I’ll cover the whole of my Tresviso expedition here – given its fresher season this is aimed at folks new to caving, to let you know where you might end up – and why (spoiler: it’s a hole in the ground). It’s a long read because I’ve taken the time to explain stuff – sorry!
The thing I love most about caving is the people – the thing I love second is the possibility of going places and seeing things that no other person has seen before. Whilst a flick through Caves of the Peak District will have you convinced that every cavity has been intensely catalogued, this isn’t true: there are lots of caves still to find, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to go to a foreign country which hasn’t been fully explored and find some.
We call this expedition, and they’re a great way to get away (usually for pretty cheap). This is something that’s really attainable for new cavers – so maybe see you in northern Spain in 2020. Last year, SUSS came to Spain and Conor McGurk (after about 1 year of caving) found a 150m+ extension to the Flower Pot system by popping his head in a random hole. The lead is ongoing – which means there’s a person sized hole down there which might lead to caverns measureless: maybe it could be your discovery!
The whole point of an expedition is to find cave – we also map it (if you can’t prove it you didn’t find it). Most expeditions have some ulterior overarching goal – the “Ario Dream”, connecting What U Got to the Hirlatz, extending the longest in Mammoth, or the deepest in Veryovkina – in Tresviso, the overarching goal is to link caves on the top of the hill in the Eastern Massif of the Picos de Europa with Cueva del Nacimiento (also called Cuevo del Agua) down in the valley. This would be the discovery of a huge cave system with 1800m vertical metres of depth potential – and would be among one of the largest through trips in the world (imagine 19 Arts Towers, or 36 Eldon Holes stacked on top of each other).
So every year folks go to Tresviso, which is a very small village in Cantabria, and they look for caves and map them and generally find out stuff about them and also consume a lot of cheese and alcohol. This year, I went (along with two other old SUSS members and 12 others) and this is what I did. I’ll describe two trips here (the rest of what I did wasn’t as interesting).
After a few days placing dye detectors and exploring some mines above the white house, I agreed to carry bottles in to Parting Friends.
Parting Friends is a sump, where the water meets the roof and the cave and the passage is filled with water – and consequently sumps can only be explored by divers. Diving kit is heavy, and if you’re lucky (!) you might get to help a diver carry some heavy stuff in.
The way down to Agua was light – previous folks has carried lead and accessories down to the cave. The walk in was pleasant, with a dog following us as vultures circled overhead. I’m quite nervous of dogs that follow you to sumps and the vultures only made for enhanced trepidation!
Upon reaching the cave entrance, I was duly piled high with approximately 15kg of lead, and a very thick movement restricting wetsuit – an ideal combination.
Cueva del Nacimiento is an awesome cave. The entrance is dammed for a hydro and so needs a small inflatable boat to get in, after which you climb up through some fossil (dry, old) passage. Inside, the roar of the streamway is heard and you clamber some black rocks to reach it. After a brief traverse along the stream, you climb upwards into the Black Hole series. This is a great intro to this active river cave.
The lead was a massive pain in the arse – fortunately Joe unloaded some from me and I was able to throw it around. The Black Hole series is a fascinating part of the cave. The rumble of the stream disappears, and gives way to black, very black rock, with deep pots of crystal clear water in the floor. The rock here is formed magnificently – grotesquely twisted and weirdly formed (especially for snagging on clothing!)
We dumped the lead at the brighter Clapham Junction, before heading into the fossil streamway above Parting Friends. This slowly ascends past some of the most beautiful cave – almost like the marble showers in some spots (you will visit this soon!) but extended over a distance.
Soon, we reached a bypass. This is a bit of dry cave that goes round a sump (not the sump we wanted). We climbed up into here, up a few slippery climbs full of moonmilk (a slippery calcite/bacterial deposit), which was followed by a neck deep duck to get nice and wet and cold.
After this the cave changed and we began to descend towards the Parting Friends streamway. The descent was a sandy tube, dark and glum – but the streamway rumbled up it – not a roar, like the entrance, but a rumble clattering up the walls like an approaching train.
We got to the streamway, and far from being flat as the survey suggested, it was an ascending waterfall.
This streamway is intimidating – the rock is black, the water is all white water, and the noise is loud enough that you have to shout to be heard. We began to free climb up it, avoiding the water, Rob in front of me. It was obvious here that if you fell into the water, chances weren’t good, being either thrashed around in a deep pot or simply washed into the downstream sump. I had a moment here and Rob must have seen my face because he gave me a hand and pulled me round a corner.
We found an alcove on the right that bypassed a waterfall and got in it. Joe asked me to pop up and belay him whilst he bolt climbed and cheerfully shouted “OH YEAH THIS IS WHERE GARETH FELL OFF THE LAST TIME BUT THE WATER IS MUCH HIGHER NOW”.
This was not the interesting trivia I needed right at that moment and I expressed what might be called an extreme dissatisfaction at my current situation and Rob agreed to bolt the streamway we had just passed.
This made me feel much better so I agreed to wait whilst they fucked off for an hour and a half to twat about in the streamway. This is the disadvantage of carrying for divers: if there’s nothing to do in the meantime, it mostly involves a long wait.
This was the worst waiting-in-a-streamway I’ve ever done. I couldn’t hear anything other than the roar of the streamway which was incidentally splashing me with water – I began to get exceptionally cold even in the wetsuit. The raging torrent teased me: I was sure the water was rising. Turning my light this way and that – was that bit above water before? It wasn’t.
Before he left Rob had said “there’s a survival bag in my bag but if you have one use yours”. I took his out (didn’t want to get mine dirty) and threw a rock at the wall and shouted “twats” at no-one in particular, which is good because nobody would have heard. After 6 million years of misery they returned, at which point I pretended not to be cold, lonely and very angry.
With rope on, with no lead, and no kit, the way out was much, much easier, and we ran out, popping in some reflectors where needed for navigation, and then rigging the entrance streamway for everyone else. Soon enough, we were up to the bar – the best bit of some caving trips, where Rob didn’t buy me any wine.
My next trip in Agua was a few days later with Leo and Lyds, this time with survey and camera kit. I wanted a look at the end, Lyds wanted some photos and Leo wanted to find some cave.
We were soon down the hill, through the black hole and into Clapham Junction, at which point a turn left heads into Outer Mongolia.
Outer Mongolia is a fossil streamway, which means it maybe used to contain the raging torrents like in Parting Friends, but sometime in the last tens of thousands of years it was abandoned by the stream, and now lies frozen in time, relict – apart from the footprints of explorers from the 70s, 2011, and now 2019.
We found out it is named (presumably) for the sand in the passageways that gives the place a desert feel. Giant pots in the floor, like in black hole, end in dry sand, and black rock becomes a sandy beige. Whilst Leo disappeared up the ramp to get some old kit, Lyds and I took some photos and began to survey.
Most of this passage was surveyed by LUSS in the 70’s, but they avoided any side passages, partly to avoid a confusing survey (it all wraps around each other) and possibly partly because it was probably a pain in the arse using trad instruments in a wetsuit in a dry sandy passage. Now, with digital instruments and lasers, it’s faster and makes 3d models so we cracked on.
We had a nice day and some awesome photos abounded (check out her Instagram for some great ones). Me and Lyds surveyed whilst we sent Leo down holes to have a look at stuff, and he pointed out spots for the laser to go to.
We found a bolt climb, and, magically managed to do it without any bolts days later, by crawling around to the top. Unfortunately we didn’t reach the end of Outer Mongolia – maybe next year!
In a way, Agua feels like it’s allowing you to be there. It’s an active river cave, and a few days later, it decided it had had enough of us, we were booted out of it and a considerable amount of the divers kit was washed away in a flood.
This concludes my trip reports from Tresviso – I hope it was coherent and not too rambling. There were many other trips undertaken there: the divers pushed Parting Friends and found stuff, Lyds and Leo did some fairly hardcore trips into Colin’s Climax, and Alistair found lots of new cave in Marniosa – so there’s lots to do. I highly recommend expeds. I’ve been to some beautiful places and done some awesome stuff with caving, and I’m thankful to past Will for turning up to the pub that first time 6 (!) years ago.