1998 Expedition: "Jultayu"
Picos de Europa, Spain
|1998 Expedition Report - Contents|
In 1998, exploration in 2/7 was supposed to concentrate on pushing downstream. Naturally some thoughts strayed to the wide open upstream leads, and the first opportunity to open a second front on 2/7 exploration fell ironically to Tony Seddon and myself, the pirates of 1992. There was an argument that this was well deserved. We'd achieved all we'd aimed to do in the first day and a half of the first underground camp of 1998. Tony had rigged Just Awesome down to the stream-way, then jumarred and free climbed Dead or Alive to regain the high levels of the London Underground on the far side. This was rigged on new rope as were the horrible Zazadska pitches down to the Primula Point campsite. We'd placed a good half dozen new bolts to make life easier on these pitches and dragged a decent amount of rope down to the campsite. We'd even tested out the 9-year-old ropes on the traverses and pitches up to Postman Pat and had a good look around with a bright FX5 for new ways on. Alternatively we could have argued that it was more efficient to check upstream from our Big Ledge campsite, rather than trudge downstream with little or no tackle to carry. In truth, we went upstream because we could and no one was there to stop us. We'd come prepared with the route description for upstream and the bonus of checking open leads had spurred us on to do so much in the first couple of days.
The route upstream starts with a short rope climb at the back of the Big Ledge campsite. Dave Lacey had had something of an epic negotiating the overhanging wall above the upstream pool to get to the same point, when he had made a direct approach along the stream way during his 1991 recce. The two routes meet at a boulder-strewn passage, with a climb up a flake in the right hand wall just before this grinds to a halt. The next section is Barne's Loop the Loop, a series of climbs and traverses in the rifts to avoid a waterfall, followed by a boulder choke. This was deceptively easy to pass on the way in. After the choke, the going is much more pleasant, along the stream as far as the Blowhole. This is a short climb through a smallish crack, which tends to grab gear and other dangly bits. A knotted rope helps avoid a soaking in the deep water below the climb, but a good clubbing with a crow-bar would generally make the experience more convivial.
Beyond the Blowhole, we found lost treasure in the form of a day-glo orange goon-suit. In principle, this is a water-prove immersion suit, which may help floating through deep waters. It had been taken to this point in the hope of finding a wet bypass to the Blowhole before it was hammered. It, nevertheless, may prove useful if more deep water was met further upstream. Our next obstacles were two more rope climbs, then a free climb through a couple of "squeezes" as suggested by the route description. In practise, these are far from tight bits of rift that lead up into a chamber overlooking Echo Beach, which is reached via an abseil in the right-hand corner. Echo Beach is immense, but with a clear path marked out in the sandy floor. Tony's memories of previous visits to this area was now proving invaluable, as the route across to the Dead Sea Strolls is not obvious and a number of short climbs and traverses have to be negotiated without dropping down to the stream far below.
After traversing over the Dead Sea itself, the Dead Sea Strolls alternate between beautifully carved fossil passage, and areas of bouldery breakdown. We were now in little visited territory with the best route not obvious and plenty of loose boulders to occupy the mind. Finally the fossil passage gave out at the limit of the previous survey. Either we dropped a sort 8m pitch down to the active stream or a bold step would reach the continuation of the high level. The bold step was tempting, but we'd need to put a rope on it, whilst the obvious way on would be to drop the pitch. The final pushing trip in 1992 had dropped into the stream, but then turned back at the next corner. Why had they done so? At the time Dave and Pauline had been less than enthusiastic, describing a couple of wet cascades and the prospect of a soaking. This was, however, the last pushing trip of the expedition and information from such trips is notoriously unreliable.
In the event, the in-situ bolts made the decision for us: badly positioned for the traverse; ideal for the pitch. We had 100m of rope that we'd found at the camp, which was more than plenty for the pitch, named Oregano in 1992, or Touching Cloth this year for reasons best left unsaid. The pitch was easy to rig, with a large flake for the main hang, backed up from the bolt and a huge natural. At the foot of the pitch, the short cascades were easily traversed to find smooth flowing shin deep water in what appeared at the time and still is to my mind the most beautiful stretch if stream passage that I'd ever seen. No formations, but amazingly shaped by the flowing water, like a tear drop, three to four feet across, tapering upwards with a smooth rounded floor. The walls were superbly well scalloped, with the dark grey/black limestone contrasting with the blue-green water. The passage meandered in this fine style around a series of gentle bends.
We took turns at the front, whooping as we turned each corner to find it still continued. At one point the roof curved over us, 10 or 15m above our heads suggesting the continuation of the fossil high levels, then opened up again as the passage seemed to get wider. Around the next corner, the roof lowered to head height, but these were only massive boulders jammed across the passage as a beneath a large round chamber. Beyond this chamber we could climb up into a fossil passages on the right-hand wall. These had been left like hanging oxbows, perfect mirror images of the tear-shaped active stream below. Around the next corner, a straight section, then a deep pool, before a long straight narrow rift. It was not clear how deep the pool would be and we did not fancy a soaking so we agreed to turn back at this point. We'd covered about 200m of easy walking passage and still had the large chamber to investigate.
Back at the chamber, it was easy to scramble on top of the boulders that now formed the roof of the stream passage, and then back down to the stream again. A shower-bath suggested an inlet coming far above our heads, but even with an FX5, it was hard to see where the water was coming from. We scrambled up the left-hand wall hoping to find a high level back over the Deep Water where we had turned back. This got us to a ledge about 10m above the chamber floor, but this pinched in before the limit of exploration. The ledge proved harder to get off than get onto, though it did afford a view into a large passage higher up the wall, heading back downstream. Tony managed to climb the wall up to this passage, which was about 5m across, with his progress only barred by a short 5m pitch down to more walking passage. With no rope this had to be left for another day and an interesting time was had getting back to floor level. It was now time to get back to camp. We were back at the pitch in a couple of minutes and whilst Tony re-rigged the rope for an easier take off, I checked out the downstream continuation. After a couple more short cascades, this too ended after 20m or so at deep water, similar to our upstream turning point, but again with open passage beyond.
More familiar with the route, we took little time to make our way back downstream, checking out a number of inlets as we made our way up the Dead Sea Strolls. Some of these looked promising, with only the psychological support of a rope needed to press on. No route finding problems except for the choke above Barne's Loop the Loop, and missing one of the traverse levels down. This, however, was not a tragedy, as we found our way to the climbs up to the balconies overlooking Just Awesome. Careful use of at least 5 points of contact at any one time, meant we could climb up and up and up well above the level of the stream. By the time we were looking out over Just Awesome, we must have been over 100m above the campsite, a feeling that was reinforced by spotting Lev Bishop on the Big Ledge and Paul Mann on Heathrow.
Paul had carried a tail of rope from the across to Heathrow at the start of London Underground, so by some complicated whistle-blowing code, the rest of their ropes could be hauled across the chasm. It was a spectacular sight, albeit a noisy one. We rushed back down to camp (via the lined route) to catch them before they went. We were pretty happy to see them, having only had each other's company for the past two and a half days and were eager for news from the surface. They, however, seemed distinctly underawed to see us, but that was understandable as they has resigned themselves to three or four more hours of work before seeing their pits at Primula Point. Even the offer of a cup of tea was scorned in favour of sack-hauling. We did, however, learn that Martin Smith had been struck down by kidney stones, though thankfully before he had set off for underground camp, and that the next teams were keen to get down here just as soon as they got news of how things were going. Well satisfied with the state of the world we settled down to tea, stew and sleep, as Lev and Paul's lights slipped into vastness of the London Underground.
In the mad rush to push past Egbert the upstream limit got left until the final camping trip of the summer, so not only had no-one plunged the depths of the Deep Waters to see what was on the other side, but no-one had surveyed the new finds. Normally this task would fall to the original explorers who would survey as they broke into new territory, but we'd had no surveying kit (which was very bad!). The onerous task of tying up these loose ends again fell to me, but this time round it proved harder to find a willing accomplice. My original partner, Rob Garrett, had been struck by the green shits at the entrance of 2/7 and had run away. I'd then hoped to persuade Tim Guilford and Lou Morris to join me in my dark pursuits, but they had proved themselves to be true followers of the path of righteousness. By the time I reached the Big Ledge camp, they had rejected the easy pleasures of slipping into their pits and headed downstream to help Chris Densham and Fleur Loveridge pack up the Primula Point camp. Come the morning, Tim and Lou decided that hauling tackle out of the cave was preferable to a day's easy pushing, so they bade farewell. Fortunately Chris was keen, though Fleur was less sure. They'd been the last team digging in Choke Egbert, then had derigged the downstream traverses, packed camp (the hardest job when you are knackered), and only made it back to the Big Ledge and sleep at 6 that morning. Under these circumstances the prospect of a day's rest and recovery before prusiking out of the cave was pretty tempting so only Chris and I pressed on upstream.
The new stuff was quickly surveyed, getting about 200m in just over 20 legs, then the Deep Waters were upon us. Chris fashioned a dipstick by clipping a crab to the end of the tape, and we found the water was just over 1m deep at most. It had looked (and still did) over head height so still we dithered. We'd picked up the goon suit for such a purpose, and now it seemed strangely over the top to put the thing on, the more so, for finding it was punctured in several places. Eventually, I took the plunge, edged out into the pool and found I was floating as my TSA trapped air around my legs and belly. I lunged for the far side and was over. Chris quickly joined me and we were away, only having left the surveying gear behind. The passage stretched in an uninterrupted straight line ahead of us, whereas the watery barrier suddenly seemed just too far to risk going back for the gear, so we crossed our fingers and pressed on upstream.
At this point, the passage was a thin rift, over the stream, which made traversing the simplest means of progressing, after 100m or so the passage widened slightly and there was some bouldery break-down to climb over. Beyond this the passage continued in a straight line, for another 100m or so until a more substantial area of breakdown. A boulder choke completely blocked the passage, with no obvious route over, under or through. No route either on the left hand wall, but a sideways step to the right got us into a parallel passage again seemingly choked. A climb up at this point could either be followed up and forwards to where boulders again block the way, or up and backwards, through a loose hole to break out into a massive chamber, Fear and Loathing in Las Brujas. The passage was about 10m wide at this breakthrough but obviously opening out to much larger dimensions in the direction from which we have come. We, however, were only interested in upstream, and gingerly found a way round a couple of large boulders, paying particular attention to where we had entered the chamber. This led to a gentle bouldery slope leading back to the stream, which was again wide open.
We took turns to take the lead. The passage was now quite wide with the stream meandering along it. The next significant feature was an inlet coming in at stream level on the right. This was level for 20m or so, them progress was halted at a 10m pitch upwards. Back at the main stream, the route was becoming more broken, with large boulders having to be negotiated to carry on. A cascade is met that can be climbed on its right hand side, before a final slow moving section, then a chamber and waterfall, Viagra Falls. Climbing around the edge of the chamber it was possible to get to an alcove on the opposite side of the chamber. This provided a good view of the waterfall, which should be easy to bolt around, and as tantalising glimpse of passage beyond. This seemed an excellent place to turn back as we had no means to tackle the waterfall. We paced out the route back which came out as about 500m of passage, which appeared to be generally heading north-west, which would suggest a connection with C4. It took less than two hours to get back to the Big Ledge from this point, even allowing for dragging the goon suit back and again losing the way in the boulder choke.