Oxford University Cave Club
Proceedings 10 : "Pozu del Xitu"
|OUCC Proc 10 Contents|
Pictures of Xitu
Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle: El Puritan
(A summary of the routes marked * is given after this article)
Follow the Ario-Los Lagos path until the view indicator is reached. 110m along the path beyond this, and 50m to the left is Xitu's large entrance cleft. The entrance is a short free-climbable drop to the head of a 10m pitch into Crow Chamber. At the end of the Chamber, a tight rift conceals one of the deepest caves in the world. Climax Rift, as it is known (possibly due to the noises made by Mike in it), is probably the reason why Xitu hadn't been pushed before 1979: certainly it isn't easy on the first attempt. The trick is to keep as high as possible although there is a narrow route lower down used for lifting stuck cavers from below. After 20m or so, Climax Rift widens out into a rift of much larger proportions which sets the character of the rest of the Entrance series.
Five nine metre pitches bring the budding Xitu explorer to a short traverse to the head of a 19m pitch. At the bottom care must be taken not to abseil too far to the left (facing the wall) or else you end up at the bottom of a blind pot (or in mid air if the rope isn't long enough). Opposite the blind pot, two short pitches (5m, 6m) in corkscrewing passage descend to the final drop in the Entrance Series, rigged in three stages (13m, 5m, 7m) from large ledges. At the final ledge, reached by penduluming across a 37m blind shaft, the entrance shaft has luckily cut through an old oxbow which is part of the first streamway in Xitu. The water which comes down the Entrance Series in wet weather vanishes down the blind pot and seems to have little influence on the first Xitu stream.
A scrabble past some dirty fossil stal (the pretties) gives access to the Customs Hall, a huge old phreatic tube containing a deep trench emitting the faint sound of ... a stream! Several interesting routes lead off here, the most important being Ming Piece Passage* and Traversity Streamway* but the way on is to traverse to the right of the trench, round a large rock barrier and then climb down into the rift down to the left. There are several oxbows entering the passage which follows: sticking to the most obvious route gets you down to the streamway via a short pitch (free climbable if you're desperate) in the shortest time.
The stream is in narrow vadose passage and the carrying of tacklebags is facilitated by traversing above this where there is a phreatic tube. Care is required, as there are some nice stalactites in exposed positions hanging from the roof. The stream is descended to after a short distance for a small climb through flakes (Leper Scab Climb). Body-wide vadose trench leads past a shower-bath aven on the left and some interesting blood-red formations to a short (5m) pitch in the stream. After this, traversing above the stream again makes life easier, and provides a fine view of Cover Picture Aven and some large imbricated pebble beds. Below these, the stream leaves and makes off down the Trench Pitch* (1979) route. Traversing just beneath the pebble beds it is necessary to cross a bold step over the Enterprise Series* to reach a boulder choke. The easiest route through this involves a 3m climb up into the rift and then traversing past some stal into a small hole, which marks the beginning of the Teresa Series.
The Teresa Series is a succession of fossil vadose and phreatic developed streamways. First a vadose trench is followed which degenerates into a small sand filled tube, known as Piezo Squeal Squeeze due to the strong draught. The shifting sand and small passage size mean that you generally mean that you have to take tacklebags off here if you don't want to get stuck. The passage gradually increases in size and a few metres after the Squeeze a sandy climb on the right is ascended to a flowstone aven and a steep downhill slope with some black gour pools. At the bottom, William's Bit* leads off down to the left. Avoiding pools and holes in the floor, a small chamber with a crawl leading off the opposite side is reached. A climb back towards the entrance from the chamber gives access to Snowcastle*, the most beautifully decorated part of the cave.
An easy 7m climb marks the end of the Teresa Series: to the left at the bottom is New Orleans, named for its rising sump ("There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Rising Sump..."), and the way on: to the right is the White Nile (jet boats not required), which chokes. More holes in the floor, all interconnected, and a 3m overhanging climb (The Overhang) are encountered before a left fork leads to the head of Servicio (lavatory) Pitch. This 13m pitch breaks into a much more spacious passage named CBW series. To quote from Caves and Caving No. 11: "The landing was in a magnificent 10m wide rift whose ceiling soared up beyond the range of an electric beam. To one side a great, black aven... sucked up the draught from the Teresa Series. Picking their way along the high corridor in considerable awe the first explorers were brought down to earth by John's broad Lancashire tones, 'Eh, it's big enough to fit in a constipated Blue Whale'." And so CBW Series got its name. A small stream, the first seen since the Trench Pitches, comes down the aven mentioned and trickles back under the floor of CBW towards Servicio, to vanish tantalisingly down a crack.
To the left, just opposite the aven, the route on enters an unstable vadose passage known as The Changeling. Many small shower-bath avens enter here and this marks the star of Xitu's second streamway. Finally, the now knackered caver finds the passage closing down to a small hole in the boulder floor. This is the head of the Gap, a fine freehanging 23m pitch which drops into a large chamber, formed by collapse. Two more pitches of 7m and 21m, the second known as Graham's Balls-Up (or Sporting Pitch if you're Graham), follow in quick succession and lead to what looks like an impenetrable boulder choke. In spite of its discoverers' pessimism, there is a way on which is reached by an unstable (handline needed) climb, the Pilling Slip. A small hole at the top leads into solid rock and the 40m unstable shaft of Dream Lake (pitches 10m and 18m), named after the puddle at the bottom, into which the stream drips. The streamway strides majestically to three climbs, the first preferably laddered, and the what looks like the End of the World. In the words of Dave Rose, club journalist, "Roof, walls and floor simply vanish: a cold wind blows up spray from utter blackness. Tentatively the first explorers threw a stone over the edge, and felt a thrill of terror mixed with euphoric excitement as six seconds were counted before a deep boom sounded from the depths...". Stirring stuff, eh?
This is Flat Iron Shaft, 138m of huge elliptical tube. The longest single hang of 90m is made less interesting by featureless walls of moonmilk, so that the prusik can be a bit tedious.
A final pitch in the shaft (Pregnancy Pitch: imagine what happened to the sheath of one rope used here) drops into Eton Palais, a large boulder floored Concert Hall-like chamber. High up at the far end is the beginning of El Puritan*: the way on is to head down the boulder slope at its steepest point. Some unstable climbs (one took a dislike to Jerry) give access to the stream again and a slippery climb called Combined Tactics. A succession of boulder floored chambers, the largest of which is called the Hall of the Mountain Dwarf, stretch off into the distance from this point and the stream is not seen again until Randy Ass Passage, distinguished by its fine 0.3m long helictites. The next obstacle is Lemmings' Leap, a climb over a pool (if you're a lemming you leap). Beyond, narrow decorated vadose passage makes tackle carrying hell. Relief soon appears however in the shape of the Samaritans (pitches 48m and 18m), the first one of which is reached by traversing up from the stream. The Marble Steps, a succession of wet, sporting climbs provide more annoyance for tackle carriers until Dampturation Aven and Pitch are reached. An ungainly manoeuvre involving swinging round a knob of rock on the right hand wall above a 15m drop give access to the pitch head.
Beyond the drop wider streamway continues to the abrupt blackness of Pythagoras Pitch (62m). This is again rigged by traversing up over a very bold step to achieve a free hang running down the apex of a huge right angled buttress. At the bottom, the stream runs down s steep, slimy, green waterfall into blackness. To bypass this keep to the right and squirm down Archimedes Traverse to reach a flat boulder floor. Beyond this, an entropy increasing scramble down boulders and mud (care ; large things can start moving) gives access to Camp I, our underground home. It isn't advisable to look for a small dry chamber in the roof just beyond here, however. The Galleria Amador, as it was known, was used as a latrine and there are several potentially unhealthy sealed plastic bags buried up there!
The next distinguishing feature of the stream is PAFS (Piles Arising From Suspension) Pot, a flake obscuring a would-be easy climb (that is, if the flake wasn't there). In the latter part of the 1981 Expedition it was laddered to give an extremely wet, short pitch.
The stream then runs into a tight, sharp rift, the Cheesegrater, which is best bypassed by following an old fossil high level. After a short section of Cheesegrater necessary to avoid a dire climb the passage opens out and the head of Choss-Chock pitch. The name is the result of the 1980 primary belay which consisted of a few lumps of soil and pebbles. Below this a short section of clean washed streamway leads to the top of Rape B'rape pitch (35m), the limit of exploration in 1980. A long section of high vadose streamway with some deep pools, the largest of which is called The Emerald Lake, and a few cascades follows and leads to The Flier, a fine 30m free hanging pitch in a fairly spacious chamber. Just before The Flier, the stream falls down a slot. This isn't the way down unless you're Richard and insist on throwing your and your mate's prusik bags down it and having to get them back. Instead look for a set of small holes in the left hand wall. Squeezing up through the least obvious one gives access to an inclined rift with the trench carrying the stream down to the right. The head of The Flier is at the far end where the rift opens out and a traverse line should be rigged from a natural in the rift to reach it. From The Flier, a series of cascades in dark slippery rock descend to the top of a 5m drop, which is bypassed via a traverse along the right hand wall (Traverse of Truth). The passage, which has until now been fairly roomy, degenerates into another tight, sharp, hading rift. Ferdie's Delight (the name is a result of its effect on oversuits) is longer and nastier than the Cheesegrater but can also be bypassed by following a high level.
From the log of the first camping party: After Traverse of Truth, there is a rift bisected by a rock known as the Pentahedron. "Instead of going straight down to the stream, follow a horizontal crawl which soon widens out into a boulder chamber. As soon as the water is reached again traverse up about 4m and then follow the rift at its obvious widest point until the roar of the stream can be heard again." The Bypass emerges in high vadose streamway, at the head of chunder Pot, a 13m wet pitch. Below the base of Chunder Pot (a pool known as the Old Pacific Sea ; very good for losing tackle in, isn't it, Skunk?) is the steepest, wettest, most sporting part of the whole cave. This is the series of climbs known as The Classic Numbers as the magic one kilometre depth was broken on one of them. The technique and routes for the climbs are many and various but two, Campers' Pitch and Cobbler's Pitch, must be rigged for SRT.
Eventually one encounters the Depthscalator, another (but thankfully roomy) hading rift down which the stream runs. At the bottom of the Depthscalator, an interesting climb at the far left of the rift drops one into another rift running at right angles. After a few metres the stream runs down a 0.3m wide pitch and a succession of climbs, all of which can be free climbed with difficulty, down to the final section of streamway. To bypass this, it is best to keep up at the same level as the climb out of the Depthscalator on the left of the stream. When a small hole in the left hand wall is encountered, a squeeze down through it leads into a small unstable chamber. After 20m the stream can be heard in a deep trench which is easily free climbable. The whole of this area is Xitu's Last Stand. A slackening of gradient means that the stream flows sluggishly and that there are many deep pools. Traversing above these for over 100m, one eventually reaches a brief section of wide passage with a shingle floor, which leads to the terminal sump (known as the Stag Pool as it was found on Prince Charles' stag night). Keith swam in the sump, which is a clear deep pool and measured its depth to be at least 9m. In spite of much searching, only phreatic loops could be seen at high level: no bypasses were found.
The stream drops a further 200m before resurging at a much larger torrent at Culiembro, 2km away as the crow flies.
The route out of the cave is the same but in reverse and is rather more tiring. The whole trip, without tackle, would take about 28 hours' continuous exertion.
The tackle for Xitu is listed below as it was rigged in the 1981 Expedition. All the pitches which were laddered were also equipped with doubly belayed self lining and abseiling ropes (i.e. SRT rope). For the length of rope used, add 2m to the length of ladder specified. This lining of all pitches is very important as we found out when one member of the Expedition crocked his leg at the sump. Climbing ladders was very painful for him: however he was able to prusik one legged up the lining ropes with ease.
The reader might then ask "why ladder the things at all?" The answer is that throughout the 1981 Expedition most of the work was done deep down in the cave and the Entrance Series was merely a highway used to get into Xitu. At the expense of more complicated rigging we speeded up exits from the cave enormously, as whatever your prusiking system, you can always get a short (under 20m) ladder quicker than prusiking up the same length of rope.
Pitch Name Rope Belays 10m Entrance pitch 10m ladder Naturals (Bolt useless) - Climax Rift tackle 20m a bolt at either end line of rift and one in middle 9m 10m ladder 1 bolt 9m 10m ladder 2 bolts 9m 10m ladder 2 bolts 9m 10m ladder 2 bolts 9m 10m ladder 2 bolts 19m Traverse Pitch 20m ladder 3 bolts: 5m traverse line at top bolted also 5m 5m ladder Huge flake 6m 7m ladder 2 bolts (5 if pushed) 15m BW I 15m ladder 2 naturals. 10m traverse line (to another natural advisable at top) 7m BW II 7m ladder 1 bolt and natural - Traverse 10 traverse line 1 bolt 13m BW III 15m ladder 1 bolt and natural 37m Blind Pot 40m Naturals 8m Climb out of Customs 8m handline 1 bolt Hall 7m Inlet Climb 7m ladder 2 bolts 5m Stream Pitch 5m ladder 2 bolts 7m Climb in Teresa Series 7m handline Natural 11m Servicio 15m 2 bolts 23m The Gap 27m 2 bolts 7m 8m ladder + 8m 2 bolts rope 21m Graham's Balls-Up 25m 2 bolts and 2 rope protectors 10m to Dream Lake I 35m Natural ; Rebelay to bolt 2m down 18m Dream Lake II 2 bolts 9m Flat Iron I 15m 3 bolts ; rope secured to ledge at bottom by natural 12m Flat Iron II 120m 2 bolts 90m Flat Iron III 2 bolts 21m Pregnancy Pitch 25m 2 bolts ; CAT useful (Flat Iron IV) 48m Samaritan I 55m Naturals; one sling must be 10m long 19m Samaritan II 20m Naturals 7m Mantleshelf 8m ladder 1 bolt 15m Dampturation 16m 2 bolts ; CAT useful 62m Pythagoras 65m Naturals 5m PAFS Pot 5m ladder Naturals (optional) 19m Chosschock 23m Naturals 35m Rape B'rape 40m 2 bolts then rebelay to 2 bolts 5m down 29m Flyer 40m 3 naturals ; long traverse line at top - Traverse of Truth 10m handline Naturals 13m Chunder Pot 15m 2 bolts 17m Campers' Pitch 20m Naturals 7m Cobblers Pitch 10m 3 naturals to give freehang
Main Route: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle: El Puritan
The way to gain access to this part of the cave, which represents Xitu upstream of the Entrance Series, is to climb about 3m down in the vadose trench in the Customs Hall (Caution: it's deep!) and to traverse upstream (to the left). The trench is about 1.5m wide and can be followed at various levels past some superb moonmilk covered stal. Because of the difficulty of traversing several metres up in a moonmilk covered trench, the place was named The Easy Slider. Shortly afterwards, two inlets are encountered on the left hand side of the passage. Eventually these become too tight. A traverse down to the stream finally leads to the upstream limit of Xitu, a large impressive aven.
[Extended by bolt-climbing in 2001]
Tackle: None required
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle: El Puritan
Instead of turning left after the rock barrier in Customs Hall, carry straight to reach the sandy floored entrance to Ming Piece Passage. The passage is characterised by numerous brittle sandy plates jutting out of the walls: these projections were claimed to be like Ming pottery since they are rather old and ring when struck. (An alternative explanation for the name came from feelings in the passage after a hot curry.) The other property of these projections is to make carrying tackle bags rather a strain on the patience.
The passage continues in its persistent way losing height in short drops and progress seems most difficult at whatever height you're traversing at. Finally a pitch is reached with water pouring down the first hole encountered and a dry rig further on. The discoverer claimed at this point (he didn't go down the pitch) that he could hear a stream below. Descending the pitch about 13m, a flat floored chamber is reached with a vadose trench meandering through it. Climb down the trench and you fall into ... a streamway! Unfortunately it's Xitu streamway, just after shower-bath aven (the wet pitch in Ming Piece). This is a little annoying, since you have just dragged those b....y tackle bags through an awkward bit of passage for nothing. (In fact we had picked the bags up from shower-bath aven in the first place!) It's an irritating piece of cave. (Ask Simon.)
Pitch Rope Length Belay 13m 15m Naturals
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle: El Puritan
From a hole in the floor of the Teresa Series a 7m climb, which is best bypassed via a squeeze down through a small tube drops into William's Bit. To the left a short section of chossy trench leads to, in Trevor's words, " a grotty little sandy chamber ". Straight ahead is a small dead rising sump. However the interesting portion is to the right where a few hundred metres of very steeply sloping small passage finally arrives at a fifteen metre tight, loose pitch and a small sand choked sump. As the pitch is very loose and the sump chamber very small, it is imperative to have only one person down there at once. The whole of this part of William's Bit is characterised by dry blackish silty sand, which becomes very slippery after a few people have climbed on it.
Pitch Ladder Belays 15m 15m + lifeline Massive piece of false floor
The draught which is very evident in the first half of William's Bit streams out of a small gravelly hole in the left hand wall about half way to the sump. This is William's Other Bit. The passage consists of about twenty metres of crawling through sand and mud in a howling gale until a small, loose aven is reached.
Tackle: None required
(Goethe = Greatest Oxbow Ever To Have Existed.) This passage starts a couple of metres up from the floor in the left hand wall of William's Bit, a few metres along the route to the sump and ends a bit further on. Wow!
Tackle: None required
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle: El Puritan
The Trench Pit Route starts just underneath the large pebble beds described above. The stream cascades down a hole in the floor: on the Teresa Series side of this a short climb leads to the head of the first Trench Pitch. The two others follow quickly enough for a single 60m SRT rope to be used for all three pitches. If one ignores a small crack down which the stream vanishes, 20m of fairly tight passage, with one climb in it, leads to the head of Pearl Pitch, which has a fine nest of cave pearls just above it. At the base of Pearl Pitch, a tight rift is seen heading off to the left. Avoiding various large drops below (the 1979 rigs of Chopper Pitch) a lined traverse through this gives access to the Potter MkII super rig of Chopper Pitch, which cuts the number of rope protectors needed for the pitch from three eighteen inch ones to one thirty-six inch one, used at a ledge halfway down. Chopper chamber is a large and wet place, containing, among other things, a large lump of rock 2m x 1m x 0.5m knocked by Simon's heavy breathing from the top of the old Chopper Pitch in 1979 (luckily Skippy can run quickly). The way on is to follow the stream out of the chamber to the four rather loose Some Climbs. As on the Classic Numbers, the routes taken on these climbs are best worked out by each individual user. After the final climb, the " Good-old-one-stinkie-each-if-you're-lucky-and-ripped-nylon-boilersuit-1979-style-caver " is faced with two routes: ahead a chossy rift opens out over the sump chamber several tens of metres below and to the left, the wet, clean washed Grey Pitch (imaginative name, eh?) drops into the final section of stream in this part of Xitu. A succession of grovels and muddy bits lead to Sump I, a deep, oppressive, water-filled shaft in a large muddy rift. If you, the tourist caver, are ever down there, it's worth finding the inscription " OUCC 16/8/1979 " (or something like that) carved in the filth on one of the walls. Although the sump was less than 30m away, we hadn't found it then and that's why we went back in 1980.
Pitch Name Rope Belay 9m Trench (Marlow) 10m 2 bolts Pitches 7m 12m Natural for a traverse line ; then natural and bolt 5m 5m ladder 2 bolts 18m Pearl Pitch 21m 2 bolts* 23m Chopper Pitch 30m Natural for the traverse line through rift then 2 bolts 15m Grey (Happy) Pitch 17m 2 bolts* 13m Sump Slide 15m Various bits of choss
* Although two bolts are mentioned, there are in fact three anchors at the head of these pitches, one of which is unusable. All anchors were left ungreased.
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Snowcastle: El Puritan
A few metres back from the "bold step" in the Teresa Series, a climb down a rift leads to the exposed head of the first pitch in the Enterprise Series. A broken second pitch, best laddered, starts from the ledge at the bottom of this and immediately gives access to a 10m pitch belayed to boulders jammed in the rift, which is now high and of impressive size. The fourth pitch is rigged from a large, stable (we hope) false floor through a now broken wall of calcite to give a beautiful hang in free space. A nice, clean washed ledge (The Music Room) contains the head of the fifth and final pitch (beware the rub point half way down) in this entertaining little route which lands in Chopper Chamber. The Enterprise Series provides a much easier and, although still drippy, drier route into the bowels of the Trench Pitch Route.
Pitch Name Rope Belays 19m First 21m Natural and bolt 13m Second 15m ladder Natural and bolt 10m Third 12m Naturals 19m Fourth 21m 2 bolts: protection needed at pitch head 14m Fifth 16m 2 bolts. One rope protector needed
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: El Puritan
From the chamber mentioned, climb back towards the Entrance Series to a boulder wedged in the trench. Continuing up and to the left, one emerges in a chamber with fine mud formations (don't touch!). A stooping stagger to the right leads to a four metre drop (best laddered) into a series of large chambers. Clambering uphill in the chambers (one of the climbs is best laddered) the formations gradually become more and more impressive until the Snowcastle itself, a large, pinnacled, citadel type object, is reached. The formations in this part of the cave range from tiny Aragonite " trees " to huge, pure white stal buttresses, all unmarked by grubby hand. In many Expedition members' opinions they outclass anything seen in British caves, including Otter Hole.
Pitch Ladder Belays 4m 5m Naturals 4m 5m Naturals (both optional)
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle:
Instead of heading down the boulder slope in Eton Palais, keep up to the right to enter El Puritan. Several trips entered this part of the cave and retired, scared to death by the abundance of potential caving disasters. All seemed to conclude that El Puritan is an old high level of the stream below wending its way to Randy Ass Passage: eventually El Puritan was abandoned due to fear of death. To give the character of the place here's an extract from the log by the persons who discovered it, Dave and Richard:
" ...so to the ' black space ' left from last year. The back of the chamber tapers off into a rift about 1-2m wide at the top of the boulder slope. This was descended by a thrutchy climb into a sizeable passage and chamber. This and the following series are to be known as El Puritan. (Ed's note: his italics, not mine!)
" The way on is at first a hair raisingly loose exposed 15m climb down into a chamber - LA SALA DE LA DISCIPLINA INGLESE - beneath an aven. There is a hole in the floor (which) emits the sound of a stream - probably the noise from Combined Tactics in the known cave.
" Beyond La Sala de la Disciplina Inglese El Puritan bends decisively to the right, away from the streamway which can no longer be heard. Two further climbs in a second chamber - LA SALA DE LA ROPA INTERIORE - the second of which has a very nasty exposed mantelshelf traverse move head into a definite passage, a high, ancient, brittle rift of considerable depth below the traverse point - GALLERIA DE LAS MUJERES PERVERSAS. Progress is variously walking on jammed boulders, crawling and climbing to a very nasty climb at a t-junction where I (Dave) nearly went to the bottom (about 40') with a large boulder which was the main handhold.
" Beyond this point we took the left hand way until it looked like a ladder would have to be rigged down to the bottom of the widening rift. The pitch (LADY DIANA'S MONEY BOX) will be 40'+ and wants bolting. There is a considerable draught... "
Subsequent trips, all lasting over seventeen hours, renamed one of the chambers LA SALON DES INCONTINENTS VOLEURS DE BORDEAUX but I'm not sure which one. However, I digress. Dave concludes:
" ...So - discovery of the century at Concert Hall? The peak of human boldness and intrepitude (No! baldness (Richard) and ineptitude (Dave). K. M. P.)? For us it is above all a giant step along the path towards the knowledge of the porno-geology of Ario, and the culmination of work which needs the luck of the Argonauts and (why not?) a certain deontology. Now the f.....g thing will have to be pushed properly and above all surveyed. About 100-200m of passage took us over 2 hours there and back - it's that hairy... "
Pitch Names Rope Belays Several Various (all landing about 15m tend to be large sofa around in streamway below) size lumps of rock 15m which move down the pitch or Hostford chocks
Main Route: Traversity Streamway: Ming Piece Passage: William's Bits: Trench Pitch Route: Enterprise Series: Snowcastle: El Puritan