OUCC Proceedings 13 (1991)

Exploration in Britain

Tooth Cave

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Proc. 13 Contents.

This appeared a fine prospect according to the Welsh Sump Index. Three sumps at the end of the cave, only one of which had been looked at! These were described as: "At the extreme termination of the cave the passage splits up ending in three separate sumps. The furthest of these has been dived in a tight vertical rift to about 3m depth. At this point the passage turns through a right angle to enter a bedding plane, less than 0.3m high. The second sump is also a tight fissure - undived - while the third requires a ladder (8m) to reach the pool. This appears most promising, a comfortable sized tube."

We were filled with enthusiasm, especially about the "comfortable" tube, and set off (28/10/88) to Gower with high hopes, a large team (six) and a lot of gear. In fact, I think we took twin forties, twin 21's, two ammo cans, a ladder and rope, a small line reel and probably some other stuff as well. A lot of effort and bruised knees later (surely there couldn't be that much crawling???) we emerged from the rather unpleasant entrance series into the main stream passage. This didn't appear to go anywhere, at least according to the two responsible and very experienced cavers who went and looked. There was, however, a SUMP more or less right in front of us.

The approach was very uninspiring, a traverse on very muddy ledges to a muddy climb / fall down into a nasty little pool - which nonetheless appeared to go under the lip. Kit was passed down and I fitted myself up with twin 21's, all the gear, etc. One of our ropes was then tied around my wrist and I set off. This involved standing more or less on my head and grovelling in the muck at the bottom of the pool. In my defence, I can only say that I hadn't done very much of this kind of thing before.

I don't know why I thought this could possibly be a way on, it bore no relation at all to the description in the guide book. The sump was very small and very full of gritty mud. I forced and dug my way through, to emerge after 4 or 5 feet into dry passage, all of 6 feet of it. (Dive log reads - 5min, 0m depth, vis 1mm.)I thought about my situation for a bit. There was a way on, a dive glopping and glooping away under the far wall. I tied off the rope and went back for Mike.

We went back with one bottle each. Each of us then had a go at the end sump. It didn't go, though I managed to persuade myself that the silt was diggable out.

We returned, not without effort in the first short sump, and took all the gear out again. For some reason that I find hard to fathom, even after this complete abortion of a trip we were still keen to go back again, and find the true route on.

The return did not happen 'till May 1989. Showing a bit more sense this time, we took with us three 21cu.ft. bottles and only three of us (me, Tony Seddon and Dave Horsley). We got to the main passage quite quickly and found that the way on beyond our daft dive site of the last visit was perfectly obviously straight down a bloody great phreatic tube!

The Big Sump was quickly found. I dived first, following the existing line, followed by Dave. For some reason, he came through, touched my leg where I was standing up in the pool on the far side, and went back again! "I thought you might be in some kind of trouble" he said. Who needs friends, eh?

The passage beyond the sump is really very nice. Spacious, full of big chambers and apparently lots of leads going off. It had a distinct air of not having been visited very much. Our minds were firmly set on the end, however. Eventually the big stuff gave way to a complex of spiky rifts. Off to one side of was a drop with an iron bar over the top. Obviously the "8m drop" to one (or two?) going sumps. Unfortunately there seemed to be no water in the bottom at all!

We decided to leave them for the moment and go on to the end. After a bit of a wriggle and a traverse we found ourselves above a gloomy rift with water in the bottom. It didn't look very inviting, but after furtling around for a bit I found one section wide enough to lower myself into the water. Kitting up was a bit awkward. Dave held the line reel while I went under and shoved my way down with the string attached to my wrist.

The rift continuously felt like it was about to widen up - in fact there were just lots of little ledges on the walls. I had three or four goes, each time getting a bit deeper, finding confidence that I could do the left-right dodging needed to find my way back up again. Bottom was found at about 10 feet down. A wide but low passage - more like two feet high than one foot - went away under the wall. I edged into it feet first, and felt for the roof. It seemed to be going up. By this stage I was worried about finding the right bit of the rift to get back to the surface. Dave, perched above the pool, was worried because my bubbles had stopped coming back up.

I returned to the rift, and felt a strong pull on the line. Unfortunately it was pulling me back towards Dave, rather than up the rift where a chubby person like me could get through. It is difficult to have an argument about rights of way by tugging backward and forwards on a bit of string.

We gave up on that one, and returned to the pitch. A ladder was put down, and I went down to find that there really was no water, no sump, not even one, at the bottom. Unfortunately I yielded to exploration fever at this point and climbed (punch, kick, splodge) up a mud wall to what looked like a passage but wasn't. Tony had to come down the ladder so I could fall on him on my return.

So - two trips and not a lot found. (Except the watch I lost in the sump pool on the first trip, which Dave went and found in the totally dried up and hopeless "sump" on the second). However, the area beyond the Big Sump looks ripe for a good push in the dry passages, and certainly needs surveying. This is still on the books as a "sometime" project. The sump at the end needs a bolder, thinner person than me. (It proved that the previous dive was by Martyn Farr; "horrible place, isn't it?")

Steve Roberts

Tooth Cave - Update

Interest in this seemingly neglected system did not entirely wane after Steve Roberts" dives. Time dimmed the memories of gear lugging through the initial crawls sufficiently to see a return trip on May 4th 1991. Chris Densham, Sherry Mayo, Mark Bown and Tony Seddon transported two small bottles to a very full static sump. Beyond Big Sump evidence of wet weather earlier in the week was visible, with a large stream flowing along the main passage. Roughly 1000ft beyond Big Sump the stream divided part flowing into an alcove on the left with foam and flood debris on the walls. At the bottom of a six foot climb the water disappeared through a small tube. This sump "felt" short and shallow, so Tony Seddon dived through feet first into a stooping-height dry passage. This obstacle can be most easily dived or else treated as a serious duck (subsequently named The Reaper.)

The going varied between hands and knees ad flat-out crawling for about 100ft, until an active fissure sump was encountered. This is probably too tight to dive, but a small slot to the right gave a view of another deep blue pool. Nothing could be done without the necessary implements of destruction, so a rapid exit was made.

The next day Chris Densham and Tony Seddon returned and surveyed some 800ft of the main passage. Failing lights and misted instruments put an end to this, so a hammer and chisel were taken to the previous days limit. The squeeze proved difficult to work on, being situated in a small alcove at the top of a slippery mud slope above a pool, so Tony performed a handstand on another's shoulders (necessary to avoid plunging headlong into the sump) and passed the squeeze. Chris slithered into the squeeze and would probably have passed it but for dropping his remaining light in the sump pool. The party, therefore, beat a hasty retreat.

Tony Seddon.

See also Depth through thought 18.6 (27/2/08)