Cueto to Coventosa
Thursday, 21 June 2012

It is with some surprise that I am sitting here writing this rant. As someone who is afraid of heights and becomes very nervous on big pitches, I had sworn that I would never ever attempt the Cueto ‘ Coventosa traverse, having a 300m entrance shaft. Except at 6am one morning in June, whilst walking up the steep, amphitheatre shaped hill above Socueva I was trying to work out how in the hell Noel had tricked me into this!

The gear was already sitting waiting for us at the entrance of Cueto, having located the entrance on a previous day, and our boat and food dump was quietly waiting for us at the Cueto side of the three rather chilly lakes in Coventosa.

All too soon we were at the entrance of Cueto attempting to stall the start by stuffing our faces, quadruple checking of gear and toilet stops. The entrance to Cueto has to be the easiest entrance to find on the tops of the Ason valley, as it is right by one of the main walking paths. We used the trip description provided by the A.D. Pico Tres Mares (translated from Spanish). The only thing to note is the new farmers track that has been bulldozed through the land, contouring around the hills, at the top of the hill above Socueva. Just keep following this track for about 15 to 20 mins and if you keep a look out on the left hand side youll see the cairns and path markings for the main walking footpath. Take this path, which is very easy to follow all the way to Cueto.

Eventually there was no more stalling and the trip had to commence. Noel was bravely volunteered by Stuart and I to start the first abseil and, even more bravely still, I requested that I be in the middle of the two lads (so I never had to be last or first down the ropes!) In no time at all, Noel was down and hanging on the first chain and so it was my turn to abseil down. Not giving myself time to chicken out, I stomped over to the rope, and started heading down. Soon I was hanging on the chain with Noel and Stuart was on his way down to join us.

Once we pulled the rope down I really started to enjoy myself. You really have to as your now committed, so you may as well make the most of it. Its actually not as intimidating as I thought. The chains were replaced only a couple of years ago and were all really nice and shiny. The previous chains were still in-situ, right next to the new ones and still pretty bomb proof. This gave us room to spread out a little bit. However it is still in no terms comfy and I would not recommend any more than four people in one go. Personally I think three is really the most you could have here, but for a more uncomfortable journey you can fit in a fourth.

As practice for this traverse, the three of us had recently completed the Tibia to Fresca traverse in the Sam Allshorne valley ‘ see rant for trip date 17th June 2012. This is an excellent trip to prepare you for the pull through of the Cueto entrance pitch. Although the two 80m pitches in Tibia are obviously much shorter, there is only one chain and the odd bolt at the halfway point, which makes hanging with the three of you much more uncomfortable and makes you think about where to place yourself before your fellow team mates come down. It also lets you practice pulling the rope down ‘ make sure you tuck your head in! As a result we all felt much more prepared for the Cueto entrance pitch after doing this.

After two hours we were at the ledge at about 200m down, and 1 hour further we were touching ground 300m down! But we were still not out of the entrance series. Now actually in my opinion the next pitches, although not as intimidating, are more technical than the entrance shaft. Some of the bolts are not in the best of places, and you need to be careful of the rope catching. In particular on the 55m pitch ‘ pozo del Algodon, there is a boulder wedged part way down and the rope can get caught here.

However, the entrance series was fairly uneventful but fun and after approximately 5 hours in we arrived in the Galeria de Juhne, the end of the entrance series. After a quick feed we began the stomping part of the trip, which seems to go on forever. At the bottom of the last pitch, (with your back to the rope), you turn left up a slope, but then when you have reached the top turn right around, walking along a ledge heading in the other direction. (This means you have actually gone right from the base of the pitch.) This is very well cairned, but is probably the place where you dont want to make a mistake ‘ so if in doubt of my description, ask us. But it is well cairned.

Now its been a few months since we did this trip and writing this description, but I can remember that everything was really well cairned, big and very hot!! We were stripping off layers, tying our oversuits and furrys around our waists and still had sweat pouring off us! The stomping is constant with never ending climbs up and down boulders, it is very hot work. It is definitely worth making sure you have some water with you and stock up at the Oasis.

We had no problems with directions as the route is well marked with cairns and an assortment of rubbish. After what seemed like forever we had reached a familiar point ‘ La Turbina. This is the part of the cave where the bulkier caver may wish to try out prior to attempting the traverse. It is a narrow-ish pitch, which I imagine is much easier to abseil than prussik! It is near to the point where you drop off the boat for the lakes, so is definitely worth a visit if you are worried. I dont think there would be many people who wouldnt get down this pitch, but it is always nice for peace of mind.
So soon we were at the boat and our stashed food. Im pretty cautious when it comes to food quantities, liking to have more than we need, in case of emergencies and all that. But we ended up with so much food we couldnt face eating our tortilla bocadillos and ended up carrying them all the way out! Oops

At the start of the lakes we inflated our boat and tied our string to it in order to give ourselves 150m worth of pull from the opposite end of the lake to retrieve the boat. Now with the gear and the three of us, we each had to travel in the boat one at a time. We thought our plan was foolproof but we were soon to learn our folly.

I think, as it is rather intimidating, the entrance pitch is considered as the most difficult part of the trip, however in my opinion the lakes are the most challenging and sodding pain in the arse part!! The lakes themselves go round bends and there are numerous large rocks sticking out. Of the three lakes, the boat got stuck on two of them (luckily the deepest of the three lakes ‘ being the 50m long one, was the only lake where we had no problems). We lost a lot of time trying to get across the lakes, and off course our string got all tangled. I think the boat option to cross the lakes is quite difficult, unless you take two boats perhaps and have one person in a boat at all times? Some people leave their wetsuits to swim across the lakes, but unless you have two wetsuits, youll still need to cross the lakes with a boat at some point as the water is very, very cold. However it may be best to use the boat when preparing your dump, as at least you can waste more time then, rather than during the through-trip? In any case, it really needs more thought than we had put in!

So eventually we were across the lakes, stomping through Coventosa and back out in the dark, outside world where everyone was fast asleep.aaaahhh!

The walk back to the car was very easy from here, only 10mins from the cave following the obvious path outside the entrance, turning right.

I have never felt as full-filled after a caving trip like I did after Cueto-Coventosa. Having thought I would never do anything like this, I am so happy that I did. It is such a great trip, definitely one of the best for me.

Equipment: 2x 60m ropes, plus one spare 60m. One boat, plus pull cord or wetsuits.