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Digging Summer 2012

Due to the awful weather not much has been done in The Dales since my last article. Hopefully there will be more news for the next newsletter.

Digging seems a funny name for a caving activity, sounds more suited to a garden or allotment publication. However it is the accepted caving term for any type of cave exploration, as in these times of heightened security it’s best not to mention certain words such as explosives too much.

The club has always had a long tradition in cave exploration both in The Dales and around the world, and has been successful in finding numerous new discoveries since the Club’s founding in 1953. As well as members mentioned in my articles, several others are regularly involved in digging activities. Chris Camm and Phil Parker have both been digging regularly in The Dales and abroad for many years, (more about them below), but the most successful member in recent years has got to be Richard Bendall.

With his partner in crime Dave Ramsay, that nice and most helpful man from Inglesport, they have been involved in almost every discovery that has occurred in the Three Peaks area in the past several years. Part of an inter club digging alliance called The Misty Mountain Mud Miners, they have brought The Dales caving scene back to prominence after years of domination by the Southerners and the Welsh. (Phil Parker is also a Mud Miner and is also heavily involved).

Newer members may not be familiar with Descent – The Magazine Of Underground Exploration. This bimonthly publication contains a cornucopia of information on the British and World caving scenes. A must read for every caver!
Issues of Descent from the past several years have contained high quality articles on the search for the Three Counties connection, (now achieved – the largest cave system in Britain), plus many other discoveries. Richard has been at the forefront of many of these discoveries, and I have enjoyed immensely reading about his exploits.

Finally my last article contained two errors so apologies to Graham Huck. I called Hucky an ex member when he is not, and got the story about the submersible pump mixed up, as he actually lent us his own. The club pump seems to have got lost.

Now for something completely different.

Question. Where do all aging cavers and diggers go to?
It’s easy.
Spain of course!

And so for two weeks in August I find myself in the Cantabrian Mountains in Northern Spain with Clarkey, Smithy and Harry Long, he of Northern Caves guides and UWFRA Controller fame.
The flight out caused quite a stir; Chris was hauled in by Manchester Airport security who were worried about the copper wire in his hand luggage.

“We’re going caving, the wire’s for a telephone in the cave”
Oh yeah! Anyhow Chris was allowed through.

A one and a half hour flight saw us in Bilbao, where the hire car was picked up for the hour drive to our destination, a small hotel in Ogarrio, our base for the two weeks.

But first let me explain a bit more about the caving region we were going to. People attending this year’s dinner were entertained to a talk and slideshow by Juan Corrin on this very subject but for those who missed it here’s a brief recap.

The Cantabrian government and Spanish caving authorities granted British cavers an exploration area based around the Matienzo enclosed depression, an area of roughly 94 square kilometres. The French also have an exploration area situated next to the British one.

British cavers’ have been exploring in Matienzo for well over 50 years and in that time the total of known cave passage has risen from 6km to well over 330 km!

There are well over 3700 recorded sites and some are very long. One 55 km long cave system almost certainly connects with two over 30 km long in the same area but the link has not been found yet. A few British cavers have settled around Matienzo, whilst others have second homes there.

More details can be found on the Matienzo caves website at:-http://www.geography.lancs.ac.uk/matienzo/page1.htm
Cavers’ from the White Rose have been visiting Matienzo for a long time. I think Sweeney was the first at the end of the Seventies. Chris and John have been visiting for several years, also Chris Camm and Phil Parker go there two or three times a year.

It was my first ever visit and Chris’s first since the accident just over three years ago. There had been over seventy British cavers in Matienzo this summer, but most had departed or were just leaving as we turned up. (They must have known we were coming!). Anyway among a group leaving were two cavers I had not seen for many, many years, Zot from the Bristol Exploration Club; who could not forget our trips on Mendip with him? And Big Jane from Ingleton. It was good to see them again.

We also met our fellow guests for the duration, Phil Goodwin, Alf Latham and John Southworth from the Earby Pothole Club – some of the nicest people I have ever met. Chris Camm and Phil Parker were also staying at a hotel about 10 kilometres away, near where they were currently exploring, so we had enough people for any tasks on hand.

As well as caving activities we also spent time “bushwhacking”, looking for new caves. What hard work it is fighting your way through jungle-type undergrowth with a big stick, every plant seems to have spikes or thorns to rip you to shreds, all the insects want to bite you, and with temperatures getting up into the late thirties Celsius it was sheer exhausting toil. Harry also spent a lot of time explaining the area to this new boy. Thanks
We went for a meal at a restaurant in the Ason Gorge with cave diver Rupert Skorupa and his wife Julie, who were staying in the gorge. Nearly everybody had a wonderful meal of kid (goat that is). When John went down with a bug, Chris and I had a day out with the Earby lads, they took us to Ramales and then we eventually ended up at the top of the Ason Gorge. Here we watched for over half an hour the magnificent spectacle of a gathering of Egyptian Vultures. Spellbinding.

Oh, we also did a lot of drinking, drinking and drinking!
Caving wise, on day one we visited site no. 3691 at Riano, found by Harry this Easter. A big walk-in cave. John and Chris pushed the end for quite a distance in a passage with a friable roof but never got past into sounder rock. I think also a collapse in the roof whilst they were further up the passage may also have had something to do with their decision.

On the second day we visited site no. 3662 at Riano, also found by Harry this Easter. After moving a large boulder blocking the entrance John was soon dispatched down the hole, it was 4 metres deep but a calcite blockage prevented progress. Also we got down site no. 1805 found in 2002, with a steeply descending 75-degree sloping entrance. Down a short ladder pitch below Chris and John tried to push the terminal rift but gave up after expending a lot of time and effort.

There was a lot of excitement when we got back to the hotel that night. The Earby crew had been pushing a cave found by Alf Latham and Harry at Easter called Cueva de Casa Vieja, site no. 3649 at Moncobe. They had got to a drop where a stone took five seconds before it hit the bottom; this pitch was certainly a big one!

The next day, armed with a 175-metre rope, Phil Goodwin got down the pitch; it was 85 metres deep and choked at the bottom. However at about minus 40 metres the pitch intersects a large trunk passage, this has still to be explored.

John Southworth who followed Phil down the pitch, had a horrendous time getting back up as all the spare rope had tangled round a deviation loop.

Chris and John were drafted in to do a survey of the cave. Whilst doing this John thrutched through some low stuff and reached another pitch. It is thought this may be an alternative route to the big pitch; unfortunately no one else could get through to see. The cave was later derigged but there is still more exploration to do another time here.

Chris C and Phil P were digging at Washing Machine Hole, site no. 3420 at Ideopuerta, found by John Southworth and Dave Milner in November 2011. The last news I heard was that Chris and Phil had bolted over two pits and were part way down a big pitch.

The cave dig that used up most time on this visit was site no. 3451 at Riano, found by John and Harry in August 2010. A hurricane literally blew out of the entrance, the draught being so cold that you had to sit a couple of metres away to stop from being frozen stupid, even in the midday sun. The entrance pitch has a tight, twisty, awkward section in the middle, so once again Chris and John were the only two cavers present who could get down. Chris and John spent several days snappering a rift and had to climb the ladder several times each day, so I volunteered to become the top lifeliner. Not bad sat in the foreign sun reading my Kindle - just like a package holiday!

John Clarke explains more about this cave in his article so I will finish now.

Phil Ryder.

Trip Date: 17th September 2012
Added: 2nd October 2012
Reviewer: Phil Ryder
Hits: 3170


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