Xitu 2012

This years Oxford University expedition to Xitu in the Picos De Europa had a small contingent of Red Rose members in attendance, comprising of myself (Andy Chapman), Fleur Loveridge and Pete Talling.The expedition had the objective of rigging the cave to the final sump to allow Tony Seddon and Paul Mackrill to complete the first through trip in the system.

I turned up midway through the expedition to immediately find myself co-opted onto a rigging trip with Dave Rose (of Beneath the Mountains fame) and Martin Hoff. The team had rigged down to around 800 metres but with time running short, we needed to get the cave rigged quickly.     We set off down the cave, carrying huge of bags of rigging kit, camping gear and food and made it down to camp in good time and got the kettle on for a much needed brew, only to discover no tea bags could be found. A state of emergency ensued for a good ten minutes until Martin revealed his hidden hot chocolate stash, buried deep in his tackle bags. After loads of drinks and food, we crawled into our sleeping bags and dossed for the night.

Next morning, we rose and after a breakfast consisting of a huge amount of dry sausage, we set off. After descending a large number of pitches, including the slightly loose (and frightening) Pythagoras pitch, we arrived at the rigging front. After a short discussion between Martin and Dave, it was decided I was the most expendable and therefore, I should rig. Loaded with gear, I began the long traverse to the pitch head. Whilst contemplating which of the dubious naturals I should use for the y hang, a shrill sound reverberated down the passage. Fear gripped me for a moment as I considered what could be making such a terrifying din, until I realised it was Dave playing his Blues harmonica. Once we had all descended the pitch, we carried on, every now and then, Dave explaining why a particular place received a name or telling an interesting (and sometimes horrifying) tale of the original exploration. After rigging to the Flyer pitch, we decided enough was enough and headed back to camp.

After a nights sleep, we began the long ascent towards the surface, with the long free hangs of the Flat Iron pitch proving a struggle whilst hauling up all my gear and the Darren drum which we had used as a toilet over the last 2 days. Another problem was that somehow, the seal on the Darren drum was not completely airtight and throughout the journey, little wafts of 2 days of toilet trips kept hitting my nostrils. We finally exited the cave after a long trip (I didn't check the time so I couldn't tell you how long it took) and I immediately handed Dave and Martin the toilet Darren drum, having smelt it for the entire outwards trip, I had enough and felt someone else could take responsibility for it.

After a number of insanely long trips, the team did get the cave rigged to enable the divers to complete the through trip (both up and down), giving the 3rd deepest through trip in the World and confirming Xitu as a truly world class trip. However, the dry bypass still needs to be found..........

Andy Chapman