Return to Ario

David Rose

Active member
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.



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David Rose

Active member
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 .


Active member
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.

David Rose

Active member
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.

David Rose

Active member
We now know that caves which are described in the OUCC shaftbashing guide as being blocked with snow 20 or 30 years ago really are worth investigating. We?ve been looking at E23, on the slopes of Pico Gustutertu, and have got into horizontal passage beyond the old snowplug, followed by pitches of 8 and 23 metres. Alas, after that it choked, but the principle has been established.

However, that is not the big news this evening. Sandy Wright and Mark Sims have just got back to the refuge after another day in 27/9... and it?s gone! Superb effort widening the draughty meander has paid off and they reached a chamber followed by a pitch of at least 30 metres. Tomorrow is our last day caving, so we?ll see how far we can extend the cave, which lies above the 2/7 streamway. The rope donated by Badlad and Pegasus will be put to good use!


This really is excellent news, well done all! Fingers crossed more great progress is made today. 27/9 was re-investigated by Mark Sims and Fleur Loveridge amongst others during the 2017 expedition and some initial progress made before leaving it ready for the next expedition this year. 27/9 is in a great position to possibly connect with a dry inlet - Pieces of 22, or maybe even go back towards Holier than Thou, one of 2/7's major inlet passages! Either way, a more direct and hopefully easier way into upstream 2/7 would be amazing for future exploratory work in the system!

Looking forward to the next update!  :)

David Rose

Active member
As our little, brief expedition draws to a close we have a going cave more than 200 metres deep, left at the top of a big, black, undescended pitch. Sandy and Mark did brilliantly again today - I couldn?t get through the first squeeze, so they were on their own 😢.

They descended the pitch they found yesterday - which was about 50 metres - to find a demanding rift with several possible levels beyond. They forced their way through and reached much bigger stuff, rigging another drop and adding in all around 65 metres of depth. They noted two further good leads, including an enticing window. They managed to get back to the refuge in a thunderstorm just before dark, in time for dinner.

Defeated by the squeeze, I went for a long, high walk, checking more formerly snow-plugged shafts that look as if they may well now go.

So we wrote off Jayada and the Dry Bones Valley, but have plenty for the next expo to return to: C4, with its unfinished aven climbs, 53/5, other holes in the same hill, and, of course, 29/7. A great week?s work. Thank you to Mark, Sandy, Rory, Phil, Martin, Yuval and Reuven for helping to keep the Ario dream alive.



Active member
Frickin awesome. So chuffed for ye :)

Yeah, nothing in the Picos lets up for secrets easily but the rewards are plenty for those who persevere.

Awesome effort



A write up of my last few days on the Ario trip this year:

Three days of caving in a row were really taking their toll.

Day one was a trip down 10/9 - a cave in an interesting area above upstream 2/7 and downstream C4. In the shaft bashing guide, 10/9 was described as having multiple routes off at the bottom, and not definitely concluded, so Sandy and I went for a look. After the pitches and moderately awkward rifts we arrived at "Pipsqueak", a pretty narrow-looking vertical squeeze. Sandy passed this with relative ease, and I lowered myself in. After a few adjustments, things weren't looking good. "I don't think I can do this, Sandy", I called down. No reply; he was out of earshot. Rather than sitting and waiting, I had a few more goes, eventually sliding through. I would pay for this in bruises.

The passage soon led to a junction where I had seen Sandy turn left, following the water. Pausing there, it became apparent that the draught was coming from the right-hand passage. After Sandy returned, confirming that the stream could not be followed without some enlargement, we went to take a look at the avens that the draught seemed to originated. A few metres up, routes split and we continued our ascent. Each climb was OK, and before long I found myself about 15 m up in a series of interlinked shafts. Continuing upwards, I followed the fresh air until at 25 m up with walls of dubious quality I lost my nerve and made my retreat. It wasn't a great lead but I hadn?t killed it. After an easier return through Pipsqueak, Sandy looked at another aven adjacent to the last pitch. Unfortunately this petered out to nothing about 15 m up. On our way out we realised that the draught seemed to have completely reversed, which was not the best sign, but we had plenty of bruises as souvenirs for our day.

Day two saw our Israeli friends heading home, so we took over from them down 27/9. I had visited the cave two years previously and been really impressed by the draught at the bottom, which sadly emerged from a too-tight meander. Yuval and Reuven had spent a couple of days applying significant vigour to widen the meander and had made some good progress. Sandy and I continued their work, ?enjoying? a day of lying on our sides in the rift, arms outstretched ahead of us, adding more bruises. Come the end of the day we could see down into an enlargement ahead. To me it looked like there would be room for several people in the space I could see, but some more work would be needed before we got there.

Day three was initially more of the same. We finally enlarged the rift sufficiently to enter the space I had seen the previous day. I had hoped we might be able to climb down from here into a further enlargement, so needless to say we were disappointed to see that the space was nowhere near as large as I had thought, and Sandy quickly reported back that the rift was completely choked below. I was pretty convinced at this point that we were about to confirm the 4 days of rift enlargement as wasted, but there was a small corner we still couldn?t quite see the end of. Sandy soon solved that with the help of a lump hammer, and I crawled upwards before being faced with a narrow, downward-sloping, calcited rift leading to what looked like a dead end. Still, it was draughting and looked just manageable. I attempted the squeeze feet-first, and I think it is only the second time I have ever had to make sure there were no folds in my oversuit in order to fit through, but fit through I (eventually) did, and to my surprise the passage took a sharp turn to the right before enlarging significantly. Once Sandy had joined me, we explored beyond, now in a spacious multi-level rift. A clamber down a couple of levels led us to ledges overlooking significant drop below where, in the absence of any rope or bolting gear, we spent some time gardening in preparation for the first descent the following day. We couldn?t see the bottom.

And so, after 3 days of caving resulting in the largest number of bruises I have ever had, we found ourselves heading through the enlarged rift again, but this time with real excitement. And a tackle bag each. We had estimated the first drop from the pitch head to be 15 m, with a larger drop below that. Our estimates seemed reasonable for once, and the luxury of good rock on both sides of the rift meant the descent was straightforward, and we were grateful to ukCaving for the generous donation of Spanset rope (see 1st photo below). After the first drop a large window in the side of the shaft was clearly visible ahead, but we elected to keep heading down to begin with. We decided to name the pitch ?Foot Hang?, following Dave?s readings about the risks of Super Caves the night before.

We were somewhat disappointed to see the trickle of water that had accompanied us down the (30m ?) shaft flowed into a tight rift at the bottom, but the height of the rift meant we weren?t too short of options at this point. Sandy initially elected to follow the water while I chose a level in the rift about 2 m up and we both made progress, albeit tight and awkward caving, but it soon became apparent that significant progress at these levels was not to be. Sandy had reached a squeeze over a pool that he declared too tight, and I had spent a long time contorting myself through a section of rift that was far too tight for me to wear a helmet into a slight enlargement, only to see that the sharp bend ahead was even tighter. We decided to go back to the base of the shaft and reassess our options.

Looking at the rift from the base of the pitch showed that it extended more than half way up the shaft, to a clear enlargement about 20 m above us. Sandy prussiked up and reached the enlargement after a pretty significant swing. Whilst waiting at the bottom I chose to try a photo. ?Can you just hang still there??, I shouted up to Sandy as he clung on to the rock at the end of his swing. Thankfully he obliged, meaning we at least had some sort of record of what we had found (2nd picture below). I was optimistic of his chances of progress in the rift, but after just a couple of minutes he shouted down that there was no way through.

For the sake of thoroughness, and to keep warm, I decided to climb up the rift while Sandy descended from above. I was optimistic when I saw that the rift split several metres above the floor into what appeared to be an oxbow, but sadly there was still no way through. I continued upwards to about 10 m off the floor, finally reaching a point where I could get into the rift with only minor difficulty - much better than the rest of it. I shouted down that this seemed to be the widest point I could find, and slowly continued onwards, each corner looking like it would be impassable. This continued for what seemed like ages, but was probably not all that far in hindsight. Progress was almost entirely sideways, with a couple of real squeezes, some sharp hairpins, and no shortage of loose rock.
At this point I was very aware of our remoteness. We were the only two people in the remaining team of 4 on the mountain that could fit into the entrance of the cave, let alone the other narrow sections. No one else had been through the enlarged rift way above us, or down the pitches, or even knew of the existence of the committing rift we were in. Thankfully the rift gradually enlarged, and finally we were looking down a strongly draughting pitch head into a much bigger space below. The multitude of levels in the rift meant that on our return we had to be careful to mark the level we had progressed at; at the time it didn?t feel as if there was a guarantee we would progress to the same point again. After a brief debate as to whether the easily accessible window we had passed previously would be a preferable option, we decided to stick with following the still-strong draught and drop the pitch at the end of the rift. This meant a strenuous return through the rift with tackle. An appropriate name for the rift seemed to be ?Ario Reality?, a nod to the collective dream the Ario Caves Project likes to promote.

Once back through Ario Reality, we were quickly down the next pitch of 15 m or so. The pitch was spacious enough, but what was most striking was the complete absence of any noise. Somewhere in the rift we had left the route of the water, and the sound of trickling that had accompanied us for almost the entire cave had left us. ?The Sound of Silence? seemed an appropriate title for this latest pitch. Time was getting on at this point. It was gone 5 pm, and our nominal callout was the 8 pm dinner at the refugio. We wanted to return with a clear account of any continuation, so we traversed forwards in the now wider passage over chocked boulders below before we looked down into yet another black void in the rift below us, the strong, cold draught still blowing in our faces. We did not have enough time or rope for this pitch, but at least we could return with a categorically going cave. ?Darkness My Old Friend? was the obvious title to give our vantage point given the name of the previous pitch.

It was now 5:30 and we had to get a move on. We were guaranteed to be slightly late by this point but were aiming to minimise any worry from Martin and Dave on the surface. We reached the entrance at about 7:45, just in time for the rain to start. We got well and truly drenched by a huge thunder storm on our way back to the refugio, but our spirits were high. We would leave Ario with a big, going cave to return to.

In terms of the big picture, it is a cave that will almost certainly drop into upstream 2/7 or downstream C4, and in either case would provide a significantly lower entrance than those known already, potentially making it valuable for revisiting or pushing deep leads. However, in somewhere as well explored as Ario it seems easy to get carried away by the big picture and to forget the here and now, or to focus on the destination at the expense of the journey. We go on caving expeditions to enter previously unexplored passages, wherever we might find them and however they fit into the wider context. We enjoyed a fantastic couple of days of exploration and the way on is open for whoever returns next time to do exactly the same.

?to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.?

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881


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David Rose

Active member
Thank you Mark for that excellent report, which is going straight into the official expedition report.

To add a big picture thought or two: it may be worth doing a little more work to enlarge the tight bits in 27/9 to permit access to slightly larger cavers (maybe even me?) and make trips less bruising. If it drops into the upstream end of 2/7, rather than C4, it will provide a very useful and much shorter route to leads which when last examined, were very remote indeed - getting to the far upstream end of 2/7 involved a two hour walk from Ario, a long, arduous trip down the 2/7 entrance series, and then a return journey of around 24 hours from the camp at its bottom. Getting there via 27/9 would involve an easy 45 minute walk, and, when rigged, a trip that shouldn't take more than a few hours, in and out.

The potential prizes are considerable: extensions to at least three major leads, including Canals on Mars, which carries a lot of water and heads under the area around La Jayada, the enormous open pit investigated at the start of this year's trip which is choked, and passages heading out towards the Vega Aliseda on the other side of the main stream.

Meanwhile, the draughting but tight 10/9 is in the same area of mountain as the even more draughty Valley of the Dry Bones and 53/5 plus other entrances we investigated nearby, above the Valle Extremeru. With 27/9, the unfinished climbs in C4, and the 53/5 area there should be enough to provide some more interesting caving next year. Meanwhile it is almost 20 years since anyone went down 2/7. No one has investigated the upper reaches of Choke Egbert and high level tunnels further back along the London Underground using modern lights. In Xitu, in 2013, the ACP found 500m of open passage at the top of an easy climb right above the sump. It is possible that a return to 2/7 might offer equivalent, or greater rewards. Finally, after our examination of E23, we know that entrances reported as blocked with snow may now be open. A quick look at the Ario Shaftbashing Guide confirms there are quite a few of them in promising locations which have not recently been looked at.