Wigmore Update - Only Another 5.75 Miles to Cheddar!

Trebor McDonald and Ross White

From:-Belfry Bulletin No 467, April 1993

This article attempts to carry on from Tony Jarratt's mega up-dating and consolidating piece in BB 460 (Aug 91) and covers the passing of the final section of inlet passage to the streamway and diving operations both up and downstream. By its nature this piece is a bit stodgy, so incorporated is a more human article by Ross White (if "human" is the right word for Ross), describing some of the downstream explorations.

As Tony said in his piece in BB 460, the Wigmore Swallet entrance is at 880ft above sea level and as Gough's' Sump 3 is close to 200ft (62m) deep, this gives a vertical range of just under 1,000ft (313m). Wigmore would thus be, at present, the second deepest cave in the country. Also, its proven resurgence at Cheddar is some 5.75 miles (9.2km) away as the Aardvark trots so Wigmore would be the longest on Mendip by far. This is all incentive enough.

Tony's piece ended, appropriately enough, at Butch's Arse, a tight V-tube. In late summer 1991 this was dug, banged and passed to some 7m of tightish, awkward flat-out passage to the awkward head of a 7m pitch, with water audible ahead. The pitch drops into a chamber some 305m long with a short crawl of some 5m leading off to the head of another pitch, some 5m deep. This also drops into a small chamber some 3m long, the current diving base. At the far end of the chamber a waterfall enters in wet weather, this being the entrance water last seen sinking into the bouldery floor of Vindication Pot. A doorway out of the opposite end of the chamber leads directly into the sump pool of downstream Sump 1 and the main streamway, some 1.5 - 2m wide, running from right to left. This was a tremendous sight after years of painful, dedicated digging by scores of BEC members, et al. Vindication indeed. Here was the upper River Yeo.

From the meeting of the inlet passage with the main stream, downstream was blocked immediately by a sump. Upstream, could be followed for about 47m or so until it too was blocked by a sump. On August 18th 1991, a large team descended to try and pass both up and downstream sumps. The downstream sump was probed a short distance only by Peter Bolt and Graham Johnson, while Vince Simmonds on his first cave dive passed the upstream Sump 1 (205m long) to a 3m diameter airbell. Peter Bolt, Graham Johnson and Tony Jarratt dived to join him. Tony then dived Sump 2 (5m) and the other three then joined him after a classic free-dive. Some 46m of aquatic, sewer passage followed to Sump 3, still being sporadically dived by Keith Savory. Various little tubes and inlets before Sump 3 were investigated, but nothing significant was found.

Later in the autumn, Dany Bradshaw attacked the downstream sump and after two dives passed it after 22m at about 2.5 - 3m depth to 18m of passage with an ascending inlet on the left, not explored at this time. Sump 2 followed immediately. Lethargy, inertia, other digs on Mendip and activities abroad brought a cessation of activities until late 1992 when Ross White and Trebor McDonald renewed the assault.

Ross White takes up this gripping story ...

Grunting and thrutching around I wriggled to a halt halfway through Butch's Arse and stopping for a breather I contemplated the roof from my nose. I was pushing a laden tackle bag and a diving bottle was clenched between my feet. "Ok, Ok", said a little voice in my head, 'What gives? You've been down this horrible hole four times in three weeks, so what the hell gives?" I hadn't been caving for a year and Wigmore had received a veritable assault of trips. On 27th November 1992 I arrived at downstream Sump 1 ready to dive, my trusty and stalwart companion, Trebor McDonald, in support. I approached it with some trepidation having picked Dany's brain about the sump and having dived upstream myself earlier in the year. Expecting the worst conditions imaginable I could only be pleasantly surprised.

Despite the strong flow the vis in the sump was zero and the occasional nudging of roof pendants caused a complete blackout. However, following Dany's line was easy enough and I was through before I knew it. Crawling out of the sump I found Dany's old line reel so, placing it to one side, I approached Sump 2. Tying on, Sump 2 was passed after 5m to an airbell, some 5m long, 1m wide and 1m high above the waterline. Tying onto a roof pendant, Sump 3 was passed after 6m, surfacing in Wigmore 4. A wonderful sound of cascading water ahead led to 24m of pleasant passage some 105m wide and 3m high with a cascade 2m high halfway along. Unfortunately, Sump 4 loomed up immediately. The sump pool was a little gloomy and covered with a fair depth of dirty froth. Eyeing the sump warily, an inspection of my line bag revealed a limited amount of line and I felt that this sump would go deeper. However, I decided to go as far as I could. Constructing a small cairn to tie the line off, Sump 4 went deeper as expected, perhaps similar to the first part of Swildons Sump 9. However, it quickly levelled out and after 15m of zero vis the line went tight with the surface visible above. Careful not to pull on the line too hard, I rose slowly to the surface, just managed to get my head into airspace and tied on to a dubious nodule. Wigmore 5 looked rather grim; a narrow, rift inclined at 45 deg. heading off for 10m apparently closing down, although I couldn't see for sure. Moving forward meant de-kitting and effort. Checking my watch I'd reached my deadline agreed with Trebor. Time to return. A rough survey on the return to meet a cold, patient Trebor.

On 12th December, we were both back with two sets of kit; a 28 cu ft and a 15 cu ft mini bottle each, in anticipation of a restricted Sump 5. An easy dive into Wigmore 4, a luxury after the hard carry thus far. De-kitting, I crawled forward through a constriction and further into the bottom of the rift where the water runs in a V-shaped channel. Waggling my feet in the water suggested something may be on. "Time for the mini-bottle, Treebs, it might go". So, shuffling back and forth I had a go, hand-holding the mini-bottle, the rift constricting my chest and back. It was very tight up high but opened up a bit by my feet. As I slid lower my mouthpiece jammed so I turned my head sideways. Then my torches jammed. Surfacing with a few oaths I took one light off and tried again. I knew if I didn't do it this time we would have to come back again, but this time it was easier. Committed, with no line and no vis I shuffled feet first further into the Sump until it widened out slightly and more comfortably after 3m or so. I was ok without a line as long as I could feel both walls - time to go get a line. Instead of rising where I had descended I kept very low, on towards Trebor and surfaced. Collecting the other bottle from Trebor, he base-fed me back into the sump and after 6m I was able to turn around and passed the sump after 20m, rising thankfully into quite large passage. Tying off I staggered and crawled down rift passage, 'The Cat Crawl", up to 4m high and about 0.5m wide for about 50m to the inevitable Sump 6. Cold and out of line I returned to a cold Trebor, taking two attempts to negotiate the upstream constriction in Sump 5.

De-briefing a patient Trebor, and extolling the virtues of the passage in Wigmore 6, he decided stoically to have a look at Sump 6. He had a couple of goes at entering Sump 5, then disappeared apparently passing it with some ease. He dumped his hand-held bottle and went forward to Sump 6, tied on and passed it after 4m into low, sewer passage with pendants everywhere. Going forward, he swam into a series of very low ducks which opened out after 5m into larger passage with the stream cascading away. Hypothermia, low air and knowing I was freezing on the right side of Sump 5 prompted a return. These ducks are now lined as they are easier to dive and can essentially be called Sump 6A. It was a curious feeling watching his lights appear near the surface of Sump 5, almost break through and then disappear again, knowing he was trying to find his way through the right slot. With much grunting and commotion he flopped into Wigmore 5. "The whale has landed" he said, before de-briefing me. Wigmore 5 is now named "The Whale has Landed" and Sump 5 is "The Rubic Sump". A successful day, 8 hours underground, most of it spent in water with only an ordinary wetsuit.

On 27th December, Peter Bolt put in an excellent solo effort to pass Trebors' last limit beyond the Ducks into 30m of walking and stooping passage, down a cascade or two and thus to Sump 7. He penetrated the sump for 22m at a depth of some 7m until his line ran out. He managed to pass Sump 5 wearing twin kit and he still maintains he had 2m vis - poor deluded fellow. Had he really been down Wigmore!

On 6th January 1993, Trebor and myself returned, a total of 8 trips so far including carry-ins. (They're like carry-outs, but not so much fun). The usual fun and games in Sump 5 with a few line tangles, getting stuck and growling at Pete Bolt who can do it with twin kit on. On to Sump 7 where I easily followed Pete's line, tied on and set off in zero vis, again. The route seemed quite complex in the poor vis and I was taking some time, acutely aware that I couldn't see my gauges. I changed gags anyway for good measure and ploughed on. After what seemed an eternity the sump started rising but still no airspace. Conscious of the cut-off time and having no idea how much line I had laid, I was a little worried but pressed on and eventually rose into an airbell, "Labelle", some 2.5 - 3m in diameter, half full of water. Sump 7 had been some 62m long and reached about 8m depth. Well down on my third margins, almost hypothermic and already pushing my luck, I tied off and returned to a cold, patient Trebor. A five hour trip.

On Thursday 21st January we returned, this time with diving wet suits to keep out the cold, more light, more Mars Bars, more everything and bigger bottles; one 45 cu ft and one 28 cu ft each in anticipation of more sumps. A cruise to Labelle, the water surface covered with a thin film of muck, with Trebor having light problems in Wigmore 5, a good thrashing around in Sump 5 and a certain amount of over-heating in the thick wetsuits. Red, glutinous mud covered his equipment and he sucked out some mud from his gag. "Not very tasty, is it Treebs?" His reply was not nice; he was not a happy Hector - one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong. In Labelle, Trebor tied on and after a few minutes festering around in zero vis in mud banks he returned to the surface with no apparent way on. His dodgy lights must have been causing him some apprehension. After another splash he disappeared, pushed over a mud bank, dug a bit and later a few tugs on the line indicated he had passed Sump 8 after 5m. I dived to join him, laughing as I surfaced into a low, wet, aquatic, amniotic airbell, some 5m long and 2m wide named "The Sprog" by Trebor after Karen and Mark Lumley's son born soon thereafter. "Looks pretty grim" said Trebor, "but there's yer way on" pointing towards a dip in the rock with roof pendants. My turn to dive so off I went and easily passed Sump 9 after 10m revealing large, canyon passage in complete and welcome contrast to the streamway thus far."

Vindication Streamway was a welcome sight after the cold, wet cave thus far and it ran for some 100m down several nice cascades, the passage on average being 2 - 2.5m wide and 5m high, reaching up to 10m in places. An aven some 10 - 15m high was passed on the left and an ascending tube passage on the right. After about 100m, the passage met a 2m waterfall into a bouldery breakdown chamber with the water sinking into the floor. The way on was to the immediate left partly blocked with boulders. A few frenzied minutes of boulder chucking by both divers opened up a 3m deep rift. Ross shinned down it whilst Trebor placed his not inconsiderable bulk in the waterfall to deflect water away from his erstwhile companion. The 3m rift led on to a small ledge and a 5-7m pitch, "Slime Rift", below, taking the full flow of the stream. With slimey walls, the full flow, no tackle and mindful of doing something silly beyond 9 sumps, the pair retreated.

Unfortunately, Ross had to leave for a 6 month holiday on the west coast of Scotland (he says it's work), so on the 21st February 1993, Trebor returned with Pete Bolt, armed with two ladders. A straightforward trip to the pitch ensued and the ladders were belayed to a large boulder by the waterfall, there being no belay points at the head of the pitch-proper. The ladders thus snaked rather unsatisfactorily down the rift, across the ledge and down Niagara Falls Ânot exactly out of the Andy Sparrow rigging manual. Trebor gave Pete the dubious honour of descending the pitch first, easily passed by both. More like a vertical sump but great fun. The pitch is 8m, comprising the 3m rifty, spray-lashed top section to the ledge and the 5m bottom very aquatic section. It is best rigged as one. On for 10m to a 90 deg. left hand bend, 20m of nice canyon passage straight into a large boulder choke with hanging Henry's everywhere. Boulder shifting, searching and plenty of tip-toeing found no way on but a rocking boulder in the far reaches of the chokes allows a sight through into a black void, probably a larger cavity of the same choke. The stream can be heard bumbling away in the distance so all is not lost. A while spent wrestling with the boulder proved fruitless. Chemical persuasion will be required, although two belts fixed together as a strop and flung around the boulder may shift it next trip. On the return, the tube passage up near Sump 9 was explored for 20 - 30m or so, blocking out with mud.

That is the saga so far, happy readers. The next trip will concentrate on shifting the boulder and pushing on if possible, although at some stage the place has to be radio-located and a detailed surveyed still has to be done. The cave seems to be heading East, in completely the wrong direction if it is to end up at Cheddar, as proven. There is a mineral vein in the area which could be confusing matters and the un-surveyed sumps makes a survey of the dry passages a little pointless. There is little merit in doing a detailed survey until the sump vis improves, especially as the sumps make up a large proportion of the total passage length. There is a rumour that Trevor Hughes is going to build an extension at home to house the survey which is currently creeping remorselessly across his floor.

The divers wish to thank all the sherpas for their hard work; it is much appreciated. It's about time they got themselves trained up so they can come down and have a look see.

Trebor and Ross

WARNING - The scale quoted on the two following surveys is inaccurate. The scale is distorted by photocopy reduction.

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