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The Battle of
Expedition log, Summer 1976
A transcription of the Speleogroup/OUCC logbook.
This expedition, Forcau 76, was organized by Speleogroup and
the Oxford University Cave Club, and had as its objective the Pozu de Vega El Forcau (now shown on Picos de Europa maps, 2km SSE of
the sorthern tip of Lago de la Ercina, 30T 340.39 4790.42,
alt. 1480m). This was partially explored by Speleogroup in 1975 with the French club SCAL.
See the expedition report » for additional details.
See the personnel list below for explanation of initials;
italic initials in log show presumed primary author of text that
follows, deduced from handwriting, etc.
||MC: Left Winchester 21:00; collected extra 100m rope in Southampton. Joined boat queue at 21:50. Actually got onto the boat at 22:35;
Toledo, Aznar Line). MC+BC+DT+ST.
||MC: Full day on the boat including watching The Man Who Would Be King (and also The Adventurers (topical)?) films, sunbathing, etc. ST: Anzar Line meets with approval: First Class cabins (private shower, etc.) for just £21 each.
||MC: Arrived Santander 07:35; cleared customs, etc., at 09:25. Arrived Posada (104 km) 11:05, Rales shortly after to arrange later accommodation, etc. Arrived lakes (after some overheating on the hill) 14:30. Raining; set up camp.
After discussion decided to (1) start tackling Forcau, and (2) look
for and survey Hoyo La Madre.
(1) [MC+ST] Sherpa’d ropes etc. up to Forcau and then proceeded
to rig pitches 1→4. First obstacle was 10′ snow plug at the
bottom of the first pitch: the whole of the entrance series visited
was very cold. Four bolts added to the existing, one at the top
of each pitch, so now pitches:
- Belay + Bolt
- 2 bolts (one above the other)
- 1 bolt before traverse + 1 on pitch
- 2 bolts (one each side of pitch head)
1¼ hours up to cave, 3 hours down it, ¾ hour walk down.
(2) [DT+BC] Searched for cave for two hours and after a roundabout
walk found Río Casaño – small and steeply descending but not
very interesting. Hoyo la Madre not found.
ST: A rather late start; Mike, Steve, Bill down Forcau at about
13:30. On this trip a second bolt was put at the top of the 5th
pitch. There are abrasion problems near the bottom of this pitch
due to a ledge. The rope was rigged on the 6th pitch with no extra
bolts needed, short traverse line on the top part. On reaching the
bottom of the 6th, the ladder for the 7th and rope for the 8th
were taken along the rift. The ladder was rigged and descended,
and the tackle bag with the rope was left at the foot of the 7th
Forcau entrance – Bill
The trip was successful and the only mistakes were a tackle bag dropped
down the 6th and forgetting the hanger for the bolt on the 7th.
After the 6-hour trip we returned to the campsite to meet Dot, who
had acquired very pink skin walking back from Forcau. We then drove
down to Cangas de Onís and had an excellent meal of paella,
trout, fresh fruit, and wine. Next stop was Posada – as it was
Bill’s birthday Mike reluctantly agreed to get dragged into Becket,
and Dot and Bill bopped. Lastly, on to Rales, had a drink in the
bar, and went to bed in the hay loft of a barn. Variable amounts
of sleep were obtained, but all were awoken by the repeated cries
of a cockerel at dawn.
||ST: We spent some time waiting for the bar to open in Rales, and
then the same thing in Posada, but by about 10 a.m. we could wait
no longer for the use of the loo in Posada and returned to Rales
for this purpose. Wearing satisfied smiles we then proceeded to
Barro beach via Posada and spent some time relaxing on the beach
and in the bar.
Mike and Bill had an unsuccessful trip into Posada to get carbide,
as the shops were shut. They returned to the beach for a while;
then we drove to Rales to meet Victor and María del Mar, who accompanied
Bill and Steve down Rales cave. This was remarkable for its superb
Rales entrance – Bill
Afterwards we returned to the lake, stopping on the way to refill
the radiator again, and reached the campsite about 7:30 p.m. Prepared
kit and food dump (for the bottom of pitch 6)
for the next day, e.g., spent 20 minutes folding loo paper...
Reveille at 08:45, and Bill makes macaroni cheese for breakfast in
anticipation of the efforts to be required in the days Forcau trip.
Arrive at the entrance after usual 1¼ hours in blistering
heat to find that someone had stolen all the string they could lay
their hands on – off bolt driver, hammer, + chocks.
Entrance pitches descended in ½ hour and on to the 7th pitch;
ladder was bolted onto the anchor. Progress through the next few
hundred meters of tight meandering stream passage was slow, but faster
than through the previous rift. In particular a section of red/brown
rock was v. tedious due to the projections coming out of the walls.
Generally the passage was 2ft wide and over 15ft high with occasional
A slight enlargement of the passage then leads to rapid progress
as ones shoulders no longer rub against the passage walls.
Then a dry passage leads to a dry series littered with empty spanish
packets of milk, etc. Shortly after regaining the streamway again
(30m) one traverses above a pitch to another landing; out of the
stream. A couple of bolts were hammered in, in anticipation of the
descent of this (40m?) pitch.
The return to the bottom of pitch 7 (not carrying any tackle) only
took 20 minutes, and here the roar of the waterfall was noticed.
And at the bottom of pitch 6 the water had backed up a metre or so,
covering some of our SRT tackle. On the 6th pitch Bill’s carbide
demised, but the ascent was continued with Mike below on the same
rope. This was repeated on the other pitches. Exit at 7pm. Found
N.B. Near top of the 8th pitch the letters
were noted. [This confirmed the identity of the cave, and the
previous limit of exploration.]
Up late ~ 11am due to very heavy rain. Straight to the bar for
coffee and food – latter very nice but took a long time to arrive.
Drove down to Cangas and then to Arriondas to find a garage. Killed
time in bars in Arriondas while radiator leak was mended; it was
Drove up to Covadonga in very heavy rain, stopped to look at cave
but it was raining too hard to leave the car. Continued drive to
camp in even heavier rain. Spent evening in bar sheltering from
rain. Warmed up with mulled wine while watching the rain.
It continued raining heavily throughout the night; estimate 5″
(125 mm) in last 36 hours. Lago Ercina has risen considerably.
Another v. wet night so again up early. Breakfast at bar. First
party MC + DT underground at ≈ 2:30 pm. Down to top of 5th pitch
– put in new bolt to ensure free-hang. About 1 hour later ST & BC
descended and collected bolting kit at top of 5th and continued
down cave. MC + DT surveyed out and went to meet new arrivals (ML,
ST: Bill and Steve descended the 6th pitch rather eventfully.
The hanger came off the bolt on 6c, causing Steve to fall 3ft and
Bill to fall 1ft on 6b. Normality was soon resumed; we screwed back
on the hanger and descended carefully. A new bolt is needed. The
tackle bag containing 2 ropes + SRT gear was very troublesome in
The streamway was straightforward and we were soon at the 8th pitch.
In order to investigate whether a free hang was possible, Steve descended
40 feet but found the pitch to be on a constant slope ≈85°.
A bolt was therefore put next to the existing one at the pitch head.
Rope rubs a bit.
The bottom of the pitch was wet and noisy, and a rift could be seen
where the stream sumps briefly at the base. A little gardening was
done with foot and hammer to clear the way for an 8-foot handline.
Shortly afterwards a wet pitch of ≈15ft was reached. A bolt was
put in, and the pitch descended by SRT. After this a series of cascades
spiralling down was found, and we turned back.
The 8th pitch was done in tandem and we returned from the bottom
to surface in 2½ hours, getting out at 10.30 pm (7 hours).
BC: Steve and Bill took the Reliant to Covadonga and investigated
Cueva de la Campaña. After a few climbs up and down mud slopes
a 5m pitch was reached which Steve free-climbed – Bill’s light not
working too well. Steve found a few deep static pools and retired.
Looks promising; a ½ hour trip.
Lago Ercina – Bill
MC:DT & MC took a brisk walk up to Forcau; descended and put
a new bolt in at the head of pitch 6 in complicated rock.
DK: The new arrivals – Martin Laverty, Hilary Worth, and Dave
Kelsey – took a leisurely stroll in search of caves through Las
Reblagas and back via Vega La Cueva and Lago Enol. Unsuccessful.
BC: No sign of Jason et al. but V.O.P.S. arrive at 1 am.
Surface streams and water in Forcau almost “normal”. Some water
coming out of high level at Cueva Santa.
||[VOPS (walkers) arrive 01:00.]
BC: Steve and Bill entered Forcau at 1:45 pm and reached their
furthest point of exploration without incident at 3:45. The cascades
were somewhat tight and we left our tackle and SRT gear after a few
minutes of thrutching. Some of the squeezes are bypassed by climbs.
After 100m the rift opened out and cascades become less frequesnt.
Nice stream passage allows one to quickly walk to “el final en
gran galería con afluentes”. i.e., the chamber with tributary
reached by S.I.E.
Steve and Bill continued downstream without looking at the tributary
and after even bigger passage reached the big deep blue sump (just
200m further on) 2½ hours after haveng entered the cave [total
trip time 6¼ hours].
MC: MC and DK went down Forcau at 14:45, met the others shortly
after the ‘Nylon’ (10th) pitch. [Bill obtained ‘bad taste joke
of the year’ award, after delivering the worst possible news (of
the sump) with a Cheshire Cat grin, by following this up with “Don’t
look so disappointed!”].
MC & DK continued down to the sump; climbed 80′–90′ up into
the rift (interesting climbing) without seeing the remotest possibility
of a bypass. Retraced steps back to the chamber with the inlet and
explored this through various complicated dry passages etc. until
the stream had split into four and each one came to the bottom of
a pitch (one 100′+). Exit uneventful despite lights fading; trip
DT: DT + HW spent a quite energetic couple of hours practising
‘change overs’ and other foreseeable difficulties which may arise,
with the threat of a cold landing on the snowplug if anything went
ML: ML walked first towards Belbín and found 180′ shaft
explored in 1963. Then looked at other holes all around lake, followed
by looking in Cueva del Osu area (snow plug in open pot). Found
a couple of possible grot holes but nothing draughting much except
Osu which had howling wind emerging. Then over to Palomenu area
– still no luck.
MC: Restock/recoup day. Down to Cangas for Petrol, food, Gaz,
etc. (medium size gaz cylinder not available in Cangas or Arriondas).
Restaurant lunch etc.
HGL 654H at Ercina
BC: BC, ST & ML went down Cueva de la Campaña, and put a 5m
ladder on the pitch which Steve free-climbed on 7 July – not really
long enough. A further 5m climb leads to a pool up to 2m deep.
A small wall separates this pool from another which leads one to
more muddy passage and then a clean boulder chamber. Very pretty
black/orange rock. Way on not clear – several attempts made. One
passage draughts strongly but is too tight.
We washed ourselves in Gueyu Reinazo resurgence on the drive up to
the lakes. Martin found 10m more passage – an oxbox entered via
[No water coming from Cueva Santa high level.]
||BC: Bill drives Viva to Covadonga where ML & DK get out to survey Cueva de la Campaña. Bill & Steve continue with Spanish lad to Cabelles (after meeting V.O.P.S.) and do the La Huelga through trip. This cave was surveyed during the 1965 B.S. expedition grade 3a (with no floor detail!). Much of it has not been surveyed. About 1km of passage surveyable.
On return from Covadonga we let the car cool down and look at Trumbio
MC: Jason + 3 [JC, BM, Th.M, Tony M] arrive after wheel bearing
breakdown in France – with the ALPEN and MARS BARS and other FOOD...!
Fresh sardines for all.
MC: Warm southerly gale at 03:00. First tent to go was Jason’s,
followed later by Bill’s and Mike’s: quite dramatic. Come morning,
a devastated campsite; with fog and rain. Bill, Martin, and one
V.O.P.S. leave for Venta de Fresnedo; The Rest fester in the rain
and later enjoy tent testing.
Campsite after the storm
BC: BC & ML & Les (VOPS) leave at 12:00 and reach Suarias at
15:00. Look at down-valley Ojo Ceñal system and La Redonda sink.
Then walk up to Cabañuca sink cave and through a couple of depressions
to Cueva de Navaron sink. Night in barn (shared with rats!) in Suarias.
||BC: Suarias party (Bill, Martin, Les) move on to Venta de Fresnedo; visit Toyu blocked resurgence,
Cueva de los Marranos, Toyu sink, Comaria system, Cororigo System, La Huerta resurgence cave (3 hours walking). No water resurging from Cueva Santa high level; arrive back at the lakes 6pm-ish.
DK: MC & DK explored two holes above the Forcau 3rd and 5th
pitches. The former was a nasty and tight rift with an 8′ drop,
leading to halfway up the 3rd pitch after about 35m. The latter,
after much acrobatics, didn’t go (and the 5th pitch is hereby named
DT: All people not yet been to bottom of Forcau decide to descend
to the sump en masse – leading to a slow trip down (led by Steve
with Dot, Jason, Tony, and Brian). First hint of trouble in rift
when Brian’s wetsuit decides to fall apart. All reach sump safely
when Tony’s light fails. Jason and Dot make own way out while Steve,
Tony, and Brian do cold 3 hours surveying. On way back, pick up
Jason and Dot who had got lost. Brian decided to test the breaking
strain of his foot loop on the 5th pitch, leading to interesting
moments. Eventually all out of the cave by 01:30 – a 12½
Meet everyone else in 1st gully near lake with full rescue kit and
all retire to campsite for a good ½ night’s sleep at 3 a.m.
||MC: 8 went down to Cangas for shopping and meal. JC & Th.M remained at the campsite. 4 returned to the lakes after lunch to do washing, etc.; the others started a ‘quick game of Bridge’ & got back just after midnight.
VOPS descend Forcau to the top of 8th pitch (2 people). Lose camera
down a pot parallel to the 3rd pitch [later recovered].
ML: went walking, looked for Pozo Palomeru and Burdio de la Peña,
and found the latter.
DT: DT & BM went for a walk and failed to find Hoyo la Madre.
Returned by very circuitous route and came across unidentified cave
previously found and marked by Spaniards just down-valley from lake.
Lago Ercina campsite
MC: ST, HW, MC photographic trip to the top of the 8th pitch
in Forcau. Very successful (if pics ‘come out’) – 70+ photies taken
of bolts, pitches, pasage shapes, sand strata, etc. HW not slow
up pitches, but had some interesting moments at the top of the 6th,
ML: BC, DK, ML to Forcau sump (~3 hours?). Problems on entrance
pitches where “someone” had heaped stones on the bottoms of ropes
or otherwise tightened them giving very little slack for the attaching
of descendeurs – in fact 6b had to be prusiked down by Bill. Martin
had intended to use carbide through the rift but was foiled by the
jet falling out and a huge screen of flame emerging from the hole
– result caving on dip all the time.
On return surveyed inlet to avens and stream to a couple of cascades
below 9th pitch. Returned with more carbide epics at food dump
– Dave’s not working and Martin’s bursting into flame around the
seal every now and then. Very slow exit up pitches since Martin’s
‘system’ disintegrated on the 6th causing excessive arm tiredness
on 5th. Faster up 3rd, 2nd, & 1st. Surveying & exploring
3:15, 11 hour trip in total. Out 01:00 to a very clear moonlit night.
Back at the lake 02:00.
||MC: Another recovery day. 1 party down to Cangas; others play Bridge, etc. A trip to Trumbio by 4. “It’s big.”
||MC & BC pack and leave at 2pm while the others prepare and clean gear for next day’s trip (not logged). MC & BC → Posada → Llanes → Posada → Rales – barn full of hay so back to Posada for night in a private house (150 pts) with a morning bath in coffee-coloured water ...
||Drive towards Spain-France border after Tortillas in Acuario in Posada. Cross border about 7 pm. Campsite just north of Ste. Vincent 📌 at about 9 pm.
Odometer shows exactly 65,000 [245 miles from Posada according to
log, but seems to be 295?].
Up at 9, check brakes etc. Car doesn’t start – flat battery –
so try push start and then put on generator for ½ an hour.
Padirac train électrique
Arrive Rocamadour area 4/5 pm. Look at entrance of Gouffre Lacaro,
then “do” Padirac – 3F off on showing BEC membership card(!). Meet
actress and friend (Jilly and Nicky) in Martel after a meal (16F50)
who lend us some floor to sleep on.
||Leave Martel 10:00; battery still NBG. Bank for Francs in Brive. Then Limoges, Poitiers, Angers, Rennes,
St. Malo. Poor meal for 25F each. Night in a field.
||Up at 06:30, looked around old town of St. Malo. Rain started. Cup of coffee (2F30!). To ferry (eventually) at 09:55. Battery still flat.
Ferry left St. Malo at about 11:30; cleared customs in Portsmouth
(after spot-check) 9:25 pm (21:25). Back in Winchester (after a
pint, of course) 22:00.
Personnel: Jason Clements, Bill Collis, Mike Cowlishaw,
Dave Kelsey, Martin Laverty, Brian Matthews, Tony Moult, Theresa
Moylan, Steve Tarran, Dot (Freya) Toft, Hilary Worth.
Other log details: Cueva Campaña survey data. Forcau survey data (mostly
from 14.07 from ML & BC notes; ST notes, DT notes). Sundry accounts
and equipment details. Mileage and petrol records (1,433 miles total).
Separately, the Forcau rigging plan.
Exchange rates: £1 = 120 pts = 8.64 FF. Multiplier 1976→2011
Fuel: 26 pts (22p)/litre in Spain, 2F (23p)/litre in France
(£1.29 in 2011 £), 17p/litre in UK (£0.94 in 2011 £).