OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)

Sistema Conjurtao: Description

Ridge Cave (1/6, F30) and 2/6

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Pictures: Survey

by Steve Roberts and others.

Entrances found 1980, lost 1981-4, relocated 1985.
Explored and surveyed 1985-6.
System depth 655 m
Surveyed length 2435 m
Plan length 1394 m

Ridge Cave Entrance Series

Location:    1° 15'42"W, 43° 13'28"N; altitude 1891 m;
                    Relative to Top Camp: 498 W, 136 N, +3.

The entrance is situated on the main ridge between the Jorcada Blanca Pass and Pico Conjurtao. It is best reached from Top Camp by walking down 'Bog Alley' (directly away from la Verdelluenga) to a bowl filled with massive boulders. At the opposite side of the chaos, a green gully runs upwards. Ridge Cave is near the top of this, about 50m below the ridge.

The entrance is a wide tunnel descending gently into the hillside. The entrance may be blocked with snow after a heavy winter; in normal conditions a walk or squeeze past the snow plug leads to a spacious changing room. Following the passage down leads quickly to the head of the first pitch ("The five-year plan"); a ladder is best used here, rigged from a profusion of naturals. The climb down lands by a large boulder, and the passage reverses direction. A step over a hole in the floor leads to the second pitch (this area is riddled with alternative 'routes', holes, etc.). Here a short descent down a slab leads to a bolt hang for the ladder, which lands in a bouldery chamber. Exit is by a small rift, which needs a traverse line as the floor immediately drops away. 5m of scrabbly traverse leads to the bolt hang for pitch 3 ("Dancing in the Dark"). A fine descent lands on a large shelf. The obvious way on soon chokes. A good swing on the rope through a large eyehole gives access to a small chamber, with a trickle of water entering through one slot and leaving down though another. This latter is the way on ("The Axolotl"). This can be passed downwards with all gear on, but the ascent (line useful) might require you to take some stuff off, depending on individual stature (i.e. fat).

Two climbs (2m, 2m) in the rift follow, and lead to a short rope pitch; avoiding the obvious route down, swing across to a bouldery ascending ledge to the left. From here, a traverse (loose at the end) or a short thrutch through a slot (where the loose bits of the traverse fall), lead immediately to the head of the next pitch. A Y-hang off bolts drops 20m to a ledge (above the continuation of the pitch: two 10m drops to a small chamber with no way on). Half way down the pitch a small amount of water enters from what is probably the route below the swing onto the ledge. The way on is across the pot, along an apparent inlet. The floor soon drops away into "The Canal of Nuck" (see any doctor for an explanation), an awkward tight rift. The easiest descent is straight down at the widest point. On the ascent, a climb up at the start of the rift leads via a mildly devious elevated crawl to the passage above. A couple of strides leads to the next interesting manoeuvre; bridging up for 2m allows a feet-first insertion into a hole (part of a old inlet sloping in from the roof). A line should be attached to a block in the inlet, as just through the hole, the floor drops away. The pitch head here is an interesting area, with many passages apparently intersecting. The rig is from a wire/tape wrapped round a large rock spike. Descent of "Borborygmi" (see your doctor again) narrowly avoids a couple of ledges. A large ledge divides the foot of the pitch from the next drop. Opinions differ as to whether the next rig is a Y-hang or a bolt + deviation; however, the 10m drop lands on a boulder floor, ascent of which leads to a large bouldery ledge overlooking the next 10m pitch. This is rigged from the left-hand wall (from a rather dubious bolt). A ladder is useful.

From here, a series of climbs over and round large boulders in the rift leads on down. A good cold draught can be felt if you're sitting around surveying. The last climb (10m down the knobbly rift walls) is followed by a drop through a slot (mildly awkward on the return) to the head of the next pitch ("The Weather Station"). The rope (bolt rig) drops past several ledges. At the base of the pitch. a dribble of water is met, and can be collected in an old can for light fettling. A short pitch follows immediately, tied to naturals and rebelayed from a wire just below the pitch head. A short walk leads to an interesting hopping thrutch round a sharp bend to the head of "Barney Rubble".

A backup bolt in the wall is the safety for the traverse out to two bouldery ledges that don't bear too close an examination. The pitch itself is belayed round a set of jammed-in boulders above the further ledge, and hung from a long wire round the very large boulder that is the lower ledge. The pitch descends to the bottom of the rift, a place that offers no protection from boulders kicked off from above (but we won't remind Martin about that). A short scroffle through the rift, which lacks definite footholds as the floor drops away, leads to an upward traverse over and around some convenient rocks to the head of 'Fred Flintstone'. A Y-hang on natural and bolt drops past a large ledge, suitable for photographers, about 10m down, and then past a rub-point about 17m down. This had a rope-protector on it, but really needs re-belaying here. a short distance below is a classic 'Rose' free-space rebelay off a great lump of choss. 10m further down is a bolt rebelay, followed by Dave's piece de resistance - a tiny deviation. The landing is on a large ledge tucked behind a huge boulder, from which the last section of the pitch drops to a boulder-floored chamber.

The way on is obvious but the rig less so; all the walls are smooth and respond ill to bolting. A rock jammed in the rift is equipped with a bolt, and allows a free descent to the vastness of 'Dinosaur Beach'.

2/6 Entrance Series

Location:    1° 15'56"W, 43° 13'39"N; altitude 1953 m;
                    Relative to Top Camp: 575W, 46N, + 65.

From Ridge Cave continue up the grassy slope to the ridge and then walk up the ridge. Across a flat grassy area a steep slope followed by a scramble up a rift leads to the top of the ridge. The cave is rigged from the highest entrance, a large open shaft.

The entrance pitch, The Eye in the Sky, is an impressive 122m daylight shaft. This is rigged from two large rock protuberances: the archetypal bomb-proof belay. The first rebelay is after 35m from a single bolt. The second rebelay is after a further 55m and is from a bolt by a small ledge. The final hang lands in a large chamber and has at its base a small pile of snow.

The way on is to walk down the boulders and traverse around the edge of a blind pot. The pitch is located between the left-hand wall and a large (house-sized) fallen boulder. Prime Time is a fine 32m pitch landing on a boulder slope. The next pitch is up the slope and takes its name (the Bladerunner) from the sharp flake which the rope just shaves past. The rebelay itself is interesting in that the bolt is surrounded on four sides by cracks which bound a square about four inches on a side.

The fourth pitch is very broken, and lands in a region with many ways on. A hole between boulders is traversed over, with the next pitch straight ahead. In the left-hand corner of the chamber, however, is an eight-second drop. This is almost certainly an upward continuation of the Seventy.

The next pitch, starting tight, soon bells out to reasonable dimensions. Here the ways part. The obvious next pitch is Shit Creek, a fine 23m pitch with a rebelay at a large boulder-strewn ledge and a small inlet running down the far wall. Early in the expedition this route was abandoned, as the only way on from the chamber at the bottom of the pitch is a tight crawl (The Crawl of the Wild), which opens into a big pitch. Richard decided this was the perfect place to throw a poly bag full ofshit, which landed in the inlet and burst; hence the pitch's name. This route was later explored and found to rejoin the main way on at the bottom of the Seventy.

The best route is to traverse around the left-hand side of Shit Creek, using the left-hand bolt of the Shit Creek pitch for the traverse line. A short section of rift leads to the next pitch, the Seventy. This is rigged from a bolt and natural to form a Y-hang which is awkward on the return.

Although small at the top, this pitch widens, and is probably the most impressive shaft in the cave. The first 10m are against the wall and land on a small ledge. Here the pitch is rebelayed from two decidedly dicey bolts, about 15m out on the right-hand side. The lower of these is funnelled for about half its length; the upper looks much more secure but I'm assured that it wobbles beautifully.

The pitch lands in a large boulder-floored chamber, and the next two pitches are rigged in the rift which leaves the far side of the chamber. The pitches are broken and loose, and follow almost immediately after one another. The first pitch is rigged from a bolt to the left of the chamber, with a rebelay about half-way down at a small ledge. It lands on a 30° loose boulder floor, which leads via a traverse to the next pitch. This is split by two rebelays: one near the top, and the second beneath a large, well-checked boulder.

The way on at the bottom is down a short climb to the bottom of the rift, and then up a rising traverse level in the rift. This is quite narrow in parts, being partially blocked in places by the flowstone and stal that coats both walls. After about 50m, the rift broadens to a small chamber. To the right it is possible to look across to the bottom of Fred Flintstone pitch in Ridge Cave, and to see a possible exposed traverse to reach it. Straight ahead, the next pitch is rigged from a boulder and a bolt. The top of this pitch is against the wall and rubs in many places, but after the rebelay the rope hangs free to land in Dinosaur Beach, only a few feet away from Dino pitch.

Dinosaur Beach

From near the landing of Dino Pitch, a tight rift leads off; from the survey, it would appear that this links with the upper part of the 'Lower Streamway'. It has not been fully pushed, however. Ascending to the top of the chamber and climbing over the great rock pile gives access to 'Martin May's Inlet' (M.M.I. on the survey), a tight and tortuous ascent to no definite conclusion. One survey point is precisely beneath the 0,0,0 point at the entrance (some 300m above).

The route out from the Beach is to the left as one faces up the main slope of the chamber, close to and beneath a particularly large block. A short ladder descent around unstable-looking chunks of rock gives drops into a roomy passage, which soon leads to a junction. Descending to the left in this leads to an area of particularly loose horror, the far point of which (after a very nasty squeeze that threatened to drop the roof) gave a view into a deep rift down which rocks could be thrown a long way. This is probably the 'Lower Streamway'.

Going up and right from the junction leads to a small hole that drops down another short ladder pitch. 3m above the floor (a blind pot), swinging across leads to a small passage. Squeezing down here leads to a traverse above a small drop. Continuing on and up immediately leads to 'The Big Crunch' (mistaken for Dinosaur Beach by its rather confused initial discoverer). Descent leads to the 'Lower Streamway', the subject of not a few pushing trips.

Lower Streamway

The route quickly leads to the head of a just-off-vertical and grotty rift, climbable down with a line (if you're Richard) or abseiled (if you're me). The climb becomes a pitch at a point where the rift meets another, at approximately right angles; at this point both rifts are ~1-2m across and at least 50m high. The pitch lands on a boulder, and a 3m climb lands in the streamway, which on our visits carried about as much water as goes down the pitches in P8 on a 'normal' day (very informative - all right then, about 0.5 litres/sec). Upstream goes up a few small waterfalls to a choke. Downstream is tortuous to begin with, necessitating traversing, but widens at an S-bend just before a choke. The roof here is jammed boulders, giving a passage about 1m square. A large boulder in the choke was moved enough to squeeze around; a wriggle and drop to the stream level gives access to a larger passage, with an immediate Swildon's-style 3m climb, to the head of a 10m pitch (no belay except the rocks above!) to a chamber where the stream sinks in an impenetrable choke. Rats! Climbing up the far wall of the chamber, a small dig was made, through which a continuation could (just) be seen; however, the last few rocks also appear to hold up the roof, which looks none too secure. The dig was abandoned.

Big Crunch to the Sump

'The Big Crunch' is a large, parallel-sided "roofless" chamber containing one very large block, several large ones, lots of small ones, and thousands of tiny ones, which are added to from the roof (wherever it is) with alarming frequency. A hole down through boulders leads nowhere in death-threatening style. Faut de mieux, the way on is up the wall opposite the entrance. The wall (Fred's Folly) was ascended by a combination of bolting and protected climbing, over several trips. It is extremely dangerous and loose. The first pitch of the climb takes you to a ledge overlooking the Big Crunch; from here the way up is to traverse left along the ledge and climb up alarmingly through perched boulders to solid floor in a rift.

The pitch down the other side follows immediately; rebelayed at a constriction in the rift, the first hang is 13m and the second 38m. A pendule to the left about 10m from the floor gains a bouldery passage, which soon turns into a rubbley slope down to the head of a 16m pitch. This lands on top of a boulder choke: the way through can be found either by going immediately down or by crossing over along the opposite wall, if care is taken not to damage the mud formations. The steep climb down at the end of the boulder choke is best roped. Next, a climb down in a narrow winding rift reaches walking passage, obstructed first by a climb over boulders - the slipperiness of the walls makes this treacherous - and then by a traverse over a 8m blind pot.

Immediately the passage begins to climb, and you find yourself on a loose ledge looking over yet another huge chamber: the Big Beluga. Hammerhead pitch, named from the broken bolt hammer which aborted the first pushing trip here, is 46m with a bolt rebelay. It lands by a by-now-standard enormous boulder, and there are obvious ways down into the floor.

Here the water is rejoined, as two inlets enter from the roof. The way out of the Great Beluga is down a small drop behind the huge boulder where Hammerhead Pitch lands. This leads down a steep bouldery slope (anything knocked off Hammerhead lands here, and it's where the original hammerhead was found!) to another short drop between boulders. At the bottom the passage widens somewhat and continues into a steeply-sloping, extremely loose boulder slope: Thunder Road. A handline is advisable here, and several vertical drops can be rigged as pitches. Two inlets enter from the right.

In this way a circular chamber containing a small waterfall - Crystal Chamber - is reached. The way to the Upper Series above the streamway (A-A on survey) is found by climbing up in the waterfall. A scramble over boulders leads to a short pitch (about 15m) which gives access to a large chamber with a rising bouldery floor. A squeeze in the far right-hand wall leads to another chamber. Here a drop is reached and the streamway can be seen below: this series of chambers consists merely of false boulder floors in the streamway rift.

From Crystal Chamber a wriggle over a boulder on the right-hand wall, just past the waterfall, allows one to drop into a smaller chamber and from there to rejoin the stream. The streamway is winding and reasonably narrow: here the cave changes character and leaves behind the vast bouldery chambers which have been its hallmark so far.

After 150m the stream disappears into a shallow sump. This can be bypassed either by a squeeze among the boulders directly above the sump, or by retracing one's steps about 40m to the last inlet entering from above and to the right. About 15m up the inlet an obvious abandoned vadose passage on the left leads after some crawling and a couple of climbs down onto a large pile of boulders in the huge passage of Heartbeat Avenue.

After the sump, a large chamber is reached, with an inlet flowing into the downstream end of the sump. This leads promisingly to a second large chamber: its promise, however, is illusory, as around the corner is the second sump: deep, final and without a bypass.