While many of SUSS spent a few weeks out in the Vercors, a few members had a summer expedition to Spain. Some of us have spent quite a lot of time out in the Matienzo region, and this was the 5th summer trip there since 2003. Brendan S, Jen, Emily, Twebber, Edd and Louise were the main people, with late appearances from Paul Mackrill and Ben Stevens as part of the SWCC summer trip.
The first week was primarily expedition related. The presence of the deputy club librarian, aged 9 months, prevented some of the more extensive trips of previous years, but we re-examined some old systems for potential ways on (to no avail), engaged in some resurvey work and did some surface bashing for new leads. Pena Encaramada, a system explored to 3800m long, to a large degree by SUSS, was a major target. We resurveyed the main downstream passage, and Tweb dived the terminal sump in fairly horrific conditions to an airspace chamber with continuing although not easily accessible passage. This almost certainly comes out in the resurgence cave for Torca La Vaca, a 17km system nearby, and joining the 2 would be a nice addition to the Matienzo expedition. Tim also dived the Coventosa resurgence in much more pleasant conditions. The main new find was Silent Scream, found by accident while looking for another (rather disappointing) site. The tight entrance squeeze led immediately to a pitch, and the lower passages draughted well, sadly from too tight rifts.
The SWCC have also spent a great deal of time out in the region exploring the various sporting trips, and had arranged a 2 week sport expedition, which began during our second week away. Various large traverses were planned, and the SUSS team partook in some of them. After a late night rigging trip, surfacing at 1am, Brendan, Edd, Tweb and Richard Sore (SWCC) undertook a Sistema Gandara traverse; probably only the second British team to complete this fairly epic trip (see previous trip report by Brendan)
The big daddy of the traverses in the region is the Cueto Coventosa through trip. In 2001, the SUSS summer expedition was here, and it is well recognised as a world classic. The entrance series is 600m of pitches, starting with a 300m deep shaft, with the first ledge after 200m. The whole system is about 32km, although the through trip is only about 10km.
After an early start, Brendan, Edd, Ben Stevens, Neil (SWCC) and Richard (SWCC) got to the entrance at about 1030. The walk up is now only 1 hour of savage hill climbing in the blistering heat, as opposed to 2 1/2 hours using the previous route. The entrance is about 3m high, 2 m wide, and goes for 20m until the floor disappears and the pitch begins. Previous trips had rigged to -300m and all the rope for the following 300m was ready and waiting. The big pitch is spectacular, especially when there are 4 Scurions below you at 50m intervals, and you get an idea of the true size of the beast. The lower pitches are shorter, but still quite spectacular, and you land, rather unexpectedly, in a huge gallery that makes anything in Peak look quite small. The next 1-2 hours is spent picking your way around large boulders, along a well marked path for some 1.6km of pretty huge passage. This ends in a 20m pitch down into the Intermediate series. For a well travelled route, the passage is remarkably well preserved, with some spectacular gypsum decoration coating the walls and roof. The passages are smaller, although generally all walking size or more, and there are plenty of little climbs, pitches and traverses to keep you entertained. Through it all, the powerful draught draws you onwards. As the passage heads towards the connection with Coventosa, the lower stream passage, it narrows down, and the draught builds into a roaring wind, blowing sand and gravel around the passage. Eventually, after a body sized crawl, La Turbina, a tight pitch down provides the final obstacle. The wind here is so loud it sounds like an active stream just below you, and dislodged pebbles fly off down the passage, carried in the draught. The lower level is huge stream passage, around 5-8m wide and at least 30m high, where the OFD main stream or Lancaster main drain would look like a minor inlet. After some acrobatics over a pool, the route leads to the lakes. These 3 pools, 150m, 100m and 50m are serious obstacle, claiming lives in the past, and are both very cold and very deep. We had carried inflatable boats through with us, so after blowing them up we boarded our trusty craft and undertook a rather surreal subterranean cruise.
After the lakes the way on is more straightforward – following the shallower streamway until a series of pitches and traverses climbs you towards the entrance. We surfaced after 12 hours underground. The Cueto Coventosa traverse is a truly excellent trip – one of the best I have ever done, although a serious and committing undertaking.
The next day we went to the beach, along with the boats. After all, it was a holiday!