Chelsea Spelæological Society Newsletter 50(7), July 2008, p103-105.


By Duncan Price

Photos by Stu Gardiner

After a successful but under-subscribed trip on May 10th described in the last newsletter [50(6)], there was considerable optimism and enthusiasm for a return match on June 7th. This coincided with the Wessex Challenge and local Mendip caving meet. In order to attract sherpas, the Wigmore talk was advertised as a practical session on site. In the end, only two helpers (Ben Morely and Ian Peachey) came forward to assist in the transportation of 6 tacklesacks-worth of gear to dive base. Fortunately I'd managed to secure the help of Bruce Blagden for an evening trip on Monday 2nd June when we swapped out my depleted pair of 4 litre cylinders for a pair of full 3 litre cylinders. The heavy rains of the past two weeks had disturbed the cache of gear but didn't appear to have caused any problems otherwise. A major issue on this trip would be the availability of something to shift a boulder in the final choke; since none of us held an explosives licence, some rock breakers known as "snappers" were acquired. These are a bit like bangers that can be let off electrically and have the advantage that they don't require a licence & the fumes are non-toxic. Apparently they are water sensitive (a safety feature since they can be made safe by dousing with water) and require a goodly electric shock to go off.

Arriving at the Belfry at 9 am I found Stu Gardiner, Chris Jewell and John Maneely in full fettling mode. The snappers had been sealed individually in condoms to keep them dry and there was much innuendo about the nature of our "banging" at the end of the cave. A tamping rod was fashioned out of an old car aerial and packed in with the drill. Stu was taking a full compliment of camera gear in an effort to record as much of the cave beyond sump 1 as possible - this being a secondary objective of the trip. My bag of bits acquired an additional cylinder to carry and once the sherpas had arrived we headed off in convoy to the cave.

By 11 o'clock we were underground and made good time to the dive base with no major dramas or crises this time. John set off first with the bag of camera gear (which was quite buoyant) and myself following behind carrying a ladder to rig "The Generation Game" (the route from "Young Bloods' Inlet" to Wigmore 10). John and I had surfaced in Young Bloods' Inlet for sometime before Chris and Stu popped up together. Apparently Stu had been diving third but had encountered problems with the jump line up from the start of Sump 7 into YBI. He was just on his way out when Chris had caught him up and he had followed Chris to the surface. We tensioned the line as best we could and divided the gear between a photograpy team (Stu and John) & a rigging team (Chris and me) who were to rig the bypass.

Mud formations in Wig Hall (Young Bloods' Inlet) Mud formations in Wig Hall (Young Bloods' Inlet)
Mud formations in Wig Hall (Young Bloods' Inlet)

Upstream in The Generation GameOnce at Aven 2, Chris prussiked up into The Generation Game and rigged a ladder for me to follow. I then took a second ladder to the climb back down into Wigmore10 above the downstream end of Sump 9. The ladder turned out to be a bit short and so had to be rigged after an exposed traverse onto the second bolt that Chris had placed on the last trip. Landing on the ledge above the sump pool, I tried a direct climb down at the apex rather than crawl around to one side. Unfortunately this went wrong, depositing me ungraciously in the 2" deep sump pool and straining my right arm in the process. Joined by the others we headed down to the end of the cave. I had the pleasure of rigging the ladder in Slime Rift and reached the dig face with an entrenching tool whereby I set about clearing more mud from around the boulder at the end. While we organised the drill, John had a go at the face and reckoned that some of the right hand wall looked loose. I then applied a crowbar this and the gap was enlarged before the drill was passed up. A 6" deep, 12 mm diameter hole (sorry about the mixed units) was put in the rock and the snapper inserted (still in its sheath!) into the hole. The charge was then tamped with some gaffer tape and a pat of mud using the car aerial before we all retired to a safe distance. Chris did the honours, simply putting the end of the bang wire we'd brought in across the terminals of the drill battery. The noise was a little disappointing - only a sharp crack like a starting pistol firing - however the pall of smoke soon reduced visibility to the point where I had to use the wire as a guideline to find my way back to the dig face.

Initial inspection through the fog suggested than not enough rock had been removed and that another shot would be in order. Just as we thought that the drill would be required, I decided to have a go and passed the squeeze with no problem. In 1 m visibility it really was difficult to see what was going on, but a body-length of progress was made forwards to another hole which would need enlarging as well. The conditions were terrible, so we decided to retreat and get some photographs en route out. I brought up the rear at Slime Rift and had to de-rig the ladder. By leap-frogging the camera crew I got to be first up into The Generation Game and down the other side.

Upstream end of Sump 5Re-united with our gear, I got to dive out first to sort the line out at the junction in sump 7. However, black-out conditions made it impossible fix a silt screw onto the line and the task was abandoned. John and I were first to reach the kit dump at the bottom of Yeo Pot, while Stu and Chris brought up the rear, taking pictures of Wigmore 6 and the tight exit from Sump 5. Having a lead on them, John and I started out with two heavy and bulky bags which were to prove a nightmare through the rift at the top of Black Pudding Pot. John's bag containing the drill had to be pushed virtually all the way through, while the contents of my bag had to be split so as to get the BDH containing my regulators through first and then the bag itself (after it had been dropped to the base of the pitch and hauled back up again). Once again, I suffered the joys of backing out through Butch's Arse and a lot of cursing ensued.

w205.jpg (7K)Surface was gained at 9 pm, after 10 hours underground, before heading back to the Belfry where some food was eaten/scrounged. Being as it was still a reasonable hour, I took Stu and Chris over to Priddy Village Hall (John having travelled independently) where I was encouraged to linger with the promise of some BBQ leftovers and a free pint. Quite a few hangers-on remained from the Wessex Challenge and there was a live band striking up in the hall. Stu, Chris and I still looked a sight - not having washed since our trip, although John had managed to clean himself up. Pity, that we didn't have a major discovery to report (although Stu had taken some nice photographs), just a mere Duncan-length!