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Culiembro 2010

Culiembro 2010
Friday, 23 July 2010 – Monday, 9 August 2010

I wasnt back 5 mins from Montenegro before the packing commenced for my next trip ‘ a Cave Diving Group expedition to the Culiembro Resurgence in the Picos de Europa mountains of Spain. I still had a week of work to do, but Friday quickly arrived and I was soon on my way down to Manchester to meet Beardy who had kindly agreed to let me tag along on the long, 1,300 mile or so drive down to the Pyrenees. We finally left Manchester at around 9 pm. 26 hrs later we arrived in Matienzo, where we decided to stop and enjoy a few beers and a rest for the night before the final 4 hrs or so to the small village of Cain, nestled in the Picos de Europa mountains and at the head of the spectacular Cares Gorge. We finally arrived here on Sunday afternoon to find the others about to carry some of their diving kit down to the entrance.

The team this year comprised Jason Mallinson, Emma Heron, Phil Rowsell, Adrian Hall, me, Beardy, Claire Cohen, Simon Cornhill, Diane Arthurs, Xesús F. Manteca Fraile and was led again by Chris Jewell. After quickly pitching our tents and sorting out some kit, Beardy and I also did a carry to the entrance, which is located around 45 mins walk down the Cares Gorge ‘ a popular tourist destination, and a very impressive one at that. The walk-in was certainly one of the more pleasant walk-ins that Ive done to a cave entrance, which is actually located below the tourist path and gained by a series of steep slopes and small, easy climbs which we protected with a handline. I think many of the tour-oids were baffled to see us suddenly disappear off the path and down the steep-sided canyon. Job done, we headed back to the campsite, located in the village itself and close to many bars.which is always good, Ive found!

The Monday was spent getting the rest of the kit to the entrance, and to sump 1, located about 45 mins steady caving from the entrance. It took everyone two or three journeys to get all their kit to the first sump, but the caving was highly enjoyable being a mixture of walking in well decorated passage, climbs, traverses and the odd swim through a small lake ‘ one of which had a short duck near the end to add interest. Most of the entrance series was fossil in nature, and quiet, but towards the end a distant rumble could be heard and a fast-flowing streamway was met just a few minutes before Sump 1. Sump 1 itself looked very impressive and inviting with its crystal-clear, blue tinted water. The sort of viz one dreams of seeing in the Dales! Today it was a hive of activity as everyone sorted out a washing line next to the sump for hanging regs, fins, dive computers etc for the coming dives.

On the Tuesday, Chris Jewell, Beardy, Emma Heron and I set off into the cave to take some gear to Sump 4 ready for a pushing trip. Sump 1 was quickly reached and we all carefully kitted up ready for the dive. Emma and Beardy set off through first followed by Chris and I. The 180 m long, 15 m deep sump was indeed spectacular. After a steep slope down to around 10 m depth, the passage quickly took the form of a 10 m high and 3 – 5 m wide tunnel. The line was followed close to the roof, in the shallower part of the tunnel to try and save on air and what followed was a very pleasant dive with stunning visibility. A turbulent mixture of water and bubbles signaled the end of the sump as I surfaced next to an impressive waterfall crashing into the large sump pool. It was then necessary to swim over to the side to de-kit the larger 7L cylinders onto a washing line fixed to the wall before climbing out of the sump pool. Wearing our 3L cylinders, it was only a couple of minutes caving to Sump 2 ‘ again, large and inviting but surrounded by jagged limestone. Sump 2 was much shorter, being maybe 30 m long and 6 m deep and involving a gradual descent down to a corner and then a steep ascent up to airspace. The sump was passed in a slightly less graceful style due to being slightly underweighted after leaving the heavier cylinders at the first sump (i.e. swimming down and grabbing hold of the many projections sticking out from the walls and floor of the sump).

Once through Sump 2, it was decided that Chris and Emma would carry their diving kit to Sump 3 while Beardy and I transported the ropes and other tackle ready for them to take through sump 3. Although the distance between sump 2 and 3 isnt too far, it does involve an awkward section of rift while carrying a heavy, bulky bag. A long, steeply-rising traverse led to a climb up through boulders into a much larger passage above. A long descent down a steep slope soon arrived at Sump 3. Chris and Emma kitted up and dived the gear through while Beardy and I set off out. On the way, I had a look up an awkward exposed climb. Sumps 2 and 1 were once again enjoyed and passed without incident, and a quick trip back through the entrance series soon saw us back in the fine Cares Gorge! Chris and Emma arrived an hour or so later after successfully getting the kit to Sump 4.
Wednesday proved to be a rest day for most, except for Jason Mallinson and Phil Rowsell who enjoyed the first pushing trip beyond Sump 4. Jason dived a previously un-dived sump to find 150 m or so of streamway leading to another sump, all in the direction of a pothole called Xitu. Following this, the pair followed the main streamway to the 2009 limit re-rigging some of the climbs and pitches on the way ready for a subsequent pushing trip.

On the Thursday, Chris Jewell, Emma Heron, Beardy and I set off on the second pushing trip. At Sump 2, Emma had to abort her trip due to problems with her regs leaving Chris, Beardy and I to continue on. The section between Sump 2 and 3 was indeed sweaty in a 7mm wetsuit with 20 kg or so tacklebag, but we soon kitting up at Sump 3. I set off through first, closely followed by Chris and Beardy. In the 150 m long, 15 m deep Sump 3, a steep slope was followed down to a very high rift passage 1 ‘ 3 m wide. A corner was soon reached at a dramatic enlargement of the passage where the line disappeared vertically down but could be seen rising back up on the other side of the passage. More large passage was followed until surfacing in another large sump pool. Diving kit was bagged up once again, before the next arduous series of climbs, two ladder pitches and spectacular caving to Sump 4. In contrast to the passages between Sumps 2 and 3, the passage between Sumps 3 and 4 was all in polished, light grey, clean-washed limestone.

Sump 4 is similar in length and depth to Sump 2, but surfaced in a huge boulder-filled passage where the roar of a distant streamway could be heard! An impressive place! After de-kitting, It was decided that Chris and I would dive through to Jasons limit so that Chris could dive the undived sump Jason reached the previous day. Beardy was to finish sorting out the other way on up the main streamway and see if he could get any further. After Chris and I bagged up some diving kit, we all set off through the boulder field to the main streamway, or shall I say, river, which was crashing down a large cascade that we bypassed on the left. The dramatic river passage was followed to a large waterfall pitch. From the top of this, it wasnt long until we reached Jasons sump. We all continued on to the current limit of the main streamway before Chris and I returned to dive through Jasons sump. This was only 20 m or so long, but reduced to a single cylinder and minimal lead required more frequent pushes off the roof. We quickly surfaced in a quiet and peaceful stream passage ‘ a complete contrast to the loud and exciting maelstrom that is the main streamway. We continued on with three 3L cylinders and Chris diving kit through one loose section of boulders and along a small streamway to the sump. After helping Chris to kit up, he set off and all I could do was wait for his return. Having taken my cylinder, I was now stranded deep under the Picos until he returned. Otherwise, Beardy was going to have to dive through and find me. Around 30 mins later, Chris arrived back asking for a survey sheet to quickly write down some survey measurements before he forgot them. He then quickly took my hand and shook it! Chris had passed the sump and made it to Xitu, thus establishing a connection between resurgence and pothole! An amazing achievement, and the first connection of its kind in the Picos de Europa Massif.

We then set off back out, surveying the new passage on the way. We had agreed to meet Beardy at around 8 pm back in the main streamway, which worked out perfectly as it turned out. The survey was tied in and finished before we set off out. A steady trip back out, with only a minor flap for me in Sump 3 and Beardy losing a very expensive light in Sump 4 (though retrieved by Chris) saw us all diving back through Sump 1 at around midnight. We all reached the entrance at around 2 am after an excellent 15 hr trip. A brisk walk back along the path ‘ the gorge now a scary looking black space beside us, saw us back in camp for around 3 am where food was consumed before bed.

On the Friday, we all enjoyed a well deserved rest day. I spent most of it in the bar enjoying coffee and drawing up the survey from the previous day.
On the Saturday, various folk went into the cave, but Chris and I went to do some filming and photography as far as Sump 2.

The next few days involved a further long pushing trip in which the main streamway was pushed further to another significant waterfall in a narrower section of passage. This was to prove the limit for this years expedition, with still some distance horizontally and vertically to 2/7 ‘ the feeder to this part of the system.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent removing gear and diving kit from the cave. This required several trips, but a good team effort ensured all the kit got out and back to camp quickly and without incident! On the Friday, Beardy and I set off back to the UK after stopping in Matienzo for a few (too many?) beverages due to a 50th anniversary celebration of caving in Matienzo which was taking place that weekend. It would seem that people already knew of our success in the Picos. Word was spreading quickly!

We finally arrived back in the UK on Sunday morning! A fantastic expedition, and great to finally get on a cave diving trip to a very memorable place! Looking forward to the next one!! ☺

See link below for press coverage (deepest system explored by British team rather than deepest British caver has been!)|:



Oh, and MASSIVE thanks to Beardy for driving all the way there and back…..!!!
Probably the hardest part of the whole trip???
Mike Bottomley
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
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