CUCC Recce to Katavothra, Epirus, Greece
CU 1999 Contents Page Next:
Le Canyonisme aux Alpes Maritîmes
Austria expedition archive

Cambridge Underground 1999 pp 24,26-33


Clive George & Becka Lawson

December 1996

So it was off to sunny Majorca we all went. This is of course a lie as you would know if you'd seen the weather forecasts for Majorca, which you probably didn't; after all we didn't and we were there. But start somewhere nearer the beginning.

Day 1

We all gathered in a dark and dusty place -- well it was Julian's sitting room actually. The large piles of gear were eventually forced into various rucksacks and weighed at 20 kg each -- our baggage allowance. This left 15 each for our hand luggage. Hmm. Oh well leave that as a problem for tomorrow. So we went to sleep (or otherwise -- too much excitement). At 4am we all rose, just after Richard arrived back from work. Shreddies all round then we jumped into our luxury transport to Luton.

The first bit was easy -- we gave our big bags to the people in the oversize baggage bit and they took them away, leaving us staggering under the weight of our 'hand' luggage. Then the nasty people started taking an interest as they heaved the bags onto the conveyor belt and suffered several slipped discs. We were kept back and told to stand in the corner, which we duly did until we realised they weren't actually doing anything and we could carry on. So we sidled off.

Tony helped the stewardess put Sam's bag in, manfully pretending it had nothing but polystyrene balls and a toothbrush rather than the SRT gear, 2 lights, chargers and other associated bits of metal. Then boring, boring, boring went the flight with the standard revolting in-flight lard, but looking over the Pyrenees was good (can you tell I haven't flown for about ten years?). And then we were in Palma looking for coach 75B. Or was it 86C?

Huge pile of people in a hotel, so we rush to the front, confuse the receptionist by wanting to sleep in a different order to the one I gave them, but it didn't matter and pretty soon we were on the beach. Actually we faffed around for ages finding some lunch (pain moldo seemed a very good description of these dry sheets of foam) and some hire cars. Then after falling over a little on the ice-like wet tiles (Majorca is not designed for rain) we went to the beach.

A quick pootle via our first cave -- some random chambers we found along the coast, a bit of teetery traversing on mud and lots of people getting their feet wet. Then our route back to the road was skilfully chosen to be the house next to the one with the huge dog in it which started barking really loudly as Becka leapt the front gate. When we realised she'd landed on the road rather than in another more dangerous garden we all followed, our visions of various limbs being returned to us as being insufficiently tasty left unfulfilled. Then 5 minutes later Sam came up through another route and Julian prepared his sewing kit for action.

And home to dinner. Now here we were, seven supposedly intelligent cultured, nay refined, cavers. So what did we do at the sight of the buffet laid for us? Eat far too much. First everyone took the first thing they saw. Then for their second course they took what they'd missed. There was sufficient interest to keep this going for six courses in some cases (and that case was ignoring the meat options). Plastic chocolate cake with various ice creams finished pretty much everybody off so we went to unpack our wetsuits.

And then someone cracked and said "how about going for a drink" and being standard abstemious cavers to a man we all leaped out of the hotel and hit the nightlife of Magaluf.

Well we took one look at Benny Hill's Party Pub and said no. (I have since met a man who went in and he said it was as bad as it looks. I wonder what his psychiatry bills will be in the future). So we turned right. As the town began to run out and we'd looked at all the either closed or awful bars, various of the hardened drinkers were getting impatient. And like a beacon there appeared the Captains Arms! Well, it sold nasty beer but it did give us peanuts. And was full of old fogies so it gave us that proper Panton feeling. Bedtime was nearly declared after the first pint of Boddingtons until someone had the bright idea of trying something that hadn't come so far. Now the only problem is to communicate this.

"Er, can I have a beer please?"

Hmm we appear to be running out of choices. Some mumbling about Mallorcan beer is dutifully ignored, so we carry on through the eternal list until we come to the last one.

"Spanish lager?" "YES!"

So we ordered one, found it drinkable, got a few more, and our problems were over. And we got some more peanuts.

Day 2

Bright and early the next day. Well certainly the next day. Pretty grey though.

Becka was put in charge of food and obtained an orange each for lunch. Well, we were feeling a bit lardy after a breakfast at which all the same mistakes of dinner were made, only a little more deep-fried. And we picked up the cars and the rope and sailed off to the other side of the island to find Sa Campagna.

First we went gorge spotting. We set off up the twistiest roads we could find for as long as possible until people found a stream for us to look at. Yes, the top of Sa Fosca, dry but grass-flattened as if it had been flowing recently. Lots of greenery around to make the place look pretty. (Well something had to make up for the resort desolation of Magaluf). We looked at the reservoir at the top, with the water about a foot beneath the sluice. We generally pottered around and made ourselves at home and eventually thought about going caving.

So what should we wear? The three most experienced cavers -- Sam, Becka and Tony, two of whom had been to Majorca before, chose alpinex and oversuit. The bravest caver, Julian, who had packed none of this nonsense, chose lycra leggings. The two ouigees (Clive and Paul) were in T-shirts and oversuits. And Steve who is too big to borrow anyone's gear went in jeans. So we had a mixed bag. Off up the hill we tromped. Becka led with the map, and all proceeded faultlessly until Clive, Steve and Julian missed the way and found themselves at the top of the hill looking down a nice cliff at the rest of the party merrily changing at the cave mouth of Sa Campagna. But after some token shouting all went back on route and we eventually set off down the cave.

Ooh it's ever so big isn't it! After waiting for a group of Spaniards to go down (making us laggards feel less guilty) off we leaped. Double light failure was not to daunt us -- zooms were declared adequate and down the entrance pitch we went. Well some would call it a pitch. Not very free- hanging we thought. But never mind, all very easy going down.

We found a second pitch where we decided to leave Steve, our SRT novice, and off we went to the third/fourth pitches, which run together.

The cave is a series of big well-decorated chambers linked by short sections of small almost crawly passage. Yum. This caving is good. And warm too. The first and second pitches are down ramps and it's all very easy to get to the top of the third/fourth. Unfortunately there things got trickier -- the rigging became more technical and Tony soon started practising mud sculpture by the gossip technique -- throw enough at everybody and hope it sticks. He was no doubt inspired by the objects we had passed earlier, more anatomically correct than his wood carvings.

Time was prussiking away so I decided to leave, and on the way out met Julian and Steve, who had been persuaded down the second pitch. We continued out to the second pitch rope where Paul and I argued about who got to teach Steve how to prussik. Unfortunately most of the pitch was handline, so it was when Steve was well out of reach that he discovered he couldn't prussik even slightly. We watched for a while, and eventually I was sent up the Spanish rope to see what was going wrong. His footloops were way too short, which made the angled pitch very difficult, and he was completely knackered. The next attempt of tying a sling to the bottom of the footloops made them too long, but eventually something got sorted out and a very sweaty Steve made it up the rest of the rope. From then on it was easy -- all we had to do was find the way out of the second chamber and we were sorted. Hmm. It was up there somewhere. I ignored the way on by not looking right enough, and we wandered around aimlessly while people derigged until Julian found the way out again and with a flash the cavers were free!

That was a flash, wasn't it -- the entrance seemed to be getting illuminated occasionally. We emerged into a huge lightning storm which made the rugged limestone country look fantastic. With great fortuity a bolt came down from the sky at the trickiest junction so we were back safely on our way. Unless anyone thinks oversuits make good lightning conductors.

And the gear choice? Here I sneer, as those in alpinexes suffered terminal meltdown on the way out and were glad for the refreshing torrential downpour. But Steve got very wet!

Tony and Sam were chosen as lunatic drivers most likely to make it back to the hotel in time for tea, and we did. Sam only locked up a couple of times on the slimy hairpins and put a couple of new scrapes on the door mirror.

Cleanliness took over after the ritual gorging (of gullets) as the lovely muddy SRT gear, oversuits and even wellies got washed to a sparkle, leaving the bathroom a little browner than when we began. Julian used the "towel first" system when cleaning himself and we knew from then on which was his. He later said "every morning we left a tip for the chambermaids". It only remained to electrocute myself putting the lights on charge -- fx3 chargers mean it when they say an earth must be used, and we were ready for a beer. And once again we hit town, at the heady hour of 11pm.

Day 3

Next day found us at Andratx and St. Elmo for a pleasant walk up to a monastery at Sa Trappa and then down to what seemed a pretty little cove. We set off up the hill, had an animated discussion as to why those walls were there and why the water would run out of the swimming pool that it obviously wasn't, and then Becka and I had a fight over who was going to carry the rucksack. I lost, and Becka marched up the hill carrying her new trophy. At the top of the hill we found some nice rocks but she didn't enjoy carrying them quite as much. We zoomed off randomly through the forest, found our path to get to the cove and had the same discussion about the swimming pool again. Small lunch at the cove, then Becka whizzed off back to the cars. We followed more sedately and after being sternly told to avoid more swimming pool comments found Julian who had pleaded illness and missed the hill part of the walk. He said the cove was too grotty to warrant 5 minutes let alone the 40 he spent there waiting for us, and we were inclined to agree. But no Becka. We waited. Eventually the rucksack turned up attached to a slightly embarrassed carrier who'd been going faster and faster in a needless effort to evade her pursuers who were on a completely different path. And we set off to find Avenc de Corbora.

Having repeated Wookey's drive up a sump-crashing track we realised like he did that that wasn't the way and doubled back to find the cave at the end of some housing estate.

This cave was a short pitch which we waited above in a hailstorm while Paul rigged in American style and we gibbered since we only had weedy European rope. Never mind, the tacklesack'll protect it from the worst.

Once down, wander past piles of rubbish into a massive chamber. This scrambles on quite a way up, through heated bat shit, but back in the main chamber (at the back on the left, looking from the pitch) is an unobvious flat out crawl for about ten feet (eek this isn't very good, especially with no furry to cushion me) into another big chamber with the usual mounds of stal which is very pretty. Exeunt cavers, derig in the dark again, and back for our mean meals and beer. (I think we tried a couple of other bars and I lost both games of pool, but these things happen).

Day 4

There were varying degrees of keenness the next breakfast. Becka tried the "cough hour walk" technique of persuasion to get to one hole, but Julian won with his plan of four small caves, especially as the daily rain looked set in.

We started by creeping across fields trying to find Pont. This search was interrupted by finding a dog which went woof so we bid a hasty retreat and went to Pirata instead (the two are quite close). Pirata has been nearly completely show-caved, even with some electrics, so it was rather easy to walk round. Julian told tales of pools at the bottom so Becka donned her wetsuit. The slightly more sensible rest of us carried ours. The steps are made with chopped down stal, but there is enough left for a pretty impressive cave to just wander through.

There were two beautiful clear green pools at the bottom, which were wonderfully inviting, so we went swimming. Paul took about 10 minutes to don his wetsuit and by the end was near jelly as he eventually got in a state to get in and resolidify. We sploshed around in a generally fun manner, marvelling how the formations underwater were much sharper then those above, and how these pools didn't look nearly so nice as when we came in, sigh. So we went out admiring the cave on the way, well worth a trip.

Now we were on the other side of the dog, so we tip-wellied across the field wearing various subtle gear ("oh yes we always go walking in wetsuits, wellies and lights") and went down Pont. This was not quite as showcaved, but there were distinctive paths. This time there were 3 pools to play in, each in different sections of the cave. Unfortunately Julian only believed there were two and while he was frantically digging the second to find his mysterious green canal loaded with pretties and an island, the others went off and found it. I went along later on my own, and it was a bit eerie and very beautiful -- well worth a swim on your back looking up at all these untouched formations.

But surface must call and we all walked back a different way. We followed an obvious road and said "why didn't we park here?" to which an answer was found later when a gate barred the way. Sam was deputed to be luckiest, and this paid off when at the turn of the handle the gate swung open. The swinging sword triggers and rolling rock traps were obviously on holiday as we made it back to our building site carpark without event. The builders hadn't even loaded the cars onto a rubble truck so we felt that we had pushed our luck sufficiently and would do a show-cave instead. Julian recommended the Caves of Arta.

The trip looked ominous when the local electrician turned up to fettle the generator. After much waiting around (when we realised we shouldn't have paid until we were about to be let in, and Becka making a nuisance of herself, even slamming the door of the cave on the poor kiosk man who'd gone to retrieve this pesky foreigner) we got to go underground.

The cave itself was pretty good, basically being a large well-decorated chamber. Their tall stalagmite was very impressive -- tiers of flowstone, 40 feet high. The poor man tried to show us their organ music and lights show, but his electrics got the better of him which was possibly a good thing given the extreme tackiness of this part of the trip. He did get to go "dong" on some more stals though which appeared to cheer him up. Eventually at the end when he'd got us all past the gates, you could see the resignation when he saw we'd found a scrotty hole to play in and he let us turn the lights off ourselves while he went off for his tea.

When we got bored it was our hometime too.

Day 5

Halfway through our holiday and we still had Sa Fosca to do. Now with the torrential conditions we'd been experiencing, we were pretty sure it would be awful, so we went to have a look at a couple of easier gorges instead. On the way across the island you could see all the normally dry "Torrents" living up to their name a little more, and the marvellous drainage installed on the island wasn't coping particularly well.

We tried a walk out of the walking book to get to a rather drier gorge, Mortitx. The routefinding was exemplary -- we did perfectly until the book said "At this point the path becomes more indistinct", and so did we (Boring aside: keep traversing to the right following the cairns until you can see the headland, rather than dropping down into the gorge). Much wandering across hills later, we spied the gorge below with a lovely white river flowing down it. So we changed plans and set off home. After successfully finding the path back, we managed to follow each other into some muddy fields where we wandered in circles for a while until someone noticed and we could go in the correct direction. The GPS had been left with Julian who was asleep, so we could all blame that.

We splashed our way across the mountains again, noting the fallen rocks in the road, and had a look at the bridge over Sa Fosca again. It was now quite a sight -- much better than the waterfalls walk. All the pretty greenery had been submerged under the gushing water where even fools in wetsuits would fear to tread and spray and mist filled up to the top of the canyon and more. Just before we left a TV crew turned up to film the spectacle.

The bottom of Sa Fosca comes out as the Torrente de Pareis, normally another easy walk. We reasoned that it would be silly to attempt to go down Pareis, so we went to the bottom where it meets the sea. Postcards of the bottom show an idyllic cliffy beached area reminiscent of the final scene in "Spaceballs". All the merry holidaymakers in that picture would have been drowned when we got there. Julian donned lycra all-purpose leggings and set off crossing the river. Becka followed in normal dress, and I brought up the rear having taken the time to take my trousers and boots off. Crossing the river in bare feet was quite painful, so when I eventually caught the others up they were on their way back. They appeared to be clinging on the side of the gorge almost fully immersed and beaten. They only got about 300m upstream, and couldn't even make the (normal) third river crossing. So we returned to the more sensible dry people. Becka discovered that a rucksack is a good float, but probably not a sensible place to put all your dry clothes. She even got the chocolate wet!

The day was not yet over though so we went and looked at the reservoir at the top of Sa Fosca. The water was about a foot above the overflow, giving a fairly spectacular cascade. We did wonder about the survival chances of someone in a very thick wetsuit but decided we'd need a French Stuntman to find out. Then we noticed half our party had disappeared so we went off to find them near the bridge with the TV crew. Just a bit higher than the bridge is an aqueduct, which you can use to walk uphill to get to the bottom of the dam. Downhill goes to a disused, empty water tank. Apparently Paul got the lowest brain points for standing nearest the edge of the waterfall coming down over the dam, and it was all very noisy and impressive.

Day 6

Wednesday was declared to be a cliff day. Off to Puerta Pollensa to do the cliff walk which has been removed from the third edition of the walking book for being too scary. Steve and I got vertigo and descended before it got silly and exchanged shouts across the valley with some dots on the skyline. These dots said there was an 11 second drop to the sea from where they were.

After some confusion about where to eat lunch we then went off to do the "cough hour walk" cave, Penya Rotya. Not very far into the walk we found a stray caver who'd just been there and persuaded him that we had string and spare SRT gear and that he'd love to do it again. Not mentioning our standard route-finding abilities of course. So off we went along another cliff with completely secure twigs as hand rails. At one point the path went through a building attached to the side of the cliff, the entrance to which was too tight for our poor rucksacks ('pop' we went into the secure twigs on the way back).

When we arrived at the hole, all hot and sweaty from the walk, we discovered the ovenlike draft issuing from the cliff. Fairly quickly oversuits were abandoned and shorts and T-shirts chosen as suitable garb. Apart from Julian in his all-purpose lycra leggings again.

This cave is described as a maze leading to a pitch. Well we found the maze easily enough, and after much scrotting around even found some sort of pitch. A flat out crawl (yum, raw flesh) led to a chamber with some of the wild helictites we were promised (although they looked quite docile to me), but we never did find the fabled mammoth bones. On emerging, surprise surprise it was dark! So we picked our way up the cliff again and zoomed home, first carefully arranging to meet this random caver -- a man called 'JJ' who Sam recognised from Matienzo, oh how incestuous our small world is -- at around half past ten the next morning.

Tea happened and then Tony, who'd been very disappointed with the quality of beer drinking going on, eventually spurred us all on into the fabled "sesh". This time we turned a different way and found more strange bars and more yucky schnapps but no more peanuts. It was all going well until we decided to return to the bar we'd rejected earlier. The tout outside had tempted us with free schnapps, champagne and karaoke, but after comments of "we want a normal bar" we carried on. However the beer had lowered our taste threshold and we returned. The initial mistake was the 2 for 1 beer offer. This set Paul up for a career in toilet decoration. The rest of us manfully continued, with Tony desperate to go and have a sing. His initial attempt with 3 of us helping was unsurprisingly dreadful, so he eventually plucked up the courage to go solo. Unfortunately we completely missed his performance, so when we'd cleared the table (including the extra half round that was the second mistake) we left. Julian and I staggered along the road until we realised that the roads near the hotel looked nothing like this, so we turned round. We then picked up Sam and Tony who'd been following our voices without much difficulty and returned the correct way. On the way we heard a flailing Becka desperately trying to find someone. She'd left last and found the way home all on her own, but failed to find anyone in. So after a joyful reunion it was all off to bed. Or under bed, where Julian chose to sleep. It was well after 4.

Day 7

At 8 am someone knocked on the door. We crawled to breakfast where the fried congealed bacon looked distinctly unappetising. We tried to find two drivers who were actually sober. We all got in our cars and unhappily set off for the hills. My tummy decided after about 10 minutes that it didn't like breakfast so that got left by the side of the motorway. More disappeared at Inca so we were a bit late when we met JJ. Manfully we all went to where you park for Fra Raphael, on the way depositing a bit more of Clive's breakfast.

The keenness was significantly lower than the previous days. I sat under a tree and went to sleep, Julian wandered off and did the same. Tony moaned about contagious breakfast removal but managed to keep it all in, and they all walked off to the cave.

Unreliable reports say they spent the first hour and a half rigging the wrong bit. Then once underground Tony sat on a rock while the others went caving, which was jolly as usual. By the time they'd all emerged, I was feeling almost human again, and we went off to wash our ropes in the Torrente de Pareis.

This was a fitting end to the holiday -- standing in a beautiful valley in a stream playing with rope as the sun went down. Julian and Becka donned wetsuits and left rucksacks behind to see how far up the gorge they could go, and returned in the dark, while we cleaned up in a pleasantly relaxing manner. We bid our farewells to JJ and went home.

Becka's Boring Bits

Avenc de Corbora:
Turn left off the main road, don‘t take the first piddling track on the left, instead go around the corner and turn left into the village proper and follow the main road, it finally deteriorates into an unmetalled track, stop when you reach a T-junction. Walk right here for 100m, turn left on a faint track just before the big gates and the cave is about 150m.
Fra Raffael:
You need good directions, but then it is easy to find. Drive to the 16.3 km sign on the coastal road towards Pollensa, where there is a 50m rough track to a thief-ridden picnic spot.
Mortitx walk:
There is a big, obvious bolted shaft very near this walk. To relocate: follow the Mortitx walk directions from the road until you pass the second gate. Now, about 30 m away on your left is a 100m deep shaft (honest guv!), which apparently suffers badly in wet conditions. There is a bolted Y-hang to start, it is not Avenc de Llora, but the other VIII Avenc in Julian's list, and Sam had 1.25 descriptions of it, so someone should be able to tell you the name.
Penya Rotya:
Go through Alcudia and Mal Pas and take the small road sharp right to the Ermitage Vittoria. Walk up track until the switchback where an obvious path leads off left, sort of contouring, with good cliff views, leading to some weird buildings. After the second building take a fairly clear trail to the right of the cliff (not far), to the bottom of the cliff, then contour left to an obvious cave entrance. At the end of the entrance passage, squeeze between stals onto a steep calcite ramp, follow the draft to find this, it is not too high (which chokes) or too low (which leads to another pitch series, Via M....?). After the ramp, turn immediately left through a crawl duck into Vestibule chamber. At the bottom, on the right side, is the pitch to Sala Roma (which we didn't get rigged, faff, faff) and at the top of the chamber, after loose larger boulders, is the "flat out crawl (yum, raw flesh) which led to a chamber with some of the wild helictites we were promised".
Puerta Pollensa:
Follow an easy cairned route to the top of the col, then scramble up to the peak, go over on top of the natural arch with lots of exposure, then take a scramble down the next col. Tony was very unimpressed by our gully route, and suggested going diagonally to the right of the gully, then switchbacking left, following some sort of track.
Sa Campagna:
We started to rig (but didn't finish) the fourth pitch, which runs straight on after the third. There is some cave after this, and then the final fifth pitch beyond it. Leave plenty of time if you want to bottom it. If you don't have time, a good plan would be to get to the top of the third, then put a hand line down into the obvious big passage straight ahead (where the Spaniards went) and have a wander around there, rather than fannying about on the right where the real 3rd and 4th pitches go, as these will take some time to rig.
Sa Fosca:
Look at the reservoir levels before doing it and get a decent weather forecast (from a Majorcan paper).

Bits and Bobs

CUCC Recce to Katavothra, Epirus, Greece
CU 1999 Contents Page Next:
Le Canyonisme aux Alpes Maritîmes
Austria expedition archive