[see also: OUCC Proc 11]
So far on the expedition, most of us had bashed our heads against the wall at the end of 8/11, only to have the lead removed from in front of us by the discovery of a lower entrance. Then William arrived, during a spectacular session in the Refugio, and expressed confidence at being able to find Optimisto, a cave with high potential that had been abandoned after only one trip pushing to the bottom. A plan was hatched for William, Tony and I to visit Optimisto's too-tight final rift the next day.
William found the cave after only about a half-hour search. The infamous crawl Unclean! Unclean! had dried out, so we had none of the expected horrors. At the foot of the final pitch, Leper's Leap, Tony bridged across the rift. He passed an awkward traverse, and promptly disappeared into the tall passage beyond, around 6 m above the floor. I soon followed, and after 15 m or so of straight rift, a hole in the floor doubled back, and then turned back again to continue in roughly the previous direction. Only now it was a narrow, tortuous rift: this was where the 12 year old footsteps ceased. Tony, helmet off, tried negotiating a sharp bend, but I found an easier way over the top. Around 20 - 30 m of narrow rift navigation followed, until we intercepted a large, descending passage on the left. Stepping slowly down from the rift into the passage, we were only able to savour the moment briefly before the end was reached the few metres further on.
Continuing along the rift, it rapidly widened, two steeply sloping inlet tubes joined, and the roof extended several metres above. Then we found ourselves braced over a five metre pitch with a sump at the bottom - or at least, a deep pool that seemed almost certain to be sumped. The draught continued over the top to a high level dried up sump. We checked out all the inlets passed on the way through the rift, then returned to William who was waiting at the foot of Leper's Leap. Here Tony discovered that at some point in the rift his chest harness had been torn off, so he needed to improvise a new one.
Tony and I returned with Pivo the following day to check out all the leads that we could think of. A brief dig in the draughting choke at the base of the 2 m climb beneath the corkscrew yielded nothing viable. Tony climbed the ramp in the middle of Unclean! Unclean! then carefully traversed across the top of the final pitch, but neither route yielded anything.
Pivo and I dropped down the 7 m pitch before Huning's Horror and reached an immature and impenetrable stream-bed passage. Finally, further towards the entrance, we descended Hywel's Hole - a deep shaft traversed around on the way to the second pitch - which had been plumbed to 24 m by William while surveying 11 years previously. This turned out to be 40 - 45 m deep, there being a sloping ledge at presumably the 24 m mark. A 4 m climb led down to another pitch, which had clearly been descended before. We rigged this after a quick return to Ario to fetch more rope. At the bottom of the pitch, a tight rift with shreds of red nylon at the bottom led to a climb down to a draughting chamber. Unfortunately a hasty exit had to be made at this point, returning to a storm ravaged camp, one minute before our midnight call-out.
The depth of this part of the cave is estimated to be at around 80 - 90 m, and was probably only ever visited once, in 1981. It is hoped that a return will be made next year.