1999 was the 29th year of British caving expeditions to Matienzo and, as well as surveying over 4km of new passages, a number of significant and exciting leads were left. At Easter, about 800m of new passage was surveyed and, in the summer, about 3.2km was newly explored. Forty people took part in the explorations along with a small team of Catalans. Over 120 sites were visited. During Easter, Covachos de Peña Jorao was extended to over 8.5km.
Diving in Cueva Molino at Bustablado failed to extend the depth or length beyond last years limit due to a number of problems including poor visibility and technical difficulties. Passages around 600ptas Passage in Cueva Vallina were extended by some 80m. The length of Cueva Vallina is now about 26200m.
Much activity occurred over and around the South Vega System and its imminent link with Cueva Vallina, At Hammered Hole, the entrance was enlarged and the shaft re-explored. A possible passage opposite the shaft entrance was bolted to, but was blind. In site 1332, Cueva de Juan Lombrero, further explorations lengthened the site to nearly 1km and deepened the hole to 142m, apparently just above the upward explorations in Breakdown Chamber in Reñada. In Vaccination Pot pitches were pushed down beyond last years end to a section of passage at about 500m altitude with three digs. The nearby Torca del Zorro was re-explored and survyed to a depth of 55m. Above and to the west of Vallina, close to Sima Cueto, lies Sima de la Garma de los Trillos (VT62). This hole, explored in the 80's by the Catalans, is 1.3km long and 340m deep, ending at the same altitude as the lower levels in Vallina. Nearby is Cueva Contrabandistas, a which has a good draught and echo which encourages digging. Joint explorations with the Catalan cavers should occur in these last two sites next year.
Last year in Cueva Arenal, the draughting rift was enlarged and pushed for a few metres to where it was possible to see that the draughting route appeared to be blocked with boulders. This year further passage enlargement reached the boulders which had to be propped up and held together with expanding polyurethane foam. A generator and jack hammer was also used to knock through a wall to eventually reach the Foam Dome, a chamber with draughts and low level passages which will be pushed further next year.
To the east of the South Vega System, Cueva Lammas (site 1325) proved to be an interesting pot with potential. Located just above the TV mast track and draughting in, the cave was left last year 40m down. This year the cave was pushed into a narrow "Quaking Pot"-type section and ended at a continuing tight crawl over sandstone at a depth of 77m and altitude of 300m.
Some systematic looking for leads was carried out in Toad in the Hole. Pitches around Baz's Chamber were explored, at First Return a bold step entered the Second Coming where the draught was lost in high rifts after 95m. The large Fossil Chamber was surveyed, revealing two avens at least 100m high, and pitches were descended in Two Owls Passage.
In Rascavieja, Spanish archaeologists are revealing human bones in the first chamber, while above a set of shafts were explored including 1411 which was decended 48m to a well decorated chamber. At the eastern edge of El Naso, the low level Cueva de los Tizones was dug up into a high level route which regained a substantial section of streamway but also continues as a traverse with protection needed. Tizones now has a length of 542m.
In the Four Valleys System, a number of passages were newly explored and surveyed in Cueva Carcavueso at both Easter and summer. Opposite Straw Passage, over 500m was surveyed in Parallel Sausages. One hundred metres of passage was surveyed near Andy Quin's Foot which heads back to the upstream Llueva sump. Molephones were used to check the survey but problems were encountered in a thunder storm. Scaling was carried out around Rhinoceros Passage. Explorations were also carried out in small holes in the jungle above Cueva Riaño. The length of the Four Valley System is now 42316m.
The Western Series of Carcavueso follows the east-west trend of many major passages. In Cueva Bollón (Volvo), only a few metres west of these passages, divers continued to push the cave, passing through three sumps to a passage heading west upstream. The streamway was not pushed, but a boulder slope rising south, out of the limestone, was followed past a draughting pitch back down to where it ended about 20m below the surface very close to Boil in the Bag. Other draughting digs near Volvo include site 200 which was enlarged with Catalan assistance (and is still a viable prospect) and site 1452, just above the new drainage gutter, and ending at an enticing excavation. The prospects for the Volvo area have taken a leap forwards and all sites mentioned plus 415, 715 and 1392 (Candy's Dig) are good propositions, with a link to the North Vega System seeming less remote.
With the extensions in Volvo and Arenal, and with the use of modern digging technologies, the Year 2000 looks to have excellent prospects for new connections and leads.
The total number of sites documented around the Matienzo depression has risen by 105 and is now 1454 with over 211.7km of explored cave passage. A substantial grant was received from the Sports Council and David Hood Funds. Thanks must go to these bodies, the Spanish authorities who grant permission to cave, and the villagers of Matienzo who welcome us back many times a year.
Juan Corrin. September 1999
As usual we were welcomed by Pablo at Bar German and the expedition is grateful for the camping facilities and the use of the restaurant for computing and drawing up.
The list below shows links to those sites which were extended or newly discovered over the summer, or which have had surveys updated or entrance photos added.
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