Cueva Culiembro, Spain
In 2009 and 2010, supported by the Ghar Parau Foundation, a team of cavers and cave divers arranged an expedition to Cueva Culiembro.
Culiembro is a ‘resurgence’ cave which means this is where water exits a cave system. It is located in the Picos de Europa mountains in Northern Spain. The water for Culiembro flows into the mountain high up on the ‘ario’ plateau more than 1200m higher. Here there are many known and explored caves which carry the water down inside the mountain, many of which end at deep underwater pools where the passages become entirely submerged. Since the 80s the Oxford University Caving club (OUCC) has been exploring caves on the ario plateau and many cavers have dreamed of finding a connection between the potholes in the mountains and the resurgence in the gorge – Culiembro. In particular there is a deep pothole called Xitu on the plateau, one of the first explored by OUCC. It was the first cave to be extended below 1000m by a British team in 1981 and became famous for British potholers because of this. Finding the connection to Xitu was the main objective of the 2009 and 2010 expeditions.
Before 2009 there had been many expeditions to Culiembro by cave divers to look for a connection to one of the caves above but all had come back empty handed, either stopped by new underwater sections requiring diving or large waterfalls which needed scaling.
The 09/10 team spent two weeks each year in the field based at the village of Cain, high in the Picos de Europa mountains. During these two weeks they worked in the cave to survey the passages, climb waterfalls and dived unexplored underwater sections.
Finally in 2010 the group found the route through to the bottom of Xitu. One of the team dived a short sump and surfaced in a new section of cave. Looking up he suddenly saw the letters O.U.C.C 1981 high on the wall and knew that the long sought after connection had been made.
The Ghar Parau Foundation was an important supporter of the Culiembro expeditions. Funding helped provide rope, climbing hardware, karabiners, slings and emergency equipment for use in the cave. The connection between Culiembro and Xitu made the system 1,264m deep and it is believed to be the deepest cave system explored by a British team.