Depth through thought
OUCC News 6th December 2000
Volume 10, Number 16
|DTT Volume 10 index|
Quality copy of Sausage Sumps and Breakthroughs in Yorkshire mean an unusually long DTT this week. Keep your caving stories coming!
At the end of the 2nd World War, gruesome reprisals led to the disposal of hundreds of bodies in deep cave shafts of present day Slovenia. 30 years later, a dodgy deal left a sausage company with a huge quantity of cash in return for the delivery of 4 million tons of sausages to the third world. On arrival at the port, the sausages, made up of the pieces of animal nobody else wanted, had gone bad. And the sausages mysteriously disappeared leaving the dodgy sausage company with the huge quantities of cash.
Almost 30 years, due to concern from the Italian government, a Slovenian Karst expert was called to examine a shaft in an area where water drained to a spring 40 km away in Italy. At the base of the shaft he found a liquid sausage sludge leading to a liquid sausage sump, with remains of human bones amongst the sausages. It appeared that whoever disposed of the sausages in the 1970s had also been involved in the disposal of the dead bodies 30 years previously.
It turned out that this unusual pollution was not in fact causing contamination of the springs. On the basis that the addition of water to the system, flushing the sausages through quickly, would be the greatest danger, the shaft was capped with an impermeable seal, and the sausage sump with floating bones has been left to degrade slowly. Well, at least that's what I think the Slovenian Karst expert said....
Wind and rain lashed the hut at the Lamb and Fox as Tim went out for his morning visit to the toilet. A minute later the rain turned into a sheet of water, stronger than I had ever seen, and I couldn't help laughing at his timing. He eventually returned sodden and complaining, and we knew that the only place to be on a day like this was underground.
We spent hours re-taping Midwinter Chamber and beyond, until it was too late to go to Dollimore's as planned, so we decided to explore some areas off Snowball that Tim had wanted to check for a long time. We half accidentally ended up in Gone in the Head, a very beautiful, but intensely annoying, unending series of low crawls, boulder choke digs and squeezes, where it is hard to move without disturbing delicate gypsum crystals. we dug in several places, but every time we broke through we found survey notes: "Tim Guilford, 1995". I wishes he'd bloody remember what he's found and what he hasn't. The most spectacular was a boulder dig into a crawl, which looked really exciting as we broke through, with several passages leading off and it seemed to be getting bigger. Then I saw evidence that another caver had been there before, and dropping through a hole I found another survey note. "Rogered Senseless, Tim Guilford, 1995". Apparently this connection between Gone n the Head and Rogered Senseless is really interesting, but I found it all a bit frustrating. In usual style, we left the end much later than planned, and as ever Tim disappeared in a cloud of smoke towards the pub. But we made it with plenty of time to spare, and found a welcome pint of beer, a huge plate of cheese sandwiches made by Carol, and Chris Densham ready for a late night session in the Lamb and Fox.
People have commented to me that I am lucky. I am, it has to be said. Though I have always defended my position that you make your own luck, at least in part, this cannot be said for my recent good fortune. The following is a tale of sheer Robinson's Fruit Jamminess.
Out in Austria this year I met Pete Hall, a man partly responsible for the recent developments in Trapdoor Pot. This combined with the fact that he too lived in Lancaster convinced me that turning up for the Thursday night digging sessions could be easy and interesting. On returning to Blighty, and despite the fuel crisis at the time, we both blagged a lift off Andy Walsh and headed off for Committee Pot on Leck Fell. Committee Pot is well placed above mincemeat aven in Notts II, and despite have been dug on and off for twelve years and solidly for the last five, had still not provided the rewards deserved of the efforts put in. Despite the squalid nature of the dig, and the slightly sketchy nature of the 150ft scaffolded shaft, I decided to return. My third visit saw me and Andy there alone. Andy was looking rough and did not feel too well at all: he left it to me to decide whether we should bother. I had done nothing all day after refusing supply work on the premise of a caving trip. I felt obliged to remove a few stones at least.
On reaching the bottom I started removing spoil in the direction Andy indicated. The going was not easy. The dig seemed to have reached a band of clay and gravel. If I wasn't careful about directing the stream elsewhere the dig would fill up with brown soup. I scraped at the debris with my hands, all the digging tools were too clumsy and heavy to use. Eventually I got down to some large rocks and began scraping out the gunk in between them, trying to figure out the best place to get the bar in. The stream broke into the dig again, and I quickly found myself re-enacting the scene from Trainspotting: the one where Renton is trying to recover his anal suppositories from the bottom of the worst toilet in Scotland. I thrust the long bar into the murky water, twisting and turning it, trying to drain the water. Then, glug, the whole lot vanished through a whole: silt, gravel, and water, just disappeared out of sight through as small gap no bigger than your average plughole. I didn't think much about this at the time, other than that it has solved my immediate problem. I returned to the boulders. Once again I began to stab the bar in between the mud-enveloped rocks, trying to find good leverage. By accident I struck one of the rocks square-on, producing a lingering, echoey ring. "Shit! That sounded good I said", striking the rock repeatedly with the bar. I told Andy what was happening, and he told me to "Keep digging". Not long after this the wall I was digging against began looking very sketchy, so myself and Andy swapped places whilst he installed some scaffolding. I paced around the small area that we were using to dump spoil 10 metres above the dig, all the while listening to the echoes of Andy bashing the scaff into place. Shortly after we swapped over again and this time digging fever began to creep in...
A while later, Simon turned up. He has been digging at Committee Pot every Thursday night bar two, for the last eighteen months. He was gob-smacked by what we had to tell him, and upon hearing the echo dived head-first into the small hole removing stones so fast I could hardly keep up. "We'll be through this tonight", he shouted back from the dig face. We swapped places every few minutes exchanging our thoughts on the situation in short bursts of excited chatter. The holes in the floor increased in number and size. According to calculations, we were hoping to come out at the top of mincemeat aven. This is about 150ft high! Simon decided to tie himself on in case the whole floor collapsed beneath us.
Gradually, the wall was dropping away in front of us, rapidly becoming ceiling. The space between roof and floor was almost big enough to squeeze into. Then came a crucial decision. The way on was open, except for a rock that appeared to be holding up a large slab forming the roof. Could we squeeze past without it falling? We decided to play it safe even though we knew that if the roof did fall we would not get into the open passageway beyond that night. Simon knocked the stone away, and to our surprise the roof stayed where it was. Eagerly but carefully Simon slid into the opening. Gradually, but with increasing speed, disappearing from view totally.
Communication was difficult, we were all excited and not sure what to ask first. Eventually, the message came back that it was a narrow rift, with a drop to one side. We didn't need to be tied on, but come through slowly and don't touch the ceiling. Simon shouted for a ladder, so Andy disappeared back up the shat to his car. Upon getting through, and after a quick look round, my impatience got the better of me. "I think I can free-climb it!", I said to Simon as I traversed out over the 30ft drop. "It's in two stages, and quite narrow". "Don't climb down anything you can't get back up", Simon warned me. Despite his words of wisdom, my time spent in the Birth Canal in G5 in Austria that summer had schooled me well in negotiating mud-coated rift climbs. Besides, Andy was getting a ladder, so I could always use that on the return....
Upon reaching the bottom Simon had relented and was immediately behind me. Taking the lead he pressed on into the exciting two abreast walking passageway that led off. Round the corner we entered a chamber floored with boulders and dripping water from way up out of sight. Simons initial reaction was one of disappointment. He had seen a similar situation before in Committee whereby a breakthrough into open passageway soon led to boulders and months more digging. Then he spotted a rope, the bottom of a rope. Many nights of dreaming about finding the bottom of Mincemeat Aven, bolted previously by divers, prevented us from thinking clearly about what we had found. "We are about 150 feet deeper than we should be!" exclaimed Simon. "This is the bottom of Mincemeat Aven". The realisation that the streamway was just around the corner dawned on us rapidly. We located the way on and sped off, leaving Andy and Nigel behind.
The noise of flowing water became increasingly louder. Then the mud plastered walls gave way to sparkling wet limestone and we staggered out of inlet 13 and into Notts Pot Two streamway itself. "Shit!". I was absolutely speechless (something those who know me will find hard to believe). We tore off down the streamway as fast as we could before realising that at that moment Andy was probably searching his car boot for a ladder and we were being very selfish. We returned the way we had come to find Nigel at the bottom of the climb. He was determined to see what we had seen so he and Simon went back to the stream whilst I went back out to get Andy. When finally we were all back in the streamway Andy led the way upstream. The stream here is a narrow vadose canyon, it lacks sporting cascades but is enjoyable nonetheless. After 200 metres of this we reached the Nick Point. Here the character of the streamway changes. From here on it is a wide, phreatic, shingle floored, meandering, three abreast, well decorated walk in the park!
We had to turn around however. Colin Davies, the man who began this dig when I had only just reached double figures in age, would be waiting in the pub. We had to get out for last orders, the cave could wait until Saturday.
The following week has been very exciting. I have made it back to Committee on two occasions, once to do some filming and the other with Lev ("You bastard, why didn't you tell us, fancy blagging us a trip down there") Bishop to do some conservation taping.
The streamway itself is 1.3km long, and in my opinion it is the best stream passage in Yorkshire. In its own way it rivals OFD. But I am biased. The stream is varied and well decorated in places. Vlad the Impaler is a stalactite in the region of 1.5m long. There are columns bigger than those found at the colonnades at Lancaster Hole, and helictites, crystal pools, and straws galore up some of the 22 inlets.
Needless to say this is very big news. The entrance is very easy, requiring a minimum of tackle. Not if you don't mind making a couple of tricky free-climbs. The long, difficult sump meant that the divers' work in Notts II has left a couple of leads for dry cavers. And obviously the down-stream sumps that head off to Gavel pot will now be much easier to push. The possibilities for new cave passage are now very good indeed, including the chance of dry connections to both Notts Pot I and Lost John's.
The people who have spent many Thursday nights digging at this site deserve the chance to look at the leads first. Please respect their current wishes for people not to pirate the cave. Having said that, Colin is not into preventing people from doing tourist trips, and if you want to visit the cave just to see the streamway, all you have to do is ask.
P.s. This is a message to all those who think I am lucky. Piss off. I have now got the flu, and despite the fact that the leads need pushing I am at home watching daytime TV whilst feeling very ill and extremely bored.