OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)

The Return of the Native (Linking F7 to F2)

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by Phil Rose

It was 1983 and I was detackling Jorcada Blanca (F2)- possibly, we'd thought, the deepest cave in the world. O.K., so it wasn't, and had taken us too long to finish off, but it had an exhilarating atmosphere. As darkness descended on each stretch of passage for the last time I had this eerie hunch that somehow I would be back.

The tackle out of the cave, we turned to shaftbashing. Hundreds of holes were waiting to be investigated just down the slope from our camp. We were feeling pleased with ourselves about a rather spectacular ice cave we had found when Chris called us over to a promising-looking entrance. This was different from the others, well protected from being blocked by snow: inside, a low crawl led to a pitch into a small chamber. I was first excited by the strong draft but soon ecstatic as we found several passages leading off from the chamber. We all piled in, scrambled down the complex entrance series and then, O joy, we found a pitch. We spent a good hour chucking every bit of loose rock we could find down this pitch, delighting in the resultant booms.

The next day was like a dream. We sailed down pitch after pitch without putting in a single bolt. Through a tight vertical series, the Howler, we came eventually to a ledge half-way down the shaft. As I landed Ian exhorted me to roll a boulder. I found a big one and projected into the dark abyss. A second later there was a crash. Sounds good, I thought - 30m deep? Barrrooom! The rock reached the real bottom. My God, what's that now, 150m? We danced and shouted on the ledge. However, we were out of rope, our lights were on their last splutter, and we would return to England the day after tomorrow. The pitch would have to wait.

The year was gone in a moment and we were on our way back to Spain, lured by Ginebre y Tonica, tortillas and cafes grandes con leche. However, the drive into the unknown was powerful so we abandoned the bars for the mountains and the entrance of Perdices (F7).

Last year's seemingly-endless drop turned into a 80m pitch christened the Nostril. Below this was the Bogey which Ukey liked so much that she would hang there for hours doing rope tricks. The cave now decided to change character, and the superb shaft system degenerated into a tight sharp rift. One point was just too tight and there was no other way, yet I was convinced that the cave must go. I hit out at the walls in frustration, and this being Picos limestone, huge dinner plates slid away allowing me to squeeze through to a pitch-head.

The lure of the fleshpots of Base Camp were now too much, and I returned down the hill guided by the blue tint of the Ginebre y Tonicas on the horizon. However, rumours soon arrived of Fred and Graham finding two more pitches and a vast chamber, the Sky at Night. On the other side of this was a shaft with a six-second free fall. The cave was going deep. Perdices called me up the hill. As Ukey [Ursula Collie] and I half ran down the cave we dreamed of the rivers, pitches and huge chambers that we were about to find - this was going to be one hell of a trip. Through the Sky at Night, up through some boulders, and there we were. There was no sign of the opposite wall of the shaft and stones we threw down developed an ominous whistle before their final deafening crash. I felt very isolated on the edge of this vast chasm. Any mistake would have been fatal.

Rigging the pitch took my mind off such matters, and it wasn't till I put my weight on the rope that I started to wonder about the strength of the bolts. We had rigged the rope from an overhanging ledge, so as I descended I could see no walls, roof or floor. There was just my pool of light reflecting off the steam all around. I was only aware of descending as I was constantly pulling more rope from the tackle bag. Would the rope be long enough, I wondered. There was a knot in the end ... wasn't there?

I returned to reality as I touched down on a steep boulder slope and bounced down to the bottom of the shaft. A rock dislodged by the rope bounced off my helmet. I ran for shelter in a rift and contemplated the discoveries we were about to make as Ukey descended.

Reunited, we went on to find a small climb. I slithered down as if it were an old friend and then Wow! a big rift to traverse along. This had a familiar feel as we set off ... hang on, this was really familiar. I knew this place - but how could I? We were going into the unknown!

All doubts were dismissed when I came across one of last year's peanut packets. Yes, Perdices had joined with Jorcada Blanca - I had indeed returned.