Oxford University Cave Club

2013 Ario Caves Project Expedition: Pozu del Xitu

Picos de Europa, Spain

Other Expedition reports

OUCC Home Page

This expedition was led by Steph Dwyer for the Ario Caves Project, and was not an Oxford University expedition. However it carried on the long tradition of OUCC expeditions to the Picos de Europa, and involved some OUCC members and a wide range of cavers from the UK and beyond.



Picos de Europa from near Lago Ercina -
Lots of snow this year!


Steph Dwyer
Steve Roberts

I have just had a phone conversation with Steph Dwyer about progress to date. She has had a wrist injury and so is not well able to write up this herself (don't worry, it's getting better!). In summary:

A possible way on has been found near the terminal sump. This is a passage starting from near the sump, which turns into a tube going over the sump region with a climb up to extensive fossil passage. There are several ways on, one of which appears to be heading towards 2/7. This is still going and is being explored.

The Chunder Pot lead has been thoroughly looked for, and several passages have been found in the region, all of which have turned into hading rifts going upwards. This doesn't look too promising, but exploration in the area continues.

At the Depsthscalator, a cross rift has been found with leads in both directions. This is currently being investigated.

Before the Flyer, an inlet passage has been found (Sli na Siofra: the Way of the Fairies) which has been explored for about 250m and is still going. This appears to be another inlet cave, but who knows what else it might intercept? There are some side passages from this inlet which are being looked at.

So there is enough exploration potential to occupy at least another "Ario caves project" expedition in 2014. It is been decided to leave the cave rigged for this purpose. Steph is willing to be overall leader/coordinator of such an expedition. Ian Holmes is keen to lead an exploration effort in the top camp area; and it is likely to be useful for another deputy leader to take charge of the Xitu explorations.



(from facebook)

[David Rose] had a long chat with Vicky Lim last night. From all she says, it sounds as if she really has found my elusive Chunder Pot lead from 1981. And when she left Spain, it was going...

 [Vicky Lim] And Richard too: couldn't have found anything without him! In more than one way I was standing on the shoulders of (relative) giants

[Nick Edwards] Where abouts was it? What sort of passage is it? Having spent a fair exploring the rift above chunder pot looking for it, am keen for more details!

[David Rose] Vicky has em. It's where I always said it was - a long, long way up, starting close to the pitchhead.

[Nick Edwards] Ah ok - I guess we didn't go far enough up, and maybe went too far away from the pitch; we were forced away from direct line up by various obstacles as I remember.

[David Rose] Yes, I think she and Rich went through/past some obstacles. But they found popcorn stuff that had seen passage of a person and a flat section with a pool and regrowing broken stal, which I remember very clearly. And (shame!) some carbide... which I think I recall emptying out. It was still going up where they left it, but from what she says, they must have been very close to the top where I found the pitch going down into a different passage. It just has to be the same place, especially given that they started where I am certain I did.

[Vicky Lim] It started above the pitch-head with a big passage going horizontally to the left, back along the rift. You probably went in there: it was well travelled and Paul Mackrill said he knew where I meant. From there we just went left and up for a very long way until the rift started closing down and we were forced back right through a small squeeze which took us to the pool and carbide area which looked untouched but for some very old disturbances to the formations. When we came down later we took a direct route (too direct in some places where the popcorn broke off from under me!) and popped out above the end of the Ferdie's traverse line. It would have been very hard to find the way up from there though because of obstacles and false ceilings everywhere!

[Nick Edwards] Yes we went along the big passage and up and a long way to the left - we ended up quite near the previous pitch I think as we could here the water. I think from where we ended up there was no way back to the right, so I guess we just went the wrong way...I remember it being very complicated and also lots of very scary loose bits. Exciting to hear that you found it and it's still going! How much pushing time is/was there left after you left it?

[Vicky Lim] Yeah, we didn't get nearly as far back as the last pitch and the way off to the right was not at all obvious, just a squeeze we happened to try! Not long, less than a week I think and sump leads are probably the priority, but chances are we'll be back next year so...

[Dickon Morris] I remember the passage left. It led into a wide rift with loads of boulders which I ascended for about 20m before it closed down, or got tight enough for me to realise we were not 30 minutes from the hunters. I think I remember basically ending up in a rift a long way above (but connected to) chunder pot. Of course in retrospect we should not have given up so easily as the later vadoes canyon will continue upwards until you reach the phreas from which it has cut down.



Steph Dwyer


Apologies for the lack of updates, been very busy, thankfully. We have been so busy that at any given time at least 9 people have been camping or pushing or surveying leads underground.

Where to start?

  • A completely new lead called Sli na Siofra, The Way of the Fairies, was pushed at the end of my 5 day camp and is currently still ongoing uphill for well over 100m vertically. It looks like a new inlet (very pretty) and we hope to intersect some horizontal passage higher up - a black abyss awaits us. At the moment a team are en route to the sump to push the tube that is seen to go over it. Another team is going to the bottom to follow up on some cross rifts, prevously identified, that are looking very promising.
  • The Chunder Pot lead, despite many efforts, still eludes us - however we are not easily defeated so efforts are on-going.
  • El Puritan is going but seems to lead back over camp, with a pitch dropping into the servicio area of Camp Cuppanagh.
  • The lead above the Gap has been surveyed but has been brought to a conclusion with other possibilities for continuation highlighted elsewhere.
  • William's bit has been surveyed and is currently at a draughting constriction.
  • Avelina's bit is a new lead in the Teresa series which is on-going with a promising draught - stay tuned here guys.
  • Jeff found a stunning chamber in the Teresa series (no prev. record of this) and has done an amazing job of photographing it. There are some very unusual and beautiful formations here.

Today, all except three of the whole expedition are underground pushing various levels of the cave. The weather is beautiful and the craic has been mighty.

A more detailed update will follow up soon.


Steph Dwyer

Just another very quick update before we set off on our 3 day camp. We have just met the rigging team exiting from Hitu (Xitu), and they successfully rigged past Chunder Pot and ferried camping and rigging gear beyond Ferdie's Delight. All is now in place for much exploration.

Steph Dwyer


The expedition is really starting to ramp up now. 6 others arrived last night.

The cave is now rigged to -950m and we are awaiting the reappearance of another team who carried on the rigging from there two days ago.

Two independent prospecting teams have been exploring and digging two ongoing caves, both with signifigant draughts and one with massive quartz crystals. One cave is below what we hope is the Choke Egbert fault and the other down the trea side of the mountain.

Jeff, our expo photographer, is setting off with a team to photograph the impressive 140m shaft - Flat Iron - and two teams of four are heading to Camp Cuppanagh to spend a few days pushing El Puritan and investigate the elusive Chunder Pot lead. If Chunder goes, teams will start bringing Camp Purgatory down the cave.

And if all that wasn´t enough, the new arrivals once warmed up intend on continuing exploration in Williams bit.

Chat to you all again once I re-emerge from the depths on Monday.Stay tuned and please share about :-)


Steph Dwyer


I am delighted to say we are making fantastic progress. Camp Cuppanagh is set up and is the most luxurious camp anyone has ever experienced. We didn't want to leave :) It offers a great opportunity to recoup and continue the great efforts thus far.

We are now re-rigged to -850m with some additional bolting and rope replacement. A team are currently pushing even further as I type and other teams are prospecting and starting to push some leads in the Teresa series. Thanks to Shane's Moonshiner light we have spotted some very exciting high level pasages above the Graham's Balls-up area and more even further down the cave.

Adventurous times ahead :)

We now have nearly 20 people with us working hard.


Steph Dwyer


Multiple teams going in today to ferry the mountain of kit for the two camps down the cave. Steph, Shane and Eabha starting the re-dangle effort beyond camp all going well.

Once Camp is fully operational, which will take alot of effort, we will push to the bottom of the cave. Some bits and pieces have needed re-bolting as snow melt has made one or two spots a little splashy. All great otherwise ;-)

A team tried to find Snowcastle yesterday - unsuccessfully. Ario connoisseurs - any advice?

Ian Holmes should be arriving today.

[David Rose comments] In Teresa Series, before the first drop, you reach a distinct, round bell-shaped chamber with a flat floor and a low arch out of it. At this point go back a bit towards the entrance. You'll see you're in a high rifty passage with an obvious way up a kind of rampy climb. At the top is a whole complex of big chambers and passages, which lead up to Snowcastle. If memory serves, when you're in one of these chambers it's up towards the left at the back.


Steph Dwyer

Internet and power is very limited here and much work means little time to go off hill and update things, apologies.

I am elated to say that 10 members have arrived to Ario safely and have been working very hard in searing heat to carry all the food, equipment and caving gear up the hill - a three hour walk. Special thanks to Teca who came along to help us with our permit, interpretation and carried lots for us.

There is loads of snow up here which is unusual but helpful for water and keeping food cool.

Today Eabha and Emi were up early to bring Lola and Bellirina (the donkeys) down to Lagos for a heavy sherpa back up. Much thanks to Ignacio at the refugio who has been so helpful and generous to us. We now have two massive outside tents at the refugio for cooking and gear.

Yesterday a team went in to rig the entrance series successfully and today a number of parties have gone in to start sherpa-ing camp gear down the cave and re-dangle the ropes to camp. Now called Camp Cuppanagh to destinguish it from Camp Purgatory which will be set up around Chunder Pot.

Once Camp Cuppanagh is set up a team will re-dangle the ropes as far as they can to the bottom.

Will try our best to keep ye updated. The team are having a ball and it is a testiment to the great things that can be accomplished when a group of good heads get together :-)

29/06/13 Expedition van departs for Spain.