream of the point where the streamway is first reached from the Fuentica entrance series, the cave continues as a fine stream passage, quite large for most of its length and abundantly decorated.

After a short section of easy walking the first of a series of gour pools is encountered. Composed of a rather soft, cream-coloured deposit these pools attain a considerable size and provide sporting cascades for the explorer. Eventually, a tricky climb of, perhaps, 3m brings one to the foot of a 5.5m pitch, the point reached by the 1972 preliminary expedition. it proved an easy matter to scale pitch with the aid of a maypole, parts of which were carried in this far by a group of the village youth who had wanted to see the inner recesses of the cave.

The passage was found to continue much as before with pools and cascades until a canal was encountered where swimming was necessary. The roof lowers ominously to within 0.5m of the water, but this constriction is merely temporary and easier going is soon regained. Shortly afterwards a particularly finely decorated section of the cave is encountered where progress at stream level is impeded by a jumble of stal-cemented rocks; a climb over these, although presenting no difficulties, needs great care as one must thread a way between a profusion of formations.

Gour pools and cascades alternate again until a circular chamber is reached, where the stream falls into the chamber by way of a 6m pitch. Again, the maypole provided a means of ascent. At the top of the pitch is a deep pool followed by a 2m climb up a very greasy rock - a ladder or hand line is very useful here.

Ahead, the cave exhibits a considerably less inviting prospect than that presented so far, as one is faced with a flat-out crawl in several inches of water, this feature persisting for about 3m to a tiny chamber, beyond which the way on is through a tight squeeze between stab-covered walls. At the end of this squeeze, the water enters from above and one emerges into a large passage where daylight can be seen by walking round a corner. The small hole through which the stream sinks into the squeeze was originally blocked by an assorted collection of sticks and stones which the original explorers balked at removing - an easily understandable course since their removal from below would have involved lying contorted in the squeeze and pulling the debris down on top of oneself. However, the nature of the blockage suggested a surface sink for the water and a conversation in broken Spanish, French, English and sign- language conveyed enough of our intentions for one of the young villagers to take us up to the cavity-ridden cliff above the Cueva de Samoreli. Here there were two large craters formed by the collapse of the roof of the large cave passage, whose remnants are seen in the tunnel joining the two and in the entrance to the Pozo del Molino, where the dimensions are some 15 x 20m. The stream which enters Molino from Samoreli was found to sink through the debris previously seen from below and a few minutes later the '2nd' pitch in Rales was descended and an exit was made via Fuentica whilst another party met en route left via Molino.

Pozo del Molino & Cueva de Samoreli

Guy Cox

The upstream entrance to the Cueva de Fuentica main stream way is a steep-sided depression, the Pozo del Molino. It takes its name from a small, rarely used water mill which makes use of the steeply- descending streamway running across the floor of the Pozo. In fact, the Pozo is clearly a section of unroofed cave, and large passages lead upstream and down. Downstream, after a large twilight chamber, the passage closes down to a small constriction leading to the Fuentica streamway. A small passage on the right leads to another entrance, in a wooded dell on the hillside below the Pozo.

Upstream, a spacious passage leads rapidly to daylight again, at one of a large number of cave entrances at different levels in a cliff face. These are collectively called the Cueva de Samoreli. However, the stream emerges from a small hole in the side of the passage, just below the entrance. On our first exploration, we followed the stream. An awkward, rather constricted section led before long to another barge section of streamway. Daylight streamed in above us from other holes in the cliff face. We soon found that a more convenient entrance into upstream Samoreli could be made at this point, via a 10m pitch from the surface.

All the entrances in the cliff face interconnect, forming a dry series above the present streamway. This series, though complex, is short. It contains one fair-sized chamber, inhabited by large numbers of bats.

The main streamway, leading upstream, is spacious and gently graded, and we followed it with high hopes. It soon enlarges into an impressive chamber, of typical phreatic form - a marked contrast to the vadose Fuentica section. Upstream from the chamber, a muddy passage leads shortly to a ramp; so far the upstream limit of our explorations.

We searched the main chamber for a possible sump bypass. One passage, reachable by a free-climb, leads rapidly to a window overlooking the entrance pitch. Another could only be reached by maypoling. This passage proved quite long, and well-decorated but was a dead inlet, and not a potential bypass. It seems likely, unless yet another entrance can be found, that any further exploration of the course of the main stream lies in the hands of divers.

Un-named Entrance to Pozo del Molino

Martin Laverty

Towards the end of the expedition, Bill Collis found yet another entrance to the Rales system. This was a fairly small rock arch on the north side of the dry, well-vegetated valley leading down from the Molino area towards Fuentica, below the path. The entrance passage descends quite steeply and is followed by a short traverse over a small chamber which has no other exits other than on the way towards Molino, which is by way of mostly narrow, mud-floored rift passages. The cave is completely dry and sparsely decorated, but there is a splendid example of a false floor which can either be walked over or crawled under and there are several intriguing narrow tubes which descend more or less vertically for several metres and appeared to have clean water-washed pebbles at their feet. The passage terminates in a chamber with two rifts leading from it, the right-hand one leading nowhere in particular and the left hand one rising steeply, after the initial climb down to its floor, to a hole on the right through which the light filtering through from Molino's entrance can be seen (provided the sun hasn't set).

Manantial de la Aldea

Guy Cox

The main rising of the system emerges from a boulder ruckle at the head of the stream bed just outside Rales. A short duck leads into a tiny chamber among the boulders, but all ways on, both above and below water, are hopelessly choked. The resurgence provides the village water supply.

Biological Report

Ann Morrison

A small collection of fauna was made in the pool below the 'second' maypole pitch, a pool which shallowed from about a metre deep at the foot of the pitch to a couple of centimetres at its edges, where the floor was made up of fairly fine gravel.

The fauna collected (which survived remarkably well from being pickled in a mixture of paraffin and water in the absence of any other suitable medium) were initially sent to Mrs. Crowther (Dept of Zoology, Oxford University) and thence to Miss Mary Hazelton of B.C.R.A.

A leech was identified as Dina lineata (Muller 1774), family Erpobdellidae, by Mr. E.G. Easton of the Annelid Dept. British Museum (Natural History ). Several species of shrimps were also collected, but there is, as yet, no precise identification of these.