Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Hidden Earth 2017

The weather wasn't first class, but the atmosphere and talks were. For those of you yet to visit it, Hidden Earth is an annual conference on caving. Whilst this might sound boring, it isn't in the least. The talks range from expedition reports, to regional round-ups and videos alongside a caver-run bar, stomp and a caving and SRT obstacle course. In short, it means you can cave around the world from your seat in the auditorium and gain a good idea of where you would like to visit. Fantastic! You also get to meet up with cavers from all over the UK. Hidden Earth is always ably organised by Les and Wendy Williams along with a whole host of helpers from Mendip and other caving clubs across the UK. The conference venue alternates between being in the North and the South. This year it was the turn of the South and Hidden Earth was in Churchill.

We camped on the sports field of the school. It is always interesting to wake up on Saturday morning in a sea of tents in Mendip and then head through a throng of people to listen to a talk on a distant corner of the world such as Mexico, Mulu, the Philippines, Meghalaya or Australia. It's great. I love it.  
The campsite at Churchill Academy
SWCC was particularly well-represented there this year. There were plenty of us attending to listen to talks and meet up with friends (nice to see Barbara and Alan at their first HE). But there were also many members with a more deep involvement who helped with the organisation, gave talks, or entered the competitions.
The trade and exhibition hall.
Antonia and Claire on the SWCC club stand
 Jo White gave a talk on the Yorkshire Dales Cave Monitoring Project to an attentive audience.
Jo giving her talk to a packed room
We also had plenty of competition entrants. Arwen had 2 entries in the cartoon competition and received a merit for one of those.
Arwen with her winning cartoon - she was awarded a merit.
Jess Burkey won the cartoon competition with her poster on the joys of being a cave model.
Jess' winning entry in the cartoon competition
Jo entered the photo competition for the first time with several photos, including a portfolio of Dachstein ones. It was the photo of a delicate ice formation which won her the prize for best newcomer.
Jo's entries in to the photo competition; including her winning ice formation one
And then there was the video salon which was co-ordinated by Andy and Antonia Freem. This year's winning entry was Keith Edwards' Opening AV presentation, which you can watch here:
Not forgetting Jo White's excellent performance in the SRT events in the SpeleoOlympics. Where she was the fastest lady on the SRT obstacle course and also earned the prize for the best woman in the SRT competitions. Well done everyone! 

Thank you to all the Hidden Earth team who organised the event. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. 

Don't forget to join us there next year!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Hidden Earth Photo Winners

With tough competition from many excellent photos it was pleasing to see Mark Burkey, Jo White and Duncan Hornby win awards across various categories in the Hidden Earth 2017 photo competitions, here they are!

Category: winner of colour shot and delegate vote print, © Mark Burkey, 2017
Category: winner of monochrome print, © Mark Burkey, 2017
Category: winner of best newcomer print, © Jo White, 2017
Category: merit digital photo, © Duncan Hornby, 2017

A special mention goes to Mark Burkey who was awarded the prestigious Giles Barker award, which is the 2nd year in a row this has been won by the SWCC!

The Giles Barker award

So get snapping!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Midweek Tunnelling

One of the few advantages of a 10 day shift pattern is the occasional long weekend so when Bob Hall posted on Facebook looking for company for a Thursday caving trip I was able to respond fairly quickly.
The fact that it was a planned trip into Tunnel Cave made it even more attractive. It's a cave I've never visited before so I was quite keen to give it a go, although I was a little nervous. It was to be my first trip underground since picking up a collection of minor, but fairly limiting, injuries over the summer.
Morgan was able to not just get the time off work, but even convinced his boss that it would be a valid part of his CPD, preparing for his Level 2 assessment later in the year.

After a night's heavy rain, it was a comfortably warm and pleasant walk up from the DYO car park to Tunnel Top where, once Bob had wrestled with the lid (note to Fixed Aids, some WD40 needed at Tunnel Top!), Morgan got on with the rigging while Bob and I enjoyed the views.
 The rigging takes a little while due to the two slightly offset pitches. There's not really a lot of room to hang around at the re-belay so it made more sense to stay up in the sun until Morgan shouted up to say all was ready for us.

 I'd be the first to admit that I don't so enough SRT so I'm not quite as slick on the rope as some. However, I had grabbed a look ad Adrian Fawcets Topo so had a fair idea of what was waiting below. Clipped in, standing on the cross bar I run through my methodical checks. I've managed to mis-thread my stop so it's off the rope, re-thread, re check and off we go. Past the re-belay (no mis threading this time) and the deviation. Then I'm off the rope and waiting with Morgan for Bob to join us.
 Since we've got SRT kit, it makes sense to keep it on for the exposed traverse. The slope that follows is freeclimbable but, again, we've got our kit on so why make things difficult. There's a fixed line there so it's a simple walk/abseil down

From here on, the cave is pretty much linear. A meandering rift that works its way all the way down to what becomes Cathedral Cave in the DYO showcave complex. Of course, getting there is not quite as simple as that sounds. The rift varies in size at different heights. In places, it's too narrow to pass while, in others, it's wide enough that you end up clinging onto one wall or suddenly finding yourself at the top of an impassable pot. All this means that you move up and down the walls, averaging a downward trend but often climbing up into the roof tube to find the best way on before descending to floor level a few metres later. Since neither Morgan or I had been in the cave before and Bob hadn't been in for 20 years or more, there was a fair bit of backtracking and changing of level as we hunted for the way on. A proper rehab for my recovering shoulder and knee! 
It's not a fantastically well decorated cave (certainly the West Passage isn't) but there are some nice grottoes here and there, all surprisingly well preserved for a cave that's been open for 70 years and effectively has just the one trade route down and back.  

 Eventually you reach the end of the "wild cave" you get to the Airlock leading to the show cave. As if suddenly finding a concrete wall with a UPVC door in the middle of the cave isn't odd enough; sitting in the dark, eating flapjack and listening to the strains of Pachelbel's Cannon through the vents is just surreal.
The journey back out of the cave is quite fun. The obvious places to climb and descend the rift aren't quite the same from the opposite direction so, even though it's a linear cave, it's actually possible to take a totally different route to the one you took in. It's also possible to find yourself ( as we did more than once) up in the roof tube, several metres above the way on! Although it's only a short cave, it's quite a good workout. And of course, on a good day, you pop the lid open to one of the best views from a cave entrance anywhere  in Wales. Due to other commitments in the evening, we didn't have time to fully explore so we never went into the East Passage or Cascade Aven extension but, now that I've sorted out concerns over post injury fitness, a revisit is definitely on the cards.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Downpours and dog-legs in Devon

Trip dates: 8th September - 10th September 2017

Team: Stuart Bennett, Duncan Hornby, Barbara Lane, Kevin Munn, Pam Munn and Claire Vivian


A slow start (caused by a late Friday night and Barbara’s bottle of Baileys) meant we all met up about 10am at the campsite adjacent to the Baker’s pit entrance. Just as we began to change into our gear it started to rain; equally it rained when we returned to the car after the trip. This seemed to set the pattern for the rest of the weekend...


Baker’s Pit

The entrance is an easy climb down two fixed ladders entering a large chamber.
Kevin at the bottom of the fixed entrance ladder, Bakers pit.
Kevin, Barbara, Claire and Stuart at the entrance of Bakers pit

Duncan meets the Judge.

Stuart at the Baker’s Pit ‘waterfall’.

We wandered around following the description, seeking places we had not previously visited. We eventually relocated the start of the Plymouth extension (i.e. we were locationally challenged for a while) and Stuart and Claire forced their way up into it only to decide enough was enough. Kevin and Barbara explored nearer the entrance whilst the rest of us explored various leads in the Lower Stream Series. We were all out by about 2pm. Back at the car it started to rain...

Trip time: 3 hrs

Afton Red Rift (with SPIDERS)

The cave description said this was a sporting trip. It did not mention anything about the giant cave spiders that lurked within the entrance and for a fair way into the cave as well. I would have taken a photo of them, but they were big enough to take the camera from me, so I declined and stealthily snuck past.

Most of what you need to know about Afton before visiting it can be learned from the name (apart from the spiders). It is located near the village of Afton, has a lot of red mud and it is predominantly a rift (i.e. it has less floor to stand on than is comfortable). The caving starts off fairly innocuously, with walking and scrambling over boulders, then holes start to appear in the floor. No problem at first, you just step over them, but then you lose the floor and end up traversing over some fairly high drops, 30-40 feet probably. Not too bad to begin with, but then the walls start to bell out and things get smooth and nice handholds and footholds get fewer. I was very glad to get around one particularly slippery corner and see floor ahead. Before the next section of traversing, that is. But the worst was behind us, and we soon found ourselves sliding down to Flower Chamber (apparently so-called because there were formations resembling gypsum flowers here originally). We then negotiated 2 small down-climbs and a traverse over a fairly deep hole to end up in Cascade Chamber. There was some nice red flowstone here. Fairly soon after leaving this chamber I crawled forward to come face first with a 3m drop and, in a very ladylike fashion, allowed Stuart to go first. He made it look easy, with no need to use the sling. I made it look much less elegant and found that the sling we had placed on a tiny stal that looked like it was going to pull off any second, was actually not going anywhere at all and needed me to climb part way back up to remove it. We were then in Mud Hall and on our way to finding Watkins Squeeze and the climb back up the rift. The squeeze was fine, just annoyingly uphill, and then it changed in to more of a chimney. At the top of this, we found it was time to start the climb up. Thankfully, this was far easier than we had been anticipating and I even enjoyed it.

The cave description we were following was very good and apart from 2 small route-finding mistakes, we were able to complete the round trip in around 1.5 hours. A great sporting trip, and I’d probably go back again when I’ve had enough time to forget about the spiders, the slippery corner and the awkward climb.

After walking around Buckfastleigh looking for somewhere to eat that could fit us in, we found room at The Globe and had a great meal there.

The team enjoy a meal out.


Dog Hole

Duncan, Claire and Stuart at the entrance of Dog Hole, a short distance from the larger Pridhamsleigh cavern

This was only going to be a short trip. Around 30 minutes, we thought. Well, it didn’t quite end up that way. The key to the Dog Hole extensions was included in the DSS cave key pack. We figured that it must be worth a visit. Things began well. The gate was located and opened fairly quickly, then Claire went through first. On the other side of the gate, it was immediately in to a tight right-angled bend. Hmm. The others may enjoy this I thought. Then as if that wasn’t enough fun, it was followed by a tight downward sloping tube. I tackled this head first and it was small, but doable. A second downward sloping small tube was next, but then everything opened out into a small chamber with a slot in the floor and a passage coming off on the far side. I poked around exploring a bit while Stuart and Duncan negotiated the Dog-Leg and tubes, but did not come across the spectacular formations I was expecting.

Stuart soon joined me and we waited for Duncan. After a while when he did not emerge, I went back up and found that he was having a bit of trouble [ understatement of the year ] with the right-angled bend. He had come through it, not liked the look of the body-sized tube and had turned around to go back. The bend was not easy to negotiate in the opposite direction and he was forced to take his welly off to get his foot close to getting around the corner. Any taller than Duncan, and you will probably find yourself having to get your leg amputated to get through!

Claire exiting the right-angle bend at the start of the dog leg extension...

The tube wasn’t easy to come back up either! It was easy to slide down, but coming back up with arms above your head, there was little room to move and very little to hold on to within reach, so I inched up that for what felt like several minutes. Finally getting out of the tube, I helped Duncan get his foot around the corner and then exited the extension. Duncan was well and truly wedged in the bend, discovering his right femur was too long to get round the bend. Twisting his bootless foot and pushing forwards enabled him to slowly force himself around the bend. Stuart was behind me enjoying coming back up the tube but made short work of the bend.

The dreaded dog-leg bend! (Looking back out towards the exit)

Duncan - Whilst trapped in the bend I became aware of a regular thudding sound, I stopped panicking and started wondering why Claire and Stuart were thumping rocks, it then dawned upon me it was actually my heart beat I was hearing whilst entombed in this nightmarish bend. If you are taller than 1.71m (my height) think seriously about attempting this extension!

The tube that leads on after the right-angle bend, foot for scale, hmmm quite small…

Having all got out - without finding the fabled formations - we then went on to explore the various other nooks and crannies of Dog Hole before exiting.

One of several large spiders guarding the entrance of Dog Hole! (tiddlers compared to the Afton ones!)

Duncan happy to exit Dog Hole with 2 legs still attached

Total trip time: 1 hour

Pridhamsleigh Cavern

After Dog Hole, Pridhamsleigh Cavern is a 30 second walk away with an impressive entrance. The initial wow factor is quickly replaced by “oh is that the entrance…” a squalid muddy crawl into the system. A phreatic cave system with a maze of passages makes for an interesting navigation exercise. Thankfully Duncan has visited the system many times when he was a student with Exeter University Caving Club and his general compass only let him down a couple of times.

Stuart and Duncan in the entrance to Prid

Pridhamsleigh cavern is a very muddy cave which gets much use from commercial and other novice cavers so there are very few intact formations. You basically visit this cave for the mud!

Claire in the “worm hole”, next to the lake.

The end of the system is marked by a deep lake. After a play in the wormhole we exited the system via the coal chute, a “wet way” out back to Bishops Chamber.

Stuart and Claire at The lake, this marks the end of the cave system, but not the mud…

No visit to Pridhamsleigh Cavern should go without a quick dip in the nearby stream to wash your gear. Might be cold but saves covering everything else with mud. On schedule it started to rain as we changed...

The traditional end of trip washing the mud off in the nearby stream.

Trip time: 2½ hours

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Banishing the end of summer blues

The summer expeditions might be over, but the club is still as busy as ever. We have evening trips starting back up, new Provisional Members who started caving at the June beginners' weekend coming back to SWCC to expand their caving skills, cave photography trips, visits to theme parks and plenty of socialising, including a curry at a local Indian restaurant. Time to join us and get involved!

An evening round-trip in OFD2 via Timo's Table
Steve and Paul at Top Entrance

This was closely followed by a first trip in to Cwm Dwr for new SWCC Provisional Members Lucy and Matthew. They found the trip challenging, but enjoyable. It was their first experience of a long crawl and a boulder choke. It is great to see our newer cavers returning for more trips. 

Steve, Lucy and Matthew ready to go

Lucy about to tackle the Cwm Dwr entrance

About to take on the notorious Cwm Dwr crawl

Matthew on his way out. Looks like he enjoyed the trip!

Muddied but happy

Barbara also had her first trip to the mini-columns this month and took her camera with her. She was highly impressed by the formations and took this great shot:
The Mini Columns  (Photo: Barbara Lane)
There have also been some fun socialising events as well, including a trip to Oakwood Theme Park on a gloriously sunny day. 
And a curry attended by around 10 local members. Perfect for new cavers to meet some more established members of the club and chat about potential trips.