OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)

Pozu la Cistra (12/5): Description

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by Steve Roberts


1° 13'48"W, 43° 14'08"N; (1.00 km from Xitu (1/6) entrance, on bearing 123° )
Altitude 1578m
Depth : 597m (as surveyed) : 602m (after loop-closure to Xitu; 1.05% error)
Surveyed length: 1630m


The entrance is to the left of the path up to Jultayu, about halfway between the Trea path and where it starts to ascend. Over the lip of the slope down towards the gorge is a 2m oval hole. There is a flat area nearby suitable for changing or admiring the sunrise/set.

A 4m climb lands in a small chamber with daylight visible through the rift in one side. A slot in the floor is the head of the first pitch, for which a ladder can be rigged to numerous flakes. This lands in a chamber with a few boulders, and another hole leads to the second pitch (bolt belay). This lands in a small rift, from which climbs up lead to some small chambers with formations, and some grovel/climbs down lead to a slot in the floor ('the Newt').

In 1981 this was noted on the sketch survey as 'to Xitu ?? 8 second drop'. A large amount of effort was devoted to hammering the slot, which eventually became easily passable on the way down, abseiling with descender attached to cowstail, and with most gear off or loose. The return involves a degree of deshabile dependent on stature - some people (i.e. Rose senior) found removal of oversuit necessary. Luckily, 4m below the vertical squeeze is a large(ish) ledge on which one can gear up fully before continuing the descent.

The next pitch ('Oasthouse', 30m) follows immediately from the ledge, and needs a deviation approx 10m down. The chamber at the base of the pitch serves as a collecting point for articles of clothing, etc., let slip in 'the Newt'. An obvious small hole is at the head of a short and mildly awkward drop (handline) and climb to the head of 'Owl pitch'. This descends past several spiky ledges, with the amazingly owl-like formation on one, into 'Chaos Chamber', where many stages of collapse, infill and flushing out are obvious even to the untutored eye. From here, a short series of climbs and grovels leads to the head of 'Milliways'. Above the head of the pitch, several traverse/climb routes are possible, going nowhere in particular. The pitch has a short broken section to a rebelay, then a 15m drop into a junction of two rift passages.

Upstream of the junction, one inlet leads immediately up a short climb to an aven, and the other up a rift climb and twisty traverse into the well decorated phreatic 'La Prevista de Santa Dominico'. Downstream, a narrow twisty section of active streamway leads to a short ladder pitch through a window. This is followed by a rubble slope (handline), leading to a 5m drop (ladder) into a moderate-sized chamber. Scrambling down the rocks under the wall leads to a very short section of pleasant grey streamway. This is followed by a rather longer section of less pleasant streamway developed in a spiky rift. The worst part of this section ('Thatcher') involves grovelling in water with various bits of gear caught on projections, followed by a short wet climb. It can supposedly be bypassed ('the 1985 election'), but I for one never found any alternative. A traverse leads to the head of a 10m ladder pitch, which passes a ledge with good mud formations, into a boulder-floored chamber.

Climbing up the boulder slope leads to the head of 'the Armadillo'. Above the pitch head are piled large numbers of ill-balanced rocks, which may have dropped from the equally unstable-looking roof high above. A 15m drop lands on a ledge of jammed boulders, which have a disturbing tendency to settle if stood on (and you can't avoid standing on them...). The main section of the pitch is in a fine shaft, and uses a wide deviation to avoid the water, rather pointlessly as you are soaked through anyway by this stage. The landing is in a wide rift by a large pool. A section of rift streamway, with a marbled floor (luxury!) follows, leading to a short rope pitch ('Shaven Hedgehog'). More streamway, with fine veining, leads past B.E.G.G. Aven ("Bloody 'ell! Good God!!"), to two short ladder pitches. These each land by a deep pool, in which it is easy to lose tackle bags, especially if you hurl them cheerfully from the pitch head. It is however possible to fish out bags using a rack on the end of a cowstail; the frustration involved in this procedure is rather like that generated by those crane things in glass cases they used to have at fairgrounds when I were a lad.

At this point, the cave becomes more vertical, with a succession of fine damp pitches landing in wide pools, connected by marbled streamway. Camshaft (21m) is followed by Gesellshaft (18m) and then Thompson's Gesellshaft (37m, rebelayed halfway). Just before Thompson's is a short climb down a steeply sloping rock shelf - a handline is useful as the rock is very crumbly (hence the name 'premature ejaculation' - keeps coming off in your hand). At the base of the shaft, the streamway runs off from the inevitable wide deep pool down a 1m wide canyon cut into a series of broad ascending ledges. Following the stream leads quickly to the next pitch (Eddie Shah), where the rock changes from the pleasant greenish limestone of the upper streamway to rather crumbly dolomitised junk. Finding a good belay proved rather difficult. A wet descent onto a jagged sloping floor leads into a low, twisty series of canals, followed by a 15m climb down with the stream. Two rather broken short and wet pitches follow (Grand and Petit Mal), with brown and broken rift streamway between.

The next pitch is Hammersmith Palais, so called because of the amazing rock bands it contains. A foot-trapping crabwalk leads off from the base of the pitch, ending in a small bouldery chamber with.... another short wet pitch. It comes as no surprise to find this is followed by more rift streamway and yet another wet, broken, vertical unpleasantness, rather longer and wetter than the earlier ones. All quite refreshing, really. The next pitch rejoices in the name of 'the Icing on the Cake', as the takeoff is from a broad (and thin!) white flowstone ledge, trod on gingerly the first few times and without (much) hesitation thereafter. It must be quite strong as it's still there.

["Crumble inlet" found here in 2001]

The streamway then leads away down a steeply inclined section with amazing levels of 'false floors' - great limestone slabs parallel to the floor (i.e. angled down at about 40 degrees), with round holes worn through. All great fun, and reminiscent of the best splashy bits in Mendip for some reason. This ends up in some bouldery chambers, finishing with in a sizeable room containing a large pool, large rocks, mudbanks and a diversity of routes. The initial explorers found a devious traverse and climb down, labelling the obvious wide crawl through and pitch as 'Don't go Down Here' on their sketch in the log. The next team, noting the rather unusual choice of name for the pitch, rigged it (the only safe belay is back in the chamber) and descended the horribly crumbly wall back down to the stream. Take your pick. The floor of the rift (now, at last, back in clean rock, instead of horrible brown rubbish) soon drops away. A traverse forward on ledges round a few bends leads to a good place to hang a rope from. After this pitch ('the Heath') the cave begins to get rather more spacious. The next pitch soon follows, and has a rather interesting take off not unlike walking the plank - and a primary bolt belay that could only have been put in by an eight-foot tall gibbon (actually it was Rose junior). Off to the left of the pitch head is an ascending ledge to a large window. Throwing rocks down this yields lots of long silences and bangs, though it does not connect with the main hang. It now seems likely that this connects to the Xitu streamway.

The pitch ('Room 101') is a fine 40m freehang in a roomy shaft, landing on a marbled ledge. The next pitch ('Jump for your Life' - its discoverers all tried hard to fall down it) follows immediately, and lands in a broad, lofty streamway. At the first corner, obvious high levels lead off; up in the roof the distinction between Xitu and Cistra is probably fairly indeterminate here. The stream runs briefly through a tube with a fine display of helictites on one wall - pretty well the only notable formations in the active cave - and vanishes through a small downward sloping hole.

The hole leads onto a narrow sloping ledge on one wall of a large open space. This was rigged as an abseil/crawl/slide down the ledge to a short ladder, descent of which lands on one end of a broad horseshoe-shaped ledge. The hole in a middle is rather deep. The main hang was rigged from the other end of the horseshoe, using a bolt and a jammed boulder. The pitch can be approached either by walking round the ledge (getting 'rained' on as you go) and climbing up to a main belay, or by penduling across the gap from the ladder. The latter course of action placed perhaps rather too much reliance on the stubby stalactite that is the only possible belay for the ladder and its rope (backed up in 'the Wormery'), but was nonetheless popular. The descent of 'Big Brother' is rather drizzly but great fun - especially on new PMI flex with the lanolin still on, and worn rack bars. The first explorers failed to notice the characteristic rusty old bolt, and simply noted that another pitch follows. Rest assured, however, that if you get this far you really are at the head of Dampturation pitch in Xitu, having descended the eponymous aven, and have only 470m to go to the sump (or 1.6km if you count the horizontal bits as well!).