Sunday, 14 June 2015 – Friday, 3 July 2015
Day 1: Travel
Burnley -> Leeds -> London -> Stanstead -> Bilbao -> Matienzo.
After a night of sleeping in Stanstead airport, and very rainy drive over from Bilbao airport, we arrived at the Matienzo campsite, (Thanks for driving Jeff!).
The campsite was much better than I was expecting with: good showers, toilets, kitchen facilities and even British plug sockets all for Ã¢’šÂ¬4 a night.
After unpacking our stuff, we helped suss ferry all the gear up a hill to the Cuato top entrance, so Helen, Tom and Tommy could rig half of the entrance series, and the rest of it could be rigged the next day.
Getting to the cave was easier than I thought it would be, there was a car park higher up the mountain than the one normally used, saving us about half the vertical distance needed to get to the cave entrance taking us only an hour and a half to get there.
The order of the day today was to finish prepping Cuato/Coventosa for the trips tomorrow and the day after, which meant:
– A continuation of the rigging carried out the previous day.
– carrying a kilometre of poly propaline rope and several blow up boats into the coventosa entrance & across the lakes.
I was in team ‘rig cuato’ (Myself, Racheal, Craig, Leo, Jeff W and Nat)
Rachel was keen to get the freshers to have a look at the entrance series, before they committed to the trip. Jeff and I went first and quickly descended to rig the rest of the cave
About half way down the Craig, Rachel and the freshers turned back to the surface while Jeff and I continued rigging.
Rigging was quite easy, it was just a case of following the rope that happened to be in there already. There was also a mistake in the rigging guide, which told us to rig a 50m pitch which didn’t exist, saving us time and allowing us to remove a knot pass on the way up.
After rigging the cave up to just before the final pitch (which we left for the group doing the trip tomorrow to finish off) we prusicked up to the surface tackle sack free, meeting Craig and Leo at the top, then headed back to camp.
Today was a rest day before the full through trip, Craig, Leo and I went on a walk, while 2 teams of 4 did the trip. The walk we chose was a 5 hour round trip, which started at the “burger bar” (a San Miguel bar/restaurant about 20 min down the road if you turn right out of the Matienzo campsite) and ends in the Sam Allshorne place.
If you ever want to do it be warned, the path markers are in some places are almost impossible to find.
The others got back at around 4am and 7am, which was convenient as it meant that I left the tent just as Nathan entered it.
Day 4: note there are many references to the survey in this part of the trip report. See pictures below/link for survey.
Title: Cueva de Coventosa through trip day
a packet of caffeine tablets,
Wake up: 0650
– To smash the other groups time of 14 hours and get out in time for the pub.
– Take pictures of the cave.
– Take the boats, rope and emergency supplies out of the cave.
– 0930: arrive at cave entrance
The entrance series: (Sima De Cueto/Shaft of cave); 518m of decending, the entire cave being prerigged helped speed things up a bit, only taking us 2.5 hours to get down the entire thing while also taking photographs.
At 1200 we reached the bottom of the entrance series I remembered what holly said about the cave being markered (it really was almost impossible to go the wrong way, for this part of the cave anyway) following the markers, we climbed up onto a balcony and carried on through the cave.
– The Galeria De Juhue/Galeria Del Chicarron (the bit that looks big and stompy), actually isn’t. It goes up and down a lot and is littered with massive boulders which you need to navigate around (the translated description described the floor as “Upholstered of continuous chaotic blocks”).
– Fortunately there is a trail of mud on the rocks from peoples wellies so it’s easy to identify the route which most people find easiest/safest, after you get used to it it’s not so bad, although I do remember being really dry and warm most of the time, getting about was pretty steamy (you only really need to wear a furry or less for most of this trip).
After turning a corner to the left through the bouldery passage, we appeared out into probably the biggest cave chamber I’ve ever seen. Here we ate lunch while Jeff set up his camera equipment, and took a picture of the huge chamber.
-Further on down the long bouldery passage we came to the first ‘Oasis’ one of the few places on the trip where you can fill up with water, (this was actually just a drippy bit, with a bucket to collect the cave water from the ceiling). We then climbed through a small hole which then opened out in to stomping passage again soon afterwards.
-The bouldery passage seemed to go on forever until we reached P18 (P stands for Pozo/Pitch, see survey). Now time for a heavy caffeine hit before the Galeria De Navidad passage, the cave passage became smaller and narrower relative to the passage before however the ground was flatter and less chaotic, so this section was actually faster to get through, and quite pretty too (plenty of nice gypsum formations to look at on the way).
– The cave only really seemed to change character when we reached Pozo de la Union/well of the union (another oasis), in my opinion the passage between Pozo de Union and La Turbina was the worst part of the cave. Lots of crawling and stooping through really dusty passage, (which is really annoying when you have a cough) some people liked it though, especially if free climbs are your thing.
Finally when that’s over you reach la turbina (you’ll be able to tell when your getting close as the cave gets really windy and sounds like a turbine), “the turbine” is a pitch which can be either really hard or quite fun, it’s a narrow rift with a really stiff insitu rope, I C rigged my descender without a breaking crab (the friction from the walls kept me from falling too fast) and tried to look where I was going.
– After the turbine the cave was awesome again. Big stompy passage and wait for it… A TYROLIAN! (Passes over the tiny pool before the 3 lakes, see survey). The safer option would be to go round and use the traverse but after begging Jeff like a 5 year old child at a toyshop, he went first to test it and we followed after him, excellent self sacrifice Jeff :D!
Soon we made it to the lakes, Jeff went first in his dry suit to collect boats from the far side of Lake 3. He then came back with the boats and we cast off as a SUSS armada tying our boats together and carefully navigating around the rocks.
Jeff’s boat looked particularly unhappy (the leaky suss bucket), the bottom was punctured and it looked like it was slowly sinking, after arriving at the other side of the lakes, before we packed up the boats we stopped to take another photo.
The part after the lakes and before the exit, would probably have been my favourite part of the cave if I wasn’t really tired, lots of splashy splashy fun and cool free climbs in big mostly stompy passage it was like peak cavern stream way but 10x better with deep clear pools of water. I’d be happy to go back and do it as a standalone trip with a wetsuit.
After leaving the cave it took Leo a while to realise we were actually outside, “Why is everything green? Oh, right.” We arrived back at the car at 0430, after an epic ~18 hour through trip.
My body was tired my brain was still wired from the 5 caffeine tablets I ate on the trip, so I still had enough energy to annoy Nathan when I got back.
Main advice for this trip, bring the right amount/type of food and water!
2 hours of sleep 0845, I was sweated out of my sleeping bag by the sun, still feeling the residual effects of the caffeine tablets I ate the night before. I ate breakfast with the derig group, and decided to help them carry stuff down the hill.
Before we set off Glen received a phone call from Helen about Jethro forgetting his helmet, meaning the first wave of deriggers would be 2-3 hours behind schedule, we packed and set off with empty bags and Jethros helmet.
The plan was for my group to sunbathe/listen to music and read books, unfortunately the wet weather on the mountain forced us into a group shelter for a lot of it.
I was still feeling a bit hyper so went on a walk/jog around the wet/misty/rainy mountain, after going off the beaten track into the misty mountains I decided to turn back before I got lost, walking around the edges of a few deep/slippy open shafts on the way back.
When I arrived back at the entrance tom and Jethro were waiting there with Bag 3 and 4. Turns out Jethro had derigged Helen’s part of the cave and carried her bag past the hard bit, so made up for
forgetting his helmet.
Bag 1 & 2 followed a few hours later along with the rest of the deriggers and we cobbled back down the hill carrying heavy cumbersome bags with everything from the cave including: personal stuff left at the cave entrance and the 185m rope Glen managed to fit into my tackle sack.
Today was our day off, and what a better way to spent it than to get naked with suss and take calendar photographs, after Jeff took a nice normal photo of everyone. Jethro (Naked calendar Co-ordinator) easily persuaded everyone to take off their clothes, (I wish it was this easy with ULSA!), I would show you the photo but you’ll have to buy the next suss calendar if you want to see it 😉
After leaving the cave we headed to the beach, probably the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in real life, it beats Blackpool by a long way.
Playing in the sea was fun: piggyback wrestling; wave surfing and tipping people out of blow up boats. Using boat paddles as spades we created a suss town in the sand, which consisted of: a Watch Tower, Church, Gay Bar, protected with a moat and a forecourt. In the end the fortifications proved too good as we had to leave before we could watch the sea come in to claim it, instead we set about destroying it.
In the evening we booked a table for 13 at the bar/restaurant down the road.
Now the first week of the trip was over it was time to pack up and depart for the Pyrenees.
Pedro: Jethro, Helen and Rachel
Mental Rental: Tom, Craig, Nathan and Myself.
Fabada: Twebb, Nat and Tommy
Rover Glen: Glen, Jack and Leo
The 5 hour trip gave me plenty of time to write most of this, lots of pretty scenery, long drive. Music ect ect.
Canyon land, Adora (small Pyrenees) Spain Ã¢â‚¬’œ lots of Canyoning.
Mostly canyoneering: it’s difficult to decide which is better; caving or Canyoning. Canyoning is clean, wet, fun, splashy, sunny and scary, although the constant temperature shifts were a bit annoying I think if I was to go again I’d bring a better wetsuit (a spank protect and knee pads were also handy).
Its also alot easier to hurt yourself Canyoning, a tackle sack I was carrying on my waist loop became wrapped around a branch randomly sticking out of a small ledge I was jumping off, causing me to fall into the wall & hurt my hip, meaning I had to do the trip with a limp and take the next day off. Still thoroughly enjoyed the trip though.
Decided against writing detailed trip reports for every canyoning trip we did, instead jethro and Twebb conveniently had nice head mounted cameras which will explain the rest (See pictures).
Packing up and leaving Rodella
En route to the Pyrenees we received a text off Jack telling us something was wrong with Glen’s engine and they had broken down on the side of the road.
We turned round and found them on the side of the road with Glen’s bonnet open and the passengers crowded around the engine.
What had happened? Apparently the cap for the coolant storage had come off and the engine coolant had leaked, causing the engine to overheat and stall (made worse by the fact that it was over , apparently a ploom of smoke/steam left the engine after Glen opened the bonnet.
Fortunately we had broken down beside a petrol station and could replace the coolant with water in the hope of fixing the problem. After filling the engine with hot water and starting the ignition, water sprayed out of the engine through the coolant tank and from around the cap and it became pretty apparent that the rover was in need somewhere some attention (head gasket/cylinder head failure) and it was time to ring the insurance company.
Glen told us the insurance company would go as far as towing the land rover to a storage unit until it could be seen the next day by a mechanic. Although at the time it seemed that we would not be driving the back to the UK in the Rover.
Now we considered our situation and our options:
We are seven cavers with a ton of gear and only one Pedro. How do we get ourselves and our stuff back to the UK?
A few ideas got passed around:
Option 1: Get a roof box for pedro and put all the gear in Pedro with one driver and send it back to the UK while we get public transport/hitch back. Although looking at the amount of gear in the range rover, we would either need 2 Pedro’s or each person to hitch/ travel with 3 bags each.
An alternative to this option would be to send all our stuff back on a pallet and hitch/pedro/public transport back with just the stuff we need.
Option 2: Hire a big car and replace the range rover with that. Unfortunately we are 75km away from the Spanish/French border and hiring cars across borders can be problematic, a faff and expensive.
Option 3: Buy a car in Spain and drive back in that, this option is looking most probable. Glen now needs a new car anyway and if the car we buy doesn’t blow up on the way back we haven’t lost as much money as we would if we hire a car.
Option 4: More of a best case scenario than an option but it turns out this is what we did in the end: the garage fixes the car in time and we all go home happily ever.
After a few nice days having a cultural holiday in Huescca visiting cathedrals/museums and going out for nice meals, Glen managed to get a free courtesy car from his insurer and went on a day trip while the car got fixed, meanwhile we set off up north to do some Via feratta in the Pyrenees.
Arriving in Gourette at the only via feratta route for miles, we were disappointed to find the route was closed due to maintenance 🙁 it seems our Holliday had gone downhill ever since Tom and Tweb left. Instead Jethro, Nathan & I went for a walk in the mountains.
The next morning we set off with the aim of getting through most of France (to le mans) and now I’m sat in a Renault Clio writing this rant.
2100hrs we arrive at a strange apparently free campsite, a car park in the middle of nowhere with buildings containing running water and sinks. Not questioning it too much we got out and set up camp.
0900hrs today our objective was to cross the border into England.
Over the past few days most of the staff at Calais have been on strike, a few days ago Glen spent 40 minutes trying to get them on the phone to change his booking.
We decided it was best to go straight to Calais to see what was going on, thankfully the port had not turned into a flaming ruin like we were expecting and we were redirected by the border staff to Dunkirk, and now Im on a ferry on the way back to the UK.
Big thanks to everyone from SUSS, especially Racheal for organising such an awesome holiday and Jethro and Racheal again for driving me and Nathan back to the UK, look forward to seeing you all again soon!
The website wouldn’t let me upload photos bigger than 2Mb so I’ve uploaded them here: