Monday, 12 December 2011

Digging in North Wales

10th December

Tony and Emma came up to visit, and we headed over to a cave called Ogof Dydd Byraf in North Wales for the day, where Becka and Julian (Martin also with them) had been recruiting cavers to help in a North Wales Caving Club dig which required large numbers of people to operate.

The first part of the cave is an old lead mine. After a few minutes a slightly constricted ladder pitch breaks into natural passages, some of which are very large and really pretty. After this, it probably took us about 45 minutes of fun caving to get to the dig; via a series of flat out crawls, another ladder pitch and a handline climb.

The dig itself would have made Wallace and Gromit proud. After a long flat out crawl and a small boulder choke, we had popped out into a large chamber containing stacked piles of sandbags holding back more piles of sand. The dig face was located 50 odd metres into a downward-sloping, crawling-sized tube at the base of the chamber. Since bad air collected at the bottom of the dig, a ventilation pipe had been rigged up all the way down the tube. Back in the chamber, it was connected to a fan run off a car battery which some poor sod must have dragged in previously! Various drag trays were used in the tube, with people positioned at each corner to transfer bags of sand from one tray to the next, and more people in the chamber emptying the bags, which would then be returned to the dig face.

By the time I had worked my way forward to the dig face, having a go at each job on the way, the Great Escape theme tune had inexplicably found its way into my head. The digging (which, it is hoped, will eventually lead to a known part of another cave beyond a sump) was in nice dry sand. After a couple of stints at each job, with some sandwiches and tea in between, we headed out.

T/U 7 hours

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Couple of Peak District Trips

13th November

A couple of hours underground in Mouldridge Mine, rescue training. Casualty for the day took his job very seriously, including classic lines such as "I'm really sorry, but I think I've wet myself!"

20th November

Kathryn and I headed down Streaks Pot to try and do the through trip. Things got off to an inauspicious start when we parked in the wrong place. We then drove off again with the guide book and description on the roof. Only the guidebook was there when we stopped, so we ended up doing the trip with no description. This meant that we managed to see pretty much every single bit of passage in the cave, some bits 3 or 4 times, as we tried to work out where the way on was!

After descending the pitch just inside the top entrance, we climbed down a couple of rifty sections and spent an hour and a half in the upstream series, convinced that there must be a way on and that we'd done the whole cave. When we'd finally given up and all but decided to head out the way we came in, we found the actual route on to the downstream series, under a shelf which we'd missed earlier. From here, a mixture of squeezy bouldery bits, small stream passage and sandy crawls soon had us back on the surface after a slightly more epic trip than we had anticipated. We then ambled over to the top entrance to recover our rope. Both entrances are full of unfriendly-looking spiders.

Driving back, we even managed to spot our description lying by the side of the road and confirmed that there wasn't much of Streaks Pot that we haven't seen!

TU 2.5 hours

Monday, 31 October 2011

Yorkshire Dales

29th and 30th October

We headed up to Bull Pot Farm to meet up with CUCC this weekend. Becka and Julian were also threre so I volunteered to help them, and Andy, in a dig down Ireby on Saturday. After dropping me off at Masongill, Becka and Julian immediately set off back to the farm to pick up two helmets and two lamps that had been left behind (I'm sure they could have fitted them in the back with me rather than doing a shuttle run, but never mind...). So Andy and I headed into Ireby together. Or rather, Andy headed into Ireby at lightening quick speed and I toiled hard trying to keep up! We did a bit of housekeeping at a couple of digs near Duke Street, until Becka and Julian arrived and we headed up into Skylight Passage towards another dig near Duke Street II.

It was fairly civilised as digs go, enough room to just about wield a small shovel and easy digging in dryish sand. After 60 odd drag trays full, the air was getting a bit stale and we headed out to a drizzley evening.

T/U 7 hrs

Feeling fairly broken the next day, I'd already been up for a couple of hours by the time the CUCC breakfast machine was swinging into action, so I went to help Becka and Julian survey Witches Cave, which is about 40 odd metres long, unless you're a cave diver. Other than various sumps, the main notable feature was a squalid, muddy 4m climb up on a hand line too greasy to hold. After floundering around like a beached whale, 1m off the ground for a few minutes, I gave up and watched in disgust as Becka levitated up the climb as if she was on a chair lift, with placating remarks about "having a grippier oversuit or something like that...". Suitably chastened, I had another go, and was rewarded at the top by another 2m of cave and a pitch down.

T/U 1hr

The weekend ended, like all good weekends should, with tea and a bacon and egg bap in Inglesport.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Summer Shenanigans and Autumn Antics

Some furtlings in various caves over the August-September period.

28th August - Flood Resurgence Number 2
Whilst visiting Toby, we had a trip in their exciting new find in Applecross (which is really very pretty in places). Our visit (also with Richard) coincided with BBC Alba filming a short piece for their local news program in Gallic, so we helped carry some gear in. You could just about see us getting changed in the background on TV, and there was a fine shot of Kathryn's back underground. Since then, life has been a whirlwind of agents, film premieres and fashionable London cocktail parties, but I think we've managed to stay pretty grounded. About 4 hours TU. Toby took some photos of the trip.

17th September and 5th October
Trips to Peak Cavern and Bagshawe (DCRO training). Total 6hrs TU

8th and 9th October Chris' Birthday Caving in SWales
Cracking weekend at the Croydon Hut in Ystradfellte (which isn't pronounced that way). Somewhat bemused to see my Austria article from Speleology a couple of years back pinned to the notice board, so I left an autograph on it...
Saturday saw some nice easy, wet caving in Bridge Cave, White Lady Cave and Town Drain (aptly named) and Porth yr Ogof (and Little Neath for some).
On Sunday Kathryn, Nial, Jess, Bela, Djuke and I went to see some pretties in Draenen - very nice indeed. Total 5 hrs TU

13th and 16th October - Peak District Caving
Kathryn and I spent an hour and a half in Bagshawe Cavern, in our first proper mid-week, after-work caving trip - a very satisfying thing to be able to do! We had a look at most of what you can see that isn't gated off: the streamway, the Glory Hole and the Lower Series.
The following Sunday an excellent 4 hours was spent down P8 with CUCC novices. It was wetter than I had seen it previously, with a huge foamy head on top of the sump pool, but my gear has never been so clean as a result!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Expo 2011

Kathryn and I just spent 3 more weeks in Austria with CUCC, from 16th July. The grand plan this year was to set up an underground camp in Dead Good Bat Chamber, a dry, sandy floored cavern, 400m vertically down in Steinbrückenhöhle (aka 204). From here we could spend a few days at a time exploring some of the deeper leads and looking for the connection into Tunnockschacht. Here's how it all went...

Day 1:
After arriving in Austria at around midnight the previous evening (sharing the driving of Djuke's car, in convoy with Alex and Jess), we had a fairly relaxed first day sorting out base camp - putting up some tarps and setting up the bier tent in the hot sun. In the late afternoon a bit of a windy thunderstorm struck, so we spent the rest of the day sorting out basecamp again after the tarps tore and the bier tent leaked!

Day 2:
I think I had a few too many bottles of Gösser last night. I woke up well after 10 am with a splitting headache and a tongue so furry that it needed shampooing. The camp was a hive of activity and everybody was ready to go for a first carry up to the plateau. After drinking as much water as I could stomach, I drove a car load up the toll road, the meandering of the car remarkably coinciding almost exactly with the hair pins on the road. We carried a first load of gear across the plateau, up to top camp - no mean feat in my fragile physical state. We spent a few hours at top camp hauling gear out of winter storage and setting up the rainwater collection before heading back down to the valley in the early evening.

The plateau in fine weather.
Day 3:
With only 3 weeks for the camping team to rig down 204, set up an underground camp, use it and then dismantle it and derig the cave, we realised we were in a race against time. So Djuke and Kathryn went underground today to rig the entrance pitch and the big 70m pitch, 'Gaffered'. Meanwhile, Nial, Jess and I did two heavy carries of gear up to top camp (separated by an ice cream at the Bergrestaurant). We got to top camp the second time to find Chris in a mildly concussed state, having stood up too quickly under the stone bridge, finding a particularly sharp bit of ceiling in the way!

Day 4:
We had originally planned to get up very early to walk up to top camp and rig further down into 204, but it was raining heavily when we got up at 7am. (This was possibly a blessing in disguise, as it would turn out that the rigging trip would take far longer than we'd anticipated, and adding a walk up to the bivy to the day would be a bit excessive!) It rained fairly solidly all day and the forecast was no better for tomorrow, so in the late afternoon, rather than waste any more days, we walked up to top camp anyway, with the intention of doing the rigging trip tomorrow. We got thoroughly soaked in the process, with both Kathryn and Djuke taking some nasty looking falls on the plateau, but things were moderately cosy at the bivy. Nial and I spent some time packing the 4 bags of rope (about 350m or so), 50 hangers and 20 slings that we'd take down the cave with us tomorrow - it looked like a crazy amount of gear! We snuggled into our bivy bags before 10pm, listening to the rain still hammering down outside the stone bridge, and the tarps flapping in the wind. Unfortunately, the tarps weren't quite in full working order and, whereever I moved by camp bed, I found myself under a drip or with a tarp flapping in my face, resulting in a pretty damp night and a wet sleeping bag!

Day 5:
With so much rigging to do, the plan today was for Nial and I to set off obscenely early with the rope, with Kathryn, Djuke and Jess setting off three hours later with as much of the camping gear as they could carry. Hopefully they wouldn't catch us up until we were at the proposed underground campsite location, otherwise there would be a lot of cold waiting around to do, whilst we rigged the pitches. Given how wet my sleeping bag was, getting up at 5:45am wasn't as much of a chore as I expected!

At 7am Nial and I were teetering across the plateau with two bags of rope each - this must be some sort of club record for early starts! We made steady progress through the cave, our loads slowly becoming lighter as we continued to rig downwards.  The rigging duties were shared between us, so that we could stave off the cold as much as possible, but Nial did most of the scary bits! As we reached the Underworld (the horizontal level above the campsite) we could hear the girls nattering several pitches above us, so we turned on the afterburners a little to try and keep ahead of them.

We finally made it to Dead Good Bat Chamber in the early afternoon, and sat in the sand for a while eating some food, both of us quietly contemplating what it would actually be like to camp here in a few days time. Twenty minutes later (what awesome timing!), Kathryn and Djuke arrived carrying several bags of camping gear each. To avoid too much traffic, Nial and I set off for the surface pretty much immediately (finding Jess a couple of pitches up). It was a tiring 4 hour prussic out of the cave, which made us all feel that maybe camping wasn't such a silly idea afterall. Even lugging the empty tacklesacks through the horizontal sections was almost more than I could manage by the end of the trip! The five of us made it to the surface early enough to walk wearily back down to the toll road and drive down to base camp after a physically demanding but really productive day.

Time underground: 11 hours

Day 6:
A well earned day of festering at base camp to recover from yesterday's exertions! We spent the day planning the first camping trip - drawing up lists of what was required, buying extra food in Bad Aussee, working out the timings for the night shift and the day shift (we would be 'hot bedding' to make things more efficient - carrying three people's worth of gear into the cave was easier than six) and looking at the cave survey to finalise which leads we'd push. The underground camp would be known as the Butlins Holiday Camp

Day 7:
Kathryn, Holly and I were going to be in the night shift for the first camp, meaning that we'd not be heading underground until tomorrow. This made for a very restless (and rainy) day at base camp, especially when the day shift (Nial, Djuke and Jess) left to head up to top camp in the afternoon

Days 8, 9, 10: the first underground camp
Another wet morning in Austria! The three of us had a damp walk up to top camp (with Fer and Aiora, who had just arrived and were doing their first carry), and were finally underground at 3:30pm, with some tacklesacks full of food and clothing, and a drill. We were planning on staying down for two 'nights'. Half way down the cave I casually looked in the drill bag and noticed that the setting tool for the bolts was missing - disaster! I spent the next three quarters of an hour prussicing back out until I found it sitting on a ledge below the Gaffered pitch. What an embarrassing waste of time, after all our earler efficiency! At 6:30pm we finally made it to camp and had our first underground cup of tea.

Holly and Kathryn making tea at Butlins
We soon bumped into the day shift: they had started hand-bolting their way down a hole near the camp and had returned to go to bed with the lead still going. Kathryn, Holly and I would take over the lead and use the drill to speed things up. After the initial couple of 20m drops in a large phreatic tube, which the day shift had discovered, we found ourselves at the top of a sequence of short drops separated by large shelves, taking a very small stream. Drill bolting down these was very enjoyable and not too scary, and I soon became lost in the process. Kathryn and Holly were surveying down the cave, usually a couple of pitches above me. Unfortunately, unlike drilling, surveying can be very cold, especially in a wet, draughty stream passage like this one. They were soon chilled to the bone. It was approaching 3am, so we left the lead still going and headed back toward camp, spending a couple of hours making a start on rebolting the Chalk and Cheese pitch just above camp, where the rope was rubbing against the rock quite badly.

By the time we made it to camp (5am) we had been up for 22 hours and were cold and tired. Surprisingly, once we'd turned the stove on and made some hot drinks, it was warm enough to sit around (on small pieces of roll mat) in our furry suits. This also helped dry the suits and thermals off. We ate boil-in-the-bag curries with couscous and had some more hot drinks, before waking up the day shift with even more hot drinks. I had been worried that it would be very cold when sleeping at camp (the caves are about 1 degree above freezing), and that I would be unable to sleep in the absolute darkness. Both fears were unfounded. With extra thermals, a spare furry, a fibre pile sleeping bag and a fleece liner, all in an old tent inner, I felt as cosy as I had ever done (possibly even as snug as a bug in a rug) and was wearily excited at the prospect of finally spending a 'night' underground after so much planning. Having been up for so long we were all totally knackered and slept right through the day with no trouble at all.

Holly gets ready to go to bed, whilst Djuke gets up.
We were woken at 6pm on Day 9 by hot drinks from the returning day shift. They had finished off the vertical lead we'd been pushing when it degenerated into a tight rift. The tent inner and sleeping bags were a bit damp from condensation, but still warm.

We spent our second 'day' (or night - every time I looked at my watch I had to work out whether it was am or pm!) in an area of Steinbrückenhöhle known as The Wares, looking at some of the many un-explored passages in the hope of extending the cave towards Tunnockschacht. Most of the leads choked after a few metres, or connected back into known bits of cave. We found two interesting passages however. The first led, via a sloping mud-floored chamber, containing some strange sand castle formations, to the top of a pitch with a freezing cold draught coming up it - a very good sign - we would return another day with fresh drill batteries. The second dropped down a steep narrow stream canyon to a horizontal walking-sized passage. We left this lead still going, at the bottom of an awkward climb. We had had a productive day.

At 7 am on Day 10, we were in bed once more. For various reasons, none of us slept very well this time. Our body clocks were no longer fooled and had now worked out that it wasn't actually night time afterall. This meant that we weren't as sleepy and had to get up loads to pee! In addition, the constant dusty atmosphere had started to irritate my nose somewhat - a condition known as 'cave bogeys'! By the time 'morning' came round (6 pm) the day shift had exited the cave. This was a surprising psychological blow (and meant that nobody was around to make our breakfast!) - I felt ready to get back to the surface myself now.

We spent the next few hours surveying and finishing off the lead in the Wares that we'd left the previous day before beginning the long prussic out. The ropes above the Underworld were beginning to get excessively muddy - sometimes when I slid my hand jammer up, it would slide straight back down the rope again. At 3:30 am, on Day 11, we finally dragged our ailing bodies out to a beautiful clear, starlit night on the plateau. I'd like to write something romantic about sitting outside gazing up at the night sky. Unfortunately, there were more pressing matters at hand: the first thing we did was to dig a hole and bury the 18 person-days worth of human excrement that we'd so lovingly collected (in compostable bags) over the past three days.
The toilet.
Time underground: 60 hours

Day 11:
We woke up at 8:30am to a beautiful morning at top camp. Later in the morning, with the day shift, we walked down to base camp. Having only seen brown things for the past three days, the views across the plateau were particularly stunning; vivid, green and sharp, with a dozen or so wild gemze eyeing us from afar. It felt wonderful to be on the surface and as I lounged in the river at base camp a little later, I wondered where I'd find the motivation to camp underground again! Entering the survey data into the computer revealed that 204 was now about 500m longer, with many tantalising leads still to be explored. Over dinner at the Gasthoff, we discussed what we'd learnt from the first camp: sqaures of roll mat to sit on were a necessity not a luxury; drill and lamp batteries needed to be kept warm; we could have carried fewer thermals and shared sets between day and night shifts for sleeping in; poo bags need to have the air squeezed out of them to save space; and above all, camping underground in Austria works! As the beers took their toll on our 3-day dehydrated and underfed bodies, conversations became somewhat less coherent. I found myself dreaming of finding the Tunnockschacht connection and finding bottomless pits and vast caverns. Before I knew it I had been persuaded to spend even longer underground on the next camp.

Day 12:
Another well earned rest day was spent eating ice cream in Bad Aussee, buying more cave-food, planning the next camp and removing cave-bogeys from my nose.

Day 13, 14, 15 and 16: the second underground camp
It was already time for the next camp! Nial, Kathryn and I were now making up the day shift and Nial had somehow persuaded us to have a three night stint underground. How could this be happening already! I'd sworn during the harder moments of the last camp that this was it, I'd had enough and would quit caving altogether as soon as I was on the surface once more. Yet, two days later, memories of how cold and  dank it was were dulled, but the excitement of new finds was still vivid. So here I was dragging myself, and a tacklesack, through the 204 entrance crawl early on a Friday afternoon, not to surface until the following Monday evening. Seriously, how the hell was this happening!? This is not what 'long weekends away' are about!

The three of us made it down to camp in the mid-afternoon and dumped our food for the four days. Then we headed back up the bottom pitch, Chalk and Cheese, on our way to the draughting hole we'd previously found in the Wares. Two metres below the pitch head, I found that a section of rope had rubbed through to the core. This was dangerous, and we would really have to rebolt the pitch to make it safe as a matter of some urgency. For now I tied out the damaged section of rope and we made sure that we prussiced very gingerly. In the Wares, Nial drill-bolted his way down the freezing cold pitch until he'd used up all the rope (we had about 90m with us). We left the lead still going and headed back to Butlins for a curry (alas no poppadums) and a very cosy night's sleep.

The rope rub on Chalk and Cheese
Day 14 saw us back at the pitch with a little more rope. The draught was very impressive and we were convinced it would lead us straight into Tunnockschacht where we'd meet the other expo-ers and exchange champagne and medals. Unfortunately, we ran out of rope again with the pitch still heading down (and probably too deep for the connection) so we derigged it and headed back to camp for an afternoon cuppa. With a few hours to kill before bedtime, we had a look a a lead near the campsite - an awkward climb to a potential passage high up on the walls of Dead Good Bat Chamber. After a very sketchy climb and a traverse across a mud slope we hit the jackpot - a large phreatic passage storming off into the distance! 100m of surveying later, through a large chamber and with more passage ahead, it was bedtime. We'd call the passage 'A Grand Day Out'. Tonight, for a change, we had tortellini with cheese sauce at camp.

After another comfortable night's sleep (albeit slightly colder owing to having got wet feet the previous day), we spent Day 15 pushing and surveying the passages beyond A Grand Day Out. The cave changed in nature. We found a steeply downward sloping and smaller section, leading to a rifty horizontal area - the Chicken Run. A narrow section of cave (a Close Cave) led to a pitch which we also descended. We returned to camp with another 250m of survey data and woke the night shift from their fitfull day's slumber.

Tortellini on the second night of camp 2.
Our final day underground had finally arrived. The night shift had exited the cave in the middle of the night after their leads had died. We got up at 7 am and we decided that packing up camp and attempting to haul everything out of the cave between the three of us would be a massive day's work in itself, even without doing any surveying. Camp was dismantled into a monumental amount of gear: 5 tacklesacks, a set of 3 roll mats, a large green army bag, a small-suitcase-sized pelicase and three 10 litre Daren drums. Carrying this lot through horizontal sections required multiple shuttle runs, and prussicing with so much gear was back-breakingly hard work. Nevertheless, we agonisingly inched our way upwards with Nial derigging at the back.

We reached the Underworld (the next horizontal area) after a couple of hours and began shuttling the gear through the next set of passages. By now the bags were so muddy that it was becoming very difficult to grip their haul cords. I was on my own a few minutes ahead of the others when I heard voices up ahead. A blessing from the heavens had arrived: Emma, Olaf, Gareth and Holly were hoping they'd be down the cave in time to see our camp and scrounge a cup of tea! Instead they agreed to act as tacklesack mules! They kindly took half of our gear from us and set off out, whilst the three of us continued upwards at a slower pace, but with morale vastly improved. We derigged the next pitch series and pulled the 200m rope up the pitches with us (known as paella'ing). At the top of Gaffered, we had accumulated a lot of rope again and were beginning to struggle. But our four heroes returned again! They'd dumped our gear on the surface and, feeling sorry for our plight, turned straight back around and went underground again! Together we pulled 300m of rope up the Gaffered pitch which we would leave there for another day. We finally emerged at 7:30pm, in time for a beautiful sunset (after the ceremonial burying of the poo of course...).
A gorgeous sunset as we emerged from the cave.

I won't attempt to describe quite how repulsive our thermals and underwear were - they had been worn for 4 very sweaty days non stop.

Time underground: 78 hours

Day 17:
Another beautiful day for a walk down to basecamp (having first attempted to sort out the repugnant pile of muddy camping gear at top camp).

Day 18:
Nial, Kathryn and I walked up to top camp (with some new UBSS expoers, to show them the way). We spent an hour there trying to make our caving gear sufficiently flexible to wear once more, and then a further hour underground pulling out the 300m of rope that had been left at the top of Gaffered. When we resurfaced things were clouding over rapildy and it had started raining heavily by the time we made it town to the toll road. A very pleasant meal of cheesy stodge followed by fuity stodge was then enjoyed at the Loserhutte.

Time underground: 1 hour

Day 19, 20 and 21:
Expo was pretty much over for us now :-( We spent the next day recovering, sheltering from the rain, washing our caving gear in the river, and  looking forward to the expo dinner. Then it was a day of packing and more sorting of gear, before setting off at 9:30pm and driving across Eurpoe, finally ariving in New Mills 25 hours later.

Got a spare twelve and a half minutes? Then here's a video of the trip:

Monday, 6 June 2011

Top Sink - Pippikin Pot

Saturday, 4th June

This is otherwise known, rather pretentiously, as the Greater Ease Gill Traverse, as it involves caving between the furthest upstream and downstream entrances of the system - it's the classic Ease Gill trip. Today was the culmination of quite a few other trips into the system over the years, via various other entrances, to try and learn the route. Kathryn, Emma, Jess, Nial, Gareth and I reckoned that between us we knew all of the route except the bit between the 88ft Pot and Mistral. We'd use the description from the Black Book of Misery for that section.

Before making our way to Top Sink, we put a rope down the Link Pot entrance pitch (which we would go past about two thirds of the way through the trip) so that we could leave the ropes that we had pulled through from Top tied on to the end. This would avoid us having to take them all the way out of Pippikin Pot. Emma and I rather smugly, and much to the derision of the others, managed to tie a scotch egg and a malt loaf onto the end of the rope so that we could enjoy a little treat when we passed by the bottom of the pitch later. After that, we strolled over to Top Sink in weather that was really far too nice for caving.

With a team of six, pulling through the two pitches in Top Sink was a fairly slow affair. But after that we made steady and sweaty progress, with no significant navigational difficulties, through to Holbeck Junction, Stop Pot and into the High Level Route.  At Oxbow corner we chose to head down into the cooling Main Drain before climbing back out at Stake Pot, and repeating the route we'd learnt earlier in the year towards the 88ft pitch.

New territory for me, the 88ft pitch was a pleasant, fluted shaft with a fixed rope in place. I don't know how deep it is, but it felt like I'd been abseiling for approximately 26.8 metres when my feet touched the ground once more. Next was the Wormway, 20mins or so of crawling and stopping through some flood prone passages that lead underneath Ease Gill Beck itself. This brought us to Echo Aven, another pre-rigged pitch (this time going upwards) and the route into Link Pot.

Several stressful minutes ensued when we struggled to get our bearings and find the entrance pitch to Link and I thought I'd miss out on my snack, but thankfully we worked it out in the end. My scotch egg was intact and delicious, but I had to share it with a couple of inquisitive beetles living at the bottom of the shaft, whose interest had been piqued by this apparent gift from the heavens.

We left the ropes from Top Sink attached to the Link Pot rope and, a bit weary by now, began the long crawl into Mistral. This part of the trip wasn't as bad as we'd all expected, barring a couple of very wet flat out sections. Now with one wet ear each, we found ourselves staring up at the bottom pitch of Pippikin Pot, and our route to daylight.

Pippikin Pot is an absolute pig. It's probably quite fun on the way in, with fresh limbs and gravity on your side, but after 7 hours of caving it's really not what the doctor ordered! The most notable obstacle is above the penultimate pitch, where an upward sloping squeeze in a rift section is found. Unfortunately, this starts some 3m above the floor and requires some rather acrobatic manouvering onto an in-situ scaffold pole to gain access to it. We dubbed this 'birth canal caving', not just because of the nature of the  passage, but because of the combination of encouraging, soothing sounds made by whoever was helping and pulling on the far side of the squeeze, and the agonised screaming by whichever unfortunate wretch happened to be in the squeeze at the time.

After battling our way through several more similarly awkward sections, by which time I was feeling very dehydrated and starting to get cramps, we finally emerged to a lovely sun-drenched evening. Feeling elated but rather tenderised, we made our way back to Bull Pot Farm after retrieving our ropes from Link.

Superb trip - an absolute classic. It was made all the more satisfying by the fact that we used our collective knowledge of the system, and the description, to complete the trip, rather than being shown the route through! Unfortunately, we now need to set our sights on Top Sink to Bye George Pot, which is technically a bit further... oh well, more caving to be done...

Time underground: 9 hrs

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Gaping Gill

Saturday 21st May

The Bradford Pothole Club were running the winch meet at Gaping Gill starting this weekend, so we decided to make use of the rigged entrances and floodlit main chamber. Martin, Olaf, Kathryn and I headed down Flood Entrance Pot, after deciding against Bar Pot when we saw the caver traffic jam at the top. The main chamber was really impressive with the flood lights on and the sight of the winch hoisting people up the shaft into daylight is particularly memorable. In addition, today, a group of people were playing improvisational music (drums, trumpet a cello and a lone dancer wearing bicycle reflectors - don't ask) in the main chamber, so we watched them for a while. I don't think the caving world is quite ready for such avant garde art forms yet though...

After a bit of a side trip into North West Passage, which is possibly the muddiest place I've been, we headed out of Stream Passage Pot. It was nice to see a new bit of the system and the pitches are very impressive.

T/U 5 hrs

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

South Wales

29th April - 2nd May 2011
An excellent long weekend at Whitewalls where we met up with Emma and Nial. Three cracking trips, followed by a lazy afternoon at Big Pit on Monday when we were all too broken to do any more caving.
Caves attempted:

Craig a Ffynnon - Promised Land

Estimated time underground:
Usually we go to Craig for a slack Sunday trip and turn round at the Hall of the Mountain King, so it was good to have the opportunity to explore the far end of the cave; known as the Promised Land. Beyond the Hall of the Mountain King, there's a long crawl, followed by some larger passage and then a boulder choke, to reach the top of a small pitch. It seemed somehow appropriate that just like those random people in London, we were also trying the knot - except we were getting Italian hitched as we belayed each other down the ladder...I'll get my coat...
The Hall of the Mountain King; Nial bottom left

The Promised Land is a mostly-pleasant, long, straight passage which is tantalisingly close to Daren at it's far end. Back at the top of the ladder, we had a quick side trip to look at the very nice formations in Helictite Passage, but unfortunately I don't think my photos came out very well.

Ogof Draenen - Round Trip

Estimated time underground:
Previous CUCC attempts at the Draenen round trip had apparently resulted in major route finding headaches and a missed callout, so it wasn't without a little trepidation that we decided to give this one a go. We made quick time through the entrance series, past Megadrive and as far as the Arms Park. This was where the route finding really began, as this was new territory for us.

The first obstacle was Squirrel Rifts - a confusing complex of passages which, on the survey at Whitewalls, looks like a toddler has been scribbling randomly on a piece of paper. The description we had with us suggested we followed our noses to get through this section and couldn't go too far wrong. I guess our noses must be crooked in just the right manner because we seemed to find our way through to the climbs down into Haggis Basher without too much difficulty.

Heading downstream, we joined the large gravel-floored Agent Blorenge streamway, which eventually became narrower and led, via some tricky climbs, to The Sewer and The Sewer II - wet sections/ducks (although the second sewer can be bypassed by climbing up the rift before the duck). Agent Blorenge eventually joined the main Beyond a Choke streamway, and at this point we turned upstream. A kilometre of very pleasant stream passage (and a couple of very minor boulder chokes) brought us back to White Arch Passage and the entrance series (we missed the turn off for Tea Junction or Wonderbra bypass, which would have offered a bit of a shortcut to Beer Challenge crawl).

The round trip is really fun, with a huge variety of caving but not too much that's difficult or terrifying. It was also very nice to see a different bit of Draenen finally.

Daren Cilau - Frog Street

Estimated time underground:
The past two years of caving had been great fun. Streamways, abseiling, prusiking, climbing, great formations and huge passages. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. It was time to go back to Daren (minus Kathryn, who found that the very mention of this idea brought on a migraine). So it was that the three of us inserted our already-ailing bodies into Daren's squalid entrance crawl in an attempt to find some recently discovered formations in Frog Street. Forty-five minutes later we were striding down Jigsaw Passage in slightly better spirits, and two hours of moderately arduous caving saw us down at the bottom end of Bonsai Streamway, looking for climbs up into higher level passages.
The first climb we tried, turned out to be a wrong turn. Two electron ladders and a handline climb (which should really be called a pitch!) led to a fairly small tube. This in turn led to a very pleasant sandy-floored passage which we explored in both directions - left leading to a traverse arounnd a hole. The survey back at Whitewalls showed that we were in Half-Mile Passage, and the hole led down to Crystal Inlet. We'd actually climbed out of Bonsai Streamway at the Eastern Flyover.
Pleased with our find, but still keen to see Frog Street, we returned to Bonsai Streamway and finally found the correct climbs up. This was much more like what we were expecting - flat out crawling. A left hand turn led into an even smaller, body-sized tube. Just as mild claustrophobia was beginning to get the better of me (there was no room to turn round and no sign of the tube getting any bigger) we intersected a slightly larger passage and soon arrived at a dazzling set of straws and helictites. Crawling under the formations with amazing urchins and corkscrews inches from our noses was even scarier! I can't even begin to imagine digging under them.

After various appropriate 'ooh's' and 'aaa's' and plenty of photos we began the trek out, and immediately realised how broken we already felt after three days of caving.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Titan - Peak Cavern Through Trip

With Martyn G (TSG member, showing us the way), Nimrod and Adrian.

Titan hasn't got any smaller. Unfortunately everybody's lights have become brighter though...

Once we were all back on the (under)ground at the bottom of Titan, the rest of the trip was great fun! There is such a variety of obstacles (crawls, climbs, traverses, ladders, streamway, boulder chokes, mine passage) that the caving is always interesting and exciting and never boring. We took a side trip to visit Speedwell Main Rising and the Bathing Pool (both very impressive sump pools) before contnuing downstream, through the aptly named Colostomy Crawl and out past the tourists in Peak Cavern. An absolute classic!

Time Underground: 4.5 hrs

Monday, 28 February 2011

Ogof Draenen

26th February 2011

Kathryn, Emma and I had travelled to Whitewalls from our respective locations to join a 3-person Cambridge contingent. With the possibility of very small caving groups and therefore minimal faff, it was an excellent opportunity for doing a long trip, so the three of us settled on trying to find the formations at the very furthest southern tip of Ogof Draenen, 3km as the crow flies, but 4.5km caving (according my survey and piece of string) from the entrance. This sort of distance is generally classed as 'a long way' in my caving world. Kathryn, presumably having realised this, attempted to sabotage the trip by forgetting her battery pack and only realising whilst getting changed that Emma's spare wouldn't fit. A finger-numbing bit of light-fettling at the blustery changing spot soon had us underground though.

It was Kathryn's first trip in Draenen, but between us, Emma and I navigated our way successfully to the Dollimore's Series in 3 very sweaty hours or so, stopping to photograph the Snowball on the way.

Kathryn at the Snowball
The Snowball, close up
At the Hall of the One, we turned away from the usual route to the digs, and climbed up a slope into the start of Luck of the Draw and new territory for us all. We were still a fair way from our destination even though we were pretty much as far in as Emma and I had been before. It was starting to feel very remote.

The Hall of the One
We followed the walking sized passage for over a kilometre. It started with some very nice cracked-mud formations in the floor. These soon gave way to small crystals on the wall and floors, absolutely everywhere. With so few visitors (perhaps less than 100 at the far end of the passage since it was discovered 13-14 years ago?) the passage was in pristine condition. We then got to a few sections where somebody seemed to have exploded a bag of icing sugar on the floor, which semed a bit clumsy. Further along, at Medusa's Children, presumably the same person had covered the walls in fondant icing and then stuck sea urchins to the ceiling which was unfortunate. We had to move very carefully to avoid making our caving gear all sticky and sugary.

Medusa's Children consists of several dozen metres of this sort of stuff.
A hundred or so metres of more traditional brown cave brought us to another dazzingly white section, lit up by a light bulb dangling in the roof. By now we were looking for the turn off into the Cantankerous Surveyors Series. We eventually found it after a low crawling section, but had almost given up after quite a long time looking, convinced that we'd missed the turn off earlier (as a general rule in Draenen everything is either further away than you think, further away than you remember, or further away than you'd like). I'm glad we persisted though, because a few minutes later we found ourselves in a rather nice chamber, Geryon's Lair, containing The Geryon, our goal for the day:

Geryon admiring a helictite.

Same caption applies really.

Close up.

Another close up of the Geryon
After sigining the log book, we began the long haul out. Did I mention that it's a long way? Anyway, the Last Sandwich crawl was a bit of a blur as Emma, worried she was holding us up at the front, hared off at lightening speed, hounded by Kathryn behind her who was worried that she wasn't keeping up, and me panting at the rear. A few hours of boulder-hopping later we emerged from a refreshing drenching in the entrance series to a cold, clear night with lovely views over Abergavenny. Half an hour later we were back at the hut nursing sore legs, plates of food and mugs of tea.

Is anybody still reading this far? Well, I've put together one of my trademark grainy, badly lit and shaky videos, which you can watch below as reward (or punishment) for having read so much of the dirge above.

Time Underground: 10 hours

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Penarth Slate Mine


Penarth Slate Mine/Quarry is just a few miles along the valley from Moel Fferna in the Llangollen area of North Wales. Kathryn and I decided that it was probably worth a visit. It is in fact very similar in character to Moel Fferna, but with slightly smaller chambers. There was a confusing mess of junctions, rubble slopes down to the lower level, chambers and passages; almost enough to make us feel like we might get lost, even though we were never more than 10-15 mins from the entrance. There were some interesting artifacts left behind: plenty of rail tracks, including an incline and associated cogs and gears, an old rail carriage and some tools.

Kathryn's silhouette at the entrance

Railway tracks

One of the largest chambers

T/U A very pleasant 1.5 hrs

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Yorkshire Dales

We headed up to the BPC hut near Horton-in-Ribblesdale to meet up with CUCC once more; 12th-13th February.

Washfold Pot
On Saturday Bela, Adrian, Aiora and I were supposed to be rigging down Washfold, with another team heading in later to derig. It didn't quite work out as planned. Aiora managed to fall down the entrance climb (somehow she didn't break herself too much!), Adrian turned back at the rather nasty climb into the flat out squeeze, and ~30m further on I bottled it when attempting to rig the big pitch and decided that it was probably too wet, but definitely too scary. So out we headed. Annoyingly, the other group did go down the pitch, so I was just being a wuss! Nobdoy made it to the bottom though, so it seems that we all have unfinished business with this cave and a return match is warranted.
T.U. 2 hrs

Long Churn
Having some spare time after Washfold we wandered over to Long Churn for a quick splash.
T. U. 30 mins

Jingling Hole
A cold rainy Sunday saw us trudging up the side of Kingdale to Jingling. Olaf was learning to rig, so I followed him down the Lateral Cleft route. Meanwhile, Kathryn, Bela and Gareth did the straight hang and we swapped over at the bottom. Good fun!
T. U. 1.5 hrs

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Giant's Hole

Our caving gear was very muddy from our last trip down Lancaster Hole. In order to clean it, and because Richard was visiting, we decided to head down Giant's Hole and try and get to the bottom.

The three of us made good time through the entrance series, down Garland's Pot and through the Crabwalk. The next section was new for us all and was a confusing mess of small passages which didn't seem to make much sense, but we somehow emerged in the stream once more, having bypassed the sump. The 'bad step' traverse, Geology Pot and the two short pitches below were all rigged already so it didn't take us long to get down. The Far Curtain duck was a 'one wet ear' job which would be fine were it not for that fact that the water was hideously cold. We got thoroughly drenched again at the Spout Chamber climb. Given the water temperature, we decided that swimming in East Canal would be far too unpleasant without wetsuits, thank you very much. So out we headed to complete the round trip and eat cake in Castleton.

Estimated Time Underground: 3.5 hours

Monday, 17 January 2011

A Damp Weekend at Bull Pot Farm

It rained. A lot. Even Lancaster Hole was impassable on Saturday so we settled for a quick look at Bull Pot of the Witches but didn't really get out of daylight.

Bull Pot of the Witches

Caves attempted:

Lancaster Hole

Estimated time underground:
  • Kathryn
  • Olly
  • Adrian
  • Serena
  • Matt
  • Alex
By Sunday morning, although it was still raining, water levels had dropped sufficiently for Lancaster Hole's entrance pitch to no longer have a waterfall entering part way down. We thought we'd see how far towards Cape Kennedy and the 88 ft pitch (the route to Link Pot) we could get before turning back. Despite intending to turn back every few minutes, we kept deciding to go just a little bit further and ended up going all the way, which is very satisfying as it's a crucial bit of route finding for some of the longer Easegill through trips.

Fall Pot was very muddy and slippery, and things weren't any better towards Stake Pot on the high level route. By the time I'd crossed Stake Pot, Olly and Serena had found the start of the passage towards Cape Kennedy. We followed our collection of surveys and descriptions along a rifty stream passage and up Canuck Climb - a 5m iron ladder, attached at the top by not very much. Next we followed the (mainly obvious) route through a series of low chambers and crawls - the Earby Series. A couple of downward slithers brought us to a traversing section in a rift with another stream raging away a few metres below. Finally, after a climb down we found the top of the 88ft pitch.

The crystal pool
 Carrying on above the pitch, we almost found Cape Kennedy. I'd gotten as far as the crystal pool which my description mentioned as being very close to the chamber we were looking for. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to put the description in a plastic wallet and by now it was in several soggy pieces and unreadable, so I missed the climb up and we headed quite a way down Maple Leaf Passage by mistake. We decided it was time to turn round at this point so as not to miss our call out. On the way back, Olly spotted the climb up that I'd missed, so at least we know how to get to Cape Kennedy for next time. Olly, Matt and Adrian headed out ahead of the rest of us to make sure somebody got out before our 7pm call out. This was a good move as there was a bit of traffic at the entrance pitch and it has well past 7:30 by the time everybody was on the surface.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

A Bit of Messing Around at Christmas Time

A couple of quick trips round Christmas time

Caves attempted:

Haytime Hole

Estimated time underground:
  • Kathryn
Kathryn and I decided to stop off in Yorkshire very briefly for a quick trip on the way from her parents to mine. Haytime Hole is a quick and easy cave, although the climb down below the first pitch is collapsing quite badly. After another rifty pitch.climb there's a pleasant enough streamway, a couple of larger chambers and an oxbow enabling a little round trip to be done.

Coniston Copper Mines

Estimated time underground:
  • Kathryn
  • Kim
Another visit to Coniston, this time to the 'Back Strings' entrance: the upper entrance from which the through trip begins. We couldn't get very far though because we didn't have the right gear and it was all a bit on the rickety side. Some of the copper deposits were nice though.