Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Swildons Hole-Short round trip

Date: 28/04/2011
Team Member’s: Andy, Mark & Dave
Cave Location: Priddy, Mendip

The trip began with the usual scramble to get to Mendip straight from work. Luckily the traffic was kind and after a delayed start I soon found myself at the Wessex Cave Club cottage. Andy & Mark had also just arrived.

There had been much discussion over the days leading up to the trip as both Mark and Andy had been out the previous Monday and done a trip to Swildons IV via Blue pencil passage. We soon decided that the short round trip was worth a shot as it would still give us time to get out for that all important Beer and Chilli!
We donned our wetsuits underneath the usual oversuits as this trip involved a number of ducks plus sump one to be negotiated. Wetsuits whilst keeping you warm can be quite cumbersome through the dryer tighter sections of the cave where it gets very hot.

It was a nice day and the walk to the cave entrance was enjoyable. When we got to the cave we found that the stream water levels were very low indeed and that the usual torrent of water rushing through the entrance man hole was non-existent.
We lowered ourselves into the entrance and shuffled forward into the darkness. The entrance series has changed considerably over the last year or so with a number of collapses. The way on is now via an awkward climb down overhanging boulders or an easier squeeze through very unstable looking boulders. A low passage on the right can also take you through the “zig zags” as an alternative option.

We ploughed on quickly keen to make headway along choosing the “wet way” as the more direct route. Again the recent changes in the entrance have effected this first section of the cave as the once wet, first waterfall is now bone dry with the water issuing from a too tight rift on the right at the foot of the waterfall. From here we followed the stream on down through the rest of the “wet way” negotiating narrow rifts and waterfalls along the way as well as the infamous “lavatory pan”.

We forged ahead on through the “Boulder chamber” and into the “water rift”. This narrow rift takes the full stream including inlets that have joined at the “Boulder chamber “from the “dry ways”. The end of the water rift terminates at a sharp left hand turn through a 2 ft diameter hole to the head of a waterfall. This can be quite dramatic as the full volume of the stream is forced through the very same gap. Care is needed on the descent as the white water hides the foot holds and hand holds. Once down the climb you find yourself at the base of the “old Forty”. This once huge waterfall is dry with the water issuing from the water rift which was forged during the floods of 1967. A prime example of the force of nature!

We continued our way along the now taller stream passage, in the distance the rumble of the “Twenty” as the water tumbles over the pitch.

We got to the pitch head quite quickly and soon had the ladder and lifeline rigged for the descent. Andy went first, then me and finally Mark. We were glad of the soaking we got descending the ladder as up to now the stream had remained quite dry and we were starting to get hot.

We then stomped off down the passage way the tall rifts interspersed with narrow sections and small waterfalls. Progress downstream was quick and we were soon at the “Double Pots”. Moving on we took the beautiful “Barnes Loop” detour rather than the deep rift the stream follows which can be hard work in reverse. Following the stream further and negotiating increasingly large waterfalls we soon found ourselves at the point where we climb out of the stream way and bridge up into “Tratmans Temple”. Once fantastically adorned with straw stalactites that were vandalised many years ago.

From here the going becomes harder with some steeper uphill sections and some flat out crawls. The reassuring sound of the stream is left far behind and silence intermingles with the odd drip from the ceiling or from the tip of a slowly growing stalagmite. The pools here are deep in places with waste deep wading requires as we make our way to the next obstacle. The mud sump.

We passed through the “Paradise series” and through the tell tale muddy passage that lets you know you are reaching the mud sump. The sump itself was dry and has been now for a year or so. A flat out crawl through a muddy tube with only a few inches of water in the bottom is all there is to negotiate at present.

From here twisting passage takes you through into the “Shatter series” with its pitch to the left hand side that was rigged with a ladder when we were there.

Evidence of digs lie in this area with the usual buckets, bags, drag tray and pipes diverting the water. We crawled and wriggled through the next few passages and then found ourselves at the bottom of the “Greasy chimney”. An awkward climb of about 12ft or so up a smooth tube with limited holds that earns it its name. Surprisingly not having done it for a while I got up it first time and without too much fuss. Again I was starting to feel tired and hot in these dry strenuous passages where there is limited water to cool you down especially when wearing a wet suit.

We pushed on further through the various winding muddy passages. They are mainly stooping through this section interspersed with crawls through muddy puddles in low passages. We stopped for a breather and a drink at the head of the “Blue Pencil Passage” traverse. It was well needed by me and I was glad of the 10 minute rest. We were soon on the move again, bridging the rift above the entrance to “Blue Pencil passage”. The move is awkward due to the slippery nature of the footholds. The smooth calcite offers little grip for muddy boots and the whole thing is uphill and at an angle!

Moving on we then made our way through the “Trouble Series”. The double troubles are a series of ducks up to twenty feet long with only a few inches of airspace. In times of high water these ducks have to be bailed to make them passable. The dunking was very refreshing! We moved on quickly now happy that the half way point of the trip had been passed. The passage twists and turns through muddy damp crawls with some tighter sections. The most famous being the very tight “Birthday Squeeze” through a nicely decorated section where the ceiling pinches down to a calcite flow in the floor. This section is not passable to larger than average cavers!

We pushed on through more short ducks and puddles and passing a section where the mud banks have been shaped by the water in to fascinating curving features. Finally the passage drops down to the left and any water you disturb passing the passages beforehand now follows you down hill through a squeeze in the floor to the head of “the Landing” and the way down to Swildons II.

Descending the landing is probably the most fun part of the trip as you initially appear in the roof of the Swildons II streamway some 30ft up. You then sit down and basically slide down the steeply descending, smooth floor using an in-situ rope to hold onto to stop you falling into the rift that carries the stream to the right. At the bottom of the slide you are now back in the Swildons II streamway with sump II downstream and to your right with sump I upstream and to your left as you face the Landing.

It felt good to be back in the streamway again with the chatter of the water around us. Splashing our way up stream we passed through several low, wide sections with beautiful water sculpted walls.

Soon we found ourselves at the far side of sump I. A short free divable sump with a hand line running through it. The sump is around five feet in length and lowers to around 2ft in height with a gravel bottom. We took the usual steps and got ourselves ready for the inevitable dunking. Donning neoprene hoods and generally getting “in the zone”. Andy dived first, then Mark and I filmed them as they one by one left me on my own in the darkness. I packed the camera into the dry sack and then into the small BDH container before butting it in the bag. I then gave a couple of pulls on the rope to show I was pushing the bag through attached to my foot. I felt someone grab the bag and clear it from the sump. I then felt two pulls on the rope to show that the sump was clear. A deep breath and a few seconds of scrabbling around underwater and I emerged to the lights of Mark and Andrews lamps!

A few moments to gather ourselves and we started on the long uphill (and against the stream flow) trudge to the way out. We took a detour along the way to take in Barnes Loop, probably one of the prettiest sections of the cave with exquisite flow stone, gour pools , stalagmite’s and stalactites. The climb out of the Swildons streamway is an interesting thrutch up a smooth calcite flow. We traversed out of Barnes Loop high above a deep rift where the water tumbles down noisily into the gloom.

Digging in we continued the uphill march. As it was my first long trip since my operation and I was not as “cave fit” as I normally am and was starting to feel tired. We continued to push against the water climbing waterfalls and squeezing uphill through narrow squeezes against the flow of the stream. We were soon back at the bottom of the Twenty. A relieving sight as I use this as a mental marker knowing that we are only 10mins from the entrance. We were soon all at the top and met another group going in the opposite direction. A quick stop for a chat and then we were off on our way again. At the top of the Water Rift we took a right turn and headed out via the Wet Way. It’s a bit more of a struggle but more direct and quicker. Near the start of the Wet Way you get the inevitable dunking at the Lavatory Pan and then climbed the various waterfalls that line the route. The final and deepest waterfall –The Well is now dry due to a shift in the entrance series that happened a couple of years ago. I always find this a little strange as a large volume of water often crashed over this obstacle but now emerges from a narrow rift at the foot of the climb.

We pushed on to the entrance series and could soon smell the aroma of the damp night air.

A brisk walk back to Upper Pitts and after hot showers and a change of clothes we headed off to the Hunters Lodge Inn for a well earned Pint and bowl of Chilli. Another great trip.....

Monday, 4 April 2011

Hunters Hole- Friday 18th Feb 2010



Rigging topo

Party members: Dave, Mark, Andy & Jerry

We had planned a short easy trip for a Friday night, after work trip. The plan was to head into Hunters Hole and rig both the main pitch and Sago’s pot. We also were giving Jerry a crash course in SRT (single rope techniques)!

We arrived early at the Hunters Lodge in car park on a cool, dark damp night. Mark was already there and waiting for us, Andy was still to arrive. We wasted no time in getting the kit on as I would need to talk Jerry through the set up. Whilst he was very familiar with climbing techniques SRT is quite different.

I had per packed and knotted all the ropes so as to cut down the time faffing around in the dark. Andy soon arrived and got kitted up and we headed for the cave entrance. The cave itself is located in the field adjacent to the pub on only a two minute walk from the car park. The entrance shaft is lined with concrete pipes and has a permanent steel ladder in place. The lid is a large piece of board to prevent animals getting in.

I was first in and was soon at the bottom of the ladder. A short hand line was used down the first climb making use of the two “P” hangers at the foot of the ladder. The climb was soon descended and I found myself rigging the traverse out over the first section of the pitch. Bats were in residence roosting so care was required. I soon had the traverse rigged and abseiled down to the ledge. And came next, then Jerry and then finally Mark who stayed on the rope and swung out over the main pitch to rig the second traverse and “Y” hang.

I headed down to the left a short way and rigged Sago’s Pot. The pitch was soon rigged and we chatted as we worked. Luckily I had the benefit of a brand new rope which was supple and easy to use. It also gave a speedy smooth descent to the floor once on the rope and abseiling. I quickly overtook Mark who was busy rigging the deviation at the top of the main pitch. Jerry got on the rope behind me and was soon beside me at the bottom of the pitch. I filmed his descent from 50ft or so above me!
I spent some time filming Mark’s eventual descent to the floor and Andy soon followed. The lads spent some time rooting around in the main chamber whilst I continued to play with the camera from various angles and in various modes.

For the Prusik (ascent) back up the rope we swapped over with Mar and Andy taking Sego’s Pot and Jerry and I going up the main pitch taking in the deviation on the way. Jerry went first and had soon honed his prusiking technique. Safely past the deviation he was soon at the top with Mark and Andy. I made use of my Pantin (foot jammer, not heavy breathing!) to help with the ascent. Excellent pieces of kit! I soon found myself at the deviation and spent a few minutes trying to undo the sling that had pulled very tight and was a real pain to get undone! Progress was soon underway again and the various pitches ascended and de-rigged.
We hurried back to the pub car park to get changed in the rain. Kit was stuffed into bags and boxes in a frenzy as only Chilli and Butcombe Bitter was now on the mind!

A nice short evening trip and a great taster for Jerry on SRT techniques. We’ll soon have him in Rhino!

Mark in the entrance climb

Rigging the pitches

Jerry descending Sego's Pot

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Thrupe Lane Swallet- Thursday 30th December 2010.

NGR ST64/6038.4580
Depth 385ft
Rigging topo

Thrupe Lane Swallet was to be the scene of our annual Christmas/New Year caving trip for 2010. Often we head to South Wales but with the recent snowfall and cold weather we decided to stay local and head for the Mendips.
The cave entrance lies on Thrupe Lane between the Villages of Measbury and Crosscombe and was first entered in 1974. There is a small lay-by where cars can be parked and at the time of writing there are no access arrangements and whilst the cave is gated there is no key required.
The cave itself is pretty vertical in nature and ideal for SRT resembling Yorkshire potholes. Thrupe boasts the one of the largest pots on Mendip at 197ft. Atlas Pot can be descended via the High Atlas route (where caution is required as there is a real danger of falling rocks due to the loose nature of the take off points at the pitch head) or from the Marble stream way further down. This was to be our Target.
Mark and Andy picked me up at 08:30 on a cold damp December morning. After a stop for breakfast in Asda (and some funny looks as I was wearing my fleecy having not been warned about the breakfast stop!) we soon found ourselves following the narrow Mendip lanes. Snow still covered the ground in places from the recent heavy falls experienced across the country.
We pulled up at the lay-by and started unloading the kit. The dairy farm remained quiet and no one seemed to be around. It’s a shame the old couple who used to own it are not still there as they kept an eye on people coming and going and would warn cavers planning to take the High Altas route if there were other parties in the cave lower down that could fall foul of falling rocks in the Atlas Pot area.
This was where my plan to wear the fleecy came good and meant I didn’t have to endure the cold air whilst getting changed and had a head start. I soon had all the kit on and the SRT kit ready to go. The ropes had been pre knotted and threaded into the bags to make life easier so I made my way to the cave to go on and rig the first pitch whilst Andy and Mark continued to change and try and work out how to put on their SRT kits!
With the gate propped open with the usual handy log I commenced rigging the pitch. The first “P” hanger is actually on the wall on the right just outside the cave and then the rope crosses the passage to traverse the left hand wall. Only 10-15ft in and you soon find yourself at the pitch head with two “P” hangers to take the “Y” hang. The shaft is only 30ft deep and an easy descent. Mark and Andy soon caught me up and we made our way past the turning on the right to High Atlas and on through the second gate into the tight and sharp rift passages that head vertically down. An awkward section of cave that can tear oversuits and catches the SRT kit wherever possible.

We soon found ourselves at the boulder jam that marks the head of Perseverance Pot. There are two ways on here, Perseverance is directly below you to the right as you climb down and Slit pot directly in front slightly to your left. A squeeze through boulders needs to be done with care as the deep rift of Perseverance lies below. A jammed scaffold bar provides the ideal point to tie in before placing a “Y” hang on the obvious “P” hangers in front of you at the pitch head. The descent of the pitch needs to be done with care as it’s very narrow at the top and sharp in places. As you descend the walls widen somewhat to make for easier progress.
We soon found ourselves at the bottom of the pot and I descended into Cowsh crawl only to find it all but sumped. Only a few inches of airspace was visible and the sound of falling water was loud beyond. This was the first time I had encountered anywhere near this amount of water in the crawl and was quite surprised. I slowly climbed in and found the water over knee deep and icy cold, obviously melt water from the snow thaw above. Within minutes my feet were throbbing with the cold. To negotiate this we would have to lie in it and totally immerse ourselves. Not a nice thought. We had a chat and discussed what we wanted to do. The thought of having to go through this wasn’t very appealing and the amount of water we had experienced throughout the cave didn’t really bode well for the descent of Atlas Pot from the end of the Marble stream way. So we chickened out and opted for a slow ascent out taking photo’s along the way and an early trip to the Hunters.
Perseverance proved as challenging as ever, with limited space to prusik out and jagged edges in a tight rift progress can be slow. Mark and Andy opted to free climb it which is probably easier to be honest! Annoyingly my Pantin kept coming off the rope, typical as when I try and kick it off I can never manage it!
Steady progress de-rigging and we went soon we found ourselves at the surface again. A brief stop for some photo’s and a quick change it was not long before we were sat in the Hunters enjoying a Chilli and Butcombe dinner.
We were a little disappointed that we hadn’t got as far as we wished but vowed to head back in the spring when conditions were a little dryer and warmer!