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Proceedings 10 : "Pozu del Xitu"

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The Truth

Many people will know, through reading the articles of Dave Rose and John Singleton, the story of the exploration of Xitu, and how Simon found it in the mist not 50 yards from the path in 1979.

But what went on behind the scenes? Below I have printed a few extracts from the Club Log Book, to answer this question. The first account deals with the rather fruitless last pushing trip of 1980, on which the club tackle ran out. John is the author :

" Friday 1st August - Saturday 2nd August. John, Dave - Xitu. Pushing? (for about 20m)

Keith and Graham emerge at around 11 with Keith muttering " 50ft pitch, 180ft pitch, 200m of streamway, pitch with natural belays, OOO me balls " and so armed with this information we departed for the cave at around 12.30. Dave forgot the chocolate and by the time I'd walked back to the Refugio for it we were thoroughly entangled with the surveying party. At the bottom of the Entrance Series Dave and I led off with a tackle bag " full " of knife, tape and chocolate. The others kept pace with us until the bottom of the Big Pitch. After the 60ft we cut the remaining length off the Bluewater III (there was no club rope at all left) and stuffed it in the tackle bag. The descent to the 50 (now Dampturation) was uneventful and even entertaining as the wet climbs are good fun. At the 180 (now named Pythagoras), we hung the BWIII from the secondary and Dave abseiled down to see if it was long enough to replace the knotted ropes. After getting stuck at the knot for a while, he relayed the information that the BWIII was too short and I dropped it to him. At the bottom, I climbed down a waterfall as far as a pitch like object where Dave traversed across to a pile of boulders. We rigged a traverse line with the handline picked up with the bolt kit and then climbed down to the stream from the boulder pile we had emerged on. As Keith's description had included nothing of this we thought that somewhere we had bypassed his pitch and as it was muddy, we started to think (and hope for) a sump. Anyway, after a bouldery 40` rift, the stream emerges into nice marbled streamway with deep clear pools and some formations. There are also some cascades with a nice, dark green, slimy deposit contrasting with the clean limestone and calcite. After a wet overhanging climb (later PAFS Pot), the stream cascades into a tight, sharp rift, where it looks still and muddy. While Dave fiddled with his light, I thrutched through for about 20m and emerged in a boulder filled chamber. Climbing over the boulders leads down to more marbled streamway. I went back for Dave and advised him to leave the tackle and come and have a look. Five yards beyond where I'd reached, we found a pitch and had to thrutch all the way back to the bags. By this time of course our suits were in tatters. By traversing up over the pitch, the rig was done with a secondary tape around a large calcite projection and a primary tape round an obvious chock. We abseiled down (it's about 15m) and 20m further on found another pitch which at first Dave tried to free climb. It could be rigged from natural belays by again traversing up into the roof, to give a free hang of about 20m Having no further tackle we then exited. I slipped while climbing the overhang and got my sit harness wedged in the water (Ed : as a result I got piles : hence the name!). In the end Dave gave me a hand and I thrutched out, soaked through. The pitches soon warmed us both up, although Samaritan I made us think that we were both knackered as we had been told that it was 100ft when in fact it's 159 feet! There were two badly frayed ropes noticed on the way out, one at the top of the 60ft on the BWIII (Pregnancy Pitch) which I reknotted (it was through to the core) and one on Graham's Balls Up at the top. We caught the survey party at the Entrance Series and all got out around 10 o'clock Saturday morning. The soup at the top of the Big Pitch is a bloody good idea ."

By OUCC standards, this was not a particularly long trip. For example, Kev, Simon and Keith spent 24 hours surveying the 1980 bottom and Skunk and Dave were down for 28 hours derigging : almost everyone on the latter half of the 1980 Expedition did at least one trip of 20 hours or more. The club record was set by Skunk and Keith's 35 hour rerigging/pushing trip in 1981, the last one before camp 1 was set up. In the Log, thoroughly knackered after a day and a half of caving, Keith lists a set of spare parts to be taken on long pushes:

" Tackle recommended for extensive tackle lugging, pushing trips in Xitu -

a) 4 times normal cigarette supply.
b) Ammo box of either Valium or Librium.
c) Cyanide capsule (only to be used in extremis).
d) Bionic limbs - not susceptible to damage when belted against rock walls.
e) Spare boots, light, undersuit, oversuit, SRT gear, knickers (Ed's note : could read " knackers ").
f) Replacement crutch - to be used when the first one is chafed out of existence.
g) Replacement brain - to be used when the first one is worn out of existence by lack of sleep..."

Some of the long trips obviously produced total brain death in the log writers, e.g.:

" Sunday 26th and a good part of 27th July. El Puritan. Dave, George, Colin. Descended around 12:30, a smooth trip down to Flat Iron..." followed by a blank half page, a diagram looking like an octopus screwing some bagpipes and : " 60' pitch higher route down and leads to another pitch (40-50') following left after the climb and trending downwards, leads to a stream... " Informative, eh?

Dave sums the philosophy of doing long trips from the surface up quite well in an account near the end of the 1980 log :

" This Expedition has been all about extending psychological barriers... : when I think back to Otter in May and the small banquet we all thought necessary for a trip of less than twelve hours! "

It might be thought that the Log would get less interesting once the camp was established and the long trips were over. Not at all! The only three night camping trip account consists of a continuous debate between Jan and Keith, pushers on the first "day", and Richard, Skunk and Graham, surveyors on the first "day". For example, from the second "day's" log, when the duties were supposed to be reversed :

" we returned to camp, not meeting Keith or Jan on the way. This was because they were still in bed, having failed to get up, even though they were awake during our breakfast. Having destroyed two hammocks, done no surveying, they left to go to the surface : " Oh sorry, John, the cave ends, we didn't do any of the wet surveying because we slept for 25 hours. By the way, stitch these two hammocks together "... "

At the end of Keith's rather lengthy reply to this is :

" With the compliments of the pushers, useful maxim to bear in mind when reading caving log - " Accounts of rigging, work done by pushers etc. given by tourist cavers (e. g. R. Gregson) should be taken with a pinch of salt " (the size Skippy has with tomatoes). "

Needless to say, we're all friends really and the rivalry definitely isn't serious!

Epics don't just happen underground either ; Trevor writes after to plant dye detectors in the Cares Gorge :

" Thurs/Fri 16th/17th, The Trea Campaign. Trevor and Jan.

A tale full of horror, suspense, mystery.

The horror : the "path" we followed down to Trea involving vertical bits, horrible loose scree slopes and generally bloody lethal all round.
The suspense : would we get down without breaking our necks?
The mystery : where the .... had the path gone?

Hints for "walking" from Ario to Cain :

1) Go the right way at the beginning - it's quite easy (i. e. as easy as the hardest bit from Lagos to Ario, all the way) (Ed : i.e. very hard).
2) Don't follow the stream bed down from Trea.
3) The best way to find the path is guess.
4) It's easier by road. (Ed : the road is about 40km!)

Anyway the net result was that Jan and I absolutely knackered ourselves and nothing went right at all. A total abortion all round. Still, we found the Trea resurgence... "

If you, the reader, go on any expeditions, do keep a log book : it's not too much of a bind and can provide some great memories and laughs afterwards. (Ed's note : it's handy for filling up spaces in journals left by lazy buggers not doing articles in time as well!)

References

1) OUCC Proceedings 9, 1979, Expedition to Asturias, Northern Spain.
2) Oxford Expeditions to the Picos de Europa in 1979 and 1980, by David Rose (An OUCC Publication).
3) Rose D., Nov. 1980. Pozu del Xitu. Caves and Caving No. 10.
4) Rose D., Apr. 1981. Caving International No. 11.
5) Rose D., Jul. 1981. Descent No. 49.
6) Singleton J., Nov. 1981. Xitu '81. Caves and Caving No. 14.
7) Singleton J., Pozu del Xitu. El Topo Loco. To be published shortly (in Spanish).