January #2 – news from Kanin

Well, I camped underground for seven days in Skalarjevo Brezno!

We based ourselves in a significant side branch (Sleeping Dragon) at about 590m or whatever. I found a nice 100m pitch that, sadly, reconnected with a main route near its base. Pleasant work, though, and interesting as it was basically a small gap in the boulder floor of a chamber that many people had walked through… so we just moved half a dozen rocks and then had to slide through a hole in the floor at the base of a boulder slope – then try and get a rebelay in as soon as possible, because it was not a good idea to have rope rubbing against any of the rocks around the hole! When you were on the pitch (Nervous Breakdown) you could look up at the floor of the chamber overhead that folks were walking across…

Nervous Breakdown. Nicer than it looks!
Nervous Breakdown. Nicer than it looks!

Also did some of the rigging across a big traverse (must have been about 40+ metres, as the direct line was 14m – I can just about do the equation) that led into a very old abandoned stream passage across the shaft from camp. The passage was about 120m long and leads to some very interesting draughting digs that might lead to much bigger stuff. The traverse (“Made in Heaven”) was moderately desperate, as it started with a completely footless section about 5m long, with the bolts about six to eight inches above an overhang…so you were desperately trying to make progress with no easy way of unweighting your cowstail, while hanging horizontally. When it was my turn to have a go at making progress, I got to the last bolt on this horror show, equipped with drill, bolt kit, etc etc, and thought “bugger, I had better go forward and see if there is a place to rest, because I`m blowed if I have the strength to reverse that right now”. Fortunately, there was a nice ledge hidden a few metres away around the next corner!

a traverse Made in Heaven...
a traverse Made in Heaven…

The fact that this was at the head of a 293m pitch (Rolling Stone) meant absolutely bog all, as with a hole that big, even a Scurion doesn`t make that much impact!

The Julian Alps (daytime -10C, night time -26C) frozen beauty
The Julian Alps (daytime -10C, night time -26C) frozen beauty

So – some discoveries (and some good potential resulting), no more depth, but a couple of fun moments. Also, I avoided dying yesterday, when the camera person dropped his big expensive bag of film goodies down the pitch when he was about 30m above me… which was a good result. As the pitch was about 80m from where his bag parted, to the bottom, suffice to say that several thousand Euros worth of cameras and data recorder were *not* in a good shape when they were recovered!

Back from Asopladeru la Texa – July 2009

Well, I’m home.

An interesting trip; pretty straightforward but with just a dash of incident to enliven the whole affair. The main lead for me, the terminal downstream sump which lies at -950m in Asopladeru la Texa, was pretty remote as a dive site and required a lot of help from many cavers to lug all the kit there. The pushing dive took place on the third day of my camping trip, and it took about eight person trips to get the rebreather, drysuit, tanks of mix etc from the underground camp to the sump; fortunately, this bit is the nicest passage in the whole cave!

The dive itself was going swimmingly until about 120m in, at a depth of 48m, at which point the rebreather flooded. Without getting technical, this is a bad thing which could result in death. Clearly, in this case it didn’t! but it meant that most of my gas reserves were used getting out safely from that point. The sump, Blue Again, was left as a very large shaft dropping into blue / black obscurity to a depth that I’d guess to be a minimum of 60m deep; an impressive place.

Luckily, the ongoing upstream passage was still an excellent consolation prize. Kitted up for long deep diving, the logistics of doing a short shallow sump with caving beyond made for amusing kit choice. I opted for normal caving kit under a diving drysuit, dumping this after the 40m dive as the streamway beyond is pretty gnarly in places, a real gear ripper.

What I’d not twigged, is that the passage also has three sections out of depth! Even though I had the lighter bag of climbing kit, hand traversing around the edges of these, neck deep, was a bit of a fun experience. Spending the next few hours sharing the lead on a bolt climb next to a waterfall was just unspeakably fun…

An excellent lead, and still going in a major stream passage when I left the next day, after six days underground.

Some thoughts on kit that I used:

1.The Raumer 4000 braking krab was excellent on the gritty 10mm and 11mm rope that the cave is rigged on. I pretty much wore out the bottom spool of my Simple, but the Raumer is not marked at all. Nice to use, too. However sandy it got, the wiregate opened a treat every time.

2.The MTDE Butron undersuit was excellent – warm enough in an 8C cave, and the fact that it drains very quickly and effectively made the swimming and standing around as least bad as it could be. It dried pretty well in the course of the 6+ hours’ prussiking next day.

3.The Amazonia / Garma harness combination did its usual good work; even with a non-insubstantial caver, and three tackle bags, the sit harness was comfortable; and I reckon that the Garma is still the best way to carry bolting accessories easily to hand (as well as feeling very safe when leading, tied into an effectively full – body harness)

Next trip away – somewhere deeper, can’t say more than that just yet…

Asopladeru la Texa – July 2009

The Western Massif of the Picos de Europa is well know to generations of British exploratory cavers. Pozu del Xitu was the first 1000m pothole explored to depth by a British team in the early ’80s, and many teams have dreamed of forging a connection between the high mountains down to the Culiembro resurgence in the Cares gorge some 1500m below.

This year a team from Oxford University Cave Club is returning to Asopladeru la Texa to push some significant leads left at the end of the ’08 trip. A large and well decorated phreas at depth, first reached by Phil Rowsell after some ‘soul searching’ climbs; a large ongoing streamway beyond a short sump, where a cascade needs bolting; and the impressive downstream lead, the ‘Blue Again’ sump – left at -43m depth in a large open passage. I’m intending to dive this with CCR, trimix, and drysuit, rather than the SCUBA plus wetsuit combination used last time! Pushing these leads are the main aims of the expedition, with the desire to make the first deep through trip after nearly forty years hard work in this most beautiful of caving areas.