Today’s cave was going to be quite a tough one – over an hour’s steep ascent with a fair bit of kit to carry, and a decent amount of caving to be done once we got there. It was also described as ‘a small entrance hidden by bushes, extremely difficult to find’.
On a daily basis I had been translating the Mallorcan Caves book from Spanish into English so that we could follow the directions to each cave and the descriptions once inside. This particular set of directions was particularly hard to translate with lots of words I’d never seen before, so I had to guess the meanings – hopefully I’d get it right?
Step 1 - We found the suggested place to leave the cars, but were immediately confronted by the local farmer who was pissed off with cavers leaving their cars there. He agreed to let us stay there if we promised to pass on the message to others to park elsewhere.
Step 2 – a house had been built across the path we needed to follow! We decided to skirt around the fencing to see if we could pick up the path. My translation read “look for the dry water channel” and indeed, there was a gully running behind the house that obviously would run with water in the rainy season.
Step 3 – my translation read “go up the (gully) until you pass two “…”, go under them.” This also made sense when we came across two kind of strainer gates across the gully, which were hinged so we could climb underneath.
At the end of the gully we came to the mountain proper, and set off to struggle uphill. All went well for the next half hour as we followed the book’s directions, which coincided with the GPS signal. As we made our way higher, however, we girls kept following the directions in the book (according to my dodgy translation), whereas Mark and Brendan set off over the top of the hill with their GPS and Wal decided to follow his nose.
Our group ended up going too low into the gully and needed to climb back up to pass a vertical wall. Setting off up a climb which was easy going at the bottom, I found that the holds got sparser and the wall got more vertical as I got higher, turning into something that I would hesitate to do on a rope, let alone soloing with a big kitbag! Hoping that Chloe was following OK, but unable to stop, I finally reached a ledge where I could rest. I looked down to find that Chloe was nowhere in sight.
For the next 45 minutes I was completely alone in the mountains. Calling the girls and panicking that someone may have got hurt I climbed up and down and around until rounding a corner I came upon some cairns which I figured must be on the route. Even better, the girls finally answered my shouts, but from what seemed miles away in the bottom of the valley. Telling them to keep coming upwards, I set off to find the guys, and success! I could see Wal on the edge of the next cliff. Unfortunately the girls were now out of earshot again, so Wal called Mark to come and help, and eventually we were all reunited, if rather shell shocked from our near-death experiences. Mark told us that even with the GPS coordinates he had spent at least half an hour locating the cave mouth as it was so well hidden.
I had been really looking forward to this cave, Cova de Cornavaques, and I wasn’t disappointed. Really unusual formations and shapes and colours in the walls and the roof, and incredibly long thin roots which were hanging into the cave and had calcified made this cave one of the best yet!
After a fabulous time in the cave it was time to set off back to the cars. Helen obviously hadn’t had enough excitement on the way up and slid over an edge – we just saw her backpack disappearing! Luckily she wasn’t hurt and we made our way safely back down just as the light went completely. A bit of an epic day, but surely no caving week would be complete without one?
Present: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey, Steve Wal Wallis, Helen Nightingale, Loz Appleby, Chloe Burney, Phil Lester and Brendan Marris
Report: Jess Burkey