EXPEDITION TO THE CENTRAL PYRENEES 1965 by Jim Cunningham
In July, 1965, the Happy Wanderers organised an expedition led by Kenny Taylor, to the Ice Caves of the Central Pyrenees. A journal is being published giving detailed information of caves found etc. this is just a short summary.
On Tuesday 6th July, 1965, the ten members of the expedition met in the small Spanish village of Broto - the nearest village to the caves. Six members had hitch-hiked down, and four travelled by Bedford van, with the equipment and food.
Tuesday night was spent on a camp site near Broto, and on Wednesday morning the equipment and food were sorted out. It was then decided it would be necessary to take up two loads of equipment of about sixty pounds to our base comp - about five hours walk from the nearest road. Wednesday afternoon was spent in the camp pool swimming and sunbathing until 6.0.p.m. then we struggled into our pack-frames loaded with sixty to seventy pounds and staggered off on the long walk.
We hoped to get about half-way on Wednesday before dark, then sleep, and carry on in the morning. However, a thunderstorm developed and we were forced to take shelter after about one hours walk. Luckily, we found an overhanging rock which gave perfect shelter and spent the night there. We set off at 6.00.a.m. on a beautiful morning and arrived at the plateau - our base camp - at about l0.00.a.m. after an exhausting but beautiful walk.
We were surprised to find border guards on the plateau, and rather embarrassed when, swinging their Tommy-guns on their shoulders, they asked us for our passports, which several of us had left down at the van! However, after much gesticulating we got it over to then that we were not going over into France, but camping on the plateau. They were quite friendly then and helped us on with our pack-frames, which we appreciated greatly, as most of us could not get off the ground with our pack-frames on our backs without help. We then visited the mountain refuge which we had seen marked on the map. It was quite a large place, sleeping eighty-five and sold all sorts of food and wine - which pleased us greatly.
After refreshment with wine, we staggered the last fifteen minutes walk to a patch of grass next to a stream which we had chosen as our camp site and collapsed in heaps! We then ate a much needed meal, pitched our tents, had a short rest and set off back to the van with empty pack-frames. We arrived back about 6.00.p.m. packed another load onto our frames and walked up to the rock shelter again, where we again slept, setting off early in the morning. We arrived back at our camp about 12.OO.a.m. on Friday and spent the afternoon eating and resting and sunbathing in the hot sun.
On Friday evening we carried our ice-axes and crampons across to a steep snow field about fifteen minutes walk from our camp site to practice snow and ice climbing techniques. These were new to some of us and we had great fun learning to glissade, cut and kick steps and fall in the correct manner on the steep snow. These techniques came in very useful later.
On Saturday 1Oth July, we visited our first ice cave, Grotto Casteret, which is very well-known. It was about two hours walk from our base camp through beautiful mountain country, though quite hard going in places as we climbed about 3000 feet. The cave is very beautiful, at the entrance is a large chamber with a huge ice-lake floor. At one end are large columns forty feet high and at one side, the floor falls away with a forty foot drop into a smaller chamber with fantastic ice formations. The ice is very clear and the rock behind can be seen through four or five feet of ice. In the centre of this chamber is a huge ice flow with a beautiful carved surface with delicate fingers of ice of all shapes and sizes protruding.
The cave continues with smaller chambers all beautifully decorated, until it emerges into sunlight again, on the top of a small peak with a beautiful view of the mountains. We spent about three hours in the cave, and then the party split up, some going to look for new caves others going back to photograph Grotto Casteret.
Many entrances were found by the cave hunting party, and it was decided to go up the next day and bivouac in a small cave near the entrances, at about 8000 feet. This we did, and during the next three days we explored, surveyed and photographed six ice caves. Most of them were fairly short but all were very beautifully decorated. Exploration was not easy, as all the caves were entered at their points of resurgence and so the passage goes up, rather than down, as in a normal cave or pothole. Many steep ice-slopes were climbed, and in one cave a fifty foot rock climb was necessary to get into a continuance of the cave, in another, a swim across an ice-cold lake near the entrance was necessary.
The cave that we slept in was very small we were almost sleeping on top of one another. The floor was covered in rocks, which were not very comfortable but the view was fantastic. There was a large snowfield just in front of it, with many drainage channels cut into it, and behind this the reddish peaks of the Spanish Pyrenees.
On the last day of our bivouac we finished our survey work and decided to climb several peaks above us, as we were then nearly at the top.