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British Caving Expedition to Morocco 1966 by Jim Cunningham

The object of this expedition was to connect two large cave systems, the Chikker and the Friquato situated near Taza, Morocco.  These had been extended Last year by a British expedition who dived the sumps at the then known ends of the caves, and found several miles of new passages, bringing the ends of the caves within half a mile of each other.  It was reported that there was still very much work to be done on the other side of the sumps, the three divers on the previous expedition being greatly overworked in the miles of passage found.

This year's expedition, which was led by Bob Wright, comprised, twenty—two members, four being Cave Diving Group members and another four having  diving experience. There were seven Happy Wanderers (seven divers) four Bolton Speleo Club members, three women, and members of the N.S.G.  north West diver, Warrington Caving Club, and Croydon C.C.  Transport was provided by four Land Rovers and two trailers, though the two home-made trailers soon broke down, and we limped into Morocco with four heavily overloaded Land Rovers!  The journey down, via Madrid, took six to seven days, but was very interesting.

We camped in the Friquato car park, about fifteen miles from Taza. This may sound strange, but both caves have been made into show caves by the French government before the war. They have long since fallen into disrepair, but the concrete steps etc.  were very useful in the Friquato, especially on the 300 ft. entrance pitch.  In the Chikker, all that remained of the pathways were the metal handrails. This was unfortunate as the entrance series is an almost continuous deep canal, which supports much reptile life including snakes. The only way to keep out of these pools, which smelled horrible when disturbed, was to hand traverse on the rails, which was quite strenuous when carryingThe Wanderers in Morocco diving equipment.

Our main hope of progress was to drain the Friquato sump to enable a strong, well-supported party to fully explore and survey the far side, and only rely on divers if this could not be done. Accordingly we had brought with us long lengths of siphon tube and also a small petrol driven pump. After a preliminary exploration of the cave, J, Southworth and D. Stewart dived the sump to assess the possibilities of siphoning to the far side, and also for a quick exploration there.

They decided that the sump could be siphoned and set off to explore the large passage. This they followed for about a mile down many mud slopes, soon realising they must have passed the branch passage heading towards the Chikker, but carrying on to explore the virgin passage.  The return up the steep mud slopes was very difficult, their diving knives coming in very useful as mud pegs. On the way back they discovered the branch passage and followed the previous year's survey points to a pile at number twenty-six when they returned through lack of time.

The following day siphon tubes were dragged in and two days spent trying to siphon the sump away. However, trouble was caused by small leaks in the seventy-foot hose, which let in air, so stopping the siphon flowing. In the end, it was decided to try the petrol pump. It was accordingly dragged in and the outlet tube was laid so that it pumped back through the sump. The pump started with no trouble, but the carbon monoxide detector soon read danger, so it was left to work by itself.

Half an hour later a party wearing diving gear came back to check it. The inlet was found to be blocked and this was shortened and it began to pump properly again.  However, at a later check, it had stopped.  Rod Mumford and John Rushton began working on it but were trying to save air from the bottles as we were short, and weren't breathing all the time from them.  After about fifteen minutes Rod collapsed with no warning at all. John tried to help him but felt himself weaken, and just managed to shout for help and stagger a few yards before also collapsing. Both were dragged clear and given artificial respiration from the air bottles, but as they were recovering everybody was feeling ill effects from the fumes, and the rest of the air bottles were blown off to clear the air, before everyone hurriedly left the cave.

A day later the C.0. detector still read danger - in fact, five days later it still gave the danger signal. All the diving gear was collected and brought out for a thorough clean and check. We then had no air; the compressor we had brought with us was not working properly, and it was over 500 miles to Casablanca, the nearest 'filling' station! That night a Land-Rover set out for Casablanca with all the bottles. In the meantime, we explored the Chikker and several other nearby caves, but could not do much. Two days later, the Land-Rover returned and we learnt that they had not been able to get the bottles filled in Casablanca, as they had not passed the Moroccan test.  Instead, they had hired us a large bottle to decant into our smaller ones. A connecting tube had been made up from the high-pressure hose on our compressor, but when we tried to use it a broke at a brazed joint, so we wasted another day getting this repaired in Taza before we finally got out bottles filled.  Incidentally, Dave Stewart got himself bitten by a snake on this trip though he doesn’t know how, and was out of action for the rest of the expedition.

In this way, we wasted g lot of time, before it was finally decided that we would have to rely on divers. It was decided to have a big push on both caves at once, and accordingly we carried gear into the Chikker, nearly drowning one member on the way, who fell off a hand traverse wearing a weight belt.

The next day, J.Ogden,   F.Barnes, and R.Mumford dived the Chikker, and after about half a mile reached a huge boulder choke. They spent over five hours probing every nook and cranny of this, but in vain. At the
same time, J.Rushton and J.Southworth dived the Friquato sump. They followed the previous year's survey point  to number twenty-six  after which no more could be found though the survey had gone on to fifty.  Number twenty- six was situated in a massive chamber just before a boulder choke, with numerous holes through it. They entered one and emerged in a chamber of Gaping Ghyll size, though about a quarter of a mile long!  It took them
several hours to explore as they kept getting lost in the boulders, it ended in a pitch estimated at a hundred and twenty feet.

The following day F.Barnes and L.P1att passed the sump with 150 ft. of ladder with the intention of descending this pitch. However, they took a different hole through the boulder choke and found the last of the previous year survey points, which again ended with a pitch. They descended this, finding it to be about 130 ft. but it was choked at the bottom. On examination of the chamber at the top though, they found a well-concealed
passage, heading directly for the Chikker. This was explored for about 1,000 ft. through three ducks and several beautifully decorated chambers, until it was decided to return through lack of time.  Incidentally, all these trips through the sumps took around twelve hours.

The following day J.Ogden, R.Mumford, and J.Cunningham passed the sump to complete the exploration of the new passage and survey back. This was done, a further 400ft. of passage being found to a large boulder choke.
when plotted out the passage was found to be 1,400ft. long and heading directly for the Chikker, stopping only about 1200 from the final choke in  this cave, However, it how seems that the two caves will not be joined without extensive digging and blasting, which is unlikely to occur in such a remote place!

It was then time to set off home and after a day's packing, the convoy moved off. We went back up the south coast of Spain after spending two nights in Gibraltar. The return journey took nine days, but it was very interesting, with plenty of time for swimming and sunbathing.

Editor's Note:

I am in debt to the British Cave Research Association for supplying me with a copy of this article.
http://bcra.org.uk/