Wow, what an amazing expedition with 10 superb cavers whose company has been intense, entertaining and emotional! I guess its up to me to provide some sort of summary or conclusion, but to write a conclusion for one of the most exciting and hard caving areas in the world would be sad and indeed stupid. A summary for this years trip would be more appropriate. It feels like we have only scratched the surface of entertaining the potential in Peru, unlocking it, enjoying it and developing a project for the future generations of caving to exploit.
Essentially the expedition took a group of highly experienced guys from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences to visit some of the toughest terrain in the world at an altitude to be respected by all, and here we decided to push hard vertical caves, some with active water systems in them in temperatures close to 0 degrees. In doing so we have completely re-written the worlds highest caves list, started a new chronology of caves in 3 districts of Peru and have all used our current underground skills, developed them and shared them with an international team. As our kiwi brother Adam would say – it has been a complete mash up of knowledge, skills and technique. An international team bridging gaps in ideas, tools, motivations and prejudice (we had 3 Canadians AND 3 Aussies on the trip!) took on the challenge and completed it with little ego, lots of enthusiasm and huge amounts of good humour.
We started our Peruvian soiree in Lima where we kitted up and drove to Cajamarca where Peruvian caver Jhon Human had passed on a glowing lead 6km north of the proposed Conga mine site. Jhon’s involvement in the Peru caving scene has been lengthy and he is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the long term caving project here. He was lucky enough to join Nick Hawkes et al in the Sima Pumacocha epics in 2001-2004. These highly successful epics were the inspiration behind the 2012 trip and I feel lucky to have been involved with some of the participants from those expeditions. In Cajamarca we drove out to the Pampa Verde site where the large Rio Jadibamba sinks into the limestone at the contact forming an impressive sized entrance and luring us that far at least from our various arm chairs in various continents. On arrival we stayed at around 3700m on Senor Andreas Mateo’s farmstead, an ideal location 400m from the main sink and COMPLETELY surrounded by enticing limestone and various huge sinks/dolines. It was however apparent from the get go that the water exits the good rock a km away and disappears off down the valley towards some somewhat finer looking karst. However, we had come to do a job and do that job we must!
The system was full of water – adding swims and scary traverses above deep pools of icy water making the cave very sporting. The main system was around 800m long and 40m deep. In the opposite direction from camp 2 other entrances into the system were explored and surveyed with active streamways assumed to be the same water, several other caves were explored and mapped on the hillside to the south and west of the main sink. We tried to follow the valley to an impressive line of dolines 4 km east of our location and right above the steep contours into the lower valley below but unfortunately the locals had no comprehension of speleology and assumed us to be evil right wing miners who were there to steal their water, resources and suck the life from their families for our own financial gain. After some extremely serious conversation and frustrating negotiation, the locals declared that we would not be allowed onto their land and the argument seemed pointless in pursuing. We decided our efforts were wasted here and would be best spent elsewhere.
Back in Cajamarca we met the lovely local head of tourism Maria Victoria Vilca Alfaro (Vicky) who told us about potential areas to concentrate our efforts on a little further south in the Cajabamba district. Within 48 hours we were at her families farm in a remote valley where Nic and David took some horses and rode off in search of cave and glory, this was one mode of transport I for one had not prepared for! The local caves were not in very good limestone and our search continued, warmed by the welcoming local people and their generous hospitality.
We headed south again to a more limestoney block above the town of Cajabamba proper. With a local guide we were shown some horrendously scary roads that led to a fantastic plateau. for several days we explored “el chorro” (the squirter) and a few side caves around there. El Chorro is a strange overflow cave full of bats. It involved a VS climb to the entrance (one bolt drilled!), some crazy bat attacks and some good bolt climbing and sporting cave. it was dry for the most part and is thought to be part of the system connected to the lake to the north west. it was around 770m in length. Other caves in the area were explored and surveyed and we eventually headed to the falls that some from the lake on the western plateau. Here things got interesting. We found 12 vertical holes, 2 with 10 second drops in a very interesting location, but due to time we didnt get to explore them. It was time to head south to pick up 4 new team members and drive to the expeditions main objective in the Yauyos district…
more to follow later