Oxford University Cave Club
Proceedings 10 : "Pozu del Xitu"
|OUCC Proc 10 Contents
by Skippy (Chris Ankcorn)
One sunny afternoon, after one of his recce trips to the south, Tony came bounding into the refugio with a look of evil glee on his face, announcing that he had found a massive, open shaft down which rocks seemed to rattle for at least five minutes. The shaft had a bend at about -60m so you couldn't lob things directly down it, and also had the distinction of a tree growing out of the side of it, trees being somewhat rare at this altitude. Because the entrance looked a bit like Mere Ghyll, that's what it was called from then on.
On the following two days Keith, Roo, Jim and John Fowler rigged pitches down one side of it, the shape of the shaft being such that lots of bolt changeovers were necessary. Jim, who likes doing nothing better than making a simple rig complex, was in his element with plenty of scope for knocking in hundreds of bolts and devising the most awkward changeovers he could. The result was pitches of approximately 14m, 14m, 10m, 15m, 14m, and 7m to a small ledge overlooking a big drop. Jim and John spent a happy hour attempting to shorten the shaft by lobbing rocks down it, returning with news of a six second drop.
Unfortunately the weather turned misty and Keith was the only one who knew where Mere Ghyll was. However, after walking round in circles for an hour or two we accidentally stumbled across the entrance and got geared up. Keith was by now in a sulky mood as Dave and I had been making the odd slight criticism of his navigational abilities.
Because there was lots of loose rock about, we each abseiled down to the ledge before the next one followed down the series of pitches. On arrival at the ledge Keith set to finishing the rigging of the big pitch. Because we had no really long lengths of rope available, we tied together a 90m, 60m and a 30m rope, making a total of 180m which we hoped would be sufficient for a 6 second drop.
Dave and I waited on the small ledge whilst Keith tied on the 30m rope we had brought with us, as there was only room for one at the belay.
Because Keith had pushed most of the shaft so far, we unselfishly insisted that he descend it first.
It became apparent that Keith was getting a little psyched up over this, and after spending an hour rigging the pitch with secondary, tertiary and quaternary back-ups, he spent another 30 minutes adjusting and checking things whilst we stood shivering on the ledge, passing helpful comments like "For Christ's sake hurry up" and "I don't think this rope's going to be long enough".
At last he clipped his rack onto the rope, but this was only a prelude to another 15 minutes of alterations and adjustments. By now we were blue with cold, and after threatening to castrate Keith and throw him down if he didn't get on with it, he was finally ready.
We agreed a complex whistle code so we would know what was happening: 1 blast for the first knot, 2 for the second, 3 for I'm at the bottom, follow me, 4 for I'm at the bottom, don't follow me, 5 for I'm coming back up etc., etc.
Keith disappeared slowly into the void. We couldn't see much from our precarious position on the ledge, and shivered for another 15 long minutes. "ARE..... YOU..... O..... K.....?" (faintly) "YEEEEES!" "Well what the bloody hell are you pissing about so much for then?" we thought.
At long last came 1 blast on the whistle. 10 minutes later, 2 quieter blasts. We waited eagerly for a further 10 minutes. By now he had been on the rope for 35 minutes.
I was shivering so violently that I nearly fell down the pitch twice. We discussed what might have gone wrong. Finally Dave peered down the pitch, and with a shout more devastating than curried beans, bellowed down the abyss: "IS..... THE..... ROPE..... LONG..... ENOUGH.....?" Back came a very faint reply, tinged with a note of paranoia: "NOOOOO!"
Dave and I looked at each other. "Serve the sod right for making us wait so long" he said. "Glad we let him go down first" I said.
We waited impatiently while Keith prusiked back up to communication distance, when he told us what kept him so long. He had abseiled past a minor rub point 70m down, then decided to prusik back up to it and insert a rope protector, taking a long time to decide whether or not it was in the right place before continuing his abseil. Managing to stop before the end of the bottom rope, he said he had dropped something down the pitch and estimated a further 70m to the bottom. He didn't say exactly what it was he had dropped. We got quite excited now. The total depth of the whole shaft must be over 300m! Must be the deepest single shaft in Europe!
I prusiked out, desperate to warm up after doing 3 hours' hypothermia research on that tiny ledge. Dave and Keith followed quickly, knowing we had left some food at the entrance. and having no trust in my integrity. We discussed plans to chuck yet more rope down this shaft and jubilantly returned to the refugio, only getting lost a couple of times on the way. Back there we received the sad news that the Spaniards had bottomed the place last year, it ending in a boulder choke. We had seen no evidence of their descent as they had chosen a route down the other side of the shaft. Disappointedly we drowned our sorrows.
Still, it could have been worse. Be interesting if it had been a wet pitch...
(The pot which we called Mere Ghyll and then Sima Katalina (after a Mrs. K. Senior had moaned about not having anything named after her after three years) was in fact Pozu Tras La Jayada, the second deepest shaft in Europe. It is approximately 306m deep so that Keith would have probably made the bottom with another 50m of rope!)
Puch, C. El Topo Loco, Las Grandes Cavidades Espaņolas, p. 207.