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 The Battle of
 El Mazuco

Expedition log, Easter and Summer 1977

1977 saw two Speleogroup expeditions to Spain; one, a reconnaissance expedition at Easter, and the other (objective the Sima de Garma Ciega) also an OUCC expedition, in the Summer.

Click on any thumbnail image for a full-size version; also see here for the earlier summary and index.


01.04 The expedition personnel met at Waterloo Station (London) at 17:18.  Progressed immediately to St. Georges Drive to discuss plans and prepare for the evening’s activities.

Eventually went to Victoria Station to ascertain train schedules for the morrow’s travelling, then went to Mimmo & Pasquale’s Italian Restaurant for an excellent meal (£14).  This [of course] was anteceded by the purchasing a a bottle of Taylor’s ’71 special reserve.  After supping an amount of the latter: to bed.

02.04 Bill woke up at 9:30 and had a quick bath then the whole expedition had breakfast by courtesy of Mrs Gordon-Brown.   Cornflakes, fishcakes, and coffee.  Then we drove to West London Air Terminal and bought £1 tickets for the Heathrow coach.  When it was announced that the plane was going to be (at least) 90 minutes late we got free sandwiches and coffee + cream.
Bilbao from the air

Bilbao from the air

Eventually got on plane, had another free lunch/supper and arrived Bilbao at 18:30.  By 19:30 we were in the Seat 127 and on our way. Got a little lost going through Bilbao but arrived in Castro Urdiales before the dodgems had closed.  Very fine evening for touring the bars, until rain burst forth.  Quick escape to Restaurante Paris for lukewarm fish, but hospitable landlady gives us a couple of glasses of coñac and anis and a map of Santander.  Furthermore we are invited to lunch on 3rd April for paella.  Yum.

We had intended to cave everyday! But as it was still raining, and it was dark, and it was a long way, and it was a steep path, and it was after midnight (clocks changed, you see!!) we pitched tent in field above cave, at 1:30 am.

03.04 For a change Mike got up before Bill and brought up some cold fish. Nevermind ... we got down Sangazo [as named by OUCC, real name is La Lastrilla; see 2001 log] at the reasonable hour of 10:30 via the upper dry entrance and explored to just beyond the inlet.  This inlet, previously unknown to either of us, was partially explored but demising carbide lamps forced a return.  Very fine trip. Bill insisted on shaving in the resurgence stream.

We drove to Castro Urdiales not feeling too hungry despite the absence of any breakfast.  Martini, plonk, special paella, raw pork slabs(?), coñac, anis, and bread at Paris went down quite well nevertheless. Sobered up by a few bumps on the dodgems and set off for San Pedro.

Track where car got stuck

Track where car got stuck

On spotting a very interesting depression on the way, we stopped and walked down, finding a couple of Forest-Of-Dean-like sinks and a likely-looking entrance Decided to bring car and gear down to look at it.  Unfortunately we hadn’t quite got the measure of the car tyres and the stickyness of the track – despite Bill’s valiant efforts the car got well and truly S.T.U.C.K.

Three hours and a hundredweight of stones and gravel later (plus a push from a friendly farmer): back on the road again and off to San Pedro, reaching there at about 8.  Imagine our surprise, gentle reader, to see a car with caving equipment strapped to the roof: the Spanish hard men [QUAD-C] had beaten us to it; however, true to form, we found the bar before they did.

After a traditional international evening in the bar, a disorganized trudge through the cowsh to find the barn for the night.  Good hay, but cramped and/or it leaked ...

04.04 Up 9ish – ready to go in search of Garma Ciega by 10:30, but the Spaniards had disappeared! It transpired that they had gone to cadge breakfast from the owner of the tractor which was to take their gear up the mountain.

Spanish cavers + tractor and trailer of gear

Spanish cavers + tractor and trailer of gear

Got a bit cold, so started up the mountain at 11:15 leaving the rest to follow.  A fine walk uphill, eventually through nice (to begin with!) snow which started at about 800m.  Circled around the Sumidero de Cellagua depression and Pico Tejes, and found Garma Ciega immediately (helped somewhat by tripping over a telephone cable (French?)) – time about 13:15.  Snowing.  Potterered around a bit, took photies etc.; then heard tractor and Spaniards approaching.  The former broke down about 200m short of Garma Ciega, so we went down and showed the Spaniards where the cave was, and helped carry gear up to the entrance camp site [at least ½ a ton].  Discussed equipment and obtained 3cm sample of Spanish caving rope.

Spanish (ERE) cavers + Bill

Spanish (ERE) cavers + Bill

One interesting agreement was reached regarding Forcau.  Apparently E.R.E. (Equip de Recerques Espeleologiques del Centre Excursionista de Catalunya) do not regard our friend J.M. Victoria of S.I.E. too highly ever since he cast aspersions on their claim of such-and-such a size on a cave they explored.  It seems that the exaggerated figure of 380 m for the partial depth of Forcau seems to have been claimed, and the disparity with our figure of 258 m would provide ammunition for their own assertion.  We are going to send them the Forcau survey and short description for circulation as “Información Generál”. Just to make things equal we have invited them to contribute an article on Garma Ciega for the BCRA.

At 14:30 we descended again attempting to follow the tractor track and reached our primary objective, the bar, after only one hour!  Then slowly drove off to Suarías via Unquera for tortillas + café con lechery.  After Suarías bar for 2 free rounds of tinto, and to say hello to all the hardened drinkers/gamblers, we arranged accommodation for the night in “el granero” (hayloft above noisy mule) and descended to Bar Covadonga in Panes for meal of lomo de cerdo (mmmmm!).  Returned after round of ponche to intermittent sleep. Heeeee-Hawwwww.

05.04 Up 9ish again (well, 9:30 for Mike) and down to Panes to write letters to friends & Descent, also shopping, etc.  Eventually drove off up gorge (superb summer-type weather!...!), stopping of course in La Hermida for tintos and bread & cheese.  Arrived at Venta de Fresnedo just as clouded over.  Down to look at potential resurgence cave (Cueva de los Marranos) which didn’t go.

Tama River cave (Toyu) + Bill

Tama River cave (Toyu) + Bill

Then in a burst of enthusiasm to look at Cueva del Toyu – a fine sink (more water than Porth yr Ogof in flood?) – looked at pitch but far too wet.  Took photos (despite shorted flash cable) then went out, ate bread, drank wine, discussed Garma Ciega, etc. Then over fine but bumpy road to Panes to drink (coffee, wine, ponche) and to watch Spanish Tom & Jerry, and write log thus far [i.e., now, 5/4/77].  Had meal of the day – soup, meatballs, etc.  – then back to Suarías for a few more glasses (and a discussion about motorbikes and English/American swear words) before bed in barn above our favourite mule.
“Today is R’s birthday! 16th!”
Matienzo sink

Matienzo sink

Excellent (perfect even) weather.  Movement day.  After stop at Bar Covadonga to look at maps (etc.), off East → Matienzo.  Drinks and bread & cheese at The Bar then staggered off and found main and flood sinks in depression.  No obvious cave passage at sinks.  Depression Huge and v. deep.

Drove on to Riva to look for any resurgence(s) to Garma Ciega/Cellagua system.  The so called manantial [spring] was just a stream coming down the mountain.  The spring we thought we saw was just a mill channel overflow.  So, on up the Asón valley via Arredondo to Cueva la Cuvera (between K2 and K3) – a resurgence which we could not follow (too deep).  Looks interesting.

Source of Rio Ason + Waterfall

Source of Rio Ason + Waterfall

Then looked for the sink to the system from which resurges the Asón cascade.  1 mile walk up a track revealed many depressions but the main one containing a meandering stream sank in a simple muddy sink. The flood sinks were equally blocked with mud/sand.  On return to the car at Collado del Asón we passed 3 members of Speleo Club de Paris – were exploring the Gandara source for ≈ 400m.  Interested in Crete.

Continued to Ramales de la Victoria.  Excellent rosé plonk.  Fine meal at [blank] of sopa de gallina, lomo de cerdo, patatas fritas, piña y queso, café; 404 pesetas. Took two bottles of plonk up hill to San Pedro.  Spent night in field as there was no room at the stable (granero was locked).

07.04 Woke up soggy at ~9am.  Down to fuente for shaves/wash, etc. then preparations to attack the mountain.  Almost ready to go when L.G.M. (Little Green Man) arrived; discussed caving equipment and the Forcau/Canto-Cenal saga: the Catalans (ERE) are not too fond of Victor (querido Victor) and LGM was delighted to learn that Forcau was first explored by by SCAL under the name of Canto Ceñal (Cental?).

View towards Garma Ciega + Pena Mazo

View towards Garma Ciega + Pena Mazo

Anyway, eventually set off up hill.  On reaching our area of unexplored sinks, met a shepherd who told us of another pot close by.  After a long talk, LGM left us as we looked at said pot – decided not to go down it (small) – then back to look at the pot “found” (it’s fairly obvious) by Mike.  Down this (Cueva del Mazo Chico) – it went pretty convincingly, 50m+ – passage went on, joined by inlets ... big chamber ... choked by boulders.  Went out again; ‘surveying’ to about grade 2b on special survey notebook [tissue paper], later copied to the log.

On up the mountain, Bill swimming in a snow plug near a very active sink, but not finding anything particularly interesting – but roar of water below.  Left heavy gear and on up mountain.  Met Juan and various others on way down and suggested a summer return.  On up to Spanish camp (Quad C, LGM + females, etc. there); they had discovered that the earlier ‘Garma Ciega entrance’ was in fact wrong (despite telephone cables, etc.), so we went over to look at the real Garma Ciega entrance – not really a figure 8 at all.  Pictures. Spanish belaying techniques dubious.  Pot very impressive.

Back down to San Pedro again, bread & wine, then to the bar to write up the log ... ‘i.e., now’.  High spot of the day – Bill (having cleaned wetsuit in snow plug) rolling in a muddy path “pour encourager les espaniol(a)s”! [Aside in the log, from Bill: Well I mean I hate to disillusion their ideas that the British caver is not the best in the world! sic.]

Played Consequences.  Wrote more in log (8 words).  Then meal arrived (eggs, sausage, chips, wine).  Then drove down to Ramales in order to stay in Hostal there – full – drove down to coast and tried unsuccesssfully to phone Parador at Santillana del Mar – so then drove on, and on, and on, arrived Rales 2ish then carried on up towards El Mazuco to find place to pitch tent.  Came round corner to find a body sprawled across road and another jumping up and down gesticulating at us.  Stopped.  They were drunk – cavers, of course! Got them up the hill and met other drunken cavers (all from Oviedo) who gave us a room for the night, with the pleasant company of a wreath. Spanish cavers good at screaming drunkenly – to sleep at 03:45.

08.04 Good Friday.  Up 8...10ish; down to Acuario & Café Moderno for coffees and tortillas, then off to Ribadesella.  Had a look at (and made a paced Grade 2b survey [“wots the symbol for tarmac?”] of) a cave near Cuevas (La Cuevona) which the road goes through.  Very impressive. Then off through hailstorms etc. to look at impressive depressions near La Vita etc. (maps hopelessly wrong, showing one depression as a hill...).  Back to Posada & spent rest of evening chatting, drinking, etc. that is, did s*d all.  Slept a comfortable night in The Barn in Rales.
09.04 Bill did not sleep well – insisted on caving during night through the hay.

Lago Ercina in snow

Lago Ercina in snow

Went up to the lakes but had to abandon car below Lake Enol due to traffic jams (icy road).  There was a bit of snow around, 4 inches deep on average.  Just managed to get to Ercina while there was still some sun.  Then down to Cangas for poor menú with free coffee after.  Then to Amieva only to be disappointed that the bar, “El Siete”, was closed.

Return via Calabrez to big depression “Cuevona” with archaeological site Cueva Rosa.  Sink looks very interesting.  Bill went rolling in the mud again to impress our guide – a perfectly executed spreadeagle dive down a muddy bank.  Gave local a lift down to nearby village. Later to Becket (75pts) for cuba libres and more chatting to locals and visitors from Oviedo (María and María).  Round various bars afterwards, eventually being chucked out of La Plaza at ≈ 3 am. (Lomo de cerdo at Acuario v.v.good.)

10.04 Easter Sunday. Up when it stopped raining, ~11 a.m. and, after tortilla & coffee at Acuario, off to Cueva Rosa area to investigate caves.  Looked for resurgence (unsuccessfully, but found another with lots of water on other side of stream – possibly Vauclusian).  Then ate Easter Eggs – in one go, despite advice – but definitely no ill effects! 
Sink cave near Cueva Rosa

Sink cave near Cueva Rosa

Down the depression to look at sink cave.  Fine cave (¼ km long) with big chambers etc. – stopped at wet deep duck (we were in dry kit).  Unfortunately cave obviously explored & surveyed (1968/1973?) as footprints and survey stations all over stals etc.; also faces drawn on walls with carbide near duck.  Out; and to Moria (sp?) sink – impressive but inpenetrable.  Higher entrances investigated, nothing much found – most promising was gated (archaeological).

Tito Bustillo rising

Tito Bustillo rising

Round to Tito Bustillo which is obviously the resurgence and has famous cave-paintings (show cave).

Back to Rales for general clean-up and pack, then back to Posada. Met María-Carmen – Bill chatted her up all evening; Mike interjecting various suggestive comments (in English) .. “¿Qué dice?

Actually very interesting conversation about Spanish way of life, restrictions on women, civil war, etc.  Learnt her wage was 19,000 pts a month (but no tax!).  Back to The Barn at ≈2 am.

Si fuesse mi casa, os invitaria” (if it were my house, I would invite you in).  “¡Despues de una ginebra, tengo que ir a cama!” (after a gin, I have to go to bed!).

11.04 Up 10:30 to the sound of a very loud Party Political Broadcast.  On behalf of the United Communist Fascist Front??.  → Posada for Bank (exchange rate 115.61pts to the £).  Spent ¾ hour looking for baker.  Then back to Rales to update log and say adios.

Off East, stopping near Comillas for lunch (frankfurters, sardines, bread, etc.) then later for coffee.  On to Castro Urdiales, campsite closed,; so back to Laredo.  Noticed possible huge depression on the way, just east of Laredo.  Pitched tent & wandered around looking for a place to eat.  Found one – quite good, once they realised we could tell tinto from clarete! Bill gets an attack of the dreaded lurge:  Mike goes one better (shellfish?) and sits in car for part of the night (i.e., now).

12.04 Up at 9:20, collapsed tent and drove to Bilbao Airport via a rather roundabout route.  Got Atesa representative over intercom and received 721 pesetas back from deposit.  Flew home.

Summer – Sima de Garma Ciega

1977 Caving Permit

1977 Caving Permit

(Tuesday.) Armed with our Official Permit to Cave, and after exchanging a faulty ’clino; to Heathrow – arriving at 12:35.  Plane on time (relatively speaking), left soon after 3pm; on Spanish soil by 5pm. Through customs etc. by 5:20.  Into Bilbao with car-hire men who gave a fine exhibition of Spanish driving and also bought us a drink. Eventually transferred our 1 cwt [112 lb, 51 kg] of gear into athe battered yellow Fiat (Seat) 127 and left at 18:15 BST.

Via Mercadillo (approx.) and inland route – arrived San Pedro 20:15 (still on BST).  Pete Hiscock, Mark Falkner, and Phil Collett already there, eating TVP (soya) meal.  Bar to discuss plans; bed at midnight Spanish time (23:00 BST).

27.07 Up at 08:30 to collect bread and milk.  Selecting and readying tackle, breakfast, etc., took 2 hours+.
Bill, Mark, and ropes in San Pedro

Bill, Mark, and ropes in San Pedro

Arrived at cave (one group of five) at about 12:50.  No good place to rig pitch was found, so eventually Mike went down and put two bolts in “hard” limestone.  Due to the long wait, two (Bill and Mark) went to inspect Cellagua entrance then then carried on down then to Ramales to do shopping.  Pete Hiscock then came down and started on 2nd pitch, Phil also.  Mike went out at this stage.  Pete and Phil carried on down 4 pitches, then Phil exited in order to get to the bar.

Meanwhile, Mark and Bill had completed shopping, and now (19:30) went back up the hill with some gear, vowing to be back by 01:30 in order to go to the fiesta in Riba.  Pete had continued bolting down past the Salle à Manger, going the wrong way, before turning back and finding the correct route.  Mark & Bill met him at Salle à Manger and all were out of the cave at 23:30.  Due to the hazard of crossing the Lapiaz in the dark Bill led over the ridge and left down the steeply descending side of Llano la Cueva.  Not a brilliant route but the alternative through the lapiaz at night could have been nasty.  Arrived back at San Pedro at 1 a.m.

[‘Technical’ tackle and rigging pages from the log, here, have been transcribed in the Garma Ciega page.]

Bill at Las Fuentes, Ason gorge, in rain

Bill at Las Fuentes, Ason gorge, in rain

Surface exploration and recovery in more rain.  Lomo de Cerdo in Ramales.  Circuitous routes by all.  3 resurgences (at K3 ×2, K6) examined.  Cueva la Cubera (left bank); Punta el Praduco (opposite and 400m upstream); and Las Fuentes (at K6.3).  Rain.

To Ramales – Filetes de Ternera (veal steaks).  Bill & Mike get this silly idea and march uphill to camp overnight, arriving and pitching tent at 10pm.  Rest get pissed in Ramales.

29.07 Today it rained all day.  Up at 08:30/10:00 – fabada for breakfast.  Down the cave (in the rain) at 10.  Down to the end of rigged cave – retrieved rope from french ‘No Way’, then climbed up into the Salle à Manger.  Filthy – sardine tins, carbide, rubbish – mainly Spanish.  Very wet.  Down the streamway, put in two bolts and used up all Edelrid rope.  Cold, so exited after 4 hours down cave, out into the rain after 5½ hours.

Soup in tent, then back to the village for 18:15.  Met others, just recovered from hangovers.  Dry clothes, bar, etc.  Mark and Pete H. go up hill to camp before descent the next day.  Down to Ramales for meal (v. good but expensive: soup, veal steaks, Manchego cheese). Then a bar crawl; Mike especially had a bit too much.

[More ‘Technical’ notes here; transcribed in the Garma Ciega page.]

River near Ramales in flood

River near Ramales in flood

Down to Ramales for shopping, etc., then petrol (37pts/litre) and a short drive around La Concha way.  Rivers very very full & in spate. Also wrote postcards, etc., and posted them.  Back up to San Pedro (Mike not well) and wired our battery charger into lighting circuit. Slept for 2½ hours.

Pete S, Phil, etc., drove round towards Ason and investigated caves, met French cavers, etc.  Bill, Mike, and Phil then back to Ramales again for cheap meal (80pts each) and a couple of Kas’; then to disco for a bit.

Pete H & Mark returned from the cave at 11:30, then left door open so nearly all eggs, + Alpen, were eaten by dog(s?).  They had had a pretty productive trip.

[Short ‘Technical’ notes here; transcribed in the Garma Ciega page.]

San Pedro – gear and dog

San Pedro – gear and dog

Up at 08:30 to tidy church porch (it being Sunday).  Bill went to mass at 10.  Congregation 6 × 70-year-olds and 4 × 16-year-olds (all female).

Eventually down to Ramales; at around, met J. L. Garcia.  Then meal with good ice-creams at El Cheapo.  Phil/Mike returned up to San Pedro to meet Antonio.  Bill, Pete, and Mark → bars, disco, etc. Much Champagne supped.  Returned at 02:30 (fiesta?).

01.08 Phil and Antonio get ready to go up hill, and leave at 10:30.  Mike & Bill go up at 4:30 (after going to see show cave with paintings), stopping alternately for health reasons.  Eventually reach tent by ‘new’ route, but unable to descend the cave (v. v. weak).  Spend night in tent.

Pete. Mark, Pete S, and Matt wander up another mountain to look for new shafts.

[Short ‘Technical’ note here; transcribed in the Garma Ciega page.]

02.08 Antonio & Phil exit at 09:00; Bill and M then then return down hill, then off to Ramales to shop.
Cave bear skull, Santander museum

Cave bear skull, Santander museum

B, M, Pete, Mark drive to Santander; arrange Mark’s travel, see Leon Garcia – very helpful – then back via Torrelavega and restaurante. Good meal, based on fried eggs and ham, for 95pts each.  Then on to Matienzo to meet MUSS, Tony Waltham, etc.  Back late – other two returned and in bed.
03.08 Pete and Mark → up hill, the rest to Ason Gorge; suss out hydro-geology, look for Garma Ciega bottom entrance.  Back to Ramales for plato del día (100pts – ½ as much as the same mean ordered by parts!).  Then over to Matienzo recruiting.  Arrange to pick up two at 11am, Thursday [04.08].

[‘Technical’ note here; transcribed in the Garma Ciega page.]

Matienzo caving camp

Matienzo caving camp

Mike collects Steve and Alan from Matienzo, arrives back at 12. Antonio (or rather Phil) just ready, and leave at 12.  Bill takes Steve, Alan, + 2 Spanish cavers up hill, while Mike makes a dash for bank, then loo, then shops.

Phil seems determined to make detackling an epic, despite two new fit people. “It’s a 20-hour trip” – cos “I” sez so.  Antonio and Phil down at 3:45, others at 4:00 (Alan had left lamp at church). All six meet in entrance series.  Steve and Alan out at 10.

Steve’s entry in log:
“After being led up past Cellagua we we reached Garma Ciega.  First five pitches we abseiled with ease; bolts made all pitches really superb.  Carried on down rapidly passing two inlets to the 36m pitch into Salle Blanche.  Unfortunately carbide lamp was getting low and carbide dump at Salle à Manger had been missed on way down.  Return journey was made with ease and we surfaced after 6 hours.  Many thanks to all who rigged the system; it’s the best SRT rigged cave we’ve been in – Steve.”
(Steve Foster, MUSS, and Alan Trevarthen, Plymouth Caving Group.) “3¼ down, 2¾ hours out.” Lamp had run out of water, not carbide! 

05.08 After cooking Steve and Alan a tin of Fabada Asturiana at 1 o’clock in the morning
[Log ends at this point, except for extensive calculations on the shock strength of ropes, sundry notes, etc.]

The ‘old’ Bilbao airport terminal

The ‘old’ Bilbao airport terminal

Easter: Bill Collis, Mike Cowlishaw, QUAD-C
Summer: Bill Collis, Mike Cowlishaw, Pete Hiscock, Mark Falkner, Phil Collett. Later joined by, Steve Foster and Alan Trevarthen (MUSS/PCG).

Other log details:

  • Exchange rate 115.61pts:1GBP.
  • Easter: Surveys of sink cave above San Pedro and Cuevas Tunel.

Expeditions to the Picos de Europa and elsewhere since 1973.
Please e-mail Mike Cowlishaw ( or Bill Collis (
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This page was last edited on 2021-09-27 by mfc.