OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)

Cave 3/5 : Description

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by William Stead


1° 13'53"W, 43° 14'13"N;
Altitude 1618m
Entrance noted by SIE early 1970's.
Explored intermittently OUCC, SIE and WMCEG 1979-85.
Surveyed OUCC 1983/85.

Main Route

This cave, long recognised as a potential entrance to Pozu del Xitu, has finally been connected after six years. It is not recommended as a through route since it is small and technical throughout its short length and tackle carrying is very awkward.

The entrance lies about 2m to the right of the path from Ario to Trea, about halfway to Pozu la Cistra, and consists of a small pit (2m climb), from which a sharply descending rift leads off (climbs: 1.5m, 2m). The floor consists of small stones which, when dislodged, rattle down the first pitch (Skittle Alley). Just before the pitch head, the rift widens while still descending steeply, and the pitch itself is an easy 8m descent into a small chamber. The way on is a very tight descending rift in the far wall, called Bull's Eye squeeze as it is the target for stones dislodged in the entrance. At the far end is a 2m climb, after which the cave widens, followed by a 6m chossy climb, best lifelined, at the head of the second pitch.

The second pitch is a circular shaft 12m deep, rigged with a ladder. From the bottom chamber, two tight canyons lead off, which 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 off to the right, whereas straight ahead lies a tight squeeze which opens out at the head of the third pitch (5m ladder).

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 (2m, 2m) are descended. The first of these was originally covered in moonmilk 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 (5m, 3m + 2m). Above the head of the first climb is a tight rift leading to an undescended pitch, presumably a parallel shaft, whereas at the bottom of the second climb is the connection with the tight trench. The way on is a narrow trench which soon leads to the bypassable fourth pitch (if rigged, 5m ladder, otherwise 4m climb down next hole). At the bottom is a small chamber with a shallow pool and with water flowing in over some formations on the opposite wall. A crawl under the drips leads straight into the fifth pitch (Non Deficiam), a substantial 12m shaft with an awkward takeoff. At the foot of the shaft the route splits into two (The Parting of the Ways). The main route goes back under the climb and descends to the sixth pitch, while the alternative route continues in the original direction through a hole in the wall to reach the Spectacle Series.   The sixth pitch is 10m deep with an awkward take-off and lands in a small chamber. The way on leads to the right and is a sharply descending small passage (2m climb), leading to a razor-sharp cross-rift sloping downwards at 70". The rift is an easy 7m climb and leads immediately to the seventh pitch, (7m ladder) which has a tight top. The ladder lands in a pool in a small chamber.

On the far side of the chamber lies Wingnut's Rift, an awkward rift leading to a 2m climb down followed immediately by a hammered squeeze leading slightly upwards above a 9m vertical drop. The water sinks down a razor-sharp hole between the two rifts which can be followed for a few metres before it becomes too tight. At the end of the rift is a surprisingly easy 9m climb which was laddered to provide a handhold when emerging from the rift and to mark the correct place to ascend. From the chamber, a sharp crawl leads off past a hammered flake over a small hole in the floor to the head of Penultimate Pitch, a large shaft 20m deep with a very awkward take-off and a rub-point halfway down. This lands on a wide shelf in the Picture Palace, the only truly large part of the cave. From the ledge, a 4m descent on the original rope, followed immediately by a 3m ascent leads to an easy traverse at the head of the Big Pitch. This pitch, originally thought to provide the Xitu connection, is a fine 35m freehang into a large chamber.

From the chamber, a 5m climb leads to a short passage (Not the Teresa Series) followed by a 3m climb into a tight vadose rift where the stream is rejoined (Picnic Rift). The way through the rift, which was hammered extensively, at first keeps to stream level round a tight bend, then continues a couple of metres higher up. At the end, a 2.5m climb with dubious holds rejoins the stream on the ledge at the head of another short ladder pitch (5m pitch and 2m climb). Safe belays are hard to find as the rock is heavily veined with calcite. Use a wire round a huge projection backed up on a mediocre bolt on the wall. From here the stream passage continues with two further short ladder pitches (10m, 10m). The primary belay for the first of these is a large projection at floor level, and it is best to have a lifeline rigged to the secondary 5m up in the roof.

The second ladder lands in a small chamber with a pitch in a wide rift (The Back Door to the East). This starts off unimpressively, but turns into a complex series of short damp descents with flying rebelays, past unstable black boulders, down one wall of a massive chamber just below The Gap into Pozu del Xitu. A traverse along a ledge at the head of Graham's Balls-Up rejoins the 1980/81 route.

Spectacle Series

From the Parting of the Ways, the small hole in the wall leads to a series of fairly short but very loose climbs in shale (3m, 3m, 5m, 2m, 3m) and a 10m pitch. Rigging the pitch is somewhat difficult as one wall is made of calcite while the other wall consists of shale. Climb up to the largest calcite projection for a primary belay backed up on a bolt at floor level on the other side of the chamber in the only bit of sound rock. The pitch itself is a climb down over chess and rope protectors into a chamber full of loose chess perched dangerously over another shaft (13m). Fortunately, there is sound rock to rig from here and the pitch descends past a rub point to a chamber where the stream emerges out of a phreatic tube 20cm in diameter, 1.5m up the left-hand wall. The stream leaves this chamber in Birthday Rift which continues for about 3m before becoming just too small to get through (despite repeated attempts). It seems unlikely that further progress could be made by hammering since the whole of the rift is very narrow and in sound rock.


J. Singleton and G.A. Naylor, 1982, Xitu: the cave, Proc. OUCC 10, 8-20. [link]
J. Singleton and D. Thwaites, 1979, Small caves near Ario, Proc. OUCC 9, 22-24.   [link when we get Proc. 9 in !]
W.J. Stead, 1982, Small caves in the Ario area, Proc. OUCC 10, 24-33.  [link]
W.J. Stead and H. Kay, 1984, Smaller caves investigated in 1982/3, Proc. OUCC 11, 13-28.   [link]

The distance traversed in this pot is a small fraction of that to the same point via Xitu entrance, to say nothing of 3/5 entrance being 30m lower. However, Xitu has long sections of large horizontal passage, with few obstructions and easy take-offs for the pitches. Thus a round trip to G.B.U. and back, with the caves already rigged, would take about eight hours via 3/5, as opposed to five or six hours via Xitu.

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