1995 Expedition: Boca del Joon
Picos de Europa, Spain
The cave is located on the north-west ridge of La Verdelluenga, at an altitude of about 1950m. From the Snow Pole, walk up the left (true right) hand side of the ridge, passing several large shakeholes on your right. Just above the last shakehole where the ridge suddenly becomes markedly steeper a traverse right and a scramble up reaches a ledge; alternatively, cross the shakehole lower down and traverse in from the right (true left). The entrance is a shaft on the right hand side of the ledge, approximately 2m long by 1m wide.
The impressive 42m entrance pitch, Whistle Stop Café, lands in a reasonable sized chamber. [Two thirds of the way down the pitch, an obvious inlet can be penduled into; this is best rigged as a deviation for the return. The passage to the left chokes quickly, but ahead is an ascending, silt-bottomed passage, which leads for 25m, to a series of short climbs up, with popcorn walls, at the top of which the passage eventually gets too small.]
At the bottom of the pitch, a small inlet enters, and the passage turns to the right and leads to two slight constrictions, beyond which is the top of the second pitch, Olé, Olé, Olé. Turning round after the second constriction, a handlined climb between boulders drops onto a ledge which provides an easier takeoff. Descending to the bottom, the passage is blocked by a choke, but from halfway down it is possible to traverse onto blocks; a slot, Spearmints, leads to a clamber over a large boulder, to a boulder slope leading to the top of the 35m third pitch, They Come at Night. The top of the pitch is very loose, care!
[Directly above the large boulder at the head of They Come at Night, a small aven can be climbed to a constriction at a height of 6m; beyond is a blind chamber.] [Alternatively, it is possible to rig a pendule across the pitch head to a high, one metre wide window. A ramp leads down into a draughting shattered chamber, 10m long by 5m wide. On the far side of the chamber a hole in the floor drops down an 11m pitch to a smaller chamber. Turning round, a narrow tube slopes down to a loose pitch head. The twenty metre pitch descends to a ledge next to the top of Mostly.]
At the bottom of They Come at Night, a short traverse leads to the top of the 40m Mostly, landing in a boulder-floored chamber. A 6m climb on the left leads up to a boulder covered ledge. [A narrow rift leads from the back of the ledge but becomes too tight.] A 12m pitch, the M6 Bypass, leads up from the ledge. From the top of the pitch, climbing over a wall leads to the top of a steep slope. The slope opens out over a pitch. At the bottom of the pitch a 10m passage, with an undescended hole in the floor, arrives at the top of Old Bore's Hill.
From the base of Mostly, continuing straight ahead through a slight constriction leads to a descent in a rift, where a ladder is useful for the way back. Just round the corner is an 8m pitch Harmless, landing in a round, drippy chamber, with a tight rift leading off: the bottom is too tight, but climbing up a few metres and traversing in reaches the start of the squeeze series.
The first squeeze, The First Fierce Lady of Cannock, is best approached on your left hand side; after two metres it is possible to squeeze up and round a corner; some people are able to get their legs straight out from here, but others find it easier to slip their left leg round the corner and then to come out. On the way out, the squeeze is taken feet first, being careful to keep high.
Beyond the squeeze, a climb, on which a ladder would be useful, drops 4m into a rift. Immediately round a corner, the passage lowers to a tight crawl, The Second Fierce Lady of Cannock. This is best taken head first; after ~4m, keep high above a hole in the floor, before dropping down, through a squeeze, a little further on. The bottom of the rift is then followed to where it suddenly opens out at the top of the 8m Hlegless. On the way out, the squeeze is passed head first, taking care to avoid dropping tackle down the rift.
At the bottom on Hlegless, a tight rift continues. The bottom can be followed through two squeezes, The Sisters, but becomes too tight. The way on is to climb back to the top of the chamber, and then squeeze through a hole at the top; this is easiest if a ladder is rigged, which gives a useful foothold to help push through the squeeze. Beyond the squeeze is a small chamber, about 3m long, to another squeeze: this is passed feet first, to the top of a short climb.
The passage from the last squeeze descends two short climbs, before suddenly opening out into a large passage Bazd-Meg's Holiday. [Above and behind, a large tube leads steeply upwards, but has not been fully pushed.] The passage continues as a 3m diameter tube. The floor is false, with a stream passage below. [It is possible to climb down part way along the passage. Turning left leads, after a few metres, to an inlet with a pool, useful for filling carbide generators. Alternatively, turning right, the passage can be followed to where it narrows at a traverse, before opening out at the top of a 20m, splashy pitch. At the base, after 10m of horizontal passage, the stream flows into a tall, too tight rift. To the left a 5m climb up a boulder slope leads to the base of a large draughty aven.]
Continuing along Bazd-Meg's Holiday, another hole in the floor is passed, which is believed to connect with the aven in the stream passage, noted above. Ahead, the passage leads to the base of a 16m climb, Old Bore's Hill.
Passing across the top of Old Bore's Hill, a short traverse leads to the top of a 45° descending tube, descended on rope. [Part way down, is a hole in the floor, the top of a 14m pitch. This lands in a chamber, with a further 11m pitch continuing into a shattered, choked chamber with no apparent way on.]
At the base of the descent from Old Bore's Hill is a choked area. [To the left is an aven.] Straight ahead, the passage passes under an arch to a chamber. A route up through a choke to the right (care!) eventually opens out into a reasonably large chamber. A further climb leads to the top of an undescended pitch, although this is believed to drop into the aven described above. Alternatively, it is possible to look through a too small gap into a black space.
The way on from the bottom of the Old Bore's Hill descent is to the right, where a vertical rift can be descended for 5m, into a 6m diameter chamber. [To the left, behind a large boulder, a muddy 3m climb, brings you down to the top of a vadose passage, which descends steeply for ~5m to a 5m pitch. Beyond the way on is blocked by boulders.]
The way on from the chamber at the bottom of the vertical rift is at the lowest point of the chamber where a slot was dug open. This can be passed into a tiny chamber where a squeeze through another slot is best passed using a hand line. Beyond, the passage enlarges and descends to the top of a 3m climb, beyond which is the top of the 20m Eton Rifles.
Eton Rifles descends along the side of a choke to land on a large ledge. A short roped climb leads to the top of another pitch, Cool for Cats (P24).
Cool for Cats lands on a platform of boulders in a large rift, Zodiac Rift. [Turning right, a narrow rift can be followed to the base of an aven; a large passage can be seen to continue about 10m up.] A short pitch, Aries, can be rigged through a hole in the boulder platform, to the base of the rift. The rift descends at 45° , with five short pitches following in quick succession: Taurus (P6, C4), Gemini (P4), Cancer (P6), Leo (P5) and Virgo (C5, P2). The rift continues to descend steeply, with a couple of short free climbs, before it opens out at the top of another short pitch, Libra (P5). A roped traverse leads to the sloping top of a somewhat longer pitch, Scorpius (P14). Below, a short traverse to a chock stone leads to the top of Ophiuchus (P8); halfway down is a ledge with a traverse continuing, but this is avoided by a deviation. Another short pitch, Sagittarius (P4), is followed by a traverse and a climb down into a chamber.
From the chamber, a clamber down leads to the top of Capricornus, a 24m pitch down the rift, following the steeply descending base of the rift for the final 8m. The pitch lands on a ledge from where the next pitch, Aquarius (P27), follows immediately, again following the base of the rift. A final short pitch, Pisces (P5), lands in a chamber marking the end of Zodiac Rift.
From the chamber at the end of Zodiac Rift, another pitch, Skittle Alley, continues. This drops along the side of a vertical boulder choke: the rope should be rigged well clear of the choke to avoid dislodging boulders. Another choke is visible at the same height, 10m further along the rift. At the bottom of the choke, the pitch follows the base of the rift steeply downwards to a drop onto a ledge.
From the ledge, a 16m pitch, Picture Palace, can be rigged down a circular shaft onto a large, bouldery ledge. The final pitch, Myxomatosis (P28), follows immediately, down the side of a boulder choke into a very large chamber, 30m long by 10m wide. A steeply sloping gravel choke can be ascended with care (trowel useful for digging footholds) to a window into a final chamber with a choke. On the right hand side of the chamber, 5m below the top of the slope, a passage leads down into the boulder choke, Death Trap Dungeon. A handline is useful in the choke. Staying right and heading down where possible leads to a section of rift at the bottom of the choke. An aven ascends ahead but closes down. To the right the rift is too tight. On the left the rift continues for 10m before it becomes choked.