On the 27th of June, the Oxford University Cave Club arrived in the Picos de Europa in northern Spain at the start of our annual expedition. The main aim was to continue exploration of the cave Ojo de la Bruja or 2/7. This is a superb system which the club has been exploring for past four years. The entrance shafts lead into a series of tight rifts with occasional short pitches. These eventually open out at the top of a four hundred metre deep vertical shaft, at the bottom of which a large streamway is met. The stream can be followed for nearly two kilometres, but the normal route is to climb up into the London Underground, a passage up to 80 metres wide and a kilometre long. At the end of this, a series of pitches leads back down to the streamway at the underground campsite, Primula point. From here, the stream runs through an unstable bolder choke, choke Drusilla, which is bypassed by a climb up into a series of large high - level passages, postman Pat, Bod and Soup Dragon. At the end of the high levels, the stream is rejoined, which Stanley's two-day present end of the cave, the extremely unstable and dangerous choke Egbert.
Rigging into the cave began within three days of arriving in the Picos and was completed within 10 days. A camp was set up at Primula Point, and exploration began. Most trips lasted four days with the first day spent reaching camp, the next two days exploring and last day coming out
The main lead from last year was a small tube heading directly into choke Egbert; unfortunately, this was discovered to have become choked with rocks over winter and so was completely impassable. Another promising route was discovered leading of the main passage just before Egbert; this passage splits and eventually all the routes choke, although some of them may be diggable.
Just before Egbert, the cave cuts sharply right into a low section; the main rifts continues straight ahead to a choke. Tony Seddon bolted up this choke; at the top it was possible to look through a small hole into a black space beyond. He also found a route into the choke part way up, with various ways on needing further investigation.
Jenny Vernon and Chris Densham rigged a 27 metre deep pit in Bod; this dropped into a descending rift which eventually choked; the end is thought be very close to choke Drusilla. Dave Bell, Tony and David Monaghan rigged another pit, Tantalus, in Soup Dragon; a short pitch led to the top of a much larger shaft, about 50 metres deep; this was not fully descended due to lack of rope.
Tony and David also explored a large passage leading off from the start of the London Underground. They followed this for 60 metres to an impassable boulder choke.
On his "days off", Tony explored a rift leading off the entrance shafts in hope of finding an easier bypass to the first of the rifts; no definite end was reached,but this is unlikely to provide an easier route.
As the expedition progressed, it became more and more evident that a entrance in to the system was needed; it is very hard for a small expedition to maintain a concerted pushing effort at such a remote front. Much more time and energy was being exerted on reaching the end of the cave than was spent in actual exploration. Therefore, a lot of effort was put in to explore smaller caves which may drop in to the system.
The first of these to yield was 53/5, situated in the valley Extremero. This was discovered in 1989 and had been the site of many digging trips because of the strong wind issuing from the entrance. Many large boulders were hauled out until the passage became impassable. About 400 metres of cave was explored, with a vertical range of about one hundred metres. The main route down the cave is a tight, steeply descending rift, punctuated by a series of pitches, and ending where the rift becomes too tight. This route is obviously a very immature piece of cave. The way on may prove to be a pendule over the pitch part way down the cave; this route has been only partially explored. The trend of the cave is northwards, away from 2/7, and so it seems likely that it will join the nearby Xitu system.
A better prospect is skull Cave, named after the bones littering the floor of the entrance shafts. This was discovered in 1990, when it was pushed through an awkward squeeze at the bottom of the entrance shaft; this led to a very narrow slot at the top of another drop. This year, the slot was hammered out to reveal a pitch of 14 metres. A further pitch landed in a tight rift which required hammering. Beyond the terminal squeeze, the passage seems to bell out. The bottom of the cave is about five hundred metres above the London Underground and so appeared very promising. Towards the end of the expedition another cave, 66/5, was discovered on the flank of Jultayu. This is a typical Picos cave with narrow rifts punctuated by pitches. One rift, the Corner Shop, is particularly awkward consisting of a series of right angled bends. The end of the cave lies three hundred metres above the top of Postman Pat in 2/7 and 250 metres off - line.
Finally, a halt was called to exploration and de-rigging began. The small caves were all de-rigged efficiently, and then 2/7 was de-rigged in just two trips. This left just enough time for a well - earned beach party before returning to Britain.