Oston 2004 Expedition Report
Picos de Europa, Spain
Twenty-five years of exploration and surveying by OUCC in the high Picos has produced an extremely detailed set of underground survey lines. These have been compressed into one remarkable 3d model of the inside of the mountains. As well as the poignancy of this tangible product of tens of thousands of man-hours of physical exertion, it is an extremely useful guide to prospecting for new caves.
Knowing that a cave winds it way close to the surface in a certain place makes it all the more exciting to search there for another way in, promising areas can be identified where not all the water is accounted for, and this approach offers the best hopes for bypassing unexpected ends to going caves. To this end, I experimented this year with taking a computer, containing these maps and models, to our base camp at Ario.
Survex, OUCC's cave software of choice, needs only a very simple machine. Even a cheap computer these days has a lot of power and durability is a much more important concern. The Picos are abrasive on all gear, and in the worst of the storms keeping a computer dry is easier said than done. However, it's by no means impossible to keep one going, and ours survived unscathed: indeed, I'm typing on it right now.
The power came from a battery supplied by a reasonably large solar panel: probably, in retrospect, larger than necessary. The Picos sun is very strong, and modern solar panels can charge even in the clag, so a panel as small as A4 or A3 size would be able to power a laptop in intermittent use. Of course, having a 12V battery at Ario presents various other opportunities, of which charging mobile phones was the most useful. The prospect of everyone using solar-charged caving lights is appealing, but one for the future: as things stand, rechargeables aren't practical enough for serious caving.
On this expedition, the laptop was more of a novelty than a serious tool: it provided interest and entertainment, but overall the expedition was on too small a scale to make the best use of it. A larger expedition, with more caves surveyed, would be able to benefit much more. Various lessons have been learnt, and next year will hopefully be able to make better use of the technology.