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.

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