Oxford University Cave Club

British Speleological Expedition to the Cantabrian Mountains of Northern Spain, 1965

in conjunction with the "Espeleologos de Penalba", Leon

British Speleological Expedition 1965 Report

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Sil de la Colombina (Ghyrrt Cavern)

Chris Shephard

Ghyrrt cavern was probably one of the expedition's better finds in Spain, for it succeeded in keeping many of the members in suspense for four days and even then we left it feeling that it had not really yielded all its secrets.

It had been discovered by the local shepherd, in a most unlikely place, about 1500 ft above the valley floor, in very shattered terrain at the head of an extremely steep and arduous scree slope, which, in the heat of the day, probably taxed the expedition more than the pot itself!

In our initial exploration we- put 200 ft of ladder down the hole which measured probably 15 ft in diameter and three of the party descended what we thought was bound to be yet another typically choked pothole. At 110 ft down it was possible to get off the ladder, and to our delight we found ourselves in a large chamber with a very promising passage heading steeply downwards before us. One of the party had gone ahead and as we could see no light in front of us we realized that if we could just get clear of the boulders and surface debris, we were in a cave of very great potential. The boulder slope diverged into a passage of ever-increasing height, until, after about 400 ft we suddenly came to a dead end, confronted by the inevitable rubble choke. A small inlet passage in the roof was examined. We retraced our steps until, once more at the foot of the ladder, we noticed another passage which after 20 ft brought us to the head of a 50 ft pitch - into a rift passage, which must have been 100 ft high. At the foot of this pitch, which was made extremely dangerous by the amount of loose rock at its head, we again were at a loss until we discovered a climb which led up, over a calcite flow, into a large roof chamber, following the rift. This continued, up a rather awkward climb, for 70 ft whence it came to a tee junction. Turning right the passage sloped down steeply and was blocked by rubble; left, however, led after only a few treacherous feet over slippery decaying calcite to the head of another pitch which we decided, due to the time, should be left until the following day.

9 a.m. found us laddering the 60 ft pitch which had baulked us the previous day, at the foot of which, after a few feet of very slippery calcite we found ourselves at the top of yet another rift pitch, which required a further 70 ft of ladder to the bottom. Everywhere was silent and dead. Not a drip, not a breath of wind, the walls of the cave were huge flows of slimy, white calcite. We carried on down the rift on to a small chamber, where once again, we came to a sudden halt. The way on appeared to "be through a small hole at floor level, too small to crawl through. Word was passed back for a hammer.

A few minutes chipping enlarged the passage sufficiently for even the largest of us. The passage suddenly increased in height and width. We went on for a few yards and then - what a let down! It terminated in a long dead sump, mud and earth and dry white powder, completely undiggable. We retraced our steps to the head of the 70 foot pitch, and looked for the remainder of our party who had followed us down. All was quiet. They had traversed over the rift into what we had at first assumed was only a roof chamber of great height and carried on down yet another pitch of 30 feet over a huge bank of flowstone. We followed. Down and then up a large boulder slope, covered in fantastic Gypsum flowers which carried on for a good 200 feet until we reached what again looked like the end of the cave. A small passage gave access to a 30 foot pitch, a spiralling tube at the bottom of which was a small hole, with great gusts of air coming through. Small stones, which we dropped through, rang resonantly as they bounced and clattered over formations. Half an hour of hammering, however, told us that this was no small job, and that gelignite would be needed.

All that could be seen at the top of the pitch was a battery and the wires leading downwards to our charge. The wire was connected to the terminals and the cave shook with the force of the detonation. We had cleared just enough to squeeze through. Another charge was needed, however, to remove a stalactite curtain, before we could eventually thread our ladder through and drop into a cavern of immense beauty. Out of this led a large waterworn passage about 20 feet high, heading downwards at an angle of about 70° . The party descended about 100 feet and found ourselves at the head of another pitch down which we put 50 feet of ladder. After the first 20 feet, one dropped over some extremely fine stalactites and swung into space. This terminal chamber was highly decorated.

He returned to camp - determined to spend one more day exploring some passages on the far side of the final pitch - which would necessitate a rather desperate traverse. Apart from this a surveying team would have to go down as the one which had set out that day had got split up over the mountainside.

The remainder of the passages were explored and photographs taken as well as the surveying completed.

See Survey.