OUCC Proceedings 9 (1979)

Pozu del Cantu del Hombre    [survey]

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Kev Senior and Colin Nicholls


A fairly tough, vertical pot with 10 pitches. 8 entrance pitches lead through fossil stal to a decorated chamber and some less vertical passage. A squeeze is easily passable with a little forethought and application, and the final 2 pitches lead to a large, muddy chamber. Two ways on end after only about 25m, one with a sump and the other with a sand choke.

The entrance to this pot may be somewhat difficult to locate, in spite of the following instructions! From the N end of Largo Ercina, follow the Belbin path over the moraine. Head for the shepherds' huts (La Llomba) beyond the old mine and pass between them and over into a small closed depression. Carry on over into a larger, grassy depression, where the ridge to the left shows a narrow break in the rock to the right of a peak. Scramble up to this rift and follow it down until it opens out. The pot is entered through a 0.4m wide hole about 3m to the right of the line of the rift, and about 15m below the ridge. A cairn composed of lumps of flowstone extracted from the entrance may help. Good hunting!

On the second day in Spain Pete, Ian Liz, Mark, Kathy and I (Kev) explored the limestone east of Lago Ercina. A couple of shafts near the track to Belbin were found, but our initial enthusiasm for cave hunting was soon eroded by a depressing lack of success in the many depressions. I wandered away to the north and then, having given up that area, began to make my way back to the others. Suddenly, in front of my face as I climbed a steep slope was a hole about 15cm in diameter. I lobbed a couple of rocks in. About 20m. I dug away at the entrance and removed a conveniently large piece of flowstone, some half a metre thick. The entrance was now about man-size but still very tight. I informed the others but we decided the shafts by the track were more promising.

About two weeks later I showed Skippy the entrance while we were en-route to El Hoyo la Madre. Soon after, he and Mike descended. To everyone's surprise, it went!

Skippy descended the second pitch and forced through Tinkle Crawl to a pitch. I had to be on the next trip, so Skippy and I descended, laddered the new pitch and roped the next. Skippy found Mammary Passage, named after stalagmite he liked, and led the way down to Pillar Chamber, where he reported another pitch. With my slightly brighter carbide I looked down and could see a flowstone floor with a black area next to it. Was it a shadow or a hole? A couple of well-aimed pebbles later revealed that it was another big pitch. Now really excited, I kept lobbing stones down and exhorting to Skippy "Listen to this one!". Eventually I ran out of ammo and looked hungrily at the many stals. But no, it was time to go.

Next day, Skippy, Skunk and Mike pushed on down. Skunk descended the pitch below Pillar Chamber and landed on the false floor I had seen the day before, then nearly stepped of into the next section of the shaft, thenceforth named Surprise Shaft. At the bottom of the three pitches here, a traverse led to the top of a pitch which split into two separate shafts about 10m from the top. This was named the Bisector. The shaft descended first proved to be a blind pot, but the other contained a small stream which fell into Mess Hall, a welcome place for a bite to eat. The route on from here was dubbed G II Passage because 'It cuts you close...then closer still'. Beyond this were some fine formations, including superb helictites. Skippy pushed on alone down the streamway until he reached a traverse.

Surprise Shaft and Bisector had given the cave a lot of depth and the awkward passages between the pitches meant that pushing trips were becoming rather long and arduous. 12 hours was the standard trip length.

A couple of days later, Skippy, Skunk, and I descended. On the way Skippy explored the squeeze which entered Tinkle crawl to be bypassed, and I had no trouble until G II Passage. Here my large frame caused problems and my drysuit snagged everywhere. 'Assistance' from Skippy pulled me through but from then on I sported the only two-piece drysuit in Spain, the lower half about my ankles. The traverse was soon reached through the well decorated 'Limbo Passage', and a line was rigged. I was a little reluctant to cross because of a rather exposed 'bold step' - but this was Virgin Territory now! The stream had disappeared into a trench way below and we continued in the roof tube. A slide down a flowstone slope gained a tube at a lower level. We crawled through mud and Skippy announced from the front that there was another pitch. Only trouble was that the top was about 20cm wide and the only belays would have been in mud. While Skippy and Skunk inspected this, I found a draughting hole under the flowstone we had slid down upon. Some enthusiastic hammer work enlarged the hole and the other two squeezed through. I decided to wait since I was assured they would only be a few minutes. As I waited my carbide dimmed and eventually expired. Sitting in the dark with the sound of distant hammering for company I began to feel the remoteness of the place. I had a long prusiking exit up more pitches than I had done before to look forward to. I became impatient to leave, then angry that I should feel that way. I'd never wanted to get out quite so much in any other cave. My worries were interrupted by the return of Skippy and Skunk who said that there was a route to the next pitch at stream level through a tight squeeze. We re-gained camp, food and bed at about 2am. At this stage, I went to El Mazuco, so Colin takes up the story:

Having surveyed down to Mess Hall with Dave the day before, Skunk and I went on a pushing trip. We had no trouble on the way in, reaching G II in 45 minutes. After passing the squeeze and going along an awkward tube, I reached the constriction and spent half an hour or so 'microadjusting' with Skippy's 2lb lumphammer. With my right arm knackered, I let Skunk in to have a go and he showed me where I should have been bashing. He managed to get through without further adjustment and found a 4m climb leading to a sentry box over a 15m drop. Having spent a long time looking for natural belays, we decided to use bolts. It was then that we found the whole ledge to be made of calcite, and we all know how many cleavage planes that has! Unfortunately there was no alternative and there was a pitch with a chamber below us.....

We descended the clean, wet Calcite Pitch into a boulder-strewn chamber, 10m by 5m, with a nasty looking edge over a 30 m drop. We removed some of the obvious black flaky material (similar to the stuff found the Black Reef Cave in Yorkshire) and, using various flakes and boulders for belays, Skunk descended. I told him I thought the rope was rubbing, but he said it seemed OK when looked at from below. He carried on down and discovered a large chamber covered with dry mud, the Mud Palace.

I abseiled down a couple of metres and reached a place where the rope snagged behind some evil-looking flakes. Giving Skunk at least two seconds warning, I started the gardening. Unfortunately the shattering of the debris at the bottom was so violent that a chunk of shrapnel hit Skunk on the ankle, so he christened the pitch 'Bombardier'. Apologising profanely, I carried on down the rope to the rub point. The rope (a very old Marlow matt terylene) was cut to the core and I was below it. Oh well....the outside of my Damart was dirty before so it seem too important that the inside was also dirty now. I changed over, prusiked back up, and re-rigged the pitch. Skunk had a look round and found three ways on: a phreatic tube, a muddy crawl, and a passage halfway down the pitch.

Next day, Skippy and Dave went down with some decent rope to re-rig the last two pitches. This they did and had a good poke round in Mud Palace. The ways on choked. The phreatic tube filled with sand after about 25m, while the muddy crawl opened out, only to end in a sump 30 m on which gurgled when disturbed. The only other possibility was not entered because of its inaccessible position. When they had examined the superb mud formations, they ascended the 'Bombardier' and, after a little more tidying up of flakes, made a slow exit.

The next trip saw John, Jim, and Kev (back from El Mazuco) descend with the intention of winding up the survey. They emerged 9 hours later having failed to find the squeeze to bypass Tinkle Crawl and also having been unable to get through the constriction to the rift and Calcite Pitch. The amusement this caused was considerable, as was the derision poured on all three. The result was the naming of 'Geriatric Squeeze'.

In an attempt at efficiency, the trip the next day was split up so that the 'hard' team could survey and photograph from Geriatric Squeeze down, whilst the 'pensioners' team could help de-rig and lug out the tackle. Having completed the survey the WMCEG pyromaniacs took over and arranged a flash powder photo of Mud Palace. This was a spectacular success although the resulting photo was rather poor. Mark's backside, halfway up the pitch, was perfectly exposed, the walls were drastically overexposed, and John narrowly avoided third degree burns (which he seemed to think an excuse for screaming) on lighting the half microsecond fuse (I'm still not sure if Skippy did it on purpose). A slow slog out meant that Jim, Kev, and Simon exited about 3.30am whilst the rest of us got out about 7.30am, after a 19 hour trip.


Entrance Pitch 20m rope plus long wire or tape belay (SRT)
2nd Pitch 5m ladder and medium length wire belay
3rd Pitch 10m ladder belayed onto tail of 2nd pitch
Tinkle crawl 5m ladder and medium wire belay
Alternative 3rd pitch (bypass to Tinkle Crawl) 20 m ladder plus long wire belay. An SRT rope can be used, but there are many rub points
5th pitch 10m ladder and medium wire belay
Drop into rift below Pillar Chamber Tape useful
Surprise I 7m ladder (pref.), belay to stal
Surprise II 18m SRT rope belayed to 2 bolts
Surprise III 19m SRT rope belayed to 2 bolts
Bisector 26m SRT rope belayed to bolt and boulders
Calcite Pitch 20m SRT rope belayed to 2 bolts in calcite.
Bombardier 40m SRT rope belayed to boulders

 Note: Much of this cave is developed in massive calcite, so care should be taken in selecting belays and checking bolts. An adequate selection of rope protectors should also be taken.