Whitworth Upstream

Surfacing out of the new bypass.

Having had to walk away from the upstream sump in the Whitworth series in Torca La Vaca when we ran out of time on our previous visit to the Matienzo area both Jim and I were keen to return. The prospects for the site are good, drainage in the area is not fully understood and some die tests show the possibility of connections with large, know systems. Fortunately a little bit of negotiation at work has resulted in both of us being able to take this week off and continue where we left off. Having driven down through France (to maximise the time in Matienzo) we are stopping at a very clean and tidy apartment that has a disturbing amount of white furniture. We will have to see how things go.

Our plan for the week gave us the possibility of getting into the Wild Mare on the Monday afternoon to shift the heavy kit in and maybe find an easy (underwater) route through the boulder choke to AGM bypass. Owing to the final part of the drive taking longer than planned this job list moved to Tuesday. The previous day hadn’t been wasted as we had identified a closer parking spot and checked the route to the cave was still open. After moving the gear in through a very dry Wild Mare we set about trying to find the underwater route through. Sadly we failed. It was however an interesting days caving made more so when a boulder moved. Having dived down through a slot in an underwater boulder choke that we had dug out during our last visit Jim had surfaced in an airbell. We established a vocal connection through the boulders and I moved forward to see if it was passable above water. As I moved across the top of the underwater choke a large boulder gave way underneath me (at least we now know where all the pies went) rolled down the slope and ended up in the slot. We both had a good go at moving it and Jim got it out on his third attempt. Shortly after that Jim lost his mask and we gave up on the easy route idea. We clambered up though the boulder choke and rigged a ladder down to the water to bypass a climb that becomes tricky with dive gear on. The dive out was uneventful despite Jim having no mask because I kept my eyes closed whenever he was in visual range.

After the previous day’s knock back Wednesday saw us heading back into Wild Mare, this time carrying seven litre cylinders. Once the slog of the crawl was done (it’s easy without kit) we quickly made progress to the boulder choke that had caused us trouble. In the clear viz Jim spotted his mask and fashioned a fishing line which he used to retrieve them from between some boulders. We then set about climbing the ladder which immediately broke as soon as Jim put his weight on it (maybe someone else has been at the pie store overnight). Thankfully he was still at ground level so no harm done but we now both feel that the boulder choke has it in for us; it is our nemesis choke. After rigging a solution we moved the gear up and on through the choke. Once we regained the water a small bypass sump was lined to save travel time and we went on our way up to the dam in Buttermere. Using the cord we left last time we got over the top, back into the water and dived through to the Whitworth series (avoiding the Mandy Foo sized passage) to look at the upsteam sump. We didn’t spend long looking. A new line real was tied on and the passage followed down a steep slope to the right. Two belays in the elbow were reached and a steep silty slope up was followed to surface. The sump is only short (maybe 35 m) and only 5 m deep – we will know more once we have surveyed it tomorrow. From the surface of the sump pool a large muddy chamber is visible with one good looking lead off to the left and several less promising options around. The rock is the same type as Buttermere and it may be that this passage is formed in the same rift fault. Time pressure forced us to turn at this point for an uneventful exit. On the way out Jim managed to video some eels in the Sump of the Wild Eels in Wild Mare cave. That can now be sent off to the eel expert who wanted pictures of the things. The strangest part of the trip was in the Whitworth series where we both heard a buzzing/humming noise, after checking our gear for air leaks, we both decided it was a cave feature. Suggestions are welcome…

A broken electron ladder!
At the bottom of the ladder.
Surfacing out of the new bypass.
Upstream Whitworth

Lessons learnt:

  • Plan the dive down through France so that it doesn’t happen on the first weekend of the Paris holiday.
  • Check your alarm is on euro time so that you don’t miss breakfast.
  • Don’t let Jim talk to the attractive landlady about mapping rocks.
  • The Spanish pronounce Wi-Fi in a most peculiar way.
  • Jim needs a cord around his neck from which to hang his mask when not in use.
  • Some boulder chokes will not take yes for an answer.
  • Just because the two of you have never seen a ladder break in a combined 60 years of caving experience doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Series - Matienzo Caving

  1. Exploring Spain
  2. The rain in Spain…
  3. Using the back entrance
  4. A Wild Mare kicks out
  5. Whitworth Upstream
  6. (Not Really) Making New Ground
  7. Return to the Dam Bypass
  8. The Dam Water
  9. Matienzo epilogue
  10. Matienzo July/August 2013, Pt 1
  11. Matienzo July/August 2013, Pt 2
  12. Matienzo July/August 2013, Pt 3

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