Oxford University Cave Club
Huerta del Rey Expedition 1992
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During the first camp in the cave in 1992, Paul Mann and Tony Seddon decided to investigate Tantalus, the partially descended pitch rigged in the course of the final camp of 1991. Equipped with 60m of rope, plus lots of rigging gear, they made the tip to the pit in around two hours from the camp on the Big Ledge. This was in sharp contrast to the twenty minute dash which was all the effort needed to reach the same spot from the earlier camp at Primula Point. Most pushing downstream which took place this year was done in the course of trips in excess of twelve hours duration.
The descent of the shaft took relatively little time as the bolts at its head had been placed in 1991. A further pair of deviations kept the rope clear of the rock for over 30m to where a buttress of frangible limestone necessitated a difficult bolt placement for a rebelay. A further deviation brought the cavers to a floor a further 30+ m below, in the spray of a small inlet which entered part way down the pitch.
This stream meandered away in a deepening narrow trench, but broad ledges above allowed easy progress around a few bends to a splashy 3m climb. Here the waterway widened appreciably, but the excitement was short-lived because, no more than 10m further on, the way closed down in a tiny inclined rift and pebbly sump. The rest of day was spent trying to locate a high level rift bypass, and involved some nervous traversing on fragile and often slimy ledges as lights faded and became choked with mud. All to no avail: although we could not state conclusively that the pit was blind, the hope that this was the key to the system beyond dwindled away. Tantalus it had been named, and tantalising it remained.
The next camp to pass this way was the third, a quiet trip with only two members, Chris Lloyd and Tony Seddon. The first day saw some interesting scrambling up the right hand side of Heathrow, locating two pitches above Tony's Back Passage, which presumably drop into that part of the cave. Moving onwards, three pitches were descended in the left hand side of Bod. Two were blind, and the third dropped onto a balcony roughly 20m above the Pimpernel Streamway, which provided exciting traversing and a nice view, but still no way on.
On the following day the hopeful explorers were in Choke Egbert, digging in the cobble-floored tube, but lack of tools prevented serious progress, despite the draught emerging through the rubble fill immediately ahead. Back up the cave, they investigated the boulder choke above the climb, Reach For the Skyhook, put up in 1991. The black space seen in that year was reached after some tense upward digging amid slumping rocks the size of TV sets and run-ins of gravel slurry. Unfortunately the continuation consisted of one body length before more of the same, and with no way of retreating rapidly from collapsing rubble it was deemed prudent to retire. Most interestingly a large dark space was noted across the streamway from the first climb into Postman Pat. Further investigation was resolved upon.
The final pair to undertake the long slog through the London Underground and Zasadska Way were Jonathan Cooper and Tony Seddon. These two stayed in the cave an extra day at the end of the camp which took the prize-winning picture of the Just Awesome chamber. With a full set of aid-climbing gear they cheated their way up a slimy 15m ramp at the top of Postman Pat, reaching the base of a high, inclined aven. This was free-climbed to its top, some 60m higher, in a series of easy, but exposed, climbs on dubious rock. Various leads were noted and investigated, and although most pinched out, there was one draughting crawl heading further into the cave which ended in a hammerable flake and calcite blockage. Fading lights prompted a retreat, but not before a further upward lead was noticed, along from the base of the original climb, as well as a drop, which seems to head back up the cave, but which the expedition geologist says may nevertheless be significant. Finally a bright handtorch left behind by the photographers was used to illuminate the hole noted across the stream during the earlier camp, confirming that it might be reached by an exercise in bolting.
In summary, this year's hard work downstream was not repaid as it might have been, but several leads were ticked off, and some encouraging new ones were discovered. The potential remains the same, only the commitment may need to be increased (again). If enough areas are investigated, the one which goes is bound to turn up.