Depth through thought

OUCC News 22nd May 2013

Volume 23, Number 3

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Editor: Andrew Morgan andrew.morgan@ed.ac.uk

Upcoming trips/events:

Swildon's Hole, Black Hole Series, 31st March 2013

Thomas Leung

Also present: Ben Heaney (BEC)

After a successful trip down Eastwater the previous day, we decided to look for another pretty section in Swildon's - Black Hole Series. There are several challenges involved when doing this trip.

Gear wise, you need two ladders and two hand-lines - one for the water fall and the other one for the black hole. In my opinion, it is easier to do the Black Hole with SRT, as it involves an exposed traverse 10 meters above ground, and you need to climb the first 5m with ladder. The draw-back of SRT is that you will need to take your kits. Physically, you need to go through sump 1 (at that point it is only half way through the trip), you are soaking wet during the rest of the trip, not to mention on the way back you are going up-hill.

This time, both of us wore our wetsuits, as well as oversuits. We took a ladder for the 20ft water fall (decided to free climb in order to take less gear), a 35m, 11mm rope, and our own SRT kits. Although the day before was sunny, it was freezing and cloudy today, with occasionally two or three snowflakes. We kept asking ourselves on the way walking to Swildon's, why not stay next to the burner in the Belfry and drink tea. It was warmer in the cave and once in we moved fast. It took us less than an hour to get to sump 1. The water of the sump was surprisingly clean - you could see to the bottom and even when I kicked the gravel, it was cleared by the flow in seconds. So we passed the sump quickly and passed the gear to each other through the sump. The way into Black Hole Series was confusing and a little bit tricky to find. After sump 1, we followed the stream towards Sump 2, passed the sign 'Wookey Hole 1 avoiding city centre', crawled through the gravel bed and a deep puddle. Although the way on is by climbing a muddy slope immediately after the puddle, we missed it and kept following the stream. We tried two other climbs further on, and figured out we were too far down the stream. We turned back and did the muddy climb mentioned instead.

The first section before descending the Black Hole was as follows: crawl through a horizontal tube with water, a muddy up-hill slope, a short crawl, another muddy up-hill slope, an awkward climb with fixed rope attached to a metal bar, more crawling until you reached a small chamber with hangers on the left hand side of the wall. I started the rigging and first descended the 'Black Hole'. Half way down there was a traverse line for safety purposes - I was 10m above ground. I traversed following the ledge and entered an obvious window, waiting for Ben. As the rope was quite a way from the window, it is necessary to clip it to the traverse line once the last person was across. However, Ben simply let go of the rope after his descent and I saw it flying across the 10m deep hole and disappeared around the corner. To get the rope back, I clipped my cows tails on the traverse line, did the open traverse until I could just reach the rope again. To make things worse, at the moment when I tried to grab the rope, I spotted one end of the traverse line was attached in a genius way -by feeding the end of the traverse line through a crack among three medium-size jammed boulders forming an arc 10 metres above ground against two walls, in a bottom up approach, then tied a figure eight just big enough to avoid it slipping through the crack. Without saying a word, I immediately attached my stop to the rope and went back to join Ben. We started our Black Hole trip.

This series was impressive, in a way that the formations are nearly everywhere along this 600 metre passage, compared to the rest of the well-travelled parts in Swildon's. It is mostly walking until we reached Well Chamber - it got its name from the depression where the stream disappeared. There are also small curtains on the ceiling in this chamber. After Well Chamber, it is a section of crawling, named 'Sore knee Creep', when the ceiling got lower and lower, then opened up again at the first boulder chamber. There were still digging tools around, with a rubber duck and a little toy car. There was not much to see beyond the first boulder chamber, it keeps going for a while walking up and down boulders (Fool's Paradise) and eventually ended up in the second boulder choke with no way on. The way out was exhausting, especially with the gear. It took us around 6 hours to finish this trip, but it was nice to see this 'not-very-common' part of Swildon's.