Monday 22 April 2024

5-12th April 2024 Mike's Cantabrian Recipe & Tony's film

 Cantabria Caving Cake – for ‘feeding the rat’ – Spring 2024, Al, Tony, Mike


 2 Deep Shafts; Sima Tonio at 282m was a suitable starter for focusing the mind and honing

pull through skills, we soon got our routine sorted; Sima del Cueto was quite the step up,

with 8 big pitches off vertical stances in eerie stillness and unfathomable depth to the half

way window and a further intricate series of pitches, fixed ropes, narrow connections and

the final ‘tail tube’ through to the base of the Juhue Well at 581 meters.

 1 Vast Chamber; Popping through the roof of the Sala Olivier Guillaume in the Cueva

Canuela on a thin thread of rope defies superlatives; the depth, silence and huge chamber

making us feel like miniscule specks in both time and space.

 1 Spectacular Streamway; A through trip linking the streamways of Cuivo, Cubieja and

Leolorna proved to be an excellent, entertaining, sporting experience. A short entrance pitch

led to a developing streamway with occasional obstacles to the stunning ‘Caramel

Meanders’, calcited pools of contoured browns; a hilariously muddy bypass section scrubbed

clean in the ‘Wash Room’; followed by 10 varied wet pitches to the depths of Sala del Arco

(225m); perfect strolling downstream passage to the confluence with the Leolorna, then

upstream through the bucket shaped pools of the ‘Marmite Gallery’ and back up to the

previous day’s exit pitches. Quality!

 1 Long Trip; Cueto to Coventosa; 6 hours down the pitches, a couple of hours scrambling

into the mountain before turning at the Pozo Navidad towards the Coventosa cave where

we’d stashed inflatable, neoprene and cake for the way out. Best part of 17 hours

underground. What a trip! Took the whole of the next day to even begin to digest the


 1 Squeaky Bum Moment; Despite my best attempts at maintaining a cool head on the first

pitch of the Cueto, I managed to completely miss the first hanging bolted stance, abseiled

the full 65 meters of rope and had to reascend about 25 meters of what at that point looked

like a very thin and stretchy thread up into the ceiling with utter blackness below. I apologise

for my heavy breathing!

 Many stunning formations; Karst and Calcite in abundance; stal the size of buildings in

length and girth at every turn; Coventosa Christmas gallery sparkling in our lights; gour pools

to swim across; Brachiopod events all around; chambers, canyons, galleries, narrow

entrances and atmospheric exits.


 2 Scurion Lamps; Tony and Al’s lamps cast incredible light in the huge chambers and

galleries we experienced, making my Duo look utterly insignificant by comparison;

particularly useful for spotting reflective markers at a distance, though not for me on the

really big silent pitches, I’d prefer it if we didn’t wake the locals.

 1 Layer of Neoprene; will suffice for the cave streamways and the lakes of the Rio

Coventosa, though if you’d like to hire some more there’s a lovely Spanish chap in Ramales

and you can carry it around with you all day.

 1 Flotation Device; the Rio Coventosa has 3 lakes to cross; I was recommended a ‘boat’,

there was talk of a ‘craft’, Tony went and did his high level paddling leader assessments in

Scotland: but Lidl middle aisle has it all – no-expense-spared kids inflatable rings in a variety

of colours for your choice, just sit down in it and away you go; the perfect addition to any

continental caver’s kit list.

 2 Cameras; thanks so much to Al and Tony for the memorable photos and film; I’m the worst

model, always mooching off downstream, round the corner or down the pitch before the

camera’s even warmed up.

 1 AI translated Spanish guidebook; a few amusing translations aside, the guides, surveys

and pitch topos were excellent enabling us to make the most of our time in Cantabria and be

confident of the pull through commitment. A good bit of homework was done on the ferry

journey and evenings before trips, checking our equipment and annotating and laminating

the necessary paperwork.

 1 Quality Accommodation; we stayed at the Ramales campsite, couldn’t be more perfect for

our needs, a simple apartment meant beds for the night, cooking and showering, kit

preparation and relaxation in the afternoon sun. A brilliant bar with cheap local beer and

food, log burner, reminiscent of our usual haunt at the Barn in Kirkby Lonsdale, even sold

locally brewed real ale


Take 3 middle aged experienced cavers (2 with significant birthdays!) with a likeminded attitude to

caving (have a go at anything as long as its not too too tight) and essential apres-caving activities

(that’s having a beer or 2 after the cave!), a common despair in Tory politics, liberally sprinkled with

wit, humour and abundant trivia. Add 8 days of gorgeous Spanish spring sunshine in a stunningly

quiet mountain area. Prepare your equipment thoroughly before hand and combine the ingredients

with care and delight. ‘Rooope freeee’!

Tony's film

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