Ario by Brendan Hall
Saturday, 5 July 2014

Ario Rant

Day 1 Snowcastle:

On my first day at ario I took a trip down Xitu (the main cave of interest during the trip) we spent a few hours searching for one of the most amazing places I had ever seen. A relatively large chamber filled with huge white columns and stunning spotless formations. It was called snow castle and had been discovered 30 years ago but had been lost since. I felt guilty just standing there and getting the floor muddy.

My opinions on cave conservation in caves like Xitu were a bit mixed at the time: on one hand Xitu would receive very few visitors, so getting the clean formations dirty probably wouldnt annoy too many people. We could also feel a draft so there were potential leads. On the other hand if we did get the place muddy it would be muddy forever after we left and we would have ruined something that had taken millions of years to form which I felt quite bad about.

The group I was with was under the opinion that we should try to minimize damage but it wasnt worth removing our oversuits. So we squeezed past tight areas in the huge white columns, covering them in mud as we went, “I can see it goes somewhere but its all staled up, were going to have to come back with a lump hammer and chisel. The next day we came back with a pushing group to check out some other leads in the area and Dave (Rose, OUCC) proceeded to hammer at the formations, a controversial decision. In the end the lead was all too clogged up with stall to make it worthwhile pushing snow castle anymore and we decided as a group it wasnt worth destroying any more of it, unfortunately a lot of damage was already done and part of me regretted even finding snowcastle.

The First few days:

The first few days of the expedition were pretty good: the stunning view of the central massif and other surrounding mountains still had me in awe and the weather was perfect. Nathan and I had an entire tent to ourselves, my kit was all still working, there was a relative abundance of nice food and clean water; everyone was getting along and feeling fit and healthy ‘ basically everything was going well. This was the exact opposite to how things went towards the middle and end of the expedition, especially for Peachey ‘ poor Peachey

One evening Peachey attempted to climb on top of a structure made out of dry stonewalls to place tarp over it so we had another gear store if it rained, the wall gave way leaving peachy injured and miserable, soon after he became very ill and was completely out of action and to add to his misfortune his favourite tent had been eaten by cows and was later turned into a fly sheet.

The plague and other misfortune

Just before Peachey and the wall Ian (the expedition leader) came back from the gorge feeling ill, a violent plague was unleashed upon the unfortunate expedition members. I was the first victim – infecting the two people sleeping next to me in the tent that night, after that people started dropping like flies. We presumed it was a virus and the symptoms were: Fever, loss of appetite, aching joints, headache and tiredness. Everyone that caught it just laid down a groaned for a few days.

For those fit enough to do hill carries, wine seemed to have taken top priority on most of the shopping trips at one point it seemed we were living on a diet of lentils, Cooking wine, cheese, expresso coffee. The pièce de rsistance of our diet was the wonderful TVP (Textured Vegetable protein) which was as a meat alternative and looked like dried dog food it was capable of sucking the taste/colour out of anything we cooked, making expedition food taste even worse, something I thought impossible.

More Misfortune

A very windy day created chaos as our gear tent was torn down and our gear blew all over the ario bowl, this lead to an effort to re-enforce the tarp covered gear shelter and kitchen area with lots of rope. Days later the Kitchen and sleeping tent had become infested with flies and the mouse that had been living in the kitchen since the start had grown quite fat. The cows had taken a keen interest in eating other tents and caving politics were getting in the way of progress.

The Landfill Cave

Towards the end of the expedition we ran out of malions, hangers and rope. So to keep our selves occupied we did other jobs. One of the least pleasant of these jobs was empting a cave that had been filled with rubbish from tourists and previous expeditions. I volunteered to go down and shovel crap into a hauling bucket while people on the surface sorted, bagged it and took it back to camp. Stupidly I decided to only wear thermals under my Oversuit and made friends with the ice formation at the bottom of the cave. When I thought I had finished, I spotted a tarp after lifting the tarp I was hit by a foul smelling bottomless pit of even more crap, it took an extra hour to completely clear out the cave.

Virgin Passage

As Xitu as all already rigged there was still potential to do some pushing trips inside passages within the cave. Alex Richie (YSS) and Tom Gamble a (SUSS) and I found virgin passage in the enterprise series, at first this was probably the muddiest and tightest part of Xitu but once we were past that part it opened out into what looked like it used to be a rift before a mix of sparkling white and blood red stall had covered all of the walls and floor, further down the passage there were pools of crystal clear/blue water (its beauty rivalled show castle just on a smaller scale).

We decided not to disturb this area too much, not wanting a repeat of snowcastle I removed my Oversuit and wellies to climb a spotless crystal covered aven. The aven narrowed towards the top and ended with a small hole that was drafting a lot, I shouted into the hole and there as an impressive echo, the hole was about 40cm wide and 30cm tall so with some capping/hammering we could probably climb through it, but it would mean spoiling the area so we decided against it.

Alex and Jack (OUCC) went back the next day to survey it with a disto x only to find that the batteries had run flat rendering the device useless as it needed to be recalibrated! Meaning they did a 10 hour trip for nothing, a running theme throughout the ario expedition.

The cares gorge

Alys (SUSS) member was keen to, take some young men down to the gorge for a swim. After a difficult walk down a loose scree slope/path. We arrived at the gorge, a pretty touristy area with a nice path running all the way along the gorge on the mountain side. After some ice cream and food we headed down to the water, the water was clear, blue and deep. Ignoring the signs “danger deep water, “do not enter we waded into the water for a swim, the water was icy cold so we didnt stay long. After some debate about which route to take back we set off on the one 1km forward 1km up walk back to camp. It was a pretty warm evening so Nathan was sweating so much that he could squeeze water out of his eyebrows.

The De-rig

With the expedition coming to a close the duty of the final de-rig was upon us, as I was getting ready – Mike, Eabha, Jack and Stephen had just come back from their long pushing trip, vowing never to go back into Xitu again.

At about 1pm on the day of the de-rig: Peachey, Rowan (CPC) and Barney (CUCC) went down to start the de-tackle. We arrived later on at around 10pm and help them haul everything to the surface from Xitu base camp. The second team was made up of Nathan (ULSA), Tom & Rachel (SUSS). By now we were sick of Xitu and just wanted to get it over with, before entering the cave I was feeling a bit ill after eating some suspect chickpea and lentil stew with a side of 5 expresso coffees.

Later we arrived at camp to meet peachey – rowan and Barney were still de-rigging deeper in the cave so we decided to go to have a nap. At about 2am I was woken by Rachel, “Ive left my bloody inhaler on the surface! she said. Apparently she needed a brown inhaler to prevent an asthma attack and had a blue one to control an attack, the blue one ran out while we were in the cave!
At the time I was the only person who was awake / not pretending to be asleep. So I agreed to escort her to the surface and run ahead to raise and alarm and retrieve her medication if I needed too. As I was getting ready I was crushed to realise I left my Pantin on the surface, so I would have to climb 550m without one, to add to this my jammers werent working properly ‘ slipping down the rope and my donkeys dick was too small so I pushed down on the bag every time I prusiked up the rope, making prusking incredibly inefficient!

As we approached Flat iron the most daunting pitch in the cave 100m high, we bumped into peachy and rowan, who were attempting to haul the bags most of the way to the top. Rowan was unbelievable he had been de-rigging the cave since the afternoon and it was now 3am, although he didnt seem very happy about his current situation, “this is wank, why are we doing this and not getting paid!
It took me about twice as long to do flat iron without my Pantin and the short donkeys dick. The rest of the trip was a bit of a blur, I think I might have fallen asleep during some of it. Although I do remember that the 200m of pursiking on the entrance series almost brought me to tears. Within meters of the entrance we reached climax rift, one of the most awkward parts of the cave, it required you to crawl horizontally through a very narrow rift and if you messed up going through it you could be stuck for a long time as you fight your way up the narrow walls to get out. There was a traverse line but it was more of a hindrance than a help so it wasnt really worth clipping into, I used it only as an aid to pull myself through and something to clip my bag onto to prevent it falling down.
Finally we reached the surface, when we arrived back at camp without thinking I crawled into the tent and passed out. A few hours later I woke and left the tent. Mike, Eabha, Jack and Steve spotted me and were worried because the de-rig team in the cave had passed their call out time. After me and Rachel left it was pretty obvious this was going to happen because they now only had 5 people to carry about 13 tackle sacks out of the cave. So they got ready to go back into the cave and help with the de-tackle effort.

The Surface Dig

Earlier in the caving expedition Paul Mackrill spotted a good spot for a surface dig, this had been put off for a while as were busy faffing around with other expedition objectives. The surface dig was one of the most satisfying parts of the expedition. It appeared to definitely be going somewhere and Paul had explosives! While placing bolts above the dig for a Tyrolean hauling system I realised I was standing on a loose boulder and Nathan was in the hole digging. We got Nathan out of the hole and pushed the boulder off the ledge I was standing on, it fell about a meter onto another ledge broke in two half of it falling on our rope and breaking it in two and the other half fell into the hole where Nathan was. We left the dig as an inconclusive lead, we would probably leave it as a project for next year.

Going Home

After the de-rig there were very few people left in ario, the only job left now was to get ourselves and our stuff off the mountain. There was a mountain of expedition gear/food that needed to be taken care of and most of it was left in the Xitu entrance and to Rowan, who had spent most of the expedition being “the transporter running up and down the mountain carrying gear.
Luckily realising the departure date on our tickets was a day earlier than we had anticipated, we packed up our stuff, did one more hill carry and headed off the mountain for good. We arrived in Santander at about 3am and the ferry port opened at 8am deciding it wasnt worth checking into hotel we got out our sleeping bags and slept on the street, I decided to be posh and sleep on a bench. Peachey being Peachey decided it wasnt necessary to book a room on the ferry so again we slept on the floor in the lounge area of the ferry. We arrived back in England late the next morning.

Add comments
Images
Snowcastle
Posted by: Brendan Hall
Size: 57kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 337 pixels
Posted: 05 September 2014
Central massif
Posted by: Brendan Hall
Size: 50kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 337 pixels
Posted: 05 September 2014
Kitchen and Gear store
Posted by: Brendan Hall
Size: 79kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 337 pixels
Posted: 05 September 2014
The cares gorge
Posted by: Brendan Hall
Size: 112kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 337 pixels
Posted: 05 September 2014
The Dig
Posted by: Brendan Hall
Size: 116kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 337 pixels
Posted: 05 September 2014