OUCC Proceedings 11 (1983)

Pozu Jorcada Blanca: Description

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John Singleton and Graham Naylor

Location 43° 13`30``N, 1° 15`35``W.

Pictures of F2/F7 system.

Warning: the entrance pitch is liable to fill completely after snow. Penetrating the blockage could take several days.

Pozu Jorcada Blanca is a sporting cave, once thought to be the deepest in the world (Rose, 1983). Unfortunately, it suffers from premature sumping at a depth of about 600 metres. The entrance is situated in a large, generally snow-filled doline at the edge of a rocky plateau about 600 metres from La Verdelluenga on a bearing of 280° : the cave is best approached from Ario via the Vega de Aliseda.

Two entrances are available: a gentle stroll over boulders past the snow-plug leads down to the top of the first pitch, whilst in snowy weather, a 1.5 metre diameter shaft (10 m) through the rock outcrop above the main entrance can be rigged to bypass the worst of the plug. The first pitch, Snow Joke, descends for over 20 m over snow and ice in several stages to a bolt, and a another pitch of four metres through a horizontal slot, landing on a steep slope of pebbles, boulders and soil. A traverse line down this to the head of the next pitch, Is Necessary (P 38 m), is advisable, as the slope is highly unstable, and it is best for only one person to be on the ledge and pitch at a time. Is Necessary is a thoroughly unremarkable pitch, on which it is best to keep one's eyes shut so as not to see the precariously poised large boulders on the other side of the shaft and the ice-cold water and stones raining down from the melting snow plug above. At the bottom, there are two blind pots; rather than descend part way down the further one and pendule across to the continuation of the cave, the easiest way on is to climb down a small rift to the left and rig a short ladder (P 5 m) from the end of it on to a large ledge. A walking-size passage, quickly diminishing in height, leads from the ledge to be head of the next pitch, the Chair (P 9 m). The reason for the name is obvious; the take-off is tight and the easiest way to get on the rope is to sit in a natural seat with one's feet dangling over the pitch. A mid-air changeover just below a large ledge - unfortunately, no-one saw fit to put a seat here - is necessary to get on to Chair II (P 13 m), a nondescript little climb against the wall. To the left at the bottom, a small section of stream is encountered, but the way on is a climb up to the right over boulders to the entrance of Meander of the Argonauts (Rift I), a constricted, awkward meandering rift passage, of the type in which OUCC cavers have difficulty controlling themselves.

The rift ends at Mistral II (P 18 m), a free hanging pitch which lands on a large ledge where the stream reappears. A climb down through the trench leads to the head of Mistral II (P 20 m), rigged from a Y-belay, to give the best take-off in the cave. For unfortunately the pitch does not match up to the take-off, the ascent being a scramble up loose and sharp flakes. At the bottom of Mistral II, a traverse across an unstable boulder ledge leads to the head of Mistral III (P 34 m), a fine free hang, landing in a short section of vadose passage, which ends at the tight take-off to Mistral IV (P 10 m). A short climb leads to the top of Choss Pitch (P 10 m), inconvenient on either ladder or rope, being broken by a ledge and numerous rock projections. The pitch lands in a chamber with a pit in the floor; climbing up to the left, a hairy traverse (Walk on the Wild Side) leads over the pitch into a small chamber in a rift, and from here a climb down over the pit into a small chamber brings one into Rift II, another tight traverse. There is a bypass to Walk on the Wild Side for tiny cavers: just climb down into the pit with the aid of a rope and thrutch through the rift above stream level. At the other end of Rift II is a short drop (best lined) to the head of Marble Bathroom (P 18 m), which allows the use of a deviator, for the technically minded and less sporting, to avoid the water. For the first time in the cave one can take more than a few steps in a horizontal direction, but just around the corner lies yet more traversing and climbing (the second climb down is actually provided with a bolt for ease of tackle hauling) and the the Bathroom Steps (P 8 m, 12 m, 9 m).

After the third Bathroom Step, the stream tinkles of into a short vadose trench before hurling itself down the 55 m drop of the Font: a magnificent hang is provided by strolling out to where the passage starts to open into the shaft and then using a knob on the right of the passage as the final belay. The shaft is very fine indeed, with walls of smooth polished limestone and a refreshing light to heavy drizzle. From the foot of the pitch, a further drop, rigged in a couple of stages (P 8 m, 5 m) is descended to a boulder heap wedged in the passage. From the boulder heap, a pitch (Stead's Braille Blunder; P 18 m) can be rigged to follow the water down to the Watershed, an as yet inpenetrably tight rift, which absorbed a day's work with a hammer without yielding its secrets. The way on is in fact to traverse over the watershed on to a climb known as the Time Warp ("it's just a jump to the left and a step to the right"); it is best to hang the rope from Stead's Braille Blunder down here to act as a hand line. A short traverse in fossil stream passage, and then the head of One Step Beyond (p to 2 m) provides a just reward for psychospeleogeneticists who possess sufficient intelligence to ignore the Watershed. Two further pitches (P 10 m, 15 m) descend to the Valley of the Kings, a dry, eerily quiet chamber, described by one (c/r*)aving (*-delete as appropriate) journalist as "the most astounding discovery ever made by British cavers" (Rose, 1983). There are two ways on, here: to the right a short ladder pitch leads to a ledge with walls encrusted with strange pyramid formations and the top of Pyramid Pitch, a 20 m descent to an impossible choke; to the left, a short climb down and then Squelch!, a 10 m pitch, drops one on to a big ledge above the Sphinx (P 60 m), another beautifully formed but dry shaft. The pitch head here has an unfortunate tendency to accumulate ironmongery, as each successive caver feels obliged to add a further belay, stuffing bits of metal into every available orifice.

From the bottom, it is a short scramble over boulders to the final pitch in the entrance series, Wallop! (P 28 m), where again a deviator is useful. Just down slope and round the corner, the base of Wallop!, the stream can be seen rejoining the main route on, forming an impressive sight as it plunges from a great height into Lago Victoria, a large clear pool.

On the other side of this rather draughty and wet place, a crawl under some rather unlikely-wedged boulders called Don't Look at the Roof leads on: for the faint of heart, an easy but loose 10 m climb leads over the top. Following the streamway, Tantalus Pitch (P 1 pm) is reached; however, the way on is to traverse over it at high level, the traverse eventually entering a large chamber, the Hot Tub. The chamber is impressive, but not so impressive as to warrant a long stay, as it is basically a huge aven and hence very draughty and wet. At the far side, down the steep boulder floor, a rift leads off, and after a short distance can be climbed down to a large ledge. The walls are covered with "popcorn" (aragonite?), which tends to make the climb memorable, though more memorable to some than others (Eh, George?). A section of easy strolling over wide ledges on either side of a deep trench ends at Pol Pot (P 10 m), the first convenient point to drop to the streamway. The pitch lands on an unstable boulder-covered ledge and the stream is regained by climbing carefully across this and then bridging down the trench below; behind, the water falls 10 m into the deep hole in the bottom of a well-proportioned elliptical shaft, whilst ahead lies the longest section of streamway in the cave, the Mekong river, a tortuous vadose passage often reminiscent of the Crabwalk in Giant's Hole. Tackle carrying is made tedious by the passage shape and a number of boulder piles blocking the stream. Eventually the Mekong ends in an 8 m drop: Delta Pitch (P 8 m).

The passage beyond this pitch, the Bramaputra, is spacious and the water flows sluggishly between deep holes. Traversing over these pools can be entertaining and almost invariably (Ed: well in my case anyway) you fall in. A few metres on, the way appears to divide. Straight ahead is an impenetrable choke of silt, pebbles and boulders marking the old blocked route, whilst to the right the stream flows in a new course. A bit of bridging over the active stream leads up into a fairly large chamber, the Pleasure Dome, which would have made an ideal campsite had the cave gone deeper. Below a climb over sandy ledges, the water enters a section of hading rift, and it is much easier to follow the widest part of the passage a few metres above. The streamway starts to become constricted and then ends abruptly in a feet-first squeeze at shoulder height straight on to a wet pitch known as the Vortex (P 10 m). At the foot of the ladder is a roomy spray-lashed chamber, the only way on being a tiny 0.3 m wide rift running back underneath the water. Movement through the rift is made "interesting" by its inclination and by the nobbly projections all over the walls; however relief soon appears in the shape of a 6 m pitch with a tight take-off. The pitch lands in a comfortable-sized rift and an easy traverse in the widest part gives the impression that the cave is getting friendly again. After a manoeuvre under a jammed boulder and a short section of shingle-floored passage, the roof is seen to descend and a deep pool is encountered. Unfortunately it is not just another large puddle to traverse over or a short dark but the terminal sump pool, at a depth of 590 m. The sump is known as Psycho Killer and the passage leading up to it as, yes, you've guessed, Psycho Path.

So, a disappointing end to a classically-formed Picos pot. The trip to the bottom and out without gear would take about 10 hours if you really sprinted along, and so if you have 10 days to spare, 600 m of rope, a snow blower and a bunch of tackling/detackling fools, I mean friends, it might be worth a shot. Try cordelette perhaps, but I'm not rescuing you.