York University Cave and Pothole Club

Explorations in the Picos de Europa

View over the Cares Gorge from Vega Huerta (Photo: Dave Milne)



Expedition Summaries
1984    1987    1990
1985    1988    1991
1986    1989    1994

Pozo de Cuetalbo (M2)
Pozo de Llastrale (β3)
Sima de Cotalbin (K903) Thesaurus Fragilis (M921)

Survey Galleries

Image Galleries

Camping in β3, 1990

Caving Clubs
Caving in the Picos



Location    Elevation    Plan    Description    Rigging Guide    How to Find    Image Galleries

Pozo del Llastral (β3)

β3 lies 250 m west along the same fault line as Pozo de Cuetalbo (M2) and 50 m lower. It was first discovered in 1984 and marked bottomed in 1985, effectively snow-plugged at -30 m. The amount of snow around Vega Huerta changes from year to year and in 1987, the snow in the entrance of β3 had melted sufficiently to allow progress.

During that year, the cave was pushed down an 80 m snow ramp, and beyond the only major obstacle within the cave - Meander of the Elephants - finally to a depth of 240 m. Further exploration continued in 1988, down through large spacious shafts and rifts to the bottom of Pozo Negro at a depth of 368 m. The cave was bottomed in 1989 at 944 m at a green sump. Further exploration was attempted in 1990, but no major extensions were found.

Location    X: 339,96   Y: 4784,56  Z 2020 m    Depth   -944 m


Silhouette with 1990 extension



Steve Brooks looks out through the entrance (Photo: Dave Binks)

The Entrance Series

Descending the snow ramp (Photo: Dave Binks)

From the entrance chamber, the cave descends through an 80 m snow ramp, combining abseiling and glissading, and requiring re-rigging each summer.

A short section in the roof of a narrow rift (with more than its fair share of over suits to answer for), is followed by a pitch-ramp series. This beginns with a 7 m pitch, followed by some narrow passages leading into the rather exposed area of El Panico. A 5 m pitch is followed by a 31 m pitch (Pozo del Panico) with a deviation and rebelay in a narrow section 7 m from the bottom gains the base of the rift. A ramp leads to a 7 m pitch and ascent the final ramp allows you to drop down through it to land on a large block wedged across the top of a 22 m pitch. A trickle of water enters here down an aven.

A short section at the base of a rift and a 14 m pitch is followed by another ramp and a pendulum (the far side requires a climb to enable rigging) into the narrow rift Meander of the Elephants. The rift is passable by a 30 m descending  body-sized tube in the top of the rift, made awkward by a constricted Z-bend - easily passed by raising your legs high up in the rift behind you, finally emerging over a Simon Cawthan descends the 20 m pitch into Aquarious (Photo: Dave Binks)20 m pitch. This tube can be gained by traversing high up the preceding ramp, descending and re-ascending - or alternatively, if you happen not to see the obvious rope, you can just wonder along the bottom of the ramp and climb up at the end. Meander of the Elephants, or more simply "The Squeeze" represents the only major obstacle in the cave and would pose a serious problem if ever an injured person needed to be evacuated from beyond it.


Following the squeeze, a series of straight forward pitches (and trickle of water) through the Meandro del Polesu - Aquarius ends in a 10 m pitch (Escanciador Pitch). This requires a pendulum to avoid the water.

 At this point the water parts company and the character of the cave changes dramatically. El Sekajo is a relatively spacious descending rift and is free from pitch-ramps. The area contains formations, clay-like sediments and rock that in places has been remarkably altered.

A 9 m pitch is soon followed by a 21 m free hanging pitch. At this point the draught is very noticeable - and very cold. The sizable, and rather chaotic rift beyond leads to the head of a superb 52 m free hang in a 10 m diameter circular shaft (Alicia). (This has developed following the descent of a fault angled at 70░ in a series of vertical drops.)  The resulting massive open rift (50-60 m high, 10-15 m wide) continues to a 10 m pitch leading to the rather terrifying and chaotic head of the 69 m pitch, Pozo Negro, Cabron, Juega Limpio. An acrobatic rig, descended initially against a sloping wall (to avoid the falling rocks), requires three rebelays. Its final part is very impressive and well washed.

Simon Mann descending the 55 m pitch Null and Void(Photo: Dave Binks) Gareth's Old Bedroom, 16m pitch is followed by a 55 m pitch Null and Void and the South Transept, a 25 m pitch. A 7 m pitch leads to the edge of a 'rather deep pool', beyond which, all that can be seen is a large flake and 'caverns measureless to man'. Approaching the edge of the  flake reveals a friendly but black hole - Thunderdome.  The rift can be clearly seen soaring into the roof.  A traverse leads to a 70 m hang broken only by one re-belay and a sporting deviation to land in a small pool.

Simon Cawthan has a brew at underground camp (Photo: Dave Binks) From here, Climbing up boulders leads to a high aven, 15 m diameter wide, with rubble floor 20 m above the stream way split by a large rock in the centre ('The Rock of Gibraltar') - site of the 1989 camp. Descending from the base of Thunderdome, a narrow meandering rift is entered (reminiscent of Crab Walk in Giants Hole), with a small stream. This continues for 80 m to a small pitch and small chamber, then a further 120 m to a respectable 64 m pitch - Soldier of Fortune. This is followed by Gardener;s Question Time, a 50 m pitch with a lot of loose choss at the top.

Lynne Robinson descending the final series of pitches (Photo: Dave Binks)

Then next comes a rift, Death Row, with a traverse some where on loose blocks with equally loose blocks above, requires care. At the end of this, a short pitch Tendencias Suicidea lands in a small chamber with a pool, opening out into a large rift. The rift quickly closes down and after scrambling over flakes, descend through a small draughting hole to land 3 m further down on a large block wedged in a rift. This very draughty rift (Wind Tunnel Traverse) can be followed along a ledge in the roof, climbing down easily to regain the stream and the head of a 32 m pitch - The Interloper.

This is followed by el Otro Pozo del Comepiedras and then a series of pitches to a rather green sump at -944 m. Traversing across the final 12 m pitch gains inlet passage with two free climbable pitches.

Rigging Guide

Pitch No. Depth (m) Name Height (m)

Rope Length (m)

Slings Dev Crabs Bolts Notes
1 0 Snow Ramp n/a 100 10 8 15 Nat; 4m trav 1s; 3m trav 2s -5 1s; -8 block -13 1sd; -18 (groto) 1sd; -20 1sd; -25 1s; -37 1sd; -39 1nd; -44 1s; -50 1sd; -55 1s; -65 1sd; -70 1s; -75 1sd
2 -85   P7 10     2 2s: Leave rope on ramp
3 -90   P5 15     5 3s: 5m traverse; Y hang at head 2s
4 -95 Pozo del Panico P31 37 1 1 4 1s; head 1s; -7 1nd; Y hang rebelay 2s where it narrows.
5 -116   P7 12     3 10 m up ramp 1s; traverse 2s
6 -120 P22 26 1 2 3m up ramp 1n, 1s; -4 1s
7 -139   P14 20 2 1 3 4 m up ramp, 2 m traverse, 1s 1n -4 1s; -7 1sd
  -140   Pend. 30     3 2s; pendulum; start of Meander of the Elephants
8 -148   P20 25   1 5 Y hang at head 2s; -3 1s; -8 Y hang rebelay 2S
9 -168   P4
45 2 1 6 18 m traverse 3s; -6 1sd; 2s; 1n
10 -195 Meandro del Polesu - Aquarius P8 13 1 1 4 The pitches may be avoided by following the bottom of the rift
11 P5 8 1   1
12 P4 7     1
13 -215 Pozo del PÚndulo P10 17 1 1 3 1s; -2 1sd; pendulum 1s; dry gallery
14 -238   P4 13     2 Traverse
15 -250   P21 34 1 1 2 2s; -9 1nd
16 -288 Pozo Alicia P52 60     4 Y hang at head 2s; 3m traverse 1s; -4 1s
17 -348   P10 15 2 1 1 1n; -2 opposite wall 1sd
18 -358 Pozo Negro, Cabron, Juega Limpio P63 70     6 Y hang at head 2s; -3 ramp 1s; -5 on ramp 1s; -17 pendulum 1s; -39 small ledge 1s
19 -418 Gareth's Old Bedroom P16 18     2  
20 -435 Incompetencia -Null and Void P55 70 3 1 3 1s, 1n; -1.5 1nd; -3 1s; -26 block 1n; -28 1s
21 -490 South Transept P25 30 1   2 Small chocks 1n, 1s; -3 1s
22 -515   P8 10 1 1 2 Blocks 2s; -2 1nd
23 -519 Thunderdome P72 85 3 2 7 Y hang at head 1n, 2s; 3m traverse 2s; -1.5 1nd; -4 1s; -16 1s; -35 1s; -60 1nd
24 -598   P18 26     3 1s; -3 1s; -5 1s
25 -613   P8 12     2 1s; -1.5 1s
26 -628 Pozo del Mercenario P64 75 4 3 2 Y hang at head 1s, 1n; 4m traverse 2nd, 1s; -3 1nd. A lot of water, the rock is very loose.
27 -686 Gardener's Question Time P50 60     4 Traverse line 3s; -18 1s
28 -740   P13 16 2      
      Trav. 15 2      
29 -756 The Interloper P32 40 6 3   Y hang at head 3n; -3 1nd; -9 1nd; -12 1nd
30 -780 El Otro Pozo del Comepiedras P46 50 3 1 2 Y hang at head 1s, 1n; -1 1sd; -26 1n
31 -816 Pozo Oficial Y Camarero P23 27 1 1 3 Y hang at head 2s; -3 2s; -8 1sd
32 -830 Pozo "To Roto" P28 34 2 2 4 Y hang at head 2s; -4 1s; -6 1s; -12 1nd; -20 1nd
33 -860   P5 8 1      
34 -869   P7 9 1      
35 -875   P10 11     1  
36 -890 Negreros P9 11     2 Y hang at head 2s
37 -930 Pozo de los Mosqueteros P12 14       Leads to final sump

How to Find

The start of the walk from the base of Vega Huerta, through M-Area to B3 (Photo: David Milne) From the collapsed refugio at Vega Huerta head west, below the main path towards Vegaredonda; down valley. On the right the ground widens to form a semicircular slope. Straight ahead a boulder and scree strewn (or snow filled) Entrance to the cave (Photo: David Milne)gully slopes down towards you across the other side. Head to the the bottom of the far side of this through the large blocks.  β3 is in the right hand wall where the Canal de la Duernona begins.


SEG Journal covering 1988 Kaos de Bloques, Dec 1989, No 3, SEG in Spanish. Text PDF (63kB), Graphics PDF (39MB)
YUCPC Journal covering 1989 Picos 89, Expedition Report, Paul Thorlby (YUCPC) in English. PDF (15 MB)
Top Camp Log Book, YUCPC, 1989 in English.
Excerpt from Caves & Caving 49 "Beneath Vega Huerta"; Y.U.C.P.C. Picos '89 Expedition, Caves & Caving 49, Paul Thorlby (YUCPC) in English. PDF (1676KB)
YUCPC log book from 1990 Top Camp Log Book, YUCPC, 1990 in English. HTML
Expedicion Picos - 90, SEII, in Spanish. PDF (28MB)
SEG Journal covering 1989-90 Kaos de Bloques No 4 1992, SEG in Spanish. PDF (73 MB) (Cover)

WebAuthor: D.Milne[at]Tesco.Net