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In 2017, Tony Seddon dived the sump at the bottom of a 600 metres-deep pot above the Ario refugio in the Picos de Europa, and so established the long-sought connection between the Sistema de la Verdilluenga (also known as C4) and Pozu Jultayu (2/7). This master cave supplies much of the water emerging from the huge resurgence at the bottom of the Cares Gorge and the cave behind it, Cueva Culiembro, which in turn has already been connected to Pozu del Xitu via six sumps, making a cave which is 1,264 metres deep. The great prize now in achieving what we have come to call The Ario Dream (Paul Diffley's superb film of the same name is available on Amazon Prime) is to connect the bottom of the C4 - 2/7 system with upstream Culiembro. The vertical distance between Choke Egbert in 2/7 and the upstream river in Culiembro is about 500 metres; the horizontal space around 600 metres. Hence, if The Ario Caves project can crack this choke, it doesn't look likely there will be more sumps to block progress. The resultant system would be well over 1,500 metres deep and maybe 40 kilometres long. There are further prospects for significant upstream connections in C4, notably with the cave known as F64, which will add further depth. These will be investigated by an expedition planned for next year.
Unfortunately, getting to Choke Egbert is very arduous. It's a tough long walk from the refugio to the top of a sizeable mountain, Jultayu, just to get to the entrance, and then a difficult trip through awkward rifts and down deep pitches to reach the streamway at a depth of around 650 metres. A lot more cave follows. It's been a while since anyone visited the choke, I think 18 years, and they didn't have the benefit of modern lights, which might reveal an unseen lead. However, the teams which have been there concluded that to dig it safely would require scaffolding and other shoring. This is not practical, given its remote location.
But somehow, we have to get round this obstacle...
What we need is a back door to the 2/7 streamway - a route down to the river which isn't tight, which starts with an entrance nearer the refugio, and involves less depth. We think we have two serious possibilities: an area not far from the end of 2/7 known as the Valley of the Dry Bones, a line of very strongly draughting holes which need digging, and La Jayada, a huge open pit close to the biggest inlet to the 2/7 river, Canals on Mars. This, when I investigated it in 1980 (!) was a nice, arched walk-in cave with a flat, snowy floor. Now a vast quantity of the snow has melted, leaving the undescended entrance pitch of around 50 metres.
Later this week, a small team of us will start to assemble at the Ario refugio in an attempt to get one of these leads going. Somewhere in this huge, rugged landscape, may lie the key to realising that dream.
PS - HUGE thaks to Badlad and Pegasus for donating 100 metres of brand new, shiny Spanset rope.
Truly awful weather here at Ario today - freezing cold, pissing down. Thank God for the cosy refuge!
We have killed the leads in La Jayada and the Valley of the Bones. The Jayada is comprehensively choked at the bottom, and the valley holes just seem filled with endless rocks and soil - this after three days of hard work by Sandy, Yuval, Ruvi, Rory and Phil.
As soon as the weather improves we are going to push two further leads: a promising shaft in solid rock on the very edge of the gorge at the bottom of the Dry Bones fault, and the cave known as 27/9, below C4. Both offer the possibility of connections to different areas of the 2/7 streamway. With any luck we will get cracking tomorrow .
That's disappointing about La Jayada.
Hope you've got the necessary passage widening technology as 27/9 ends in a tall but too tight rift, with very acute bends. It's nicely decorated in places though, especially if you climb up.
Always a chance you'll spot something that was missed before, of course.
We have the technology. We’ve been using it too, and have made about 8 metres of progress in 27/9. We we will continue today. We can hear water falling into a pool up ahead and there seems to be an echo, indicating a possible enlargement. The passage has been straight after the first widened bend and there is another bend ahead, so we don’t know quite what’s next. We are about 8 metres above the floor.
Today three people have to leave, so that reduces us to four. Near 27/9 we also have been down 10/9, another cave that gets too tight, for a recce. We will de-rig that today. Finally we plan to lob ropes down a couple of deep shafts near the Jayada which years ago were blocked with snow.
Another site we visited yesterday is 53/5, much lower down the hill, where OUCC put in a lot of effort in 1991. You can see why: the freezing draught it blows out can be felt 10 metres from the entrance. Yet this is lost above the first pitch, where the passage may be an old, big phreas, in contrast to the immature stuff lower down. We plan to have a good look for any possible climbs up or continuing passage at high level at the weekend.
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