1995 Expedition: Boca del Joon
Picos de Europa, Spain
Expedition 95 proved to be an expedition of mixed fortunes. In 1994 two deep caves had been partially explored; C3 to a depth of nearly 500m and F64 to around 450m. Hopes were high that at least one (and hopefully both) of these caves would go very deep. The kilometre of depth that has eluded OUCC since Xitu was bottomed was talked about and there was even a bet as to whether C3 would reach this depth in 1995 or 1996.
Obviously this was tempting the fates too much and in the end neither cave went this deep. In fact the depth of F64 was only increased by a paltry five metres and several very determined pushing trips merely succeeded in proving that the terminal boulder choke was indeed terminal. However a large number of very successful pushing and camping trips were carried out in C3 and significant extensions were made in depth and, excitingly, in length.
The first two weeks of expedition were spent carrying gear up to our top camp and rigging the two caves. This served to acclimatise the large number of expedition newcomers and paved the way nicely for the pushing to come. Once the caves were rigged the pushing started in earnest and C3 started to go immediately. The perched sump that had been found (though not widely publicised) at the end of 1995 was bypassed with ease and the passage continued beyond. The cave was going and enthusiasm for camping trips became so great that a "hot-bedding" system, in which the sleeping bags were used by two groups sleeping and pushing in twelve hour shifts, was set up.
In the following weeks this enthusiasm, coupled with hard work and a bit of luck, led to significant breakthroughs on almost every trip. The climax occurred near the end of expedition when a shaft was dropped to intersect a fairly large inlet. This was followed downstream to a t-junction where it met a very large stream. At this point we were sure that the long postulated third system had arrived and we had found another significant piece of the hydrological jigsaw that fitted together to make the Culiembro resurgence.
Sadly the stream led to a lake which, with the help of a dinghy, was found to sump after 72m. This effectively marked the end of pushing for 1995 and several potential sump by-passes had to be left for next year's expedition. However we did have just enough time left to obtain the first ever positive dye trace result from a top camp cave. F64 was traced to the stream in C3 and thence to Culiembro.
The current depth of C3 is around 630m, which means that about 150m of extra depth was added this year. This was supplemented by a large amount of hard- won horizontal progress, including a lot of stream passage, in which many leads had to be left, including a wide-open lead upstream. Expedition '96 should be a good one!