OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)


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Ursula Collie

In 1983 our potential "deepest cave in the world", Pozu Jorcada Blanca, ambitiously nicknamed "FU56", had sumped at -590 m: a respectable depth, but far short of our expectations. We went out the next year with few leads and only one going cave, and 1984's largely inexperienced team brought the dreams of world depth records behind them and began the work of piecing together the Ario and Top Camp systems.

We started at Top Camp by pushing F7, Pozu las Perdices, into the Hot Tub in Jorcada Blanca, while at Ario we hammered away at an unpromisingly small squeeze which our leader, Stephen Gale, unaccountably thought would go. Go it did, and so that year we explored Pozu la Cistra, a fine sporting entrance into Xitu, joining the mainstream at Dampturation. We had the beginnings of the present Sistemas, we had laid the groundwork for the present surface surveys, and some of us enjoyed a tourist trip down the 900 m Sima Cabeza Muxa, a river cave pushed by the Spanish club SIE. This, too, was the first year of the Yellow Van.

In 1985, led by Steve Roberts, work continued at Ario and at Top Camp. This was the year of the tight and nasty hole, as OUCC finally braced itself to push Pozu los Caracoles (3/5) to its bitter end: the Gap in Xitu. Another tight pot - F20 - was extended at top camp, and speculation was rife as to whether this would be the third entrance to the Sistema Jorcada Blanca. I think we ran a book on it. The huge open shaft, Tras la Jayada, was descended a second time and a small extension found. But the crowning glory of that year's expedition was the rediscovery of the Sistema Conjurtao, originally found and promptly lost again in 1980 by Dave Rose. This was a system of an entirely different character from our previous Top Camp discoveries, marked by its vast dry chambers, and, trending in a different direction from either F20 or the Sistema Jorcada Blanca, it promised very well. Talk of "deepest caves" was once again heard in some quarters.

It was a diverse crew that Martin May led back to the Picos in 1986. At different times we were joined by: an independent team of British divers; a photographer and a surveyor from Munich; two Spanish cavers from Barcelona; and two stranded Dutch travellers who had jettisoned all their possessions in a desperate attempt to escape from a cliff "path" of life-threatening precipitousness. The expedition was also distinguished, unfortunately, by the number of mishaps and accidents that befell us, starting on the very first day when our beloved Yellow Van blew a piston in Newbury, and we had to get ourselves and our gear to Spain by dint of hiring vans and coaches (and with the greatest help and co-operation from Brittany Ferries). The services of our expedition doctors were more in demand than ever before, with one member injured by a falling rock and another suffering a head injury deep inside Ridge Cave.

On the caving front, we concentrated our work at Top Camp, linking 2/6 to 1/6 (Ridge Cave), and bottomed first the resulting Sistema Conjurtao (-655 m) and then, after much strenuous caving and an underground camp, reached the F20 sump at -582 m. We found a new cave on the ridge, F40, and bottomed it absent-mindedly.

It feels like the end of a chapter of the Club's caving in the Picos. These have been three years in which we consolidated our knowledge of the caves around Xitu and at Top Camp. The sumps we have found in the Top Camp area are all at a similar level, so it seems that theories of a perched water table here may well be correct, and OUCC will have to look harder or further afield for its discoveries in 1987 and the years to come.