Monday 15 April 2024

10th April 2024 - We are sailing!

Car packed and ready to go

We were hoping that the culmination of our trip would be the classic Cueto-Coventosa traverse. The last part of the traverse however requires an ascent up a pitch and the crossing of three long and cold lakes. It's therefore necessary to go into Coventosa to pre-rig the pitch and to depot the required equipment for crossing the lakes. This requires a bit of thought as you need twice the number of floatation devices/neoprene. One set for the way in and one for the way out. (See Mike's later "recipe" post for the tale of the neoprene) We also needed to think about dry bags for the ropes we would be carrying on the way out and food we may want for the last couple of hours of the through trip. It was therefore a pretty full car that we departed with and headed towards Val de Ason.

The Coventosa is the Valley entrance of the Ason valley and about 5 minutes after leaving the car we were in its gaping maw. The coolness of the entrance meant I didn't feel quite as daft wearing my neoprene and the draft through the blowing hole as we exited the daylight entrance helped with the cooling too.

One of the big differences with continental caving compared to Yorkshire is the ability to get lost in one particular chamber, they're huge! I'd begun to feel like a boy scout with my compass round my neck, but a quick glance it saw us heading in the right direction and we soon arrived at a pre-rigged rope. Not knowing if this was permanently rigged or whether it was for a group on their way through we rigged underneath it and set off down the slope/pitch.

Again a brief navigational moment in the vastness of the Metro gallery saw us finally almost back where we started and the way on up a fixed rope. More tuned into the description we began to tick features off and soon found ourselves in the well decorated Bivouac gallery.

Photos. I like the challenge of taking photos, but do find it challenging. It can therefore take me quite a while which I know isn't popular as for others caving is about the joy of flowing through the cave. With Tony now having a bright light too I'd tried to simplify things, going for a 2 torch set up rather than a 2 or 3 flash setup. I'd also found that if I forewarn about my intention to take photos models are likely to be compliant, so as we passed through the formations I proposed taking a picture or two on the way back.

Moving on from the fine decorations in the vast gallery the cave began to close down until we arrived at a sandy and muddy slope at the bottom of which lay a still pool of water, the Coventosa river. From here the trip was to become properly aqueous so it was time to top up the neoprene. I'm always a sweating mess by the time I've finally dressed myself in a wetsuit and it was a relief to slip into the cool water and following the guideline, cross the river. We weren't out of the water long before we came to the first of the gour pools. Wow! Once again I said to the others that we'd be stopping on the way back for photos.

While there weren't many options for taking the wrong route, our excellent description kept us on the optimum path and reassured us that we were on course. There was absolutely no doubt though when in front of us lay a flooded gallery, the first of the lakes. Of all the obstacles on the trip this was probably the one that had seen most pints drunk while we sat in the pub deciding how we were going to cross. In the end after watching a couple of videos of continental cavers doing the trip our plans were scaled back to a couple of brightly coloured inflatable rings each. One to see us across the lakes and back on this trip and one to leave for the planned pull through on the following day. 

Tony inflating his craft prior to the first of the lakes

Half of my family have been for asthma assessments recently and I felt like I should be joining them as I struggled to inflate my ring and accepted a much lower final pressure than the others. Mike was the first to brave the stygian depths, his bright ring contrasting with the dark and sombre surroundings. I've a strong feeling though that he was enjoying himself as he glided out of view along the guide line.

Mike wading into the inky blackness

Cruising across the first lake

One lake down we carefully transported our craft over the portage to the second lake, the jaggerdy rocks making me glad there was a big roll of gaffer tape in my bag in case the worst should happen. The lakes increase in length as you head deeper into the mountain  so take slightly longer to cross each time. The portages too grow in length, that between the second and third lakes verging on the annoying.

At the end of the final lake we located the bottom of the pitch rope that we'd hopefully be using the following day to descend from the gallery above and stashed our rings, neoprene, dry bags and cake. The journey back out was significantly more pleasant with lighter loads and with not having to worry about navigation we could just enjoy the passage. 

Back at the Gour pools it was time to persuade Mike to jump in and then take his time traversing the pool so that I could get a couple of shots. The water really wasn't that warm so I'm very grateful to him as the azure pool (and the model!) was very photogenic.

The beautiful first gour pool

Enjoying the crystal clear waters

A couple more shots on arrival back at the Bivouac gallery and then it was back out into the sunshine. The evening was spent recharging lights and packing tackle sacs as everything was now in place for the finale of our Cantabrian trip. What would the morning bring?

Wonderful formations in the Bivouac gallery

Bivouac gallery stalagmites


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