Author Topic: Ario update  (Read 704 times)

Offline MarkS

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Ario update
« on: July 08, 2017, 02:52:41 pm »
As I'm on the bus from the Picos de Europa mountains to Oviedo, having just enjoyed my first fresh fruit for 2 weeks, now seems a good time to write an update on the progress of this year's Ario Caves Project.


The main objective this year is C4: a relatively straightforward cave, but one that lies in a crucial position in the region hydrologically. After a very vertical rope-heavy descent from the entrance, the main stream way is reached some 550m or so below the entrance. Downstream leads to a sump close to the upstream limit of 2/7, another very significant cave in the area, and upstream leads to a waterfall that was climbed last year, beyond which several unclimbed leads remained, situated not too far from some smaller caves located further up the mountain.


Importantly, a chamber (The Sanctuary) was also found above the climb last year, providing a practical camping site from which the main objectives this year could be pushed. These were to dive the downstream sump, climb the upstream leads, and potentially look at further climbing leads near the downstream sump.


On Thursday 22nd June a small group headed out to start the long slog of carrying gear up from the nearest road to the basecamp at the Refugio, and then onwards to the C4 entrance, located another hour up the hill. We were soon joined by reinforcements, and a team of about 15 people endured some pretty awful weather for a week (including some snow!) and set the caving ball rolling.


A couple of day trips saw new ropes installed where required in the first 400m of cave, and from then on almost all the trips have been camping trips, typically for 2 - 3 nights in The Sanctuary. High water levels meant that camp was initially...damp. But thankfully the generous support from Alpkit who provided sleeping bags, air beds and jackets for the trip made all the difference, making what could easily have become a seriously squalid camp into somewhere that was initially tolerable, and rapidly became quite pleasant as water levels dropped. A waterproof tent was needed for the camp spot due to its proximity to a waterfall, and the unusual choice of a teepee proved to be a very practical tent: no close walls were required (or available) to hang it from, it was very spacious enabling 8 people to comfortably camp at once, and it had a great size:weight ratio including its poles.


From this third trip down the cave exploration could begin immediately, and on the first full day down there a couple of us bolted up approx. 70 m up the aven above the camp, thankful of the kit kindly supplied by DMM, and finishing tantalisingly close to the entry points of two different streams. Meanwhile the other two successfully pushed an upstream passage near camp without reaching a conclusion. The next team down then bolted up a waterfall nearby, unfortunately finding the passage at the top impassable. Next in was the dive team, and last Sunday Tony successfully surfaced beyond the downstream C4 sump. After a short look around he came across a survey station confirming that he had surfaced in 2/7, thus making the connection that has been a focus of the last three expeditions, and linking two significant pieces of the hydrological jigsaw beneath Ario.


The first few of us on dive portering duty then made for the surface enabling others to go back down. Pleasingly those that had previously been thwarted by the too-tight passage at the top of the waterfall a few days earlier looked at an aven further downstream, finding ongoing spacious passage above ending at a 30 m aven with a spacious-looking top. Others descended to survey some of the new passages near camp, while another team continued some climbing near the sump, intriguingly returning with more questions than answers.


As I type, the latest arrivals at Ario are underground, hopefully tying up some surveying and continuing to push some of the ongoing leads before bags and kit start being shuttled upwards tomorrow as the de-rig begins.


This was my first trip to the Picos and I've had a brilliant time. Great caving, great scenery and great company. The amount of exploration over the years by OUCC and more recently the Ario Caves Project team is quite astonishing. The staff at the Refugio Vega de Ario, where we have stayed or camped, have been incredibly helpful and welcoming. I can't wait to hear how the guys underground now have got on.


In due course there will be surveys and photos appearing from the trips. Additionally, Hot Aches Productions have been filming this trip and the previous trip, so expect a film to appear at some point in the coming months. Watch this space!

Offline chunky

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Re: Ario update
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2017, 07:08:06 pm »
Congrats, great work! Look forward to seeing the film in due course.

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Offline adam

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Re: Ario update
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2017, 05:31:18 pm »
I'll just add a few words myself, as I'm currently on the long drive back through France.

This was also my first experience of the Ario expedition, though I've followed their progress and aspired to join them for a few years. I arrived half way through the expo just after Tony' s successful dive had happened and while other leads were being pushed.

In the first week I had a few day trips into C4 making various deliveries, collections and helping with photography in the upper part of the cave to the old camp, Bugger Bognor.  The cave is nice enough but fairly unremarkable, apart from the impressive and aptly named pitch The Monster. Towards the end of the week, the Sanctuary camp emptied, enabling 5 of us to go in and occupy it for the remaining 3 nights. Though I'd been told what to expect, seeing the teepee set up in the middle of the large chamber with a waterfall nearby was a very memorable moment. A nice touch was the fairy lights inside the tent which lent it a homely ambiance.

A trip to see the sump 'Special Agent Sea' was highly recommended for any new visitor to the cave, and a photography trip provided a valid excuse for four of us to go. The sump is indeed spectacular, with a big sandy beach and long pool in a high-roofed chamber. It is a cut above the rest of the streamway which is small and convoluted at times. Expedition photographers Axel Hack and Duncan Simey worked their magic while Marcus and I supported by firing off flash bulbs where directed. Axel suggested it would make a great photo to have a dinghy on the lake so we blew up OUCC S.S. Intrepid (I think) by mouth and launched her onto the sump despite a rapid leak. I got about 5 minutes of good seafaring on her before she became flaccid in the bows and we scuppered her once more on the sandy shore.

That afternoon we continued an upstream lead climbed by Phil Baker called Bish Bash Bosch (after one of our main sponsors). Dave Ottewell climbed about 20 m up a clean-washed aven beside an inlet while I belayed and shivered in a cold spot. Unfortunately that was all the exploration we had time for. The lead will have to wait for next year.

The next day we started to process of decamping and dekitting the cave. This took 4 days in total. A strong effort by all involved. This is where C4 showed it's teeth. Although there is no part of the cave that's particularly difficult, neither is it easy-won height and there is enough awkwardness to really take it out of you when ascending with heavy tacklesacks. My last trip left me completely wiped out, though the view of the sunset from the entrance did help revive me somewhat.

The surface scenery on Ario is really spectacular. The view from the Refugio over the Cares Gorge towards the rugged peaks of the central massif never gets old, especially when they appear (as they often do) to float over a cloud inversion. On a rare rest day I nipped up nearby Hultayu for a stunning view down to Cain 1000 m below.

Overall it's been a great experience with great people and I want to thank particularly Steph and Mike for organising it and inviting me along. It's been gratifying to have played a tiny part in the exploration of such a significant and historic cave system.

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Online Ian Ball

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Re: Ario update
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2017, 08:50:54 pm »
 :thumbsup: