The new exploration project of the Association La Venta Esplorazioni Geografiche on the karstic plateau of El Penòn in the department of Santander
Situated in the Andean region of Colombia, on the eastern side of the Cordillera Oriental, the El Penòn plateau is an oasis teeming with greenery located at 2500 m altitude and characterised by intense karstification that has profoundly shaped its morphology.
The subsoil of this plateau hides an immense underground universe waiting to be explored and whose environmental and bio-speleological heritage is being revealed to the scientific world thanks to the work of the Colombian Speleological Federation 'EspeleoCol' and the Humboldt Institute of Bogotá (an independent research body run by the government of Colombia and in charge of conducting scientific research on the country's biodiversity). The main actor in this research is our friend Jesùs Fernandez, who for many years has been inviting us to come and discover this beautiful area.
Accepting his invitation, the La Venta expedition called 'El Penòn 2023' took place from 24 November to 9 December 2023, in collaboration with the Colombian Caving Federation 'EspeleoCol', and was attended by 7 cavers from Italy, 1 from Switzerland and 3 from Colombia.
They were joined in the last days of the expedition by Prof. Daniel Gutierrez Ardila and Prof. Carlos A. Lasso from the Humboldt Institute, one of the world's leading experts on the biology of underground river ecosystems, and with whom it was possible to document the exceptional cave fish 'Trichomicterus Rosablanca', an endemic species of the El Penòn plateau. In 2023, Prof. Lasso was appointed 'Ambassador' of La Venta in Colombia, in recognition of the great research and popularisation work he is carrying out, and, precisely during the expedition, he was named by the prestigious periodical 'El Pais' as one of the 75 leaders of Colombian society who are transforming the country with their work (https://elpais.com/america-colombia/branded/los-lideres-de-colombia/2023-12-06/carlos-lasso-el-indiana-jones-de-la-biodiversidad.html).
As this was a first for La Venta in these territories, the objectives at the start were multiple. From an exploratory point of view, we had identified, thanks to the study of satellite photos, some areas of particular interest, including a very specific zone on the edge of the Vaje de Panama walls.
In addition to this, there were all those 'institutional' activities that were essential to establish contacts, starting with the local authorities such as the municipality and the police, up to the most capillary contacts with the campesinos who inhabit these areas, all of which were aimed at understanding the scientific goals of safeguarding and conserving the territories affected by La Venta's activities.
Despite the ambitious objectives, the numerous unknowns and the risk of a simple prospecting, the expedition brought results far beyond the best expectations.
The La Venta expedition was the first to reach the top of the vertiginous walls that tower above Vaje de Panama, and thanks to drones, a gigantic portal was spotted inside a completely hidden rock amphitheatre about 150 m below. The portal was reached after three days of work on the wall to find the right abseiling route and still remains partly unexplored due to lack of time.
We also explored, mapped and documented an important system of fossil tunnels that can be reached through a large collapse in the middle of the jungle, the Hoyo de las Palmas, a cavity already known at least for its initial hall due to the presence of an important colony of Guaciari, a bird that is very common in South American caves, but in which we explored hundreds of metres of new tunnels. Unfortunately, we missed the connection to the large portal in the wall due to a large underground landslide from which a very strong wind came, which repelled any desire we had to pass. Other shafts in the middle of the jungle were located thanks to drones and then explored, mapped and documented, always with the hope of intercepting the system of large tunnels below.
A great combination of elements that make it possible to make an absolutely positive assessment of the expedition, which, although short considering the actual 10 days in the field, was very intense from a physical and human point of view, in which every day the mud and fatigue accompanied us along with the desire to reach new corners of darkness never before illuminated by man, and the smiles of the children who were jubilant in the streets of the village as they chased the drone.
There is a feeling that we have laid a good foundation on which to structure a well-structured project, an all-embracing "geographical exploration" project, ranging from geological, anthropological and biological aspects to the protection and preservation of the karstic wealth of this territory, which is still greatly undervalued by the local communities themselves, who would benefit greatly from protecting and enhancing these natural resources.
Therefore, it will be very important to make an important effort to develop a new sensitivity towards one's own territory, making people understand the importance of the underground world as guardian and reserve of the most important resource we have, water.
During the course of the expedition there was no shortage of official meetings with the authorities of the area and a training day on vertical cave progression techniques was organised for the young EspeleoCol boys willing to learn and improve their skills.
Partecipants: Luca Gandolfo, Frank Vanzetti, Anna Sabbadin, Lucia Confente, Mauro Baratto, Alvise Rossi, Andrea Fersuoch, Jesus Julio Fernandez, Sebastian Alzate Fernàndez, Carlos Lasso Alcala, Edwin Gonzalez, Deicy Quitian Patinò.
Sponsor: Ferrino Outdoor, Milesbeyond, Calzaturificio Gaibana, Primus Equipment, Tiberino 1888, Atlaua, Insula,Agenzia 4Winds.
Luca Gandolfo - Associazione La Venta Esplorazioni Geografiche