Matienzo Easter '94 was probably the best attended 'off-season' expedition quickie that we have had so far. Some good fortune among those regulars who happened to be doing MSc's at a certain university in the north of England permitted them to shanghai a University Geological Department minibus at no cost. Upon advertising a very cheap return trip using Brittany Ferry group rates and also free petrol, a score of speleologists plus two token rock fetishes soon filled the bus. Along with my car load of four and the various house dwellers, whose ages (9 to 50) vary almost as much as their caving prowess, a sizeable contingent boarded the Magic Boat to Santander.
Easter 94' was relatively early and this probably accounted for the lack of Spanish weather in and around Spain. The night portion of the ferry crossing was rough, but not quite as rough as those appearing at breakfast the following morning. Some had splashed out on a cabin below while the rest of us slumbered in various nooks and crannies around the boat. Apparently the cabinees had been awoken at 90 second intervals for most of the night by a car alarm going off during the storm - aren't motion sensors really useful at sea!
Arriving in Matienzo Valley we were firstly greeted by Pablo with family and then given a tour of his new venture. Spain is littered with half constructed buildings and Pablo had obviously felt left out. Dominating one corner of our campsite was the shell of what was to become his new Restaurant. Towards the end of the trip when the heavens opened (permanently) to make this one of the wetter Easter trips, the effect of the building works on the drainage of the campsite was dramatic. The grass soon disappeared under mud, timber was borrowed from the building site for duck boards and exiting your tent became a choice of which end was less wet. However we did get our own back as due to the language barrier between ourselves and the builders, it took us several days to realise that the sewer from our toilet block and the new restaurant had a section missing near where they were mixing concrete (one part sand, one part Cement and one part sweetcorn!).
Several 'walks' in the Cubija valley were undertaken locating new sites and playing with (sorry that should read utilising) the GPS on loan from British Gas. A strategic rock was firstly located as accurately as possible given the enclosed nature of the valley, and a surface survey was then carried out to all the main cave entrances in the vicinity: Mostajo, Cubio-Regaton, Torcón and Picón. Three of the entrances appeared to be in the 'right' place although Mostajo and Cubio were significantly out. The day was regarded by some as a success when the distance required to connect Cubio- Regaton to Mostajo was seen to shrink. Why bother connecting caves underground when you can do it without venturing below the surface?
Two undescended shafts (866 and 442) were knocked off with both going blind after a miserable 15m. Six new sites of various potential were however recorded and a return with full kit to the largest (975) was deemed immediately necessary.
975 - Cave (no name)
This had been spotted from the top of a hill across the valley and couldn't easily be seen due to a screen of trees around it. We were somewhat taken aback however upon entering it to find it easily big enough to shelter numerous cows with much knee-deep bovine evidence confirming this to be the case. Initial expectations were soon dashed as the large 15m wide entrance passage terminated after just 50m at a choke with no draught. The cave heads towards Mostajo and probably once formed part of the same phreatic complex.
67 - Torcón de Cubija
Torcdn is the main (flood) sink for the Cubija valley and as there was recent evidence of a sump in the entrance series, a quick trip was in order. Torcón is likely to connect to Mostajo and a draughting dig in a dried up sump at the end was noticed the previous year. The dig was like being in the bottom of an egg-timer and trying to remove all of the sand from the upper section. Raking back a seemingly endless avalanche of pebbles a gap at roof level was eventually opened and I squeezed through. Standing up in a small chamber it seemed that the countless rounded pebbles we had removed had in fact been part of a large hydro-tumbling mechanism not unlike the National Lottery Machine. A very tight bedding was then followed for a short distance to a nasty looking rift which wasn't pushed but seemed to be the water's exit.
71 - Torca de Mostajo
Two trips were carried out with the main intention to re-examine old leads that might provide a link to Cubio-Regaton. The first was definitely more congenial when we bumped into a large group of Spanish Cavers on a jolly. Describing to them how over the years we had discovered Mostajo bit by bit, we were invited to join a huge feast as thanks for providing them with a good tourist trip. Matienzo caving forays by the Brits tend to be very lightweight and fast compared to the larger Spanish groups, but may be travelling slow with a picnic isn't all bad. Stuffed with chocolate, cake and nuts we waddled out.
The second trip was less gastronomic but slightly more interesting speleologically. Several draughting sites were found and pushed as well as some short pitches. Despite later finding that these were obscure alternative routes into the Mostajo 'Golden Void' phreatic maze, several tens of metres of passage were gained. Most of this new territory appeared to head into known areas of Mostajo's lower levels and any draught was probably a circular one.
75 - Simas del Picón
The 93' extensions were entered and several small leads were finished off. Due to a lack of volunteers (!) Peter Eagen rigged the bold traverse over the 20m pitch/chasm and the 150m of well decorated passage to the terminal choke was scrutinised again. In a vague hope to by-pass the choke, a flat out draughting sand dig was attacked for two hours but abandoned as a longer term project. Back over the traverse a small series of side passages containing deep rifts with draughts were descended using various dubious techniques including homo-sapien belays. All got too tight eventually, even for me and Peter.
Meeting our friend Carlos in Santander from the local GEIC/R Group after a comedy of errors involving much confusion and numerous bars we visited his new project. Having heard of spelcological "green field sites" before didn't prepare us for what was basically a dig in a large featureless green field! Carlos had been doing some research into a possible new entrance for the 4.8km Peño bra system and a local crusty old farmer had explained that he remembered as a boy, a large swallow hole in the corner of his father's field. Without a single obvious feature to attack we spent most of the day creating a bottomless pit in the corner of the field on this sure fire bet! However by the end of the day our enthusiasm finally waned when an even more wrinkled old farmer came up to the first and argued that he was quite clear that the cave was some 30 feet from where we had started!
As a postscript to this it should be noted that Carlos and his group diligently spent every weekend for almost the next two months on the dig. Surprisingly the farmer was indeed right and Peño Jora was entered, the nasty ducks in the entrance were by-passed and the new easier route in was used to great effect during the following summer.
Perhaps the most interesting find in true Expedition fashion was found right at the end of the trip. As by then it had been raining for almost a week, some of the rare resurgences in the Matienzo depression had had enough and were starting to become active. After a walk with Lanc Mills and Sam Lieberman, Lanc suggested we drove up the Vega Valley examining anything that appeared to be gushing mucho aqua. After several sites we finally stopped at site number 363 - Fuente de Ia Colmenas.
363's lower entrance had a large quantity of water emerging from it and so the dry upper one was examined. Noticing a strong draught and persuading Sam that his grotty clothes were grottier than mine, we pushed him into the awkward crawl and awaited his report. Returning a few minutes later he stated that it had got a bit tight and full kit was probably needed. Searching the extensive Expedition library that evening I found several references to Colmenas. It seemed that 363 had been pushed for 15m to a draughting boulder choke in the early 1980's but subsequent digging had not been successful.
Tooled up, Sam and myself returned the following day. Doing a small quantity of digging on route through the crawl, we finaliy emerged in a small rift chamber where a towering edifice of blocks against one wall bore witness to previous digs. The old dig had been in the floor where not only the wind but also the noise of an unseen streamway was quite encouraging. Unfortunately with lack of stacking room and a very large boulder blocking the way on, the dig had floundered and so a new approach would have to be adopted. Noticing that at the rift's far end a choke appeared to be hiding a possible undercut, crowbars at arms length went into action. Jamming ourselves in the roof above the choke's face and trying to avoid blocking our only exit we brought a not small quantity of rubble crashing to the floor. After much further digging a body sized hole was made and entrance was gained into a narrow parallel rift and a small virgin streamway heading into the hill. Wading up to our necks in very cold water for 40m we finally stopped at a squeeze over a block with both cave, water and draught urging us on. And where did it go? Well that's another story...