Friday 26 February 2010

25th February 2010 - Beyond Easegill Aven

The Easegill system is big.
Despite most of the team having spent nearly two decades ferreting around on a huge variety of trips, it's great when you can still end up in a previously unexplored corner, especially when it turns out to be such a gem.

Heading off caving in daylight has that same strange feeling as when you leave the cinema in the afternoon, it doesn't quite feel right, but nevertheless we were soon making our way down into the rift of Wretched Rabbit.

Once underground the effect of Tom's 70km/week running regime became startingly obvious as Dick and myself sweatily followed the distant sounds of his progress through the meandering passageway. Climbing up into 4 ways brought us onto the Stop pot boulder slope and the ladder that leads to the vastness of the high level series.

The Ladders at Stop Pot leading to Mainline Terminus

Furry suit now soaked and with sweat now running into my eyes, I tried to keep pace with the faint glow of Tom's headtorch somewhere in the distance, the easier ground having allowed him to up the pace a notch. Given the size of Corne's cavern, the entrance to the Mancunian way probably feels tighter than it actually is but it soons gives way to crawling that, if it ever crawling could be described as pleasant, almost is.

 Mancunian Way Crawl

The white rock of the trench walls a stark contrast to the dark soil of its base.
At a cross road with the way ahead becoming blocked and the right hand way leading to the start of a dig reminiscent of Skylight passage, our way on lead to the left.

 Approaching Easegill Aven

A flat out crawl,which saved the very tightest bit till last, soon opened out into a larger passage way. A short climb up utilising possibly the most perfect foothold led into a small chamber.
After a quick ratch around during which we managed to find ourselves back where we had already been and have to use the foothold again, we found the way on. Unlike the previous crawl, this one was of the quite unpleasant type, over ill proportioned cobbles. A "surprise" does however wait at the end and unlike most treats, which are over far too soon, this one continued as we made our way along the aptly named Nice Way.
Having looked at the survey since, leaving a rope down the County pitch would make a very nice roundtrip via Easegill Aven. As it was it was out the same way as we had come in.
Today the Wretched Rabbit climbs felt very wretched and it was with some relief we gained the surface and much needed refreshment from a spring in the gill side opposite the entrance.

The view down Easegill Aven

The Surprise

Nice Way

Nice Way

Dick working up a head of Steam in Mancunian Way

Wednesday 24 February 2010

18th February 2010 - Andalucia

The entrance was just as we had dreamt, after walking for 15 minutes through the idyllic high pastures of the Sierra Castril the GPS took us directly to the impressive cave entrance, a dark gash in the steep hilside surrounded by rocky bluffs and ancient pine trees.

Just a few feet inside the perfectly placed bolts allowed us all to abseil down the bell shaped shaft in quick succession. Bruce, bringing up the rear, lowered down the carefully prepared leightweight inflatable boat that we would need in order to cross the huge underground lake that lay somewhere beneath us.

The walls of the shaft were now hard to pick out in the vastness of the chamber, but after nearly 100 metres of free hanging decent we landed on the crystaline white floor of the cave, surrounded by spectacular sparkling gour pools. The distant walls of the huge cavern echoing our amazement that such a place could exist.

By this time Johns concerns about the pre-planning of this trip had now evaporated, we knew how difficult caves in this area of Spain are to locate, their co-ordinates and access details shrouded in mystery, jealously guarded by locals. However Bruce had spent several days roaming the hillsides until he had identified first the gully, and then the cave entrance.

A late night feast around a blazing log fire at our high altitude camp the night before had been the perfect start, and the amazing display of shooting stars shortly after midnight seemed like a good omen.

The small but robust boat was quickly inflated, and soon we were paddling across the underground sea, at one point we stopped paddling and as the ripples faded the water became so transparent it seemed as if we were floating many metres above the floor. This really was just like a dream.

OK - you've guessed it it was.

The Reality

Slipping and sliding, engine screaming our little hire car was urged on up the muddy track by the exhortations of the four occupants. At least the arcs of yellow mud plastering sides, windows and mirrors of the Peugeot hid the steep drop off from the track side. A combination of clay, slush and a ramp of snow against the front spoiler where it scraped the track stopped further progress. With a bit of cajoling the car slid back, completed a graceful arc with one wheel more than a foot off the ground and slithered, wheels locked, the way we had come. No country for young Peugeots. Any further progress in search of the entrance to Cueva Fuente Frio was going to be on foot. 

 Peugeot put to the test

Meticulous planning by Bruce led to a carefully organised chance meeting with Alfonso on main street Castril, he had pointed us this way, “the cave entrance was in the second quebrada at about 1600 metres, but dangerous in the snow” he said. Hours spent plodding to the col at over 1800 metres confirmed what he said. It would be a dangerous descent in the snow; locating the entrance to Fuente Frio and its tropical underground lake remains a good excuse for a long walk on another day. 

There is a cave in those hills!

The second cave is even harder to find, a narrow slot somewhere high on the slopes of Pico Del Buitre and almost certainly snow filled. Unable to find two of our three caves this was turning into my sort of trip. So it was time to Fandango with Cueva Don Fernando. Bruce and Tom had already done the real work on this with their previous trip, but it’s still an hour and a half uphill slog carrying 230 metres of rope. 

You can't miss this cave entrance

The impressive entrance is slightly marred by the accumulation of years of goat muck, incredibly slippery where wet but with a high incentive not to fall, we left brown ski tracks. Fortunately there is a small clean area before the first pitch to rig up and scrape off the clingons. Pitches, all bolted, descend past the Gran Estalagmita and flowstone features increasingly dominates the cave. 

Flowstone formations

A water lubricated squeeze over more flowstone gives access to the lower pitches – no Yorkshire pot this, full of the noise of running water, all is silent. The route climbs gradually again from the pitch bottom and becomes noticeably warmer, white sand and powdered lime covers areas of the floor, sufficiently few people have been here that individual footsteps are identifiable and most of the cave remains pristine apart from the bats! A squeeze into creepy chamber revealed a pulsating lump of aggregated bats huddled together like one organism just above head height. We had swapped from goats to bats – metre high cones of bat crap built up under their populous winter roosts. 

Bat "deposits"

Quickly leaving creepy chamber and moving through Bat Chamber the fantastic formations of Sala de la Colada were revealed. The most impressive that I have seen outside a show cave. An enormous screen of flowstone dominates one wall of the stalactite decorated chamber. Plenty of time was spent trying to photograph the splendours of the cave but its size soaked up light and a bigger team with more flash power is really needed to do it justice. 

Below - the extensive formations in Sala Colada



We regained the entrance to a wet misty dusk after 6.5 hours underground. It was dark on the descent, but not only had Tom remembered to bring a GPS he had remembered on the way up to turn it on, so without too much staggering about we were back at Cortijo Sierra Castril, wood stove burning, Bruce pouring out the beer, Janice serving lashings of hot food – good country for old men. 

Saturday 6 February 2010

5th February 2010 - Long Kin East

Tom had picked out an adventurous cave for the team. Long Kin East. As far as I could make out it was high up on the Sout East flank of Ingleborough. Looking on the map this morning it seems we parked in Crummockdale and walked up towards Juniper Gulf. The GPS led us to the area but it took 15 minutes to find the entrance. Quite an insignificant swallow hole which dropped us into an active stream passage. A high meandering passage took us to the top of the first pitch which cut down in steps to the base of a high aven. 

 The fine meandering streamway in Long Kin East

The route however led Tom along a sporting traverse, arriving at ther top of the aforementioned aven to take the drop in one. The next section of passageway dropped quite quickly and had its own distinctive feel about it. It led to the top of further pitches, which again looked sporting. The spray and temperature of the water meant we were cooling down, and given that the descent was no giveaway, Tom called on years of experience to make the decision to head for the pub. After much complaining from John in particular we eventually agreed that this was the best option and we'd have to come back another day to do the rest. 

Ascending the entrance pitch

We arrived on the top relieved that it was perfectly calm, no wind chill, and shared some rations before powerwalking back to the car. 

Above the cave entrance

The pub had everything.....Log fire, atmosphere, comfy chairs, table, a few other punters, and of course, some beer. We spent time gloating over our photos in the new caving guide. Phil in the technical section (Mmmm), John in the 'Where to cave section', and Tom more appropriately nearer the front amongst the important stuff. Arrived back at 23.20 to complete a full day.

Monday 1 February 2010

22nd January 2010 - Marble Steps

We had got away with it so far in 2010. With snow and ice cladding the hills and fells beckoning the climber we had not had to go caving but with melting snow we once again found ourselves walking across a muddy hill on a Friday night to go caving. The grapevine in Inglesport had told us about an alternative entrance into Marble Steps called Lost Marbles but Grapevine also told us that it had a 'tight five metres' and it was a bit 'grotty'! If this was the description from him who revels in small muddy spaces then the chances were I wasn't going to like it. Marble Steps appeared in the twilight (it is great when the nights start to get shorter and you walk up to the cave in daylight, makes spring seem not far away) and the snow that had blown in during the blizzards formed large banks overhanging the entrance depression in contrast to the snow free moorland we walked over to the entrance. We dropped the rope bags and walked up the moor to where the stream leads down into Marble Steps pot, then headed back down the snow slope looking for the new entrance. As the stream sank in the left bank we saw a hole cleared in a snow drift where the warm air blowing out from underground has melted it. Moving the slab of rock over the hole revealed a blue plastic pipe leading into Lost Marbles. The beta we had received from Grapevine was all too accurate and after a few metres of grovelling we met a not pleasant looking muddy tight bit with a few inches of snow melt water running through it.

No Comment

None of us had the inclination to attack it so we headed out, rather muddy into the cold night air. An exploration to return to later in the year.

Back at Marble Steps Alistair rigged to the Sidewinder Pitch and then we dropped this to the lower main chamber where a fixed rope was ascended to find a dig in progress.

After reaching the next pitch with no rope to descend it with we headed back out taking photos on the way. In the main chamber we climbed up into the Lost Inlet Series to see where we should have come out had we done Lost Marbles, a fixed rope leading off up into the series. The we headed out and to the pub.
A pleasant first trip of the new year.