Monday, 22 April 2013

A Rare Weekend on Mendip

Crystals in Neverland, Upper Flood Swallet
It had been been four years since I last went caving in the Mendips, and now I'm wondering why I left it so long! That trip in 2009 included a visit to recent discoveries in Upper Flood Swallet. However, the prettiest section, Neverland, was closed off as it was deemed too fragile to cope with any caver traffic. Since then, a bypass has been dug, which enables access to Neverland with less risk to the formations. When Alex and Jess sorted out a trip there, with Mike the Animal leading, in return for us doing a bit of digging, I jumped at the chance to join them.

Upper Flood Swallet

A poor photo of the Pork Pies
A warm and sunny morning left us wondering why we were going underground in such rare nice weather. We soon remembered why, as we stooped and crawled past straws, curtains and calcite bosses - and this was still just the entrance series. The Lavatory Pan was a one-wet-ear duck last time we were here, but has now been dug out to more pleasant proportions.
Soon we arrived at the boulder choke, in which I became temporarily misplaced on my last visit. Somehow, I seemed to end up at the front of the group both on the way in and on the way out. Luckily the slightly more polished boulders and the odd cry of "when you get to the acrow prop turn right" from Mike at the back saw me through safely.
Eventually, we arrived at the newly dug connection into Neverland, where we had to remove our oversuits and wellies, and wash our socks. It was soon clear why: rounding a corner, the passage floor was covered entirely in a pristine white calcite flow, over which we had to gingerly pad to reach more insane formations beyond. At the end of the passage, we crawled one at a time into a little alcove to see the Pork Pies, a set of impossibly formed white calcite cylinders.
Having admired Neverland's unique formations, we headed back into muddier places and spent an hour or so digging before heading out to the surface bang on our call out time.
TU: 7 hours
We called this "The Boob"
Jess behind a curtain

Swildons Hole - Short Round Trip

On Sunday Alex and I did the Short Round Trip in Swildons - an absolute classic that I've been meaning to do for years. I was somewhat apprehensive about the numerous ducks, about which I'd heard various horror stories in the past. Nevertheless, Alex was adamant that we'd be better off without wetsuits and that there would be probably no need to bail the ducks. This made me nervous!
We hot-footed it down the streamway and the ladder, and Alex located the climb up to Tratman's Temple - new territory for me. Various pleasant, dry passages followed, with a greasy chimney climb being the main obstacle of note. Eventually, we arrived at the top of Blue Pencil Passage - a long downward squirm which leads into the streamway between sumps 3 and 4; a very wothwhile side trip. The passage emerges two or three of metres up the wall of the streamway, with a fixed chain aiding the climb. However, I made the mistake of emerging head first, which, for future reference, makes the climb utterly desperate (climbing upside down is rubbish). Nevertheless, the streamway is absoutely execellent and warrants a visit.
Back en route, we managed to arrive at the ducks nice and warmed up. Truth be told, they were really not that bad at all. Alex was right about the wetsuits - we were never submerged for long and I had a rash vest on anyway. There was enough airspace to keep helmets on. But the biggest revelation for me was the neoprene hood which completely removed the nasty headache inducing cold and made me feel invincible!
A fun slide down into the Swildons Two Streamway soon followed, and, after a quick visit to Sump Two, we popped through Sump One and splashed speedily out after a fantastic trip.
TU: 3.5 hours

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