Depth through thought

OUCC News 1st December 2010

Volume 20, Number 9

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Editor: Andrew Morgan

An Aqueous Adventure - Swildon's Hole Round Trip

Andrew Morgan

Although I now live in Scotland, I was conveniently near the Mendips visiting my parents when I saw that OUCC had a Mendip weekend. I hadn't done a proper trip in Mendip since 2008, so decided to squeeze my kit into my luggage when I flew down, and try and get a trip. After a phone call in the morning from Fleur I met everyone Burrington Combe and we headed to Priddy to do Swildon's Hole. There were more cars and minibuses than I had ever seen parked on the Green. We certainly weren't going to have the cave to ourselves...

After a surprisingly minimal amount of faff, we headed across the field to the cave entrance. Despite the bad weather the days before, the stream going into the entrance wasn't that high (somewhat disappointingly). We waited for a party of young kids to emerge and one of them - a girl of about 4 or 5 - amused us by bombing into the stream. She clearly hadn't had enough of the water! Hopefully this tough young caver will go to Oxford in the future!

We split into two groups Fleur, Lou, Andrew, Tom1 and Georg went down the Short Dry Way to rig the pitch with plans to go to Sump 2. Rosa, Big Si, Tom2 and I thought we would have a crack at doing the Round Trip'. if I could remember the way. I'd only done it once before, back in 2005. We went via the Long Dry Way to give the other group time to rig the pitch. Just in the entrance we knew it had moved recently, but none of us had seen it since it moved. We climbed down an 8 foot drop, which I managed to eff-up! I had both hands on a good hand hold but couldn't find a foot hold so ended up hanging at full stretch off it, with my legs flailing, which must have been amusing to everyone else watching. I was a little bit too far off the floor to drop to it, but Lou sprung to my rescue and acted as footholds for me. I did the same for Rosa, then Big Si and Tom2 and found the easy route down with a mere foot drop at the end!

After going at a deliberately slow pace along the Long Dry Way we arrived at the pitch for the inevitable queue. Our other group was the only group in front of us and one group was coming up. Fleur helped them with their lifelining to speed them up and as they seemed a little incompetent' As Fleur's group was going down a whole hoard of scouts arrived at the bottom of the pitch. Our group was hoping to go down with Fleur's group but some of the group at the bottom looked pretty cold, so we let them up ahead of us. I went down while they sorted out their rigging, and realised there were about 20 waiting at the bottom. We were going to be here some time'. While it's good to get people caving I think it is a bit selfish having such a big group that is going to cause hold-ups to other users of the cave. Those in the group wouldn't have had much fun either as they waited. Anyway rant over, the rest of our group eventually came down ' we had already been in the cave for an hour and a half at this point.

We pressed on. Rosa became a baptised 'Daughter of Mendip' by slipping into the Double Pots, then we had a look at the pretties in Barnes Loop, after passing another large scout group. Climbed up to Tratman's Temple and met a group in the way, but it was only Fleur's group having a chocolate break out of the way whilst allowing a Scout group in the streamway to go on out. However they had just met a scout group in Tratman's Temple who were going on to Sump 1, so they were going to be delayed again! We swapped some members of the groups around, so everyone was on a trip they were happy with being able to do at that point in time. The two Toms swapped and Andrew joined our group.

We pressed on to the Mud Sump where everyone wondered what the crazy sump bailing pipe work was for. Slightly disappointingly there was little water in the Mud Sump so it wasn't much of a duck ' just an easy crawl that didn't get even get our chests wet. Although I wasn't fully sure of the route, we just followed the most well worn route, with the odd landmark, e.g Shatter Pot, and Greasy Chimney that I remembered, reassuring me we were on the right route. We arrived at the junction to Blue Pencil Passage and decided to head down it to the Swildon's 4 streamway beyond. However first I checked that the siphon was running that empties the first of the Double Trouble Ducks. We scooted down Blue Pencil Passage, which wasn't as bad as its reputation. Apparently it was named Blue Pencil after the obscenities uttered by one of the original explorers would have been censored with a blue pencil if they were written down! It was tightish but not really that tight by Mendip standards!

A short climb down using the fixed chain as a handline and we landed in the fine Swildon's 4 streamway. It has a different character to the Swildon's 1 streamway ' more phreatic than vadose (in cave speak) or had a more rounded cross section in 'normal speak' and quite lofty in some places. We went to Sump 4 where it stunk of heating oil on the approach. Apparently someone had a fuel tank leak a while back.

However we didn't feel any ill effects and it wasn't as bad as the usual 'cowsh' smell in that area! We headed back up Blue Pencil after giving the trip upstream to Sump 2 a miss. There was a fair bit of water coming down Blue Pencil which made it difficult to see where we were climbing up.

Back on the main round trip we headed up to the Troubles. The first was quite low as the siphon had been set up by a group we met at the ladder pitch on their way out, so had been running quite a time. It wasn't so much a duck, just a low crawl that barely wetted our chests. The second Trouble was more of a duck, of the lie on your back and use your nose as a snorkel-type. I thought that was it with regards to the ducks but we came to another. This was a quite a tight tube with about 10 cm airspace. I remembered this from the previous time I did the round trip - it has a dog leg in it. On that trip I plunged through it quickly and at the dogleg went straight on under a shelf (with no

airspace!) and I panicked and started spluttering. Fortunately I was grabbed by my caving partner and pulled out. That is probably still the scariest moment I've had down a cave! However today there wasn't any drama - I went calmly through and pointed out the bend to everyone else before they went through. We pressed on again through a squeeze that we all negotiated - some easier than others! We then came across another duck which I had forgotten about. This was a "proper" on your back duck again. Soon we found the way down to the Swildon's 2 streamway via an exciting slide using a fixed rope as a hand line. I had a little bit too much fun with the slide and went a bit too fast as I and caught my foot twisting my ankle which hurt for about 5 mins, then got better. It would have been a slightly embarrassing injury!

As we were back in the main streamway it meant that we had negotiated all the all the potential route finding properties on the Round Trip. We had an obligatory look at Sump 2, then started to head out. The final obstacle was Sump 1. I put some goggles on, much to everyone's amusement, but for good reason. The first time I ever went through Sump 1 I lost a contact lens, and so had to leave the cave only seeing well out of one eye! We all got through Sump 1 without too much screaming and drama. For those who haven't done sump 1 its pretty much a case of tug rope to check no one else is coming through, hold breath, dive under, a few tugs, hmm getting a bit cold, what's that worm, ah airspace, surface, gasp for breath (as mostly the cold has taken it away), then feel elated that you have passed it (unless you have to go back through it, then it's a case of b****cks I have to do it again! We pounded up the streamway at quite a pace to warm up, went up the ladder pitch, and out of the cave via the Short Dry Way.

We took about just over 5 hours to complete the trip. Met the other group in the New Inn for a well deserved pint! I missed the fireworks and the rest of weekend, but I heard that there was nice lamb roast, some fireworks may found their way on to the bonfire, and there was a lot of faff and confusion on Sunday ' so it was a classics OUCC weekend!