The expedition left at lunchtime on the 28th of June, and travelled through France and Spain to arrive at Los Lagos late the following evening. Three days later the first trip rigged the entrance series of our objective cave, 8/11 or Pozu Sierra Forcada. During the next week, the rest of the cave was rigged, and a lot of effort put into fully equipping the camps.
Once 8/11 was fully rigged, exploration commenced. Big Wind, the passage reached at the end of last year's expedition, was followed, and soon dropped back into the main streamway beyond the sump. Easy exploration didn't continue for long; the main stream passage lowered to a series of small muddy sumps. Our high hopes for a link into Pozu Cabeza Muxa, which would have given a one kilometre deep system, were slowly eroded: with subsequent trips it became apparent that the cave seemed to come to an end at the depth of only 156 m. All that exploration yielded was a number of connections back into known passage.
A surface survey tied in the surface features with the cave beneath, most importantly revealing that a line of springs at Vega Mohandi was only metres away from the caves lowest reaches. This survey also led us to several new caves, two of which we were able to connect into the cave: Pozu Mohandi (26/11) provided a very quick route into the bottom of the cave, facilitating the final explorations of the system and subsequent surveying; Entrada del Raptor (23/11) on the other hand provided a very difficult link into the middle section of the cave. Nearer the main 8/11 entrance, another cave was entered, the tradesman's entrance (20/11), which linked into the upper part of the system, providing an easier way in.
When we had completed this year's explorations, we had extended the cave to over 2km in length, tied in four entrances, and had learnt a lot about the hydrology of the area.
Meanwhile, the realisation that the Spanish group, the SIE, had discovered a cave that they had named Pozu Cabeza Julagua - our original name for 8/11 - sparked a major hunt. Eventually this cave was found, numbered 8/13, and investigated. Two passages not marked on the survey were discovered: the first had obviously not been entered, but led down to a chamber that had been (although no other way in could be seen); the second was genuine virgin territory, leading to a passage extremely well decorated with all sorts of stalactitic formation, most notably its glassy clear stalactites and cascades.
Elsewhere near Ario finds were made in Xitu, Pozu Optimisto, and Pozu los Texos. Several new caves were discovered, and many of the SIE caves were relocated.
A two-week reconnaissance trip investigated leads at Top Camp, high up in the mountains. Snow levels had continued to drop, making access possible to several previously snow-choked entrances. The most impressive cave explored was F57, Cueva del Arco, a large arched entrance which in previous years had been completely buried by snow. This cave was descended for 150 m down a snow ramp until the cave appeared to end, although there may still be a way on under the snow. Another cave, F41, was descended to a depth of 80m, with the end apparently wide open. Other promising entrances were found, but not descended due to lack of time. Plans are already been made for a return expedition to investigate these caves.
The end of expedition came too soon for many of us, yet people still continued to put a lot of effort into the task in hand. The caves were all the most part de-rigged in an efficient manner, the gear carried back to the Los Lagos roadhead in ever larger loads, and with plenty of time to spare, the van was loaded for the return journey home.