One day just before Christmas I set off with several members of CUCC up a barely discernible track towards the Cueva de Sa Campana. We were in the mountains in the north of the island of Mallorca, quite close to the famous gorge of the Torrente de Pareis. This tremendous ravine has been carved by water which drains a large catchment area around the Lluc monastery. The bottom of the gorge can be reached by car by following an offshoot of the main Lluc-Soller road down to the sea at Sa Calobra. We had parked our vehicles part way down this road at the start of the path up to the cave (at the 9.5 km marker - see map).
Our rough track led us up through a jagged terrain of weathered limestone, covered with narrow channels and sharp edges, which threatened to slice into your boots as you walked past, or into your fingers if you were foolish enough to use the rock as a handhold on the way up. We were making towards a break in the ridge above the road. The path veered left and then turned sharply right before reaching the ridge, passing through a gap between two limestone outcrops and out onto a small plateau. I missed the sharp right hand bend on the way up and continued right onto the ridge itself which turned out to be very narrow.
In one place it was possible to look through a window onto steep slopes on the other side, and down into the Pareis gorge. I clambered back down to rejoin the others who had found the proper path on the small plateau and we started to descend the slopes on the other side of the ridge. The track soon turned right and continued at roughly the same level to reach a large but faded red paint mark just below which lay the entrance to the cave. The paint mark could just about be seen from a distance but the cave entrance remained well hidden amongst the jumble of rocky outcrops, not revealing itself until we were practically on top of it.
We were surprised to find that the air in the cave was very warm, much warmer than on the surface. We had noticed this feature of underground Mallorca a few days previously whilst visiting the caves of Drach. Some of us thought at first that the place was centrally heated! In any case it makes caving very pleasant.
Just inside the entrance, past the ruins of an old gate, the cave opens out into the gloom of the impressive entrance hall which is dimly lit by light from the entrance. The floor of the chamber is about thirty feet below and can be reached by following footholds cut out of the steep slopes of mud and calcite. We abseiled down this climb since it had been rigged with SRT rope by our other team of cavers who had been down on the previous day. The far end of the entrance chamber is closed off by large, ancient curtains of calcite, but a short passage to the right opens out into ... blackness. A shout here reverberates for many seconds, bouncing off the invisible walls. Our lights just weren't capable of penetrating the darkness beyond more than a few feet of ground in front of us, and we ventured out with great trepidation across the floor of this vast chamber. I made a careful note of the features around our point of entry!
The floor drops away to the left down calcite cascades. We made our way towards the far wall, around an enormous boss and negotiated a careful descent down the side of the cascades. Now we found ourselves in a large hollow - in front was a muddy col with a huge dome of calcite to the right of it. Further to the right, between the side of the dome and the wall, a way led out onto the edge of a sheer calcite cliff beyond which it was impossible to see.
The way on was discovered to be over the col, past the dome and down again to the opposite side of the calcite cliff just mentioned. Here a large rectangular slab covers the route down next to the wall, confirmed by the presence of a rope left there the previous day. A drop of twenty feet (which would be possible to climb) is followed by one of thirty feet (which would not). A steeply descending slope leads to the level floor again at the base of the calcite cliff. A short way further and we reached some calcited, rocky slopes which mark the end of the cavern.
I did not have time to explore all of this vast chamber on the way back, and it was only later that I discovered that a cairned route exists between the point of entry and the two pitches. The chamber must have about the same volume as Main Chamber in Gaping Gill, but the way from one end to the other descends a fair distance, and is hindered by colossal, ancient calcite formations.
Underneath the end wall of the large cavern lies a small chamber which contains some fine, white formations - a taste of what is to come. A short drop down and a sloping crawl with a strong draught lead to the top of a short pitch which can be by-passed by an easy climb. The way quickly emerges at the top of a boulder slope into the third chamber. The roof of the lower part of this chamber is covered with a white profusion of helictites, of every size and every imaginable shape, growing in all directions at once.
The floor of the cavern is of fallen blocks and mud, on which are tall stalagmites reaching towards the chaos of formations above. Off to the side it is possible to get closer to the roof and examine it in more detail - a forest of small helictites and stalactites, short straws and fragile looking crystals. There are too many for the eye to take in the strange beauty of any one. What causes them to grow in this particular part of the cave? Is it some special combination of moisture and draughts? Possibly it is partly due to a poor quality of the limestone, since most of the helictites I have seen in Britain are found in caves in the impure beds above the Great Scar Limestone.
The end of this chamber is a low arched passage which opens out suddenly into another very large cavern. The floor drops away steeply and to aid the descent of the first eight feet we hung the end of a long coiled rope around the corner of a large block. There were now only two of us, Chris Sharman and myself, since the others had returned to the previous chamber with the intention of photographing some of the formations.
We made our way across a calcite floor and down a steep calcite cascade to reach the far wall. A narrow crack between the floor and the wall was explored to a dead end. Behind us were a couple of holes out of which a draught appeared to be coming (these must drop into the sordid lower reaches of the known cave). We followed the wall round, past a clear pool of water, until there was no further way on except a steep muddy slope. This was climbed with a little difficulty and very shortly it opened out into another vast cavern - was there no end to these huge chambers?
We went round a large calcite pillar and I scrambled down onto the calcite floor. Chris elected to stay at the top of this short descent. With some apprehension I set about exploring the new chamber by myself. All this open space was quite unnerving! A calcite cascade, a narrow cleft, holes in the floor, a pool of water, finally I looked up to the top of a slope near to where we had come in, just in case there was a way on up there. Something white caught my eye. When I got closer I saw that it was a coiled rope hanging down the topmost part of the slope. With a shock I understood what had happened. The features of the new chamber had seemed vaguely familiar. Chris and I must have gone round in a loop and emerged above the floor of the previous chamber which I had diligently explored again without realising it was the same one!
Chris came down the short scramble and we returned up the coiled rope to find the others busily photographing the formations in the third chamber. It was time to go out. We detackled as we went and reached the entrance all too soon, despite some worries about finding the point of entry to the second chamber.
The Cueva de Sa Campana is well worth visiting. It consists of a series of very large chambers and is well decorated in places. There is only one short pitch and several short climbs to be tackled. The cave seems to be well known and popular, judging by the occasional pile of used carbide, and the footholds cut out on some of the climbs. The atmosphere was very warm (in December, but I expect it will seem refreshingly cool in mid summer) - I caved in T-shirt and trousers. The biggest danger is that the pleasures of foreign caving will put you off going underground in Britain ever again!