Sunday 3 January 2010

2nd January 2010 - Cueva de Don Fernando - Day 2

After discovering what was involved we returned to Cueva de Don Fernando with thicker rope for the entrance pitches, bolt hangers, spanner and even a drill in case we thought it necessary to place some more bolts. In superb weather we scrambled up the steep slopes to the cave entrance (approx 50 minutes today as no snow underfoot and a eased by taking a slightly better line in places). We even discovered some in situ cable allowing a higher line to be taken on the last section across the slabs. We were suprised to see in the entrance some equipment that indicated that some other cavers were also making a descent. Sure enough another rope was in place on the first pitch and actually pretty badly rigged as they also had not brought any bolt hangers with them.

This time with the heavier duty ropes for the entrance pitches and by placing more hangers on the insitu bolts we ended up with a much better line for the rope with no problematic rub points.

Soon we were down the first two pitches (30 metre rope and 25 metre rope) and into what was for us new territory. There were two ways on, either a climb over a "wall" to a possible big pitch or down a calcite slope running with water. Checking the latter it ended up in a squeeze that would get us pretty wet, so we decided to check the climb over the wall that had an insitu rope. This only lead us to an unlikely looking pitch with bolt "spits" that we didn't have the right bolts for. So the only way on was down the wet calcite squeeze. Bruce headed through first and made quick work of it and was soon beckoning me to pass the tackle bags through (we had nearly 200 metres of rope left plus bolt hangers, camera and a few other bits and pieces). The squeeze was not as bad as it looked even with full SRT gear on and although a bit wet the temperatures in the cave were quite reasonable. The squeeze led pretty much straight onto more pitches, with what we later found out were fixed ropes (but again not very well hung).

We ran out another 90 metres of rope over a few pitches and got good clear abseils by using our own hangers.
This led us back to another calcite section again running with water, and a larger pitch leading into a huge chamber. This in fact was probably the wettest part as water tended to run down the rope and get you pretty drenched!

We later measured this pitch as 30 metres, so we had 70 metres of rope left over after descending to what was the main lower chamber of the system.
A climb over another barrier with fixed ropes led further into the chamber to where we could hear voices, "Luz, luz! Hola! " (the Spanish cavers must have been impressed with the illumination from my new Stenlight!). Soon we were gasping in awe at the size of the cave, the roof at least 50 metres above us and walls 20 or 30 metres apart, it was immense. The Spanish cavers who turned out to be from Murcia asked us about the Sala de la Colada (Room of Columns), and we compared surveys (Bruce had obtained a photo of a basic survey from the Tourist Info Office that morning).

By now if was around 3pm and we had been in the cave for 3 hours, so we had some lunch and took some photos in the main chamber. By the time we had finished the group from Murcia returned and described the great sights to be seen in the Sala de la Colada, and pointed us in the right direction. A bit more scrambling took us to a climb up impressive flowstone formations and into this amazing section of cave with it wide variety of formations, total unspoilt. It was a great opportunity for some photography and we spent 30 minutes exploring the stalagmites and stalagtites, pools and columns and realising we were probably the first British people to see the superb section of cave.

Before heading back we had a quick look at the "pozo" (well) - a large ramp that descended another 30 metres or so and a rather loose looking scramble that must have led onto more chambers. Another visit may give us chance to explore these further as onm this trip we had really run out of time. It was quite physical work getting all the ropes and equipment out of the cave as the pitches were not really free hangs and so the bags had to be hauled up in short sections as well as removing our bolt hangers and of course returning through the wet calcite squeeze. But we made good time and heading up the last section of rope we could see a feint beam of light illuminating the chamber above us, indicating that it was not yet fully dark outside. With all our gear back at the top of the entrance pitch we congratulated each other on a great trip and then realised that the huge mountain of gear we had needed to be carried back down the steep slopes before we could really say the trip was over.

With four large bags (about 25kgs each) that was quite a challenge, but 60 minutes later, our headlights picked out the car through the trees. Hooting owls talked to each other as we came through the boulder field on the lower section, a fine end to a caving trip that is certainly one not to miss!

Friday 1 January 2010

1st January 2010 - Cueva Don Fernando - Spain

A 300 km drive from Alicante area on New Years Eve found me at reclusive TNC member Bruce Jardines Hacienda in the remote and spectacular Sierra Castril mountains of Northern Andalucia. Conditions were looking rather wintery and with a rather late start we headed into the Natural park well equiped for the steep walk in of about 90 minutes. On the way we chatted briefly to some of the local outdoor enthusiasts who warned us of possible water in the cave and a what sounded like a possible "duck".

Bruce had visited the entrance before and was reasonably sure of the approach route, but with snowfall the prvious night and occaisional wintery showers rolling across the mountains it looked like it could be quite a challenge in itself. We had nearly 200 metres of rope with us and hoped that this would be enough.

Sure enough after 90 mins of walking through epic countryside that would look great in any spaghetti western the cave entrance was pretty obvious, a huge gaping hole below massive cliffs.

100 metres into the cave the daylight was fading and so we geared up and headed down over deep layers of soil from hundreds of years of goat droppings. Just before the first pitch were some fine active gour pools.

The belays for the first pitch were not the best, a single bolt and a poor thread, so we searched around for alternatives and after a while found a good thread immediately above the sloping ledge we had to descend. 5 metres down there was a spinning bolt and several bolt stubs, so we had to use all our rope protectors to avoid any rubbing points on the way down. The pitch used 25 metres of rope and opened out into another huge chamber which dropped away beyond a large ledge.

The belays for the next pitch were bolt stubs so we could go no further without bring hangers and a spanner to allow us to tie the rope in. By now it was 4pm and so it was time to return anyway, at least we were armed with some knowledge of what was in store for us. From the top of the second pitch there were two ways on that we could see. A fixed rope down a gently sloping smooth calcite slope, or a climb over a 10 metre wall which led onto a further huge chamber.

We left the unused rope we had bought and headed back to the entrance and the long descent back to the car. Tommorrow we would have to return with some more rope, bolts and possibly a drill to improve the rope hangs.