Depth through thought

OUCC News 7th June 2012

Volume 22, Number 9

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Editor: Andrew Morgan

Devon Weekend, 19th-20th May 2012. (Part 2 of 4)

Olaf Khler

Afton Red Rift, SX 83844 63217, approx. 4h, key required! So much in advance: This is not the best cave to take novices along! And the air was definitely not the best throughout the entire cave on that warm May afternoon! Also a handline or two and a few bolts might help in places.

We found a map of the car park and the way to the cave at the DSS hut. It was fairly easy to follow this map, so we walked up the obvious farm track to the lime kiln and then looked out for a quarry with a cave on our left hand side. A short rope climb led us up to the entrance. Apart from the gate there are various signs warning about bats and so on. To my great surprise, the first bat of the day was awaiting us just around the first corner, hanging on the wall sound asleep. We all managed to pass by and hopefully did not interrupt its dreams.

The floor of the distinctly red and narrow passage soon dropped down, and we started traversing close to the roof level. After a few corners I noticed several spits in the left hand wall, just above a convenient ledge to stand on. I was a bit confused, as we hadn't brought any ropes or hangers, and asked around, but of course noone in the party could tell me what to do about those spits. As two of the holes formed a typical Y arrangement, I decided to shin down the narrow rift and have a look around there. There was clearly a well travelled passage which followed the bottom of the rift, and got smaller and squeezier with every metre. At this point I also noticed that it took me quite a long time to regain my breath after the exertions of climbing down here, and that there was close to zero draft at this lower level. Didn't like it, so I told Alex, who had followed me, that we'd better take the high level route. Tom agreed on the air, so I was glad that I was not hallucinating, or at least not yet.

We followed the ceiling of the rift a bit further, crawling and climbing around various corners. Eventually we arrived at a larger chamber called Flower Chamber, where the air was a bit fresher. We went underneath a little arch and then climbed up an easy slope to our right, where we were hoping to find a continuation of the passage. We left a small tunnel to our right and Alex went ahead exploring the way straight on, but after a while decided he must have reached the end of the cave. On the way back, Tonya decided to give the little side passage a try. She too returned, deciding that it was getting too narrow that way. On a survey we later on found out that Tonya's route must have been the way into the Lighthouse Series.

Climbing back down into Flower Chamber, which by the way has some nice, red mini-popcorn-like formations on most of its walls, we then turned right looking for the real continuation of the main passage. It doubled back in a sharp left turn, shortly followed by a right turn. More traversing, shinning, crawling and climbing. We quickly found a very memorable turn to the right with a large drop underneath. With the bums on the outside, we all made it around the corner, and some more climbing later we arrived in another chamber. This one was nicely decorated with red curtains, red stalactites, red flowers and two shiny white carrots in the middle. Curtain Chamber, according to the survey.

We first had a look at the bottom of the chamber to the right. A small and wet, muddy tube went further off from there, and someone has decorated the wall above it with both a smiley face and a skull made of clay. Only Tonya went through this very wet little squeeze, and after a small, low chamber and a short, steep descend it ended in a mudchoke. We therefore decided to rather turn around, climb back out of the chamber and have a look at the little side passage that went off to the right just before entering Curtain Chamber. Tonya had remembered that part of the survey and was convinced that it would lead us to the Upper Series and the end of the cave. In one of the puddles along Mollin's Crawl, Tonya spotted a worm, looking out of a hole in the clay. It was about 3-4 mm thick and pale pink with some fluorescent patches on each segment. It looked like a very small and translucent earth worm, but after a minute or two it disappeared into its hole, so noone else had a chance to see it. A bit further along, there was a rather tight turn to the left with a little post hole avoiding a puddle in the squeeze. Unfortunately the post hole was not human-sized, so the only way on was getting a bit wet. A series of increasingly tight squeezes from one little chamber to the next indeed got us to the rather unspectacular end of the cave, where there was enough space to turn around and go back to Tom, who had waited at the first tight bit. Back along Mollin's Crawl, we had a quick stop to look at a small hole, that we had ignored on the way in. It was now to our left, and Rosa was brave enough to descend it and confirm that there was just another end of the cave around a corner or two.

We decided to head out now, as all of the crawling, shinning and traversing had been rather tiring. Going back to Curtain Chamber, we now went to the far end, slightly leftish. From here, a small passage went on for a while, until we had reached a big puddle on the ground, almost knee-deep in places. Tom recognised this place and started climbing up into the ceiling. Indeed, we were back to the very memorable turn of the rift with the large drop underneath, where we had shuffled our bums around a bit earlier. And while the full round trip must follow some lower level passage into a Mud Hall and emerge at the little hole underneath the spits in the entrance rift, we took a "shortcut" through the passages we already knew. The climb out of Flower Chamber was distinctly difficult without a rope, and the rift at the entrance was not the most friendly way to complete the trip. The bats and giant spiders near the entrance had moved a bit in the time we spent underground, and we were all glad to be back in sunshine and fresh air, some of us even feeling a bit dizzy from the poor air quality down in the cave.