OUCC Proceedings 11 (1983)

Smaller caves investigated in 1982-3

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Helen Kay and William Stead


A wide area was covered in the two expeditions: the article that follows deals only with the more notable finds. Small obviously-blocked entrances are not dealt with and only those caves which otherwise might absorb some considerable time of a future expedition are described. For ease of reference the area was divided in into five regions, the area around Ario (/5) (Stead, 1982) and areas B to F higher up in the mountains around La Verdelluenga. All OUCC caves are clearly marked at the entrance with OUCC and the code number, all co-ordinates given are with respect to Madrid, and all mountain names are from the Lueje map. Good hunting!

See updates in OUCC Proceedings 12: Ario area; Top Camp area and 13: Ario area; Top Camp area


Stead, W J, 1982. Small caves in the Ario area, Proceedings Oxford University Cave Club 10, 24-33.

Ario area

3/5 Pozu de los Caracoles

Location: 43° 14'05'' N, 11° 03'55'' W.

The entrance lies about 2 m to the right of the path from Ario to Trea and almost directly above the Teresa series in Pozu del Xitu (Singleton and Naylor, 1982). The cave was noted by the SIE in the early 1970s and explored intermittently by OUCC in 1979, 80, 81 and 83 (Singleton and Thwaites, 1979; Stead, 1982). In 1983, there were also signs of a recent exploration by the SIE. As a whole, the cave is small, awkward and steeply sloping and is more typical of Yorkshire than Spain.

The entrance itself is a small pit from which a sharply descending narrow rift leads off (climbs 1.5 m, 2 m). The floor here consists of small stones which, when dislodged, rattle down the first pitch (care!), called Skittle Alley. Just before the pitch head, the rift widens whilst still descending steeply, and the pitch itself is an easy 8 m descent into a small chamber. The way on consists of a very tight, descending rift in the far wall, called Bull's Eye Squeeze because it is the target for stones dislodged in the entrance. At the far end is a 2 m climb, after which the cave widens, followed by a 6 m chossy climb and the second pitch.

The second pitch is a large shaft, 12 m deep, descended on SRT with a rub point 5 m below the belay. From the bottom chamber, two tight canyons lead off which, however, quickly rejoin to form a snake-like grovel. The left-hand canyon is usually reckoned to be less tight and is called The Squirm. Below the grovel, a too-tight passage leads of to the right, whereas straight on lies a tight squeeze which opens out at the head of the third pitch (5 m ladder, bolt).

At the foot of this pitch, the cave opens out, so that it is actually possible to walk upright, and a couple of short climbs (2 m, 2 m) are descended. The first of these was originally covered in moon-milk and is called Slimy Ellis. A handline is unnecessary as there is one good foothold and one handhold.

Passing over a tight trench in the floor, which connects further down the cave, the passage closes in to give two more climbs with tight tops and large bottoms (5 m, 3 m, 2 m). At the foot of the last of these the connection with the tight trench enters from above. The way on is a narrow rift which soon leads to the short fourth pitch (5 m ladder, bolt, spreader). The pitch is climbable with care. The ladder lands in a shallow pool in a small chamber with water flowing in over some formations on the opposite wall. A crawl under the drips leads straight into the fifth pitch. This is another substantial shaft, 12 m deep, called Non Deficiam because the bolt at its head is in calcite and needs replacing. At the foot of the pitch is a 2 m climb where the cave splits into two (the Parting of the Ways). The surveyed route goes back under the climb and descends to the sixth pitch. Alternatively, one can continue in the original direction, going through a small hole in the wall to reach a series of loose climbs ending in a pitch. Time did not permit descent of this pitch.

The sixth pitch is 10 m deep with a very awkward, tight take-of and lands in a small chamber. The way on bends down to the right and is a sharply descending small passage leading to a very short cross-rift sloping downward at 70° . The rift is an easy 7 m climb and leads immediately to the seventh pitch which consists of a 2 m vertical squeeze followed by a 5 m ladder belayed on to a very small projection. The ladder lands in a small pool in the final chamber which marks the limit of SIE exploration and the present survey.

On the far side of the chamber lies a tight rift which quickly becomes tighter. One member of the party, using a hammer, managed to get through this rift to an 8 m climb and a chamber from which the passage continues. It is possible that the other route may rejoin this passage, bypassing the rift.


The list below gives tackle actually used: however all pitches are suitable for ladders with self-lines. The bolt on the fifth pitch needs replacing.

Pitch 	Name 		Rope 		Belays
8 m 	Skittle Alley 	10 m ladder 	bolt, spreader
12 m 	second 		15 m rope 	long wire belay, sling, rope protector
5 m 	third 		5 m ladder 	bolt, spreader
4 m 	fourth 		5 m ladder 	bolt, spreader
12 m 	Non Deficiam 	15 m rope 	Bolt, long sling, rope protector
10 m 	sixth 		15 m rope 	2 bolts
5 m 	seventh 	5 m ladder 	short wire belay


Singleton, J and Naylor, G A, 1982. Xitu, the Cave. Proceedings Oxford University Cave Club 10, 8-20.
Singleton, J and Thwaites, D, 1979. Small caves near Ario. Proceedings Oxford University Cave Club 9, 22-24.
Stead, W J, 1982. Small caves in the Ario area, Proceedings Oxford University Cave Club 10, 24-33.

30/5 Pozu Optimisto

Location 43° 14'48'' N, 1° 14'41'' W

The entrance is very difficult to find in the mist and consists of an obvious shaft about 20 m deep. 2 bolts have been located at the lower end to give hang into a sizeable chamber with a snowplug. An obvious passage at the far end merely leads to an aven, whereas the way on is a crawl leading to a maze of tight, steeply sloping passages (the Corkscrew). This emerges into a wide rift with a blind hole in the floor and a small passage, off to the left, leading nowhere. At the far end is a blind shaft 24 m deep. The way on consists of an awkward traverse round the left-hand side, making use of a large boulder (the Boulder Step).

In the new passage, an attractive flowstone cascade lies straight ahead, but the way on lies to the right through a squeeze to a 3 m climb with moon-milk walls, emerging in a gently sloping passage with a boulder floor, which quickly gets larger. To the left of the largest part of the passage is a small, blind 7 m shaft.

After this, the passage rises and gets much smaller, leading through a squeeze and several twists to a climb and the head of the next pitch, Huning's Horror. This pitch is 11 m long and emerges into a large rift, landing on a small shelf, with a bold step over the rift 7 m deep. A further 2 m climb leads on through a huge sharply dropping rift whose floor consists of enormous boulders. A climb round small blind pot to a level floor leads to the head of the next pitch, which has of a formidable squeeze at its head and is known as the Oubliette.

The pitch lands in a large chamber with water flowing in. An obvious passage leads nowhere, and the way on consists of a tight crawl, which twists and turns, the latter part of which is filled with glutinous mud (Unclean, Unclean!). At the end is a 16 m pitch (Leper's leap), which lands in a small pool. An obvious rift leads on and soon becomes too tight to follow. The depth gained after this epic turns out to be a paltry 102 metres.

[further exploration: 1993]


Pitch 	Name 		Rope 		Belays
19 m 	Entrance 	25 m rope 	2 bolts
24 m 	Blind pot 	26 m rope 	2 long tapes *
7 m 	Blind pot 	8 m rope 	2 long tapes *
11 m 	Huning's Horror 11 m ladder 	long wire
13 m 	Hywel's Hole 	15 m rope 	2 long tapes *
	(blind pot) 
7 m 	Blind pot 	8 m rope 	wire and tape *
10 m 	The Oubliette 	2 m rope 	short wire and tape
16 m 	Leper's Leap 	20 m rope 	1 bolt, one long tape
*-padding needed

Area B

B1 Bara Shigri

Location: 43° 13'49.3'' N, 1° 14'54.5'' W

The cave is close to the large, very visible, collapsed cave of La Jayada (cave 2/9), and consists largely of an extensive flat entrance chamber. The chamber has unfortunately been used as a sheep shelter, and so a trip into the horizontal crawls at the back tends to be a messy business. Unfortunately, the crawls choke.

Tackle: none required.

Cave B2

Location 43° 13'58.8'' N, 1° 14'49.1'' W

A small entrance in the bottom of a boulder-filled valley 500 m to the north of La Jayada opens on to a 10 m pitch. The cave chokes at the base of this.

Tackle: 10 m ladder, long wire to boulders

Area C

C3 Sima Verdelluenga

Location: 43° 13'41'' N, 1° 15'07'' W

The entrance is a superb shaft about halfway between Boca El Joon and La Verdelluenga best found by walking uphill from la Jayada until you are at the following bearings (1982 magnetic): 67.5° to Cabeza Llambria, 94.5° to Cuvicente, and 55.5° to El Regallon. A quick scout around just below the ridge on the Ario side should then reveal a 10 m x 4 m cleft containing the shaft mouth, just below a small subsidiary ridge. The entrance shaft is best taken in several stages: a 14 m first section rigged to a bolt and a natural to form a Y belay, a double knot rebelay 14 m down, a further single bolt rebelay 6 m below that and a small ledge 7 more metres further down. 2 bolts placed on the opposite wall from the small ledge give a nice 17 m hang down to a single bolt rebelay. The final stage of the shaft, which is by now distinctly drippy, is a 24 m hang split by a final bolt 8 m from the bottom. The entrance shaft lands in a decent sized trench which soon narrows sufficiently for a lump hammer to have been used on the initial pushing trip. A squeeze (Manx Manoeuvre) leads to an 8 m ladder pitch and two 2 m climbs. A final 24 m pitch drops into a large boulder chamber, from which no way on was found.


Pitch 	Name 		Rope 		Belays
14m 	Entrance 	75 m 		1 bolt, long tape
6 m 	   " 	 " 	2 bolts
7 m 	   " 	 " 	1 bolt
17 m 	   " 	 " 	2 bolts
16 m 	   " 	 " 	1 bolt
8 m 	   " 	 " 	1 bolt
8 m 	   " 	 " 	1 bolt
8 m 			10 m ladder 		medium wire belay
24 m The Huning-Naylor 	26 m 		2 bolts
C4 Playschool Pot

Location 43° 13'40'' N, 1° 15'10'' W

The entrance is at the same attitude as C3, further over on the ridge towards La Verdelluenga. A subsidiary spur of the mountain meets and crosses the ridge, and in the fold between is the rock-filled pit containing the C4 entrance.

A 10 metre deep shaft at the western end of the pit can be easily descended, with the help of a 5 m ladder, to a boulder floor with a small, feet-first crawl leading from it. The crawl degenerates into a chossy 10 m deep blind pot; however, about 4 m down, a window in the right hand wall gives access to a spacious shaft. A 15 m pitch from the window lands on a ledge of wedged boulders, from which is reached the fourth pitch, Alvaro's Leap (P 15 m), which has to be split at a ledge 4 m down for a free hang. At the base of Alvaro's Leap is a section of dangerously loose, boulder-floored vadose passage leading down to the edge of an unstable slope over a large drop. The way round this is to traverses to the right with the aid of a line to a large knob (the Parrot's Beak), where a convenient bolt has been placed in the wall for the other end of the line. Just beyond the Beak is a large ledge from which Space, the Final Frontier (P 39 m) can be rigged. To help avoid rub points, there are two bolts placed 6 m below the ledge. The chamber into which one has dropped, Chamber of the Dark Sound, is very impressive and contains three possible routes on. In the direction of the entrance, a small stream trickles down a 4 m deep slot, which can be descended with the aid of a short ladder to a point where it chokes; just behind the pitch foot a vadose passage quickly becomes too tight; however the way on is to climb up 5 m on to a ledge just to the left of the trench. From the ledge, a narrow cleft leads to a short scramble up into a boulder chamber, and at the far and of this a small hole in the floor marks the head of the next pitch. This pitch (P 12 m) never hangs free of the walls and can only be laddered; it lands in a 2.5 m wide vadose passage. To one side the passage rapidly becomes too tight; to the other it drops down to climbs of two and four metres before degenerating into a narrow impenetrable cleft. It is galling that a cave which shows great potential higher up fizzles out in such a frustrating manner.


Pitch 	Name 		Rope 		Belays
10 m 	Entrance 	5 m ladder 	long wire to massive rock
			as aid 
10 m 	Riley's Horror 	10 m ladder 	long wire to flake
15 m 	Window 		16 m rope 	1 bolt and thread
15 m 	Alvaro's Leap 	18 m rope 	2 long wires to boulders; 
					2 long tapes for rebelay 4 m further down
	Traverse 	10 m rope 	1 tape to big flake; one bolt
39 m 	Space, 		43 m rope 	1 bolt and 1 piton in big crack; 
	the Final Frontier 		2 bolts 6 m down
12 m 			12 m ladder 	long wire to massive block

Area D

Cave D1

Location 43° 13'40'' N, 1° 15'22'' W

The cave consists of a 35 m deep shaft, containing two natural bridges, and two small chambers, the total depth being about 40 metres. The pitch opens on to the first small chamber (named Sala de la Ropa Incontinenta del Gome) and the way on continues through a small crawl which widens into another small but choked chamber. The shaft is rigged via a natural belay with a 15 m ladder on to the second natural bridge, and a 20 m ladder is required together with a bolt and thread belay for the second pitch. .

Tackle: 15 m ladder, long wire to flake; 20 m ladder,1 bolt & long wire to thread

Area E

Cave E1

Location 43° 13'33'' N, 1° 15'15'' W

A 10 metre deep shaft, at an altitude of around 1960 m on a direct line between Pico Gustuteru and La Verdelluenga. Even in 1982 it was completely blocked by snow.

Tackle: 10 m ladder, long wire round large rock

Cave E2

Location 43° 13'29'' N, 1° 15'15'' W

Around 100 m to the south of E1 is an obvious entrance which degenerates into a tight rift pitch. The pitch opens out into a very loose chamber. The only way on is (guess what?) blocked with snow.

Tackle:15 m ladder, long wire to largest rock in vicinity

Cave E3

Location 43° 13'27'' N, 1° 15'17'' W

E3 consists of a small hole in a dolomitised area below the summit of La Verdelluenga. As an illustration of the difference in resistance between the coarse-grained dolomite and the surrounding Carboniferous limestone this cave was dug to a depth of 3 metres in less than five minutes whereas it takes half an hour to put a bolt into the limestone.

Tackle: none required.

Cave E4

Location 43° 14'00'' N, 1° 14'35'' W

This cave is just to one side of the red-marked path to the Vega Seca, and consists of a 12 metre pitch down to a crawl, to two loose climbs. The way on rapidly becomes too tight.

Tackle: 15 m ladder, long wire

Area F

Area F is the region around the top campsite between La Verdelluenga and Pica la Jorcada.

F 1 Cliff Rift Hard

Location 43° 13'15''N, 1° 15'25''W

Located on the flanks of Punta Gregoriana and plainly visible from Pozu Jorcada Blanca, Cliff Rift Hard is a splendid rift in the side of a cliff. The single 20 m entrance pitch lands on the inevitable snow plug.

Tackle: 22 m rope, 2 long tapes to naturals

Cave F2

see Pozu Jorcada Blanca.

F6 Pozu Paso Doble

Location 43° 13'35''N, 1° 16'00''W

Located approx 500 m west of Pozu Jorcada Blanca, the entrance to Pozu Paso Doble is an obvious feature at the base of a cliff formed in a distinctive bed of dolomitised limestone. The cave was investigated first by Steve Mayers, and subsequently by the survey party. The entrance passages to the cave appear to follow the bedding steeply down-dip until the main chamber is reached. Much of this section of the cave is extremely unstable, the "floor" consisting largely of massive breakdown blocks derived from the ceiling. In fact, even during the brief time spent in the cave, we contrived to rearrange several of these blocks in an attempt to hasten the process of cave collapse. Despite the widespread evidence of collapse, however, the phreatic origin of the entrance passages can still be seen in the form of occasional solutional avens which remain preserved in the roof of the passage.

From the main chamber, there are three routes on. Directly ahead, a short passage leads to the top of a promising-looking 22 m pitch. Unfortunately, as so often in the high-altitude karst of the Picos de Cornion, the shaft is developed along thinly and near-vertically bedded, very friable, dolomitised limestone, with the result that not only is the pitch very unstable, requiring considerable gardening during the first descent, but also all routes on at the bottom are choked by breakdown.

Back in the main chamber, an interesting ladder climb leads down the boulder pile to the head of a short 6 m shaft. Although this turns out to be blind, a short traverse around the top of the shaft leads to a narrow meandering passage which can be followed upstream to a pair of active inlets which are too tight. A climb up above the stream leads to the top of the vadose trench, where remnants exist of what appears to be the early, phreatic stage of passage development. Vadose incision here has been of the order of 16 m. Following this a route brings one out overlooking and high up in the main chamber, although unfortunately once again with no route on.


Pitch 	Name 	 	Rope 		Belays
30 m 	Main 		30 m ladder 	3 m wire
5 m 	Boulder Pile 	5 m ladder 	3 m wire
Traverse over blind shaft 		10 m hand-line

F7 Pozu los Perdices

Location 43° 13'35 ''N, 1° 15'50''W

Like so many caves in the Picos, Perdices is likely to prove difficult to find even for those equipped with a suitable map, compass and description. The three entrances to the system, painted F7a, b and c, are found about 150 m lower than Pozu Jorcada Blanca (50 m below top camp). From top camp, follow the grassy valley down towards the large scree-filled closed depression. Half-way down, traverse left for about 150 m, until on a line between Jorcada Blanca and the closed depression. If this description works, you should be standing by one of the entrances, which are all within 40 m of each other on a limestone pavement dipping at about 20° .

The most obvious entrance is F7a (Glass Sword), a 3 m wide rift which descends steeply down a snow slope requiring 15 m of ladder. A short but awkward snow and ice bank then almost block the entrance to the spectacularly-decorated ice flier chamber. At the base of the chamber is a 2 m deep ice-choked shaft. (the rift continues upwards over ice flows and awkward climbing manoeuvres to meet the bottom of the entrance climb in F7b.) Although this chamber cannot be regarded as the "normal" route into the rest of the cave, the ice curtains, stal and clear ice flows are well worth a visit. In addition, for those interested in "bugs", we saw hundreds of flies, about 1 cm across, spreadeagled on the ice at the bottom of the chamber, which receives no daylight.

Topofail (F7b) entrance, like Glass Sword, could easily become blocked by snow. The 3 m square shaft is free-climbable, with care, past the snowplug to a ledge 4 m below the surface. The entrance was so named due to the untimely demise of our Topofil; our 7 m survey leg registered 6 cm! The ledge leads to a descending rift over snow, best traversed, joining the routes from F7c before reaching an eye-hole squeeze at the base of the rift.

F7c has a tunnel entrance to a 5 m pitch and should remain clear of snow even in the worst winter. The route here forks, and forks again... Three of us descended at different times and followed routes which may or may not be the same. Two routes into the Topofail rift were discovered, one entering directly at the top of the rift, and another entering near the top via a crawl along a horizontal 1 m diameter phreatic tube. F7c is an area of interconnected shattered rifts, mostly tight, and was only partially explored.

Back on the main route, the eye-hole squeeze emerges to a thin rift with anti-tackle-bag constrictions. At the end of the rift, the cave suddenly enlarges into an impressive pitch, with an enticing (upward) draught. Natural thread belays and a deviation gives a free-hanging 13 m drop in a widening rift on to a ledge.

This is where the excitement starts! To the right, facing out, is Achilles rift, an undescended huge rift where thrown stones fall for four seconds with many bounces. The reasons why we went the other way were the absence of natural belays in the smooth solid rock and the obvious absence of an easy hang; well, all right, we weakened.

In the other direction, the rope-assisted climb down followed by a traverse leads to a further rift climb, the Executioner. Exciting when free-climbed without a handline, the Executioner is 15 m deep and lands in a narrow (75 cm) twisting abandoned stream-bed. Just "downstream" of the landing is the Howler.

The draught emerging from the small hole leading down to the squeeze and pitch immediately below is strong and cold and the pitch head is not a good spot to wait around. Fortunately the Howler has a superb set of natural belays. As the 6 m upper section of the Howler is tight, it would probably best be rigged with a ladder and fixed line to avoid rope abrasion. Once past this section, SRT or ladder could be used for the inclined 19 m drop in the rift. At this point one gets the distinct feeling of having found something of note. A large though inactive inlet, and an aven above with roof out of sight created less impression than the disappearance of the rift both outwards and below one's feet beyond the reach of our lights. The next 36 m free-hanging drop in the rift, obelisk, is again hung from a convenient solid flake, with a tiny but perfectly positioned ledge providing an easy change-over. This drop passes more inactive inlets, and lands on another ledge, with the rift continuing outwards and around a corner with a width of 4 m. This is as far as we got. Downwards a further small ledge can be seen some 15 m down, with the drop continuing past.

Since we were due to pack up our camp and leave the following day, and all our remaining carbide was in our generators (and we'd all but run out of rope), we had to satisfy ourselves with throwing stones. This is recommended, except for those of nervous disposition! They fall for six seconds, with two bounces early in their flight.

From the survey, Obelisk is probably independent of Achilles. Hence there will be several routes to explore next year.

Tackle (*=optional)

Pitch 	Name 		Rope 		Belays
15 m * 	Glass Sword 	15 m ladder 	long wire, long tape to flakes
			16 m rope 
5 m * 			5 m ladder 	long wire
13 m 			15 m rope 	medium wire and tape to threads, 
					2 m tape for deviation
	Climb and 	25 m handline 	tied to flake
	Executioner rift 
25 m 	The Howler 	27 m rope 	short tape, short wire
36 m 	Obelisk 	38 m rope 	short tapes to flake