Volume 41 Number 1 Article 1
Red del Silencio
Red del Silencio is the second longest cave system in Spain (c. 60km long) with six entrances to the system and the possibility of doing a 10 km, 500 m deep through-trip - surely a world class through-trip. Beardy was obviously therefore interested and a trip to Spain was organised. However, alarm bells started ringing at Easter 2003, whilst ensconced by a roaring log fire in Pen Wilt, home of the South Wales Caving Club. Reading one of the SWCC club journals, a sorry story emerged of how two members that were attempting a shorter through-trip (Torca de la Canal - Cueva del Valle) became lost, exhausted, then abandoned all hope, lay down and waited to be rescued! Apparently the through-trip may not be so straight-forward after all, or were they just completely donkeys. The truth needed to be established.
B and Tigger (and cavecam) set off with trepidation to explore the Silent River. After the epics of the Welsh however, we decided it would be prudent to check out the bottom of the system by doing the shorter 3 km trip before attempting the full through-trip. We set off from Matienzo in the early afternoon (it was a Red Rose trip after all) and turned off to Rasines where the bottom entrance was helpfully signposted from the road in the village. Cueva del Valle has become a bit of a tourist attraction, and the entrance is now guarded by a woolly mammoth - a la Dan yr Ogof. It was an impressive entrance, only a minute's walk from the car, and the tourist signs proudly told of how archaeological digs had shown that prehistoric man had lived there.
Dumping a car here we sped off to find the Torca de la Canal. After getting lost on the country tracks we soon parked up and changed in the blistering heat. The cave was about a fifteen minute easy walk away. Although the cave itself was hidden in vegetation, the sound of its small waterfall led us to the Torca. The entrance was in a reasonable depression about 6 m in diameter. A boulder slope down led to walking passage. The large gallery soon degenerated into some small but strongly draughting crawls. Initially, Carmel and Helen had been a little anxious about their caving fitness having avoided doing much caving since New Year, through injury and a worrying psychological disorder "Speleo-avoidance". However, they were soon put at ease watching Tigger temporarily struggle in a section of the crawl that was not big enough for both him and his bounce. After a few more smallish sections, a pitch of 7 m and several hand-lines we broke out into El Libro (The Book) - a major landmark when the 10 km through-trip is undertaken.
After checking the survey and translation we set off down the worn track that was well way-marked to a bouldery chamber where we spent a short time searching for the way on that was hidden in the roof up a steep ramp. Shortly beyond the top of this we descended two short pitches before entering a series of large beddings. Carmel and Helen's worries were further put to ease in these sections as Beardy sweated miserably at the back - something to do with long legs - and had to wait for him. Beyond here the passage got bigger and better; the highlights being the spectacular formations in El Sahara and the Galleria Comoda. The team flew through the passages following the plethora of way-markings and the obvious passages to arrive at La Playa where we rejoined the stream (the cave had been extremely dry until this point). After a brief snack we enjoyed a pleasant stroll down a fantastic streamway negotiating four boulder chokes with ease. Eventually the route left the streamway and entered a higher level. After a short hand-line climb and a short, deep cold pool we were pleasantly surprised to arrive at the entrance to a sultry, summer evening. All in all we completed the trip in the guidebook time of five hours which just left us bemused as to the survival instincts of the SWCC.
Four days later having been joined by Mr and Mrs Lawton we set off for the big one (Torca del Hoyon o Caballos - Cueva del Valle). Carmel and Helen had previously reccied the entrance which was a very uninspiring grovel beneath boulders in an impressive shakehole cum doline, some half an hours walk away from the car. However, the passage soon broke out into a series of excellent pitches that were well rigged with new looking hangers. We had three sacks of rope (2 x 50 m and a 45 m - more than recommended in the guide) and efficiently moved down the spectacular pitches of the entrance series. Working well as a team we soon arrived at -237m.
The pitches followed an active stream that was low at the time, but it would not be a pleasant place to be in higher water levels. At the bottom of the pitches the streamway was the size of Lost Johns and equally as pleasant. This continued for about fifteen minutes to a large chamber where another inlet joined. The way on was through fossil, rift passage where we were forced to climb up 4 m and follow a 10 m traverse before descending a 12 m pitch in order to regain the streamway where the fun really began.
Here we encountered the first area of 'marmitas profundas', or as the Internet Translator liked to put it, 'area of extended kettles'. It was possible to tackle most of the passage at stream level, but one short section is pretty narrow and the obvious thing to do is traverse a little higher up. However, here the rock was extremely slippery, and although the taller members of the party had few problems, Helen found it a little tricky to get comfortable in the widest section (code for a fair bit of moaning and a conviction that she was soon to plummet to certain doom). The pools were negotiated in a number of entertaining ways. In some places, the taller members of the party boldly traversed high over the top, avoiding the majority of the wet pools. However Helen and Carmel decided that as they were on holiday they should go for a dip in the water (which was actually lovely and warm). One pool boasted a water-shute and another had an exciting rope swing.
After two hours of excellent streamway, we eventually broke out into the main collector, a much bigger passage, with a larger stream. Time for a quick break, Tortilla and chocolate were eagerly consumed and lights fettled before setting off again. After barely a minute the large streamway came to an abrupt end and we had to deal with a few hand-lines and climbs down to a lower level. Here we were confronted with a muddy 13 m upward pitch. There was nothing we could do but trust that the muddy in-situ rope was ok - fortunately it was but it prayed on our nerves. At the top we entered the Gallery Marionetas, a fossil passage festooned with large pools of water. Part way along here we came to a junction - the word Papier signed to the left. This was where all the draught was going - we should have paid attention but we followed our guidebook description, which led straight on to an entertaining traverse at the Balcon. Here two ropes went off around a corner over a large drop and to reach terra firma involved a few gymnastics. We re-grouped beyond and soon arrived at the toboggan, an aptly named sloping and muddy climb down. Next we headed through a wet pool and up a few slippery mud slopes looking for something called a temporary siphon. Which surprise surprise was sumped. Now thoroughly wet through we had to retrace our steps and follow the draught in to the Gallery Papier. Although there was plenty of crawling in this gallery, we made good time and were amazed at the way that the dried mud had curled up in to sheets - just like paper.
Beyond was the more impressive Gallery of the Gours before we had to prussik up an old looking 18 m rope. Assembling at the top in the 2nd level we soon has to prussik up another 5 m pitch to make our way along a gallery with a deep trench in the floor, often using long sections of hand-lines. Here we had a choice; we could carry on and descend to a duck or sump or we could prussik up another 18 m into the third level. Following our experience at the previous sump we chose the latter. Five minutes of caving in this level brought us to a 20 m down pitch, and 20 m beyond was El Libro. We were now on home ground. A quick snack was had before we set off now at a furious pace as we'd already been about nine hours underground.
Within minutes all was not well, Helen, Carmel and Beardy reached a large chamber that we recognised as a major junction on the route we'd taken previously. We waited but there was no sign of Tigger, Liz and Ian. What should we do - we waited and waited. Eventually Carmel headed back but there was still no trace. After 30 minutes we decided that either they had found an alternative route or they were horribly lost. We decided to set off slowly and hopefully find traces of them in front. Fifteen minutes later we discovered a couple of way-markers and some food left by the others - they were definitely in front. Another 30 minutes of rapid caving saw the whole party reunited and another three hours of fantastic caving eventually saw us emerge from the impressive lower entrance. It was the middle of the night, the rest of the world seemed to be fast asleep yet we were enjoying the end of a wonderful trip. Getting changed at the car a few of the team were grumbling about chafed bits, much to Beardys amusement, as the grumblers were the same people that had laughed at him lubing up at the start of the trip. It was definitely a case of he who laughs last laughs longest.
I.O., (1995), Grandes Travesias 40 Intergraes Espanolas.
GAES de Bilbao, (2001), El Karst de Rasines, Cantabria.
Anon., (1998), Karaitza, (7) p18-26, Avance al estudio de La Red Del Silencio, Rasines.
Puch, C., (1998), Grandes Cuevas Y Simas de Espana, p274-278
Garcia, J.L., (1997) Cantabria Subterranea, Tomo 1, p356-362
Meredith,P., (2001), South Wales Newsletter No 122, p35-36