Oxford University Cave Club

Expedition to the Picos de Europa, Spain, 1994

"La Verdelluenga"



1994 proved to be another successful year of exploration in the Picos De Europa for Oxford University Cave Club.

As the 1993 expedition drew to a close, a small scale reconnaissance team carried out a series of prospecting trips in the Top Camp area. They found that the very low snow levels allowed access to previously impassable caves. Several very promising sites were noted. La Verdelluenga '94 planned to return to these sites and explore many more caves that we felt sure would no longer be blocked by snow and ice near the surface.

However, the winter of 1993-94 proved to be very severe, and although followed by a very hot spring and early summer, many of the sites we had planned to explore were still blocked with snow when we arrived in July.

The one cave that was still open, F64, was a going concern. As several members of the expedition were only in Spain for the first two weeks, groups rapidly pushed into the cave.

The entrance is located at about 1960 m on the NW shoulder of La Verdelluenga; A very convenient 20 minute walk from our camp at the Snow Pole. The cave starts as a series of friendly pitches dropping down about 150 m. At the bottom of Harmless, the Fierce Ladies of Cannock were met, and beyond a 7m pitch, Hlegless, Their Sisters. A climb up here led to phreatic tunnels which ended in a boulder choked area. The severity of the squeezes and the fear involved in pushing a virgin boulder choke slowed exploration in F64. Gavin Lowe used a scientific, survey based approach to search for a squeeze bypass, while Tony Seddon embarked on a series of solo pushing trips to the end of the cave.

Meanwhile the larger, more fearful expedition members set about finding a less scary and more sensibly proportioned cave.

C8 aroused a lot of interest; two pitches lead to a boulder choke, The Nasty Bit, over the top of a 50m pitch. Wlodek Szymanowski re-engineered this by dropping most of it down the shaft. Below the nasty bit, the pitch opened out. Unfortunately, the strong draught that had been blowing into the cave up to this point disappeared into one of many possible high windows. While digging operations got underway at various sites, heroic bolting escapades proceeded in the final shaft 'Hot and Steamy' to try to find which window was the way on.

Returning from one such trip another cave was found: C9 (latter shown to be C3). Rocks, large rocks, bounded down the shaft for 12 seconds. This was big stuff.

At the bottom of the entrance pitches (-110 m) the passage narrowed briefly, and cavers were sucked through the Vacuum Cleaner. Big pitches followed, and although the way on in the streamway proved to be too tight, at a higher level, a way on was found back down to the streamway and more fine pitches. At the bottom of the Entertainer (60m), things took a serious turn, no passable way on could be found, and the bottom of the pitch was overshadowed by a 20m high wall of loose pebbles and bungalow sized pebbles. A 35m traverse over the top of the Entertainer, 80m up, gave a drop onto the boulder pile. Now, the way on lead down The Defenestrator, passing the Meat Cleaver on route. A series of tight rifts and squeezes lead to the head of a 30m pitch, The Klingon. On the final pushing/surveying trip the streamway beyond was explored to a nice sandy-floored inlet passage, a campsite for 1995, at -490m.

In F64 Tony's efforts in the boulder choke were rewarded with a fine rift passage, this dropped steeply down a series of thirteen pitches in Zodiac Rift, ending at -430 m, in a choked chamber. The draught had been lost somewhere on the last three pitches, so the F64 team are as confident as the C3 enthusiasts of further gains in '95.

Jim Ramsden