Category Archives: Uncategorized

Exciting news: The 2022 Expedition

Cave explorers have been visiting the Western massif of the Picos de Europa mountain range in Northern Spain since the 1960s to chase the ‘Ario dream’ of finding Europe’s deepest cave system. This year the Ario expedition is returning with two objectives, firstly an attempt to make a historic connection between two deep caves, Sima Cabeza Muxa and Asopladeru La Texa involving cave diving. Secondly to continue the exploration of a cave called ‘C4’, a vertical 600m+ deep cave that is a part of the Verdelluenga system, and featured in the ‘Ario Dream’ film, that has now been connected to the iconic ‘2/7’ aka Jultayu cave.

Cabeza Muxa was last visited by a UK team in 1988 when at the bottom of the 900m deep cave the downstream sump (water filled passage) was dived by Rick Stanton to a depth of 33m using scuba gear. It has remained unexplored since then and offers the potential for a significant hydrological connection. The cave contains the largest stream way in the area and the water here is believed to drain to Cueva Culiembro in the Cares Gorge. The end of Sima Cabeza Muxa and Culiembro are about 1,500m apart with a height difference of about 200m. We will plan on re-rigging Cabeza Muxa to facilitate continued cave diving exploration in the downstream sump using closed-circuit rebreather technology. Exploration of the Sima Cabeza Muxa watercourse could provide an important connection between two major deep caves in the area and this would allow a fuller understanding of the hydrological connections and drainage in the region. In turn, this will support and enable future exploration efforts in the area as part of the multi-generational effort to map and understand the cave systems of the Ario plateau.
C4 was first explored in 1996 and 1997 and became the focus of the 2015-2017 expeditions. Finally, in 2017 a major breakthrough was made when the cave, which drops into a major stream way called ‘Underground Overdrive’ was connected to the main watercourse in another cave called ‘2/7’.  Upstream C4 has split into a number of passages, chambers and avens, many of which are ongoing and should allow a connection with other important caves in the area as well as other potholes feeding into the upstream end of the system. With several ongoing passages, much work remains to be done in upstream C4 in search of the ‘Ario Dream’

STAY TUNED for more updates

‘Britain’s Most Brutal’ Stephs Spine Blog

Expeditions require alot of training and mental fortitude, read more here about what the Ario expeditions skills can transfer to here:

My race no., the label of madness for passers by

Summit Fever Media
Click here for: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 10

The journey not the destination

Only 110 miles to go! Beaming on Jacobs Ladder

At the top of black hill, happy as Larry
I'm still in shock, is that really my name?

Home turf. Buck up, no being rescued by my own!

The Crux

It was time to Woman up!

And so, we eventually made it, but in a way I didn’t cause the person who set off wasn’t the one who walked over the finish line.


This one, cracked open to a whole new radical interpretation of what’s Possible

 Only an hour after the deed & my whole body was starting to swell, the 'tankles' on Mon were impressive!

Steph and Mike, were joint 6th overall and Steph was the only and hence 1st lady to finish in a time of 41 hours 52 minutes and took 5 hrs 39 mins of the existing ladies record.

My why

Sarah Fuller an amazing mother who has finished the full 270 odd mile Spine said that you need to know, your why.  As in the deepest darkest parts of your misery you might need it to hand.

Mine is: to prove to women that if I can do it, you bloody well can! But it would not have been the same without all the support, belief and encouragement I got from so many incredible friends, many impressive women athletes. Women need to receive those 3 things as much as the boys do because we know scientifically they really make a significant difference to participation and performance.

Thank you so frickin much to those who’ve changed my life.

I also did this in aid of two charities, the Cave Rescue Organisation for which I am an underground controller and the mental health charity, Mind Yourself, because we should!

Mind Yourself:
Cave Rescue Organisation:

Feet firmly back on the floor

Delighted ;-) pulling my gritty oversuit over achy limbs. Prepped for the 'beloved' de-rig.

A caving friend asked me, so is it the hardest thing you’ve ever done, how does it compare to your expedition caving? Well, there were glimpses at the end when it felt immense but it’s hard to compare the two. I’m no-where near as experienced a fell runner as an expedition caver, but what is for sure, it was as almost hard as some of some of the more challenging caving trips I’ve done or the time I had to self-rescue from deep within Pozu del Xitu with a few broken bones. But what is defiantly different, is after the climax of the ‘race’ aka when you exit the cave, you re-emerge into solitude, in my Ario context 1,800m up a harsh, pathless mountainside where you’ve to continue to survive and then prep yourself a few days later for another epic, totally uncelebrated detackling of the cave. That’s the difference and that’s what humbles me.

The two eejits at camp in Cave C4, some 350m down

I LOVE YOU MIKE and thank you for sharing this amazing journey with me.

For more info visit:

A life loved for an interview with me covering different aspects of the race, my strategy and training, me generally, women in sport and more, –

The Fellsman – a cavers foray into fellrunning

ARIO DREAM Wins Peoples Choice Award at KMF

The Ario Caves Project is delighted to share with you that the film, the ARIO DREAM, won the ‘Peoples Choice Award’ at the 2017 Kendal Mountain Festival.

From Left to Right, Paul Diffley (Filmmaker), Mike Bottomley (ACP Co-leader), KMF rep & Steph Dwyer (ACP Co-leader)

The film, made my Paul Diffley of Hot Aches Productions, follows the 2016 and 2017 expeditions in their quest to connect Europe’s deepest cave, as cave divers Paul Mackrill and Tony Seddon attempt to pass the downstream sump at -650m in the cave known as C4 in Spain.

The expedition team and the countless cavers that have been involved in these expeditions for over 50 years are absolutely elated.

The final graphic of the ARIO DREAM film, the list of all the cavers involved in the 50+ years of exploration.

The film featured in 5 events over the weekend and it’s premier was the first event at the festival to sell out, prompting a second screening to be added raising funds for the Cave Rescue Organisation. Over 400 tickets were sold at KMF events. In addition, the Ario Dream was shown as part of the “Best of Kendal”, with a further screening also held on Sunday at the Rheged Centre near Penrith. In total, is it thought that over 1,000 people saw the film over the course of the weekend.

Filmmaker Paul Diffley looking happy with his trophy after a long weekend

For those of you gutted to miss out, there will be further showings as the ARIO DREAM tours adventure festivals and events world wide, so stay tuned on here.

But for those of you who simply cannot wait The ARIO DREAM film is now available for download at:


Ario cavers attempt 108 mile ultra for charity

Steph and Mike, the leaders of the Ario Caves Project are attempting the Montane Spine MRT Challenger, a 108 mile ultra endurance race. It starts in Edale in the Peak district and follows the Pennine Way over the fell tops to Hardraw in the northern Yorkshire Dales. The race starts on Sat the 13th of January 2018 and they will have 60 hours to complete it, however only 20 of those hours will be light! 

They are hoping their experience of expedition caving, spending days at a time in total darkness will offer some little advantage. They are the furthest possible thing from elite runners but are attempting this crazy race in the depths of winter for two charities – their own Cave and Mountain Rescue Team – CRO  and the brilliant mental health charity – Mind Yourself

So please donate here, every £1 helps those in need:

Cave Rescue Organisation: CLICK HERE

Mind Yourself:  CLICK HERE

Mental Wellbeing is something very dear to Steph’s heart as she has just finished her MSc in Psychology and conducts research into Mental Wellbeing and the health inequalities that hinder this. The Irish in Britain are the subject of significant health inequalities and subsequently have some of the poorest wellbeing in Britain. Mind Yourself provide support and help to all whom need it. Please mind yourself and others by donating.  


More info about the Spine race CLICK HERE

Thank you so much for your support and belief, we really appreciate it.


Ario in the Sunday Times

A superb 6 page feature in the Sunday Times magazine of 5th March 2017.

Written by Ario veteran David Rose it covers Paul Mackrill’s dive in Special Agent Sea, discovery of The Sanctuary and writes enthusiastically about the Ario Dream.
It’s a wonderful bit of writing and well worth a read!

The online version is behind a paywall, but you can still get to read it for free. Click on the Get Access button and you will be offered complimentary access to two articles every week. You will need to register your email address, but it is worth it!

The Women of Ario

Steph Dwyer has written an article about the contribution made by women to the Ario Caves Project.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the spirit of Feminism and in celebration of International Women’s Day I wanted to write a few words to highlight the significant and inspiring contribution that women have made to cave exploration in Ario. In doing so I will mention some of the great characters whom have inspired me to be better than I dreamed, whom have lifted me up and forward, in the hopes of passing this empowerment onto the young ladies beside me.

Read more…. (101Kb)