Take two trips into the cave...?

by Andrew Dobson

Even as I landed I could feel it was bad, the pain searing up from the bottom of my back and my mobility severely restricted. Fortunately I wasn’t at the bottom of a deep cave in Spain, but playing basketball with the kids at the end of the cottage working week in May. I feared the injury would prevent me from contributing to the expedition, but a visit to an osteopath and some remedial yoga worked wonders and a fortnight before departure I was able to test my recovery on the Swamp Creek pitch in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. My back only creaked a little bit, and the SRT was fun, even if my fitness was a little jaded.

Once in Spain the aches and pains fell away and the wonderful variety of Coventosa allowed me to check my caving health before making the long trip through from Sima Cueto. I was pleased to be able to join in with everyone else carrying rope, ferrying dinghies, mending punctured inner tubes, prospecting for new caves and thoroughly enjoying some superb caving. All too soon our last day came round. Dave wanted to take pictures of the lower reaches of Coventosa, while I wanted to visit the Torca del Carlista and its 100m freehanging pitch; the scene was set for an action packed last day.

A prompt start (well, prompt for us, anyway) saw Dave and me at the entrance to Coventosa, raring to go. It is a wonderful place to cave in, with plenty of variation: rope climbs, free climbs, traverses, gour pools, streamway, climbs round deep water and boulder hopping aplenty interspersed with big walking passage, great fun especially when you’ve forgotten what sport caving can be. This variety gave plenty of shots for Dave to try, although many of them wanted about three more people suspended from the ceilings or walls with flashguns! Out into daylight then, feeling hungry and in need of a drink.

We made it back to the camp late, and Brian was waiting, but then what’s new? I was born early and I’ve been late ever since. Having made sure I’d got all my SRT kit we headed off for the winding drive up to Carlista. We met Ian and Martin and got the lowdown on finding the entrance. Just out of sight of the car, an unlikely gap in the limestone with a thorn bush and as if by magic there was a rope tied round a thread.

Abseiling down, easy stuff now Chris had rejigged the lengths, at first in a rifty chimney then the big drop like a cathedral dome, a spider on a tiny thread spinning round with little sign of the walls, keeping the descent nicely controlled with the lights of Dave and Brian so small below. The floor finally came into view, and I lay down to feed enough rope through to unlock the rack. Wandering on down the rubble slope with Dave looking for something to photo. At 7pm we decided to head back up because of the inevitable time delays - I was to go first while the others explored the huge chamber.

The stretch and bounce was incredible - taking it very slow and steady at the bottom - impossible to race the bounce and keep in rhythm, but as I got higher managing to match the harmony of the rope and the weird sensation of seeing my breath hang in the air as I bounced up and down through it. The others coming into view at the bottom as I got nearer the top, or was it? No visible roof but the sides were definitely closing in, I was determined not to stop as the others were now waiting their turn. With sweat dripping off me at last I reached the rebelay. Up onto the next rope and a chance to look down on their lights so far below.

A steady plod out in no hurry, hearing Dave call ‘Rope free’ on the big pitch just as I negotiated the y-hang at the top of the entrance pitch. There was zero visibility on the surface as I had some water and dried off in the breeze. I got changed watching the cloud rift over and the panoramic view open up then close in again. Brian was struggling to de-rig with his home-made allen key, but at last he was in sight. While Brian dekitted, Dave and I hauled the bag out and packed in the rope - don’t bounce the bag too hard as the ground seems to vibrate in sympathy. Carried the rope down just as the light faded, and back to camp for a refreshing cold shower. No time to start packing but a splendid way to end the trip - a full day’s caving in two superb and utterly different caves.