Oxford University Cave Club

Extremero Expedition, 1991

Final Report

Contents

Skull Cave (47/7)

Summary

Description, Rigging

At the end of 1990, a small draughting hole packets (the Eft) had been rendered passable, and what seemed to be a large pitch discovered beyond. Unfortunately, the pitch it was roughly four inches wide and situated in an otherwise constriction rift; the cave would have to wait for another year.

In the second week of this year's expedition, Dave Horsley and Pauline Rigby rigged the cave as far as the Eft. A few days later, Pauline returned with Chris Densham and Sean Houlihan to further enlarge the Eft and start to produce a passable takeoff for the pitch. Chris decided upon most suitable place to start work and placed a bolt where there was enough room to swing a hammer. It was clear that more work was needed, but Sean and Tony Seddon thought that perseverance would be ordered, and decided to bash on.

After six trips, the pitch head was pronounced narrow but passable. Having done most of the hard graft, Sean had to return to England just as the fun was about to begin, leaving the first descent of the pitch to David Monaghan and Tony Seddon.

This proved to be less straightforward than expected. For the latter, frequent practise rendered the Eft and subsequent rift to be no more than mildly traumatic, but David is psychologically large and found the squeeze awkward. Rather than slow the trip down, he volunteered to wait at the pitch head in case it needed enlarging for the return. Feeling more secure for this, Tony abseiled down the rest of the pitch, the Hollow Men. Landing in a heavily calcited chamber, two pitches were noted, along with a possible continuation of the chamber from a ledge a few metres above the floor. While heading out, another pitch was spotted a little below the tight pitch head, which, despite some foreboding, proved quite unproblematical.

On the following trip Jenny Vernon and Tony rigged the most promising lead, a pitch of nearly 30m. A few minutes excavation revealed a squeeze into a tight rift continuation; unfortunately this closed down after perhaps 10m. An aven above the rift was climbed until it closed down at 30m. Despite a noticeable draught, this part of the cave was left while there were easier pickings to be found.

After this, Chris and Tony descended another pitch which was found to connect with the one explored on the previous trip. They then climbed a few metres to inspect the higher level of the chamber. This proved to be at least as large as that portion already known. A complex and time - consuming place to explore, it became known as "the Waste Land".

A trickle of water dropped some 4 metres over a series of small ledges to where it drained through a small hole. To the right of this a larger hole was a window into the top of an echoey shaft down which stones rattled for three seconds. This turned out to be a large rift which was an easy although sustained climb, named "Church Going" because of its echo which makes singing a rewarding experience. This passage is thought to be in line with the rift explored on the previous trip, although there seems to be no connection; all water enters this part of the cave from the roof, not at floor level.

Half an hour's excavation and hammering produced a tight squeeze leading downstream from the base of the rift. A small passage was followed at floor level for 10 metres to an enlargement, beyond which was another squeeze. As Tony was the only person beyond the initial tight section, and not sure of how difficult the return would be, he deemed it sensible to withdraw at this point. The two cavers headed for the surface. On the way, Chris climbed to a window three metres above the floor of The Waste Land, and rigged down the 7m pitch which he discovered on the other side. Sadly this was blind apart from an impenetrable fissure, through which water could be heard dripping. Back at the top of the pitch, an easy but exposed climb led to perhaps 50m of muddy passage which enlarged steadily until its choked termination.

Although this was not the last trip down Skull Cave in 1991, it was the last to produce any significant discoveries. On a subsequent solo trip, Tony hammered roughly six metres along the small passage at the bottom of the cave, to within three metres after a large sounding space in which water could be heard trickling. Feeling over committed, he backed out of the passage, Pilgrims Progress, despite an inviting draught. While leaving the cave he rigged the pitch just below the top of the Hollow Men. The rope hung free for 23m, dropping into a third pot and passing the window from which Chris had explored this part of the cave on the previous trip. This time but somewhat frustrating pitch was called High Windows.

At the end of the expedition, the cave was photographed, partially surveyed and de-rigged in two trips. At the moment Skull Cave is in the region of 140m deep and provides some excellent sporting caving. Its draught, size and location suggest that there will be plenty of cave to find in 1992.

Description

Contents, Summary, Rigging

The cave is located 3 m to the right of the main path up Jultayu, slightly below the level of 2/7. It is a very inconspicuous entrance in a gravelly slope.

A 10 m pitch drops on to an unstable debris slope, at the top of a find 31 m free hanging pitch, spinal tap. This drops into a fine chamber with a large number of rebecco and wolf skulls littering the floor. A short drop in one corner leads into a bouldery area, where an easy squeeze between blocks enters a small chamber. Here a tight and awkward hammered hole, the Eft, drops into a tight rift, where a howling gale blows out of a long, narrow, hammered slot, which is the head of the next pitch.

The pitch, the Hollow Men, is 40 m long and runs down a stal wall for the lower section; it is possible to climb over the wall to the top of another pitch where a 23 m free hang, high windows, drops into a chamber, blind apart from an impenetrable fissure, through which water can be heard dripping.

The Hollow Men lands in a heavily calcited chamber, where several routes lead off. The most obvious route is a pitch of nearly 30 m. At the bottom it is possible to squeeze into a rift continuation. Following the trickle of water in the floor seems impossible, while the higher level closes down after perhaps 10 m.

From the bottom of the hollow men, a short climb leads into a higher level of the chamber, the Waste Land. This is an unusually complex area, with trickles of water disappearing into several "shake holes", some interconnected.

A three metre climb from the floor of the waste land leads to the top of a 7 m pitch which connects with the bottom of high windows. Alternatively from the top of the pitch, an easy but exposed climb leads to about 50 m of muddy passage which enlarges steadily until its choked termination. Another pitch from the wasteland connects with the bottom of the 30 m pitch described above.

The way on from the wasteland, is near where the main trickle of water drops some 4 metres over a series of small ledges to where it drains through a small hole. To the right of this, a larger hole is a window into the top of an echoing shaft; this is a large, easily passable rift, Church Going, which is thought to be in linr with the rift described above, although there seems to be no connection; or water enters this part of the cave from the roof, not at floor mettle. A tight squeeze leads downstream from the base of the rift. A small passage, pilgrims progress, can be followed at floor level for about 15 metres through several squeezes, to within three metres of a large sounding space in which water can be heard trickling.

Rigging guide

Contents, Summary, Description

Pitch 			Rope 		Rigging
Entrance pitch (P 10) 	15 m 		Bolt; rebelay off longer wire round boulder.
Spinal Tap (P 31) 	35 m 		Bolt at base of previous pitch for traverses; spike; 
					spike deviation at -10 m.
The Hollow Men (P 40) 	45 m 		Short traverse line on tape and wire; bolt (main hang); 
					bolt deviation; spike rebelay.
Church Going (C 35) 	40 m 		Natural back up; wire round choss (needs re- rigging).
High Windows (P 23) 	25 m 		Y - hang from two battles.
P 30 			35 m 		Natural back up; Y - hang from 2 naturals.

Tony Seddon