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Sima GESM and the Story of Bum Lice

Sima GESM and the Story of Bum Lice
Saturday, 19 July 2014 – Sunday, 3 August 2014

Prepare yourselves people – you may need a cup of tea and a slice of cake for this one…

Part 1 ‘ Preparing the Dive for Mr Serious

This aim of this expedition was to put two divers (Jason and Chris) into the final sump of this classic Andalucían Cave. The sump is at a depth of -996m below surface (a tantalising 4m short of 1km for dry cavers) and was previously passed by a Russian diver who did not survey the passages beyond, and drew them from memory. He left two main leads, an ongoing sump (to be pushed by Jason), and a large dry passage above ending at an un-descended pitch (to be re-surveyed then pushed by Chris).

The cave was already hard-rigged for ongoing dry exploration at various leads by the Spanish. This meant that our first aim was to get 20 bags of diving and camping gear to the bottom of the cave. Unfortunately much of the load consisted of lead weights and diving bottles so the bags were mostly incredibly heavy. For the first couple of days, various cavers including a large contingent of helpful Spaniards, ferried bags down to various depths from 300 to 500m, to allow easier access for them to get to camp, and I also set up a link between the new Cave-Link radio (on loan from Switzerland) at the entrance and at -300m.

On day 3 a team of 7 cavers, Jason, Chris, Holly, myself, Emms, Josh and Mike descended the cave for a 3 day camp, with the aim of getting all the bags to the bottom and the divers set up. This was accomplished by the momentous task of shuttling all the bags through a section of narrow meanders to the head of a section of larger pitches. Once all the bags were here, everyone clipped 2 or 3 very heavy bags (10-15kg each) to themselves, and abseiled the next 3 pitches (61m, 30m then 140m). This was very uncomfortable, and made passing re-belays a tiring process (the bags were too heavy for me to walk with when clipped on on flat ground), but far more preferable to prussicking back up the 140m to get more bags. The bags were then shuttled along the Gran Via, a horizontal passage leading to the camp at -730m (this is not the original way down the cave, but a dry and more pleasant alternative to the wet series of pitches below the 140m pitch). We checked out camp ‘ a delightful Spanish setup complete with open poo-pit 2m from the sleeping tent Pooing was forbidden in this pit, and a second further open “trench was discovered, where some of the previous specimens had grown “beards and mushrooms. I deployed the Cave-Link radio, before we enjoyed a hearty meal of cous cous mixed with cheese sauce and mushroom soup powder (at least 100 calories per person) and went to bed ready for the next days work of getting everything to the sump.

We rose dark and early, ready for the next instalment of back-breaking carrying. After stocking camp and re-packing bags, we now had the luxury of only 2 even heavier bags each. Going from camp to the bottom was fairly easy, the passage now much larger down a large ramp interspersed with the occasional pitch. The final pitch is one of the most spectacular, if intimidating, pitches I have descended, being a wide open 80m shaft on very old muddy rope, landing directly on the beach on the edge of the final sump. Looking down the shaft was impressive, where all the others were already assembled on the “beach prepping the dive gear ready for the massive clear blue sump pool. Josh and myself deployed the final Cave-Link radio, and managed successful text message contact with the radio at -730m camp (but sadly not with the surface radio, which was now too far away horizontally). We headed back up to camp as the divers disappeared into the sump. Radio messages later that evening established that:

a) The divers had passed sump 1 via a good line, and progressed into the previously Russian explored passage, where they had obviously free-climbed gnarly pitches
b) The divers have no sense of humour, and do not bite when sent joke text messages over the radio (“Feeling lonely tonight ‘ what are you wearing apparently did not warrant a response)

The next morning we split into two pairs for the un-laden ascent out, to avoid bottlenecks and getting cold. Holly and myself soon realised that furry was too much insulation for this trip, and stripped to thermals for the 730m or so of prussicking. A steady, if tedious, 6 hours later saw us back at the surface into the brilliant Andalucan heat.

Later investigation later found the surface radio had fallen foul of goat-attack with wires having been chewed through (this is the main problem with leaving an un-manned radio on the surface in mountainous European cave regions). Moving it closer to the area directly above underground camp in the last few days has only made it more susceptible to goat-attack as although it is a good area for setting up radio, it is also a good area for goat habitation, being near two water sources. If only they could invent some kind of radio with in-built goat-repellent.

Whilst we were enjoying being back on the surface, fixing the radio, general festering etc, the divers were pushing every day, and a second team of cavers were at camp in support of the divers (and to give them their bottoming trip). This was now especially important as it was now clear the goats were definitely not going to give up easily on the radio wire-chewing front, so we only realistically had a radio link from surface to -730m. According to the master plan, Holly, Emms, Dave O, Mike and I had to go back down the cave a couple days after we had last exited in order to either continue supporting the divers ‘ or start de-rigging.

Part 2 ‘ Rise of The Lice

But after 6 days of diving / pushing, the divers had tied up all the realistic leads (that didnt involve extended technical diving at depth), and had de-rigged all of the kit back to camp or beyond. On our way back in we met the divers and a Spanish team, who had been also working down the cave. They were exiting the cave and carrying tackle bags of diving gear. We pressed on to camp, this time flying down without all the donkey-work of hauling stuff in (we only had that to look forward to on the way out). At Camp, Holly headed back to the sump to keep Dave O company, as he had not been there yet, whilst Emms, Mike and I set in for a good fester at camp.

Unfortunately this fester session was cut tragically short when we noticed that camp was not in quite as hygienic a state as it was when we left. Dirty washing up and left over food littered the eating area and I noticed a fair amount of tiny white insects that looked like weevils that must have come into the cave via our porridge oats (or so we thought at this time). So Emms and I gathered everything up into tackle bags to take to the water source to do some serious washing up. Mike stayed behind to try and clear the “weevils ‘ by undertaking mixed tactics of burning (not so effective) and smearing with mud (more effective but perhaps not really solving the problem).

Upon return, Mike had reduced numbers in the eating area, but then I noticed lots more pockets of them throughout camp. Trying to determine where they had come from (and lets face it, theres not much else to do at underground camp), I undertook an investigation, looking around camp in all the food packets etc. It was as I found more outside the eating area that a horrible suspicion crossed my mind. Heading to the poo-pit, I gazed down and to my horror there lay a “fresh specimen!! In the Forbidden-Poo-Pit!!! (So that would explain the strong smell now prevalent around camp) And what was that on the “fresh-specimen? A writhing mass of white “weevils. And handily for said “weevils there was a nice boulder bridge providing an easy path out of the forbidden-poo-pit, and directly into the eating area (where they had covered all over utensils/ plates etc).

The ensuing conversation went something like:

Noel: “Err guys, I think Ive found the source of the weevils – indicating the pit next to camp
Emms: (retching noise)
Mike: “Er, does anyone else suddenly feel much less enthusiastic about staying at camp tonight?
Emms: “Theyre not weevils, theyre BUM LICE!!

A sudden mad flurry of action ensued, trying to remove all gear / food from proximity to BUM LICE, but unfortunately they were everywhere. How had this happened? There were none on our first camp, and Josh had been staying at camp the whole time, and he didn’t mention them when we saw him ‘ an accusing air of suspicion began to form in relation to Mr Bratchley, but after due consideration decided that even josh wouldn’t sink to the level of pooing in your own kitchen. Holly and Dave returned from the bottom and everyone sat around feeling itchy, and a bit mental.
Emms said “Its like living in a sewer which summed it up pretty well. So now plans changed rapidly to accommodate this new lice-y development. No-one felt fresh enough to prussick out in full de-rig mode, so we would still need to sleep. But no-one wanted to spent too much time in a BUM LICE infested camp ‘ so we headed to bed at 20:30 with the aim of getting up at 05:00 to exit as soon as possible. Unfortunately upon lights out, it turned out no-one was remotely sleepy, but at least there were less BUM LICE visible in the tent ‘ especially with Mike on Lice-watch as he was nearest the edge.

Arising early, no-one could get out of camp quickly enough, though especial care was taken to ensure all furrys etc were lice-free. Once out, another epic trip began, with everyone taking 2 bags each (slightly lighter on the way out as the lead was abandoned at the bottom). The 140m pitch was delightful with two bags of diving gear, and the next few pitches and awkward meandering rift were a real treat. Once back at -500m, and past the worst bits, we abandoned some of the gear and carried on out with more sensible loads, knowing that a large team of Spanish had volunteered to help de-rig if required. In the next few days, all the gear was removed by the team on bounce trips, with Si and Di doing the final sweep for bags on their bottoming trip (they arrived at the end of expo), so a really good effort from all.

The local cavers seemed pretty well accustomed to the BUM LICE ‘ saying they were a species indigenous to the cave (funny how they mostly seem to live in the cavers toilet then)
In the end the divers added extra depth to the cave, having pushed the sump to -60m (where it was left as it was continuing down), meaning the cave was around 1056m deep, and they surveyed over 1km of new passage beyond the sump. Much of this was large fossil passage heading up to 100m above the sump. Its thought that it may be possible to connect to this passage from elsewhere in the cave, which has plenty of horizontal development at depth thanks to recent explorations by the locals.

It was an excellent cave, definitely a classic with brilliant pitches, and the expo was very well organised and executed.

As Mike said ‘ “Sima GESM, Its Great! Apart from the Bum Lice


This is definitely a trip that will sell caving to freshers…’come caving if you’re lucky you might see bumlice’

Nathanael Dalton

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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