Volume 41 Number 2 Article 2
Matienzo Easter 2003
A Tale of Anis Phosphate and Crowbars
Toby's mission to rid northern Spain of weapons of mass drunkenness was taking its toll. It was Good Friday morning, well at least am-ish. We had arrived in Matienzo on the previous Tuesday, via the Santander ferry.
From the ferry we went to the super-market to stock up with breakfast and dehydration victuals. By 1pm my tent was up and I at the bar with Phil Pappard ready to set off to the 415 bend area of the Matienzo valley. This is an interest-ing area because it is between two extensive systems, the four valleys at 40 something km and the North Vega System, 20 something km. There is also potential for large discoveries toward Cobadol to the north and west. There are many strongly drafting holes on the hillside with some small caves but there must be more. Phil and I departed with the intension of capping a sight known as "Pants". This name is derived from a particularly unsavoury incident involving a student, Jim Davies's best underwear and large rocks of carbide!
Once we had carried the generator, bars, mother of all lump hammers, drill, etc up the sweaty hill and fired two holes worth, my friendly HSE rep declared the cave 85% safe. This may sound good. However the 15% unsafe bits were concentrated in the last meter. So it was that my first objective of the visit would have to wait. Apparently there is a new technology designed for breaking rocks, which has the benefit of being operated remotely. We intend to try these "snappers" soon.
The following day I joined up with the father of the expedition Lank Mills and Harry Long of secret caves fame. I brought the average age of the party down to a little over fifty-five. Lank had found a site the previous day in woods off the Azpilicueta track. Azpilicueta is the upper entrance to the South Vega System. This is the best part of 20km long with many caves likely to drop into it from above. The big connection would be with Valline, which is ??km long with it's two entrances on the other side of the hill. Any site off this track is worth looking at because it could get into cave passage beyond the current eastern end of the South Vega System and continue towards the many drafting sites towards Alisas. These include Arienal with its' walk in entrance and very cold strong draft.
We arrived at Lank's new site. Juan Corrin, our leader, joined us to record the days events in multi media digital circus format and further reduce the average age of the group. The site consisted of a 20ish foot drop in to a six-foot wide rift. The entrance was soon laddered. Lank & Harry insisted on being first down, fair enough. They disappeared for at least twenty seconds and then requested the lump hammer. Of course this was still in the car! Of course I was sent to get it. Of course when I got back the site was written off as long term with no draft and de-rigged. Of course I should have known better!
On the way back to the car Lank disappeared to do God only knows what in the woods. The rest of us followed the track towards valley bottom level. On the left-hand side was a very small but pleasantly drafting hole. It was located in the back of the track on a limestone / sandstone interface. Well worth a proddle with the crow bar. The crumbly rock yielded nicely to the bar and lump hammer. I could soon see into a small chamber and the draft seemed to be increasing. As I levered parts of the floor out, the hole was becoming tantalising. With this so nearly get-in-able harder rock was encountered which resisted all our efforts. With the technology available to us this was not the end. After a quick return to the bar and camp-site we returned with the generator and rock eating drill. This made quick work and the hole was so get-in-able. Harry and Juan took turns to have a look. They could stand up in the chamber. Unfortunately the draft was emitting out of the top off a one-inch wide rift in the floor of the chamber. At home this site would receive the full treatment, Wednesday nights and all. In Matienzo it was written up, photo-graphed and logged as yet another drafting hole as we moved on to look for more fruitful projects.
Cobadol is an area of huge potential. It lies to the northwest of Matienzo between the North Vega System and the resurgences of Cave of the Wild Mares and Aguanaz. The later is a major water supply. The Cobadol area hasn't been that well looked at. This is because until recently a visit involved a long car journey. However a track has been metalled for most of it's length from the Riano valley over the hill into Cobadol. For this reason several people were keen to spend sometime over there. Phil & Lank already had projects on the go in the area. So on the Thursday two cars set off from Bar German. In the first was Phil and the NPC crew of Kev, Hesky & Max. I nursed a hangover in the back of Lank & Harry's hire car. Phil was heading for a strongly drafting site low in the edge of some woods by a resurgence to pull out boulders. It all sounded very promising. I assumed we were all going to the same place. Of course I should have known better! Needless to say the two cars soon lost contact with each other. Lank had ideas of where to look for caves in Cobadol. I had not been to the area before but was very impressed with what I saw from the back of the hire car. There was a vast expanse of rolling hills, dry valleys and closed depressions. Santander was clearly visible in front of a glimmering sun drenched Bay of Biscay. Further along the coast stood the impressive Picos de Europia. "On the other side of that hill," said Lank pointing south, "is Mostajo."
Mostajo is connected to Regaton, Cubija and Morinuca to form the North Vega System. My activities in the 415 area, including the pervious Tuesday, have been attempting to extend the North Vega System eastwards towards the Four valleys System. The potential of Cobadol is truly gob-smacking.
We soon stopped on a bend in the road looking down into Codabol. Lank dispatched us in different direction to look for caves. I was soon at a farm yard, being this part of Spain there was of course a barking half dog half wolf biting machine on the other side of the fence. The farmer emerged from one of his outbuilding to find out what was going on. I greeted him and attempted to ask if there were any caves on his land, for example in the large shake hole I could see in his meadow. He did not appear enthusiastic. When he picked up a pitch fork and started to walk towards me, I wondered what a dales farmer was doing in Cantabria! I decide that the best course of action would be to call on the vastly superior translation skill of Lank. It transpired that there were absolutely no caves on this farm at all. I was not convinced. My doubts increased when Harry corrected the statement by adding apart from the phreatic remnant at the end off the drive! Not wanting to cause an international incident by investigating the remnant, the large shake-hole or any of the other features we saw later, we returned to the car. Fancy a night trip somebody mused.
As we continued down the road, in the car, I noticed an area beside the road where part of the hill side had been removed. An arch shaped scar of sand and rock about fifteen foot tall by twenty foot wide stood out surrounded by undisturbed scrub. Most interestingly was a small dark hole near the top of scar. Upon my request the car stopped and the three of us were at this feature. I looked into the small black hole and saw a short straw and what appeared to be a crawling sized passage heading into the hill. I set about enlarging the hole with the crow bar. Within fifteen minutes I was in. Exploration Fever then took over. Grasping a mag lite in my teeth wearing shorts and a t-shirt I set off. After a couple of body lengths I came to a small obstruction. This flake on the floor would not have been a problem if I had been better attired. However the small sharp cauliflower formations had cut my hands and knees, and the sweat from my frenzied digging mixed with anis from the previous night's drinking was making the cuts sting. As I cold see the passage continuing as an inside out cheese grater I exited to don wellies and a boiler suit. On my second visit the flake was simply crawled over. After another couple more body lengths the right hand wall disappeared and I was kneeling looking over a pitch of about 30-foot depth. A rubble slope entered from the other side. The passage continued as a sandy ledge over the left-hand side of the pitch to what appeared to be a continuation partially blocked by stal. I did not fancy falling off the ledge and there was no way to get down (and back up) the pitch, so I returned to the others. "Bullshit!" was Lank's response. Harry had to see for himself. Once my claim had been verified we agreed to return, drop the pitch, continue exploration and survey the find.
We had now completely lost Phil & co, so we set off in the hire car with Lank navigating. After a few minutes we turned right and followed the road to another farm. The farmer appeared to ignore us as he went into his shed. There then followed an unholy commotion. A cow screamed, (they can you know) and chain tackle vibrated through a wooden block as the farmer went ballistic at another Spaniard dressed in a full body length condom. We had walked into either a problematic calving or the sort of perversion Jim Eyre can only dream off!
Not wanting to get involved in either we set off looking for caves or drafting holes. A few interesting sites worthy of another visit were noted. The drafts and surface topology embedded the realisa-tion that there must be some pretty descent cave in this area. We passed round a knoll to find a group of locals in the field. They appeared much more receptive than him of the "phreatic remnant at the end off the drive," giving a wave and an 'ola as we approached. They turned out to be a family group spreading fertilizer by hand from large plastic sacks marked ''Supo Phos-pharto.'' The mother and father told us of some holes further up the hill, and the two daughters, oh the daughters! Beads of sweat caved perfect channels down phosphate dusted mounds. Lank was transfixed. Harry needed a dig in that field guaranteed not to go for the next decade! Think bubbles containing the words, pert, stimulate & erogenous filled the air. Needless to say phosphate became the word of the week.
We headed to the shade to cool down and also because that was the way to one of the holes we had been told about. We did locate an interesting site in this direction. It was a rift / shaft about 8 foot deep. It had been fenced off to prevent livestock falling into it. I expect therefore that it was one the phosphate family had directed us to. I descended with a foot on each wall. At the base a stooping corkscrew took me out of daylight. All too soon the passage was blocked by a boulder in a muddy grotto with a few very old stals. Again I was in shorts and t-shirt, however with helmet and lamp this time I turned round. There was no draft but I felt a return was warranted. We could do it the following day after dropping the pitch beside the road.
At the car we met the farmer again, who was calmer than when we first arrived. He told us of resurgence on the other side of the farm that fed his cow's water trough, another job for tomorrow.
It had been a very pleasant day, into a little bit of new stuff (still going), a couple of sites to return to and the memories of the ''Supo Phospharto'' girls. Back at Bar German one round of anis lead to a dozen and every thing in the world was fine!
The hot anis rich atmosphere forced me out of my tent as it reached gas-mark eight. A lager crew than yesterday assemble at the bar ready to head over into Cobadol. A little later than planed two cars set off. Jane Chilton & I travelled with Pete Smith, one of the older MUSS who now lives in Spain & is also known as Pedro. Following on behind were Lank, Harry, Juan & multi media equipment and Terry the Talking One.
At the road side site I donned my boiler suit, grabbed the bolting kit and rushed to the pitch found the previous day. There were no naturals at all so I intended to place a bolt on the left hand wall for the ladder and one on the right for a life line. I dressed a patch of the left-hand wall checking the soundness of the rock and commenced putting in the spit. Tap tap tap ..... tap tap sweat and anis ran into my eyes rendering them unable to focus. This was not fun! When the spit was three quarter into the wall nobody else had joined me. "Could they all be outside sunbathing waiting for glory?" I wondered. At that moment I saw a light coming into the cave. "Hi Pete, What's happening & have you got the ladder?"
"Not a lot, and no,"
No ladder - time for me to spit my dummy out.
"For f*@^'s sake! I'll go & get the tackle, you can finish off bolting."
Fantastic, I was soon back in the sunshine, Pedro was bolting and my eyes were in focus, nearly. The others were indeed sunbathing. There was, of course audio contact with Terry, who was somewhere on the hillside. I admired their level of cunning. I took the opportunity to stand up before heading back with the tackle. Pedro had finished the bolt and thought we didn't need one for the lifeline. If he was happy he might as well go down. I would belay him with an itie hitch. Juan arrived in perfect time to film the descent.
I wish I could tell you, reader, that it dropped into 400 meters of virgin passage. Unfortunately it was blind. On the way back up Pedro got across to the rubble slope on the other side of the pitch. This made for a reasonable shot for Juan and confirmed that the ledge and passage it lead to on the left of the pitch head connected with the rubble slope.
The pitch was de-rigged and the find surveyed and photographed on the way out. The surveyed length was 30ish meters, a little underwhelming, could have been more, should have been more. Not to worry I thought not bad for a fifteen minute crowbar session, plenty more to go at.
Once changed Pedro, Jane & I set off for the phosphate area. The others departed to another project in Riano. Our first point of call was the fenced off rift / shaft of yesterday. This was completely underwhelming! I moved the boulder to find a mud floor and no way on. We scoured that hillside and found a few possible sites, but nothing to get excited about. Therefore we returned to the farm, with day old calf and proceeded to the area around the resurgence that the farmer had pointed out. Four sites were found and investigated in this area.
The first was a shake-hole down to a tall vadose passage six foot wide by twenty to thirty foot high. That may sound good, however the shake hole had been used as a rubbish tip. There was crap everywhere, even up high on ledges. It was a mercy when we came to a climb down, which gave us the excuse of no tackle to turn round.
The second site was the resurgence it's self. The farmer had cemented the floor to channel the water into the cow's trough. Pedro & I soon passed this walking section and were force to crawl. This became flat out. The next change in character of this passage was when I had to dig. I made slow progress moving rocks and silt away as the water ran down my front. Did I come to Spain for this?!? After a while I asked Pedro to do a spell. He soon saw round a corner and reported more of the same continuing. We were both cold and wet, so it wasn't a hard decision to leave it for another day (maybe).
Whist we were squirming around flat out in water Dales style, Jane had found our next site. This was a pile of sandstone boulder on a grassy knoll, through which a black space could be seen. This took three minutes with the crow bar to gain access to a 4 meter long chamber with little prospect of continuation.
This camber has virtually no significance what so ever. What it did do, was emphasise what a bassing tool the crowbar is. Again a minute of digging resulted in a meter of passage. This set the standard algorithm which would soon become the motto of the just to be formed Crowbar Users Group. A meter a minute!!
The final site of the day was also spotted by Jane. A limestone face in a shake-hole had two vertical slots in it. From these came a slight draft. "What about this down here?" asked Pedro pointing at a tennis ball sized hole at the base of the face. I pulled away some leaf mould. The draft was very impressive. I lit a tab and put it into the hole. The smoke streamed out as straight as the vapour trail of a high altitude jet. I pulled out some more mould & soil until I could see into a mess of sandstone boulders. It seemed that where-ever I removed material from the draft pored out. It was getting on and this would not be a half hour job. With the bar calling I vowed to return, declaring "This is a stonker!"
After yesterday I was keen to get back to the stonking drafting hole. The team for the day was Big Steve Martin of the Bolton, Hesky, Toby & Jane and Yours Truly. We were soon at the farm with the two day old calf. Jane and Steve set off to the vadose land-fill-site. Hesky and I set about the strongly drafting hole seen yesterday, while Toby enjoyed the sunshine. Hesky and I agreed to clear a reasonable area around the hole to allow ourselves room to work, so we removed an area approximately three foot by four foot butting up to the limestone outcrop. Once we had removed a mix of leaves, cow shit & earth to a depth of about a foot we were standing on a level of conveniently sized sandstone boulders. The draft poured out of every available gap, but appeared to be strongest coming from under the limestone outcrop. So that was the way we progressed. The crowbar was again in its element.
Our first visitor was Juan. He seemed impressed and took some photos. I am sure he would liked to have stayed, but had other commitments back in Matienzo. I could soon see in to a space below the boulders heading under the limestone. Although I would not fit into it yet, it was looking good. The boulders were conveniently sized and user-friendly. Hesky and I made good progress. Soon we were able to squirm down to a solid roof and a rock arch which needed enlarging. A combination of lump-hammer, chisel and crowbar took three inch thick sections of the layers off, to allow access to a 3 meter wide passage with an arched roof. Stooping lead to hands and knees crawling which became flat out as the sandy floor almost met the roof. At this point we were joined by the others. Steve and Jane vowed never to go back to the vadose land-fill-site. Toby considered the going dig far better than sitting in the sun upstairs. Hesky soon got through the flat out section and continued round to the right. At the right hand bend I could see the roof continuing straight over a sand / mud dune. A good draft emitted through the three inch gap between this and the roof. The chisel made slow progress. Now, the previous day Steve had bought a small spade and brought it over to Cobadol. I called back and asked him to bring it to the new face. I could not believe his reply.
"I don't think I'll fit through that crawl."
"Hell fire you'll be bringing the ideal tool to enlarge it!"
I turned round, went back and collected Steve's spade. I considered enlarging the crawl on my way back, but justified my actions on the grounds that he is a member of the Bolton. Back at the face Hesky agreed that this was the way on. The spade was deflowered along with a couple of meters of new passage. We crawled and stooped round a couple of bends to a small chamber. At the opposite end of this was another rock arch. It was made of the same old dry crumbly rock as the arch we had dug through just inside the entrance. Lumps of this, the size of bread loaves came away in our hands, until Hesky could squiggly through. "This just gets better," he shouted from the other side. "Come and have a look at this!" A minute later we were stood together looking down a streamway. We agreed to wait for the others. The streamway flowed from right to left. Upstream looked to get low, but to our left it was up to two meters wide and five meters tall. There were large ledges on both sides and it sloped away at a gentle angle. The temptation to run away down our new find was immense, but we could hear the others and did the honourable thing. Soon the five off us set off into the unknown. The passage continued down the steady gradient passed The Crossroads. Here two much smaller passages were noted one on the left and one the right. The next point of note came fairly soon after The Crossroads, the passage "ended" with a slope of run-in and large boulders hanging out of the roof. However a climb down led to further extension. Down the climb I could see between boulders in to more passage. Hesky continued further down following the water. "Who's got the crowbar?" I shouted. Toby admits that it was at this point that exploration fever really set in. I am sure that if Hesky hadn't found a way through at stream level the NCC's secret weapon would have been up my back, over my shoulder and into the passage I was looking into like the preverbal rat up the preverbal drain pipe. However we all followed Hesky. On the way out, the boulders I had peered between were removed to make for a more pleasant route. The passage continued a little narrower, cutting down faster with many meanders. This went on for quite some way, until an inlet entered from the right. It was here that Hesky noticed some spore type snotites on the left hand wall. This point became known as Snotite Junction. We continued downstream a short distance to what appears to be the end of the streamway. Here the water sinks in the floor. There are a couple of small muddy passages which may yield more passage and even get us into a continuation of the walking size streamway we had enjoyed so much. There was still Snotite Inlet to investigate. This was excellent passage and went for quite some way. A good draft blew in to our faces. I began to think about what we had seen in the cave. The vadose streamway was very pleasant, but had this cut down from a much older level of development more in keeping with the dry old sandy passage between the entrance and where we had hit the streanway? Cobadol master cave! Alas no, we were forced to crawl and the passage gave all the signs of becoming a miserable inlet. With time getting on we decided to call it a day. We would be back to survey the cave and could look at leads then. On our way back to Snotite Junction Toby found a climb on the right which lead to a 30ish foot pitch. This would need a lot of work to get down due to the mass of boulders around the top and an awkward takeoff.
We stopped in Riano for a celebration beer on our way back to Matienzo. Back at Bar German the celebrations continued as you would expect.
Phil told me that his strongly drafting site low in the edge of some woods by a resurgence, moved onto to the snapper application list. This was because he was now going up through boulders that appear to hold the world up, hence in the absence of a suicide bomber it would have to wait for the next generation of technology. Of course Phil gave me some grief about not surveying the passage we had found that day. I explained that, "If we had taken a survey kit it never would have gone", and continued to drink.
Five of us were resurrected by midday. An hour later we made a mass exodus to the promised land of Cobadol. And so it came to pass that Hesky and Pedro set off from the entrance to surveyeth Snotite Inlet. Jane, Tuffty from the MNRC, and I were to survey in from the entrance. I am running out of biblical clichés so I'll just say that it went reasonably smoothly. The low crawls, which had been dug out the day before, were a pain with the tape, as I looked for the best place for stations wishing I could see behind myself. We put a couple of legs up each side passage at the crossroads. Both of these could be pursued with easy digging. Our timing was fantastic. The three of us reached Snotite Junction just as Hesky & Pedro were packing up their instruments. We all headed out to the sunshine, got changed & returned to Matienzo.
That evening the survey data was put in to the computer. The total length was just over four hundred meters. Snotite inlet ended up pretty close to the vadose land-fill-site, good enough reason for not pursuing that particular lead. The finding, digging, exploring and survey-ing of the cave had provided great excitement and merriment. However it was not Cobadol master cave. There must be much more passage to be found in the area. The survey showed that the cave headed towards another on the opposite side of the ridge. This was Fat Boy GT, which had been explored many years before. The description of Fat Boy told of a drafting choke heading towards Snotite. One of the old hands told Hesky & I that the choke would be easy digging if we took a turfer to remove flat plates. We had a plan for the following day.
Hesky & I returned to Cobadol and soon located the entrance to Fat Boy GT. The walk in entrance had a pleasant breeze emitting from it. We had a print-out of the line survey to help us find the drafting choke. Our understanding was to keep left and not descend any climbs. The cave passage en route was generally large with the occasional crawls in to chambers and continuations of the old dry sandy passage. We found our objective with no great problem. It soon became obvious that the turfer may have had a pleasant walk in the dark, but would be of little use to us that day. It was not the sort of choke that you could simply pull boulders out off. However it did look workable. Someone, probably Spanish, had started a dig at floor level. Hesky crawled into this whilst I considered other options. The face of the choke sloped up to the roof at an angle of about 60 degrees. Hence when I climbed up to the roof of the passage I was further forwards than Hesky below me. I could see between the boulders to a space and more boulders. Having said that the boulders were stable and not likely to move. This combined with the solid roof and the fact that I was further in to the choke indicated that this would be the place to dig. It would be easy capping to make progress following the roof.
With the good draft and size of passages there must be more development to find in Fat Boy GT. The cave would certainly warrant further visits. This was noted and added to my ever growing to do list. I hope to return.
Phil had helped me with the generator etc on my first day at Pants, see above. It seemed fair therefore that I give him a hand lugging the kit up to Volcano. This is a dig up on the tops over the blank area between the South Vega System and Valline, hence it is in a very good spot. It is called Volcano because in winter a strong warm draft indicates a reasonable clear route to valley bottom level.
Phil, Hesky, Kev and myself duly transported the generator, drill, hammers etc to Volcano. I was soon gainfully employed hauling buckets of rocks & clay. It certainly is an impressive site and will, I am sure, one-day yield a significant amount of cave. After a few hours we hit snags. This was in the form of a mix of calcite and mud. This absorbed the energy of the caps without breaking. The experts at the sharp end declared it, "Too soft to cap, too hard to dig".
"Something from Jethro Tull?" I mused.
The conclusion as we packed up was that this was another snapper application, to be continued.
This was my last day in the valley, so I cleaned and packed my gear before going for a walk. Some years ago I had been up in the woods above the mushroom field with Jim Davis. This is above Carcavueso, the Matienzo stream sink and feeder to the Four Valleys System. A new way in here could drop into Trident, which has many leads but has to be reached from Hoyuca (Utheaka) in the Riano valley. This long trip is required because of a very dangerous bolder choke.
On that previous occasion I had seen a fallen tree in a shake hole. As the tree had fallen it had pulled some earth away to expose a drafting slot.
I found the tree but there was very little draft, mainly due to it being a cool day. I walked a little further casting my mind back over Easter 2003. It had been a very good visit. As usual more question had been asked than answered. I looked over to the 415 area thinking "when will you give up your secrets?" I thought of Cobadol and the original exploration of the streamway in Snotite and the ten minute dig beside the road. Then I thought I would like an anis, so I went to the bar and drunk to the Crowbar Users Group.