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The Battle of
Expedition log, Summer 1986
A transcription of the Speleogroup logbook.
Purón/El Cuevón de Pruneda, Pozo del Infierno, Cueva Negra, Rafa’s group (‘The Wild 13’), Toyu, etc.
A year to the day after the previous expedition, Bill meets Mike
at a rainy and humid Bilbao airport on schedule at 17:25. Driving
west takes an hour for just 25km, so we divert inland via Otañes
bar (Kas/tintos), to avoid some of the traffic – but bad
traffic the whole way after that. After heroic driving by Bill,
arrive La Franca 21:45 ... but the campsite is full. Try Purón.
Full. Try El Brao in Llanes. Full. Camping Entreplayas squeezed
us in, eventually, on sites overlooking the sea. Very late. In
grave need of food by now, so backtrack 13km to El Horno for dinner
(churizo and bonito, wines Monopole (oaky, mixed opinions)
and Reciente). Discovered later that we ate the same as in 1985.
Fall into tents at 01:30.
Neither the waves on the rocky shore nor the campers all around woke
us; it must have been the hint of sunshine in an otherwise overcast
sky that woke Mike at 08:00 (!) and Bill at 08:30, just like last
year. Kas at the campsite bar followed by coffee at the Purón
campsite bar, then parked in Purón village around 10:00. After
consulting the 1985 logbook, calculator, clock, ruler, and maps,
we ran out of excuses for not hiking up the hill. So, up the well-trodden
path at 10:40 to reach the cave (El Cuevón de Pruneda)
at 11:25 – the usual 45 minute walk, with stops to admire the view;
fortunately relatively few horse flies on the overcast and cool morning.
It’s 12:05. After a beer and a chat we again ran out of excuses,
donned our wetsuits, and entered the SW entrance. Carefully avoiding
the cobwebs we proceed down the now-familiar upper passage. It turns
out not to be so familiar – at a certain climb we put down (unnecessarily)
the twin Nylon handline, despite having just proven our fearlessness
by repeating the slide, a 3m ramp into a lake (great fun).
A tangled rope delayed descent of the first pitch, but eventually
Bill abseiled onto dry land notwithstanding the slightly increased
cascade – but then got very wet playing campanologist to haul down
Next, the climb (2nd pitch) which Bill had been constrained to climb
and descend four times in 1985 was descended without
difficulty although the spray from the first pitch did impede visibility
(we both were wearing glasses).
The few deep pools in the ‘stagnant’ section of the cave were soon
crossed, and we were at the third and final pitch. OUCC in Proc. 6 (1974) » reported a traverse above this pitch to
200m of dry passage(s). We decided against the right hand traverse
and instead Bill abseiled down to the left hoping to see where and
how the renewed streamway re-entered the cave. No luck! From above
no water was visible and 20m below the rock was too steep and too
slippery to follow. Having descended the pitch, our slight disillusion
was tempered by the discovery, within sight of daylight, of a new
cross rift passage on the right (NE) which brought us, at 14:30,
to an unknown (and fourth) entrance to the cave, slightly above the
resurgence proper. A further left hand cross rift passage brought
us back to the resurgence.
Woe and thrice woe for our hopes of following the steam down to civilization.
Too steep and too slippery. So back over the west bank and over
the entrances in an attempt to reach the main path. No gorse, but
it was steep and hairy. It’s 15:00. Just around an outcrop we found
yet another entrance, full of cobwebs and goat droppings and draughting
very strongly. 40m of mainly walking passage going up led to a very
steep rift from which the sound of water could be heard.
A descending left hand passage soon led to the other end of the traverse
above the third pitch. The passages do indeed continue up, but they
were not dry on this occasion; there were pools and an active streamway.
Bill slipped on a muddy climb and lacerated his fingers (ugh). Bill
then followed Mike up through dryish rift passage (small streamlet
present); Mike went on a futher 60m or so then we went back, nearly
losing our way. Mike nearly lost his life because he only just saw
in time the hole in the floor dropping vertically 12m – “a tufa
infill had formed a false floor, which had collapsed to form a 1m
hole at one point. Distracted by the ongoing passage M almost walked
into the aperture. Careful investigation showed that the floor for
a metre or more was overhanging the drop (almost certainly above
one of the cross rifts explored earlier)” – Mike gingerly laid
himself out horizontally on the floor to look down.
Finally out of the new fifth entrance at 15:30 and back on the track
by 15:45. Down to the car (much relieved at avoiding the gorse)
at 16:15. On the way down we again noticed the fifth entrance as
the only (visible) hole in the outcrops. Champagne cider quenched
our thirst and a wash in the river removed the worst of the mud.
Next priority was FOOD. To Acuario in Posada for Tortillas.
Too late for Tortillas, so we “made do” with pan y queso – Manchego.
Good to see Ruperto and his wife again. Next to Rales (mainly to
wash in the spring), then back to the campsite to wash gear. Dinner
in Llanes (paella, tenera, bonito, and clarete),
and back to the campsite to write this log.
Up at 09:00; tea and peanut butter y pan for breakfast, then
east looking for diesel and caves. Found no diesel, but did reach
Coto del Infierno. So, up through the woods (decorated with liberal
quantities of Spanish excretions) – not a bad walk, but hard enough
after the previous day’s caving. Down Pozo del Infierno c.
12:15. Rope essential on the first ramp (just inside the entrance).
Used our only rope on that, so the second ramp defeated us, after
trying several alternatives.
Both awed by the sheer size of the cave. Even though we have
been there before in 1973 and in 1975 the
caverns are immense, with acoustics to match (7-second echoes!).
Returned out with a side trip to the “Temple” (ascending ramp, etc.,
to left at bottom of the first ramp – now spoilt by foot-mud and
Back down to the road (20 minutes rather than 40 minutes to ascend)
– a ‘descent into evil’. La Hermida to clean up at the hot spring,
then fine lunch of paella, lomo, and tinto (1600pts).
Then to La Fuente in hope of meeting Carlos Puch; no Carlos but did
meet local shepherds and cavers. On to Pôtes for diesel, shopping,
and writing up the log. Reasonable
meal (with poor wine) in a small restaurante (G...?) off the main
street, then the long drive back to camp. Arrived very tired.
Discovered we’d left our rope at the hot spring, so back to La Hermida
again (a late start, unsurprisingly). No sign of the rope, so stop
at the bar to ask around (no luck). Over to La Fuente again, but
still no Carlos, so back to La Hermida for lunch (espárragos,
lomo). Meet people who tell us of caves near Bejes so after
lunch, drive and walk up to Bejes in the heat to search for caves.
See some potential entrances (big holes a long way up cliffs) but
nothing promising (later we discover that smaller caves near the
village are all locked, and used as stores for the famous Bejes cheese).
Impressive setting for the village! Back to Llanes for a late supper
of tortillas, etc., at El Retiro in Pancar (see 1985)
and then to back to the campsite in the rain.
Still raining. Recuperation sorely needed after energetic past few
days! Spend morning in the campsite bar playing cards, then into
Llanes for lunch (fabada, escalope, etc.). Back to the bar
for more cards all afternoon, and eventually to El Retiro for supper
again – lomo and excellent chiperones (tiny squid cooked
in their own ink). The sidra was good too; the locals were in full
song. Back via El Taleru for a nightcap, where we meet Leopoldo
and family – agree to meet for tortillas (“Best in the West”) tomorrow.
Up late at 10:00 and off to Acuario for tortillas; not so good this
time. Then West to reach Santianes at midday and proceeded a few
hundred metres up the road/track before leaving the car. The ford
was no obstacle. We had estimated 90 minutes for the walk up to
Cueva Negra but actually we arrived after an hour and a quarter
– must be getting fit (5km and +500m from where we started to the
top of the highest saddle). Classic karst » scenery and an excellent
view of Tinganón.
The imposing big entrance to Cueva Negra (410m) is, alas, not only
a favourite haunt of speleologists but also of Spanish cows. The
latter have a greater tendency than the former to attend to ‘calls of nature’ in such inappropriate places. Consequently
the ample entrance of Cueva Negra has been for many years a lake
of putrefying cowsh. Fortunately said lake is speckled with various
stones and boulders and so the careful caver can enter without dirtying
himself excessively (but see the 1975 log). “The courage
of Speleogroup knows no bounds who boldly followed the lowish [sic]
passage down beyond to where no cow had been before.” The atmosphere as well as the grip underfoot improved!
We descended the first 3m climb with a certain amount of difficulty
(mainly due to our reluctance to get too dirty; neither of us were
wearing proper boilersuits – in fact Bill was in shorts). The downstream
passage meanders through tight hairpin bends without any side passages
of note. At the fork (four-pronged ... left by Beelzebub?) we went
straight on. The winding passage is a little reminiscent of OFD
with brilliant white recrystalized calcite constrasting against black
limestone. Quite a bit of walking, stooping, and crawling. Particularly
irritating on our dryish backs were the numerous dripping rocks –
all contributing to the small streamway. Just before what appeared
to be the main pitch is a short (1.5m) climb into a pool which we
did not descend; time to turn back.
To the tune of “Sh*t, sh*t, glorious sh*t / Nothing quite like
it / for cooling a bit”, etc., we struggled out through the entrance.
Bill nearly slipped into a cowsh pool (narrowly missing a world depth
record attempt in the cowsh lake, he claimed). Mike, quite ecstatic
at this, was determined to measure the depth. Yes, it would have
been an incredible 65cm. Carried away at this, he tossed a log (not
the expedition log) into a pool. Splash. Viscosity was lower than
expected and a fine dark spray covered Mike’s face and clothes.
Bill hastened upwind whilst Mike rolled in the grass in a vain attempt
to clean himself. The Piranha tadpoles were not amused.
Bill explored a fallen block of limestone on the North side of the
valley on the way down, but to no avail. Back to the campsite for
a (cold) shower to clean up, then to Rales to meet Leopoldo and his
wife, Maria-Carmen, for supper in Balmori. Rita’s children (two
~10-year-old girls) served us at the garden table and entertained
us with their pranks. We ate mussels, tortilla, bistekas,
bonito. Good thing we hadn’t had any lunch. Our contribution
of a bottle of Italian Barbaresco was appreciated. After a nightcap
and a chat in the El Brao bar we turned in at 01:00.
El Brao for breakfast (better coffee), then off to visit El Pindal
archaeological cave. This is a few km west of La Franca (and visited
by Pete and Liz in 1982). The cave is approached
from the south via a small windy road leading down to the sea, with
very fine views. Opening hours (summer) 10:00–12:30 and 14:00–?.
100pts, but free on Tuesdays (that’s why we visited on a Wednesday?).
The cave is very fine as a cave, though the paintings (only half-a-dozen)
are not good. Several hundred metres long, with fine stals, passage
typically 30m × 10m high; now dry with one or two small areas
of active stal. Top many-hundred layers of a large stal boss collapsed
into passage six years ago (~1980), showing very fine layering like
rings on a tree.
The trip took 45 minutes – on exit drive back up the narrow road
and stop at the obvious concrete Mirador, which shows the valley
above the cave and possible sink (worth a visit?) – and a very
fine view over the sea. Perfect weather! Take clino readings of
the sea horizon (–1°), plus altimeter reading (160m) and make
hopelessly inaccurate estimates of the distance to the horizon and
radius of the earth... Off to the Restaurante de Covadonga (in alley)
in Llanes for Fabada and fish and to continue inaccurate estimations.
Since this is the first day of good sun, head for the beach in the
afternoon. Playa de Ballota (700m or so east of Cue, reached by
a steep path from the road about 100m west of mirador [later
accessible by road]) was recommended by a camping couple that
we met and indeed proved to be a very fine beach – no rocks, gently
sloping sand (but not too gentle a slope), a bit of surf, an island
in the middle of the bay (with a cave! but a bit too far out to swim
to), and no more than 100 or so people (mostly sunbathing, a few
playing a form of beach tennis with wooden rackets). Quite different
from the crowded Llanes beach, Playa Toró, which had perhaps 1000
people! Swam and roasted as much as we dared – a couple of hours
Returned back up the steep path to the road and car, and while swigging
sidra/bubbly and recovering from the walk got talking to “Urco” (our
private nickname for a rather hirsute Spaniard we’d noticed on the
beach earlier). He was called ‘Rafa’ (short for Rafael) and turned
out to be a local caver(!) (or ex-caver) who now finances his holidays
in the area (he works in printing in Madrid) by acting as a local
guide for tourist parties. We need a shower, etc., after the swim,
so decline his invitation to join him and his group of German tourists
for dinner – so back to the campsite and then El Retiro (tortillas,
Back to the campsite to find Rafa sitting on the terrace; this time
we agree to join him and a few of the Germans for a game of Spanish
cards in the Bar Pinín – roughly opposite the town hall in Llanes.
Not a very interesting card game, though the players were lively.
Go on with them to La Galleria (a very noisy and very crowded bar)
for a quick nightcap – vino dulce, a pale sweet sherry-like
drink – before bed. It turns out that Rafa and Uli (the latter
being the German organiser of the tourist group) used to own the
Thursday. First into Llanes for shopping, banks, etc. (banks will
be closed on Friday for a fiesta). After a light lunch we decide
that the fine weather makes a trip to the mountains worthwhile; Iris,
one of the German group, is keen to see the high Picos, too. Route
via La Hermida (enquire about rope again – no luck). Heavy slow
traffic then to Fuente Dé – only to find next available ticket
is 2½ hours later, 6pm, with little chance of getting back
down on the last car (8pm)! Disconsolately return down the gorge.
Nothing for it, we’ll have to go caving! La Fuente for a vino
tinto (still no Carlos) then on to Cueva del Toyu. A couple
of “beginner’s” trips into the cave (we didn’t want to get our ordinary
clothes dirty) and the world seemed a far more interesting place!
By now it was 8pm, so late enough to visit El Hornu (which opened
at 9pm). Forced down a meal of besugo (sea bream, very good
and very garlicy) and merluza (hake) washed down by white Rioja
which our German companion enjoyed.
Then on to Garaña to view campsite and castle and a drink by the
pool. Decide to go down to the beach nearby for some fresh air before
heading back to Llanes – which diversion is somewhat delayed by
a “Bang!” as the offside front tyre is punctured. Changing the wheel
didn’t seem to take long, but got back to Llanes campsite very late.
Mike has to work on his sleeping bag zip fastener, which needed some
Fiesta day (Nuestra Señora) in Llanes – everything closed. | Up at 10 (driven out
of tents by sunshine and heat) and decide to walk up to Rafa’s Cabaña
near El Mazuco (we were invited to go up the night before, but not
possible as we went to Fuente Dé). This turns out to be a very
fine cabin; once a farmer’s hut, Rafa is converting it to a ‘holiday
home’ for himself – wood panelling, etc., very rustic. No water
or electricity, and 20 minutes walk from the road, but the
setting is truly beautiful – it’s even situated in a closed valley
that could well have a cave at the bottom! Fine alpine flowers and
carnivorous plants (with foam).
Several of the German group had stayed there overnight; soon after
we arrived we all went up to the nearby view point (10 minutes walk
NE) but by then the mist had come down onto the top of the mountain,
so we could only see 20 feet instead of 20 miles. Back down to the
road and local bar (very “character”) for wine and sunflower seeds,
then on to the campsite for hamburgers and bacon rolls, showers,
Later, we were invited to join Rafa and the Germans (“The Wild 13”)
for their end-of-trip dinner, which was held at a restaurant in La
Portilla, about 5–10 minutes walk from the campsite. Paella,
tortilla, etc., not bad. The entire group then go to the Llanes
fiesta (actually, mainly just sit in a bar) which was rather disappointing
– music very loud and few sidestalls. Even so, with lots of talk
about caves, beaches, flowers, etc., it is surprisingly late (3ish)
before we get back to tents.
Los Lagos the objective today. Stagger out of tents as the Germans
leave; with amazing Teutonic efficiency, they manage to leave only
30 minutes behind schedule, at 10:30 – especially surprising because
most of them were at the fiesta long after we left!
On to Posada for Tortilla – much better, this time made by
Ruperto’s wife, every bit as good as in the past. Buy Manchego cheese,
then to garage to get the tyre repaired (1500pts) by a multiplexing
mechanic. Next stop Arriondas for lunch at ‘San Remo’ restaurant.
As in the past, the menú del día is superb, and tremendously
inexpensive. Fabada, pan, truchas (con bacon), flan,
and a bottle of wine, for a total of 800pts (£4) for two!
Arrive at the Lakes with superb timing, just as OUCC
arrive down from the mountains, laden with ropes and tackle. Have
a long chat with them about past expeditions, etc. There is also
a local Spanish caver/politician (José Gonzalez?) who joins in
the conversation. OUCC have had a relatively bad year, with several
injuries, etc., but they all look tanned, fit, and bearded.
OUCC campsite at Lago Ercina
Mike at Lago Ercina
Drive back to campsite; Mike takes a nap and wanders around the cliffs
and the campsite, spotting a Boris Becker (tennis player) look-alike
and various cats. Bill heads off to the beach for a swim. On the
way back from La Ballota he notices a fine cave entrance near the
sea draining a genuine stream. Daring the fates, the lonesome caver
braved the 5m of passage in sight of daylight. Looking round the
dark corner he felt the blast of wind as waves beyond smashed against
the cliff. Nice!
Just as Bill parked was parking his car outside Entreplayas campsite
he heard a voice call his name. None other than Mari Nieves, husband
Antonio, and children Paula (aged 5) plus newborn. We walked down
to the nearby Riu Prau Sidrería where besides cider we ate some
squid rings in batter. The family live in Oviedo but during the
summer they have an apartment only 200m from Entreplayas.
A hot day. Strike tents and have an extended breakfast before heading
SE to La Hermida for lunch. Both hungry, so eat too much! Russian
salad, paella, chuletillas. Tinto is very acceptable.
Fuel gauge is on ‘0’ so drive very economically up to Pôtes to
fill up, stopping to investigate caves on the way, including a minor
exploration of Cueva de Fair Share (BUSS 1973) – tricky
on a full stomach. After refueling, back down-gorge to La Hermida
and then on to La Fuente. Sit in bar for a while drinking post-prandial
Cognac/Anis and writing up the log. Reluctantly start on the eastward
journey towards Bilbao; aiming for Castro Urdiales. Traffic wasn’t
too bad except that the last 5 miles was a solid traffic jam into
the town. Three hours to the jam and then one hour in the jam.
Pitch tents in the open space near the campsite and wander into town
for some vino/tapas followed by Expedition Dinner at El Peñon –
entremeses/espárragos, followed by merluza a la romana
(hake in batter). The food, especially the fish, was excellent,
but even Bill was unable to finish his hake! Too much lunch and
Up at 08:30 (early!) to spend an hour packing, etc., then to the
local campsite bar for coffee – meet an English family there who
are intested in caving, but no time spare to take them to Sangazo.
On to Otañes to the bar for a final tinto and to write up the log.
Finally to the airport, arrrive 11:40 (for 12:50 flight). Reckoning
up the kitty shows circa £180 cash each (total expenditure).
Personnel: Bill Collis & Mike Cowlishaw. Rafa, The Wild
13, and friends.
Other log details: Exchange rate 198 pesetas/GBP.
List of caves visited (included above). Calculations of curvature
of the earth (inaccurate). Photocopy of lyrics of Cueva and other songs (PDF scan).