OUCC Proceedings 9 (1979)


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Martin Laverty

OUCC's last expedition to Spain in 1976 was, to be frank, rather a disappointment. It also coincided with one of the periodic exoduses of experienced members, especially those with Hispanophile or expeditionary tendencies, which tend to bedevil University clubs (especially in such a speleologically isolated area as Oxford). However, after a year with ULSA and a trip to the caves of Mulu, the leader decided that the allure of the Picos really couldn't and shouldn't be resisted, so an expedition was organised. No going systems were known or talked of, so concrete plans were based around surveying Osu and attempting, once again, to find and explore El Hoyo La Madre. It was stressed from the start that hard work would probably be needed to locate new entrances, but that recent French and Spanish explorations had shown potential, which none of the many previous British expeditions had managed to find, was definitely there. So rope was bought, a school gym (Oxford University in its wisdom deciding that if you can't go caving competitively then there can be no way you could need a gym....) provided very draughty (far too realistic!) SRT practise, backed up by a week in Yorkshire at Easter.

The team was almost entirely new to Spain, or even to caving anywhere more foreign than Wales. A weekend on the Gower was useful as a camping rehearsal, e.g. the leader's tent was found to lack poles (whoops!). A VW conversion proved excellent as an expedition vehicle with ingenious storage space for items as diverse as old Procs (guaranteed to break the ice with wandering Spanish cavers), tights for dye tests (or Ian) and chemicals. A Land River provided transport for our two representatives from the West Midlands Cave Exploration Group. The third vehicle used was an Escort. The entire Southampton University Cave Club contingent spent a comfortable night in a Plymouth guest house while awaiting the Santander Ferry. The rest had a fairly unique night c/o a drizzly car park. The voyage was uneventful and boring but ensured that everyone reached the campsite and took over the non-floodable (well, not totally non-floodable!) corner of yet another car park. After four days, the stunning view could be seen!

Food was bought mainly in Cangas de Onis, with bread, eggs and vino from one of the two adjacent bars. The walk from the upper (Refugio Entrelagos) bar proved to be the most dangerous provisioning trip when our Cambridge University Cave Club renegade damaged his elbow, and two bottles of wine! The road to Cangas also saw its incidents. Cooking was mostly by double burner gas with spare primuses (paraffin can be difficult to obtain). Pressure cookers were invaluable.

There is little to be gained from further introduction except to say that there can be little doubt that the 1979 expedition was the most successful in OUCC's history, with 4.5km of cave surveyed and aggregate depth of over 750m, including one cave still going very strongly at 354m, Quite besides this, the expedition members are all still on speaking terms with each other, which is no mean achievement.

So, without further ado:

INTO THE VOWELS OF THE EARTH..................................