Oxford University Cave Club

Expedition to Northern Spain July / August 1973


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OUCC Expeditions to Spain

Reports on this expedition are in
1973 Expedition Report
OUCC Proceedings 6


*N.S. Boulton B.A. (Queen's): Leader & Surveyor.
R.B. Willis B.A. (Astrophysics Dept.): Treasurer & Secretary
A. Morrison (Lady Margaret Hall)
W. Collis (Balliol): Medical Officer.
P. Friend (Hertford).
M. Laverty (Brasenose).
*G.C. Cox M.A. D.Phil. ex Dept. of Botany): Photographer & Surveyor.
*J.G. Forder B.A. (ex. Corpus Christi).
* P. Urban B.A. D.Phil. (ex Dept. of Chemistry)

*Members of previous expeditions

HOME AGENT: Dr. N.M. Sweeting (School of Geography).


The Cave Club bas been involved in the exploration of the caves of the Cantabrian Mountains of Northern Spain for a number of years (OUEC Bulletin 16.5; Proc. OUCC 5; Trans. CRG 13.1).In the recent past, work has been concentrated on two specific areas; in 1966/67 caves in the area of Castro Urdiales were thoroughly investigated, and in 1969/70/71 the club had a series of successful expeditions in the of Llanes / El Mazuco. In1971 the expedition concentrated on surveying the large amount of cave passage which had been discovered previously (Proc. OUCC6in press). It was decided that a fresh area should be sought for future expeditions.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that, although the provinces of Leon, Asturias and Santander contain a large number of known caves, the majority of these have been neither entered nor surveyed and explored. This is attributable to the low esteem which the Spaniards have for caving, but also to the fact that these caves often carry a large flow of water; the wetsuit is a rarity in Spain. Hence most of the original exploration of caves in this area has been done by clubs from English universities.

In the summer of 1972 a party of four members travelled out to the Llanes region to look for a new area for exploration. Their reports are encouraging, and it is upon these that we base the objectives for this coming expedition.


The 1972 reconnaissance revealed an area of considerable potential some ten kilometres to the west of the El Mazuco/Cortines section. This lies between the rivers Cabras and Sella, about fifteen kilometres inland from the Atlantic coast. The hills thus enclosed lie to the North of the massif of the Picos de Europa. There are three ranges, the northernmost being the most interesting since it contains a limestone ridge, receiving drainage from sandstone.


A number of cave entrances were discovered; cursory examination took place but without tackle this was necessarilylimited.1. Cueva de Lledales: this the largest entrance sink of a number situated in a large polje on the northernmost ridge. The cave was briefly. At present there is no knowledge of where the water resurges. There are two alternatives; it could drain to Madre del Rio on the other side of the ridge, giving a potential depth of 320m, or to another resurgence to the west, giving an estimated fall of 180m.

2. Resurgence Cave: this is an impressive stream cave which might connect with Lledales. Because it is a resurgence, this poses technical problems for exploration but the report indicates that the effort will be worthwhile.

3. Tinganon: this cave is a very large stream passage which has-been explored from entrance to exit, but which must be surveyed. Above Tinganon there is a large polje containing a number of dry entrances which have not been explored. Surveying promises to be a complex task.

4. Rales Cave: this drains a different ridge, of which only part is limestone. The resurgence has been entered and the initial upstream probing shows the need for further exploration with tackle.

5. Socueva: this is an area of limestone to the west of Rales which contains a resurgence and several entrances. Local informants say there were caves of some length in the vicinity.

It must be stressed that these are the results of a brief period of investigation by a party of four. A more intensive search of the whole area by a larger group is likely to reveal more caves.


1. Thorough exploration of the Cueva Lledales to determine the flow of the water, and a detailed survey of the cave. It is anticipated that this objective will occupy a large amount of the time available.

2. To explore and survey the area around Tinganon, the resurgence cave and the attendant entrances.

3. To explore and survey the caves of the Rales/Socueva area.

4. To undertake a more intensive investigation of the bloc as a whole in order to provide work for future expeditions. Surveying will be carried out with measuring tape, Sunto compass and clinometer. Photographs will be taken to be incorporated into the expedition report.


One of the major problems which any caving expedition has to overcome is the need to transport the large amount of specialized equipment which will be required. The programme is such that there must be sufficient tackle available to enable simultaneous exploration by two groups, since there will be the manpower available to justify this. We are anticipating transporting some 200m of ladder and 500m of rope. Besides these items, large amounts of personal caving equipment must be taken out, on top of the normal gear needed for five week's camping.

Because of the amount of equipment which must be moved, and also the nature of the terrain, application is being made to the University Clubs Committee for a loan for the purchase of a swb Landrover to be used on the expedition. Vehicle insurance is therefore a large item of expense. It is anticipated that the Landrover and the trailer, which the club already possesses from a previous expedition, will transport the equipment and the luggage of the expedition; three members will travel in the Landrover. It is hoped that a second vehicle, belonging to a member of the expedition, will be available, not only for use as a stand-by vehicle in Spain but also to transport members. However it is anticipated that at least one member will have to travel by air, and it may prove more convenient to send two. Exact dates cannot be arranged until the NUS flight programme has been released; however it seems likely that the expedition will leave Oxford on July 5th and return on August 15th.Past experience has shown that the weather prospects are reasonable during this period.


Previous practice has been for each member to pay his own living expenses in Spain, since it is not worthwhile to take out food supplies. This will amount to £35.00 per head. Individuals will also be required to provide items of personal equipment: wetsuits, lights, boots, and helmets are all susceptible to the rigours of a long, sustained period of exploration. In addition, each member is expected to provide sufficient camping equipment. These costs are outside the expedition budget, but may be estimated at £30.00 per person. It is proposed that the personal contribution be £55.00 per head, with £35.00 for living expenses.

An expedition of necessity places a large burden on the club's tackle. The depreciation item is calculated with this in mind.

The budget for the production of the report is based on current printing costs.

channel ferry: 2 vehicles, trailer, 7 men 145.20
air and bus: 2 men 60.00
vehicle costs: fuel 95.55
insurance 109.00
maintenance, depreciation, tax 101.00
 expedition report: 70.00
 tackle depreciation: 20.00
 personal insurance: 45.00
 photographic and survey equipment: 15.00
administration: 15.00
personal living expenses: 315.00
less personal contributions: 495.00
to be raised: 495.75


Expedition to Northern Spain. July 1973 Amendments to prospectus (FEB. 1973)

1. Landrover

The clubs committee have agreed to a loan of £330 to meet the cost of a vehicle. We anticipate buying a Landrover for approximately £350 to ensure that there will be no difficulty in recovering the original sum: the maintenance carried out for Spain will guarantee this. The loan is due for repayment by Michaelmas 1973. No further progress can be made until the expedition has cover for the insurance and road tax costs.

2. Channel Ferry

A review of the 1973 tariffs has shown that the most economical route is via the Southampton - Le Havre crossing. Reservations have been made on the Townsend Thoresen ferries leaving on July 4th, and returning on August 12th.The finance statement above has been amended to allow for this revised plan: the fuel budget is based on a total mileage of 2200m per vehicle and the current petrol cost in England, France and Spain.

3. Permission. Two separate applications have been made to the Spanish authorities, one to the Comision Nacional de Geologia and the other to the Comite do Espeologia. Dr Cox has received information from contacts in Spain that the relevant departments are processing our request, and that a permit is to be issued in the near future.

4. Support

The expedition has now been officially recognised by the University of Oxford., and given full APPROVAL as an official University Expedition.

The Cave Research Group of Great Britain have given the expedition their full support.

Other applications are pending.

5. Equipment

The Oxford University Exploration Club have approved the expedition as being worthy of support and will recommend the support of manufacturers and traders in the supply of equipment.

R.B. Willis