RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 43 Number 2 Article 2
December 2006

Rubicera to the Mortero d'Astrana

May 2004

Approach - Rubicera

100m from the highest point of the road at the head of the Ason Gorge, on the Arrendondo side is a dirt road leading to a shepherd building. There is room for a couple of cars to be parked here. Head North from the building up a large track alongside an enclosed field. Continue past a second enclosure. At the third enclosure at the end of the track is another building. Head diagonally up the hillside on small tracks, gradually contouring to an area of large shakeholes and big trees. Head though the lower side of this area (two large dead trees) to emerge onto small tracks contouring on sloping ground above the cliffs. Continue horizontally until a large funnel shaped gully is reached. Descend this gully, and the short scramble at the bottom to a large sloping terrace between the bands of cliffs. Walk leftwards (facing out) for 100m to a scree lined funnel (large flake at top next to cliff) which is descended to bolts in the rock above a steep scramble down (20m handline). Descend leftwards (facing out) below large cave mouth, past buttress to second large entrance. This is it!

Description of Trip

The Mortero d'Astrana entrance must be rigged prior to doing the through trip. 50m rope and 6 spit bolts. Enter the Rubicera entrance and ascend steeply into very large phreatic passages. Follow the worn path (warning - complex area - most cairns meaningless) for a few hundred metres and find source of water falling from roof into large unstable pit. Descend into this pit and find hole in boulders with large draft blowing out/in. Wriggle down through boulders following draft and water. You will emerge onto a slope, turn left part way down. Follow the route using the draft and the most worn path past many junctions (large sloping passage on left quickly leads to good formations) eventually leads (you may pass a short traverse line over a deep pit) to a short crawl and the head of the 30m pitch. Gear is in place for pull-through at present (take spare bolts just in case). Take only exit at the base, following obvious route until the streamway is reached. Descend the streamway in and out of the water until an impasse is reached. A crawl back on the left emerges on a ledge above the 90m pitch. Use traverse lines in place over the head of the drop (descenders and ascenders required) to the other side. Follow the obvious route through crawls, up two pitches and down two pitches into a second streamway (ropes currently in place) just upstream of the 178m pitch! Follow river upstream through deep pools and across pots in the floor on fixed lines and long section of tunnel to eventually emerge at the base of the ramps up to the entrance. (It may be worthwhile to descend as far as the fixed lines in the streamway when rigging the entrance to be sure of the exit.)

* * * *

Team: Paul Swire, Dave Ramsay, Dave Lacey, Mark Madden, Liz + Ian Lawton

Liz and myself arrived in Matienzo around midday on the Sunday via the luxury of Easyjet, and the others were still in the campsite having driven through France the previous day. The days plan was to do a different through-trip using the Mortero d'Astrana. Beardy was to rig the Mortero entrance and reccé the passages towards the Rubicera whilst the rest of us did the through trip. However myself and liz were jaded after the 2:30am start and tasked ourselves to find the entrance to the Rubicera. The others disappeared while we set up camp. We then drove to the head of the Ason gorge, parking up just before the top, where I have parked in the past for sport climbing. All we had was an internet translation of the route to the entrance, and the map, with no paths marked on it, and low cloud reducing the visibility to about 100m - what could go wrong? Following a large track we arrived at a second large shepherd building where all main paths stop. Small goat tracks continued traversing the hillside past some large trees in big shakeholes, to a large sloping area above the cliffs (occasionally seen through the swirling mists). Apparently we passed 'three big ones with great characteristics' and a 'circus' but we came to the large funnel shaped gully described, which was to be descended. However in the mist it looked as though we were to slip to certain doom in the chasm below. Appearances were deceptive and a short rocky scramble down brought us to a large grassy terrace. Walking to the left on a vague track came to the head of another broad certain doom 'gully' which Liz descended to find two bolts and an in-situ rope handline down to a very large entrance in the cliff face below. The description was a little vague and we could not decide whether there were two entrances described or just one, we decided on one and that we had found the right one. Thus successful in our mission we reversed our tracks to the car, and visited the cash machine and shops in Ramales.

The others returned to the campsite later on, with a successful through trip in the bag. Beardy had explored the passages above the 178m drop towards the traverse lines, but had not reached them. A leisurely start the following day saw us all back at the entrance to the Rubicera, the others marvelled at how we had found it in the mist. All of us crawled into the hole at the back of the entrance in to a descending chamber, not what the description seemed to suggest. Back outside I remembered the ambiguous description, and a short descent of the terrace outside, around a corner, led to a second more likely looking entrance. We were soon stomping through enormous galleries, following a path through the sandy floor. Some people doubted the quality of the caving, saying it was boring - these people are also noted in the RRCPC as 'misery merchants' need I say more?

A confusing hour ensued when we entered a very large, complex area of phreas, looking for a hole in the floor. Eventually we found a giant shakehole in the side of a chamber, and water coming in from the roof. A safe descent was found to the base where a gale was coming out of a hole. Mr Lacey was despatched closely followed by myself and the others, through a corkscrew in boulders and a wet letterbox with roaring draft. A brief foray in a dead end and the way on was found into a series of fossil galleries with lovely flat sandy floors and big rock pendants. The draft always indicated the way until a complex junction by some impressive formations up a side passage. All the passages met up at a roped traverse and we were off again. Eventually the passage closed to a crawl and a rigged pitch was found, the 30m we were expecting. We quickly descended the in-situ line and continued to the Rio Rubicera streamway. This small streamway was descended down various climbs, passages above and in the stream (there are obvious oxbows above), some wading, then we met Beardy and Dave R returning from a blockage. We dived into a crawl on the left and emerged on a small ledge above the 90m pitch. The Pasamanos (handlines) were in place and we set off over the abyss. A retreat was soon made when we realised there was an abseil and pendulum halfway across, so we duly donned the necessary extras. Safely across we entered more crawls and small passages, and found fixed lines on two up pitches, then later two down pitches. A long series of passages that Beardy had explored here were not evidently on route as we had not done them. The pitches had dropped us into the Mortera streamway, and Liz, Dave L and Mark went to look at the 178, myself, Beardy and Dave R set off upstream - I was soon struggling to gain purchase on the walls in out of depth cold water with a tackle-bag. This section was soon passed to a brilliant section of fixed ropes and tensioned lines over pools and cascades. A gently inclined large streamway passage with good formations took us to the base of the ramps, which require a little route finding for the easiest way up. The ramps led to the sight of daylight which led us to the base of the biggest cone of goatshite known to man. 30m up the shaft, hung with creepers and ferns is a huge incut ledge used by the local goat population for shelter. If anywhere looks like it was inhabited in ancient times this does. As the others ascended the ropes, we watched from the other side of the shaft, and seriously cast doubts of the stability of the car sized block that all the bolts were in at the head of the drop. Fortunately it stayed put and we made the 10 minute trek back to the car.

This is a stunning trip, that does not seem to have had much traffic as far as the Pasamanos. The streamways differ in character but offer great sport. Best of all there is little crawling, no mud, and great passages/formations.

Ian Lawton

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