The spark kindled by the 1985 Spanish Holiday grew to a great flame and an enthusiastic team returned to the Picos de Europa for a five week stint from 23rd July to 28th August, 1986. The team consisted of Dani (the blame taker) Danilewicz, Rick (gills) Stanton, Mike ("I could not see the floor, walls or ceiling, so I belayed to a flake") Thomas, Chalkie ("I breathe a lot") White, Paul ("I've taken photographs before") Eastwood, Andy (Armadillo) Waddington and Angie ("Rick's not well") Timms. Dave ("I certainly chose the wrong expedition to give up ... etc.") Francis returned after a year of Geophysics in Cameroun, and Ann ("I prefer it neat") Riley travelled all the way from the USA just to take part. Finally, Steve and Gabi Joyce (TSG) and Owen Howell (LUCC) came to visit and made the expedition up to a round dozen.
Key : S Santander, 1 Los Lagos, 2 Cares Gorge, 3 El Mazuco, 4 Rales
Cueva del Osu was the expedition's first objective, and thus provided our first breakthrough. Mike dived sump 2 and passed it on the first attempt, surfacing in Osu III. As Osu III appeared to be only a chamber, Mike continued and dived sump 3 to emerge in Osu IV after only 5m. He de-kitted and explored a further 400m or so of narrow canyon passage before returning with the news. Two further trips into Osu IV were made with three divers each time. They surveyed the extension and pushed on into a large, complex, high-level chamber area and also to a new terminal sump at the foot of a 24m pitch (see the 'guidebook' description below). At this point exploration was abandoned (temporarily) for easier climes elsewhere.
Cueva Trumbio had also been visited in 1985 and we returned with high hopes of an extension. Dani dived the sump and descended to -14m with only one wall visible for most of the way. Unfortunately, the expedition mega-lamp (Courtesy of RMThomas Electricals, Inc.) failed prior to the dive, so no obvious way on could be seen. However, there is plenty of blackness in the sump which has yet to be penetrated ! Barry's bolting platform was finally taken underground but not used as the climbers were content to imitate a flightless bird which is raised for its flesh and eggs !!!
El Hoyo La Madre was another 1985 goer to which we returned. The trek to the entrance was not eased by the all-encompassing cloud. Nonetheless, we all made it and Rick and Dani were soon assembled at the upstream sump pool. The aim of the dive was to survey Madre II and push sump 2. This was done with sump 2 left still going at a depth of -20m.
The caves around the Los Lagos and Cares Gorge areas
The expedition spread its wings and moved to the Cares Gorge where there are two very promising sites. One is Cueva Culiembro and the other is Farfao de la Viña. Dani had been to Culiembro before and it was here that the major work was done. Mike dived upstream first but was "Stantoned" when Rick found airspace only 40m beyond where Mike had turned back. Mike, Andy and Ann had to leave for the Pyrenees the next day, so Mike was "Mega-Stantoned" when Rick, on three return visits, left the cave with seven going leads beyond sump 1 (see the description below). Farfao is a major resurgence about which we knew nothing, therefore several trips were spent finding out where people had been before. As parts of it are mined, this is quite a lot. However, two dive sites were found and dived. One ended after about 2m and the other is still going. Clearly, a return in 1987 is essential.
We left the Cares Gorge and went for a tour of the Sierra de Cuera: a range of mountains between the Picos de Europa and the coast. Here we found easy carries to easy sumps and small discoveries in a very pleasant backwater of Spain. As well as 'pushing' trips in Cueva de Caldueñin, the Cortines Rising and Cueva de Samoreli, we even managed a tourist trip down the very sporting Cueva Bolugo.
Although primarily a caving expedition, several other Pennine pursuits were followed. Notably some pleasant mountain scrambling in the Picos de Europa and the more usual practise of falling over when overcome by emotion at Los Lagos, Carmameña, Cortines and Rales.
Finally, there is no truth in the rumour that Chalkie has applied for a job in bomb disposal at Flagthorpe Head !
The upstream sump is large and crystal clear. It descends quickly to -12m before rising gently to -7m approximately 70m from base. At this point, a three way junction is met. To the right is an oxbow. Straight ahead is a static branch, while left is the active branch which carries the entire summer flow of the cave.
The static branch ends, 95m from base, at a canal passage with a duck before an eight metre aid climb. From the head of the climb, two ways on are evident. To the left, the passage drops to a static sump, while to the right, meandering passage leads to an, as yet undescended, 10m pitch. Many oxbows confuse the area.
The active branch surfaces approximately 180m from base at the foot of a 4m cascade. Again there are two ways on at the head of the climb. Straight on continues against the main flow in a fast streamway before reaching a short section of canal and sump 2 (5m long, 7m deep). Beyond sump 2, 20m of streamway and canal lead to sump 3. This has been dived to -25m and continues.
By going left at the head of the cascade a static sump is reached after 30m. This is large, clear, and only 30m long. Beyond, richly decorated rift passage ascends to a boulder choke. A way through the boulders enters continuing rift passage which descends to a sump pool with a shallow inlet and an outlet down a shaft. Both directions are, as yet, undived.
Culiembro extensions from the upstream sump
Sump surveys in the El Mazuco area
An easy, sporting cave with a long streamway ending at sump 1. This is 2.3m long and easily free-diveable. A short section of continuing streamway and a large chamber lead to sump 2 (52m long, 12.5m deep) which emerges in Osu III; a chamber. Sump 3 continues immediately, and is 5m long and only 1m deep to surface in Osu IV. This commences as a wide and lofty inclined rift, but soon closes down to a narrow, sinuous fissure. After approximately 35m, a large inclined rift side passage enters on the right. This is some 25m long and chokes with mud at all levels. The main way downstream continues with varying degrees of narrowness, steepness and sinuosity for about 400m to where the stream disappears abruptly and the nature of the cave changes.
The only way on enters a small chamber. A narrow rift in the floor allows an awkward descent to be made to regain the stream, but there is no way on. Climbing up through boulders from the chamber enters a very large chamber complex with massive flowstone formations and no sight of the roof. It is possible to loop right around in this high level area and descend back to the small chamber.
A third way on from the small chamber is a small tubular passage which emerges in a larger boulder chamber with a static sump. Continuing tubular passage ends at a 3m climb down into a small chamber. Continuing rift passage quickly ends at a static sump pool. By climbing up above the 3m climb it is possible to enter a crawling sized tube which rises gently to end at a 10m pitch in a rift about 1.5m wide. From the foot of the pitch, a passage rejoins the active streamway which after only some 8m plunges down a waterfall pitch 24m deep. The stream sinks immediately into an undived sump.