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The Old Curiosity Shop
A report on the ascent of the aven above Thief Chamber, Upper Flood Swallet, by Brian Snell and Peat Bennett on 05/12/08 by Brian Snell
I wasn't particularly looking forward to the big struggle, through the entrance series of Upper Flood Swallet, loaded with heavy tackle bags full of climbing gear. It was bad enough trying to get past those damned tight bits and you really don't need to be shoving, pulling and persuading heavy tackle bags at the same time. To top it off I was going to use my Oldham for lighting too. Another thing to take off and shove in front of me; I really must try and budget for a new set of lights. Fortunately, Keith Knight took pity on me and lent me his headset, bursting with LEDs. So Peat Bennett and I set off on a crisp morning, with thoughts of a fatigued return to a cottage smelling of Christmas Dinner.
As predicted, the bags were heavy and were very quickly water-logged when we went through the Lavatory Trap with two inches of air space. An hour later, we were at Plank Chamber and heading up into Trench Passage. To our concern the resurgence was flowing through Trench Passage and thoughts of another complete soaking went through our heads. Fortunately it wasn't too bad and we were soon stood at the ladder hanging out of The Old Curiosity Shop.
I started getting geared up with a harness and climbing gear while Peat went off up the ladder to establish a belay position. I followed, and after getting ourselves sorted out in a small alcove adjacent to the top of the ladder, I set off up the aven. I needed to cross the shaft to get to a promising-looking continuation about fifty feet above. The rock was very brittle on one wall, which didn't help for secure bridging out over the shaft. Then a slippery muddy slope didn't help progress. I managed to get to the base of a chimney and get a nut running-belay in, and a few cautious moves up from this enabled a bigger nut placement about eight feet above. Feeling a little more secure, I considered the idea of continuing to climb free but the security of the rock around curtailed that idea. Above, there were some large blocks the size of bags of coal, cemented together with flowstone and forming a slight overhang. The only thing I could do was to get a bolt in. So, in a rather awkward and restricted position, I started banging away with a hammer and drill. A cordless drill would have been quicker, but Upper Flood Swallet is not drill-friendly and I wouldn't have had the room to use one anyway.
After about fifteen minutes, I finally sank the bolt home, screwed on a hanger and attached etriers to it. I moved up on these to the top most loops and surveyed the scene.
I figured another bolt may be necessary, but then spotted a vague, horizontal crack. I got out a piton and tried sending it home but the crack was blind. I tried again a little to the right and it started to sink home. It went in about 30mm and stopped. Attaching an etrier to it, I transferred my weight onto it. It bent a little worryingly, but seemed ok. I moved up as high as I could, and I could now see the passage sloped upward to an inviting continuation above.
Next to me, a large tottering pillar of blocks, again the size of sacks of coal, had toppled over from one wall and was now leaning against the other wall. Looking down I could see that this would crash down on Peat if it dislodged, and made a mental note to keep well away from it. It looked like a rift passage disappearing into the distance. I called down to Peat to tell him the promising news and warned him I was now going to climb up free.
The way on was over some white flowstone, and I wasn't happy about the need to stand on it. I managed to get a sling around a white knob, and pulling on this, went up the slope for about ten feet to a point where it went back down into a section of rift passage. I looked around to find somewhere to untie the rope and securely attach it. The thought of losing the rope back down the aven and trapping me here worried me. Now I had time to turn around and survey where I was.
I soon saw that the rift passage, which looked so promising, closed down after about fifty feet. Above, I could see through some insecure-looking boulders to a continuation of the aven.
There was a hole just big enough for me to put my helmet through and shine the beam up to see what lay beyond. Above, the aven went up another fifty feet. 'DAMN IT!' It closed down everywhere I looked. I continued to look around hoping that I had missed something, but nothing popped up. I went back to the head of the pitch and called down to Peat who had been stuck down there getting cold but buoyed up by the anticipation of a breakthrough. I let him know that it was a no-go and I was now about to reverse the pitch. A little disconsolate, I started reversing the tricky moves back to the dodgy, bending peg. Then the thought of the impending Christmas Dinner about three hours away came into my head and lifted my spirits. I took another look up the main aven to see if there were any possibilities there, but it all seemed to close down.
After a cautious retreat, removing gear as I went, I was soon alongside Peat. He went back down the ladder and as there was little point in leaving the ladder there, I de-rigged it and let it drop. Using the jammed boulder it was attached to, to sling the rope over, I lowered myself back down the aven and into Thief Chamber. I de-kitted, we packed the gear and went back along Trench Passage to the resurgence where we could clean the gear and have a bite to eat.
We had thought of going down to East Passage to see how the others were getting on at their dig, but the bags were now heavier with the extra ladder in tow, and the return to the surface was going to be another ordeal. So we agreed to head out. About an hour and a half later and a lot of struggling from me, we surfaced to a heavily frosted evening and a sky full of stars. My sternum hurt, thanks to "Easy Squeeze". We were getting cold but the thought of a hot cup of tea and Christmas Dinner beckoning stirred us both into a quick pace back to the cottage.
Later, I decided to call the passage I had climbed into “What the Dickens” in keeping with the nomenclature of that part of the cave. If it was ever deemed worth another look it would not take a lot to get back up there, but for now I have the honour of the being the first person to see What the Dickens, and probably the last.
by Thomas Brander
On 15th November I went caving with Jenny, Ollie and Eva, which was nice, as I had only ever been caving with my Dad before. They are >aged 8, 7 and 5 respectively – I was 4 last week, so I had to go fast to keep up!
We met at the MCG cottage, got changed and tried our helmets on, then drove to Burrington Combe – objective Goatchurch. I have been down Goatchurch twice before, but the first time was only to the top of Giants Stairs and the second time was to the Dining Room (to see the Tradesman's Entrance). Jenny and Ollie had been caving lots of times before and knew the cave very well (having been in there 200 times they said!). We played on the rocks while the adults got ready and then had our photo taken at the entrance. Don't we look nice and clean!
It was quite slippery in the cave and we had to take lots of big steps between the boulders. Despite this, Jenny and Ollie bounced like Tigger all the way down the cave, closely followed by Eva! We found some nice smooth, sloping rocks and slid down them just like a muddy slide. I managed to fall over a few times, but soon recovered.
Once at the bottom of the cave we explored for a while; finding the waterfall and some other passages we had to crawl along. We turned off our lights and sat in the dark for a while - nearly impossible with 4 children; lights kept popping on again. It was very, very dark with the lights out – I could not even see my hand in front of my face. Then we had a picnic. Look at how dirty we are! After our picnic, the real challenge came – climbing out; especially up the coffin lid. Everything took so long, mainly because there were so many other people going up and down that we had to keep waiting.
Quite exhausted after such a long caving trip, I still found the energy to play on the bunk beds at the cottage for an hour with Eva. I have not stopped talking about the cave since I came home – I want to go again; how can we persuade Eva to catch a plane back here soon? Thanks to Buddy, Ed, Hayley and Julie for their help and a great time.
Upper Flood Swallet updates
Adapted form the MCG Newsgroup messages of Mike Richardson
15/11/08 Mike Richardson and 4 UBSS
On the way in, just before Easy Squeeze (at the corner with the rocking slab) a rock about 6x6x12 inches fell on the leg of the guy at the back. He may have caught it with his foot but he wasn't thrashing about so it must have been loose to start with and just waiting for a chance to make a bid for freedom. On the way back, Mike gently poked another loose rock (on the wall on the outside of the corner) behind the one that fell out, which promptly dropped. What is left is as stable as before, but people might want to eyeball it on the way in.
Over the next few trips we will take in some scaffold bars and clamps and store them somewhere around the boulder choke, so that there are some available when needed.
24/11/08 Mike Richardson, 2 Dutch guests. West & East Passages to sump at the end of East Passage
On the way out we climbed up at Walk the Plank, and went through to Thief's Chamber. The stream was resurging again, not as much as last December but enough to make the way through slightly less unappealing. The interesting thing was that the water flow was enough to show exactly where it sank without filling the hole in the middle of the chamber completely. We spent about 20 minutes pulling mud and rocks out by hand. Many thanks to Erik and Lisa! The water flows away quite easily into rocks and pebbles below the mud. It would be worth going in there sometime with a trowel to excavate the mud enough to get at the rocks below, it is about a foot thick and comes out easily, then we could see if there is anything more of interest.
I had a look up in the roof in the passage just before Walk the Plank, about a metre short of that really nice curtain that shows up well if a light is shone through it. I reckon it might be possible to climb right up at this point, the high rift stops here (or starts, if you are heading downstream) so its not quite as exposed as one might expect. This is the bit marked on the survey as "visible high level".
Giants, Oxlow and Icicle
by Geoff Rodwell
Members Debbie Lambert, Tony Smith and Geoff Rodwell enjoyed a superb extended weekend caving the Peak District, from the morning of Friday 7th to Sunday 9th November 2008.
With a kit-packed car and 3 people squeezed in for the 4 hour drive north, it proved a wet and windy weekend at Orpheus Caving Club, shared with a group of friendly students from Swansea University Hiking Club and most helpful Orpheus members, Ken and his wife, a great couple. The caving proved excellent.
Friday afternoon – Giants
With £3 each dropped in the farmers 'Post Office' letter box (cheques are apparently preferred due to theft), we did Giants Hole ‘round trip’.
Without survey or description to hand as I write, Giants 'round trip' involves nice heavily snaking stream passage just wide enough to rub around with seemingly endless 180 degree turns, a ladder and line down Garlands Pot, a gargling wet crawl through The Windpipe and a double roped SRT pull through, before back up Garlands to make our way in darkness to the car, to change from wet clothes in bitter cold wind. A nice cave for the first day, the Derbyshire equivalent of a Swildons trip, with something to suit all. We retired to the warmth of the Orpheus cottage for a meal, chat and glass of wine in front of a raging fire and battering rain on the windows - perfect.
Saturday – Oxlow Cavern
The morning saw us up early to repeat the 30 minute drive to Castleton and its lay-by parking for Oxlow Cavern, after leaving money at the nearby farm (an experience in itself, with mass cats in the conservatory). Up the hillside to a pleasant day and the entrance and the start of the first pitch.
A surprise ! A good quality 40m rope was pre-rigged; Mammut Performance Static, 10mm, gold coloured, clearly marked MCG…What an absolute coincidence!
Having committed ourselves to Oxlow and not wanting an hours round trip back to the cottage for different ropes, we double rigged and descended wondering just who we would find below. SRTing into the West Chamber and down slope to our last planned 20m pitch, we bumped into Masson Caving Group (MCG) coming up. Photos have been emailed to them.
That evening we supped at the local family run pub and enjoyed excellent food, (booking recommended). Remembrance Sunday – Water Icicle
Sunday was to be a short trip as we all needed to get home. We chose Water Icicle Close Cavern with its simple 34m single drop straight down from an exposed hillside entrance, located just a couple of miles from the cottage. The final lane up retreated to muddy dirt track and off-roading in wet grass and potential engine sump-damaging ruts as we weaved precariously up track to dump our gear, with rain and wind howling.
Unable to leave the car (or we would be firmly stuck) another walk took place for the driver while the open-field exposed entrance was rigged. Above ground it was bone chilling balaclava weather with lovely views as the rain cleared. Below, a careful flame test was carried out for potentially high CO2 / low O2, but all proved breathable, though not an ecstatic flame.
The bottom proved great, not just for the lack of wind and rain, but for unexpected interesting passageways, part natural, part mined and with a couple of recent digs in progress. A pleasing worthwhile trip and an excellent finish to our weekend.
We were sorry to leave; our sincere thanks to Orpheus for a most enjoyable and entertaining stay. We look forward to returning.
Annual ladder and lifeline training
by Angela Clulow
Instructors - Jeremy Gilson & Kevin West
Victims - Adrian Bell, Angela Clulow, Arthur Munday, Jonathan Williams and Karen Fendley
On Saturday 8th November Jeremy & Kev ran a day’s ladder and lifeline training for MCG members. The objective for the day was to cover technique, calls, safety, basic knots and rigging.
We assembled outside the cottage in the morning and after a few false starts due to some impromptu leaf clearing, a visit from Richard Whitcombe (selling Tony Jarratt’s old stock of books to raise funds for Mendip Cave Registry and Archive) and branch clearing in the tree by Doug Harris, our day began above ground.
Jeremy & Kev ran through the basics of ladder climbing and how to lifeline a partner up and down a ladder rigged to the tree. ‘Victims’ took it in turns to climb the ladder and lifeline a partner using the correct calls. Kev pointed out the dangers of suspension trauma and Jonathan discovered how uncomfortable it can be when the belt ’rides up’ under your armpits making it hard to breathe and potentially cutting off your circulation if left hanging for too long!!
There was much laughter when Jeremy demonstrated falling off the ladder when Kev, who is lighter, was lifelining. They both ended up suspended from the tree until Jonathan stepped in to add more weight to the rope to balance things out.
Once everyone had taken a turn to climb and lifeline, we retired to the warmth of the cottage for lunch and some knot tying. We soon learnt that a ‘tidy knot is a happy knot’ and all became quite proficient at tying a figure of eight, a bowline and an Italian hitch. After lunch we spent some more time outside the cottage while our instructors ran through various types of anchor points to use to rig a ladder. We discussed natural belays and how to check if they were suitable and also how to check how sound the rock is around pre fixed anchors as well as the metal work itself! Kevin had a set of spits and P bolts which he used to demonstrate the various types most commonly used and explained how they are set up.
We then moved on to Manor Farm and laddered the entrance, putting into practice all that had been learnt above ground. Everyone had the chance to climb the ladder and lifeline a partner. Kevin was able to demonstrate how to assist a tired climber by setting up a simple pulley system and using some extra manpower from other members of our party.
The day was informative and fun and extremely useful, even for those of us unable to take part in the practical side due to dodgy knees!! We all learnt something from the day and agreed that more of the same would be of huge benefit, after all, we never stop learning!
A huge thank you to Jeremy & Kev for taking the time and trouble to arrange and run the course.
Battery Swallet updates
adapted from the Newsgroup messages of Mark Ward
Any digging after dark must now be reported first to Duncan Massey of Swallet farm, on 01761 221909. Failing to do this could lose our right to park on his land.
08/11/08 A good team effort saw us dig out all the silt from the cave. Unfortunately this caused the cave to flood. The dig face can now be reached when the water recedes. The roof / floor will have to be dug out to allow room to dig. The air chisel will hopefully make light work of it.
19/11/08 With the help of drain rods, there was a gurgle, the water disappeared, another gurgle..... and it flooded! Meantime we're going to dig the floor and build a dam. You only have to look at the end and it floods! It's just a case of slow and painful digging until we can have far more room at the dig face.
02/12/08 We bailed 200 litres last week and whooshed it down the plumbing (which now terminates at the dig face) in 25 litre drums. Although this flooded and refilled the pond, it did run away in 20 minutes. We cannot bail fast enough, so we will try a sludge pump next. I am going to try gingerly digging and hope there's no flooding. The pond is continually fed by a separate small inlet.
02/01/09 It was colder than you can imagine. I had to stand in the shower for 20 minutes to thaw out!! In saying that, because of the freeze we have finally dug out all the silt and reached the dig face proper. Plenty of room inside now. Lost the nail bar halfway up a hole, but I don't think it was 'the' hole, which was still underwater! It's going to be very exciting when we return and all the water should have gone? Pure cave now!
Yorkshire 21-23 November 2008
by Martin Rowe
The main MCG contingent were staying at the YSS hut at Helwith Bridge so Yvonne and I intended to meet up with them on the Saturday for a trip to White Scar. However our diabetic cat had other plans for us – he chose to have a "hypo" at 7.30am – so we missed the White Scar trip.
Instead we met up later with Linda and Alan Milne in the Helwith Bridge for an evening drink before joining the MCG contingent in the YSS to discuss Sunday's plans. SRT seemed to be the flavour of the following day but I was not sure if sitting in a harness is a good idea whilst I still have the remains of a blood clot in my leg. Linda and Yvonne also thought they needed some more practice before attempting an SRT trip, so the three of us decided to meet up at 10.00am on Sunday at the Hill Inn for a trip down Great Douk. Overnight, the temperature dropped and when we arrived at the pub there was a light dusting of snow / frozen hail. Changing quickly, we arrived at the entrance to Great Douk about 10.30. A good-size stream was issuing from the mouth of the cave making for an interesting climb up the waterfall. Linda had not done this trip before, and when we soon arrived at the collapse at Low Douk we joked that the trip was complete and we should climb to the surface to meet Alan (who had taken the dogs for a jaunt up Ingleborough in the snow). Linda nearly fell for it!
We continued onwards in a sporting stream, traversing over the deeper pools to keep dry and noting signs that the water had fallen between 5 and 15cm very recently judging by the "tide marks" on the walls. More ominously though, after some 200m, we began to notice fresh vegetation on all the walls and the ceiling (which was up to 3m high). The cave had recently flooded to the roof; probably during the bad weather we had in October when there were several cave rescues on a single day. We also noted impact marks on the walls and much damaged stal presumably caused by large rocks being washed downstream. Many of these marks were over 1m above the floor of the cave - goodness knows what force is required to keep a cobble-size rock in suspension in a steam at this height! Eventually, the roof lowered as we approached the end of the cave and the exit to Middle Washfold Sink. A wrong turn took us to a choke and a bitterly cold crawl in the water. I found the coldness to be quite painful, not at all like "normal" cave water. It was fresh snow melt and very close to 0 centigrade.
Retracing our route to the mainstream, we searched for the correct way on and found the wet route to Middle Washfold. It was not an attractive option – very low, very wet, and bitterly cold. We tried all the other possibilities in the hope that we could find a "dry" exit to Middle Washfold, but failed. Every way on involved crawling in bitterly cold snow-melt and I was beginning to suffer from the cold, despite wearing two layers of thermals plus a heavy duty furry suit and PVC oversuit.
Turning around, we set off back for the Great Douk entrance. By now, we were all quite wet, and cared not for trying to keep dry by traversing the deeper parts of the steam. Instead we waded quickly downstream and very soon we found ourselves at the entrance where we met a large party of Boy Scouts on a day's hike, complete with gas stoves, kettles and hot drinks. Despite dropping a heavy hint, they did not choose to share the beverage with us (what happened to "a good deed every day"?).
Back at the car, my fingers were so cold that I couldn't feel the keys I was holding to unlock the door to reach my dry clothes. A very quick change into warmer and drier clothing followed, and then we piled into the Hill Inn for a most welcome pot of coffee followed by bowls of steaming hot soup.
When we arrived home at Arnside two hours later and unpacked our wet gear, I found that the snow on our caving wellies and clothing hadn't even begun to melt. No wonder my hands had been so cold when we were changing – it must have been well below zero! Thanks to Jeremy for arranging the weekend, and to Linda for making me commit to the trip.
by Tony Knibbs
In the autumn of last year, the editor of a well-known English-language caving magazine was asked by a French caver if he could help with translation from French into English in connection with submissions for the 4th European Speleological Congress scheduled to take place in Lans-en-Vercors during the last week in August 2008 (Vercors 2008). He was understandably unable to undertake the work required. On being pressed to name a possible English-speaking candidate for some voluntary translation, he generously mentioned my name. It was late in 2007 therefore when I received an email from Olivier Vidal, a caver from Lyons, who was responsible for much of the congress organisation.
Since the deadline was almost a year away, I felt the task was reasonable and accepted it even though there was no description available of the scope of the task. I usually incline toward optimism (at my age it’s obligatory!) In due course text files of preliminary congress publicity announcements began to arrive on my PC. All went well for several batches of translation but a warning note was sounded when one batch of pages arrived on a Monday. On the Tuesday I received an email asking for the translation to be available by Friday of the same week. Whilst I am not averse to working under pressure, there are physical limits to my abilities, which I quickly pointed out. Whatever words I used to politely decline to meet the precipitate deadline must have served to pass the message, for I had no further such request and the work proceeded smoothly into the start of this year.
The last caving conference I attended would have to be that of the Cave Research Group in Wells back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, at which Dr Bob Picknett gave a paper entitled “Calcite Solutions at 10ºC”. Although I didn't gain a favourable impression of such events, reading the material for “Vercors 2008” prompted me to suggest a week’s holiday in the Vercors. The impressive Vercors limestone massif was the first French caving region I visited on an MCG ‘expedition’ in August 1960.
I informed Vidal of my/our intentions and suggested deciding a firm cut-off date for the translation work. This was duly decided upon, but he did ask if I could do some text correction up to the printing submission date for the congress proceedings. Again, optimism ruled. However, I almost came to regret my decision. The first text pages arrived as a batch of about 300 un-numbered pages without any guide to sequence (I therefore invented my own page-numbering). The correction process rapidly became a journey of discovery; I never realised that there were so many different versions of the English language. Because the corrections were to be incorporated by a French caver, I took great care to ensure that my corrections were clearly legible. However at least 100 pages were so heavily corrected in red pen that I had little choice but to retype them. By the end of July my right wrist was showing signs of repetitive strain injury!
By far the most notable article was one from a Bulgarian author. It dealt with Bulgarian caves used since pre-history for religious and cult rituals. Reference to “itifalical scenes” had me reaching for my dictionary. The first word didn't seem to exist, but the sentence seemed to make perfect sense without it. Mention of the “Chalcoilithic Age” also had me reaching for the dictionary. It turned out that the first word should have been spelt chalcolithic, which refers to ‘Copper Age’. However, another Bulgarian author wrote “Chalcolithic Age (Bronze Age)”, which seemed to clarify the mystery. The process of correcting was also one of learning. It must be said that authors are very ambitious to present submissions in a language, which is not their mother tongue. There was the occasional howler to laugh at; a suggestion that caves could be better conserved if they were “under pubic service ownership” seemed to need a small correction.
An interesting aspect of the actual presentations to a live audience was the eagerness of the audience to understand. Simultaneous translation into French and English was available via radio broadcast to personal earpiece sets.
The chosen venue in the village Lans-en-Vercors possessed all the right ingredients to make the congress a great success. There was adequate space to put up marquees, civic buildings to house the various events, and the atmosphere was most welcoming. One of two huge marquees (each about the area of two rugby pitches) was dedicated to film and slide projection. There were too many events to take in everything. Perhaps the most striking projected presentations were those in 3D. The other huge marquee was designated as the ‘Speleobar’, which offered tables and seating for probably 500 people Here, a good variety of food and drink was available from stalls run by caving organisations; one stall advertised a Belgian beer called Delerium Tremens, which we carefully avoided. The Speleobar provided a good meeting place for cavers. Everybody wore name badges, which also indicated the country of origin. There were about 2,000 attendees from dozens of countries within Europe and beyond. We bought some good tee-shirts.
One aspect of the organisation, which we found rather amusing was the very plentiful distribution of portaloos around the village. There were probably enough for one for every ten attendees.
Throughout the week (23rd –30th August), the weather remained very good. We took advantage of the sunshine to do several walks and a caving trip. Our first thought on the choice of cave was the Grotte de Bournillon. This spectacular cave needs no tackle and the approach is a modest walk of about a kilometre up to the vast entrance arch. Michel, one of our French colleagues was recovering from hepatitis E, so was looking for an easy trip. Unknown to us Bournillon had been incorporated into the official Vercors water supply and access is denied (as is now the Grotte de Brudour). Twenty or so caves (including Gouffre Berger) had been pre-rigged for the convenience of congress attendees. However, old age and/or infirmity militated against undertaking anything serious, so we set about finding an easy cave to visit.
After a discussion with the congress caving organisers we selected Grotte des Ramats at St Martin as our objective. An interesting local travel problem currently existed (and will persist for a couple of years to come). Extensive ongoing roadworks in the Gorge de la Bourne resulted in intermittent road closures between Villard-de Lans and Pont-en-Royans. Reaching Bournillon from Lans would have been very difficult. Half-an-hour’s drive from Lans brought us into the Forêt d’Herbouilly on a narrow forestry road from which the cave entrance was reached by a steep, loose approach scramble up a dry streambed. The 1.0m diameter entrance led quickly beyond dry, pebbly going to cleanwashed passage with some nice formations and the first of two low crawls through pools. One aged caver had no seal between his wellies and oversuit legs – hence I got slightly wet! After a few more minutes we reached an 8.0m pitch where several bolts and hanging French rope tat attested to the use of rope. Not having rope, we were obliged to find a way of free-climbing the pitch down a rift on the left, which offered some rather slippery holds. From here the going became quite roomy. Soon the second wet crawl presented itself and the going remained quite wet until we reached the area of the sump where we turned back. The cave is popular as a novice trip – it was not unlike Goatchurch in the general level of effort required. It admirably met our needs for an easy caving trip.
The congress was also a great occasion for meeting old friends. A pleasant surprise was to meet old MCG member Ian Ellis Chandler in attendance at the cave art exhibition. Ian now lives in Matienzo, Cantabria, Spain, in the middle of karst country where he has his studio and gallery.
Upper Flood Swallet - East Passage Digs
by Tim Francis
Although there has not been a great deal of exploration and survey activity in Upper Flood Swallet in recent months we have been doing a little bit of work in the East Passage area.
Attention has focused upon a sand filled tube at the entrance of the Rift Series. Most of Rift Series seems to draft well but passages are constricted. The sandy tube is different in that it is easily diggable and with a small air space to follow. Over the course of 4 trips we have excavated just over 8m of descending crawl. The air always stays fresh even when two or three people are in the tube. The prospects for this dig are intriguing. We are only 6 metres away from intercepting the probable extension of a fault that is encountered at the end of Rift Series. We expect then that the character of the passage will change significantly although quite what will happen is anyone’s guess.
All being well it should take us only another two trips to reach this point. There is quite a large gap between Rift Series and Royal Icing Passage to play with. Note also that both Hidden Passage and the dogleg in Royal Icing (that unsurveyed pretty rift beyond the helictite pocket that closes down) have strong draughts.
Stainsby’s Shaft update
by Biff Frith
6/7th Sept 13 diggers on Saturday, and 8 Sunday. A concrete lintel was cast in place and 101 drums/rock bags were brought out Saturday with another 100-plus on Sunday. We broke through to a small chamber with a stream and found stemples in place, as well as on the floor. There is a stemple slot cut in to the wall, made by the miners by hand drilling three holes close together in a horizontal line, then the rock above was chiselled out. We can see down another 4m, but it is horribly loose. We are about 4-5m lower than the digging shaft bottom making the total depth about 29-30m.
20/21st Sept Mick, Paul, Buddy, Biff, Ed, Mike and Pete from ACG. The floor of the lower passage was dug out to expose large timbers 9"x 11" that are not rotten, with the same size cut outs in the wall. These may be the roof supports of the 18 fathom (33 metre) level. Much mud was removed and scaffolding was installed. This gave us enough confidence to enlarge the hole into the water chamber with a lot of hilti's.
4/5th Oct Mick, Linda, Geoff, Mark Ireland and Biff fitted lots of scaffolding in the water chamber, which was bone-dry all weekend. Mick and Mark exposed another hole in the floor going down about 3m with another stemple across it. On Sunday Mick, Mike, Ed , Hayley, Alan Wicks and Biff finished the scaffolding and dug down about 1m. We also had to remove a six foot long timber with an iron nail in it, I have washed and photographed it.
Wet SRTing in Yorkshire
by Geoff Rodwell
July 2008 saw probationary members Angus Leat, Geoff Rodwell & Debbie Lambert, together with her daughter Emma and caving friend Ray enjoy a stormy wet four days camping and SRTing in Yorkshire.
Friday 18/07/08 Sell Gill Holes
After a six hour drive to Dalesbridge camp site (run by Jon Beavan, CRO Duty Controller) and with local weather checked, confirming obvious saturated ground and continued belts of rain, it was decided to forego the normal visit to Inglesport and stretch legs by walking uphill to Sell Gill Holes for an SRT “exchange” trip, water flow permitting. This proved excellent. Debbie and Angus rigged the down hill “dry route” watching Emma make her first visit to this cave and in so doing rigged a safe escape exit. Geoff and Ray entered via the uphill stream way and rigged the separate “wet route” down the main waterfall pitch, stopping half way to swing into the tight by-pass bedding plane, before continuing down through heavy spray to the bottom.
Then the exchange was made. Faint screams echoed from Emma as she entered the cold shower of the her first wet pitch accompanied by Angus and Debbie front and rear. Geoff and Ray exited via the dry route and (as agreed) re-entered via Wet. The return manoeuvre from laying flat in the tight bedding plane to swinging back out into the large waterfall pitch on to a clean free hanging rope was enjoyed by all. The wet route got de-rigged while Debbie and Angus brought up the “Dry” rigging. A damp and windy BBQ at camp, mainly sheltering in Angus’s caravan with wine bottle and beer completed the first day.
Saturday 19/07/08 Country Pot to Wretched Rabbit
Morning brought with it rain lashing on the tents followed by calm. A long and wet cross moor walk, guided by markers, saw Angus lead the party down County Pot and back out via Wretched Rabbit. This was Angus’s second only trip into this system (the rest of the party’s first trip) and his route finding was impeccable. This excellent trip proved to be a complete mixture; occasional SRT, occasional free climb traverses, tight bits, rope climbs, roof-floodable steam way and a nice straw -filled upper chamber. One notable question as the group crawled “yet again” through low passage, in stripped down harnesses was …“Angus, just what part of SRTing don’t you understand?” It seemed a hard walk back across the moor to our vehicle just as rain hit again. Sunday 20/07/08 Bar Pot to Gaping Gill
Loaded with rope and SRT gear, we enjoyed a pleasant and dry one hour plus walk up to Bar Pot, to drop down two pitches and walk and part crawl to the main chamber of GG. (30m, 45m & 20m safety line) On our previous trip here, one person proved too solidly built for the tight entrance pitch of Bar Pot, but Ray being tall, the biggest on this trip, squeezed nicely down helped by gravity. Once the two pitches were passsed, a traverse line was rigged around a simple but potentially nasty drop and with a couple of quick crawls, the team re-arranged so that Ray and Emma could be first to enjoy the incredible view as the tunnel turned the final corner to reveal the main chamber.
What a sight. From the one previous “dry” visit, GG was now full of spray, draft and apparent “snake like rushes” of water within its continuous fall. A relaxed walk took place around the noisy chamber. Sheltering under rock overhangs from the downpour and spray, a few photos were attempted before a rapid exit was made back into dry passage. Wildly spectacular in these wet conditions.
At the bottom of the final pitch up to the surface the team organised so that Ray, the largest and an experienced climber and caver, would SRT up last into the squeeze of the rift. An additional pitch head rope was rigged to maximise options. This was set up via a releasable deviation and 2:1 pulley dropped down to SRT harness (all making an independent raise/lower system that could be controlled externally from the rift, if needed). There were no problems. Ray exited like an eased-out champagne cork, to agree the usefulness of a Petzl Pantin in tight rift SRTing. Clapham scones were very welcome on arrival back at the village.
That evening Martin and Yvonne caught up with us as we sat tired after three long days, at the tail end of our Ingleton pub dinner (and various drinks!). This was our first ever meeting and it was great to get to know each other, have a very pleasant chat and exchange notes regarding possible future trips. We would never have guessed that such prominent members lived near the Dales! Monday 21/07/08 Alum Pot “direct route”
The final day. A suspected skin allergy (thankfully nothing serious) forced a regretful split of the group as half the party provided company at the local doctors, leaving the oldies, Ray and Geoff, to head to Alum Pot for a planned first descent of the “Direct Route” The stream was used to soak the rope to prevent heat glaze on the abb down. Two trees (and tensionless hitches) were used to form the initial belay for a descent of only a couple of metres over a mild rope rub to a nice ledge and P hangers nicely located at shoulder height. Another similar short drop over a lip (and another unavoidable very mild rub point) lead to the final main rebelay just below, correctly described in guide books as “exposed” as the caver hangs from a cowtail on a sheer rock wall directly over the 65m “full daylight lit” descent of Alum pot. (15m for surface Y, 80m main rope, 5 krabs minimum).
This rebelay resulted in a “totally free hanging” open air pitch that descends forever to, finally, spray, cold draft and bottom darkness, while above the sunlight falls through tree branches to light nearly all of the descent.
SRTing back up, some 4-5 metres was pulled through the Croll before feet finally left the ground and “rope bounce” commenced. The rope appeared to disappear into the light as far as the eye could see. It proved a tiring 10 - 12 minutes before the first rebelay was passed for a vocal call of “rope free” (leading finally to a regretted 6 hour drive home).
In conclusion, an excellent long weekend; great company and first class relaxed trips, despite inclement weather.
Footnote: Debbie, Geoff and Angus were introduced to MCG by member Tony Smith CIC. The three, who often cave as a group with Tony, joined due to the pleasant and helpful members they always met when collecting keys, the advantage of the cottage being “beyond” pub walking distance (though they like a beer or glass of wine) and last but not least because of the cottage’s warm, dry and easy-to-use facilities. Their interest is firmly caving and SRT, in particular extending their skills on relaxed trips with like-minded people.
Not all beginners’ trips are the same…..
by Jeremy Gilson
Party: Rob Fountain, James O’Brien, Kjell Anderton, Richard Martin, Arthur Munday, Helen, Alun Williams, Mick Norton, Mark Ward & Jeremy Gilson
With seven potential new members planning to descend on the MCG August members’ weekend we needed a suitable trip to take them on. Some of them had caved before and were quite good, for others it was their first venture underground. Mick volunteered to help me and suggested Shute Shelve and Axbridge Ochre Mine; this was a great idea and quite different from the usual Burrington or Swildons trip. Mark agreed to help out and was keen to see the upper levels of the Ochre Mine, he suggested taking the maypole to get up the climb as written in Mendip Underground, however Mick was confident that with a harness and cowstails he would be able to climb up and put down a ladder.
The morning was showery but turned sunny and quite warm in the afternoon. After sorting out full sets of gear for everyone we were soon climbing the hill to Shute Shelve. Mick unlocked the gate and we descended the crawl to Reynard’s Chamber. For three of the party this was their first trip underground, they had no hesitation with the crawl but looked a little relieved that not all the cave was that size. For me it was good to be back after spending quite a lot of time in the cave around its initial discovery back in my Axbridge days, however I had forgotten just how warm it was down there, I began to wish I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts instead of a fleece and oversuit! After looking around we descended the corkscrew to the lower part of the cave, the view down to Box Tunnel is always impressive and we split into two groups to look at the two digs at the bottom of the cave.
After leaving Shute Shelve we headed further up the hill, this was very hot going in the bright summer sun, especially after getting so hot down Shute Shelve. The view from the hill is stunning, right across from the Bristol Channel to Glastonbury. Making our way carefully through brambles and woodland we quickly found the impressive entrance to Axbridge Ochre Mine, the cool of the entrance a welcome relief to the heat of the afternoon.
Walking into the mine we descended the rift and looked up at the climb to the higher levels, this was much higher and more slippery than I think all of us remembered. Mick tried to climb up but sensibly did not try to get too high up the muddy sides. Mark reminded us of his suggestion - we should have brought the maypole after all. After a brief visit to the end of the lower level and some thought on how to ascend, Mick suggested using a long tree branch to catch the end of the rope that could be seen above us hanging down from the rift. A piece of tree was quickly found and we took it in turns to try and catch one of the loops in the rope. Rob finally came up with the winning solution, he climbed up further along and with those below carefully pushing the rope along Rob was able to reach the rope and pull it down so a ladder could be attached.
The rope was not in too bad a condition, careful consideration was given to it before sending someone up; Mick had his harness and cowstails and was able to ascend by clipping on one end of the ladder and then the other in true Ladder Dig style. Upon reaching the top he rigged the ladder, I climbed up and preceded to lifeline everyone up the pitch. Our new members did well with the ladder, everyone made it up with Richard and Rob managing particularly speedy ascents.
While I was lifelining the rest of the team, Mick climbed the chain to the next level and set up the second ladder, again I climbed up with the rope attached to me and lifelined climbers to the top. Everyone set off in different directions to admire this interesting part of the cave, I was impressed by the flowstone and formations, not what I had expected although much of the ‘mine’ is in fact natural cave. I was then back on lifelining duty and lifelined everyone down, first the top pitch and then the lower pitch, Mick was the last to descend using a figure of eight on a doubled rope.
Back outside, sitting in the sunshine, everyone agreed that they had a very enjoyable trip, although it had not been the simple new members’ trip that Mick and I had expected. Being honest I did think at one point that we wouldn't get up to the first level - I really think Mark was right about that maypole after all….!
6 of the potential new members became probationary members (Helen has not yet joined). I enjoyed the day, it was good to revisit Shute Shelve, the Ochre Mine was great fun, quite a challenge, and certainly different from our normal new members or beginners’ trip; however I suppose that not all beginners’ trips are the same……
OFD Weekend 15-17/08/08
by Geoff Beale
Party: Geoff Beale, Keith Knight, Keith Thomas, Brenda Wybrow.
The weather forecast was not very promising, it was going to rain for the whole weekend , and it lived up to its expectations. Well it was Wales after all. However after a dismal drive down the M4 from Reading we eventually reached the SWCC HQ at Penwyllt and booked in.
Saturday’s trip was set to be a minor classic to the Cross Rift area, visiting formations at the Trident/Judge (off Salubrious Streamway) and the phreatic passage called Selenite Passage, then down admiring the formations to the Shattered Pillar. GB, KK, and KT laboured up the hill to enter the cave system at top entrance (OFD 2). After our last trip earlier this year, when it was dry, we noticed many stream inlets in passages normally thought of as dry and abandoned.
Salubrious Streamway was flowing faster than I had seen it before as it gurgled its way down to Maypole Inlet and the main stream. Just a short way down from Trident Passage a squeeze through slippery polished boulders leads to a junction where Selenite Passage goes off to the right. After a hairy committing traverse on small ledges over a big drop, the fine formations of Selenite Passage were seen and admired. This passage then meanders down to the very impressive Shattered Pillar which is very near to Cross Rift. We had a poke about Cross Rift and onwards towards the old skyhook of the Upper Traverses. After a brief refreshment stop we turned for home along a smaller rift passage parallel to Cross Rift with some more traversing on small ledges until we reached an area that I knew as the bold step which is at the top of the rift passage on the climb up from Maypole Inlet at the Main Stream Junction. Then out by the same route taken in, but in reverse - up Salubrious Streamway, climbing up the boulders at the Corkscrew, Chasm passage, Gnome Passage and skirted round Big Chamber Near The Entrance.
On this trip we had a guest from SWCC. His name was John Gillette. After the trip we were presented with signed caving books by John, who has written several caving volumes. This book was entitled Of Caves And Caving – A Way Of Life. Look out for it in the club library.
For Sunday’s trip the weather was vile and still raining hard. Despite the rain and Keith Knight having a sore foot, GB and KT decided on a quick trip into OFD 1 to see the height of the main stream at the normal entry point to the stream at The Step. OFD leaders rules say that if the stream is 12-18 inches above the step, then a traverse up the main stream is not advised.
At the step the water level was guessed to be about 3 feet above the step. The stream was an impressive sight, a torrent of fast flowing peaty stained water which was thundering down to the entrance sump.
We retraced our steps back up Loopways to the ladder at the Toastrack. By turning to the left we traversed over Pluto’s Pool and down a lofty passage back to the main roaring streamway. The passage here was about 12 feet high with foam marks about 8 feet high. This showed the water height had lowered overnight, but we still felt uneasy and got out quickly. We also had a look at the passage leading down to the dive site from the entrance ladder. From where we stood, we were in awe of the ominous signs of foam on the cave walls.
Upper Flood Swallet: Royal Icing and Birthday Surprise
by Ben Cooper
Survey Notes The survey of Royal Icing was conducted by Ben Cooper and Mike Richardson on 13th December 2007, using a Phil Underwood SAP (serial number 7) (compass and clinometer) and a Bosch DLE50 laser rangefinder. Loop closure error was 1.39%. Survey stations in the cave are all marked with Tippex as a dot, and are shown in the map as a small cross. At junctions, "fixed" survey stations have also been marked with Tippex as a triangle, and are shown on the map as a small circle.
The map shows Netherwood Inlet at the north, but omits the lower Malcolm's Way passage just to the west and below the overhang shown. The route from Netherwood Inlet south into Royal Icing Passage is not the usual way in: in fact, the climb down to Halogen Loft from here is very exposed and not recommended. The usual route is the climb up from Malcolm's Way into Halogen Loft. From here, Royal Icing continues south at three levels. The lowest level is to the west and ends after a few metres -a westerly tube half way along appears to be blind. The highest level is to the east and is entered by continuing to climb up the slope to the east. This level has a solid floor and a pleasant quiet atmosphere, but ends at an overhang after a few metres. The climb down has not been attempted to protect the undisturbed sediment.
The middle level is the main route, which is followed by carefully traversing over the start of the lowest level, then it becomes easier as it follows the right-hand (westerly) wall. After a few metres, in the floor on the right hand side, a body-sized tube heads off to the west and has been pushed by Tim Francis and Peat Bennett to connect with Charnel Passage. After a few more metres, the passage opens out again and looking up and backwards (to the north), the overhang form the highest level can be seen. At this point the passage dimensions are large: 4.5m wide and 4m high. On the right hand side (west) is a narrow rift in the wall, and at its foot, the floor falls away and has been dug (Brian's Eye). As of this writing, the Brian's Eye dig is flooded and digging has been suspended. Royal Icing continues wide and gains height. Most of the width of the passage is taped to protect its pristine condition, and only a narrow and awkward path remains open along the right hand wall. After a few more metres is a narrow rift on the right and a low blind crawl on the left. At this point the ceiling is some 6m high, and high up on the left (east) a large window can be seen which is actually an opening into East Passage. On the right, just below the narrow rift, the floor lowers and loose boulders indicate a natural drainage point. This was the location that Peat and Ben dug on 5th July 2008, when we quickly opened up a low crawl under the westerly wall. Peat pushed this for some fifty feet into what we named Birthday Surprise (in celebration of Upper Flood's 40th birthday). This has been sketched onto the map, but is unsurveyed, so its dimensions and direction are estimates. Just beyond the narrow rift (moving south), Royal Icing Passage narrows and continues up a steep slope. At the top of the slope, the narrow passage opens out slightly and one can step onto a large boulder on the edge of Royal Icing Chamber. Only half of this chamber is shown on this map, most of it is to the east which is contained in the East Passage survey. Immediately on the right, the westerly wall continues south, and a painted permanent station has been placed here. However, underneath, the wall cuts away, and the passage floor plunges down 5m. At the bottom of this funnel is a narrow rift (not visible from above), which has been pushed to a visible window into West Passage and a sound connection with Birthday Surprise.
To the left (east) of the large boulder, the chamber opens up and doubles back. Most of the area is covered in royal-icing-like stal, and the whole area is pristine. It has been extensively taped, leaving a narrow path for entry into East Passage. On the floor by the easterly wall is an interesting vadose water-cut swirl. Straight ahead (south), the roof rises to cathedral proportions, and the floor climbs up over large boulders. A little way up is the clamber through gaps in boulders to West Passage, which is where this survey ends. The full survey south into the remainder of Royal Icing will be completed in due course. Back in Royal Icing Passage, the way on continues up a steep narrowing slope that almost gains the height of the window.
Upper Flood Swallet: East Passage
by Ben Cooper
Surveying Notes: The survey was conducted by Ben Cooper and Mike Richardson on 13th June 2008, using a Phil Underwood SAP (serial number 7) (compass and clinometer) and a Bosch DLE50 laser rangefinder. Loop closure error was 0.29%. Survey stations are all marked in the cave using tippex. At junctions, "fixed" survey stations have been marked in tippex. My plan in due course is to make these more permanent, for example by drilling a small hole. The survey is super-imposed on the centreline survey completed by Tim Francis and Richard Carey on 6th January 2007, and shows excellent agreement. Total length of the new survey is 268m, bringing the East Passage length to 399m, and an overall length for the Upper Flood survey of 3415m.
As previously reported, new rift passage was discovered during the survey, prompting the name Rift Series for the section of cave previously referred to as the East Passage oxbow. All leads in this section have now been checked out and are closed. All known and potential dig sites have been marked on the survey with a hammer symbol (with the exception of the "filled passage" in one of the rift avens in Rift Series), and altitude marks are shown as metres above OD.
The survey highlights that the tube that is being dug to the north-east of Zebra Aven appears to be a continuation of a significant cross passage that ends to the south-east in a viable dig marked by the hammer symbol just by the 'S' of Rift Series. It is a too-low arched roof above soft clay infill, with a few-inch air gap. Its potential only became apparent by its 4m depth as revealed by the laser rangefinder. This is currently being actively dug as reported elsewhere. This passage is wide and heading into an unmapped area, so is of significant interest. The westerly dig marked just to the east of Royal Icing is the end of a small crawl, and may be of little interest. However, the southerly dig in the same crawl is an undercut with a visible few-inch high air space at floor level. This has not yet received any attention other than by the survey team - its potential again only becoming apparent by its 3.5m length revealed by the laser rangefinder.
There remains a few loose ends yet to be surveyed, including the above-mentioned north-easterly tube, and a northerly tube above the not-so-deep 'Deep' Pool. Both are labelled with hammers. There is a third continuation, just south east of 'Deep Pool' that is not labelled. We left painted survey stations close to all these end-points to facilitate further surveying. We plan to complete this in due course, together with a continuation of the full passage survey to the end of the known East Passage.
by Mark Ward
On 16/08/08 Doug and I spent an hour walking the 'bomb craters' with the very amiable Duncan Massey of Swallet Farm. He was very keen for us to dig Battery Swallet, located in a basically untapped area between Wigmore and Lamb Leer, with great potential. However, the cave lies on the Wookey brothers’ land and this was going to prove a bit harder work! The brothers were not impressed when we introduced ourselves as MCG members. They said they were unhappy with the previous fence that had been erected around the trees and that they had lost a cow down the pit? This was later borne out when we dug out a few cow bones from the entrance. One can only speculate how they actually got there? However, with lots of charm and promises, we managed to get them to agree to us having another go! The proviso was that before we did anything, we were to erect a proper barbed wire fence. We returned on 17/08/08 and achieved this although a few more strengthening posts and a stile are required. We are going to give the brothers a couple of pictures and ask them to approve what we have done. We also have to maintain the fence. We have cleared a lot of vegetation from around and above the cave. The next step will be to dig the pit back in layers and build a scaffold and mesh cage to hold it all back, before we can clear the entrance and start digging. We had a squirm inside and a thrutch into Vee Swallet and both look good prospects.
Tim Francis adds: I think the original 1980s MCG diggers at Battery Swallet were Brian Murlis, John Beauchamp and Steve Redwood. I remember reading their log book entries when we had a go at the site in the mid 1990s and also discussed the dig with them in early 1991. Bill Headington also took a brief interest when he was living / working in the area in the early '90s. I suggest someone has another look in the log book to see what the '80s diggers say about their first visit. I don't remember them saying they actually named the site but they may well have done. John Crowsley might know. This shows the value of log book entries for those who don't write things up.
Wasn't there some connection between MCG and Swallet Farm Centre at the time which meant that the MCG were wandering all over that area checking out the shakeholes? Vee Swallet, the best looking site, was already adopted so it was about finding another swallet to have a go at. Of course the line of wooded shakeholes themselves will have been known about for eons as the last one is the Devil's Punchbowl, which is absolutely huge. Its well worth a visit if you haven't seen it. So perhaps when “Complete Caves” was written in '77 they all didn't have names?
The whole area has been heavily dowsed both by John Wilcock and MCG (log book entry on this). I think I have the map somewhere. There are lots of positive readings apparent to the north of Vee Swallet and then heading West.
Stainsby’s Shaft updates
(adapted from MCG Logbook entries of Biff Frith and Julie Hesketh)
26/07/08 Biff Frith, Paul Ketcher, Mick Norton, Carl Ruxton enlarged the second shaft ready for the ladder but the Hilti caps would not go off and the drill battery gave up.
02/08/08 Biff Frith, Keith Knight, Doug Harris installed fixed ladders in the second shaft making ascent/descent easier.
03/08/08 Biff Frith, Keith Knight, Brian Snell, Ed Waters, Hayley Clarke fitted scaffold at the bottom of the shaft and opened up a rift to a third shaft.
30/08/09 Biff Frith, Mick Norton, Bill Chadwick, Julie Hesketh, Budy (Mark Williams), Paul Ketcher, Angus Leat, and Yvonne & Martin Rowe (briefly). Impressive progress made - dig face shored and made safe, 80 drums of spoil and a large rocks removed.
Progress report by Biff Frith: A dodgy boulder, roughly 5x7x6ft now needs to be secured with a concrete lintel cast in situ. Once this is done, progress can be made under the boulder at an angle of 45º to check out a new route in an 8ft draughting void.
Upper Flood Swallet updates
(adapted from MCG Newsgroup messages of Mike Richardson and Ben Cooper)
On 19/07/08 Tim Francis and Mike Richardson paid a visit to Picket Pot. The pool had cleared but was no lower, and it was not obvious where the water runs away to. They report that prospects are not promising. They had a look down Birthday Surprise, and made a vocal connection from the end back to the slot behind the boulder at Royal Icing, so that doesn't look promising either.
At the start of the new dig in Rift Series they excavated a lot of soil, following the highest point in the passage for some three metres in, with enough height to kneel or squat down, before the floor started to come up. To the right there is a space between the infill and the ceiling (the passage is some 2m wide and they were digging along the left hand side). Opposite here, the open passage goes back toward Zebra Aven and it appears they have dug into a pocket on the left hand wall.
Unlike their previous visit the air was fine. Digging is really pleasant (as digging goes), the soil infill stays as soil (and doesn't turn to gloopy mud), though there is enough airflow at the start to get cold if you sit around.
On the way out they recovered the two rescue drums so that out-of-date food items can be replaced.
On 02/08/08 Brian Snell, Peat Bennett and Mike Richardson returned to the dig in Rift Series. They made about 3m of progress, still following the left hand wall. There is less height now, maybe a couple of feet, but the digging is still fairly easy.
Survey update. At 27/07/08 the total surveyed length is 3415m. In addition, 200m of passage remains to be surveyed, giving a total about 3600m. It is important to remember that this figure is not absolute, but depends on the route the survey centreline takes. The more it cuts across the passage, the longer the cave will appear. The survey length data quoted includes all avens and side passages that have had survey legs taken into them.
Stainsby’s Shaft updates
(adapted from MCG Newsgroup messages of Biff and Tony Knibbs)
Paul Ketcher and Biff spent most of the day 21/06/06 fitting a lot more scaffolding to the bottom of the dig. On 22/06/06 they were joined by Ed Waters, Buddy (Mark Williams) and Hayley Clark who helped removed all the spoil created the previous day. They then dug down another 3ft regaining the rift Peat Bennett had squeezed into. At the far end of this (not as big as it looked) rift, almost under where Peat squeezed in, a draft was coming in through small loose boulders. Biff enlarged this to about head size and he could see down another 12-15ft. Rocks dropped down from here go a bit further but it was all very loose and constricted (but free of buddle mud.)
The digging shaft is now 45ft (13metres) deep. Biff has removed the electron ladder to inspect it for any damage or corrosion and it will be replaced by a fixed steel ladder making it safer and easier to descend.
On 05/07/08 Geoff Beale, Mick Norton, Keith Knight, Adrian Bell, Alan Grey, Mike ?? and Biff continued to make good steady progress down the shaft. On 06/07/08, with help from 4 diggers from SMCC they dug for about 4½hours, gaining a total of 6ft over the weekend. There is still another 9-15ft to get to the first level.
Tony Knibbs adds: Quite early (around 1957) when MCG first started exploring the upper reaches of Velvet Bottom, we began to meet the locals in the Nordrach area. During a discussion with an old chap, he informed us that the miners had claimed to have found a beautiful cave during their work on Blackmoor. Soon after learning of this old story we (about twelve of us) spent a fruitless session lasting many hours furtling around in all the interesting-looking holes in the rakes area. It didn't seem to us unreasonable that the miners might have broken into something interesting. Hence my interest in the draughting Charnel Shaft. The original spur to digging Stainsby's Shaft was that a small boulder-filled 'grotto' (Don's Chamber) in the side of the shaft emitted a slight air current and had a few small stal. decorations. It is also possible that the miners simply discovered an isolated void with some crystalline decoration! However, miners tended to leave traces of their passing. Since nothing of this nature has been reported in Upper Flood Swallet, we should remain sceptical about a possible prior visit by miners. I was relieved when it became apparent that Walk the Plank had nothing to do with a wooden plank.
Roman Rake updates
(adapted from MCG Newsgroup messages of Mark Ward)
On 05/07/08, after Biff had split a large rock using “snappers”, Doug Harris and Mark Ward poked around in the shattered rock until some of the wall in the West Rift fell down, narrowly missing Mark. Mark had wanted to shift all the rocks and spoil from 2006, so they set about clearing it. Unfortunately, this littered the bottom of the cave with mud and rocks again. So on 08/07/08 Mark Ward and his son went back. After shifting many barrels out of the West Rift, Mark removed a small rock and could see 20ft vertically down the rift, into a Peat-sized hole with a small draught. After removing much spoil to open it up (it had filled to about 5 feet) he found a stemple (now in the Llibrary). The rift appeared to have been dug from the surface maybe as far as the tree and then backfilled. He managed to squeeze down head first into the rift which is about 18" wide opening up to 2 feet.
On 26/07/08 Mark Ward reached the bottom of the hole and the west Rift was entered, with help from Biff, Paul Ketcher, Mick Norton and Carl Ruxton. Unfortunately, the rift pinched in to about 12-18 inches and solid rock was met. Further investigation found this to be the cave floor! Mark decided to remove the hanging death that had been above him as he lay sideways in the hole, but the whole roof came down like a coal shute. The rift is almost full again. The higher part of West rift is full large boulders and the whole place is on the move. No way forward can really been seen and geologically the odds of finding cave were always stacked anyway? The dig has been therefore been abandoned.
Upper Flood Swallet updates
(adapted from the MCG Newsgroup messages of Mike Richardson, Ben Cooper, Tim Francis)
Collapse in Not Easy Squeeze
On 28/04/08 Mike Richardson, with Becka Lawson and Julian Todd (CUCC) entered the cave for a tourist trip with maybe a quick dig at Picket Pot, but only got as far as Not Easy Squeeze. Mike was backing along the rift to the drop to the boulder, thinking “this rock underneath me, I don't remember that” when he looked up and thought “I don't remember that very precarious rock”. So he reversed quite quickly!
It looked like several rocks had fallen out of the roof at the same point where some had come in the last time the choke moved. A new large rock on the floor could be wobbled; if it had moved it would have blocked the hole above the rope climb; a few smaller pieces were sitting at the lip of the hole. Another rock was jammed above this - poking with a scaffold bar suggested it was not very tight. If it had fallen then the roof above would have been iffy.
The party had taken down two scaffold bars from the Red Room for Easy Squeeze, so they left these and returned to the Red Room to ferry back another bar, an Acro prop (which they freed up and cleaned), and picked up two clamps from Golden Chamber. On 03/05/08 Tim Francis and Mike Richardson returned to the collapse in Not Easy Squeeze and made it safe by installing scaffolding (photo right, by M Richardson). The roof is stable now although the diggers might like to pop in a little more cement. People should still take care of course and perhaps not treat the scaffolding as a climbing frame. (The boulders had always been somewhat suspect. But the cause of the collapse was an inexperienced caver on a trip several weeks earlier shoving his size-twelves in the roof. He repeated the trick on the way out and rocks were seen to move horribly when he braced.)
More leads found in West Passage
On 21/05/08 Mike Richardson and Ray Deazy undertook a West and East Passages tourist trip that ended up with new exploration. In East Passage, on the right-hand (southern) side of the passage a few metres after the deeper pool, Mike climbed up into a small rift, which entered a tube, adding another 10m of passage (once upon a time I guess that would have been something). He was stopped by mud bank, but could see about 3 metres ahead. There is no particular echo but not it is not totally dead either.
On the way out of West passage, beyond the chamber believed to be below Neverland, at a left/right joggle before Chuckle Choke, Mike checked the crawl behind the boulder. In the roof of the crawl was a narrow rift. He shoved up as far as he could go (Peat or Tim might make a few more inches). Shouting returned a really good echo. This must be the point where the passage up to the Pork Pies crosses over West Passage, so it might be worth a bit of attention.
Digging at Brian's Eye
On 07/06/08 Peat Bennett, Mike Richardson, Nick ?? and Tim Francis attacked the dig at Brian’s Eye (so-named because Brian Snell stumbled here in Oct 2006 and cut his eyelid, requiring stitches). They could clearly hear the streamway crashing below. There was quite a drip coming out of the roof and it was cold for those who were not at the dig face, which is now bigger and wider but only a little deeper. They had to cut back the rock slope a fair way as it was overhanging rather ominously. It looks a good prospect as it can not be much more than 30-40 feet above the stream. Water levels in Upper Flood Swallet were about average but they had a rude awakening at their return to the Lavatory Trap which was fuller than they had expected. The air in Midnight Chamber was 14°C, and the water was 15°C so they found it quite pleasant in the streamway.
Discovery of Rift Series
On 13/06/08 Ben Cooper and Mike Richardson were surveying, starting at Royal Icing Passage, when they found Rift Series (a working title until the name is decided). They had surveyed almost as far as the deep pool, and had climbed up into a rift which Tim Francis (?) had originally inspected. They followed this to a Short Climb where the passage went left and back to Zebra Aven; to the right led to a passage which bent to the left. After a few metres a low crawl on the left connected back to the other side of the climb. At this point the passage was apparently blind, but they spotted a second low crawl a couple of metres on. Pushing through this they entered a walking-height passage. This extended for about 45m with a couple of grovels to meet a cross rift which closed down in both directions, around 5m to the right and 10m to the left. The air was generally quite fresh but suddenly become dead about 40m in. At this point there was an aven that seemed climbable to what might be a roof tube. Mike had a go but it was muddy and he was trying to keep his hands clean for surveying, so it still needs to be checked out.
Also, at the foot of the Short Climb mentioned above, they noticed a low crawl on the left. This heads back to the main East Passage, so might not be too interesting. Except that in the roof-level passage to Zebra Aven, at a bend in the passage, there is a narrow (couple of inches or so) slot in the floor which might be above the crawl at the Short Climb. This needs to be checked. They achieved a very good agreement with Tim Francis and Richard Carey's centreline survey and managed a loop closure error of 0.3% - this is excellent. In all they surveyed 284m. Of this, only 46m had already been surveyed by Tim and Richard, so they have added 238m to the surveyed length of the cave. The brand new passage (working name: Rift Series, to reflect the complex nature of the intersecting rifts) is 57m long. The damp cross rift at the end is 4m lower than the East Passage terminal sump. There are still three known spurs to be surveyed (working names; Mike's Tube, Tube above Deep Pool, and Mike's Rift just after the Deep Pool). There is a low level spur, heading NE, not yet entered. There are two unclimbed avens in the "Rift Series". The first is just above the 3m climb, the second is in the new extension and has a visible tube.
Upper Flood Swallet survey updated
On the page opposite is Ben Cooper’s revised version of the survey published for the BCRA (no new survey data have been added) addressing many of the comments received since then. Survex and Therion versions of the survey can be seen on the MCG Yahoo newsgroup where an extended elevation of the survey is also available in Therion format, based on the survey Left-Right-Up-Down (LRUD) data. These elevations need drawing up properly, and consequently, the elevations are not yet of publishable quality. Any comments / questions / requests would be gratefully received by Ben Copper.
The survey is also online Thanks to Ben for making the data available and to Bill Chadwick for writing the code to display the results in Google Maps. Displaying the survey in this way means that it can be viewed at a high resolution but cannot easily be reproduced.
Bill is doing other work with Google Maps and Google Forms. You can now see the cave in relation to the surface And all the digs and leads can be viewed as a Google Form so that the diggers can update a spreadsheet online (using the link published on the Newsgroup) and see the results on the survey. Finally, if you have any photos of Upper Flood, pin them to the survey
(adapted from the MCG Newsgroup messages of Biff Frith and Mike Richardson)
Combination lock for use when digging
We've had a couple of incidents of Joe Public (and in one case Joe Public's dog and 3 year old daughter) wandering into the Stainsby's Shaft enclosure because the gate was left unlocked (allowing people to come and go to get gear, sneak off for a rest, stuff like that).
It was agreed that having a combination lock to use while digging would be a good idea. There is now one on the key board in the tackle store on the Stainsby’s Shaft key. The combination is 1968 (the year of the Mendip Flood – it seemed appropriate and easy to remember). The idea is to put it on the gate while digging; when finished put the normal padlock back and bring the combination lock back to the MCG cottage.
An excellent day's digging was had on 19/04/08 despite there only being four diggers (Biff Frith, Doug Harris, Mark Ireland, Mark Ward). The obstruction in the ladder pitch was chemically persuaded to remove itself, as were many boulders below. The scaffolding was almost finished and a safe cage for digging was put in place. Many buckets of spoil were removed whilst the nail bar was lost in cavities measureless to man!
On 20/04/08 Sunday the digging was even better with a turn out of nine diggers (Doug Harris, Mark Ward, Mark Ireland, Mike Richardson, Tim ?, Adam ?, Biff Frith, Ed ??, and Buddy ??) They hit a deep deposit of layered soft clays, almost certainly buddle washings, that just kept on going down. These clays were easy to dig, the drums being filled faster than the winch team could keep up with, but it kept them fit!
Over the weekend we deepened the shaft by 2.7 metres or 9ft. We plan to put in another stage of scaffolding before the May members weekend.
03/05/08 saw an excellent turn out (Doug Harris, Mark Ward, Bill Chadwick, Giles Martin, Jeremy Gilson, Karen Fendley, Adrian Bell, Biff Frith, Mark Ireland) as did 04/05/08 (Bill Chadwick, Adrian Bell, Peat Bennett, Mike Richardson, Kev ??, Nicky ??, Ed ??, Buddy ??, Biff Frith) Unfortunately Biff had to fit some scaffolding for safety and it took a long time. But they still managed to drop the floor another 3 to 4 feet before setting off to the Wessex Challenge but that's another story.
Everybody got a go at the dig face and barrels were coming out every few minutes. The shaft was dropped by another 6 foot or so making about 10 feet gained over the weekend. Peat managed to squeeze down into the rift seen from the end of the drafting excursion dug for the last month. He and the diggers could see each other’s light confirming that they had gone around in a circle. "Diggers Folly" perhaps? We will be able to enter this rift soon but the way on is still straight down. This is easy digging, the way on being filled with soft mud and boulders, but it will need extensive scaffolding and mesh.
On 10/05/08 Doug Harris, Mark Ward, Mark Ireland, Paul ??, Bill Chadwick, Adrian Bell, Karen Fendley, Russ Porter, Allan Wicks, John Evans, Biff Frith, Alan Grey between them removed around 3 cubic yards of slimes out of the dig, that's over 3 tons in weight, to reveal a passage going for 12 feet towards the main shaft. The draught was coming in from the left hand side through a slot in boulders that Biff hiltied. This was big enough for Bill to squeeze up into a void but it was a no-go as it would have been detrimental to the continued existence of the digger if pursued.
11/05/08 was a case of where did they all go, as only 4 of Saturday’s diggers (Mark Ward, Paul ??, Biff Frith, Alan Grey) turned up? Being made of sterner stuff than the others, they set off for another shift down the pit. Paul had the first go and found a slot going straight on in the right direction and dug this out as far as his arms would reach. Biff then hiltied it wider but this was slow-going as the rock was very tough. Alan then had a go at digging and opened up a descending slot going for 6 ft and draughting. He then had to go but suggested the other three should dig the floor out at the end of the passage. Mark got very exited when he hit void going down and onwards in the right direction. Biff had the last dig, going in head-first with Mark holding on to his feet so he could drag a large rock out. This revealed that the void goes on under the wall and appears to get wider, going down at 45 degrees, and draughting. The end can only be feet away from the main shaft.
Where does the sediment come from and when did it fill the shaft? It is around 15ft thick and the bands range from 1/2" to 2" thick. There may be 180 separate depositions. Progress has been made down and out of the slimes and is now producing stones and rocks. The voids underneath are clean-washed as if the slimes didn't get that far in. Was the shaft open to the surface and the miners used it as a convenient dump? It would also explain why there was air space in the top of the new passage and at the end of it there is a large void completely clean-washed going up about 8ft. And yes the digger will have to be on a lifeline soon (Ed: a case of dope on a rope?) It was a hard day on 24/05/08 with just four diggers (Mark Ward, Doug Harris, Bill Chadwick, Biff Frith), but we almost got to the next bit of void after a lot of work shoring up the slime bank.
With a better turnout on 25/05/08 (Mark Ward, Doug Harris, Bill Chadwick, Biff Frith, Mark Ireland, Adrian Bell, Kev ??, Nicky ??, Alan Grey) it was possible to reduce a large rock to rubble and mine a bit more sludge, Biff was able to get in for another 8ft to what may be the main shaft. Unfortunately this was filled with rocks, but there was another void going left. After another boulder gave in to Mr Hilti, he was able to squeeze in. This took him back to the main rift wall where he could see down another 8ft and also back along the rift to almost under the digging shaft, almost completing a full circle. The rift (dyke) is undercut here thus creating the void (as predicted by Mark Ireland who had seen the same feature in the old dig).
After some discussion it was decided it would be safer and easier to continue going down the digging shaft. Within a few feet the rift wall started undercutting and void could be seen. They continued to dig for the afternoon until, tired and with various minor injuries taking their toll, we called it a day.
The digging shaft is now nearly 40 ft deep and a few hours will need to be spent putting in scaffolding. Once this is done we should be able to get in to the void. This must be close to the 18 fathom level and is in big blocks of limestone so hopefully it is still open. There is a good draft so prospects are good!
(adapted from the MCG Newsgroup messages of Mark Ward)
Following heavy rain and the floods on Mendip, what was left of the mud slide collapsed. The surface ground had been undermined, with only a few feet of earth, mud rocks and open cave. On 31/05/08 Mark Ward meshed and braced almost up to the surface and filled some of the void with rocks. This will need taking up to the surface to stabilise the ground. Never has such a small cave had so much scaffold...though all necessary.
On 04/06/08 Mark Ward dropped the floor 3 feet, back into the hole that he had originally dug in 2006 next to the (now gone) boulder. The 'orrible' sticky mud has gone and he is now back into the bang spoil. There are a lot of rocks that have to come up to be placed behind the mesh. The dig now needs rock nets ... and a strong pair of arms!
Mendips geological maps and guidebooks
The British Geological Survey (BGS) has published two brand-new geological maps and guidebooks featuring the Mendips. These new books, A Walker’s Guide to the Geology and Landscape of Western Mendip and A Walker’s Guide to the Geology and Landscape of Eastern Mendip are written for both tourists and local people who wish to know a little more about the region. They offer detailed geological maps of the area and a guidebook which describes the area’s geology, landscape, flora and fauna. Understanding the local geology is key to finding out how the landscape came to look the way it does today, and how this influences everything from land-use to the local wildlife.
The books have been written by Dr Andrew Farrant, Project Leader and Regional Geologist at the BGS. Andy is also a well-known caver, and his article on the geomorhpologhy of Upper Flood Swallet appeared in MCG News 339.
Western Mendip is an A5 book of 76 pages in full colour and is accompanied by a 1:25000 geology map of Mendip. At only £12.00 this is excellent value. There are sections covering all the major caving areas including Charterhouse and Blackmoor. Upper Flood Swallet gets a brief mention (a major cave system with a stream) and even a photograph! The accompanying geology map is based on the Wells 1:50000 geology map sheet 280, with minor amendments and some simplification. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the guide book
To explain the geology of the Mendips in only 76 pages is a challenge, so chapters are brief but informative (the Charterhouse area gets a good 6 pages). The publications are linked to a website with more informationfor those who want it. Upper Flood Swallet gets another mention here. The website also gives details of how to take up caving and has links to the major Mendip clubs including a link back to MCG. As with the publication of any guide, the book is already out of date – the map of Charterhouse Cave omits the recent extensions made by the WCC! However it is still excellent value and deserves a place in any caver’s library.
Mendip Caving Group. UK Charity Number 270088. The object of the Group is, for the benefit of the public, the furtherance of all aspects of the exploration, scientific study and conservation of caves and related features. Membership shall be open to anyone over the age of 18 years with an interest in the objects of the Group.