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.