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The Battle of
Expedition log, Summer 1985
A transcription of the Speleogroup logbook.
La Franca, Fuentica, La Hermida/Bejes, Los Lagos,
07.08|| The expedition gets off to an inauspicious
start when Bill’s car is broken into in Milan just before he leaves
Italy. Last-minute shopping expeditions on both side of the Channel
manage to replace most of the stolen gear, however, and both arrive
at Bilbao on schedule and properly equipped.
Leave the airport about 18:00, drive west (Torrelevega, Santillana,
Comillas); arrive at La Franca campsite at approx 21:30 – same proprietor
and family as before. Pitch tents (new one for Bill) and then off
to El Horno for dinner at 22:00 (an hour earlier than 1983). Chorizo,
bonito, and some good white Rioja – somehow two bottles are
quaffed. Back to campsite, and a short walk down to the beach before
08.08|| (Surprisingly) up at 08:00(!). Find coffee
at the Purón campsite, then on to Purón village to sort out gear
and eventually start up the hill towards the cave at about 10:20.
40 minutes finds us at the entrance to El Cuevón de Pruneda.
To delay things, somewhat, we have a look over nearby saddle. Sure
enough there is a small stream and a sink there, and several depressions.
Near the edge of the hill, discover a cave developed on a fault line
– Bill descends and explores all 20 feet of it (depth and length).
Having got a fairly full complement of scratches, etc., return to
Pruneda cave entrance to don wetsuits and gear.
All this enthusiasm was due to the excitement of the first day, and
assisted by the complete absense of any hangover from the day before.
However, to avoid any crawling we entered the cave by the north entrance,
at noon. Progress down the ‘known’ cave (see 1983.07.30
and 1983.08.02) was fairly leisurely with detours
to explore side passages. This time brighter quartz-halogen Speleotechnics
lamps allowed us to appreciate the full size of the passage – 5m
wide and 10m high. Wearing the tacklebag as a rucksack was no problem
in this kind of walking passage. However, across the climbs and
pools it was sometimes necesssary to pass the tackle.
Below a short 3m ‘ramp’ our gaze lingered over the trivial 1m lip
of rock which had caused Bill so much trouble in 1983.
With contempt we plunged into the deep pool beyond. Maybe contempt
would have been tempered had we not been wearing wetsuits and had
we had to return upstream.
We soon reached our previous limit of exploration at the head of
the first pitch. Unlike 1983 there was water cascading down the
pitch itself, as well as the main waterfall to the left. Bill rigged
the 5m pitch with the 30m stretchy nylon rope doubled. At the bottom
of the pitch, as expected, there is a deep pool into which the water
thunders. The continuation forces the unwary traveller directly
under the main force of the water! Very exhilarating. ‘Quite wet.’
After a few score metres the main stream disappears and the passage
continues in silence through a narrower section of climbs and stagnant
pools. One of these climbs, 3m, was identified as the second pitch
and tackled with the 10m Bluewater rope for safety.
50m downstream one reaches the third pitch which we attempted to
rig with a 6mm nylon cord plus slings as a handline. Prudence dictated
that this would not be adequate so Bill returned to pitch
2 to retrieve the Bluewater 10m rope. Unfortunately although pitch
2 is easily free-climbable down, for safety reasons Bill decided
to leave a handline for climbing up (we always needed to be able
to retreat and exit from the top entrance should the cave be blocked
or there be any other problem). The only available handline was
the slings, so back to the third pitch. Meanwhile Mike was getting
cold. A second return trip was then made to swap tackle and Mike
then abseiled down into the canyon/rift of the third pitch. Due
to the noise of falling water (the main stream re-enters half-way
down) we arranged for a series of 5 whistle blasts to indicate that
the resurgence entrance had been found and that Bill should return
to the first pitch to retrieve the 30m rope (actually it was just
possible to shout).
Mike called up the pitch asking for the only remaining tackle, the
5m nylon cord, to rig a short climb below the pitch. Actually the
climb requires no tackle but, again, prudence dictated that all precautions
Meanwhile Bill was getting cold at the top of the third pitch but
Mike soon returned, declaring that the exit had been reached. He
ascended the third pitch/ramp using only a hand-jammer with rapidity
and the two set off for pitch 1 to retrieve the 30m rope having confirmed
that an exit was definitely possible downstream.
Both cavers returned to the bottom of pitch 1 and the 30m rope was
pulled down easily. Whilst Mike plaited the rope, Bill, hot from
the climb up, had a hair wash under the waterfall. The force of
the water on the scalp, or the sound on the helmet, is most exhilarating.
Even Mike joined in the fun.
Mike went ahead to rig pitch 3 with the retrieved rope and Bill derigged
the pitch 2 handline and descended without aids (now rather easy
– it was his fourth time down the pitch during the trip!). In the
stagnant section of the cave a specatular yellow salamander (alive
but very dozy) was seen on the rock wall.
The third pitch was then abseiled; it is a smooth ramp at about 70°
rather like a slide. The water enters from the left but no attempt
was made to follow it upstream although this was possibly feasible.
OUCC reported 200m of dry passage (not surveyed) in this area. The
cave exit is just beyond the third pitch and is quite high up in
On exiting from the resurgence at 15:00, we climbed out of the little
gorge to the left (possibly on the right would have been better).
This was probably a mistake – we spent the next hour contouring
round very steep and dangerous slopes, covered with bracken, loose
rocks, gorse, and brambles. Very uncomfortable. A further half
hour was spent descending from the field that we eventually reached
to the village (Purón). Very hot, sticky, and THIRSTY work in
Changed, and headed for the bar at Purón campsite. Immediate thirst
assuaged, we survived the drive to Posada, by when more beer was
required. From Posada to Rales (a new bar there, too!) to find a
new bridge and a much smaller campsite – floods in 1983 had washed
away the old bridge and also a wide slice of campsite.
From Rales the long trek east to Venta de Fresnedo area (over and
through roadworks) and to La Fuente to try and meet Spanish cavers
(STD) – but the bar was closed (haymaking). So off to Luey for
dinner (1275pts total) at 10pm. Finally back to La Franca circa
Quite a day.
09.08|| Friday. Up at 08:00(!). Coffee hunt took
us to Llanes beach, then a stop at the Llanes campsite (El Brao)
for more coffee and comparing notes, swapping diskettes, etc. Then
to Acuario in Posada for tortilla and to say hello to Ruperto
(market day – very busy). Then on to Rales to pay our respects
to the Garcia family parents Aurelio and Pepita and children María-José
and María-Carmen & husband Leopoldo. Agreed on a trip to La
Fuentica cave on Monday 5pm.
Off to Barro beach for a swim and an hour in the sun, followed by
bread & cheese for lunch. Bill insists on getting “5 or 6” toledos
(onion + pepper + gerkins + chile on a stick) – with predictable
effects the next day.
Time for some more caving, so off up the La Hermida gorge investigating
small holes near the side of the road (not requiring too much exertion),
then the hot spring at La Hermida, and then the bar in La Hermida
(still run by the landlady who was there in 1973, who recognised
us). Stayed in the bar for a while, sampling wine and chicle
with visitors from Bejes and watching old Sci-Fi on TV; then on to
investigate more of the gorge and view the limestones above Colio
– we learn there is to be a fiesta there the next day.
Back to La Hermida → La Fuente. Bar open this time, but no message
from the Spanish cavers. We learn that they are up at the Torca
del Hoyu las Muñecas, about 90 minutes walk. On to the restaurant
at Luey (again) for tasty (but greasy) lamb and merluza. Back
to La Franca around midnight.
10.08|| After taking down our tents and paying
our respects and cash to the proprietor (also gave him a copy of
the Toyu survey), we left La Franca at about 10:30 and made our way
to Venta Fresnedo to try and meet the Spanish cavers. A quick snack
of Kas, bread, cheese, and wine at the wayside store at a crossroads
on the way.
We started walking briskly up the hill at midday with water and minimal
caving equipment (helmets and lamps). Due to an error in the choice
of path at the middle of the Comaria saddle we spent an hour going
up the wrong valley, always hoping that the track would verge back
to the Latarma valley. No way (no easy way). Let it therefore be
indelibly inscribed lest future generations also lose their way:
After you have crossed (for the first time) the middle of the Comaria
saddle (going south) take a stony track on the right going up, not the
main track going slightly downhill (south). Follow this westward
track to La Huerta and beyond.
We had already calculated a bearing of 300° from La Huerta resurgence
to the Torca del Hoyu las Muñecas. The Torca itself was said to
be at 635m above sea level. A futher half hour’s steep walk led
us to the doline containing the cave which was correctly identified
by its altitude.
The cave entrance some 3m high descends steeply and the Spaniards
had tackled the slope with a handline before the first two pitches
which were clearly seen descending into a very deep canyon. The
Madrileños were obviously camping below as the path down the cave
was unworn! They must have been down there a week and all the clover
Oh bother! We left some notes and surveys at the top of the pitch
and proceeded down to Cueva La Huerta (presumed resurgence of the
Torca, see brief OUCC report » for Lambert location). Mike went into the chamber and Bill
pottered around in the higher (10m above) complex. Bill got slightly
lost and called to Mike below for directions/direction finding.
After 10 minutes or so of no new discoveries we marched off down
the hill back to the car.
We then drove to La Fuente bar, which was open, and left three Toyu
surveys and explained how we had been unable to contact the Madrileños.
Then we drove to Turieno (near Potes) to set up camp in the sunshine.
After a nap we returned to Potes for dinner and had the menú
del día (600pts): soup, trout, a glass of wine and an apple.
Not very good. We then drove up to nearby Colio at 23:30 to view
the fiesta. Very loud (O que dolor) in the ears. Both bars were
overcharging for beer so we left during a break in the music.
Other caves of the LaTarma valley: On the way down from the
Torca to La Huerta we noticed a small cave 10m long with old dry
stal. A further pot of ~5m is on the north side of the path on
the Comaria saddle – very obvious.
11.08|| We left Potes in the hot sunshine for the
lakes (Los Lagos) and had lunch on the way in Arenas de Cabrales.
Thereafter the weather slowly deteriorated and there was very slight
drizzle (actually thick mist) on the lakes road; we were passed by
literally hundreds of cars coming down from the lakes.
Wandered around in the mist for a while – everything much the same
as usual – then found the OUCC encampment, festooned with caving
ropes. All but two (Phil Sargent and
Margot Morris) were up at a higher campsite, so we chatted to them
for an hour or so before heading for the restaurant for truchas
– only to find that the restaurant had closed an hour earlier than
advertised, much to our disgust.
Had a bread roll with cheese in the upper bar, then down to the lower
bar. The mist partially cleared at one point – we could see the
lake! Joined by the OUCC at about 9, and spent the next couple of
hours swapping caving horror stories.
Turns out that Phil knows Mike Gray and Sarah Colley of the IBM UK
Scientific Centre. Small world!
12.08|| Down to the lower lake (Enol) for a wash
at the fuente, then up to the bar for coffees. Still drizzly
and mist with no prospect of improvement, so retreat down to Cangas.
At Cangas more coffee (and tortillas), and inspect the Roman
bridge etc. Lunch at the Río Grande at 13:00 – paella, truchas,
etc. Welcomed by the usual proprietor, who treated us to coffees
at the end of the meal. Said goodbye to the Oxford contingent who had come down to Cangas for shopping and joined us for
At 14:00 we drove down to Arriondas to inspect the menú del día
at the San Remo restaurant (see 14 August entry – yes we
are two days behind in writing this up). Bill in his hurry to avoid
being run over by a lorry closed the door of the car on his chest!?!
He felt a right bloody tit. In fact blood streamed down his chest!
Tactical retreat to Llanes and pitched the tents as before in “El
As per arrangement made on the 9th
we turned up at Leopoldo’s at five o’clock, but only half of the
contingent were present and not all of those were ready. Bill was
somewhat embarrassed as to his apparel: shorts, teashirt, and gym
shoes. He explained how his more professional-looking gear was stolen
in Italy. Mike, on the other hand, was attired in a super-heavy
canvas boiler suit with all the trimmings.
Outside Fuentica (photo Leopoldo Herranz)
At six we were ready for the walk up the hill, and at 6:15pm the
party entered La Fuentica entrance; MFC, WJMFC, plus:
María-Carmen Garcia Gutierrez
Leopoldo Rodriguez Herranz
Jorge Rodriguez Herranz
María-Jose Rodriguez Herranz
Manuel Lista Blanco
Ana Alvarez Holland (no light)
Isabel Mezquita Uruñuela and María Jose Garcia Gutierrez waited
at the entrance whilst the other party of eight entered the murky
Bill led and knocked away the cobwebs and precariously-balanced flood
debris in the vadose streamway (dry at this time of year). Fortunately
the ‘squalid pools’ were so full of flood debris (tree trunks, etc.)
that the first one one could walk across without getting one’s feet
wet. However, Bill heroically stepped into the middle of the second
(only 20cm deep) to help María Carmen across. Ana sensibly had
boots and needed no assistance. The others used Bill as an aid to
balancing whilst skirting round the side.
Although La Fuentica is a sink, this section of streamway is quite
complicated with many side passages and abandoned levels – not to
mention potholes down to sumps. However, we never got lost and took
the correct muddy climb to the old gour passage. It would be very
nasty to fall here; nobody did. Bill used his stick (very carefully)
to play a few notes on the stalagmites. Ana seemed to cheer up –
she had previously complained of claustrophobia, not surprisingly
as she had no light.
Now for the first obstacle, a 2m climb down. Bill went down first
and Mike put two linked slings down for the rest. It is an awkward
climb for a beginner but everyone got down OK without problems and
As the cave passage got bigger and as the novices gained confidence
morale seemed to improve. After we all slid down the mudbank to
the active streamway we stopped for photographs (taken by Leopoldo
on very expensive equipment). [These were later scanned and delivered
to us on a CD twenty years later, in 2005; two are
included here.] However, in the wet streamway Leopoldo left
his big camera behind to use a very neat underwater one (i.e., waterproof).
Bill warned all and sundry not to cut
their hands on the very sharp rock (eroded stals?) near the streamway.
Little by little we ascended the streamway. It was easy for Bill
because he was in shorts and didn’t mind getting wet, so he waded
into the middle of the pools. Again people used him as a balancing
aid as they trod on the tufa round the edge of the pools. The tufa
– a beautiful cream colour – contrasted against the brown rock.
The clear blue water in the pools completed the vision of beauty.
To mar this vision was the discovery that one was going to get progressively
Fuentica streamway (photo Leopoldo Herranz)
No one wished to turn back or wait even when Bill explained that
we wouldn’t go on further than 50m. Enthusiasm indeed! On we went.
However, the last pool required getting wet up to the armpits and
only Bill, Mike, and Leopoldo + camera crossed it. There was a very
worn rope coming down the pitch (probably Spanish – sheath mostly
Mike led the way out and Bill, who was rather cold, took up the rear.
To warm up, and to avoid some of the pools, Bill tried an overhead
route with success. After the chamber where the active streamway
ends, Bill ran up the mudslope and put the slings down as a handline.
After nine people had travelled across the slope it had become very
slippery and for beginners this precaution was essential. Mike formed
the lower 6 feet of the handline.
Again the slings were used at the 2m climb and we were back at the
first mud slope. Some descended without too much difficulty, but
for safety we later belayed the slings for the slope was getting
wet. Mike leading on the way out had some small difficulty remembering
the route but we all exited without delay at about 20:00.
The Garcias insisted on giving us coffee, brandy, and a bath! What
a luxury for campers – hot water. We changed to clean clothes and
assembled to drive off to Celorio for a four-course supper: Cabrales,
lomo, tortillas, and chuletillas, all washed down with
Carta de Plata, etc., and all paid for by Leopoldo.
Then off to El Taleru bar and later El Serna for a drink at each
(and an excess of smoke). Then we all said goodbyes and thankyous
and at last went home. Mike and Bill took an unplanned diversion
to Naves but eventually got back to Llanes.
13.08|| We slept like logs until 9 a.m. (which
is very late for us!). Must be a quieter campsite at Llanes compared
to La Franca (cheaper, too!).
We decided to return to the La Hermida gorge, and after a coffee
in the usual bar we attempted the mountain “road” from the village.
It turned out to be speleologically interesting but very precarious
(not tarmaced, potholes, and landslips over 1000-foot drops!). Before
the driver had a heart-attack or worse, we parked the car and continued
on foot up to the village of Bejes. Interrogation of an old lady
doing her knitting in the sun introduced us to a local man who took
us (and his children) to see the caves. He took us up the valley
to a fine but narrow resurgence cave which we three followed to a
deep pool, apparently supplying the village with water. The presence
of a bolt and traverse line indicates prior exploration by another
group (probably Spanish).
After exiting the three of us climbed up to the bigger but shorter
‘cheese cave’. Unfortunately there was no cheese, but the old rotting
racks were present. We couldn’t refuse the insistent invitation
to lunch; however, as this was not ready, we retired to the bar.
At 3pm we entered the kitchen with a wood-fired stove and were served
soup (first pasta in Spain), a kind of fabada (but with chickpeas
instead of beans [cocido montañés?]), tomato salad + peppers + salt + vinegar + onion,
and meatballs in a tomato and very garlicy sauce. After extended
thankyous we returned to the bar for a beer and set off down the
A dog attached itself to us at the top, and followed us down the
hill down to La Hermida, often going faster than the car on the rough
“road”, and waiting for us with an impatient look on its face. It
couldn’t keep up when we got to the ‘real’ road, however.
Drove back to Llanes and spent half an hour on the beach (cool) then
wandered into the town. Dinner at the Uría restaurant – large
whitebait and the chuleta de la casa (enormous steak) with Navarra
wine. Back to campsite for a cognac before bed.
14.08|| Up at 9, prepared for some serious caving
rashly agreed over dinner the night before (rare). Stopped at Rales
to propose a ‘real’ caving trip on Friday than then headed west.
Investigated a dry valley east of Tinganón near dog-house, finding
small but draughting holes, then a ‘resurgence’ near smoking dump.
Bill looked on from afar while Mike thrashed around in the brambles
for forty minutes (and also in hawthorns, mud, bracken, and putrid
bogs). No caves found. Onward to Arriondas...
Bill closed the door of his car carefully this time and strode into
San Remo. At 13:10 we were the first to arrive for lunch. A mere
400pts (£1.80) a head bought us wine, bread, fabada, chuletas
de cerdo, flan (or tarta); all good. This fortified, or
perhaps over-fortified, we headed for Tinganón.
With permission of the local farmer we parked the car at 14:55 and
tramped up the hill (mainly on the south side of the stream) to the
massive entrance. We entered the cave at 15:20 and measured the
altitude (uncalibrated) as 149m.
Proportions are such that 300m or so into the cave you can still
see daylight! However there is a very pleasant vadose trench –
usually as narrow as 1.5m – with pools and stream. Bill was quite
happy to splash up this. Way above the trench, perhaps 15m higher,
the old cave is very wide and allows light from the entrance to filter
Continuing upwards took us to daylight again (see 1975 survey »), and we started upstream, intent on Cueva Negra.
Two slippery climbs later and enthusiasm was beginning to wane.
The third climb was higher and even more slippery than the others,
and defeated us (especially with only one sling, ‘someone’ having forgotten his...). Attempts to bypass via slopes on the
left brought back horrific memories of the Purón walk-down (see
8th August) and with cries of “he who caves and runs away
lives to cave another day” we turned back. (Altitude 239m, giving
the cave a vertical range of 90m.)
In good spirits, despite the need for tactical retreat, we descended
through the cave – enjoying the acoustics which were awakened with
themes from Evita (“Don’t cry for me...”) and various hymn tunes
(“I vow to thee...”, “Christian, doest thou see them on the holy
ground...”) with appropriately modified words. One set of words
actually got written down.
Out of Tinganon after two hours, and changed by the farm. Somewhat
astonished when the farmer came by with a daughter and the latter
wandered up to the car, pushed us aside, and grabbed a chocolate
bar, to the intense embarrassment of the father. Girl definitely
not ‘all there’.
Drove back to Rales for a couple of beers, then on a detective trip
(Celorio, Porrúa, Parres, Porrúa, Porrúa, Porrúa, Porrúa,
Pancar) to find the place we ate at on the 12th. Successful
at last (it’s in Pancar, called El Retiro, and run by a Spaniard
who has an Australian passport) we ordered too many dishes (sardinas,
tortillas, ribs, chorizo, chips) but ate all but two sardinas;
washed down by Rioja, 1600pts in all. Eventually back to the campsite
via a roundabout route (looking for a bar Bill doesn’t remember from
10 years before).
15.08|| A relatively late start (10ish) and headed
for the Deva gorge again. Coffee at La Hermida, and on to Venta
Toyu the objective, we descended the Barn entrance at about 12:15;
a straightforward trip until we reached the sandy chamber, only to
find that floods (in 1983?) had blocked the way on with sand. Flood
marks were also visible well up into the Big Chamber. Some thrutching
and climbing-about found a high-level route between the two inclined
rifts, and thence to the pool at the bottom of the pitch.
Much flood debris. Our objective was to look for a bypass to the
pitch (perhaps to an older abandoned sink), so first looked up the
rift (marked by ‘?’ on the survey) not properly explored in ’82.
Mike pushed this for 30m in a flat-out sandy crawl with slight draught,
while Bill looked at other alternatives. Eventually came to other
high-up possibilities (draughting but too tight), and a good view
over the three pitch pots.
Exited, then. Mike via the other top entrance, to make a ‘through
trip’ and to fight some more brambles and hawthorn, though Bill didn’t
quite make it out that way, after a spectacular fall into the bones
and other detritus. Both eventually got out around 15:15.
Back to La Hermida for a wash at the hot spring [under the bridge
to the Spa hotel], and then lunch (at 4pm) at the Bar [Paquin?]:
paella, tinto, queso Manchego, coffee. 625pts total
for both (including a beer for someone who recognised us).
After lunch, wandered upstream for a thorough exploration of the
Spa ruins (the early-20th century electrical system was particularly
interesting, as were the water-works of the spa complex itself).
Next back to the bar to write up the log.
|Caught up with the log ¡NOW!
sat in the bar some more...
sat in the bar some more.
The extended lunch gently merged into dinner at 21:30 (chuleta
and filete, which looked identical, and queso de Cabrales)
followed by a long walk in the mountains, and a visit to Colio, before
the long drive back to the campsite (a joint effort).
16.08|| Up late (10:30) as raining, do some packing
and then drive to Posada for shopping. On to Rales in the rain to
say goodbyes. Back to campsite to strike camp then via Parres to
Pancar for lunch (not at El Retiro, closed for lunch, but at El Journu).
Left 4ish, heading east. Stopped for 40 minutes at large depression
between Laredo and Castro Urdiales which had been meaning to look
at for 12 years. No caves (except one short “through trip”) though
several possible digs.
Arrived Otañes about 7:30pm, then back to Castro Urdiales to pitch
tents by the sea. Then into the town for the expedition dinner (at
El Peñón) – gambas al ajillo, entremeses, merluza
(cogote(?) and al la Romana), coffee, champagne. 4100pts
total. Went to bed relatively early.
17.08|| Up at 9. Glorious blue skies and sun (of
course .. last day). Coffee at nearby campsite then to Sangazo cave
for two short caving trips. On to Bilbao, arriving at about 11:30
for 12:50 plane.
Personnel: Bill Collis & Mike Cowlishaw. Various OUCC people,
and friends and acquaintances from Bejes and Rales.
Other log details: Exchange rate 220 pesetas/GBP.
‘Things still to be done’ list: Tresviso area; Cabañuca (Suarías);
Pozo del Infierno (Deva gorge); Los Jarres (San Esteban) – need
local guide?; El Mazuco; (Matienzo); Sidra.
(In the original, handwritten, log El Cuevón de Pruneda
was called ‘Purón cave’.)