Oxford University Cave Club

Proceedings 10 : "Pozu del Xitu"

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Small Caves in the Ario Area

by William Stead

Area 5 : Area 6 : Area 7 : Area 8 : Area 9

In Proceedings OUCC 9 (1979) many small caves around Pozu del Xitu were noted as explored by the SIE, a Barcelona Caving Group. This was in fact untrue, due to a drunken mistranslation session up at Ario one evening. The caves shown as explored by the SIE were merely noted by them on previous expeditions. To add to the confusion generated by the previous article, someone randomised the cave numbers so that the descriptions didn't fit. After a couple of years of sorting the mess out and exploring around forty surface shafts, William gives the true story below.

The cave numbering system is cave number/area. As some of the areas have slightly dubious boundaries, it was a regular occurrence to explore 28/5, say, and find that it had been changed overnight to 3/9 by a different OUCC "hole banging" party. Anyway, see if you can make anything out of the confusion!

Area 5

Top : Area 6 : Area 7 : Area 8 : Area 9

Area 5 is the region near Ario (see map inside back cover)

Cave 1/5 is Pozu del Xitu and is dealt with elsewhere.

Cave 2/5 (see survey) is an obvious hole in a shakehole near the Ario-Jultayu path. A slippery 3m entrance climb lead to a ledge above a bolted 14m entrance pitch. At the bottom is a small chamber with a large snow plug. A crawl under boulders leads to a second 15m pitch with a good natural belay, landing in a small chamber with no way on. Entrance noted by the SIE in the 1970s.


Pitch                   Rope                     Belays 
14m                     16m                      2 bolts 
15m                     17m                      Naturals 

Cave 3/5 Snail Pot (see sketch).

The name is derived from the snail shells in the entrance and the tortuous nature of the cave. The entrance is in a small pit right by the Ario-Jultayu path a few metres from 2/5. A small, steeply-sloping, chossy rift leads to the 1st Pitch (bolted by the SIE) of 7m which lands in a small chamber, all of which is in range of the many stones dislodged from the entrance rift. A tight, descending squeeze soon opens out into a series of short drops emerging in a large, clean-washed 12m shaft with a flake belay. Two previously undescended canyons lead off but quickly rejoin and a left-hand fork leads to a 5m pitch with a flake belay. A series of climbs of 3m (rope needed), 5m, 5m, 8m, 3m lead to a small chamber with a damp crawl going off. The crawl immediately arrives at the 4th pitch without any warning, a large 12m drippy, clean-washed shaft with a very awkward take-off. Use an 8m belay to a flake on the other side of the crawl. After the pitch, the cave quickly closes down to a tight rift with a little water in the bottom. By turning left, a series of very loose climbs may be descended for 15m ending in an undescended pitch, probably rejoining the stream. By following the rift, however, one soon reaches a 5m pitch into a decorated chamber (Pool Chamber). The way on leads to a flat out crawl under a false floor to the head of the 6th pitch, which is a smooth-walled 12m shaft with an awkward take-off. Tunnel up through false floor to obtain a belay. At the foot of the pitch, three small climbs lead to a meandering stream passage and a 12m climb down a heavily cherted shaft. The 8th pitch is 6m long with an awkward take-off and lands in a bell-shaped chamber. The cave continues for 10m down a tight rift which then widens and drops 2m. Following the water, the passage goes back on itself and chokes after 10m. The rift continues for 5m before becoming too tight but seems to broaden beyond the squeeze. Further progress could be made by blasting.


1st pitch  bolt, hanger, 7m ladder     
2nd pitch  short wire belay, 12m  ladder 
3rd pitch  sling/short belay, 5m ladder   
    climb  5m rope                     
4th pitch  8m belay, 13m ladder        
5th pitch  5m ladder, belay            
6th pitch  13m ladder, belay           
7th pitch  13m ladder, belay           
8th pitch  7m ladder, belay            

Cave 4/5 is a large, obvious pothole about 20m deep in a small valley between two limestone outcrops. It chokes.

Cave 5/5 is an obvious 4m x 4m hole in the bottom of a dry valley which can be descended easily for 5m to a small snow plug. From here a passage to the side drops further but was not investigated due to a lack of illumination. Noted by the SIE in the 1970s.

Cave 6/5 is a 2m wide, 8m deep rift which seems to be a continuation of the rift in cave 3/5. The rift chokes at all levels a few metres in.

Cave 7/5 consists of a narrow rift with a boulder floor that diverges into two tight passages a few metres in. The left hand passage is too small for humans and the right hand one chokes almost immediately.

Cave 8/5 Cheese Cave (see survey)

The cave lies at the base of a small cliff in a dry, rocky valley. The entrance is covered with boulders to keep sheep out and the first crawl is occasionally used as a shepherd's cheese store. Removing the largest boulder allows a legs first squeeze into a crawl past foul smelling cheeses, which emerges into a rift containing the first pitch of 10m. The second pitch (20m) follows immediately and is a nice free hang from two bolts (ungreased anchors left). At the bottom, an awkward climb down is followed by a section of wider, more spacious rift which soon narrows down. Another 5m climb down the rift leads to the top of the third pitch (15m). The rift chokes at all levels 100m beyond this.


Pitch                   Rope                     Belays   
10m                     11m                      Huge wedged boulder
20m                     21m                      2 bolts   
15m                     16m                      Naturals    

Cave 9/5 (Colin's Calamity) is a small unobtrusive hole in the ground on one side of the small hillocks near the Cares gorge. The 7m entrance pitch lands on a small pebble bed sloping into a small passage. The only possible way on rapidly becomes too tight.

Cave 10/5 is a large, obvious pothole about 20m deep in a small valley between two limestone outcrops noted by the SIE in the early 1970s. The entrance shaft was bolted by OUCC in 1981. The bottom of the shaft chokes, but halfway down a ledge gives access to a number of passages. Behind the ledge, a rift can be followed for about 10m until it becomes too chossy and tight. Along the ledge gives a short crawl to a choke. Traversing across the shaft gives another tight crawl which chokes after 10m.

Cave 11/5 is a shaft 22m deep with a double natural belay long enough to make a 30m rope too short. The bottom is choked by a huge snow plug. A number of parallel shafts join up underground but no way past the snow could be found. It may be worth digging out during some future expedition.

Cave 12/5 Cueva del "Near Miss" (see sketch)

The entrance is located on the top edge of a very steep slope. Descending two pitches (8m, 15m) and several climbs in a small passage, one reaches a narrow crack in the floor which is too tight to go through but has an eight second drop in four stages beneath it. By traversing over the climb and climbing over a 5m high "hobby horse" like stalagmite one reaches some passage which, however, quickly chokes, ending under a small aven with a huge beehive flowstone formation.


Pitch                   Rope                     Belays      
8m                      8m ladder                Natural (long belay)
15m                     15m ladder               Bolt   

Cave 13/5 is situated below and to the right of 12/5. It consists of a narrow 7m deep rift which widens out at the bottom. Unfortunately, it chokes rapidly at all levels.

Cave 14/5 is a small chamber in boulders in the rift containing 10/5. A choke leads into the 10/5 shaft, but this self-destructed when John tried to get in.

Cave 15/5 consists of twin 11m shafts in bare limestone. One of these is free climbable and can be descended to a connection with the second shaft. Lots of plastic bags full of refuse completely cover any way on there might be.

Cave 16/5 is the same cave as 5/5!

Cave 17/5 is a small entrance that terminates within a few metres.

Cave 18/5 is entered via a rift running SW. A 12m pitch beneath a spectacular rock bridge leads down onto a snow plug. The rift divides into two small passages that choke immediately.

Cave 19/5 has a spectacular entrance consisting of an 8m shaft which connects with a rift running NW-SE. The shaft can be climbed with care, as the rock is greasy and slippery, to a snow plug for which two ways on are seen. The left-hand one is a steeply sloping passage which leads to a junction a few metres on. The right-hand route is a rift which quickly becomes too tight to follow, but the left-hand route is more promising. This ends in a small chamber with a boulder floor, through which another chamber, about 2m high, can be glimpsed.

Returning to the snow plug, the rift may be followed down the snow for about 5m, when the passage ends in a pebble bed where the roof closes right down to floor level. A line is essential for a safe ascent of the snow plug. This cave may be worth digging some time.

Cave 20/5. A small hole emerges in a tiny chamber after 4m. From here a 10cm rift leads off.

Cave 21/5 is entered via a crack which is virtually indistinguishable from the clints and grikes around it. This crack is in fact a 20m pitch which emerges via a slender aven with an alternative horizontal entrance. Two small chambers occur below a climb down from the bottom of the pitch. One of these can be climbed to a small aven, at the top of which a small crack of light is visible.

Cave 22/5 consists of two intersecting rifts in an area of heavily shattered and jointed limestone. A 9m pitch at the centre of the cross lands on a snow plug. At this level the W-E rift closes up, and only the NE-SW rift is left.

Cave 23/5 begins in a small, unpromising hole facing south. Those with large hips will find it much easier to approach the entrance slope feet first and on their back, but should beware of the immediate 2m drop into a rift. The rift slopes gently eastwards away from the main Ario depression and many small roof collapses impede progress. After 50m such a fall effectively blocks the rift, although various small holes may lead on. This cave is unusual because all the development appears to be horizontal.

Cave 24/5 was noted but not pushed (Ed: or found again)

Cave 25/5 is a large, open shaft 8m deep, 8m long, and 2m wide. A passage at one end quickly leads to a boulder choke.

Cave 26/5 has an entrance of a horizontal slot 1m by 0.3m. Descending this one reaches an earthy rift inclined at 45° ending in a 10m pitch. At the bottom is a small chamber containing a narrow vadose trench 20m deep with a small stream at the bottom. Descent is only feasible in one place and the trench is much too narrow to follow.

Cave 27/5 is a large doline full of shattered rock which leads to two choked holes emitting a strong draught.

Cave 28/5 has been renumbered 3/9.

Cave 29/5

The entrance lies 100m off the Trea path at a bearing of 202° to Jultayu. The entrance is a 14m SRT pitch with one rebelay point. At the bottom, a scree slope leads to the second pitch which is 37m long and bolted. Now way on from the bottom of the second pitch was found, and a parallel shaft system part-way down the second pitch also chokes quickly.


Pitch             Rope                   Belays       
14m               18m                    Huge rock back up. Bolt primary.
                                         Rebelay at bolt 5m down.
37m               38m                    2 bolts       

Cave 30/5 (Red Circle Cave) is named after the SIE red circle outside the cave. The entrance is a stoop under a pile of boulders which leads to a chamber with a hole in the floor 5m deep leading to a rift. Both ways in the rift soon become impassable. A second entrance of a 5m climb is situated 10m from the main entrance on a bearing of 300° .

Suicide Pot is opposite 12/5, half way between the path ant the Jou de la Cistra. It consists of two small holes under a pile of loose boulders near a small scree slope. The entrances are just about body-sized, stones rattle down for 12m and dripping water can be heard.

Area 6

Top : Area 5 : Area 7 : Area 8 : Area 9

Area 6 arose from an unlogged walk by Dave Rose along the main ridge of the Picos de Cornion where he found two caves right near the top. Cave 1/6 is Ridge Cave whose exact whereabouts have remained a mystery despite subsequent attempts at location (!).

Area 7

Top : Area 5 : Area 6 : Area 8 : Area 9

Area 7 is the region around Jultayu (see map for areas 7, 8, 9).

This area has been thoroughly searched so further discoveries are unlikely.

Cave 1/7, Pozu Vayeya

This is the Northward facing ridge connected to the summit of Jultayu. There are two entrances: one is a walk into an eyehole; the other is a concealed shaft (don't approach from the Jultayu path which runs above).

The sketch and description are from Keith from the 1980 log:

An awkward straddle climb in the entrance fissure leads to a precarious perch beside the bolts on the first pitch. It is best to use the perch as a psychologically reassuring tertiary belay loosely tied with a bowline so that you can clip your cow's tail into it as soon as the pitch is climbed - this guards against a tendency to fall off the top of the pitch. Two closely placed bolts give a free hang to a mossy ledge; scramble down to a further slippery ledge while still on the rope; don't prusik/abseil because of a dangerous rub point. At the level of the ledge, a sporting straddle traverse leads to two bolts at the head of the second pitch (35m) rebelayed at a ledge 15m down. 10m up from the bottom of the pitch, a traverse or pendulum is possible to a chocked boulder, and from here an exposed climb upwards leads to an area with walls of flowstone which appears to close up after eight or nine metres.

At the bottom of the second pitch is a boulder covered floor. A small hole leads to a dung-ridden crawl and out onto a steeply sloping ledge composed of boulders. All the boulders are supported by three largish ones; the fact that the latter remain in position defies all laws of physics. A straddle climb (as opposed to a scramble) down to the next bolt is necessary to avoid bombarding it with too many boulders. A rope protector is essential on a rocky out-jut just below the belay point. This is a superb pitch with walls of good quality flowstone and a terminal boulder floor. The surface of the flowstone is heavily pockmarked in places with bang marks resulting from falling rocks.


Pitch       Rope        Belays                                            
12m         16m         Traverse line tied round ledge. Two bolts.        
35m         38m         Two bolts. Rebelay at two bolts.                  
22m         25m         Long tape to natural above Guano Crawl. 1 bolt.   

Cave 2/7, Pozu del 30m below eyehole (see survey)

The entrance lies 30m below the eyehole on the Jultayu ridge and is a large doline on a steep slope with a rift leading into the slope. The first pitch into the rift (12m) has two bolts and is followed by a short, very loose scree slope to the head of the second pitch (39m) which is blocked by a snow plug. The bottom draughts strongly into a boulder choke designed for suicidal midgets.
[Further explored 1987 onwards; one of the biggest caves of the area. See Proc 13 and various expedition reports]


Pitch              Rope                  Belays                           
12m                15m                   Natural for traverse over loose  
                                         boulders then two bolts          
39m                40m                   2 bolts                          

Cave 3/7 lies roughly 200m from 2/7, further along the ridge away from Ario and slightly lower. It is very near the lowest part of the ridge at the head of an obvious gully.

The entrance is an open shaft 9m by 3m. A snow plug is visible about 20m down, probably on a ledge. Stones thrown over this took between five and twelve seconds to hit the bottom, hitting the sides several times on the way.

Cave 4/7 is situated near 3/7 slightly higher and further along the ridge in a shallow depression filled with rocks. Clearing away the rocks from against the wall in one corner revealed a small chamber just below the surface. In the floor of this small chamber is a rift, probably easily climbable averaging about 0.5m wide and 7m deep. Stones dropped down the rift apparently hit a stony floor,

Cave 5/7 lies on the opposite side of a large depression from Jultayu, almost up to a small col. All the rocks in this vicinity were very broken or fragile. A climb down through very large boulders leads to a shaft 25m deep with a cool draught. Stones thrown in hit the bottom in 2 seconds and don't continue.

Cave 6/7 is an open rift near the bottom of a depression surrounded by collapses. The rift is 8m deep to a massive snow plug, but it is just possible that a way on could be found from the deeper (downslope) end of the rift with a bit of snow clearing.

Area 8

Top : Area 5 : Area 6 : Area 7 : Area 9

Area 8 was arbitrarily designated as the area opposite El Xitu on the other side of the valley (see map).

Cave 1/8, Pozu del Canalizos.

This cave had previously been explored by the SIE but OUCC decided to look at it to investigate the side passages noted branching off part of the way down the shaft. No significant passages were found.

Cave 2/8 lies 50m to 70m above 1/8 and is a large, obvious rift somewhat less obviously choked at the bottom.

Cave 3/8 lies 40 to 60m above 1/8 and has a large, obvious entrance with a short, descending passage to a choked rift.

Cave 4/8 is a fairly small hole in the lowest corner of a large shakehole. Its 10m entrance pitch remains undescended due to a lack of ladder.

Cave 5/8 is an obvious entrance with snow in which chokes with boulders almost at once.

Cave 6/8 is a 20m shaft with snow at the bottom. Bottomed by the SIE in 1980.

Area 9

Top : Area 5 : Area 6 : Area 7 : Area 8

Area 9 was chosen as the next valley along from area 8 in the direction of the Cares gorge. Many unmarked stone-filled shakeholes litter the area.

Cave 1/9 is a large shakehole in the middle of the valley. A way on through boulders leads to a pitch 5m long landing on a snow plug. A way on may just be possible.

Cave 2/9 is a huge cavern visible from just about everywhere on the slope heading to the main ridge of the Picos de Cornion with a huge snow plug in the bottom. No visible ways on but who knows! It is known as La Jayada and is a good landmark to aim for when walking to El Joon.

Cave 3/9 was numbered 28/5 until explorers of areas 8 and 9 "rediscovered" it. The entrance lies 100m to the left of 2/9 roughly 200m above El Xitu. A 20m ladder belayed to a huge boulder forms a useful aid on the (10m) scramble down to the head of the first pitch (10m) which can be descended on the rest of the ladder to a snow covered ledge. A 25m pitch (care needed at the top due to unstable ledge) drops into a huge rift filled with snow. Nasty 10cm wide holes down the sides of the snow plug go a long way so that the plug may be wedged in a large shaft. Ooerr!


Pitch            Rope                Belays                     
10m              20m ladder          Long belay round large boulder   
25m              26m                 2 bolts             

Top : Area 5 : Area 6 : Area 7 : Area 8 : Area 9