OUCC Proceedings 9 (1979)
Pozu del Xitu [survey] [full description (OUCC Proc. 10)]
|OUCC Proceedings 9 Index|
Colin Nicholls and Simon Fowler
An interesting cave with three very different sections. A vertical entrance series of 13 pitches with very little horizontal development chokes at a depth of 185m within 50m radius of the entrance. However, the penultimate pitch fortuitously bisects an older cave with dry, grey stal and some interesting mud formations. This leads via a rift passage to a streamway in a very high, meandering rift. A depth of 354m has been attained, but the end has not yet been reached and there are innumerable side passages still to be explored and surveyed.
The cave entrance to Xitu is remarkably obvious for a previously undiscovered cave; perhaps previous speleologically inclined visitors have been preoccupied with the superb view: we found the cave in the mist! To find the cave, the path from Ercina to Ario is followed for about 7km to a broad, rocky col where a panoramic viewpoint indicator is situated. The entrance is about 100m west of this and about 30m south of the path.
A climb down at either end of the 9m deep pit reaches the initially unpromising looking floor. However, a small rift at the eastern end drops down 10m to a small chamber, notable for its crow's nest (c.f. PSM). The rift continues at the far end of the chamber. This 20m bit is one of the few tight bits of the cave and has excellent tackle absorbing possibilities. A thrutchy crawl in the rift (easiest at roof level) is awkward, although a 'well-built' member of the SIE managed to get through after removing most of his clothing.
The rift opens out near the top of an impressive shaft which is really a downward continuation of the narrow rift. A series of ledges breaks the shaft into 5 pitches, the first of 5m and others of 9m. The shaft is also notable for its superb smooth sloping far wall and the occasional 0.63m tidal waves which rush past you, especially after hail storms. Pilling potholer John Singleton gives an eyewitness account: "I had just reached the top of the last rope pitch. Suddenly there was a tremendous roaring noise from the tight entrance rift some distance above me. My first thoughts were that the roof was falling in the rift and that we were trapped. These ponderings were rudely interrupted by the entrance of a 2ft high wall of water which promptly put out my carbide lamp, leaving me in total darkness. After five minutes of fumbling with flints and blowing on hands whilst standing in ankle deep rushing water, I relit my lamp to be greeted by the sight of my friend looking like a drowned rat emerging from the previous pitch which was now a waterfall.". Pretty gripping stuff for your local evening paper! At the bottom, the next pitch begins with a short traverse (a rope between the back-up belay, which is a natural one, and the bolt is useful as a safety line) over a rift (surprise, surprise) to get to the bolt and a free hang. This pitch slopes slightly and the unwary may land at the bottom of a blind pot, so swing to the right as you come down!
A short ladder pitch, through the hole at the other end of the chamber, and a climb down bring you to the head of another short pitch. A 5m ladder on a long sling is just long enough but a 10m ladder may save you a tricky flying leap!. The next pitch is a little unstable and a protector will be needed if a rope is used. It may also be necessary to pendule around a bit to reach the ledge. From this ledge belay around a flake boss - a rope can be used but a 10m ladder may be better.
The last pitch of the entrance series is about 10m away, over the rubble with a short traverse to reach the bolt. Halfway down this 13m pitch a passage is visible on your right. This is an older cave which has been cut though by the present one. At the bottom of the rope you land on a natural rock bridge between two blind pots. The left hand one is 37m and a nice, if pointless, prusik. (Ask Kev who descended several times to collect bits of his disintegrating carbide.) The bottom of the right hand pot is visible.
The way on is behind you, down the other half of the older cave. A stoopy passage, with grey formations, leads to a large chamber with a deep unexplored rift in the floor. (Stones thrown down here rattled around for 6 seconds, which should mean 80m. However, 'Brainiac' Naylor used this method to calculate the depth of a 40m as 80m.....) The left end of this chamber leads to some phreatic tubes. Those on the left, behind a large boulder, lead to a rift where water was heard. It is possible that this rift connects back to the one at the blind pots. A narrow passage to the right of the chamber was not explored.
Following the chamber down to the right hand end over a boulder pile gives access to another, smaller chamber with a boulder ruckle on the right. At the opposite end is an interesting and fairly well decorated inlet which was followed for some distance but not surveyed. The way on is over a false floor on the left of the inlet which is over the end of the rift. The 5m climb down this rift is not too difficult. Follow the stream-like passage past several unsurveyed inlets and some small climbs to a T-junction. Turn left here. Immediately to the right is a flake boss with small chamber behind it. The passage from this chamber leads to a 7m drop into a rift, but a slightly easier descent is made by following the left hand passage. The drop at the end of the passage is only 4m, but the climb down is 'interesting' and the hand-holds are surrounded by some worrying looking fractures. Over the choss, the easy passage leads down to a 4m climb down and a .....streamway! The inlet behind and above you at this point is still unexplored. The upstream section (left) was followed for about 70m but not surveyed. Downstream, the passage is narrow and high, though the stream is small.
The passage soon becomes a meandering trench below a phreatic passage, which sometimes looks, in cross-section, like a bedding plane. The rock is a different colour here to in the entrance: grey rather than red. A 1m climb leads to a collapse-filled passage with water beneath. At the end of the passage there is a small hole, but it is easier to dip down to the left and climb down a 4m cascade. Watching your colleagues do this (from below) provides good sadistic sport. Following the water down this higher, but equally tortuous passage, an active inlet aven is passed. The rock is interesting here, being grey/black with calcite veins making it look rather like Marble Showers in OFD. 60m further down the passage, on the left at about knee height, are some opalescent crimson calcite knobs, the 'blood formations'. These are just before the 5m ladder pitch, beyond which there are more calcite veins. The passage narrows down, and the going is faster if you climb up and follow the higher level route above the meanders. Some 90m after the pitch, there is an obvious hole in the floor leading to the 'Trench Pitches'. These are best descended by climbing up and over the hole, descending it from the far side.
Continuing at the same level along the rift, a small stream is seen entering from above. This section was only cursorily explored and thus does not appear on the survey, although it is now considered to be a good prospect for the future. A large shaft is encountered after about 50m which is at least 10m deep and was not descended. Instead, a climb up the rift leads to several boulder floors, and traversing at an appropriate level leads over the pitch to a lengthy, continuing passage with walls covered by vivid, orange flowstone.
The three 'Trench Pitches' are close enough together to enable one to use a single 60m rope. The next pitch is roughly 20m further down the winding passage. Immediately to the left of the pitch are some fine nests of cave pearls, containing some small white ones and some larger brown ones. The pitch head is reached by a short traverse on the left which leads to a 23m pitch. The belay for this pitch is around a dubious flake in the rift above head height. Warning: this pitch has many rub points and protectors are essential, one length of Marlow terylene had its sheath cut in a single 10m abseil. As the pitch has many projections it is best to carry the rope down to avoid snagging.
The pitch lands in a chamber with a shelf about 6m up. Follow the water out of the chamber and traverse over the next drop and descend gradually to the stream again. Four 5m climbs are then reached, and the first of which is very awkward, meriting a line.
After these, a short scramble down leads to a large boulder jammed (we hope) above a 4m pitch which can be free climbed with difficulty. The passage descends to the head of a superb wet 25m pitch, where the rock is grey and clean. Behind you as you descend is a ledge 5m up. Climbing up here brings you to a parallel boulder-filled rift which was not followed as it seemed to choke very quickly.
Follow the water down a narrow tube which enlarges from a hand and knees crawl to standing size soon after the water has left via an impassable, narrow crack. The passage swings left and a 2m climb leads to a rubble-filled rift. Water is audible below you, and in this tantalising position both the exploration and surveying parties deserted their tasks, for 1979, at least!
|1st pitch||10m ladder belayed to boulder with medium wire|
|2nd pitch||5m ladder to short belay round flakes|
|3rd pitch||10m SRT to two bolts||
|4th pitch||10m SRT to two bolts|
|5th pitch||10m SRT. No belay - rope protector needed|
|6th pitch||10m SRT to two bolts|
|7th pitch||25m SRT to two bolts. Traverse line to pitch head is very useful|
|8th pitch||5m ladder and medium wire belay|
|9th pitch||10m ladder (5 if pushed) to bolt|
|10th pitch||20m SRT belayed by tapes to flakes. Rope protector||
|11th pitch||10m SRT to tape and medium wire belays|
|12th pitch||15m SRT to bolt and natural backup|
|13th pitch||40m SRT to natural belay|
|14th pitch||5m ladder to bolt|
|Trench pitch I||9m SRT to two bolts|
|Trench pitch II||7m SRT to bolt and natural backup|
|Trench pitch III||5m SRT to two bolts|
|Pearl pitch||20m SRT to two bolts|
|Chopper pitch||25m SRT belayed by tape and long wire belay. At least three rope protectors needed|
|20th pitch||15m SRT to bolt (NB One anchor here is not properly emplaced - avoid)|
N.B. Bolts and hangers were removed on detackling, leaving only ungreased anchors.