OUCC Proceedings 11 (1983)


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The 1982 and 1983 OUCC Expeditions
to the Picos de Cornion, Northern Spain

John Singleton

In 1982, the club was faced with a problem: the area around the well-established top camp at the Refugio MVA, Ario, used since 1979, was almost worked out. Around 40 or so shafts had been logged, none of which had gone very deep, with the exception of Pozu del Xitu (Singleton, 1982), and so it was necessary to move on to some other area. There were a variety of suggestions, some more radical than others, including moving to another massif in the Picos or abandoning Spain in favour of Turkey. In the end, access problems in Spain and considerations of time involved in organising an expedition to a country which none of us had visited ruled out the above two suggestions, and the third, and in my opinion most sensible option, of staying in the same area and moving higher into the mountains, was adopted.

At the beginning of July 1982, a top camp was set up at the Refugio MVA, Ario, and a trail of cairns was laid along a bearing of 210 degrees to la Jayada, a massive cave entrance visible from just about everywhere in the Picos, where a tent full of gear was left. La Jayada was to be the initial base for exploring the high basin known as El Joon: the tent was an hour's scramble from Ario and sufficiently isolated to stop anyone getting at the gear, or so we thought! After a week, 75 metres of rope had been stolen and so we started to hide the tackle in convenient cave entrances.

The first two weeks were very productive: many shafts were examined and two of the most important of the smaller caves, C3 and C4, were found in that period.

By around the 20th July, cave exploration, rather than discovery, was starting in earnest: but by the end of the month the three most promising caves and ended disappointingly at depths of around 120 m.

The team was quite demoralised as the three caves had all show great promise. Only one obvious lead remained open: F2, a partially snow-filled shaft right at the limit of our search area. For once, the weather actually aided as, as the 1982 winter had been exceptionally mild, leaving shafts which were normally blocked with snow, free. Had we found F2 in its 1983 condition, it is very likely that the cave would have joined C1, C2 and many more as "choked with snow".

The first ten days of August saw some frantic activity as the exploration of F2, or FU56 as it became known, started. The cave was just too far to be pushed from Ario - gone are the days when OUCC 'ard men would walk for two hours from Los Lagos to Pozu de la Vega el Forcau, get changed, go caving for 14 hours and then walk home again - and so a camp was established on the only piece of level grass between la Verdelluenga and Pica la Jorcada, five minutes from the cave. Water supply is always a problem at this particular site. In 1982, we were reduced to using snow from a snow field below los Tiros, while in 1983, a seasonal spring five minutes walk in the direction of Vega de Aliseda was dammed to produce ten litres an hour.

The story of the rest of the 1982 expedition is well known from articles published in Caves and Caving (Singleton, 1982) and Descent (Rose, 1983): on the evening of the 14th August, virtually all the expeditions gear had been taken into the cave and then out again. The depth of the cave was just over 520 metres, and we were triumphantly stuffing ourselves with fabada back down at the Refugio.

The 1983 expedition did not start off quite as well. In 1982 we had bought the old University Ford Transit minibus and after its performance and reliability, we felt justified in buying another. Unfortunately its 1983 sister was not quite of the same standard and ended up on its side in a ditch near Bordeaux. As a result, two expedition members were briefly detained in hospital and there was yet more delay whilst bits for the battered van were sought. On arrival in Spain, the shaft of FU56, or Pozu Jorcada Blanca as it by now had become known, was found to be blocked with snow. The top campsite just above the Vega de Aliseda was re-established - it seems to be a good base for future expeditions - and snow digging commenced. In fact, only two and a half days' digging were necessary to break through the blockage. Around a week and a half later the cave had ended, at a disappointing depth of 590 m (Singleton and Gale, 1983).

The passage discovered in 1993 is some of the hardest in the cave: however, most of it is streamway and gains little depth. Many attempts to climb above the stream, or to dig to find a sump bypass were made, especially around the Pleasure Dome and Desperation Dig, but all were to no avail. The cave was surveyed, photographed, studied and de-rigged, leaving just over a week of the expedition for the remaining eight cavers to find and explore some possible objectives for the 1984 expedition. They set to work like maniacs, and as a result two caves, 8/5 and Pozu los Perdices, are wide open at depths of around 120 m, with lots of potential. The two expeditions, 1982 and 1983, show what Spanish caving is all about. You must take the rough with the smooth: after all, it took OUCC 20 years to hit its first 1100 m deep pot. I for one am very satisfied with a 590 m deep system and some promising caves left for the 1984 expedition.