Sunday, 25 September 2016

Big pitches vs. sore knees!

Trip Dates: 16th -18th September 2016

Team:Derek Cousins, Celestine Crabbe, Mark Hampson, Duncan Hornby, Richard Sore, Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian

Another cracking weekend away, this time in the Peak District. With glorious weather and pubs dangerously close to the TSG hut in Castleton it was going to be a weekend well worth the effort (aka 7 hours of soul destroying driving).



The entrance to Titan is an innocuous looking and beautifully engineered sliding manhole cover high on Hurd Low hill to the north of Castleton. From this vantage point, in fabulous still sunny weather, we had views north as far as Edinburgh and to the south could see the M4 as it goes round Cardiff; it seemed a pity to have to wrestle into stiff SRT harnesses and depart the glorious high peaks for the dark depths below.

Celestine, Mark, Malcolm, Richard and Phill at the entrance to Titan.

However, the key fitted the lock, the manhole opened, all the lights worked, we had all the ropes, it was going to have to be done...

Richard rigged from the girder and shackles just beneath the manhole cover and we followed down the initial pitch, which is a 48m free hang. Largely mined out you are struck as you descend by the amount of effort, concrete, time and money that have been poured into this shaft - once beneath the surface you can start to appreciate what a major civil engineering project this entrance shaft was. Helmets off to the cavers who created and funded it!

Richard rigging the first pitch.

Phill descending the first 45m pitch.

At the foot of the entrance shaft, turning away from the tiny circle of sunlight way up above, a stooping height mined passage leads into a wellie deep pool of muddy water. This continues round a couple of corners, to suddenly end at a window onto a vast black space. A doorstep of calcite with a few lumpy stalagmites on it provides the final launch pad, into the insanely big silo that is the Titan main shaft.

Rigging the second 70m pitch is ‘interesting’. The bolts are high up and well out, and to reach them you have to stand on tip-toe with one foot on a polished 6” high stalagmite, whilst tensioned onto the rope to the back-up belay with a hand jammer. Reaching at full stretch, with the rigging krabs gripped in wobbly finger-tips, it is hard to ignore the black void sucking at your back.

Celestine looking down towards Event Horizon at the top of the second 70m pitch.

The distant bolts do however provide a free-hang and once on the pitch everything becomes a bit more comfortable. Down, down, down, the rope sliding through the rack. Spinning gently, huge calcite flows and half seen corners of the shaft are dimly seen, my Fenix HL55 even on setting 4 is not powerfull enough for this. This is a totally lonely experience, the rest of the team above at the window might as well not be there, there is as far as I can tell no floor beneath me.

Eventually I feel and hear the tackle bag hit the Event Horizon, and I bounce gently on the elastic rope down a boulder slope to bolts, and put a re-belay in. Now I can stand and wait, secure, whilst Phill’s tiny glimmer of light descends towards me. It takes forever.

Phill takes over the rigging for the final pitch, dropping over the sloping lip of the Event Horizon to find and rig the free-hanging Y-hang, that supports the final drop to the floor of the shaft 65m below. Celestine lands beside me at the rebelay, and I then follow Phill, and make a total RS of passing the y-hang. Not the best place to spend ten minutes sweating and swearing; everything seems to be rigged left-handed and the wrong length; annoying because I know my SRT technique is flawless. Maybe I am going demented because beneath me I can see more than one light and hear voices - surely I haven’t been dangling here long enough for Phill to multiply by binary fission? Eventually, using a footloop and with one leg braced behind my ear, I manage to free my short cow’s tail from the bolt and fall exhausted onto my descender.

The second half of the shaft is as vast as the first and passes through a spatter of welcome spray to land at the foot of a huge jumble of boulders.

The top of the pile represented a good place out of the draft to sit and watch the rest of the team descend, Phill (just one of him) reports that the other team have been and gone - they made very good time.

Celestine descends third and Helen then proved that the y-hang can easily be passed if you know what you’re doing (perhaps I need to look at my technique after all) and Richard and Mark arrive shortly afterwards.

Mark descending the third 60m pitch.

All down we leave three of the SRT kits in the bag hanging from the end of the rope and follow Claire’s party out of Peak, following a trail of little cairns like breadcrumbs through the cave.

Richard and Mark at the top of the “Bung”.

The duck full of Cow Arse Worms is memorable (strong motivator to hold your breath) and colostomy crawl is well named - imagine a Cwm Dwr sized crawl filled with diarrhoea and you won’t be far off. Dragging a tackle bag through this is just fabulous fun; I think I may have said a rude word.

Richard at Surprise View.

All told an excellent trip taking about six hours to reach the warm air of the show cave and then the daylight at the impressive Peak Cavern entrance.

(Titan was de-rigged the next day by Richard, Phill, Malcolm and Mark; de-rigging took about 2 hours.)

Back at base (TSG) - a very muddy Phill about to enjoy a well deserved cup of tea :)

Peak Cavern

Who must really enjoy crawling in liquid mud? It has to be Duncan, Derek and Claire who had fun passing through Colostomy Crawl, not once, but twice, in the same trip.

As Malcolm, Helen, Phill, Richard, Celestine and Mark headed for the entrance to Titan the three of us strolled along the riverside walk to the entrance of Peak Cavern in the sunshine (rather a fast-paced stroll as we had Keith from the TSG with us). This was only a second visit to Peak for us, so our plan was to focus on route finding and try and reach the bottom of Titan from Peak, then exit via Peak again. Keith was heading to the White River series to replace a rope, so it fortuitously turned out that part of our trips would overlap and Keith could show us how to get as far as the Whirlpool. We had a small copy of the Peak-Speedwell survey with us, and this proved pretty useful further on in the trip.

Despite having a tacklebag the weight of a small child, Keith was even faster underground than he had been on the walk through Castleton. We left the showcave and were through the Mucky Ducks and at Treasury Chamber in no time. We then climbed the fixed ladder there and found ourselves in the Trenches (muddy crawling) and Colostomy Crawl (even more muddy crawling). Here we wallowed our way through mud for around 20-30 minutes, passing the junction with the Wind Tunnel and then emerged reborn at the top of Egnaro Aven. This proved to be an easy climb down a series of fixed ladders, though we were all covered in mud and making everything around us rather slippery at this time. We then sped on to find the Short Bypass (first small climb on the right, for anyone wondering) and met another group who had entered via Speedwell at Block Hall. Moving on in the Bung Hole streamway we were able to have a look at the actual Bung in the dam, as the stream was low. Here you reach another fixed ladder climb (approx. 15ft) up the dam wall. As it had been dry in recent days, the ladder climb was easy, but if it has rained recently, you will find yourself climbing up through a torrent of water. It is then a fairly short wade past the entrance to Far Canal (gated access to Speedwell showcave) to reach the Whirlpool. The scaff bars that have been placed on the wall to enable you to cross give an indication of what the area is like in wet conditions, but today the water was several inches below them and I was able to wade through it- it was only around chest deep, no swimming required. By this point, we were around 2hrs into our trip and it was time to head off on our own as Keith went his own way to sort out the rope.

We expected the route finding to be harder than it turned out to be and within the next 30 minutes we found our way to Titan, having a fabulous game of ‘gates and ladders’ along the way. The most memorable sections were one particularly awkward gate to open from underneath whilst balancing on a rocking ladder, Stemple Highway with its mildly interesting for short legs traverses and a good few squeezes which were definitely easier in the opposite direction. Not to mention the smelly pool of water, almost a duck, that contains the notorious Cow Arse Worms (which we passed through twice and managed to avoid getting). We got slightly lost once following some bang wire, but this turned out to be a small detour and we regained the route fairly quickly. We then emerged through an uphill crawl into the bottom of Titan. This was incredibly impressive and Duncan had fun experimenting with the tremendous echo there. When we arrived, we could see a member of the Titan team was rigging the Event Horizon, so we decided to wait for them to come down to say hello. Before long, Phill abseiled down and joined us. The rest of the team were on their way down, but we decided to push on back to Peak as it was getting chilly waiting there. On the way out we made good progress - though Colostomy Crawl seemed even longer on the way back - and decided to spend some time exploring the Peak streamway as Derek had not been there before and it is a fine streamway. We headed to Surprise View and down another fixed ladder to the river - we headed downstream as far as Buxton Water Sump and then went upstream as far as the cascade.

We spent ages cleaning our caving kit before entering the showcave (as Peak access rules dictate) and this turned out to be time well-spent as there was a tour group at the end of the cave just as we arrived. We had a chat with a couple of tourists in the group on the way out and then emerged into the sunshine once again.

Trip time: 6 hrs.


Giants Hole

The trip into Giants Hole was to be their first visit for Celestine, Claire and Helen with Duncan leading the round trip. It should be noted that the landowner is now charging a whopping £3 per person to cross their land, this placed into a safety box where one parks.

We were to do the classic round trip, with Helen announcing that this was her first trip with Duncan, so no pressure then… :)

Celestine, Duncan, Claire and Derek preparing to leave the sunshine for Giants Hole.

Entering the cave we quickly got to the top of Garland Pot. My 9m ladder easily reached the bottom but a 20m rope would have been best (I only had a 15m). Several well placed bolts and an easy take-off make this a simple pitch to rig.

Duncan belaying Derek on Garland Pot pitch, Giants Hole.

Derek belaying Duncan down Garland Pot pitch.

At the bottom of the pitch is the start of the Crabwalk, a tight meandering passage very similar to maypole inlet in OFD. The main difference is that it just keeps going on and on! There is over 600m of Crabwalk there.

The team in one of the very few places within the Crab walk where people can gather!

One location (the Vice) requires the larger person to pretty much lie in the streamway as it is so narrow.

Going to the bitter end of the Crabwalk ends at a sump so we backed up about 15m and headed out of the stream to the left. At this point (the Eating House) there are several ways on but we needed to go up the awkward climb up where the knotted rope with footloops requires good upper body strength to haul yourself up ‘n’ out into Maggin’s Rift.

Then there was much memory loss, another longer but easier climb, leading ultimately to a junction known as Poached Egg.

Helen at top of a pitch (name unknown) on the return part of the trip.

Turning right eventually leads to the Devil's Windpipe, which requires a flat out crawl into a duck that can sump. According to the sign placed at the entrance, if it sumps it should not be attempted as it is over 20m in length. After much crawling and going wrong only once we eventually popped out above the crab walk. Fortunately for us someone had left a rope in situ so we abseiled down it. It is possible to free climb it down further on, where the rocks offer good footholds.

Claire descending into Crab Walk using an Italian Hitch.

We finally headed up stream back to Garlands pot pitch and once de-rigged we headed out.

Trip time: 4 Hours

Authors: Malcolm, Helen, Claire and Duncan

Friday, 26 August 2016

Upper Flood Swallet

This is a report for an Upper Flood Swallet trip on 6.8.16 written by SWCC provisional member, Chris Taylor. The full team were: Celestine Crabbe, Kevin Speight (MCG), Chris Taylor and Phill Thomas. All caving photos are by Phill.

Chris Taylor

After a few trips in the Streamway and Top Entrance at OFD, I was starting to feel a change of scene might be nice, maybe more of a challenge. In hindsight the phrase 'be careful what you wish for', comes to mind when I received a kind invite to visit Upper Flood Swallet a few weeks back.  I recall packing my gear the night before with the same excitement a small child might feel if leaving a mince pie out for Santa on Christmas Eve. On the morning of the trip I bounded excitedly downstairs at 6:00am to a cool and dewy August morning.

Fast forward to about 8:30am and after some rendezvous miscommunication, I'd met up with Phill and Celestine, and we were well on our way along the M4.  Phill's SatNav impressively guided us through the West Country until we arrived at MCG where our guide, Kevin, was waiting.  Shortly after arriving, we're changed, and walking down the dirt track and towards the modest little hatch covering the entrance to Upper Flood - at this point I've noticed that everyone else has double kneepads, elbow pads and gloves - I was starting to feel my single pair of kneepads might be a bit inadequate. Kevin had unlocked the padlock and down we went one by one, then scurrying downwards and onwards through Upper Flood Passage, with plenty of hands and knees crawling across rubble. After a final fairly narrow crawl we emerged into Midnight Chamber which contained a fine array of flows, stal and long straws. Kevin was fairly eager to press on, and much of the inward trip would consist of me gawping at what I considered were breathtaking formations, while Kev would assure me that the best was yet to come and it would be all worth the effort to see Neverland.  I held that thought in mind, particularly while wriggling through a long flat, and wet section aptly named The Lavatory - a 50 metre wet crawl. 

Then began 'the' boulder choke. Even in my limited caving experience I have heard of this choke.  A few really uncomfortable twists and turns later - that I knew it be bloody well feeling bad the following morning - and we arrived in a small chamber, where I remarked "well, that wasn't so bad, just a bit awkward". With a smile our leader informed me we had got the first bit out of the way, and there was plenty to go, but afterall, it was going to be well worth it.  I can recall around 11 particular sections to the choke that were not individually difficult, but strung together, they do eventually become an endurance test.

Eventually Kevin announced we had arrived at the old entrance to Neverland. Apparently it was taped off to protect the formations, and a bypass was dug.  Anticipation was now running high among the group.  Eventually after one final push through a gloriously muddy crawl - I let gravity do the work at that point - we arrived at a small chamber containing  a shallow pool.  Next to the pool were a small bucket and a brush, and it was here that we were advised to remove our oversuits and wellies to avoid spoiling the formations.  It felt criminal walking through a crystal pool and hearing the faint 'crunches' under our feet as we took extra care to walk on already damaged parts of the floor, but there was no other way on.  As we turned right and walked up the flows into a large chamber, pure white flows, curtains and stal surrounded us.  Everywhere I looked, the walls and floor glistened yellow-white.  I've struggled to write this piece, as a written description does not do Neverland justice and neither do photographs really, the passage has to be seen to be experienced.  Further up the top of the flow, a low passage contains a pool and the Pork Pies - large blobs of pure white calcite shaped just as their name implies.

Chris in Neverland
Celestine in Neverland
After we had wandered around all that was not taped off, Kevin managed to persuade us to make the return trip back by reminding us of the Hawaiian night barbecue that was in preparation above us. The return trip was a very tiring one, and I think we all found the 'upward' journey through the boulder choke a very different beast. Eventually I got my second wind after receiving a facefull of muddy water reminding me that I was part way through The Lavatory. Blindly stumbling along the entrance passage and up the hatch, I fell on to the grass, and lay in the sunshine while I recovered. Upper Flood is a strenuous cave with plenty of challenges, sharp edges and pebbles that take their toll. It really is another level up from the well travelled passage of OFD and has the feel of virgin cave.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

2016 Tresviso Expedition

Three SWCC members (Gareth Davies, Martin Grove and Duncan Hornby) joined the Tresviso 2016 expedition run by the Bradford Pothole Club member Phil Walker (an ex SWCC). In total 21 people joined the expedition, a record turn out. Over the years Phil has collected old reports, maps and data for the Tresviso and Andara region. This extensive database can be found on the Tresviso Caves Website. Survex data has been uploaded to the BCA cave registry data archive.

This year the expedition kept a blog with expedition members writing up their experiences. If you fancy finding out more details of what was discovered\explored then please visit the blog here.

Below are the KML outlines of the Agua and Marniosa systems shown in Google Earth. It is believed the sump at the downstream end of Marniosa connects with Agua.

The two known major systems in the area, Agua on the left and Marniosa on the right. This birds eye view of the area belies the effort required to simply get to the Agua entrance!


There were many trips into Agua, often pushing the extreme limits, but all trips start with crossing the resurgence pool at the entrance.

Derek Cousin crossing the lake at the entrance of Agua. Photo by Russell Brooks.
The main route into the furthest parts of Agua requires everyone to climb the 75m Ramp. A key object for one team was to replace this ageing and very muddy rope with newer rope donated by BPC.

Russell Brooks at the top of the 75m ramp in Agua.
In search of caves

This year included a lot of work in the high mountains, re-establish old entrances from past and often erroneous coordinates.

The higher mountains are an unforgiving treeless environment with no escape from the sun other than the bitter cold caves and mines located here.

The long hot walk to the high mountains.
Looking back into the valley, this was the area where Pozo Del Castillo was relocated and explored.
Several trips in the Sierra del a Corta were undertaken to locate possible entrances that could provide a shortcut into the back end of the known Agua system.

Spectacular views from the Sierra del a Corta region.

Marniosa was re-rigged with the expectation of diving the sump and during these rigging trips many photos were taken to show off the many magnificent formations.

A chamber stuffed full of stals which one must pass through to get to the river.
Duncan in Morning chamber in Marniosa. Photo by Russell Brooks.
Nic Brooks in Marniosa. Photo by Russell Brooks.

Staying in Tresviso itself we took over the whole of the bunk house. The locals did not seem to be too concerned with us airing our dirty laundry!

21 people's worth of caving stuff made for a curious tourist attraction!
A typical night in the bar involves plenty of beer and gin!


Thursday, 11 August 2016

May - July events

Where to begin! It's been a very busy few weeks, what with film crews, evening trips and club meets. The late May Bank Holiday weekend saw Celestine, Steve, Michael, Damien and Phill head off for a over the tide trip in to Otter Hole. For most of the trip participants this was a first visit to Otter and they were both amazed by the formations and repulsed by the mud!

A good, clean, trip for Damien.
The team having a well earned pint.

June saw Alison Maddocks test out her bionic new hip with a reintroduction to OFD2. She proved that she is definitely a super caver! Only around 15 minutes to get to Salubrious via a circuitous route and then a fast paced move over to Poached Egg Climb and back via the mini Columns. Amazing!

Alison and Claire at the Mini-Columns
Alison near Timo's Table
Watching a lovely sunset over Fan Hir
Evening trips also took place regularly this month including visits to Dan yr Ogof 1937 Series as well as a full round trip (followed by full-blown midge attack), and more general route finding trips in to OFD.  Contact Claire: to get involved with these.

Two film crews also arrived to film in OFD. The first was a BBC crew filming an OFD2-OFD1 through-trip with the former rugby player, now turned adventurer, Richard Parks. The filming for this took place over two days at the end of June. The first day saw the team travel almost as far as the Corkscrew, filming and interviewing  along the way (8 hours). The second day was the through-trip, which took around 14 hours. All members of the team were fit, but some had limited experience underground,. Nevertheless, they seemed to enjoy the experience and were frequently laughing and joking along the way. There were several SWCC members who assisted the crew including Gary Evans, Vince Allkins, Matt Woodfield and Claire Vivian. The series will begin on BBC1 on 12th September, but not sure when the caving episode will be shown. All photos by Matt Woodfield.

Filming in Salubrious.

The light camera used to film the through-trip.

The producer keeping his feet dry, but having a great time - look at that smile!
Richard Parks and Gary

Filming at Marble Showers

Discussing the filming plan at Flood Bypass
Vince on the Diver's Pitch
Gary disappears through the Letterbox
Richard Parks emerging from the Letterbox.
The second film crew was ITV this time. They were ably looked after by Helen Hooper, Andy Jones, Phil Knight, Phill Thomas and Chris Taylor. I don't have any photos from this one, but all involved enjoyed the experience (including Chris with his first underground abseil). The results will be shown on a TV screen near you shortly.

July saw more evening route-finding trips in OFD and a first caving trip for Ceri.

Claire and Jen near the upper Columns gate.

Jen traversing the top of Arete

Dan, Claire and Ceri in Gnome Passage.
Admiring a formation in Gnome Passage

We also had a club meet in North Wales organised by Jo. Staying in a bunkhouse in Betws-y-Coed 5 of us had a great time walking, mountain biking or trying out the underground trampolines (we were shattered after barely 15 minutes on these).
Claire, Chloe, Michelle and Jo dry at the start of the walk
Sheltering in the woods

The group walking near Swallow Falls

The Ugly House. Perfect spot for tea and cake on a wet day

More evening exploring also took place. This time a walk down Bishopston Valley to look at Guzzle Hole and other speleological sites.

Alison and Paul in the dry riverbed.

Paul and Claire at Guzzle Hole.