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    How to Find   

Pozu de Cuetalbo (M2)

M2 3D Line Survey: rotate the image using the mouse.

Pozu de Cuetalbo, as M2 came to be known, is our best find. The entrance series, explored in 1984 to a depth of 250 m, is sporting, fitting in several superb pitches, some tight, gear-wrecking passage, and enough loose boulders to cause several headaches! The following year continued in similar style attaining a depth of around 650m. In 1986, exploration broke into much larger passage with massive chambers. Exploration ended in 1987 when a sump was reached at 986 m.

Location    X:    Y:   Z     Depth   -986 m


Plan for M2


Moray Stark in Gates of Delerium (Photo: Dave Lloyd)The Upper Series

The entrance is through a 5 m by 3 m hole with a small loose fissure at the bottom end. This drops 8 m into a small passage at right angles which connects to a parallel rift. Another cross passage involves an up and down climb into a collapse choked rift with a hole over a boulder at the end.

The Bypass to No QuarterFrom here a 65 m pitch drops down in two sections broken by a very loose and bouldery ledge where extreme care is needed! Below this pitch, the Last Pot Before the End of the Motorway, there is a tall, winding rift passage. Down the 13 m Gates of Delerium to the tight No Quarter; the bottom of the rift was the original route through to the ’Oasis’ aven. This can now be bypassed by a traverse to a pitch leading into the Oasis.

No EighthUnfortunately the only route off from here is a rather tighter version of No Quarter, aptly named No Eighth. There are several routes through this tall, tight rift at various levels. Greased racing snakes (Ivan) squirm along at the bottom, whilst the fatter members (everyone else) did a lot of traversing and getting lost higher up in the passage.

Beyond No Eighth things get bigger and better. Past Watford Gap there is a good stream, but this soon disappears down an inviting wet route, Amapolo Series. The dry alternative looks more attractive and things now becomes much more pleasant and the cave gains depth quickly down several spacious shafts. Smaller climbs and pitches follow down to a squeeze, Ivan’s Other Orifice. Beyond are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon where helictites sprout horizontally from the walls and then curve down to form vertical stal. Past this, a traverse in a vadose canyon is the way on; the floor drops away and there is the sound of water far below.

Play the White ManThe next pitch is 50m, to a platform called the Motorway Services, a useful ”kitchen”. A small stream enters in one corner and continues down narrow passage. Unfortunately the only way on is Play the White Man passage; a longer, tighter and more slippery version of No Eighth further up the cave. This is a maze of man-sized passages connected by impassable rifts and corners!

Following Play the White Man, water cascades down the dip of a fault in two short pitches, the Wet Ramp, to disappear into the immature rift below. The way on is up the impressive Dry Ramp, 2 to 3 m wide rising at around 30º for 25 m. A squeeze leads to the muddy Non-Stop Pitch, then a further 30m descent back under this regains the stream with an impressive waterfall, the way on here becoming too tight. Traversing forwards from the foot of Non-Stop Pitch you arrive at a further series of dry pitches and climbs descending 80m. Following an obvious climb up, a roof-level phreatic passage reaches a further pitch of 35m. The bottom became known as the Chamber of 'Orrors after an incident with a rather large boulder!

A fairly lengthy section of traversing and climbs ends at another phreatic section, the Carrot Patch, along which the formations are excellent, then two further short pitches reach a dry stream-way. This is pleasantly reminiscent of Yorkshire and leads to Blind Pot, a 20m pitch, soon followed by the wet 65m Roo’s Pitch. At the bottom is a very uninviting sump at -650m.

An obvious continuation above Blind Pot soon reaches a 25m pitch, then another 35m, to an area similar to the Motorway Services. At first glance the way on is about the same too! In fact an easier route is found slightly higher up, to The Undescended Pitch. At its base the cave suddenly changes its dimensions incredibly. A large meandering canyon leads to the junction of M2 at Ken Hill Gallery.

The Lower Series

An ideal campsite can be found in this large chamber with a running stream way a matter of feet around the corner. This is at about 750m depth, and being a fairly easy day’s caving from the surface, is in just the right place.

 Along Ken Hill Gallery a large walking passage leading out of the gallery, Fourteen Foot Inlet, can be easily missed. This was given its name from an impressive stalagmite found along it.

Further up Ken Hill Gallery a sandy pit is found which drops into Without a Bronica Chamber, an impressive Mulu-sized passage, down a 25m pitch. This is as its name suggests of fine dimension, and well worth some photographs. Down the chamber a 9m pitch descends to  more sloping boulder passage. Further pitches descend to wide vadose passage. This was named Meandro Enfermo after the Spaniard who found it. Unfortunately, it is too tight downstream and boulder choked upstream giving a final depth of -823m.

Tea Time SeriesBy traversing around the sandy pit and going further up Ken Hill Gallery two similar bolt climbs are encountered, both of about 7m. These can be tackled to a further climb up a boulder filled passage to the Tea Time Series. This is a fine series of easy pitches which eventually drops back into known cave passage at Meandro Enfermo.

Highway StarNear the bottom of Ken Hill Gallery, below the camp, a stream joins the main gallery, flowing in a meandering canyon. A small phreatic tube in the roof diverges from the canyon in an upstream direction and terminates at a pair of perched sumps. The phreatic tube just downstream from Ken Hill Gallery.In a downstream direction from Ken Hill Gallery, incision by the inlet stream gradually increases and eventually the large phreatic passage in the roof becomes inaccessible. The stream descends down three impressive wet pitches El Gordo, Highway Star and Road to Nowhere to an Looking up the main phreatic conduit towards Road to Nowhere.impassable rift passage Nicky's Rift.

A route over the top of the last pitch rises up a ramp. The Last Big Chamber.This yields a long stretch of impressive ramps tending downwards at a steady angle. A further 100m of depth can be descended with another few pitches in boulder floored passage to The Last Big Chamber. The cave then descends three further pitches to where the cave sumps.

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. The entrance lies about 400 m west of Vega Huerta on a minor fault which forms a linear depression along the long axis of the limestone ridge.


Excerpt from Caves & Caving 29 Expedition to the Picos de Europa 1984, Caves & Caving, Aug 1985, 29, 26-28 Dave Lloyd, YUCPC in English. PDF (964KB)
Excerpt from Caves & Caving 30 York University - Picos de Europa 1985, Caves & Caving, Nov 1985, 30, 18-20 Neil Kemp in English. PDF (872 kB)
Excerpt from Caves & Caving 34 York University - Vega Huerta, Picos de Europa, Caves & Caving, Nov 1986, 34, 21-23, Dave Ashley in English. PDF (847 kB)
Article from BCRA Cave Science Vol. 14 (YUCPC) Geology and speleogenesis of the M2 Cave System, Western Massif, Picos de Europa, Northern Spain, Kevin J Senior (YUCPC), Cave Science, 1987, 14, 3, 93-104, in English. PDF (5MB)
Water Tracing in the Vega Huerta Caves, Picos de Europa, Spain, David K Lloyd (YUCPC), Cave Science, 1990, 17, 3,103-106, in English. PDF (325kB)
SEG Journal covering 1989-90 Kaos de Bloques No 4 1992, SEG in Spanish. PDF (73 MB) (Cover)

WebAuthor: D.Milne[at]Tesco.Net