Oxford University Cave Club

Cave Research Group publication 14

1961 Oxford University Expedition to Northern Spain

1961 Expedition Report (CRG 14)

Other Expedition reports

OUCC Home Page

A Return to the Picos, Summer 1962

In August 1962, the lure of the Picos proved too strong for us again and, in all, nine people from Oxford stayed at the refuge, in two parties. Of these, four were members of the previous year's expedition. The aim was not so much intensive exploration as a speleological holiday. Nevertheless much new work was achieved, and many holes of future promise noted.

Much activity centred on the long fissure cave, Cueva del Viento (C15). Meandering and heavily scalloped tubes were found below the main rift passage, but no general direction could be ascertained. At the far end of the fissure an attempt was made to bypass the active rising (which was no fuller than the previous year, despite the very much wetter weather prevailing), but hammer and chisel work is needed before the small tube, through which running water can be heard, is passable. A considerable draught through this tube shows that the system extends further upstream.

The most interesting development in this cave, however, was the discovery of Muddy Passage. This can be reached from the main chamber by a siphon passage or from an extension to the rift that crosses the entrance series by the prominent tufa wall. It consists of a series of dry mud-filled chambers linked by a very complex arrangement of scalloped tubes. These lead to a dry meander passage, heading northwest, which enters a long dry rift. This heads approximately 60 south of the general direction of the main rift passage. Some formations were observed, especially towards the far end of the rift, which narrowed down to a low crawl and a boulder filled chamber with two exit passages. A strong draught blows down the 1200 foot length of the passage presaging the possibility of further discoveries in this direction.

Another cave, further up the Vega Redonda, is entered via a fissure overlooking the path. The rift continued past a bank of snow for about 200 feet until it petered out into a low bedding plane filled with boulders, through which a draught issued. Lack of digging equipment prevented further exploration.

Many shakeholes were investigated in the vicinity of the Lago Enol and the road leading to it. From many of them, strong draughts issued and it seemed possible to enter most of them after only a little digging and boulder shifting. In one small cave in this area some very fine dry rimstone pools were discovered, but another, Brown Mouse Hole, contained only a dead sheep, at the bottom of a promising looking 55 foot pitch. Several rifts in the area raised hopes of a substantial entry into a system, but all petered out fairly rapidly.

An interesting cave in a very advanced stage of development was uncovered during a mist-enforced halt in the Vega las Mantegas. A thick layer of bergmilch covered all the formations and, under this, a remarkable multicoloured layered calcite covering could be chipped off.

Near the site of Pozu Palomeru (P1) shakeholes were investigated in attempts to discover alternative entrances to this cave, particularly where the survey indicated that it lies near to the surface, but little progress was made in several promising digs. Two discoveries of interest were made in this region however. One pothole descended twenty feet into a dry chamber, from which two holes led to a pitch of at least fifty feet, which could not be descended owing to a lack of ladder. A more exciting discovery was a hole which quickly led to a pitch which may well, from stone dropping experiments, be 500 feet deep. Both these holes are near the road, in the shallow valley leading down from the Lago Enol, which will aid the use of the large amounts of tackle that will be needed for their exploration. The possibility that these potholes may be part of some glacial overflow system from the lake is quite credible.

Further walking and climbing explorations were carried out at high altitudes, though the difficulty of transporting tackle to such heights over such terrain renders extensive cave exploration difficult. This problem will be partly relieved by the new refuges at present being built by the Spanish authorities in this area. Several snow filled caves were looked at near Fuente Prieta, at the 6000 feet level, and draughts indicated that cave systems exist, with their entrances blocked by snow.

Three attempts were made to scale Pena Santa Maria de Enol, an 8500 feet limestone knife-edge peak, the second highest in the Central Massif of the Picos de Europa, from both the northern and southern sides. One pair attained a position only sixty feet from the top, but loose rock demanded exceptional caution, and the inexperience of the climbers necessitated a retreat.

The magnificent gorge of the Rio Cares - which is over a mile deep - was descended and explored to the village of Cain. The return journey to the refuge was made through the night, the total time taken being twenty-three hours with ascents and descents totalling some twelve thousand feet.

Once again pleasant evenings were spent in Cangas de Onis, in Covadonga and at the refuge, where Sr Ramos and his wife welcomed us with open arms and again demonstrated their tremendous hospitality.

It may be concluded that there is immense scope for further cave exploration in this area, as none of the caves have been fully explored, and many shakeholes seem to show great promise - a little boulder shifting appears to be all that bars entry to the underlying cave systems in many cases.

Ken Mills, Totteridge, London April 1964