Andalucia - Spain


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Has anyone caved in Andalucia and more specifically done the Cueva del Hunderio to Gato through trip? I would like to find out more about caving in this region and this trip in particular as I'd like to try to get to do it this year.



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Active member
Sorry for my delay in replying to this - I don't normally venture down to the "expeditions" section of the page.

I was there with a few other people at Easter two years ago. Did a fairly lengthly trip report at the time. I have inserted it below. Will happily give you any more information I can remember.

As a general summary, the Hundidero-Gato trip is excellent, as was Cacao and Repblicano - all detailed below.

Ronda, Southern Spain 26th March – 4th April 2002

This trip was originally billed to take place in Summer 2001, and was to combine a 4km through-trip with the 1000m+ deep Sima del GESM. It turned out that permits for the GESM are not available in the Summer months due to the National Park's concerns over fire risk, and the trip was then postponed until this Easter. In the event, we couldn't secure a permit for the GESM even at Easter, but decided to go to the area anyway.

A bit of background - the Ronda National Park is conveniently situated in Southern Spain, some two hours from Malaga airport. This has various benefits – not least of which are reasonable transport costs and generally good weather! Much of the area resembles the Vercors with medium-sized peaks mostly covered in rock, but still retaining large amounts of greenery. This greenery hints, of course, at the far higher than average rainfall in the region (which easily surpasses the average for Great Britain). It is this, combined with the vast limestone areas, which have formed an array of often well-developed and interesting caves.

A short walk in the area will make it abundantly clear that there is vast potential for new cave to be found, as the hills are literally littered with cracks and holes – indeed, we found a totally untouched, lightly-draughting hole with almost no effort at all.

The area finds its way onto the international caving map thanks principally to two systems – the previously mentioned Sima del GESM at –1098 and the 4.6km through-trip of the Complejo de Hundidero-Gato. The latter has always been known, thanks to its two huge entrances and a large amount of work done in and around them by the, with hindsight, pretty stupid engineers who, sometime around 1910, decided to build a huge dam on top of limestone littered with cracks. For the next 20 years they, fairly predictably, battled to prevent the water escaping into the ground and the nearby Hundidero-Gato caves – including some serious work within the caves necessitating the construction of a massive aerial walkway the length of the cave – but to no avail. The Sima del GESM, on the other hand, was only discovered in 1970, and it was this which firmly put the Ronda area on the world-caving map. Somewhat bizarrely, however, there are no other caves in the area even beginning to approach this depth, all the rest stopping somewhere short of –350m. (There is, however, talk of a new breakthrough in a cave called La Cueva del Aire which is rumoured to be somewhere around the –700m mark).

Arriving in Spain, we were somewhat light on the information front, having only the barest descriptions of caves from the Internet, and little if any indication of the whereabouts of their entrances. However, we were armed with our secret weapon – David. David, for those who do not know him, spent the first 20 years of his life in Spain and, consequently, speaks perfect Spanish. He is also, as we now know, a dab hand at getting whatever he wants out of poor, unsuspecting Spaniards. He was to prove his worth 20 times over.

David's first piece of genius involved him finding the local caving “hut” for us to stay. Not only did this cost something short of £6 a night, it was also fully staffed and nearly empty all the time we were there. Empty that is, apart from hordes of Spaniards over the Easter weekend, coinciding nicely with the first part of our stay. Local information was, thus, available in bucket loads and David worked overtime, gaining hand-drawn plans of caves and their whereabouts, valuable information about tackle, flooding potential, and even offers of people taking us to find entrances. What a star he is!

La Sima de Villalengua

Our first real day was spent thumbing through books and journals at the hut as the locals had not yet arrived and we were desperate to find some information on the caves. By mid-afternoon we had cracked, however, and we couldn't resist a trip to the (extremely) local cave – la Sima de Villalengua, named after the village we were in. The entrance is a huge scar at the base of the hillside opposite our hut. It would prove to be a valuable indication of what the rest of the caves were to be like. We were not let down, particularly from the point of view of SRT. The cave was excellently bolted and actually required some fairly technical rigging – excellent. This was to be a far cry from the dodgy spits and disappointing SRT that is so commonplace in France. The cave itself was also very impressive – a 54m surface shaft of impressive proportions, followed by what was really a continuation of the shaft down some shorter pitches to the sump at just beyond –100m. Actually, we stopped at the base of the 54m shaft, as it was more than sufficient to allow David in particular to practise some decent SRT before the rest of the caves. (While technically perfect, David had done very little SRT up to this point and this cave showed that we were likely to have some decent, technical pitches. with hindsight, again, David proved more than capable of everything we put in his way – an extremely competent SRT caver).

The next morning we went for a walk to find some entrances, initially knowing nothing more than “it's somewhere up that hill behind us”. Our secret weapon (David) soon ascertained – after stopping literally every local he could find – that it was “to the left of what looks like a cave, then back to the right then somewhere off on the right, over the top of the hill. Oh, and you won't have a chance of finding it unless you know where it is. And there are no obvious features like a stream flowing into it.” Great! Anyway, up we went, following the descriptions and not really expecting to find much. Very quickly, however, we realised that we couldn't avoid finding things as the limestone was literally littered with holes. After an hour or so of fairly steep climbing, I stopped in the shade of a small tree. Turning to my left I saw a plaque and then the word espeleólogo in large type. I moved closer and discovered that it was a plaque to a Spanish caver who “lived his life and not his years”. Looking a bit closer I found I was about 10cm away from a shaft (sneakily covered with another tree) – that was close! The others arrived and David spotted two hangers and some spits right next to where I had initially stopped. Well, we must be somewhere at least mildly decent, we concluded. People don't like plaques and hangers around short, unexciting holes.

We pushed on and found an array of other sites, including the draughting, but untouched dig site I mentioned earlier. Had a little poke but it needed more effort than I was willing to give it in shorts and a Petzl. On the way back down, as we were climbing down a rock slab, we noticed another entrance – concerningly just beneath the slab – with VR20 painted on the rock. Another cave to come back and do if we could find no others. On reaching the road, David took less than 5 minutes to ascertain from some more locals that we had indeed come across the cave we were looking for when we found the plaque. Amazing! And how easy it would have been to miss it.

La Sima del Cacao

The following day the Spaniards arrived at our hut and we were able to find out plenty more information on the caves. We chose to climb the hill once more and do the cave we had found the previous day – La Sima del Cacao. Thanks to the Spanish we now knew a fair bit about this cave – a blind 80m surface shaft (glad I hadn't stepped those extra 10cm yesterday!), but swing in 46m down and follow a very steep ramp down to the bottom. “You'll need plenty of rope for this ramp, mind.”

After a long and gruelling walk back up the hill, this time with a lot of kit, we all regrouped at the entrance. I set off to get the rigging underway, not entirely certain how long it was going to take me to locate the window and swing into it 46m down. “Wow – what a shaft”. This really was a beast, and somehow it had a certain terror-factor to it. I desperately searched for a rebelay to break up the prusik on the way out, but to no avail – there are lots but the spits would all have caused fairly serious rub (not a good idea with 9mm rope on an 80m shaft when you are about to have to pendulum around below!) Found the ramp (with a convenient black box attached to the wall) on the left-hand side of the shaft and swung across fairly easily. Now I could see why the Spanish had warned us we'd need lots of rope for the ramp – it really was steep, nearly a pitch. Traverse and descent and the pretties began to appear. I knew this was a pretty cave and I had high expectations, but not this high. This really was impressive – and it got better! On downwards, things getting increasingly pretty as we went. A couple of hours later, we touched down at the base of the cave – to find huge mud formations, the like of which I have not seen elsewhere, and an absolutely stunning set of organ pipes coming down the wall (about 20 pipes wide and 40 metres high). Wow! Before the final couple of people set off from the surface, a group of Spanish cavers from Barcelona had arrived. They had apparently talked of using our ropes on the ramp, to avoid the hassle of two ropes, so we might be in for a long trip! An hour's siesta at the bottom, taking in the formations - and waiting for the Spanish - and about turn. They'd have to rig the bottom half themselves. We smelled their (non-tobacco filled!) cigarettes long before we met them, but when we finally did, they were typically Spanish in their attitude to caving – the longer and slower, with the most stops possible, the better. An uneventful – if rather slowed by the entrance pitch – exit made a fine end to a fabulous cave. An absolute must for anyone in the area, provided, of course, that you don't mind the walk! Oh, and a fairly committing 46m pitch with a pendulum in an 80m semi-daylight shaft. Just make sure you take lots of rope.

La Sima del Republicano

There is no way I can describe this cave without reference to David's feats of genius. Not having been best pleased on our initial visit to the entrance of the cave, that we had to leave the car at a foresty gate and walk the remainder of the way, David had vowed to acquire a key for the said gate. It seemed his primary plan was to knock up the village Mayor and demand one. Is this what one does in Spain? I don't know, but it's certainly what David does – and it seems to work. Within minutes of us returning to the hut, David had acquired the said key and his reputation as infallible was still well and truly intact. Have I said this already? What a star!

Anyway, a not-inconsiderable number of attempts later (each of which had involved David having to “acquire” the key) we finally appeared to be going down the cave. Indeed, we were actually fully kitted up and at the entrance – actually for the second time that day – only to discover another party in ahead of us. With no possibility of rigging around them, we elected instead to lie about on the grass and dry out our slightly damp gear. Yet another attempt at doing this cave foiled. Never mind though, we did meet some more local cavers, who were more than happy to lie around chatting to us about the various caves. We even acquired a survey for the Republicano, plus the advice that there was a lake at the bottom of the second pitch which could either be by-passed via a steel Tyrolean, or via a 18-spit (!) traverse (which was not rigged). They advised the former. Another useful piece of information – well done David!

A return the following morning – bright and early this time – saw us at the bottom of the vastly impressive entrance pitch (only then after some serious faffing from me, producing the “ideal” rig involving about 300 spits and naturals). The aforementioned lake was soon met and I descended to the steel wire happily. It did not take me long, however, to decide that the wire was new enough to still be covered with small bits of stray wire, all seemingly desperate to cut into my hands. There was no doubt that if I were to go this way, I would have no hands left to rig with. The traverse it had to be – and it looked like a bit of a monster. Rerig the pitch above to hang at the other side of the lake, and a lot of spits and naturals later and I finally touched down on the other side of the lake. Everyone else gleefully followed, pleased not to have had to rig it! I wished I hadn't had to.

This cave is actually very similar to Dales caves. It is, by the way, the most flood-prone cave any of us have ever seen and reminds me of all the very best bits of Dales caving. It really is a cracking cave with plenty to keep you busy. The only regret is that it stops at –200m. If this were a 1000m-deep system, I'd sign up straight away. Top caving. Anyway, I digress - a series of nice pitches, with good spits and some reasonably technical SRT, interspersed with some shorter free-climbable drops, led to some traversing around wet pools. Around a few corners and we reached the top of the penultimate, 30m pitch. Left with only 2 hangers, for a pitch that looked as if it would probably need 10, we didn't really have much choice. This choice was made even more certain by a glance at the survey showing that the 30 led directly to the final 12m pitch which dropped directly into terminal sump pool. Not worth the effort, about turn and enjoy the cave. I'm not sure whether it was down to his insanity or my incessant moaning about having to derig “that” traverse, but Skeggy volunteered to derig, serving only to boost my positive impression of the cave.

Prusiked up the entrance pitch to be met by hoards of local children, all desperate to try their hardest to annoy us with attempts ranged from spitting down the pitch on Skeggy as he was derigging, to chasing a baby calf before calmly separating it from its mother. Needless to say, while she could put up with the former, Fiona became all maternal at the latter and went over to teach the lads a thing or to about british women. A scary sight!

Cueva del Gato

As is now becoming customary with these trips, David pulled yet another stroke of genius with this trip. We had arrived in Spain especially to do this cave, but had neglected to notice that it was literally littered with lakes. As such, we had gone with only furrysuits. Some of the Spanish we spoke to laughed, others pulled a painful grimace. We had got the message – furrysuits were a bad idea for the Gato. Not in any way perturbed by all this, David set about the task of trying to acquire us wetsuits. At various times, he had many different potential solutions to the problem, but we were going to be a hard lot to convince that anyone could possibly acquire 4 good-fitting wetsuits for caving with only a couple of days' notice. Needless to say, he did it. We hired them for about £7 each and we didn't even have to lie about what we were going to use them for.

The Hundidero-Gato system is 4.6km of through-trip from the upper, Cueva del Hundidero to the lower, Cueva del Gato. A river runs for practically its entire length. Under normal conditions a certain amount of swimming is required, but we had been warned that large sections which were normally a trickle were in fact currently also flooded. Reports of run-off times varied from 3 days to 10 minutes and we were consequently of undertaking a 4.5km pull-through trip when it had rained quite heavily the night before. The safe option seemed to be to enter at the bottom and go upstream as far as possible. This we did.

The cave was wet, and did indeed need large amounts of swimming – we estimate something over 500m. It did not take long for Robin to realise that all this swimming was not his cup of tea and he retreated hastily after the first near-drowning. Fiona had already seen sense, and hence we were three. I can only liken the cave to a mix between the bottom end of the PSM for size of passage, and to the Gournier (Vercors) for dampness – just without all the fixed traverse lines. We swam, we waded, we swam and we waded. Lacking a survey (Robin had that), we weren't entirely sure of our whereabouts, but our hazy memories of the survey on the wall in the hut told us we were nearly at the pitches at the upper entrance. Time was against us, as we had left a call-out based on the expectation that we wouldn't get very far, so we turned around and swam most of the way back out, emerging into full sunshine and a stunning day. Cracking trip in a wet and impressive system. Sort of wished we'd done the through-trip, but we couldn't help thinking we'd actually had a better trip doing it our way. Certainly we got more caving done.

And with that, our Southern Spanish caving came to an end. I suppose we could have squeezed in another trip but, to be honest, we couldn't be bothered (well, four of us couldn't! I'll leave you to guess the identity of the keeny!) We instead spent a leisurely day walking down the valley we were staying in to the main town for lunch, whereupon David struck again. Looking for somewhere to eat, and being surrounded by possible venues, David paid a quick visit on his “friend” the Mayor to ask where he recommended we should eat! Come to think of it, if this is what one does in Spain, I can now understand how it is that it took months for the various important types in the area to grant us permits for the caves. Too many people asking for places to eat, clearly. A few too many brandy and warm chocolate milkshakes later (I make no comment, and leave you to question) David was ready to be draged back up the hill again to our little village.

All that remained was the hassle of trying to bluff too much luggage, plus SRT kits and carbide generators (“Is that a bomb, Sir?”) back onto the plane. Well done David, you did it again!


Yes, we could have done more caving. But we could also have done far less too. And what we did was very enjoyable. Certainly an area well worth visiting, if for no other reason than that flights and transport are cheap, the caving hut was palatial and, of course, wine comes in 69 cent bottles (about 48 pence for the Europhiles among you).

When I go again (now there's positive), it'll be to bottom the GESM. That will have to be another day though. And I'm not sure how I'll go about fitting it into the fixed teacher holidays, when Easter and the Summer are ruled out by bats and fire risk respectively. Clearly the only solution is to turn up when the cave is half rigged, go to the bottom, and leave again before derigging starts. That way I should be able to fit it into a one-week half term, at a time when we might be allowed a permit. Good idea! Any offers to rig and derig?!? Oh, the only other problem (well, plural actually) are the two 100m+ pitches, one at –100 and the other (this one's actually 140m) at a mind-blowing –800. Now that's a big prusik a long way underground. Perhaps a few trips – consecutively – to Nick Pot required first!

A good time was had by all. Well done team. Many thanks David, in particular. We couldn't have done it without you.

Party: Robin, Fiona & Damian Weare, David Downing, Mike Skegg (Ferrets SS & NUCC)