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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Adrian Hole

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Sean Howe
Editor: Adrian Hole
Caving Secretary: Greg Brock
Tackle Master: Tyrone Bevan
Hut Engineers: John Walsh, Neil Usher
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford
Floating Member: Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general

Lime Tree Formation, Lynn’s Cave, Tasmania, Australia (See article on page 29)

The Paddyfields, Nguom-Nam-Lao, Vietnam (see article, page 8)


Welcome to the Winter Issue. Ok, it's a bit of a cop out but due to overwork I have had neither the time to cave nor to edit the BB.  I sincerely apologise for this and can only hope to have more time this spring and summer to devote more time to editing and possibly even to caving.  In addition, due to an unfathomable technical fault I seem to be unable to access emails. I have received a number of articles recently and thus should be able to follow this issue fairly quickly with the spring issue.  If you have any news or articles please post them to me on disc - preferably in something simple such as word that the old Belfry laptop can cope with.  If you have sent articles in the last year and they have not yet appeared I can assure you that they will be in the next issue.

A way from grovelling and incompetent editors, the last few months have seen a number of events of importance, most notably the rescue of Vem Freeman from St. Cuthbert's on the 13th November following a fall down the first (lower) pitch in Maypole Series.  A six hour rescue saw him carried out via Sentry Passage and then up the stream way - whilst above the Fire Brigade pumped water away from the entrance (just before they were due to go on strike). After undergoing surgery he is now recuperating.

On a sad note it is my duty to inform you of the passing away of 'Jock' Orr a few weeks ago.  A full obituary will follow in the Spring BB.

Happier news, Tony Jarratt reports a most successful Meghalaya 2003 Expedition with a pickup truck filled with empty beer bottles.  Oh, and 25, 771.83 metres of surveyed passage, lots of new leads and an article to follow.

On a personal note I have been looking at a number of sinks and old dig sites in the Otter and Ban- Y -Gor catchment areas - anyone over this way fancy a potter near Chepstow?  There will be a short description of some sites in the next issue.


Digging and Diving News.

Eastwater Cavern.

Before his return to Tasmania, Phil Rowsell and Alison Moody visited the far reaches of the West End to push the end of Southbank for a few more metres to another gravel-filled sump.  They plan a return in the spring (weather-permitting) if you fancy joining them.

Hazlenut Swallet.

Graham Johnson, Nick Mitchell and John Walsh have recently made a return to this interesting site in the Biddlecombe Valley to find the terminal sump has silted up. A drilling operation looks necessary, but will be made more difficult by the fact that the sump lies at the base of a small pot down which a small stream cascades onto the digger below.  A previous attempt was aborted last year when the drill did not take kindly to being held beneath the falling water and darns failed due to a lack of mud.  An umbrella has been posited as one solution!  If this seemingly short sump can be passed progress could be made at this small but hydrologically significant site somewhere ahead must lie the water both from the other sinks in the valley and possibly also those heading for St. Andrews Well from the Thrupe catchment area.

Hillgrove Swallet.

Following the discovery in September that this old dig was blocked with inwashed silt, branches etc. - to the point where the entrance was not initially visible let alone accessible, Sean Howe, Pete Hellier and Paul Brock dug out the entrance in October. According to Pete some 10 metres of dug passage at the end has also been infilled.  Whether this is the start of a new attempt to gain access to what must be extensive passages beyond and that have for nearly a century repelled all corners, from Martel onwards, remains to be seen.

Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.

This remarkable dig got even more unlikely around Christmas when a sump was encountered.  Rich Dolby dived it over Christmas to find it blocked - it seems to be a seasonal affair so possibly come the summer sunshine (?) it may be possible to dig it out after it dries up.  For a description of the attempts to pass it see the article on page FIVE.

Working Weekends @ The Belfry 2003

The idea of working weekends is to maintain and clean the Belfry.  This year we would also like to combine the hut maintenance with some conservation and cleaning work in St. Cuthberts Swallet, numbers permitting. Remember 2003 is the 50th anniversary of the breakthrough into this fine system. Everybody is welcome!


The dates for this coming year are May 3rd - 4th, July 5th - 6th and Sept 6th - 7th.

Club News

The Working Weekend of the 1st-2nd March saw the front room cleaned and repainted - further weekends are planned for the spring and summer - see page 7 for dates.

Sett would like to extend the invitation to join the 'Old Codgers' on Exmoor at the Pinkery Centre, for six nights from Tuesday 22nd April including a trip down a local lead mine.  If you are interested contact him on 01823 xxxxxx.


Following the Streams in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink

by Tony Jarratt

Since the breakthrough report in BB 514, work has continued at four separate dig sites despite atrociously bad air conditions.

The Hatch

Situated on the RH side of Pub Crawl just below the 2m fixed ladder.  A strong draught sometimes emanates from this originally tiny, vertical fissure which has now been blasted to body size for some 2 metres to where two wet weather inlet streams enter from updip and combine to form a steeply dipping outlet.  At least one of these emits water which sinks in an impassable bedding plane on the RH side of the standing height section of Pub Crawl just before the iron ladder.  A hosepipe test also revealed that they both carry the water which sinks in the rift below the entrance shaft.  This water is next seen pouring out of the boulder choke in the ceiling of Lower Bar Steward Passage (B.S.P.) which would indicate that there is a parallel bedding plane to Pub Crawl, or more likely an extension of the same plane, running down the NW side of B.S.P. at about the same level. Water also filters through the choke here from the field above, probably via the shallow depression SW of the new car park.  Traces of flourescein have been noted at the entry point to Happy Hour Highway (H.H.H.) where a dig has been started in the hope of bypassing the grim terminal choke in the streamway below.  There maybe an updip continuation of H.H.H. below The Hatch but work has been suspended here for the time being.

Lower Bar Steward Passage

Reached via a 7m deep shaft excavated down a boulder filled rift c.lm wide and 4m beyond the stream sink at the end of Pub Crawl.  A scaffold frame was built to stabilise the up and downstream walls of poised boulders. On the 11th October the boulder infill was finally passed to gain some 5m of open stream passage with perched and heavily calcited boulders obscuring the way on.  Whilst rearranging these, a very large chunk of the RH wall started to move and so was hastily propped up before a rapid retreat was made.  Work then commenced on blasting a route higher up the rift in order to reach this calcite covered slab from above and also to gain access to a black void between boulders which could be seen ahead.  The stream here issues from the base of the dug shaft and is the water sinking at the end of Pub Crawl.  All of this passage is aligned along a substantial fault, as is The Hatch, the stream from which enters from a boulder choke above. Alex reports slickensides, fault breccia and crushed limestone lenses from the exposed sections of this fault and is very enthusiastic about potential.  Again, blasting is being resorted to enlarge the downstream passage. On the 6th November the black void was entered and proved to be some 4m of spiky bedding plane with a c.l.5m square stream passage below and on the LH side.  Unfortunately a ruckle of loose boulders prevented access to this and the continuing bedding plane streamway beyond, but following a bang on the 6th November a return was made on the 10th, the ruckle was dropped and a mere couple of metres of passage entered to a decidedly horrific choke.  The new dig in H.H.H. above will hopefully bypass this.

Happy Hour Highway - upper

The original high level dig at the end of the fossil cave has been restarted by Trev, John W., Shaggy, Matt and others and is reported as easy and promising but long term.  The plan is to sink a 2m deep shaft through sand and collapsed ceiling slabs and tunnel under the wall.  Trev's homemade plugs and feathers have been successfully employed here for boulder splitting.  A deckchair and parasol have been installed on the "beach" below the dig!  No, don't ask .....

Happy Hour Highway - lower

After having been laboriously excavated downwards for some 4m the compacted nature of the sand and rock infill, coupled with the recent CO2 problem has driven some of the team to seek easier pickings in the upper dig.  Now that the air conditions have improved this dig has seen a considerable amount of work.  A phreatically enlarged joint is being pursued downwards in order to find a wider section which can be excavated forwards and should theoretically lie at c.4m depth from the floor of the phreatic pocket above this dig.  The wall is beginning to undercut towards the centre of the main passage above so we may nearly be there.  Work continues in the steeply dipping sand/clay infill.

Photography/Tourism etc.

Pete Glanvill and Nigel Cox enjoyed a damp photographic recording trip to the cave on the 20th October and a couple of tourist trips have been done with some of the visitors assisting with spoil clearing.

More diggers and helpers

Hugh Tucker, Elaine Johnson, Simon Moth, Sue Whitby (all A.C.G.), Rachel and Andy Smith, Mike Kelly (all Gagendor C.C.), Pete Glanvill, Nigel Cox, John Christie, Simon Flower (V.B.S.S.), Lloyd Dawes, Roger Galloway, Martin Hayes, Dan Harries, Dave Robinson, Kate Janossy, Fraser Simpson (all Grampian S.G.), Pete Golide, Matthew Butcher (S.M.C.C.).


Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink - The Good and Bad News.

by Tony Jarratt and Rich Dolby

Work has continued on the lower Happy Hour Highway dig where at a depth of c.5 metres the ceiling became briefly horizontal before beginning to ascend at a shallow angle in what appeared to be one side of a phreatic tube - the left wall being composed of inwashed boulders, clay and sand with spectacular multicoloured sediment layers which will be left in situ for possible scientific evaluation at some future date.  As the dig lengthened air conditions became steadily worse.

The writer, Jake Baynes and Roger Dors became famous for a few minutes on the 27th of November when Radio Bristol broadcast an interview about the dig, cave and Pub. The interviewer was Kate Salisbury who had heard of the project from Rich Dolby and tied it in with the 30 years of Mendip A.O.N.B. celebrations.  Points West, the local TV news programme, then expressed an interest in filming the cave but on having the entrance passage described to them fortunately have so far failed to materialise.

Trevor, after putting in a lot of hard work on the upper H.H.H. dig, eventually hit solid rock at a depth of 1.8 metres and allowed it to be used as a handy spoil dump for the lower dig.  Andrew Moon, on a tourist trip, was unaware of this and started to clear it out again!


Our new Joint Hut Engineer making room for digging spoil in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.  

While the writer favoured following this dig upwards towards a hoped for airspace Mark Ireland decided to dig downwards at the lowest point so work continued at these two sites in conjunction.  On the 15th of December the ascending dig had reached a length of some 5 metres from the base of the drop and the sand/clay infill now contained buried rocks which gave a hollow sound when hammered.

Next day these were removed in about ten minutes and an airspace providentially reached. Breathing conditions at the face now rapidly improved as the bad air was dispersed - despite the lack of a "howling gale".  A superb, pure white 0.3 metre high stal. column could be seen ahead with open space beyond.  Jake B. arrived and over 60 bags of spoil were removed to make the new passage accessible.  Beyond the column the ceiling sloped steeply down for c.5 metres to a wide archway with either a pool, calcite floor or black hole beneath.  The good news was that we had obviously entered the continuation of Happy Hour Highway beyond the terminal choke, the "half phreatic tube" being actually a step down in the ceiling at precisely the depth expected. To avoid destroying the column we commenced digging through soft sediment and sand on the RH side.  With this year's Digging Barrel already in the bag we didn't really need more cave until New Year's Day!  (Not that we've seen the last three .... )  This excellent morning's fun ended on a macabre note when the writer came across a pile of white ash at the base of the entrance shaft and several grinning D.B.S.S. members on the surface.  The ash turned out to be the remains of the late Dr. Rodney Pearce who discovered Rod's Pot in 1944.  He was a D.B.S.S. and ex-B.E.C. member and great character who is now keeping Frank Jones company on the long through trip to Wookey Hole.

Three clearing trips took place on the 18th/19th and 20th of December and on one of these the writer was digging alone when four festive Moles members turned up bearing a flask of mulled wine and some mince pies for his delectation!

The 22nd, 23rd and 26th of December saw four more clearing trips to open up the passage for access to what now was revealed as a relatively roomy static sump with the underwater passage descending steeply and enlarging on the LH side.  Mud cracks and drip pockets on the floor of the sump indicated that the water level may drop considerably and it did indeed fluctuate some 0.4 metres in a few days.  A set of diving gear was also carried in ready for a push by Rich Dolby on the 27th of December.  Due to Christmas excess this degenerated into another clearing session mainly in the sump pool itself - but next day Rich spent some 15 minutes underwater in zero visibility probing in vain for an outlet, all ways on being blocked by sediment banks reaching the ceiling.  This was the bad news.  Keeping to the cave theme the sump was named Drip Tray Sump.  The line and diving gear were removed.  Our only hope now is to wait for very dry weather in case the sump drains and possibly bail or pump it back into a holding pond at the end of H.H.H. above.  In the meantime work will be concentrated on gaining access to the continuation of the streamway.  The cave depth is now 50m (l50ft) the same as the bottom of the Railway Tunnel in Hunters' Hole, which now needs re-assessing in the light of these developments.

The Dive - Rich Dolby

Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink, Priddy, Somerset ST5494 5012
28.12.02 DIVER: R.J. Dolby (BEC) SUPPORT: A.R. Jarratt, M. Willett (BEC)

The aim was to dive the recently discovered, static Drip Tray Sump located beyond the excavated choke at the end of the cave.  Observations made during a previous trip (26.12.02) revealed crystal clear water with a steeply descending bedding trending east, appearing to close down north and south.  Depth of visible area guesstimated at that time to be approx. six feet.

Returned to dive on 28.12.02.  Awkward entry into the sump pool (approx. three feet by four feet) necessitated some de-kitting.  Once in the water A.R.J. assisted R.J.D., passing him his bottle and line reel. The diver then descended sloping bedding to reach compacted mud floor at approx. depth of seven feet.  He belayed to a large boulder and proceeded to explore in zero visibility.  Moving in an easterly direction the diver soon felt the low roof descending to meet the mud floor.  He then moved north following the roof/floor for a short distance, the route became too tight and the diver sensing that he was very near the surface. Reversing past the belay he continued to probe the roof/floor junction in a southerly direction. Eventually his feet broke the surface thus terminating the initial search.  He returned to the belay and surfaced to swap observations and jokes with A.R.J and M.W.  Entertaining banter did little to conceal the disappointment of all present.  A second dive to investigate the area above the roof/floor junction revealed no possible ways on.

Dive time: 15 minutes. Line removed after dive.

Many thanks to A.RJ. and M.W. for assistance and Roger Dors back at the Centre of the Universe (Hunters' Lodge Inn) for some excellent post-dive Hook Norton!

There are indications that this sump may be lower or even drain completely in dry weather to enable digging to take place.

More diggers, visitors and assistants

Tom Clayton (West Midlands e.E.G.), Kate Salisbury (Radio Bristol), John Wilson, Steve Stean, Jim Lee, Mark Edwards, Neville Roberts, Alan Richards and Dave Bradeley (all Moles e.G.), Norman Wright, Dave Warman, Tom Stem, Richard Crane, Andrew Moon and Steve Turner (all Wells/Glastonbury Tuesday nighters), Estelle Sandford, the late Rod Pearce (U.B.S.S. and ex-B.E.C.), Kyle Otton, Julie Bevan (Frome C.e.), Vince Simmonds.


Vietnam 2001 Caving Expedition

by Peter "Snablet" McNab
with photographs by Paul Ibberson and Howard Limbert

Our jeeps drove around the bend in the valley, and before us a 40m wide 30m high entrance yawned out of a cliff, half a kilometre in front.  Excitement broke out in our jeep, we got the giggles.  It had been two years since we'd caved in Vietnam and we were chomping at the bit.  We drove off the road and headed across the fields for the opening, a small river separating us from the entrance.  We posed for photos on a rickety suspension bridge a mere 100m in front of the entrance.  An amazing amount of self control was exhibited and held us back from committing the mortal sin; running in and grabbing the first few hundred metres (just to see if it goes).  However, in this part of the world, permission had to be sought first. Howard and Deb headed for a border post 500m away to seek to announce our arrival and produce our carteblanche-go-anywhere-and-everywhere permission sheets.  We started getting a GPS fix when we noticed the large sign, written in English "Restricted Area No Trespass".  A closer look at the area surrounding the entrance revealed gun placements, army barracks and some bemused soldiers.  We had been completely blinded by our enthusiasm to get underground and not noticed the sensitive nature of our surroundings.  We quickly put the GPS and cameras away.

A summons to the border post found Howard and Deb being politely told that we needed further permissions from the Province's military HQ to cave within 4km of the Chinese border. Within 24 hours we were back defiantly brandishing further permissions, we smugly handed them across the table to the border post's C.O.  He proceeded to cut us back down to size, by pointing out a bracketed sub-clause "except sensitive areas".  Anywhere with in 4km of the Chinese border was classed as sensitive.  We left with our tails between our legs, accepting that it was probably pushing it a bit to expect to get into that particular entrance. We did not know that this was the first of many such bureaucratic red tape tangles in Ha Giang.

The 2001 Vietnam expedition was comprised of three parts; the first two weeks were spent reconnoitring the mountainous province of Ha Giang.  Ha Giang is the northernmost province of Vietnam. Permissions to cave in Ha Giang have proved difficult to obtain in the past, both Italian and Australian caving expeditions were kicked out.  The second two weeks concentrated on the adjacent province of Cao Bang.  We continued the reconnaissance work of the 95/97/99 expeditions, with a few excursions into neighbouring Long Son province.  The final two weeks were spent in central Vietnam in the densely forested mountains of Quang Binh, the scene of the 90/92/94/97/99 expeditions.  We had a strong team from the UK, Vietnam and Tasmania; Howard & Deb Limbert, Paul Ibberson, Martin Holroyd, Mick Nunwick, John Palmer, Duncan Morrison, Martin Colledge, Nick Jones, Trevor Wailes and Pete MacNab. From Hanoi University; Mr. Hieu, Dr. Phai, Dr. Bac, Mrs.Flower, Prof. My, Mr. Mau and Dr. Na. Jeeps and drivers were hired to ferry us about in the north. Accommodation comprised of government guest houses, committee rooms, occasional hotels as well as the obligatory cave entrances.

Ha Giang Province Reconnaissance

Meo Vac is the town the Pogues wrote a song about, except the gas works has been substituted for aggregate quarries.  However, once away from the dust, the surrounding area is jammed packed with gob-smacking cone karst, reaching to altitudes of 2000m.  The Meo Vac massif oozes deep cave potential, it's like the Picos moved to the Tropics.  The area had been visited by Italian cavers a few years earlier.  Unfortunately, they tried to explore the area without seeking the relevant permissions.  This is a big no-no in Vietnam, and the Italians were escorted from the premises. They did, however, manage to assess some of the area's potential by going -528m deep in the first cave they went to (Tar LunglBasta Noodles).  Prof. My told us that the Italian cave had ended in a river which needed ropes to cross, and as the Italians were still persona non grata with the local committee, and the NCC 's reputation for grabbing to uphold, we thought we had better check it out.

The Italian Job 2

Whilst the first team rigged their way into Ta lung (The Italian Job) local Hmong farmers told us of another long drop nearby.  Duncan, Martin C. and myself went to check it out.  We were shown to a Rowten Pot like entrance, and told the Italians had been a short way down a ladder.  We followed a small rift to a balcony, thus avoiding the loose edges to this imposing shaft.  A Y hang banged in, we dropped the shaft.  After 20m we passed the limit of the Italians descent (chiselled into the Wall).  30m down, a well placed deviation pulled us into the middle of a 50m diameter chamber with the floor 75m below.  At this point of the descent Duncan looked at the state of our rope and went a strange shade of white.  We knew we were caving on the expedition dog ends, as the new shiny ropes had gone down the -528m cave.  The rope was from the 1993 Dachstein expedition and was showing signs of wear. To make matters worse, a knot change 50m off the deck was required to bottom the shaft.  Unfortunately, the way on was not as exciting as the 105m entrance pitch.  After the initial impressive chamber the cave choked with boulders.

The Italian Job 1

We picked up the rigging and surveying of the Italian job at around -250m.  Mick and Dunc armed with a Bosch made quick work of the very loose 110m pitch, whilst Martin C and myself surveyed our way down, desperately trying not to kill the two lads below.  Rocks dropped from -200m would not land until -450m, (by that time they had a few friends with them).  Disaster struck part way down the next pitch - the driver broke!  "Only one thing we can do now" exclaimed Mick, three of us started packing bags whilst conjuring up images of drinking cold beer in the sun.  Our dreams were soon dashed as Mick started rigging the remaining 160m of pitches on naturals.  We eventually arrived at some horizontal development (-500m), our nerves slightly frayed.  A long narrow rift was followed, unfortunately as yet no sign of the reported raging river.  We eventually found another shaft, with Italian graffiti on the wall.  This pitch definitely needed a bolt placement to continue. We exited the cave very carefully, leaving the glory for the next team.  The following day the next team re-rigged the lower section of the cave on to bolts with a new and shiny driver.  They quickly made their way down the last pitch, only to discover the cave silted up at 530m deep/800m long.  The raging river was actually in another province, but the description somehow got lost in the translation from Italian to English, English to Vietnamese, Vietnamese back to English.  The cave was quickly de-tackled, but not without incident; Martin C was hit by a rockfall, dislodged by hauling tackle bags.  The tackle bag sized boulder broke Martins helmet and he suffered quite serious concussion for well over a week.  Surface reece's of the Meo Vac area produced lots of entrances with clouds coming out of them, unfortunately they were accompanied by kilometres of red tape.  We decided to move on to the Dong Van area.

Hang Lo La Phin

Whist carrying out a recce in the Dong Van area, we happened to pass an interesting looking sink. Consultation with a passing villager indicated that there was no cave in the depression.  There was no cave, so our secret police escort allowed us to go and have a look. Two minutes later we were back at the jeep, arming ourselves with wheel jacks and hammers.  Our first Vietnamese surface dig!  Half an hour of frantic digging and we were in, a ladder was soon dispatched down the first pitch.  This revealed further pitches.  We dropped the next 20m pitch into a steeply descending passage which followed down several awkward climbs to the head of an impressive shaft series.  We had time to drop the first pitch of the series, before surveying and de-tackling our way out.  The cave was -100m deep and storming off into the distance, unfortunately our helpful secret police man refused us permission to return the following day.  We spat the dummy, "Cao Bang here we come".

Cao Bang Province – Scratching a two year itch

Caving in Cao Bang was a totally different kettle of fish.  The caves were plentiful, easily accessible and we had carte blanche permission. The carpet bangs were open.  It didn't take us long to form the "Kilometre a day club."  However the club was only short lived and had to be replaced with the "Mile a day club."  The first on the 2001 list was Trach Kahn.  During the 1999 expedition, the team had driven past this area on their return journey to Hanoi. They spotted a few roadside caves and the nearer of these received some cursory investigations (500m of survey notes were recorded in the back pages of Paul's novel).  The team then continued the journey (now pushed for time).  The road continued next to a sizeable river, then sunk under an outcrop, a big echo and no time.  10km further, the road skirted around the top of a large gorge, 200m below a blue-green river issued from beneath a cliff.  The resurgence for the earlier sink, maybe?  The excitement rose to fever pitch when the teams' gaze fell upon a 50m diameter phreatic tunnel, winking at them from across the gorge. This entrance (Hang A) was about 150m above the steam entrance, and the subject of much beery bullshit and anticipation for the following two years.

Hang Two Years Later

Two teams rushed into the sink anticipating caverns measureless, whilst the third team ( Vietnam virgins) went for a recce with a local snake collector to another sink, Pac Lung.  We entered the big sink through some high level fossil maze, a race ensued to survey a route down to a streamway.  A short ladder pitch was found down into swimming passage, which continued in a series of sporting rapids to a sump.  With the cave struggling to reach 600m long, we were a bit dismayed that the big lead for two years had been "Ghar Paraued".  However the Viet virgins carne back over the hill with smug grins, 1km surveyed to a river passage.  Pac Lung was eventually surveyed to over 3km.

Hang A

The first team to go to the resurgence cave was dismayed to find out that it was located just over the border in Long Son province.  However, they were allowed a quick look inside to check if it went.  They quickly surveyed a kilometre (just to confirm that it went) and found a lower and easier entrance.  Mr. Bac then travelled to Long Son city to negotiate the various permissions.  A few days later with all permissions granted, the cave was on the move again. It was extended to 3km and contained a really sporting streamway, loads of cascades and loads of fun.  Unfortunately the stream sumped, leaving an 8km gap between Hang A and Pac Lung (the upstream sink).  This will be one of the projects for 2003.

Nguom Nam Lao

Our driver pulled off the road and we proceeded to bump and bounce our way along a dirt track.  We (JP, MN, PM, & Hieu) hoped we could get to the first sink on our planned walk (recce) back to base via several sinks shown on our map.  Corning up over a col, our jeep lost traction and slid back down.  Several half-hearted attempts, revs screaming and wheels spinning later, our driver gave up.  With our walk considerably extended, we marched off in search of the first sink. With a few pointers from local farmers we found our first objective. Nguom Nap Biu turned out to be 1/2 km of easy stream passage to a large sump.  We returned to the nearby village to ask if there were any more disappearing rivers.  There were! 


The author in Nguom Nam Lao

We were given excellent directions ('follow this river') and so set off on our way.  An hour's walk down valley, we followed the stream through some paddy fields to a large cliff where the stream disappeared into the undergrowth.  We thrashed through the undergrowth, to find a 40m x 10m passage leading into the darkness, Nguom Nam Lao.  After an initial false start, where we followed the stream into an impenetrable rift, we eventually located the 20m x 20m borehole next to it.  The main passage was followed for some distance to a junction.  The right hand passage was obviously the active passage, with a very strong draught, but stooping.  The left hand passage had a slight draught, flat sandy floor, and was walking size. We took the left which led through one of the most beautifully decorated passages we found on the expedition.  We were stopped by a small tube at the top of a large stal boss which dropped 4m into a blue stream below, the draught howled through the tube.  Back at the junction, the right hand passage led through a series of low stoops and crawls. We sent Hieu ahead to check that the passage went, while we surveyed the awkward section.  That was the last we saw of "grabber" Hieu for the next two hours.  We eventually intersected a massive passage leading both ways, and no sign of Hieu. We left a cairn of tackle bags and a note for Hieu to wait for us and then proceeded to survey the huge passage. Up dip ended in a gour choke, down dip was explored along a "Time Machine" like passage until we heard shouts from Hieu.  We abandoned the survey and rushed to his aid.  Hieu appeared from a crawl under some boulders in the floor of the massive passage, shouting exuberantly that it was still going.  Sceptical about the location where Hieu had reappeared, we had a ten minute look to confirm the passage was indeed still going with a howling draught and a storming passage.  We had surveyed just over a mile of cave, now time and light were rapidly running into short supply, and so we made a sharp exit.  Our idea of walking back cross-country via several sinks was abandoned due to dwindling daylight.  We resigned ourselves to the 10km walk back along the dirt track, followed by much the same along the road.  We stopped once only at a wayside inn to drink the bar dry (an easy feat, as they only stocked two bottles of beer and a coke).  Our excellent day of caving was topped off when we met our driver and jeep waiting at the col for us, with fresh doughnuts and sugarcane.

Flash Bang Hall, Nguom Nam Lao

The next day we got the jeep to within 400m of Nguom Nam Lao, and continued our exploration. First on the agenda was the pitch down to the blue stream.  MH, HL, PI, and DH accompanied us to the pitch, to photograph the preceding passage. They then continued further along the valley checking out other caves with Hieu.  We dropped the pitch and crawled along some squalid stream passage, to some low ducks (un-entered).  Above was a high level passage, but it all choked.  Back at the pitch, a dry passage led off, eventually reaching a chamber with several leads.  Following the main passage we continued through a stal squeeze into more walking passage to a further crawl to daylight.  The exit of the cave was being used by water buffalo to shade from the sun. We returned through the cave back to Hieu' s lead from the previous day.  After the initial 100m of choked passage we entered a phreatic tunnel, which went and went.  After a kilometre or so, a side passage was encountered, from which the sound of a river could be heard.  We continued along our tunnel to a breakdown, through which daylight could be reached. We exited the cave next to a large resurgence.  A river wound its way through the paddy fields and tower karst towards more limestone cliffs.  There were also some official looking buildings just the other side of the paddies, and so we kept a very low profile and didn't venture far from the cave.  We had no translator or papers with us, as well as no idea where we were, our maps stopped 5km short of the Nguom Nam Lao entrance.  The availability of the next map was restricted, as it mainly showed China.  We returned to the cave and headed to the river passage.  Downstream led thunderously to the resurgence sump, upstream was followed to a fast flowing swim, we abandoned our exploration due to lack of wetsuits.  As the weather became unsettled, the road became impassable for our jeeps.  We turned our attention to sinks nearer the road as time ran out for Nguom Nam Lao (next year's lead).

The Nguon Nam Lao Streamway

A week or so later we were conducting a jeep recce en route to the next area, asking at every village whether they knew of any caves.  We came across some commune party offices which seemed vaguely familiar.  We were at the resurgence of Nguom Nam Lao. Arrangements were made for us to stay for a couple of nights, but a courtesy visit to the local army base was required.  We drove the 2km down the valley, excitedly tracking our river, until we reached the barracks.  Permissions were granted for Nguom Nam Lao, but unfortunately they were unable to provide us with permission for the massive river sink 1/2 km further on as it was in China.  We split into two teams to finish off Nguom Nam Lao.  The strong swimmers (PI, NJ, DM) continued the exploration of the main river, and pushed it through some exciting passage to a sump, whilst HL, DL, and PM continued with the massive passage, which eventually choked, and then finished off the other remaining leads.  With everything tied up and concluded, we had just enough time to survey a cave the locals had called the most beautiful cave in the world (Nguom Nam Lien).  We went in with full photographic fire power, and were dismayed to find a Burrington shite hole.  Photos, of course, had to be taken so that the villagers wouldn't lose face.

Nguom Nam Nam

On route to a resurgence which was prominently marked on our map, we stopped at the commune office for a courtesy call to show our papers.  We were somewhat distressed to be presented with rice schnapps "cyclos" (sickloads).  A few down in-ones with the rice wine is the last thing you want for breakfast.  It soon became apparent that these dubious lads were not your dedicated card carrying party members, but would be more at home in the Mafia.  Eventually we set off for the resurgence "Nguom Nam Nam", along with our newly employed guides.  We drove to within 5 km of the cave, then set off on foot across the paddy fields in the direction of some cone karst.  We were starting to get fed up with our dawdling drunken guides whom we were having to wait for every five minutes.  About half way to the cave, our three guides, who had now been joined by five of their mates, decided they would go on strike until we paid all eight of them four times the agreed rate or they wouldn't show us the way to the cave.  A few small flaws in their blackmail technique gave us the best poker hand in this industrial dispute.  Firstly, we could see where the cave was on our map, secondly we could see a river up ahead, with a well worn path leading to it, and finally (the real clincher) we could see a bloody big entrance in the distance.  The guides plus extras were duly sacked, and Dr. Bac informed them in no uncertain terms that they were not entitled to severance pay. The drunks did not, however, take kindly to redundancy, and we suffered a hail of abuse and stones for the rest of the route to the cave.

Nguom Nam Nam entrance was partially walled up.  Mr. Bac informed us it was an ancient fortification dating back to a ruling Vietnamese dynasty in the fifteenth century.  The cave entrance had also been used as a refuge when the invading Chinese Red Army burnt and destroyed the northern provinces of Vietnam in the border war of 1978.  A traverse dropped down to the river, wound its way through a large rift passage.  A series of wades and short swims eventually led to a boulder collapse and an open depression.  A short bash through the undergrowth found us in the continuation of the river cave. The passage regained its grand dimensions and bored its way into the hillside.  The passage split in two, a long deep canal glooped its way to a sump, whilst the draught whistled over a boulder slope and disappeared up a twenty foot aven.

A large sink was marked on the map further along the hillside, Nguom Nam Nam, was heading straight for it.  We decided to pay the sink a visit.  The river sink was partially dammed and contained a small hydro electric plant (made out of a bicycle).  We followed the stream into an immediate swim, which rapidly led to a sump (the other end of the canal).  However, a dry passage led off and eventually reached a large chamber.  At one end of the chamber, a large boulder choke was climbed to a twenty foot pitch - this was the connection point.  At the other end of the chamber, a complicated route through boulders led to another entrance.  We tied up all the remaining side passages and photographed the system. Whilst photographing the main chamber, Trevor had a lucky escape when the large flash bulb he was holding exploded. The chamber gained the name "Flash Bang Hall".

Lang Son Province - Just in passing

Hang Ban San ( Kawasaki Cave)

We departed from the Hang Ban Sein team, and headed up over the col towards Ban San.  MN DL and PM consulted the map.  It showed a river flowing into the cliff just over the hill; however, it also showed the province boundary running along the top of the hill. We asked Hieu if he was sure it was OK to go to Ban San, "No problem", came the reply.  On entering the valley, a review of the lie of the land looked promising, rivers running off non limestone hills straight to the base of a 100m limestone cliff.  We paid a courtesy call to the local police outpost.  Our luck was in, only the deputy was at home, he did ask to see our permits and allowed us to go to the cave.  Our permits were for Cao Bang province and the visit to the outpost had confirmed our suspicions that we were now in Lang Son.  However, it wasn't until we started surveying and wrote down the cave's address, that Hieu realised in horror we were in the wrong province.  He let us go in to check it out, but 1½ hours only, whilst he went back to explain the mistake.

After the initial scramble through boulders we popped out into a large stream passage.  We surveyed along the easy going flat gravel floored streamway.  The cave was pleasant and easy going, and we were making good time as every survey leg was 50m long.  The cave then started to look like it was going to sump, luckily we found a route through, "A duck without a bicycle pump up its arse".  The low air space was named because all the other ducks we had seen that week, had been in the restaurant causing a racket whilst being injected with a marinade.  The stream (river) passage enlarged to a grander scale, side passages lead off here and there.  A massive passage was encountered on the right, and we decided to explore it because it would be quicker than following the stream (we were very conscious of our time restraints).  We strolled along the flat sandy floored fossil passage (Bowling Green) surveyed our way in and out of the stal columns and eventually intersected the stream passage again, a similar passage was surveyed on the other side of the stream. We still had just about enough time to continue surveying downstream for a short distance.  The passage dropped to a low wide stoop with a howling draught blowing in our face.  We eventually stopped the survey at an obvious junction, with passage storming off into the distance.  A quick exit was made, but we managed to find time for a few photographs.  We had a successful trip exploring, surveying and photographing a mile of cave in 1½ hours.  The passage was so easy going that Mick is going to take his motorbike down it on the next trip.

Hang Trau

Whilst exploring Hang A, the village president informed us of a couple of other small caves in the valley. Out of politeness we thought it our duty to check them out.  First to be investigated was Hang Trau (cattle cave).  Its entrance is used as a cool cow shed in the summer heat, hence the name.  A short distance in, a climb ended the cattle’s forays into the phreatic tunnel passage.  The main way on eventually choked after a couple of hundred metres . Two passages led off the main route, the first we entered led down to a deep canal.  Hieu, keen to show off his new found swimming prowess, dived in with the survey tape, proceeded to swim to the middle of the pool, and with the buoyancy of a brick promptly disappeared from sight.  Deb dived in to the rescue, and pulled a gurgling and distressed Hieu from the pool.  After this little incident we decided to look for a dry bypass to "Drowning by Numbers".  A small draughting crawl was located, allowing safe access to the far side of the canal, which eventually led to a sump.

Hang Goi

Next on the agenda was Hang Goi (wind cave).  The entrance is located in a small thicket behind a villager's very steep vegetable patch. Half way up the 1:3 allotment the temperature dramatically dropped, and we continued up and on to find a low crawl from which issued a wicked draught.  The cave took it's time to grow in stature, crawl followed by low stoop, back to crawling then yet more stooping.  The draught, however, kept drawing us in.  Eventually, on intersecting a canyon, we gained passage dimensions worthy of a Vietnamese cave.  We followed the up-stream canyon noting several leads on both sides of the passage. The cave yet again changed character as we dropped into a stream passage. We followed upstream to a waterfall issuing from the roof.  A by-pass was soon discovered, so we continued our way up a series of climbs and shower baths.  Shorts and T-shirts were not the ideal caving kit for climbing up shower baths in an air-conditioned cave, so imagine our relief when we reached a 15m un-climbable waterfall.  A quick exit was made before the onset of hypothermia.  Returning the following day to check out the side passages, we dropped down the canyon and followed the passage through a complex series of tunnels and tubes, eventually ending in a draughting canal.  With the previous day's incident fresh in our minds, we left the swim for a future trip armed with wetsuits.  Our public relations exercise into a small hopeless looking limestone hillock had revealed nearly 2.5km as well as entertaining the villagers.

Quane Binh Province - Welcome to the jungle

The final fortnight of the expedition, a small team (HL, DL, DM, and PM) spent their time tidying up loose ends around Hang Khe Ry (the top sink to the Phong Nha hydrological system). Our base for ten days was a cobble island within the upstream entrance of Hang En, located 400m upstream from the Hang Khe Ry resurgence.  The 1999 expedition explored Hang Khe Ry to over 18 Km, encapsulating three major sinks. However there were still some interesting question marks, namely; where did the river in the fourth river sink go? What were the entrances seen in cliffs above the upstream Hang En Valley? Also, the 1994 Hang En exploration team was pushed for time, therefore missed the resurgence to Khe Ry, what else did they miss?

The route to base camp in Hang En was always an expedition in itself.  Our Vietnamese friends from Hanoi University and Dong Hoi Peoples' Committee had done us proud.  Our transport for the trip along the Ho Chi Minh trail to kilometer 14, was to be all singing and dancing 4x4 Vietnamese army jeeps with air-con and cushioned seats. (They must think we are getting soft). We normally travel on the top of a loaded six-wheeled rattan lorry, getting thrown around/out by metre deep potholes (bomb craters) whilst being dragged backwards through the jungle canopy. If that wasn't exciting enough, the contents of the jungle canopy are shaken into the back of the truck to share the ride (a snake landing in your lap can be a bit unsettling).  Our friends from Son Trach Peoples' Committee provided us with a guide, a committee man, and some willing porters to get the gear the day's walk from the Ho Chi Minh trail to Hang En. Best laid plans and all that, a US helicopter looking for MIA remains proceeded to fly into a limestone mountain (the US maps always did confuse ridges with valleys).  Needless to say, our all singing and dancing jeep had more of a pressing engagement ferrying US and Vietnamese military to the disaster zone. We caught a lift in the back of a bone shaker quarry wagon, allowing us to brush up on our Vietnamese flora and fauna. We were also wondering why our porters had such smug grins, with the prospect of an 8 to 10 hour carry through the forest ahead of them.  On approaching kilo 14, we prepared ourselves for demounting, but the truck just thundered on.  Ahead of us, as far as the eye could see, a swathe had been cut through the forest. A partially constructed dual carriageway bordered by workers and shanty towns, now occupied the once remote forest. Streamways and rivers (feeders for the Phong Nanh system) two years previously had provided welcome refreshment from the humidity of the forest, now ran red with spoil as the bulldozers used them as self emptying spoil heaps. Another rainforest bites the dust. Not content with our carry to Hang En now only taking 2 to 3 hours we proceeded to get lost for a few hours - caving in Quang Binh would be the same if you didn't have a long walk in.

Hang Ca

Whilst ridding himself of guano and sweat, after a disappointing investigation of the innermost recesses of Hang En, Duncan noticed that the water on the left side of the Hang En river was several degrees colder than the right.  Further investigation was needed, and wetsuit and gloves were put on to provide protection from the cold water and the poisonous plants that adorn the river banks.  We waded chest-deep upstream for 500m to the base of a cliff.  It was like a scene out of "Apocalypse Now".  Huge house-sized boulders concealed a crystal blue lake, large fish darted in and out of the shadows.  We had found the source of our cold water, we called the resurgence Hang Ca ( Fish Cave).  The phreatic river passage was out of our depth for all but 20m of the 300m cave. The passage was a series of lake chambers/tunnels interspersed with low, gloopy, sumpy regions, the cave ended unsurprisingly in a large sump.  We concluded that Hang Ca was probably the resurgence to the fourth sink.

Hang Doi

A chance meeting with a group of woodcutters camped in the other entrance of Hang En, provided us with a few leads high on the plateau.  The three lads told us they were going to camp for three nights in a Hang Ho ( Tiger Cave) and would pass Hang Doi (bat cave).  They agreed to show us Hang Doi, after they had finished their breakfast.  Breakfast was caught by waving a 3m stick through the air.  It consisted of swiftlets, plucked, then barbecued alive, and we politely declined the offer to tuck in.  The route to the top of the plateau led past the exit of Hang Khe Ry, followed by a steep scramble up a 100m cliff.  However, the route turned out to be a bit more severe than we expected, rickety ladders and vines were rigged on the VDiff. climbs traversing above Khe Ry's 50m high entrance.  An executive decision was quickly made - we needed ropes and harnesses to continue safely.  Duncan (being a climbing instructor) was not phased by the climbs, although he did free climb next to the fixed aids to be on the safe side.  He continued on with the woodcutters to check out the cave - it was miles away, over rough terrain and dense jungle.  Meanwhile, we checked out the river sink, it didn't go, but it did provide some entertaining route finding through an immense boulder ruckle with a full-on river churning through it.

We returned to the climbs and awaited Duncan's return.  He showed up just before dark, minus one penknife and torch which he traded in exchange for being taken back to the climbs.  We returned a few days later with harnesses, ropes and survey gear to conclude Hang Doi.

After our success with locating Hang Ca by the cold water detection method, we decided to try our luck further upstream.  Whilst drawing up surveys in previous years, we had noticed that the caves in this area followed lines of the major surface depressions; our map showed just such a line of depressions about 1 km upstream.  This needed to be checked out.  The vegetation in the valley floor upstream is secondary growth, thus the terrain is difficult to negotiate other than on woodcutters' paths or wading in the river. Limestone cliffs pen in the river, into a 300m wide flood plain.  Multiple oxbows and tributaries allowed us to skirt the edges of the cliffs in search of resurgences.  Our luck was holding, we detected another very cold water course and followed it for several hundred metres, until a wall of forest descended into our stream.  We now needed a machete to continue with this lead, and to gain access to a couple of visible entrances high on valley walls. The next day two porters, Mr Oih and Mr Nha, were dispatched to a Hmong tribe village, a couple of hours back towards Son Trach.  On return, they would blaze a trail to the two entrances high on the valley wall (unfortunately, both soon closed down).

Hang Lanh

Whilst proceedings had stopped due to lack of large cutting implements, we decided to go and check out the further upstream of the Hang En valley.  Our maps showed the river disappearing for 400m.  Along our way, whilst travelling in the river, we encountered twelve bemused woodcutters.  We introduced ourselves, Deb tried to explain what we were doing, and that we were looking for caves.  To which, they said, there was a cave 100m from here, but it will cost us.  Twelve of Howard's cigarettes later saw us standing in a freezing cold stream issuing from beneath a big boulder pile.  Closer examination revealed a small, insignificant entrance leading to large, significant cave passage.  The cave was known as Hang Lanh (cold cave) a source of fish and fresh water.  Hang Lanh was about 200m upstream from where the forest had stopped our passage the previous day, it also coincided with the line of depressions shown on our map.

We surveyed our way into Hang Lanh, through some beautiful river cave.  Our pace was occasionally broken by deep wading or short swims across turquoise pools.  It was sometimes difficult to determine the width of the passage we were traversing. The passage walls kept disappearing up huge slopes for 60 or 70m.  Many a time the survey was marked as a large side passage leading off, only to find later it was in fact just the passage wall.  The cave was liberally adorned with large, tropical stal.  Fossils of sand dollars covered the scalloped walls of one section of passage.  One of the most striking features of Hang Lanh was undoubtedly its gours - there are many huge gours coming into the streamway along its course.  We ended our first day's exploration by one such 20m high gour, and left the cave giggling wrecks, with 2km in the book.

With an early start and high spirits we began our second day's exploration of Hang Lanh.  First, we climbed the 20m gour using a human pyramid and the survey tape as hand line.  The passage at the top was big and led to a large aven.  It continued on, eventually leading back to the main stream. This was somewhat of a relief to us, as the prospect of a 20m abseil on a fibron tape measure was a bit daunting. We continued exploration and surveying up stream, constantly checking out possible side passages as we went. The cave continued to grow in size, with a very nicely shaped stream passage.  The steam eventually divided; we explored the left hand route first as it took the majority of the water.  We ran along a square passage, until some wades with low-ish air space were reached.  Nerves were a bit on edge on the far side of the wade.  Nobody wanted a repeat of the Hang Tien incident, when Trevor and Cal were trapped for 57 hours by a flash flood from Laos.  We were, after all, exploring one of the resurgences of Hang Tien, on Friday the 13th of all days.  Not hanging around, we continued surveying along the passage into a breakdown area. A climb through a loose boulder choke was eventually abandoned (Where Grabbers Fear to Tread').  The right hand passage was then explored.  This led to a complicated area of passages on three levels, the most spectacular of which was a 30m wide flat-floored oxbow, with a 15m high totem pole in the middle of it.  Another large chamber above contained rocket-like stal, but unfortunately reached the same conclusion as the streamway and choked.  We'd added another 2.7km into the book, and all that remained was to photograph our way out of this spectacular cave.

The Streamway. Nguom Nam Lao.













Hang Phuong Tien

Vi Xuyen

Ha Giang

    (-6,10) 16


Hang Na Hau

Ha Giang

Ha Giang



Italian Job - The Sequel

Meo Vac,

Ha Giang



Hang Ta Lung

Dong Van

Ha Giang



Pia Lung Xa

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Lo La Phin

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Ca Ha

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Pho Coa 1

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Pho Coa 2

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Rong

Dong Van

Ha Giang



Hang By Su Phin

Dong Van

Ha Giang



Hang Two Years Later

Thach An

Cao Bang



Pac Lung

Thach An

Cao Bang



Nguom Nap Biu

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-9,2) 12


Nguom Nam Lao

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-21,19) 40


Nguom Tong Long

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-17,2) 19


Nguom Ngam Darn

Thach An

Cao Bang



Nguom A

That Khe

Lang Son

(-51,26) 77


Nguom Ban San

Chang Ding

Lang Son



Nguom Ban Sien

Thach An

Cao Bang



N guom N am Lien

Thach An

Cao Bang



Nguom Nam

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Nguom Ireby Fell

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Lung Chuong

Trung Khanh

Cao Bang



Na Nguom 4

Trung Khanh

Cao Bang



Hang N ang Tien

Thach An

Cao Bang



Bicycle Cave

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Hang Coc Bang

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Cam Thon

Tong Cot

Cao Bang



Pac Bo 1

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Hang Ban Hue

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



N guom N a Giang

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



N guom Cuom

That Khe

Lang Son



Hang Trua

That Khe

Lang Son

(-18,3) 21


Hang Gio

That Khe

Lang Son

(47,-17) 64


Hang Lanh

Bo Trach

Quang Binh



Hang Doi

Bo Trach

Quang Binh



Hang Ca

Bo Trach

Quang Binh



Hang Thoc

Bo Trach

Quang Binh





    Total Length

2001 =


Martin in Nguom Nam Lao.


We visited 4 different provinces on the expedition, each having its unique and diverse landscapes and styles of caving.  In Ha Giang, the caves were in high mountains and required alpine style caving. Although at times getting permissions for going underground was difficult, the reconnaissance expedition did turn up a number of good leads, with huge potential for future trips.  In Cao Bang we had a field-day bagging 24km of cave in less than 2 weeks.  These caves were mainly river caves, although some tying up of loose ends from 1999 provided some excellent SRT caves.  We ran out of time in Cao Bang; there is still plenty more to have a go at and lots of unfinished business.  Long Son: We barely glanced at it, loads of going caves to finish and lots more to find. Quang Binh was its usual full-on jungle experience, the caves are remote, to say the least.  However, when you get to them, they are awesome.  We pieced together some more of the Truong Son massif jigsaw, and in doing so we extended the Phong Nha hydrological system to 44.5km of underground passage.  We also found out about some future leads.  In total, the expedition explored and surveyed over 30km of new cave in 6 weeks.  There are ample prospects for another expedition and many more besides.  We all had an excellent time with our Vietnamese friends, and must thank them wholeheartedly for their kindness and hospitality.


Hanoi University, Peoples Committee of Ha Giang, Peoples Committee of Cao Bang, Peoples Committee of Long Son, Peoples Committee of Quang Binh,  Sports Council of UK, David Hood, Ghar Parau Foundation, Mount Everest Foundation, Pace UK Ltd., Mulu Expedition 2000, Dachstein 2000, Power bar, Lyon Equipment, Thai Airways


Vet Eats Guinea Pig!!!

Being one man's epic story of the 2002 Expedition to Sima Pumacocha, Peru; the attainment of the South American depth record (in the highest significant cave system on Earth) and the commencement of the World's Highest Dig.

by Tony Jarratt


Avid readers of BB 513 will have been overawed by the story of the discovery and part exploration of Sima Pumacocha 2, near Laraos, Yauyos Province, Lima Dept., Peru.  Before the rope ran out , a depth of -430 metres was reached with the way on being big, vertical and a trifle damp.  The adjacent S.P.3 was descended in one mighty pitch of 120m to a draughting boulder choke.  These caves and the neighbouring, unexplored river sink of S.P.l were first reported by British caver Les Oldham who was doing geological work in the area. BEC export Nick Hawkes, also a prospecting geologist, joined forces with Les and partly descended S.P.2 to find it a "goer".  He eventually recruited last year's Anglo/Canadian/Peruvian/Aussie team for the first push into the system, all of whom were impressed enough to return this year together with four new and unsuspecting Mendip men - sacrificial offerings to appease the wrath of the Puma God.  Four Peruvian cavers from the CEESPE club in Lima, together with their driver also turned up for a look at the first part of the system and to do some surface recce.

The 2002 Expedition

On 1st September the Mendip "Saga Holidays" team of Rob, Bob, Dany and I arrived at Gatwick in good time for our flight to Atlanta, Georgia - or at least we would have been if it hadn't left three hours earlier.  I'm sure that vets are top class in their own profession but never let one indulge in deciphering flight times as the words "departure" and "arrival" can cause confusion.  By great good fortune and the patient excellence of Delta Airways staff we were allowed on the midday flight as standby passengers, but only after a mild panic when a young security lady decided to swab the inside of my tackle bag. The instant production of my explosive licence calmed things down but the dear girl had to scrub her hands several times to avoid contaminating everything in sight!

Another minor panic occurred later on the airplane when a nurse was summoned to attend a small baby, choking and gasping in its mother's arms.  Two seats away "baby killer Bradshaw" silently dropped another one ...

Arriving in Atlanta eight hours later, after an excellent flight, we spent a night at the Radisson Hotel and indulged in a light snack at the local Longhorn Steakhouse.  Next day a visit was paid to the Coca Cola Museum and the now subterranean original main street of the city advertised as Underground Atlanta.  White faces were few and far between in this predominantly black state, somewhat reminiscent of South Africa.  Following several fine pints of Guinness at the airport we left that evening for another excellent Delta flight to Lima, arriving there at 11pm local time for a beer, pisco and wine session at Nick's hacienda in La Molina.

An early start next day saw us packing the Rio Tinto Exploration Toyota 4WD pick-up then heading south down the desert lined Pan-American Highway and south east up the stunning Canete valley towards the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes, pausing for an interesting lunch of fried guinea pig and chips (with beer of course) in Lunahauna.  Here we basked in the sunshine after having escaped from the gloomy sea mist of the monotonous desert coastline.

After gradually climbing from sea level to 2,850m, we arrived at the Casa de Gerencia near the village of Llapay.  Jeny, our attractive hostess, produced a delicious meal (bereft of small, deep fried heads) and then the rest of our team turned up from a rigging trip almost to the bottom of Huanca Gorge.  A couple of crates of Cristal cerveza were necked and we climbed gratefully into our clean beds to dream of altitude and glory.

The 4th September saw the stalwart riggers pressing on down to the X-Files Ledge and photographing the known passage while we spent an acclimatisation day investigating potential cave sites in the mountains above Pumacocha.  Two short caves near the Yauricocha Mine, high above the picturesque village of Laraos were first looked at. Yauricocha Cave 1, at an altitude of 4,630m. is a 1.5m. diameter by l4.5m. deep pot located at the side of the dirt road leading to the mine.  The scenery is rugged and starkly beautiful with spectacularly vertically bedded limestone peaks.  Higher, snow capped ranges provide a magnificent background and we were impressed with the fact that the melt water from these feeds both the nearby Pacific and the distant Atlantic via the Amazon Basin.  Not quite the roof of the world but bloody close to the attic!  The bottom of the pot was choked with rocks and coils of alloy power cable dumped by the mining company.  Being some 230m. above the main system it was obviously worth a trial dig so a return was planned with a pulley and hauling rope.  (This was done a couple of days later when some 1.5m. of depth was gained after the removal of several coils of wire and a dozen tackle sacks of rock.  A stony, earthen floor was reached but further work could well yield a way on. A bit far for Wednesday nights though). To remind us just where we were a herd of llamas passed by and the herdsman stopped to have a chat with Nick about other potential cave sites.  Flurries of hail and snow added to the surreal atmosphere as did the view down valley of a c.70m. high conical limestone pillar.  This is actually an Inca prince turned to stone and has the somewhat unfortunate name of Tunshu Wanka.

Continuing over the pass towards the mine we found Y.C.2.  A free climbable ramp led to a c.20m. diameter chamber, choked in all directions.  One bone was noted but no wall paintings or other archaeological evidence.

Permission was then gained from the heavily armed guards at the mine to drive through the property and recce. a nearby limestone area where the abandoned Mina Exito (Success Mine) and the totally choked Millpoca and Exito Sinks were investigated and written off. To continue the pyrotechnic theme of this expedition a root around in a digging bag found in the mine (I can't help myself) revealed lots of sticks of gelignite which clearly needed a good home but were reluctantly left in situ.  The main level had collapsed - or been blown in - after 50m.  Much of the spoil from this seemingly extensive lead/silver working had been dumped in the huge Exito Sink doline and will doubtless present future problems as it is on a direct line from Sima Pumacocha to the supposed resurgence at Alis Springs.

We continued our travels past the huge and distinctly eco-unfriendly settling pond of Yauricocha Mine to the lower village of Tinco where sweeties and local music tapes (llama shagging tunes I am reliably informed) were purchased.  A narrow, high and spectacular limestone canyon was then followed to the boulder choked springs, some 16km. from and 1,000m. lower than the main S.P. sink.  More superb gorges were driven through on our way back down to Llapay which we reached after a round trip of 73km.  No caves of note had been found apart from the dig site of Y.C.1. In the evening the Peruvian team arrived to share a few beers before heading for their hotel in the village.

Meanwhile Ian had dropped a bag of bolting gear into the raging torrent of the (apparently non PC) Shining Path and was distressed.  Rob the owner of the virgin Petzl hammer (35 pounds) was even more distressed.  I sell them and was not unduly distressed.

Next day came our baptism of fire in SP2.  This magnificent pothole was named after the nearby Pumacocha (Quechua for Mountain Lion Lake).  Nick has recently seen puma spoor in the snow here.  Leaving the Lima cavers at the entrance to do their own thing, Bob, Dany, Rob, Nick and I braved the howling gale emerging from the cave and abseiled down a series of mind-blowing dry shafts and almost vertical ramps to a horrifically unstable boulder choke at -240m.  The thin atmosphere is full of fine mist blown up by the draught from the river inlet at -300m.  This was unfortunate for photographers Bob and Dany but fortunate for me as, especially on the 113m. Ammonite Shaft, it reduces the visibility and exposure factor a little!  The photographers were suffering from "depth shock" and wisely stopped at the Shining Path while the three of us continued to the X-Files Ledge where Rob commenced a hairy traverse out above the thundering hell of the Cascadas de Don Jesus in an attempt to pass this c.60m. deep maelstrom.  He managed about 20 hard won metres before the noise, exposure, spray and soroche (altitude sickness) got to him.  Nick and I could do little but await his return though on the way down I had employed some time to clamber down to the raging torrent below the main inlet for a critically timed "dump".  With a sense of extreme relief I doffed harnesses, metalwork and oversuit, etc. to squat above the deluge and, with no book to read, was forced to admire the scenery.  If I hadn't already been in the process I would have shat myself as I realised that the coils of "wire" polluting the riverbed were each the nest of several shiny copper detonators.  This concentrated my mind on the job in hand - and on watching my steps on completion of the task!

The long drag out was my first experience of prolonged prussiking at such an altitude and I found that it took two to three times longer than the descent with plenty of rests needed.  These gave one plenty of time to reflect on the single, thin rope stretching into infinity above and below and only touching the walls near the razor sharp fossils….. I was spat onto the surface at 10pm and by midnight we were about to organize a rescue for Rob when a muffled "Yoh" from the entrance came as a great relief.

On reflecting on this trip we realised that this great pothole was essentially easy and superbly rigged by Mark, Snablet and team using a battery drill rented from an unsuspecting Oxford hire shop.  Our lack of acclimatisation and big pitch training (Hunters' Hole after five pints not being quite enough Dany!) caused a few problems and the psychological effects of travelling up and down this awesome hole were not insignificant.  Not a bad showing for the Old Mendip Gits though. (Meanwhile the Young Mendip Gits had been getting deservedly stoated in the bars of Llapay).

A rest day followed for some while Nick, complete with bad back, and Snablet returned to push the depths.

Dany drove Matt and I up to Pumacocha where our objective was to survey the 120m. deep free hang of SP3 and attempt to dig a connection through the terminal boulder choke into the main system.  At the nearby miners' hut, kindly lent to us by the manager of San Valentin Mine, we changed and had an inspired brew of coca leaf tea with Gatorade - a vivifying drink which I guarantee you can't get in the U.S.A!  While sunbathing in my shreddies I was suddenly confronted by the ancient crone who dwelt in a nearby thatched hut and herded llamas.  It seems that she was adamant that we were unleashing demons from the cave to create illness in her flock.  A bar of melted Hershey chocolate mollified her and she tottered off muttering in Quechua about the attractiveness of practically naked Englishmen.

On the way to the cave we investigated the large, abandoned Mina Ipillo situated above the hut and reached a (blasted?) roof fall after 210m. of 4m. square roadway.  I got up and over this for 10m. but was not happy with the air conditions or state of the roof.  There is a dodgy way on back down to the main level but no obvious draught. This mine, at 4,462m. a.s.l. was worked for copper, lead, zinc, gold and silver and has left a long embankment of spoil to disfigure the beautiful Pumacocha Valley. The thousands of soles worth of high explosives littering the cave system are obviously derived from here - SPI being located almost at the end of the spoil heap.

Matt was by now suffering from the effects of high altitude alcohol excess and swearing never to drink rum again so, taking advantage of the weather, we changed our ambitious plans to the more mellow project of photographing the entrances and running a surface survey from SP2 to SP3 and onwards to five other entrances downstream which we had identified earlier.  This was soon accomplished and we then realised that four of these entrances led to an interconnected cave system which we now had no choice but to survey.

Three of these four entrances were protected by drystone walls from the intrusion of animals, the fourth being a steep 3m. drop.  Inside we found a pleasant and beautifully scalloped little system which was unfortunately despoiled by rubbish including lengths of plastic pipe, an oil drum, alpaca fleeces, old clothes, a sleeping mat, two 2m. drill steels, coils of power cable and some graffiti dated 1946 or 1996.  Most of this clatch had apparently been scrounged or liberated from the nearby mines.  Despite the obvious potential there were again no cave paintings or signs of archaeological importance as found in other local rock shelters.  The drystone walls and aqueduct on the surface appear to have been originally of great age and later modified by more recent herdsmen and miners.  I suspected that this was a pre-Inca, high altitude settlement site as used in the "ayllu" system of taking advantage of all possible ecological niches from sea level to snow line in order to avoid famine in the tribal community. We were soon to find a valuable clue towards proving this.

In the middle of the system we descended a 10m. deep pot whose lip was protected by a drystone wall constructed on a ledge about 1.5m. down.  A talus cone at the bottom of the moonmilk lined pot was full of animal skulls, mainly goat.  Two impassable, strongly outward draughting holes between deposits of moonmilk and calcite revealed open spaces beyond but bang will be needed to pass these into the presumed connection with the main system.  Having good relations with the local mining companies makes this a feasible project and it would not affect any possible archaeological artefacts in the talus cone.  On our return to the head of the pot a grotty little bedding plane was noticed behind the ledge and Matt life lined me down to this in order to complete the survey. I crawled in feet first, over a narrow rift, to find it closed down after a couple of metres.  On the way out I glanced down at the large stone under my chest to find it staring back! A round headed human skull (not purposefully deformed as were some Inca skulls) lay on its left side, wedged among rocks. A couple of leg (?) bones were noted some 2m. down the narrow rift below and Bob later found a pelvic bone further into the bedding plane when he photographed the find.  How the hell this skeleton got here is a mystery but a purposeful cave burial is most likely.  It has the aura of great antiquity so is unlikely to be a victim of Sendero Luminoso terrorists.  Other theories of a crushed miner or injured victim of a pit sacrifice expiring on their desperate free climb out are improbable.  A burial would add credence to the settlement site theory and it is quite likely that there are other human remains interred in the talus slope or earth floor of the horizontal passages above.  Another possibility is that this could be the remains of an ancestral mummy hidden from the Catholic conquistadores who were taking great pains to eradicate the ancient Andean religions.  There were no obvious artefacts and the skull was left undisturbed. The alcade (mayor) of Laraos was informed of the discovery but didn't seem particularly excited.  An English professor with interests in the region has also been contacted with no reply as yet.

This amazing cave threw one other surprise at us with the arrival of a 12I5cm. long humming bird which was either feeding from the walls or scared by our presence from entering its underground nest. Is this a previously unreported cave dwelling species? (Anette Becher informs me that they are well known - another chance to be famous blown out!).

Well satisfied with our day's work we returned to the hut via a 2m. long rock shelter above SPI where a store of drying llama pats was found.  With no trees around this is used by the herdsmen for cooking and heating fuel. Our fuel was more "high altitude" tea and beef risotto then rapidly into our grubby sleeping bags.

Nick and Snablet had managed to bottom the Cascadas de Don Jesus pitch to find a steeply descending, boulder floored passage with part of the main river sinking and part running beneath the floor.  Yet another pitch halted progress but they were convinced that they had the South American depth record in the bag and after waking us up to inform us of this fact insisted on celebrating it with a dram of Laphraoig which even the now temporarily abstemious Matt was forced to imbibe.  Mark and Ian had gone in after them to push on even further, drop more pitches and rejoin the main river "thundering vertically out of the roof' and earning the name "Viagra Falls".  They stopped at the head of another pitch and at a depth of c.-580m. Mark described their extensions and the cave in general, as "totally cool".  Being Canucks they celebrated with tea!

After a spiffing breakfast of chicken noodle soup and tuna, washed down with more special tea, Matt and I entered SP3 at 9.40am, passed the X-Files Ledge traverse - gobsmackingly exposed and dripping with rebelays - and started our task of surveying the extensions at the top of the boulder slope below the almost deafening Cascadas.  We had opted out on surveying the traverse itself until we had figured how the hell to do it.  We pressed on around or over house sized boulders in a large gallery festooned with flood deposited detonators hanging high up on the walls and on down Pozo Jeny, named after our hostess.  We then swung across the deep Lago Yerlina, dedicated to our vivacious housemaid and then along a short horizontal (!) streamway to the Rolling Thunder pitch.  Ahead roared the main river inlet, a wicked place indeed.  The Britney Shakira pitch (pop music appreciating housemaid's baby daughter!) alongside this, led to the current end with a huge and well watered passage/pitch heading off into the gloom.  Here we halted the survey and returned to our starting place.  I ascended the pitch and traverse, taking the best part of an hour, clutching the end of a 100m. fibron tape and by using walkie talkies we were able to connect the surveys with a single leg of 77m. at an angle of 68 degrees - is this a record?  The true record was later revealed when Rob computed the figures to give a depth of 584.1m. and a length of 842.9m.  This beat the rival Brazilian cave by c.150m. to easily give us the glory and prove the system as the world's highest cave of significance (but beware Bolivia).

Bob and Rob had that day been on a rope delivery mission to Rolling Thunder but were still suffering from soroche.  We were finally spat out of the cave by the draught at midnight after a 15 hour trip which personally tested me to my limits.  Matt was dissuaded from burning his SRT kit and we put our brains into neutral ready for the de-rigging which was becoming imminent.  An inch of snow on the surface added to the fun as we drove back down the vertiginous dirt track to a clean bed in Llapay.

A heavy rainstorm heralded the following day which we dedicated to eating, drinking and reading while Mark and Snablet did the final pushing trip to reach a roomy sump beyond two more pitches with only a couple of metres of rope to spare.  The final depth was -638m. and length 931 m.  They reported a possible desperate climb up one wall to a large, draughting passage which will probably bypass the sump. They commenced de-rigging but soon became knackered and headed out to well deserved glory and beer.

While they were scampering up the equivalent of two Pen Hill Masts with a river inside the rest of us were manfully doing our duty for public relations by necking vast quantities of beer and dancing the night away with the local lovelies at Jeny's bar in Llapay.  The pyrotechnic theme continued with an exploding paper and cane bull which a local character put on his back before it was lit by a well wisher.  The assorted fireworks distributed about the body of the bull burst into action and our man rushed around Llapay's singular street to good effect before he was incinerated creating havoc, hilarity and a spate of drunken photography.  Home made rockets, a selection of local piss heads and another infusion of ale kept most of the BEC contingent going until the early hours.  A memorable night.

De-rigging day saw your scribe "as grumpy as an Easton taxi driver" and I was dragged, kicking and screaming up to the Mina Ipillo hut a couple of hours before following Nick, Matt and Ian down the cave.  This lonely, hungover trip was enlivened by a nearly fatal epic partway down Ammonite Pot when I fortuitously noted that I had clipped my short cowstail around the maillon instead of inside it.  Top tip - always utilise BOTH cowstails!!!  At the Shining Path oxbow, just below the main river inlet I found a large orange poly. bivvy bag left for my salvation by fellow drunk Matt and clambered in replete with life saving Russian carbide generator to keep warm while I awaited the de-riggers.  After two and a half hours of fitful sleep in the all pervading thunder I ran out of available carbide and retreated to the bottom of the Huanca Gorge to report my colleagues' non arrival and the possibility of their being flooded in by rain and snow melt.  Rob and Bob were the recipients and they also had absolutely no desire to suffer the X-Files traverse in search of the late comers though Rob, suffering from a nasty, infected sore on his ankle caused by a rubbing foot loop, unselfishly volunteered to go and look for them.  After waiting for an hour I heard Nick's voice emanating from the boulder choke - a great relief to both me, Rob, Bob (sciatica in the hip) and three oblivious partygoers back down in Llapay.

All eventually staggered out to the surface between the hours of 1 and 7 am to meet the redoubtable Juan who had dossed down in the Toyota all night in order to ferry emerging cavers the short distance back to the hut.  He deserves a medal.

Next day the Mendip contingent left for the fleshpots of Lima leaving the honour of de-rigging to the colonials and ex-pats. On our last night Les turned up with a barrel of tasty Peruvian draught beer having the (hardly mouth watering) name of Colon. So ended our hols.  All agreed that though bloody hard work it had been a memorable experience.  The scenery, people, food and beer were all first class and the ladies, Jeny and Yerlina, had done us proud.  Our absent sponsor, Don Jesus Arias Davila deserves our greatest thanks for his generosity as does Sofia Hawkes and her housemaid for their hospitality.  Nick's bosses at Rio Tinto and Juan "Diablo" are absolute stars.  Muchas gracias.

I am told that there is a horizontal cave in the jungle that needs investigating.

Anacondas, tarantulas, cocaine running terrorists, malaria and alligators abound.  Sounds great Nick - book us up!

The Team

Nick Hawkes (BEC - U.K. & Peru), Les Oldham (ex NSG - U.K. & Peru), Matt Tuck (BEC - U.K. & Canada), Rob Harper (BEC - U.K.), Dany Bradshaw (BEC - U.K.), Bob Cork (BEC - U.K.), Tony Jarratt (BEC - U.K.), Pete "Snablet" McNab (BEC U.K.), Ian McKenzie (ASS - Canada), Mark Hassell (BCSF & ASS - Australia & Canada), Juan "Diablo" Castro (Rio Tinto - Peru), Carlos Morales Bermudez, Rolando Carascal Miranda, Samuel Arias Mansial and James Cuentas Alvarado (all CEESPE - Peru), Robert Luis Bejarand (driver - Peru).

Ed. Photographs and surveys from the expedition will appear in the next BB.


Caving in Tasmania, Australia

by Phil (MadPhil) Rowsell

This article is aimed to give the reader a general understanding of the range of cave systems, their access and general differences in Tasmania compared to the UK.


Tasmania is a small island at the base of Australia, directly south from Melbourne.  It is a similar size to Wales being 260km by 260km, with a population around ½ million.  It is very similar to a rural England with a climate to match (it does have the bonus that it generally gets a pretty good summer!!)  Tasmania is often likened to New Zealand and for this reason, it remains relatively un-trafficked, people preferring to head to New Zealand rather than explore the hidden treasures of Tasmania.  Almost all adventure sports can be pushed to the extreme here, caving is no exception boasting the best in Australia.

Over the last three years I have spent two six months slots in Tasmania, the first six months, doing a mixed bag of activities, before spending the last two months of the trip caving with the local Hobart club (Southern Tasmanian Caveneers STC). Most of this time was spend doing the usual tourist trips and getting to know the local members etc, but I did managed to spend a reasonable time helping re-surveying a system called Khazad Dum (KD).  This was enough to give me the desire to head back for another six months in December 2001 for a trip solely devoted to caving!!  This time, I capitalised on the friends and ground work I did last trip. I managed about four and a half months devoted to caving, doing some 50 trips (including three expeditions to Mt Anne) and spending over 350 hours underground.  For my efforts, I am now finally losing the "foreigner" tag and being regarded as a local by the club.  The appeal of the place is so great I am heading back again for another six months, in mid August!!

General Information

Tasmania has a wide variety of cave systems, ranging from large horizontal networks ( Exit Cave approximately 16km of surveyed passage) to deep vertical ones (several fight for the deepest cave in Australia around the 360m mark).  Many of the horizontal caves are active river systems with several vertical entrances, giving variety of through trips and exchanges with varying degrees of difficulty/exposure.  Dependant on the cave area, decorations can vary from non existent, to mind bogglingly stunning.  The tight access controls given to these highly decorated caves generally make it difficult for "foreigners" to visit.  With notice the local clubs can sometimes organize permits etc, however when compared to the UK, there are many other systems with good formations that have unrestricted access.

Most of the cave systems require SRT techniques, to either bottom the cave or access some of the complex horizontal systems below.  The caves can be compared to a large Yorkshire, with multiple pitch lengths generally of the 40-50m range, with pitches of 90-110 m fairly common.  The cave systems are generally damp to wet in nature, being slightly cooler than in the UK and enough to warrant a furry and TSA type over suit.  Some of the hardened locals however, just cave in thermals and home made Wombat type suits!

Major Differences


Cave conservation in Tasmania is very strong.  Bolting is generally only undertaken when absolutely necessary and all natural possibilities have been exhausted.  There is a strong desire not to follow the path of the UK caves where pitch heads abound with countless spits and now 'P' hangers, many of which are redundant or unnecessary. As a result many of the less popular but sporting caves are rigged using natural anchors with occasional spits where a blank is drawn.  A good degree of natural rigging skill and equipment is required compared to the relatively easy "join the dots together of UK rigging".

The popular caves do have reasonably bolted pitches, but with the increasing visits to areas and more spits appearing, some of these are now being 'P' hangered to limit the number of bolts being placed.  The author has been involved with this programme and to date 3 caves have been 'P' hangered.  This programme will only involve some of the popular/classic tourist type caves.


Unlike the UK where cave descriptions and guides etc are readily available, in Tasmania (and it seems Australia) a shroud of secrecy is kept on both the locations and cave details. This can be highly frustrating for people used to the free access of data and arrive at self-contained expeditions etc.  The local clubs are generally very hospitable and will guide or direct you to suitable caves/areas.  As you are accepted into the fold, the more the information flows!

Local know ledge of the area is in any case pretty essential as most of the areas are deep in bush or forest requiring ½ to I hour walk.  Some have taped marked "tracks" maintained by the cavers, and generally involve varying degrees of log gymnastics.  The less popular caves can be a straight bush bash. GPS has helped to locate these entrances (if you can obtain the coordinates!) but getting to the entrance can be as difficult and as exhausting as the caving trip itself!  On one trip, the author spent 3 hours bush bashing 600m to get from a dirt track to a cave known as Satan’s Lair!

The Prospect of Rescue

Unlike the UK, cave rescue is under the control of Police Search and Rescue Unit, which deals with all forms of rescue.  The police then call on the available caving clubs to provide the experience for the cave rescue.  Unfortunately the number of cavers in Tasmania is limited and those with the knowledge to perform a rescue in deep remote areas you are generally caving with and are obviously out of the equation!  Coupled with the remoteness of most of the caves, the only form of rescue (as with general remote expeditions) is self!

The author negotiating one of the many fallen logs!

Caving Areas of Tasmania

The Figure 1 shows a map of Tasmania and the position of the main karst areas.  Of these only three would be considered to be the main stay caving areas which are regularly visited.  These are Junee-Florentine, Ida Bay and Mole Creek.  The other areas are either small with limited number of caves or they are remote places often in wilderness areas and require expedition type trips to access them.  These remote areas do hold some large systems, and offer great exploration possibilities.

Key to Caving Areas




Junee- Florentine


Mt Crips


Mt Anne


Guns Plains


Mole Creek




Mt Weld


Ida Bay


Precipitous Bluff

Figure 1 Map of Tasmania and the major Karst Areas

The Junee-Florentine Valley

Situated about 1.5 hours drive from Hobart, the Junee-Florentine Valley forms probably the best caving area in Tasmania, certainly for sport caving.  Most of the systems are still active, and care has to be exercised with regards to the weather (flooding).  This area is not renowned for its decorations, but there is the odd gem if you know where to look!

The Junee Florentine area is a large drainage system (12 by 13 km) involving several valley systems which resurge at the Junee Resurgence.  The area holds many separate complex systems which have all been dye traced to this single resurgence.  Links between the systems are continually being sought and the elusive "master drain" has still not yet been found!  The majority of the caves are vertical in nature with many pitches over 80m. Some of the systems do drop into river systems that provide through trips to a horizontal entrance but the majority are true SRT.  Most of the renowned trips (difficult and sporting trips) in Tasmania are in this area.  (Ice Tube 360m one of the deepest caves in Australia, Niggly Pot, 100m of pitches along difficult passage followed by a 186m free hang pitch, to a large blind horizontal system, Serendipity - regarded as one of the most sporting trips in the country).  There are many other caves etc of less arduous nature, several of which are regarded as "classic" tourist trips, Slaughterhouse-Growling Swallet, Dwarrowdelf-Khazad Dum exchange, but again most of these are vertical.

Ida Bay

This area is dominated by the Exit Cave system, with some 16km of surveyed passage. Its true length however is unknown due to the poor correlation of the survey data!  It is an active river system, with a number of vertical entrances providing the scope for a variety of through trips and exchanges, one of best being a Mini Martin 115m free hang entrance pitch in daylight.  Exit Cave is very well decorated in places, and is restricted by a permit system, but by good planning the local clubs can obtain a permit with relative ease.

The area also has a large number of straight vertical trips (bounce trips) generally to a depth of 180m to 200m with only limited horizontal passage in the cave.  Many of these however, provide good digging opportunities with potential connections to the exit system, a thing the locals rarely do "why dig when we can find virgin passage elsewhere!"  It is in this area the author dug through a flattener to find a major extension to a cave system which will hopefully be connected into the Exit System on the next visit.

The lime tree in Marakoova Cave. Mole Creek.

Mole Creek

Probably the most famous and well known of the Tasmanian caving areas being renown for its beautiful formations.  Many of the caves are horizontal systems, offering easier caving opportunities, but most are permit only caves.  While some are relatively easy to obtain through the local clubs, gems like Kubla Khan are subjected to such severe restrictions (somewhat ridiculous) that it is nearly impossible for "foreigners" to gain access, unless by sheer luck.  (After a year of trying I still haven't got a Kubla Khan trip!!).  The effort to obtain these permits however is worthwhile as their beauty and formations are stunning

Highlights of the last trip

One of the main aims of my trip however was to re-survey and push a remote complex system known as Anne-a-Kanada (presently 360m deep) with the aim of attaining the deepest cave in Australia record.  The system is situated in the south west wilderness on a (1000m) ridge system near Mt Anne.  As the area is in a National Park, no helicopter flights etc are permitted so all gear has to be hiked in.  This involves a 4 to 7 hour walk dependent on load.  Three 6-7 day expeditions as well as several gear carry trips were undertaken by myself and Jeff Butt.  Together we have re-surveyed most of the cave and new ground pushed, but the results of these expeditions will form a separate BB article.

Stal in Lynn's Cave.

Another project worthy of mention is the extension of Baader Meinhof in the Ida Bay area.  Here the author was shown a tight flattener with a cobble stream way running through. The passage was too tight to squeeze through but had a howling draught (and we mean howling!!) indicating a probable connection into the Exit System.  The locals thought the prospect of digging this too daunting or may be degrading!!  On seeing it my comment was "Man this would have been pushed long ago!" Several digging trips and the restrictions were removed and the author broke through into a large extension with the possibility of a connection to Exit.  Again the results and survey of this extension will feature as a separate BB article.

As well as these projects, I did many of the classic trips, found several new small caves and extensions in various others.  One goal I still haven't achieved is to do Niggly Pot and the 186m free hang (the black super giant) much to my annoyance third time lucky I guess!!


Tasmania is a great little undiscovered island, similar to a rural England some 20 years or so ago.  Most of the cave areas are predominantly vertical systems with large horizontal systems at a base level, some of which have horizontal entrances. The required skill level varies right across the board, from relatively easy to a very serious undertaking.  This is complicated by the fact that the majority of the caves are not bolted to any extent and that a good level of skill in natural rigging is required.  The decoration in the caves varies from non existent to mind blowing, dependent on the caving area, although access to the pretty areas is permitted and can be very difficult (if not impossible) to attain.

With the limited number of cavers and hence traffic, new passage can be found relatively easily especially those in the more remote areas.  The digging potential is huge but it is generally frowned upon from the cave conservation point of view.  If conducted, it has to be planned carefully with good homework and a clear aim to prevent bad feeling from the locals.  Banging would be tantamount to treason!

Overall, Tasmania is well worth a visit with some exciting caving so much so I am off in August for a 3rd six month session.  If you're heading out that way, contact myself or the local cave club (the Southern Tasmanian Caveneers STC) as they are a good bunch and will show you around. See ya there.

Formations in Lynn's Cave.

Hut Warden's Report 2001-2002

A big thanks to all who helped with various jobs throughout the year: Fiona, Smithy, Neil, J.Rat, et al. Even Quackers helped me to clean the changing room once.  Most of all I would like to thank the "wreckers" for not wrecking a much better J atmosphere when people can come and stay - without having to watch their backs', or duck (no pun intended).

Takings and visitor tallies will end much the same as last year:

Members' Nights: 396

Visitors' Nights: 351

Good luck to all the workers on the new extensions.


A Note from your New Membership Secretary

Hello, I am Sean Howe and I was appointed at this year’s AGM to the position of Membership Secretary for the year 2002 to 2003.  My intention is to continue the good work of my predecessor, Roz Bateman and I am grateful for her offer of help whilst I become familiar with the system.

This year I attempted to reduce some of the postage costs by sending an electronic version of the renewal form bye-mail.  (The distribution list I used was obtained from the current record of members e-mail addresses.)  In the e-mail I asked the recipient to print out the renewal form, complete and return to myself in post or person.  I did ask for acknowledgment of this method and specified a reply date otherwise I would put a paper copy in the post.

I know there was some duplication as some of you I e-mailed also received a renewal in the post. Next year I hope it will be slicker and that those of you on e-mail will be aware to look forward to receiving your renewal form shortly after the AGM.

I did receive some renewal forms completed electronically and attached to an e-mail.  However on a lighter side, there was a member who shall remain nameless that failed to attach their form correctly to the e-mail.  Well I hope that person is better at attaching themselves next time they are on a rope!!

May I thank all of you who have already renewed their membership and/or updated their details. Furthermore, a special thank you goes to the contributions I received from a number of life members.

Remember, this is your opportunity as a member to ensure the club has your correct contact details (address, telephone and e-mail) as this information is used in the distribution of the BB, the members address booklet and any other written communications.  On this note if your details change in the future please inform the current membership secretary.

What happens when details are incorrect is that e-mails bounce back and letters might get returned. One of the letters returned had written on it, and I shall quote:  'Not at this address for at least 15 yrs'.  This was a life member but is not specifically related to them, however I do not have details of the following life members:

  • Bob Kitchen
  • Dermot Statham



Can you help, and then at least we can ask if they would like to receive correspondence.

Sean Howe


Extracts From The Logbook.

6/10/02: Swildon's Hole (Short Round Trip): Bea Goford, Greg Brock, and Nick Gymer

This was my first time through the Mud Sump, and it was good.  The water was nonexistent on the Short Dry Way, and levels were pretty low throughout.  None in the Mud Sump so no need to bail it, we set the siphon running in the Troubles, but didn't hang around as the water was so low.  Despite the low water levels, the "wet puddles" (as opposed to dry puddles?) and the sump were the perfect cure for after-dinner hangovers.  Also, my light went out at the top of a climb down to the Landing and only my superior common sense presented my falling to certain death .... 2½ hours. Bea.

13/10/02: Longwood Swallet: Gonzo and Tony Boycott

Prospecting and CO2 testing down as far as Reynolds’s.  No leads, lots of CO2!!

23/10/02: Eighteen Acre Swallet: Graham, John Walsh and Shaggy

We couldn't find the place we were digging ten years ago, but the Shepton have done a lot of work and their dig isn't going in the direction the old dig was.  Looked in the SMCC Journal and found that the passage we dug has been backfilled, no hint of a draught throughout despite cold +2 degrees, the garage was also ramraided this evening.

9/11/02: Slaughter Stream Cave (Wet Sink), Forest of Dean: Vince Simmonds, Peter Bolt, Rich Blake and Henry Bennett

Upstream to waterfall - into Three Deserts (very dry and sandy) to the end of Flow Choke Passage (some incredible pink limestone) - returned to Boulder Chamber along Dead Dog Passage and into extensions beyond Pig Trough.  Returned to Main Streamway via Coal Seam Passage and Slade Passages. Streamway had aroma of effluent and occasional floating tissue paper! Impressive entrance pitches - good excavation - fine trip.  4½ hours.

27/12/02: Aggy: Paul Brock, Mark Ireland, Sean Howe, Pete Hellier and John Walsh

Nice trip to Turkey Pool, Coal Passages (?) and odd passages here and there.  John managed to use up 3 batteries?? 18 hours 6 hours (approx.). I will admit. ... .! am crap at writing up caving trips). PB.

8/02/03: St. Cuthbert's Swallet (September Series): Jim Cochrane, Greg Brock, Crispin Lloyd, Tyrone Bevan, Rich Bayfield and Chris Morgan (CUCC)

Excellent photographic trip to the stunning September Series - took two flash guns so was able to back and sidelight pretty well.  Found September Series without too much difficulty and spent half an hour, then came out taking a few shots on the way at Wire Rift and the ladders - Jim.

12/03/03: Hazlenut Swallet: Nick Mitchell, John Walsh and Graham Johnson

First trip since July '02, the sump has silted up quite a bit, a rather large, bang/drilling operation is the way to go.

The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Adrian Hole

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Adrian Hole
Caving Secretary: Greg Brock
Tackle Master: Mike Alderton
Hut Engineer: Neil Usher
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general


Welcome to the Summer Issue. It is firstly my sad duty to report (for those who have not yet heard) the untimely loss of Dave "Pooh" Yeandle who was killed in April in a flying accident in Spain.  His death deprives the BEC and the British caving community of one of its finest cave divers and another of its characters.

On a much happier note, the main caving news on Mendip is that the dig in Hunters Lodge Inn Sink has finally gone to reveal a large, well decorated passage (much to the surprise of Tony Jarratt and all those involved).  As a result this BB is largely centred on this area of Mendip. Unfortunately, one of the keenest of the digging team, Tyrone Bevan, has not yet seen the extensions following several weeks spent in hospital with heart problems.  Now back at home we wish him a speedy recovery.  Another of the team John Walsh has also been ill with what at first seemed to be a case of Weil' s Disease.  Although luckily the virus proved to be something else and John has recovered, care must be taken in the Sink as the illness followed a very wet digging trip - best to avoid drinking the stream in the entrance.

Other caving news includes the reopening of the Mud Sump in Swildon's.  After many years of misguided and half-hearted attempts by others, Phil Rowsell has designed a fairly fool proof system and he, Alison Moody (WCC) and others have both drained it and are now working to modify the bailing dams to enable it to be kept open.  Further afield news is coming back from Austria of a very successful expedition with new leads and over a kilometre of new passage found (see the Autumn Issue for a full report).

NB The autumn issue will be going to press in early October - send your articles now.  This issue is late, a fact I will not apologise for as I can only publish when I have enough articles.  You write, you get BB’s on time.  Thanks to those who can be bothered.


Digging and Diving News.

Eastwater Cavern.

Phil Rowsell and Alison Moody (WCC) have been working on enlarging the promising rift passage at the end of Phil's Soho extensions (see last BB).  Their plan is to push along for a few more metres in order to be able to see to assess just how much further enlargement the passage will require - and thus how feasible pushing this draughting and extremely promising passage is.  Worryingly, Phil also reports that the main stream is now flowing down through Boulder Chamber and thus further undermining the entrance.  It could well be time to open one of the known alternative entrances to provide a safer route into the cave.  No work has taken place in Morton's Pot so far this summer due to the wet weather and more crucially the lack of manpower.  However, with less people needed now to dig Hunters Lodge Inn Sink, the Wednesday Night Diggers plan to tidy up the dig and attempt to avoid any great infilling of the shaft - some two metres have already been lost.

Hunter's Lodge Inn Sink.

At the end of June Tony Jarratt and his cast of thousands finally broke out of the small blasted crawl and down into open passage.  Although there is clearly large passage beneath the loose boulders of this small chamber attempts to dig a safe route down have so far failed.  However, the initially unpromising mud-filled passage at the far end then went in mid-July to reveal the Happy Hour Highway - a much older well decorated passage more reminiscent of Llangattock than Mendip. Digging continues at the end of this in a choke of boulders and well-compacted sand infill and in the boulders at the breakthrough (See Tony's article for a full account).

St. Cuthbert's Swallet.

During the June working weekend Greg Brock, Bea Goford and others had a clean up trip.  Given its success in removing a large amount of detritus it is now planned to make this a part of future Hut clean up sessions.

Swildon's Hole.

Phil Rowsell, Alison Moody and helpers have been attacking the Mud Sump with two new methods - expanding foam and a little bit of thought.  Rather than build endless holding dams, they have constructed a single (surprisingly low) dam from foam and clay that holds back the inlet trickling in from South East Inlets and drains all the water pumped from the Mud Sump back down the low crawl toward the First Mud Sump.  After a number of bailing and pumping sessions and a new system of pipes the Mud Sump was finally bailed dry in early July.  Work now continues to maintain access to the passages beyond.  So no longer any excuses to avoid the through trip from Priddy Green Sink (see the full story in the Autumn BB).

At the far end of the cave Greg Brock and Andy Stewart have teamed up with Phil Short (WCC) in Phil's attempt to finally pass Sump Twelve.  Good luck to all those involved - the Sump has been banged and despite a postponement due to heavy rain they are now busy clearing infill in what sound horrible conditions.

Wigmore Swallet.

Tim Chapman and Andy Stewart have been diving in the Downstream Sumps and have so far reached Sump Seven.  Tim reports good diving conditions and following his return from France the pair plan to push on to check out the end.


The Last Laugh - A Major Discovery at Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink!

by Tony Jarratt
with photographs by Carmen Haskell (WCC)

" ... the Rock had been blown 45 feet further in than where I was last year ... " & what is further, Gunpowder, Sledges, hard Labour & Time must discover. "

R. Oliver "Journal of a voyage to England" 1776-77. (Cave digging with bang in Peak Cavern, Derbyshire - 225 years ago!)

Part One - Update to 25th June

Since the last report in BB 513 work has continued regularly, and almost exclusively, at this site, the Wednesday Night Team having now expanded its title to the Wednesday Night, Sunday Lunchtime, and Monday Morning Team.

During the first two weeks of April three more bangs saw us at the bottom of the "10ft rift", giving a 7ft fixed steel ladder climb down to another downdip bedding plane. The 1st birthday of the dig passed quietly and uncelebrated on the 9th of April.

By the 24th of June another 24 bangs had been detonated here to gain some 30ft of descending passage following the route of the stream.  A nice touch was added to the history of this amusing dig by the sale of much of the spoil heap to passers-by for use as rockery stone or hardcore!  This has helped offset the increasing cost of the explosives.  Possible future changes in storage and transport regulations may preclude the use of bang altogether and so we are making the most of it while the going is good. The skip hauling system has been improved and a strong, enthusiastic, and reasonably regular team has ensured good progress - resolutely putting up with the often soul-destroying job of spoil removal.

The superb ceramic "Bertie" plaque sculpted by Ben Holden has unfortunately fallen foul of the winter frosts so Ben has "done it to excess" and moulded a new one from solid lead - apparently his diving weights!  This has been painted in the Club colours and Araldited in position in the entrance shaft.  Ceramic copies of this circular plaque can be obtained from Ben via the writer.

Roger Dors has provided a large expanse of hard standing in the field above the dig, cleared and graded to perfection by Mr. Nigel and Jake of Mendip Demrock (free advert Nigel). This should provide ample parking space for the tourist hordes when the dig breaks through (see Part Two).  All our smaller spoil is now used as infill in the tractor ruts leading to the Hunters' Hole field, while the saleable stone is stored behind the car park wall.  This hard standing was recently put to use when a wedding party marquee was erected on it resulting in the face worker at the time being entertained underground by live music filtering down from above.  This, and Snab's 60th birthday party in the adjacent back room were two missed opportunities to fire off large charges!

To go along with the theme of this particularly well sited dig it should be recorded that Trevor uses beer barrel spiles for plugging shotholes to be used at a later date and that John Walsh has gone out of his way to drink vast quantities of wine purely in order to provide corks for wedging the bang wire into cracks in the passage sides - a truly dedicated digger.

The occasion of "Mendip Caving 2002," 16th June, provided the opportunity for more BEC excess as an underground explosion was actually filmed live from about 10 feet away and broadcast to an audience supping their ale in the Pub Function Room! This was made possible by Bob Smith who constructed a video camera inside an Oldham headset (see separate article) and Prew, who provided a l2v lamp. For a millisecond the assembled were presented with far better viewing than the World Cup as Roger Dors connected up the bang wire.  After the initial flash of the detonation a blank screen was expected as the camera and lamp were disintegrated by flying rock, but applause rent the air as the sight of swirling bang fumes appeared on the computer screen.  The undamaged camera was still in position but the lamp, also intact, had been blown over by the blast.  This may be a Mendip first and was much appreciated by the gathering of armchair diggers who donated 15 pounds to the bang fund.

Before this climax the camera had been worn on a helmet by Bev who filmed Trevor clearing spoil and drilling shotholes, and Alex hammering boulders and stacking full bags.  Bob then took over to film the writer charging the holes with detonating cord.  It was probably just as well that sound was unavailable judging by Trev's expression on returning from the constricted end of the dig.


Looking up dip in the largest Dart of the blasted out Pub Crawl.

Earlier that day BCRA Secretary, John Wilcock, had once again spent some time dowsing in the area as part of his ongoing project on his occasional visits to Mendip.  His results indicate an underground drainage coming from the southern Stockhill area, under H.L.I.Sink, Hunters' Hole and Eighteen Acre Swallet to join the St. Cuthbert's Swallet streamway somewhere below the SE comer of 100 Acres field.  After picking up an inlet from Tusker's dig at Templeton Pot, this passage itself joins the combined Swildon's/Eastwater drainage just before Wookey Hole.  Only time will tell if his predictions are correct (but Mad Phil's latest surveys seem to disprove this).  Hopefully Phil Short's timely discovery of the way on in Swildon's 12 may soon shed some light on this (as, indeed, may our own future explorations!).  John's dowsing map and summary are appended to this article and any queries should be addressed to him.

On the 22nd of June a large horse leech was found in a puddle halfway down the cave.  It was later liberated and after an evening of being admired in the bar was released at Waldegrave Pond.  Its seemingly shrunken size on capture was explained when its fatter companion was fished out a few days later!  Yet another of these beasties was later rescued by John and we are perplexed as to their source of origin, but convinced that they are washed in after heavy rain.  Lots of work was put in this week to push along the low bedding plane and narrow rift at the end in the hope of entering a possible enlargement which could be seen ahead.

Part Two - The First Breakthrough

On the 24th of June the writer was clearing bang debris from the RH side of the bedding plane when it was realised that just beyond there was an open rift passage full of loose boulders with a c.5ft drop to the floor and boulder filled void above.  This rift apparently continued upstream and may be the prophesised parallel waterway.  Attempts to gain access were thwarted by movement of the boulders so this passage was used as a convenient spoil dump and attention was transferred to the continuation of the more solid bedding plane in the hope of reaching a seemingly boulder free extension which could be glimpsed ahead.  Having reached real, open cave only 14½ months after the start of the dig it was with a sense of both satisfaction and relief that the writer headed out for a celebratory pint and to inform Roger and Jacquie that they now owned twice as many caves as Robin Main!  A return was made in the evening to fire the final charge to enlarge the bedding plane.  As much use was made of a crowbar to enter the passage, and to keep the dig theme, the extension was provisionally named The Bar Room - but this was later changed to Bar Steward Passage for reasons which will become obvious!

The following evening saw the writer, Trev, Alex and Mad Phil clearing the spoil from this bang so that a recce. of the find could be made in preparation for the Wednesday night push.  Where previously was an impassable bedding slot there was now a wide and roomy opening into the side of a roughly 5ft square passage heading down dip for some 20ft and boulder choked upstream after about 10ft.  Directly below the entry point an open rift at least 15 ft deep issued a strong draught and seemed to be the way on - possibly cutting under the boulder choked down dip passage.  Unfortunately, the far wall and ceiling of the extension were composed of "hanging deaths" and it could not be entered safely (so Mad Phil went in for a look!).  Luckily the LH wall of the breakthrough point is solid and the open rift in the floor of the bedding plane, which is directly above the hole in the floor of Bar Steward Passage, was banged on the 28th of June.  Next day the writer and Adrian Hole were able to squeeze down into the large, boulder filled passage below to find it to be a veritable death trap! The way on seems to be under the loose boulder floor in which several holes reveal voids below at least 15ft deep. By somehow engineering a route downwards this will eventually give us a sporting and occasionally very wet climb of at least 20ft.  Bar Steward Passage itself will come in handy as a spoil dump so hauling to the surface may eventually be a thing of the past.  In the meantime a lot of loose rock, purposely brought down from the ceiling of Bar Steward Passage will be dragged out to the rockery rock pile.  A mud choked phreatic tube leading straight ahead above the holes in the floor was tentatively examined and seemed to be the safest option.  The whole passage appears to have developed along a fault which explains its instability.

The depth of the cave must now be around 75ft and looks to be on course for going under the rubbish and stone filled dewpond situated in a depression adjacent to the roadside wall. It is assumed that Bar Steward Passage brings in the rest of the stream which sinks in the rift below the entrance shaft but it must be deep under the boulder floor and cannot yet be reached.

The now scaffolded route through the boulders heading into the mud choked tube

A few days earlier, on the 26th of June, what we thought to be the last 60 bags of spoil had been hauled out to the surface where a bottle of pretend Champagne, courtesy of Jim Smart, was rapidly diminishing in volume, and the following day Mad Phil, assisted by Dominic and Michelle, re-surveyed the cave.  Martin Mills's original survey notes for Hunters Hole were generously loaned to us by their creator (who, coincidentally is currently resident in the Pub) and on the 27th June these were tied in to the H.L.I. Sink with a surface survey by Phil and the writer.  These notes have been computerised by Phil so that the relationship between the two caves can be studied.  The surprisingly eastern position of Phil's last survey point was confirmed on the 1st of July by Brian and Brenda Prewer using radio location to fix the writer's transmitter position at the breakthrough point despite much interference from the adjacent electricity pole and transformer.

To date some 1400 loads of spoil have been removed from this dig and we are into large, open, draughting and extremely promising passage - albeit after a lot of hard work.  From now on we have the added stress of working our way down through the loose boulder ruckle so progress will inevitably be slow. Some work has been done at the mud choke at mid height in Bar Steward Passage and on the 15th of July a view of open, draughting passage was obtained.  Nearby an old peanut bag and piece of crisp packet were found - 2d and 6d respectively.  These probably date from the early 60s and indicate an open, though doubtless tiny, route to the surface at this time.  This may have been via Pub Crawl or the open rift below the entrance shaft. A good supply of scaffold poles and clips is being built up underground and we will soon be on the scrounge for more cement.  Vintage BEC members will be amused to know that Alfie's Hole may be above the assumed route of this cave!

Part Three - The Second Breakthrough

Four digging sessions from the 13th to the 16th of July gained some ten feet of progress in the muddy tube and in the process turned HLIS from Mendip's cleanest dig into one of its filthiest.  It also verified the BEC curse of the "Reverse Midas Touch" - everything we dig turns to shit!  At the end a view could be gained into open, draughting passage with a thick calcite floor preventing easy access from below.  A couple of sticks of gelignite were employed to solve this problem and on Wednesday the 17th, after a bit of squalid clearing, the way on was open.  A squeeze over a gonadcrunching rock led to some 20ft of dipping, hands and knees passage with a solid wall on the left and a calcited boulder choke on the right.  Ahead lay bigger blackness.  The committing route into the extension was passed by the writer and Gwilym but proved to be too tight for Trev, too difficult for uni-limbed Alex and too dark for Geoff, whose lamp had failed.

The Happy Hour Highway Extensions


The lithe and lucky duo found themselves entering a large, square passage with a massive boulder slope soaring up above Bar Steward Passage.  This was climbed for about 60ft, through horrendously poised, tottering monoliths to a point some 25ft from the surface and under Roger's new car park!  There is a lot of empty space just below the field here, the passage being 20ft wide by 6ft high with some fine yellow banded curtains on the ceiling.  It has been radio-located by Prew, assisted by Phil Hendy who was distinctly heard bashing a rock on the surface!  There were plans to drill a borehole into this area to aid the airflow and provide video camera access, but depth maybe a problem.

Downdip this amazing and totally unexpected bore passage was followed for about 120ft to a choke of clay and rock completely blocking the way on.  The draught, though, gives hope for a bypass to this.  The dimensions of "Happy Hour Highway" are on average 12-18ft wide by 6ft high.  There are hundreds of pure white straws and pale yellow "carrots" and large areas of ca1cited floor, drip pockets, crystals and flowstone walls.  A marked route has been laid using 9mm static cord donated by Andy Elson and photographs have been taken - a particularly fine set being captured by Carmen Haskell using a digital camera.  Large, broken stalagmites on the floor, big phreatic ceiling pockets and roof tubes, together with the size and general nature of the place testify to its extreme age - contemporary with Talus Four in White Pit? On first impressions it would seem to be far older than St. Cuthbert's Swallet and Hunters' Hole is probably a mere inlet.  The current end is well over 80ft below the bottom of the infilled Alfie's Hole and lies directly below the road (see map).  Its continuation may be under Southfield Farm. Watch this space!!!

Looking left at the end – briefly dug but abandoned due to size of the collapsed roof slabs blocking the dig.

The site of current efforts along the right hand wall of the collapse.  A tunnel has been dug through sand and gravels passing beneath the formations.  Some 8ft along the dig has turned left and downwards beneath the roof and into well compacted sand. gravel and boulders

Extreme care should be taken throughout this passage.  Some unique formations have already been destroyed by the inattention of the diggers, including the writer.  Unobvious floor deposits are particularly vulnerable and the tapes should not be crossed for any reason - photographers take note. If damage continues this extension could easily be resealed!

There is great scope for scientific work in this cave, particularly regarding its age and geological formation.  UBSS geologist Andy Farrant has visited and is currently giving this some thought. Surveying and photography is continuing and the terminal choke is being dug, as is the choke below Bar Steward Passage.


WARNING. Following a very wet trip on the 10th of July (shades of 1968!) John Walsh contracted an unpleasant virus initially diagnosed as Weil's Disease.  Luckily it wasn't and he is back on the wine but there is every chance of its presence here and should visitors get flu-like symptoms between 3 and 19 days after a wet trip here they should immediately see their doctor and advise him of this.  All cavers should carry an NCA Weil' s Disease information card - available from the writer - as any wet Mendip cave is likely to be infected with the leptospirosis bacterium.  In addition, with the current prevailing weather conditions the levels of carbon dioxide in the extension are uncomfortably high and hence any physical exertion is rapidly exhausting.  The party size should thus be kept small.  

A happy man and some of his archaeological discoveries


More views of the extensions

Additions to the Team and Acknowledgements

Matt Davey, Richard Dolby, Danny Burnett, Julie Hesketh (MCG,GSG), John Wilcock (BCRA - dowsing), Brian and Brenda Prewer (lighting and radio-location), Michelle Lloyd-Hopkins, Dominic Gane, Martin "Milche" Mills (SMCC - Hunters' Hole Survey), Sean Morgan (ropes and boulder nets), Nick Mitchell, Alison Moody (WCC), Jonathon Davies (GSG), Guy Morgan, Tony Boycott, Geoff Wild, Thomas Arbenz (SNT and Bat Products, Switzerland), Andy Elson (cord donation), Jayne Stead (GSG), Richard Carey (MCG), Carmen Haskell (WCC), Phil Hendy (WCC radio-location), Sean Howe, Martin Grass (CSCC - conservation tape), Mike Wilson, Jim Smart, and Andy Farrant (UBSS).

Selected References

Hunters Lodge Inn Sink

Belfry Bulletins Nos. 448 (Feb 1989); 511 (July 2001); 513 (Sprin 2002)  (A.R. Jarratt. )

MSS Logbooks, Survey Notes. (A.R. Jarratt, T. Hughes, A. Livingstone, P. Rowsell).

Hunters Hole

BEC Caving Report No.6 - Some smaller Mendip Caves, (B.M. Ellis), Oct. 1961.

SMCC Jnl. Series 5. No.10 - A Survey of Hunters' Hole, Central Mendip, (M.T. Mills), Aug. 1975.

The Story of Priddy, (Alan Thomas), 1989, pp 59-60.

Limestones and Caves of the Mendip Hills (D.1. Smith & D.P. Drew), 1975, pp 122, 124, 128, 307.

Mendip. The Complete Caves (N. Barrington & W. Stanton), 3rd edn. 1977. Mendip Underground (D.J. Irwin & A.R. Jarratt), 1999, pp 97-98.

Alfie's Hole

BEC Caving Report No.6 - Some smaller Mendip Caves, (S.J. Collins), Oct. 1961.

Mendip. The Complete Caves (N. Barrington & W. Stanton), 3rd edn. 1977.


John Wilcock's Dowsing Results.

17 June 2002

WELLS, Somerset

The weekend's results

Dear Tony,

It was pleasant meeting you again at the weekend.  Thanks for showing me your new hole at the Hunters.  I found the video link to the dig, and the explosion, most diverting!

I had a profitable day's work on Sunday.  I enclose a further copy (Sunday's results in red) since I did more work than was on the copy I gave you.

As you can see, for Tusker's holes, Sandpit Hole and Beetle Drop trend NW to join Swildons before White Pit, while Templeton's goes SE to join St Cuthbert’s.  Your new hole at the Hunters enters a NE-SW system.  To the west there are two depressions in the next field, and then it joins St Cuthbert’s.  In late Sunday afternoon I went in the forest to see where it was coming from, and proved that it comes from the Stock Hill Fault.  So there is the potential of flow from Thrupe via Slab House, Hillgrove and Cuckoo Cleeves, and then via Hunters to St Cuthbert’s and Wookey - maybe that's why your new system developed.

Thanks again, and do involve me in any further holes you are investigating - 1 can be in Mendip within two and a half hours from Stafford at the drop of a hat (mid-week included, since I am retired)!

Yours sincerely,

Dr John D. Wilcock



Dig Cam, An Armchair Caver's Dream.

by Bob Smith

Several months ago, I overheard Les Williams (WCC) discussing events to be organised for the Mendip 2002 gathering, with him saying something like: "Wouldn't it be great if we could watch Tony digging in the car park from the safety of the bar!"  There was much laughter until I mentioned that it could be quite easily done, since I had a camera that was small enough to be put into an Oldham headpiece, and viewed on any suitable TV.  His eyes lit up and he asked me if I really meant it.  After a few beers, we decided it was a 'goer' and so Dig Cam was born.

My next few days were occupied with finding suitable cables, connectors and a power supply for my miniature CCTV camera.  Eventually, I had all the parts gathered, and started the task of assembly.  With all the innards of the lamp removed, and the hole for the switch filled with hot melt glue, I coaxed the cable in and soldered it to the camera.  The comers of the circuit board had to be filed slightly to get it into the headpiece, and this too was held in with hot melt glue.  The whole unit was then sealed with more hot melt, and due to the length of the lens the toughened glass had to be glued to the outside of the bezel.

I had built a power supply and video feed box, and added around 50m of cable, and having no suitable caves in Portsmouth, tested the unit in the ideal conditions of my loft, the images being displayed on my PC through a television receiver card.  The effect was promising, so the whole lot was brought to Mendip, causing much ridicule and piss-taking: "So you need a TV and a mains supply, what f"**ing use is that in a cave!?"  Since it had been built for the specific use of viewing Hunters Lodge Inn Sink, where both these were available, I wasn't too bothered, but it did make me think about how I could remedy this.

Mendip 2002, Sunday 16th, 09.59 hrs.

Having arranged with Les to set up Dig Cam at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning, I was woken rudely by Bev telling me to get my hungover arse out of bed.  Bleary eyed, I dragged myself out of bed, and grabbed a lift to meet Les at the Hunters', or so I thought.  When I arrived, Les was nowhere to be seen, there was no TV and a small group waiting to see this "underground web cam thingy". Dig Cam was rapidly becoming a farce.  Luckily, Trevor turned up in time and returned to the shed to get the Belfry computer, which was quickly installed in the Function Room.  The camera, now placed on Bev's helmet, we were treated to images of Trevor stripping off in the car park.  A Petzl Duo provided light and so into the depths went the pair, with Alex following shortly.

For the next hour or so, various small groups paused on their way to the bar to watch Alex bashing rocks, and Trevor removing spoil.  There really is a limited amount of time that this can captivate even the hardiest of armchair enthusiasts, and again Dig Cam was becoming the proverbial damp squib.  Thank God Tony arrived when he did.  The ailing interest was noted, and Tony asked me if I thought that the camera would survive filming a bang.  I thought it probably would and then everyone’s interest perked up.  Trevor had finished drilling shotholes and the other two were returning to the surface.

Tony and I got kitted up and returned below to lay the charge.  The limitations of having a 70m umbilical cord became apparent as I struggled with a snotty mess of cables, with no idea whether I had damaged the fragile connections I had hastily made the day before to extend the cable to the dig face.  Eventually, I got to where Tony was laying the charge, and sat whilst Tony gave a televised broadcast of the use of explosives.  When everything was finished Tony returned to the surface, whilst I wedged the camera in place and secured the lamp provided by Brian Prewer.  A shout from Tony confirmed a good shot, so I exited, and was surprised by the number of people assembled to watch it all happen.  Roger Dors was given the pleasure of setting it all off, with a countdown, then a flash, a reassuring 'whump" from below, and then spontaneous applause and congratulations.  The camera had survived, clearly showing bang fumes drifting in the still intact lamp's light.  As the crowd left, the cables were cut and Dig Cam remained underground until the spoil could be cleared.

The advantage of using the computer for this event was the ability to capture the pictures and save them for later use.  Since the outing, interest was expressed about possible uses for a small remote camera. I have since purchased a small portable TV that can be connected, and the camera can also be run from a battery. The addition of sound is not too far off, but any more suggestions for improvements will be appreciated.

Dig Cam in action in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.


18 Months Hard Labour - Gas St." Sanctimonious Passage.  Hunters' Hole.

by Tony Jarratt

(This article was written in 1989, but was never published.  It relates the history of a desperate dig in this cave between March 1987 and September 1988 and is relevant to the current exploration in this area - particularly Tony Blick's dowsing results!)

Sanctimonious Passage, discovered by the BEC on the 13th of July 1958, is situated 2.5m up the south west wall of the Railway Tunnel some 5.2m from the bottom of Main Pitch.  38m of sporting downdip passage leads via the once 5.5m deep Rover Pot to what was a choked rift.  The Pot is now 0.6m less deep due to digging spoil and the rift is no longer choked.  Previous digging at the rift was mainly by Alan Thomas and friends in Feb/March 1968. They banged the small hole at the then end of the passage to uncover a 10cm wide by c.6m long rift after which their dig was abandoned.

Being the deepest point in the cave at 52.4m, it was examined in October 1985 by Tim Large and the writer who were looking for a new project.  Nothing further was done until March 7th 1987 when Martin Bishop, who also had an interest in the site, joined the writer, Steve Milner and Richard Stevenson on the first digging and blasting trip of the project.  Some 6m of narrow, outward draughting rift led off from the bottom of Rover Pot.  This was banged by Rich and cleared the following day by a large team, resulting in 2m of progress.  The following weekend Nigel Taylor banged the dig (see, I told you it was an old write up!) followed by Tony Boycott on the 12th of April.  Further banging trips by the writer, Brian Prewer and Fred Davies - with clearing sessions by most of the active Belfryites - resulted in some 10m of passable cave by the 5th of July when an open hole could be seen in the ceiling of the rift some 2m ahead.  On this trip it was noticed that the draught was now inwards.  One more bang enabled the team to reach this hole, but it could not be pushed due to awkward wedged boulders.  The first signs of lack of oxygen made themselves felt as all on this trip suffered from "bang heads".

Fred laid a further charge midweek and Snablet passed the remains of the boulders to enter 5m of decorated crawl ending in a further blockage. 1.5m of open stuff could be seen ahead and there was an encouraging echo.   After further clearing, on the 18th of July the visible end was reached and two small holes noted, through a false floor above the passage, which revealed a view into a clean washed bedding passage above.  The false floor was banged.

The following day the writer squeezed up through the resulting "Manhole" to gain a view along c.8m of open bedding passage, well decorated with small straws and helictites (now destroyed).  This could not be entered due to the writer's leg length but Steve got in by removing his wellies.  He pushed a further 3m until stopped by a low squeeze but could see a further 6-7m. The air conditions were by now particularly bad with the carbon dioxide content being very high.  Another bang by Nigel (of reduced scale in 1987!) enabled Snablet to reach the same squeeze but not pass it.  All again retreated suffering from exhaustion and headaches.

Pete Eckford banged next and after leaving the fumes to clear for a week the writer removed enough debris to pass the squeeze and crawl downdip, through another very tight section for some 6m to be confronted by what appeared to be a sump.  With breathing rate and panic both rapidly rising he retreated backwards and uphill as quickly as possible, hoping desperately not to pass out before passing the squeeze! Both he and Pete were very badly affected by the bad air and it took some time (and beer) to recover.

In an attempt to pass the supposed sump, Steve and Pat Cronin entered the CO2 filled section using diving gear and mini bottles on the 8th August 1987 but were defeated by the final squeeze and could do little but empty the contents of their three bottles to try and improve the atmosphere.

On the 14th of August yet another banging trip was made to widen the passage immediately beyond the Manhole.  The results were checked on the 12th of September by the writer and Tom Chapman who found a vast pile of gravel awaiting them.  This was cleared aside and the final squeeze passed to find that the supposed sump was actually a 3m long duck with about 15cm of airspace. With some trepidation this was pushed to emerge in 12m of small but well decorated phreatic tube ending in a flowstone blocked comer with the tell-tale echo of more passage beyond.  Sadly, the crystal pools and straws in the new section did not survive this exploration.  On this trip the air was relatively fresh so a planned bang was cancelled in the hope that all the rubble in the dig could be cleared while conditions were good.

This was carried out during two trips on the 10th of October and the 21st of November with the assistance of Cardiff University and Worcester cavers, some 20 sledge loads of spoil being dragged out and dumped at Rover Pot.  On the 19th of December the flowstone blocked comer was banged.  This was cleared and another charge fired on the 5th of January and it was now realised that the bad air problem seemed to have been resolved - probably due to passage dimensions being greater following the clearing sessions. A further charge was fired on the 23rd of January and the unpleasant 3m duck converted into a muddy grovel by Rich Payne.  The water from the duck could be heard flowing away into the distance along the 1.5m by 13cm wide rift at the end of the dig.

Next day 2m of progress was made after a clearing session and another kilo of bang fired at the end. This was found to have had very little result on the next visit on February 6th 1988, so another kilo was set off. Appropriately, on February 13th it was found that the last charge had misfired so a new detonator was attached and duly fired.  A week later half of the original bang was still in existence!  Another half kilo was added in the hope that the "Curse of Sanctimonious" had worn off.

No such luck.  On the 27th February two fresh detonators and yet another kilo were laid among the stubborn and growing pile of bang lurking at the face and the lot was fired with a very satisfying thump.  On the 16th of March the writer found to his relief that at last the place was safe but with poor results and so another kilo was evaporated.

This was checked out four days later when a visiting Wessex team came down on a "works outing". Due to foul air this was a quick trip with another kilo being fired at the end and yet another, on a separate wire, being laid on the squeeze just before the duck to make life easier on future trips.

Four more banging and clearing trips were made up to the 11th of June during which 2m of passage was gained at the end and the offending squeeze removed by Martin after chiselling away the shattered rock.  On the last of these visits Steve and Snablet surveyed the extension using a Fibron tape and Suunto compass for a length of 37m but unfortunately found the air conditions to have once more deteriorated.

Meanwhile, on the 14th of May the diggers were treated to a display of dowsing by Tony Blick of the Craven Pothole Club.  Not knowing anything about the cave he successfully traced the known passages and then followed Sanctimonious to a junction with a supposedly 5m wide passage at well over 35m depth which would appear to be the continuation of the Railway Tunnel.  He suggested that this passage descends steeply and there is water present in the form of pools or a small stream.  (Although this surmised passage was presumably not far from the current end of Hunters' Hole - time having erased the memory of its position - it fits perfectly with the Happy Hour Highway extensions in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.  At  this time of year the stream may well have been flowing).

The writer checked out the bang results on June 17th and found them wanting so returned the following week with Mark "Gonzo" Lumley to clear and fire 1½ kilos.  On the 1st July they returned to lay another kilo - the bad air making it a quick trip. Another charge was fired two weeks later and on the 22nd of July open passage was entered up to waist level! On the 13th of August this squeeze was banged and left for two weeks when the breakthrough came at last on the 27th and a 2.45m deep pot was descended into 10m of well decorated and relatively large passage ending in a low, mud choked crawl.  This was opened up to Snablet size and 6m of muddy rift entered ending in another miserable looking mud and rock choke.  The bad air here encouraged a swift exit.

The writer returned to this unpleasant spot on the 5th of September and, after stabilising the spoil heap before the last crawl using mud filled sandbags, went to the bitter end. The crawl was now half full of water and the air conditions at the end were atrocious.  A view through the fist sized hole at the end revealed either a small pool or sump a metre ahead.

In view of the extreme danger inherent in working here in the present conditions (1988) it has been decided to suspend digging over the winter months in the hope that the air improves.   There is really no hope of using bang at the end as it would prove fatal to the next party down.

So ends - hopefully temporarily - the painful saga of almost exactly eighteen months of digging and blasting.  Though all part of Sanctimonious Passage the squeeze down into the 61 metres or so of the extension now bears a metal road sign (pinched from Newtown, Mid-Wales) which is both nickname and warning to the unaware: Gas St.

(As far as I know the place hasn't been visited since - hardly surprising!  It sounds just like Mad Phil's cup of tea).

The Diggers

1968 - Alan Thomas, Colin Priddle, Keith Franklin and Phil Coles.

1985-1988 - Rich Stevenson, Steve Milner, Tony Jarratt, Martin Bishop (Pegasus CC), Mark Lumley, Pete "Snablet" Mcnab, John Chew, Happy and Viv (Royal Marines), Nigel Taylor, Tom Chapman, Robin Brown, Mike Wilson (Keynsham EG), Tony Boycott, Andy Middleton, Phil Provis, Richard Neville-Dove, Pete Hopkins, Gary Jago, Tony?, Brian Prewer, Fred Davies (WCC), Keith Bentham (Eldon PC), Steve? (EPC), Phil Romford, Alan Jeffreys (GSG), Kevin Gurner, Nick Gymer, Pat Cronin, Pete Eckford, Lisa Taylor, Andy Sparrow, Rich Stevens, Brian van Luipen, Hugh Penny, Jane and Phil (Cardiff UCC), Rich Payne, Graham Wilton-Jones, Duncan Price, Brian Gilbert, Chris Proctor (Devon SS), Graham "Jake" Johnson (WCC), Nick Pollard (WCC), Geoff Newton (WCC), Steve ?, Jon Shaw (OS) and Stuart Laing.


Shepton Mallet Caving Club for permission to reproduce the Hunters Hole survey.  (This included Stem Passage, discovered by Jim Rands and Pete Hann of the Wessex and the Sanctimonious Passage/Gas St. extension which should be taken as BCRA Grade 2 and will hopefully be resurveyed one day).


Meghalava 2002 - 200+ Kilometres and Ongoing!

by Tony Jarratt and Annie Audsley

" India ... it seems that there will be no caves on a world scale nor any karst features of outstanding significance. "

The Underground Atlas - Middleton & Waltham, 1986

This year's annual expedition to NE India was once again efficiently organized in the UK by Simon Brooks - even though he was unable to join the team, being demoted to the China Caves Project.  Our man on the spot, Brian Kharpran Daly, did his usual splendid job of sorting out the Meghalayan side of the trip.  The BEC was represented by Annie Audsley (on a break from a year's festering in New Zealand) Dr. Tony Boycott and your scribe.  Cavers from seven different countries, or ten if you count Wales, Scotland and Schwabia, converged on the hill state of Meghalaya at the beginning of February for several weeks of exploration, surveying and beer consumption.  It was unfortunate this year that we hadn't all bought shares in the Indian bog roll industry as great fortunes would have been made!

The first week saw two teams at work in the Garo Hills of western Meghalaya and the Cherrapunjee/Laitkynsew area of the East Khasi Hills - two hour's drive SSW of the capital, Shillong.  The Garo team had well over a day's rough drive to reach their patch, to find that food and accommodation were basic to say the least.  Over to Annie ...

It was a select team of Mark, Daniel, Peter, Lindsay, Jorg, Annie, the driver, Bud and his assistant who found ourselves in the tiny village of Asakgre following two days of rattling jeep ride, sharing a late night feast of boiled potatoes and eggs around the campfire.  We had come to recce a new area in the West Garo Hills and were now wondering what this place, hidden deep in the jungle at the very end of an old Shaktiman track, would reveal.  The next day the crowd of curious villagers who gathered around the dilapidated government Inspection Bungalow (IB) where we were staying, told us that there were indeed many caves within walking distance of the village (good start!).  The local people proved to be incredibly helpful and generous; the headman, BIen Marak, and his two brothers, Erok and Hellindro, offered to act as guides and we recruited two others to cook for us.  Throughout our stay there were always people around, bringing cooking pots, or offering such things as bananas or a remedy for a sick stomach (honey and rum - yum), or just sitting around the fire while we overcame the language barrier with bottles of beer and port.  For all of this they refused any payment; they were fantastic people.

The area around the village was one of low-lying, thickly jungled limestone hills with stream caves developing horizontally, and frequently with a maze-like confusion of criss-crossing side pasages.  Blen and his brothers showed us several small caves which they had themselves exploredfully with the aid of smoking torches. They were intrigued to come back in with us to see the passages more clearly with electric light.  These caves were surveyed quickly by us splitting into two teams and things got particularly exciting when we had to drag Mark away from surveying the lower reaches of Mendi, whish were lacking in oxygen, and when Daniel found some mermaids (?) in the streamway of Kimrang.

More extensive than these was Kholjong Cave, with a stream the size of which led Mark and Daniel to conjecture about the "longest cave in India" ... and a mass of small, dry side passages. We had fun ''finishing off' upstream; the passage which must soon close down, opening and branching into a series of deep canals and big, dry side passages.  Kholjong didn't prove to be India's longest cave however and was finished off by the time we left at 2.108 km.

Danged was the largest cave which our guides knew of and had an impressive entrance at the base of a cliff which led into a large streamway. Mark, Jorg and I set off down a canyon which branched off the main stream and soon emerged into a vast, square passage, dominated by the ''fallen megafreighter" boulder, and increasingly thick with bats.  Thousands of them flitted out past us like big furry fairies (or something).  We drew and photographed them for the record and continued onward over slimy, smelly boulders and a trickle of stream. Daniel's disembodied voice ahead led us to think that we were coming back round to the main stream but we never met up with the other team who had been stopped in their tracks at the head of two waterfalls which fell into the bat passage.  The stream disappeared into what may be ongoing (grovelly) passage and so we climbed up instead into a series of large, round and sparkly chambers but had to turn round before reaching a conclusion.  We emerged from the cave to find the guides very nervous and keen to get away, having heard wild elephants nearby.  We heard them again on the walk back but were disappointed (and Blen was relieved) not to see any.

After each day's caving we returned along jungle tracks and through the village.  My mind was considerably more blown on the first day by the sight of this settlement than it had been by running along through virgin passage underground.  Bamboo huts stood in the red earth with the occasional palm tree and dogs, pigs, goats and children ran loose among them.  On the edge of the village was a wooden festival house, carved and painted with human figures, snakes and tigers and which everyone but me (being a girl) was allowed to enter and have a look around. This was a place almost entirely untouched by the West and it was not really surprising that the children stared curiously at the aliens who had arrived in their midst with strange clothes and lights on their heads!

After four days in the Garo Hills half the team left for Shillong. Mark (to organize the new arrivals from Europe) Jorg (for rest, recuperation and a comfortable toilet) and Peter (who wanted a helicopter ride) headed for Tura and a much shorter journey to Shillong in the chopper.  Lindsay also went to Tura to get vital supplies of more port leaving Daniel and I to a much needed washing day.  The next couple of days were spent tying up loose ends and on our last day in the area Blen and his brothers took us on a long walking trip to look at various new cave entrances, a lake, some trout ("Walk quietly - there are big fish."), but sadly still no elephants.  We headed back to the IB early for our last meal of potatoes, rice and dhal and then said goodbye, leaving gifts of rum and Leathermans for the guides and promising to return next year.  We climbed back into the jeep, which by now had no shock absorbers and a failing clutch, and set off on the long, and even bumpier than before, journey to Shillong.  This was partly compensated for by the fact that I did finally see an elephant on the way back.

Your scribe, being on the "Cherra Team" was forced to stay at our friend Denis Rayen's Cherra Tourist Resort - base for last year's BEC team and overall superb spot overlooking the jungle covered escarpments of southern Meghalaya and the vast flood plains of Bangladesh below.  Our first evening was spent watching a very poor bootleg CD of "Pearl Harbor" and getting about one hour's sleep due to atrocious high volume pop music and singing emanating from the adjacent Laitkynsew village annual all night party.

Feb. 6th and 7th saw a ten person team surveying, exploring, photographing and bat studying in the Krem Soh Shympi/Rumdan system - partly explored but not mapped by last year's BEC team.  This impressive horizontal cave eventually yielded 1.428km of generally large and bat infested fossil passages but a nasty, low active streamway below was only partially surveyed and showed little promise of improving. It was while lying flat out in this particularly flood prone spot that we decided a whip round was needed to purchase new spectacles for Rob Harper and to ignore all future "It's a real goer" tips from this man.  The writer, Denis and Thomas had the job of surveying behind the advance party but due to a fortunate communications failure ended up leaving the main route and providentially climbing into 203m of superbly decorated fossil gallery ending at the lip of a 14m deep pot (Sunflower Pot - named after a matchbox thrown down to later prove a connection with the lower levels).  We had first assumed that this pot would enter the mythical enormous passage beyond Rob's streamway and had hurled huge boulders down it, not realising that it was actually an aven on the main "trade route" through the cave along which the others had recently passed!

On the 8th we had planned to visit the unique living rubber tree bridges located in the jungle below Laitkynsew and then check out a supposed resurgence at the nearby village of Mustoh.  "Nearby" is a relative term in a place where everyone lives essentially partway up a gigantic, jungle covered cliff.   Although only a few hundred metres from the Resort, Mustoh is reached either by a 40 minute jeep ride down a hairpin track or a direct walk down about 1500 sandstone steps for a vertical distance of 370 metres which takes about the same time.  As it happened we never got to see the bridges as, following a natter with the village headman, we were shown a sink cave - Krem Umjasew - about ten minutes walk from Mustoh in an adjacent dry valley.  The unprepossessing entrance was located in a heap of boulders at the side of this valley where a short climb down dropped into the head of a stunning, steeply descending bore passage which obviously takes a vast amount of water during the monsoon.  Three of us, dressed in T-shirts and light trousers, were soon knocking up the metreage while the others continued with reconnaissance of some nearby rock shelters known to be the home of a nest of King Cobras!

Prospecting in the hills of Meghalava.

After a straight line distance of some 250 metres, from where we could still see daylight from the entrance, we reached the head of a 10 metre pitch caused by a choke in the floor of the main drag where it briefly narrowed down.  This was descended on the following day and the main passage followed on down dip to a deep lake where a traverse and short ladder climb gained the far shore without too much of a wetting.  Huge wedged logs proved the power of the stream in flood conditions and prompted the appropriate name of "The Log Flume" for the main passage. Beyond the lake the cave continued in fine style with a 45 metre free climb down a sculpted rock wall - The North Face - providing great sport.  Here we temporarily lost the stream and reached another pitch - about 20 metres deep but passable with a 10 metre ladder.  Both pitches are actually more easily passed by free climbing with a traverse line, the cave being particularly well endowed with jug holds and ledges.  Beyond, the bore passage entered the ceiling of a huge, gloomy and mist filled chamber some 25 metres deep.  Bats circled in the Dantesque regions below and with hopes of returning to follow gigantic river galleries all the way to Bangladesh we headed back to the Resort to overdo it on celebrating with beer and Captain Morgan rum.  In the meantime Lump and Shelley had pushed an adjacent cave - Krem Umjasew 2 - down a series of pitches and some superbly decorated passage to emerge in the main cave at the 250 metre point.

On the 10th, feeling decidedly fragile, three of us laddered the pitch to the floor of the immense chamber where a huge sand dune and an area of massive collapse marked the apparent end of the accessible system. Martin named this The Desert of Despond. Another look around here next year, without the burden of a rum hangover, may yield a way on.  At 1.077 km long and just under 200 metres deep this system is now one of India's deepest and most sporting caves which hones one's climbing and traversing skills to perfection!  On staggering back to Mustoh village that evening we were met by Denis and Thomas bearing good and bad news.  The good news was that the chai shop was open late and a roaring bonfire had been lit but the bad news was that the jeep, parked nearby, was buggered and we had to climb up the 370m stone staircase back to the Resort!  Never again will I make a pig of myself on rum ... Meanwhile Dr. B. and Jayne had almost gotten arrested by the Border Security Force for wandering around the town of Shella, on the Bangladesh border, without passports but were let off with slapped wrists when the police realised that they were British cavers. They had been looking for possible resurgences but found nothing obvious in the difficult and jungle covered terrain around the town.

Lots of other small caves were looked at around Mustoh village and there is plenty more to do in this very pleasant area.  The locals are very friendly and helpful, especially the village youths, two of whom, Alban and Shampoo (honest!) were taken on a photography/derigging trip in Krem Umjasew and bottomed their first cave with extreme ease, being natural born cavers.  They were so good that Lump sneaked a large rock into their tackle bag to slow the buggers down a bit!

Our surveyed total in this area was 2.3 km and on the 13th we regretfully left the Resort to join up with the main team at Sutnga in the Jaintia Hills.  A stomach bug had now made it's unpleasant presence felt on both us and the Garo team and persisted throughout the expedition, getting almost everyone - including at least one of the Meghalayan lads.  A flock of hopeful looking vultures gathered daily by the roadside to check on it's progress!

At Sutnga we established ourselves in the LB (inspection bungalow) where most of the recently arrived team had already spent a couple of days, investigating leads in the Krem Umthloo system but finding little of interest.  On the 15th "Peter the Pirate", our one eyed Austrian bolting expert and I decided to attempt the climb up Shrimp Pool Aven located at the end of the main upstream passage in Umthloo.  We abseiled in via the already rigged 40m deep Krem Myrliat and soon reached our objective where, after various entertaining but futile attempts at lassoing and sky hooking ledges 5 metres up, we gave up and Peter used our Makita battery drill to put in three bolts. Technology hits Meghalayan caving! From the top, 6 metres above, a superb potholed streamway - Captain Hook's Canyon - was followed until lack of time and another 5 metre climb caused a halt. We returned next day intent on mapping a kilometre or so of horizontal stuff but were soon brought back to reality at the base of a c.l 0 metre high aven located just around the comer from our last survey point.  I partly free climbed this before handing it over to Peter and the Makita for a more professional job.  After an hour's hard work he gained the top and Fiona and I joined him at the base of yet another soaring shaft - Black Spot Aven.  A narrow chimney at one end was again bolted up by Peter to gain an airy ledge with a rift/aven at one end which our knackered bolter suggested I have a look at before we headed out for our jeep rendezvous as time was now pressing.

I managed to free climb up another 10 metres or so to reach a huge, double level chamber with routes up between massive boulders where it was easy to lose the way.  Leaves and other debris indicated a nearby entrance and, on looking up, I saw daylight at the top of an inaccessible, c.15 metre high aven.  Another daylight aven nearby seemed climbable so I summoned the others to join me for the escape attempt - later proved to have been a bad move!  A bolting/free climbing ascent of this aven was attempted but it was now dark on the surface and this, plus a large overhang put paid to the writer's efforts some 8 metres up.  We were now well overdue and decided to retreat via Krem Myrliat from whence we emerged two hours late at 9 p.m. to later meet a prospective rescue team who had just arrived at Tongseng village. After apologising all round we gratefully drank the emergency beer supplies thoughtfully provided and were driven back to the LB. for a very late meal.  Despite all this it had been a classic and enjoyable trip and we had virtually connected the main streamway entrance to this 12 km system - to provide one of the world's finest through trips - but where was this entrance?  A note typed in German and stuck on the LB. wall gave the answer.  Last year Thomas Matthalm and team had investigated two interconnected surface shafts situated near the V-shaped ancient monoliths on the footpath to Krem Myrliat but had not descended them due to lack of equipment.  This was Krem Ryman and was visited next day by Peter, me and the expedition stomach bug.  While the bug and I sought out a cosy patch of jungle Peter abseiled down one of the open pots to pass the terminal bolt of the previous day a mere 6 metres from the surface! Bugger, bugger, bugger.  Another couple of bolts and a bit of climbing would have seen us out in plenty of time - or even better; if my German had been up to scratch or I had studied Daniel's magnificent cave data book more closely, I would have realised this was the main sink and we could have explored it from the top down! Such is life.  The connecting passages and chamber, aptly named "Life is a Drama" from a slogan seen painted on a Shaktiman truck, were later surveyed and yet another entrance pot 40 metres deep found.

The v-shaped monoliths and the dolmen at Tongseng.

On the 20th Yorkshire Dave and I investigated the strongly draughting "Hairdryer Hole" situated above a different part of the Umthloo system.  Two other adjacent holes were pointed out by local woodcutter Barlis Tongseng.  They were collectively known as Krem Umtyngier and included a fourth, huge shaft which had previously been descended into Umthloo and incorrectly named Krem Moolale.  Two of the three, including the very promising Hairdryer Hole, were dug open to reveal short vertical systems becoming too tight or boulder choked and the third also became choked.  Despite this they may well be visited again in the future as they lie in a particularly interesting zone where a connection between the underlying Umthloo system and the nearby 1.820 km Krem Muid may be on the cards. Krem Muid itself may connect up with the 3.339 km long, and truly stunning, Krem Mawshun, located near the village of Leilad.  Bang will be needed in Hairdryer Hole but this has been easily obtained in the past from local quarrymen - at an inflated price but still dirt cheap compared with European prices.  It was while digging out the entrance of one of these caves that your scribe got jumped on by a 5 cm long Tiger Leech which was fortunately spotted in time (before it died of alcohol poisoning) and was pulled off by Barlis.

Meanwhile other team members had been shown and had partly surveyed the huge stream cave of Krem Liat Prah, slightly to the north east of the Umthloo area.  Fiona persuaded the writer that a low and wet inlet, mapped for some distance by her and Christophe, needed finishing off and could lead to great things.  Having ranted on about the necessity of pushing all small side passages I could hardly refuse and so found myself lying flat out in a stream after having crawled in water for 70 metres and now breathing in vast clouds of acetylene gas from Fiona's dropped spare carbide drum. Luckily the passage closed down here and we could return to the 15 metre diameter "aircraft hangar" main drag of this lengthy system - later surveyed and meticulously drawn up by Michael, whose "baby" it was, to a length of 5.954 km.  A connection with the " Shaktiman Highway" in the adjacent 1.046 km long Krem Um Im was missed by only a few metres when the explorers failed to swim a short lake, not realising that it was the same lake seen to one side of the streamway in Liat Prah!  This combined system may, in turn, connect with the previously explored Krem Labbit (0.457+ km) - itself almost joined to Krem Shynrong Labbit (5.7 km).  This theoretical system of over 13 km is itself not far from the extensive major upstream inlet passages of the 12.65 km long Umthloo system and a promising pot found by Dan and Fiona is situated directly over the missing section where Robin, Ruben and Ronnie also did extensive surface investigations.  A possible mega (or Megha) system of over 40 km is prophesied if the missing links actually exist and can be discovered.

As more caves are discovered and surveyed along the limestone ridge the picture becomes clearer and the connections more likely.  With vast, low lying areas on both sides of this ridge the extreme age of these caves becomes obvious and the writer has a pet theory that they were formed by a mighty river originating in the Himalaya to the north - possibly the proto Brahmaputra before it eroded it's way around the north west side of Meghalaya and then south to the Bay of Bengal.  The original catchment area for the ridge is now the country of Bangladesh some 1,500 metres below!  Another likely connecting cave to Umthloo was pointed out to us by a small boy and lay only 160 metres from Krem Ryman. Krem Korlooheng started with a scramble down for 15 metres to a 12 metre pitch, awkward sloping rift, 90 metres of Yorkshire style scalloped streamway and then a bloody great black hole.

Cherrypicker Pot proved to be a 42.7 metre free hang to a ledge and further 8 metre pitch - over 50 metres in all and awesomely photogenic.  Walkie-talkies were used for communication on this pitch as the echo chamber effect made ordinary speech unintelligible.  Mark used another of our toys, a petrol powered rock drill, halfway down the pot to put in a rebelay and the noise was incredible - like someone ascending the rope on a Harley-Davidson!  At the bottom a pleasant stream passage was surveyed by Lindsay and the writer for 230 metres to end at a low and squalid section which soon sumped.  Here Mark swore he saw a fish which he recognised from the previous year in Umthloo!  Our hopes for an easy way out via Krem Ryman were now dashed and once again we were late back for supper. Another "rescue party" swung into action that evening, not for us but for Yorkshire Dave, Annie and Nicola who had cocked up their jeep rendezvous point and were later found having walked several kms back towards Sutnga.  Communications are a big problem in this fairly remote area with poor roads and teams exploring different areas at the same time.  Next year we plan to take more walkie-talkies and hired satellite 'phones.  One possible problem with walkie-talkies is their use near the Bangladesh (and even the sister state of Assam) borders.

Thomas, Brian K.D. and team had meanwhile been pushing a 1.323 km long resurgence cave reported to have a resident ghost - Krem Wah Shikar.  A beautifully decorated and very roomy river passage had a variety of inlets - one of which Thomas and I explored to reach a second entrance. A picturesque grotto halfway along was named Suppliers' Chamber as both discoverers happened to coincidentally own caving shops called Bat Products!  Funny old world ... The resident ghost was obviously a bit miffed and pinched one of my socks in revenge.  Thomas placated it with the offering of a Coconut Crunchee biscuit (pronounced bisquit by Peter) and the sock later mysteriously reappeared at the LB.

This was obviously a playful and friendly wraith. In the remote and somewhat spooky Lakadong area which some of us had briefly visited last year Martin, Mark, Shelley and Dan were confronted by something else altogether.  They had set a precedent during their first week in Shillong by finding the body of a recently murdered teenager floating in a river.  In Lakadong their main aim was to descend two c.50 metre potholes located near the village and neighbouring immigrant coal miners' encampment.  Surrounded by the usual horde of curious villagers they rigged the first pot and were not unduly surprised to hear the sounds of people apparently working in the depths below.  These were obviously colliers who had entered from another, unknown entrance.  After shouting down a warning Dan abseiled into the depths to stop short of a group of at least six people at the shaft bottom. The shouted warning had been unnecessary as his new acquaintances had very obviously been dead for some time, and probably not by accident.  There was no other access to the pot.  Without getting off the rope our now thoroughly discomfited hero rapidly changed over and headed for the sweeter smelling surface to report to the locals that this reputedly 700 metre deep hole could not be bottomed due to lack of tackle!

They quickly thanked the crowd for their assistance and escaped to the tranquillity of the local LB. Two days later a second shaft which lay in the edge of the jungle some distance away was visited.  Once again this was rigged and descended and though an awesome place seemed to be ghost free.  On reaching the bottom though it was apparent that the spirits were only taking the day off as another rotting corpse met the startled explorer's eyes. Yet again a rapid retreat was made. Apparently the deceased was a local woman thief who raided nearby villages but then made the fatal error of stealing from her own people.  Justice can be simple and swift in these remote areas and a 50 metre pothole is as sure as a gun or rope to ensure that the sentence is satisfactorily carried out, with the added benefit of no body disposal problems.

Apart from these gruesome discoveries the team were surprised not to find large, horizontal galleries at the base of these pots.  More reconnaissance work needs to be done in this theoretically important area hence the authorities were not informed of the quantity of dead people found. It is most unlikely that they would be interested anyway, especially if these were the bodies of immigrant miners who seem to be regarded as a sub species of the human race.

During the expedition many more smaller caves were explored, surveyed and occasionally dug into by sad people with no mental control.  Dan and Fiona undertook more biospelaeological research in the Krem Kotsati/Umlawan system at Lumshnong and in Krem Liat Prah.  Paul continued with the ongoing video project and he, Lump and others took many still photographs, particularly of cave life and entrances for record purposes.  Daniel, Thomas, Mark and Dave wore their fingers to the bone typing data and diary notes into the indispensable computers. Ruben and Ronnie reminded us all what it was like to be young and several times almost became candidates for a Lakadong ropeless abseil trip.  Dorien mutinied after a few days and returned to Belgium to look after her sick father.  Dr. B, suffering from the after effects of a bout of pneumonia, went back to Calcutta with Jayne for a rest and did sterling work in tracking down J .K. Dey and Sons, carbide and safety lamp manufacturers.  Your scribe later met Mr. Sandip Kumar Dey and arranged for the future manufacture of brass carbide generators for the Indian and British caving markets.

With less than eleven months to go plans are already in hand for next year's trip. Brian K.D. and Gareth William were introduced to the very influential high priest of the pagan, animist "Old Religion" which is apparently still practised in the Tongseng - Shnongrim area alongside Presbyterianism.  This very knowledgeable and friendly English speaker showed us several caves, pointed out sacred caves which it was suggested we keep out of and offered to find us a camp site in the middle of the area for next year.  Most of those present will return on the slim hope of finding some " ... karst features of outstanding significance."

Seventy sites were recorded this year giving a surveyed length of 22.598 kms and putting the total Meghalayan cave length at 204.598 kms.  This article is written from the viewpoints of two BEC members and fuller accounts of other peoples' experiences will appear in Descent, the Grampian S.G. Bulletin, etc.


Austria: Peter "the Pirate" Ludwig (LVHOO)

Belgium: Christophe Deblaere, Dorien Verboven (SPEKUL)

Germany: Jorg Dreybrodt (HADES), Michael Laumanns (SCB), Daniel Gebauer (HAG)

India: Organizer - Brian Kharpran Daly (GSG/MA), Shelley & Lindsay Diengdoh, Dale, Teddy & Ronnie Mawlong, Gareth William Lyngwa (all MA), Denis Rayen, Adora ThabaiTyler, Larsing Sukhlain, Phiban Kharumlong, Brian Khyriem, Batkupar Lyngdoh, Abraham Sangma, Alban Bakash (Mustoh village), Shampoo Rapmai (Mustoh), Sunny Lyngdoh, Baba Mawlong, Darimika Bariat, Lija and Eleanor Lyngdoh.

Ireland: Robin & Ruben Sheen (BCCC)

Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (SNT)

Gt. Britain: (absent organizer - Simon Brooks (OCC/GSG), Leader - Mark Brown (SUSS), Annie Audsley (BEC/SUSS), Nicola Bayley (RFODCC), Tony Boycott (BEC/UBSS/GSG), Paul Edmunds, Dan Harries (GSO), Andy Harp (RFODCC), Tony Jarratt (BEC/GSG), Jayne Stead (GSG), Fiona Ware (GSG), "Yorkshire" Dave Hodgson (GSG), Martin "Lump" Groves (SCC), Andy Tyler

With the assistance, hospitality and support of a host of cooks, drivers, village headmen, guides, dhobi ladies, small boys, partygoers and members of the Meghalayan Adventurers' Association - especially Donboc Syiemlieh and Bung Diengdoh.  Not forgetting (an impossibility!) Maureen Diengdoh and the ever cheerful Ladies of Shillong.  Thanks also to Wells St. John's Ambulance for the donation of a Neil Robertson stretcher, now resident in Shillong and hopefully never to be used in anger.


Caving in the Abode of the Clouds - Report of the 1992 & 1994 Expedition

Caving in the Abode of the Clouds - Part II - Report of the 1995, 1996 & 1997 Expeditions (both available from BAT Products)

Various articles in the BB, Descent, GSG Bulletin, International Caver, Caves & Caving, etc.


Club News

The Club Dinner and AGM (5th October) are rapidly approaching.  You should have received your Booking Form for the meal through the post and further AGM details are below.

During the June Working Weekend the ground was cleared for the new extension (thanks to Nigel for bringing along his mini-digger) and as mentioned in the Digging and Diving News section it is planned to extend future clean up sessions to St. Cuthbert's so bring along your caving kit for the next one.

The Ashes were retained in the annual cricket match on a hot and drunken afternoon when two innings were possible (after last year’s monsoon-like conditions).  Despite the usual deterioration in the BEC's game in the second innings (surely completely unconnected with the heavy drinking indulged in by most of the team) the BEC scraped home to win.

The Peru Expedition is off in early September and hopefully will have news to report in time for the next BB. Also off on his travels once more is Phil Rowsell who has returned to Tasmania to drive the Australians up the wall for six months.  Note for your diary, he is due to return in February 2003 - best hide, book a holiday, break a limb or die around that time.

Finally, news has also been reported that a certain Jake Baynes has been hobbling around with a stick after having been run over by his girlfriend - fill in your own punchlines about her having a crush etc .....

Hon. Sec. Report for the Club Year Oct' 2001 Sept' 2002

Well a year has passed and it is that time again when all interested parties should let it be known that they wish to help the club and serve on the committee or alternatively do you have any nominations for others that may wish to do their bit?  Any takers should let me or any other member of the committee know in good time for the AGM on October 5th 2002.  The old adage rings true "it's your club and this is your chance to have a say in its running".

There are still some tickets left for the dinner on the evening of October 5th at the Bath Arms, Cheddar where there is limited accommodation available, tickets are very reasonably priced at £ 16.50.

It was good to get back to normal after the Foot & Mouth outbreak and we have started to get things going with fulfilling our planning permission requirements regarding the extension.  My thanks to all the people who assisted on the several working weekends during the years. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the present committee for their help during the year.  An especially big vote of thanks should go to Ros Bateman who is standing down as membership secretary, over the past few years she has put in a tremendous amount of effort into the job.  It is Ros we should also thank for organising this year's dinner and thanks also to Nigel Taylor for pre-booking the venue.

On the caving front the club has seen members travelling to such places as Northern Spain, Megahalaya, Austria, Peru and the Hunters Lodge car park (congratulations to J'rat on his latest discovery).

On the whole the club is in a healthy position and I would be only too pleased, if it is the wish of the AGM, to stand again as Hon. Sec.

Vince Simmonds.


Treasurer's Report 2001 /2002

This year has proven to be another quiet time financially for the club.  I am happy with the way our finances have moved this year, one huge benefit (thanks to Blitz) has been our continued rates exemption.  This has allowed us to move forward financially, and has put the club on a sound footing for the future.

At the time of writing I am trying to set up our books so that we can have this year's figures audited before the AGM. This is very dependent on the goodwill of the accountant who will have only 3 weeks from the cut off date at the end of August. I will be entirely in his hands time-wise.  Hopefully if all goes well we will always have a set of books that are up to date (give or take a month).

On a different note, from the club's financial point of view there is absolutely no need to raise the membership fees this year.  I feel that the current charges are more than sufficient, and feel that we should consider lower fees for new young members under the age of 20.  These could be staged up to adult levels on a 2-year basis.

At the time of writing there is no reason to expect the rates exemption to change.  I would recommend that the club votes a modest payment into the IDMF fund as this would bolster my claim for exemption this year on the basis that we are encouraging, and financing young local people to join us and take part in our activities!

We look forward to a continued strong financial base for this club.

Mike Wilson.


Extracts From The Logbook.

23/3/02: Sima Tonio-Canuella ( Spain): Vince, Pete Bolt, Mike Alderton, Greg Brock, Bea Goford, Tim Lamberton, Snablet and Annette. 

500m pull through, very good cave and spectacular abseil into main passage.

2/4/02: Hazlenut Swallet: Mike (Willett) and Graham (Jake).

Repaired dams again, cleared out passage and duck of 3 years inwash, and down to the sump.  Quite wet down the 10ft pot but sump not silted, maybe diveable feet first, hand-held etc, by skinny dwarf - if none of the above found then blasting the roof off is the only option.  The sump feels deep but short and well worth a dive.

13/4/02: OFD II (Northern Lights): Neil Usher, Rob Harper, Ben Barnett and Kris Conners (Fatboys' Outing)

In via Edward's Shortcut, Shatter Pillar.  Uneventful trip - apart from Ben actually keeping up. Spent an hour or so looking for Lavender Way, reckon some bastard stole it.  Don't know where Northern Lights is, but was a nice trip anyway. 4½ hours.

25/5/02: Midcot Fissure (Tisbury, Wilts.): Vince and Roz

A trip to Wiltshire to investigate (and survey) a fissure opened up under someone's house (found while digging an extension).  Probably not looking for a new basement.

1/6/02: Ogof Draenen: Vince and Pete Bolt

Down into the Underworld (off Megadrive North) rather disappointing - narrow rift series with small stream, degenerates, too tight.  Laddered the big pitch off Indiana Highway (25m), very impressive free hang (20m).  Followed rift series down another 6m ladder (Wigmore style, tight head first take off) to the Temple of Doom. Dug choke at the end to reach stream unfortunately "we needed a mouse in scuba gear" (Pete quote) to follow it.  Upstream looked likely spot for digging but need to dye trace water to see if it re-emerges in White Arch Passage.  Another potential dig was probed at the bottom of the ladder before we made our way out. 6½ hours.

27/6/02: Eastwater ( Soho Dig): MadPhil and Alison Moody

Trip to drill more holes and bang.  Slow going. Good draught along rift!  Bang fumes caught us up in Boulder Chamber! Stream changed, goes down through Boulder Chamber, then into Ifold's and down Soho Dig!  Tired!!!

5/8/02: Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink: Adrian Hole (Tony Jarratt already there)

Trip to new extensions - found Tony watering hole in boulders with Roger's hose pipe (takes all sorts I suppose).  Went to choke and dug right-hand side.  Kept turning round to look over shoulder at large passage and thinking I had gone to Llangattock not Mendip.  Shame it lacks enough air.


VALE: Dave 'Pooh' Yeandle.

1951 - 2002.

by Stuart (Mac) McManus
with photographs by Martin Grass

Dave was born on the 13th June 1951 and died in a paragliding accident in Alicante, Spain on Friday 5th April 2002.  He was 50 years old.

We had known each other since we were schoolboys over 35 years ago, the things I shall always remember about Dave was his enthusiasm and commitment in all that he wanted to do. He always made you smile, as he talked about all those madcap ideas and things he got up to or things that always seemed to happen to him throughout his life.  He was always good company.  Though our lives took different paths over the years, when ever we met up we would chat about old times and also what each had been doing since we had last met and I think it was a sign of how good a friend he was as we would just continue from where we had left off.

Dave in GB, one of his last caving trips.

Dave would always recount tales of expeditions or trips he had been on with his normal matter of fact tone describing why he was at the bottom of a 50 metre pitch with water cascading on him only wearing his SRT gear and a pair of underpants whilst we would roll about laughing.

I know many people told him he should write a book about his exploits, and encouraged by us all he did complete a manuscript for a book before his untimely death.  The book has been published by the Internet book publishers - Diadem Books.  He certainly packed a lot into his 50 years.

Dave started caving in June 1967 with the Axbridge Caving Group, which like most of us in the sixties involved going down Goatchurch and Sidcot as his first taste of caving.  He was hooked, and quickly advanced onto the major caves on Mendip knocking off work from his Saturday job at Jones C a department store in Bristol) to do sump I in Swildon's.  His log book reads as a foot note to this, his best trip to date, P.S. “nearly got sacked from Jones's!”

His caving continued on both Mendip and South Wales doing all of the classics with the Axbridge C.G., though with the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 1967/68 putting a temporary stop to caving on Mendip, Dave started climbing in the Avon Gorge.  He took to climbing like all things he wanted to do, with total commitment, even his small legs did not stop him from jumping for a tree branch when he couldn't get to a hand hold, which he missed, leaving him dangling some 100 foot above the Avon Gorge!  To Dave, climbing was nearly as good as caving.  He continued to climb throughout his life returning to it seriously in the early 1990's achieving a good E2 standard, surprising quite a lot of his mates with his new found climbing skills.

His first recorded trip with the BEC was in May 1968 with a trip down to Swildon's II which followed with his first visit to Yorkshire with Alan Thomas in June, where typical of Dave he wanted to do everything, his first trip included an Alum/Long Churn exchange and Long Kin West, with Dave stating in his log that he must improve his ladder technique as the 280 foot pitch took him nearly 30 minutes to climb against Alan Thomas's 6 minutes.  It was on these first trips that his love for Yorkshire caving was formed.

Having joined the BEC in 1968 he was to acquire one of his two legendary nicknames that of the "Belfry Boy".  Dave was constantly running the gauntlet, fetching tea for the older BEC members, he didn't mind the constant shouts of "Boy more tea, Boy fetch my caving boots" his objective was to be in the BEC and progress his caving, and I think he was proud of the title "Belfry Boy".

Dave was much involved with the digging and exploration of Cuthbert's in the late 60's and early seventies he was also part of the BEC's Ahnenschacht expedition in August 1969 and the French Ariege trip in 1970.

On hearing about the caving successes of the University of Leeds Speleological Society (ULSA) Dave decided to go to Leeds to study physics.  I remember Dave coming back to Bristol after his interview at Leeds saying he thought he might have blown it, as the department head kept asking him why he had selected Leeds, and Dave said "oh its because I have heard so much about the good results obtained by the physics department" but the head kept asking about his hobbies, suspecting some ulterior motive, Dave eventually had to come clean and mentioned the dreaded C word Caving!!

They let him in and Dave went up to Leeds in 1969 and set about gaining very quickly a reputation as one of the hard men of the ULSA, he did do some physics as well. While at Leeds he was given his second and perhaps most enduring name of "Pooh" after the AA Milne character.

It was when Dave went to Leeds University in 1969 that his caving career really went in to top gear, as Geoff Yeadon put it in his tribute to Dave in Descent, “Dave's rise to the forefront of British caving in the 1970's was mercurial, one minute he suffered the indignities of being Mendip's Belfry Boy, and the next he had become one of the hard men of Leeds University (ULSA)”

Dave was involved in the new discoveries in Pippikin Pot, and at the sharp end of the notorious Langcliffe Pot.  In 1970 he was involved in the breakthrough into Gasson's series which was at the time considered one of the most serious undertakings in Britain with trips lasting over 18 hours.  His log book (July 1970) records one of these epic trips emerging from the cave at 8.00 am "off to Bernie's for some food and then the start of a long hitch back to Bristol (42 hours with 2 hours sleep followed by work on Monday proved interesting)."

In 1972 after he dived Dementor sump at the end of Langcliffe he and his carrying team were flooded in. They all came out under their own steam after 44 hours in the cave. Another Yeandle epic.

There are two permanent reminders of Dave's past caving exploits, with places named after him. One is in the Pierre St Martin in France where in 1972, Dave with such names as Wooding, Mike Boon, the Brook brother to name but a few explored an area in the cave called the Maria Dolores, to which they hoped to claim the world depth record.  Dave found what he hoped to be the pitch to take them all to great depths beneath the Pyrenees, the expected breakthrough so eagerly wanted was not to be, though his efforts were recorded on film by Sid Perou.  They named the pitch "Puits Pooh" and as Dave put it "a little bit of France will always be Puits Pooh."

The other passage named after him is in Pippikin named by Geoff Yeadon after Geoff pushed the downstream sump and broke through to a dry passage and named it "Pooh's Revenge" in recognition of Dave's efforts to make the connection between Link and Pipikin by diving some years earlier.

GB Cave. March 2002.

Dave went off to Australia several times, once overland in 1973 returning in 1975 to join a caving expedition to New Guinea, returning to the UK again in 1978 for what was to be a brief period but staying for nearly three years.  It was during this period as Dave put it, he did his best caving and diving, with trips such as upstream King Pot main drain sump, Alum pot, and the helping with the Keld Head film to name but a few.

Dave returned to Australia as a mud logger in 1980/81, where he took up his other hobbies of windsurfing, gliding as well as Himalayan trekking, which included Everest base camp.  He even apparently managed a 6000 metre peak in Wellingtons!  It was during one of Dave's slide shows that I noticed that some of the slides showed him wearing what I thought was a new design of black anorak, some of these slides had him wearing this new type of anorak high in the mountains in deep snow but the black anorak turned out to be a black plastic bin liner.  Dave as usual stating that that was all he could find after his gear had been stolen earlier in the trekking trip.  Nothing seemed to phase him at all, whatever disaster would be fall him he would just get on with it.

Dave finally returned to the UK from Australia in 1991 and settled down initially in Bristol before buying a house in Wells.  He trained as a mud engineer and travelled around all the oil fields of the Middle East, as well as the North Sea.  The 4 weeks on 4 weeks off enabling him to have money and time off to do the things that he wanted to do.  His interests though having diversified still maintained his interest in caving, as well as skiing and climbing.  The sport that was to take his full attention was paragliding.

Dave took up Paragliding with his usual enthusiasm for anything he wanted to do.  He became a very accomplished pilot obtaining his club pilot rating very early on and was a very popular member of the Avon Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club.  Dave spent quite a lot of time out in Spain, the Alps and even went to South Africa to paraglide where the weather and conditions allowed more frequent flying opportunities than here in the UK.  I know he so much enjoyed the pleasures of flying.  I had only been talking to him several days before he went out to Spain, and Dave as ever, was excited to be getting out there to do some decent flying.  The rest as they say is history.

I know that I can speak for everyone who knew him that his sudden death was a great shock to us all and his passing has left a rather large hole in all of our lives.

I would like to pass on all of our condolences to his sisters Joan, and Alison and his brother Mike, but in particularly to his mother Dorothy who I know feels the loss deeply.


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general

Club members should note: There is now a digital keypad as well as the key lock on the Belfry door.  Please do not compromise club security and members privileges by giving this number to non-members especially those who may already have a key!!

Editors Plea

I would ideally like someone to assist with the compilation of articles, collection of same from authors and help with the rolling calendar.  Also all of you out there, it is your magazine - thank you to all regular contributors but I need more from you.  A small read through the log shows that many trips take place but few get to my in tray!  If you can write, please send it in!  No articles, no magazine.  It's up to you!

Editors Page

Like all editors in the entire world, I have been extremely busy and have had little contact with the world of caving recently other than to take youngsters down Goatchurch as part of my work at the Charterhouse Centre.  I can often be contacted there during the day on 01761 xxxxxx.  I do have an e-mail address though and a lot of things come to me through that medium.  First a message from GREG BROCK, who has been hard at work on the club website.  Greg writes the following.  The new BEC website is now fully up and running.  Please Log on and give your comments on it so that it can be improved. Also please sign the visitors book. The address is www.belfry.cjb.net 

You can contact Greg at the address below.  [email protected][removed]


Pete Rose has sent me a picture of the new entrance to Withyhill Cave before it has been fully covered over and profiled.  This seems worthy of a caption competition to go with the photograph.  Best entries either suggested in the Hunters Lodge or sent to me with judging by a totally partial panel.

From an e-mail received from Rob Harper.  As you may, or may not, know, there was a trip by several BEC members to Chile during February.  I was just discussing this with J’Rat in Bat Products.  Between us we worked out that we were in the Atacama Desert while he was in Cherrapunji.  Thus the BEC had the distinction of having club members at both the driest and the wettest places in the world at the same time!

Also on a sad note, I publish three obituaries

Arnold (Sago) Rice died on Thursday 25th May - Full obituary to follow next issue.  Ed


Graham Balcombe

Francis Graham Balcombe was born 8th March 1907 and died 19th March 2000.

Graham as he preferred to be called, was an engineer with the Post Office, and spent a lot of time installing aerial systems around the country.  He teamed up with a fellow engineer, Jack Sheppard, the CDG surviving President, and they formed a formidable climbing team.  They pioneered and improved many climbing routes in the Lake District and Wales.  Graham was credited with a number of unorthodox solo climbs, church steeples, office corridors etc., not always appreciated by officialdom.  As their prowess increased, their climbing activities were practised whenever they could; and when working at the Daventry site on the AS, in good weather they would climb a radio mast to eat their lunch on the top.  There is a story of a handstand being done on the flat top of a mast.  While climbing in the North, they met members of the Northern Cavern and Fell Club who were on Great Gable.  In discussion they were invited to try potholing (1932).  They liked it and now spent weekends down potholes instead of up mountains.

Eventually they were sent to work on radio stations in Somerset.  There they contacted the local caving expert, Herbert Balch who introduced them to the leading caver of the area, "Digger" Harris.  He was a respected solicitor in Wells, but he broke out at intervals to drive the town fire engine!  He introduced them to many local caves, including Swildons Hole which soon became important to them.  This had been explored as far as a sump by 1920.  This sump they tackled by conventional means, looking for a by-pass; but eventually they resorted to explosives.  This was not entirely appreciated by the locals as one charge had to be re-primed due to a misfire and went off a bit late on a Sunday morning during the service in the church - vertically above the sump, the congregation "felt the earth move" and the vicar was not amused.

By 1934 they had decided to try diving and Graham constructed a sort of snorkel part of which incorporated part of a ladies bicycle frame. It had non return valves and was connected to a piece of garden hose.  This was not successful firstly by reason of physics and secondly by the attachment of the hose coming undone underwater!!

On these first attempts they wore the caving gear of the time--old clothes!


Graham balcombe photographed recently in Bat products

Cold was a vital factor. Jack went on to produce a complete dry suit fed by a football inflator, and he used this to pass the sump. 1000ft further on he met a second sump but could go no further as he lacked a pump operator.  Spurred on by this Graham later attached a small oxygen cylinder to his device, and on a solo trip, passed both the 1st. sump and most of the 2nd sump.  He used synchronised breathing with opening the valve on the cylinder, and the gas ran out as he got back.  He nearly died of hypothermia on the way out.  The sherpa party found him shivering over a candle part way out of the cave.  In 1935 they were loaned and taught to use Siebe Gorman standard diving gear.  Due to its weight and bulk they explored Wookey Hole as far as they could drag their hoses.  During and after the war Graham built an oxygen re-breather and used it in various Yorkshire caves.  His transport was a tandem and trailer that his wife helped him to pedal push from Harrogate and other railheads.  By 1946 his diving equipment had been supplemented by some commercial sets and a number of enthusiasts met in S. Wales in an attempt to tackle a resurgence called Ffynnon Ddu. While there they decided to form a group.  The Cave Diving Group was born!  For several years Graham was Chief Diver, Trainer, Secretary and Treasurer--and he was what one would call a benevolent despot!  (Some were heard to refer to him as the Fuhrer behind his back)

Eventually the strain got too much and a more conventional committee took his place, and he was kicked upstairs as President, more or less his words.

I first met Graham as a comparatively raw recruit, and I was somewhat in awe of him, but found like a lot of rather abrupt people, his bark was worse than his bite!  He must have approved of me because we were diving partners on two dives before he handed in his gear and "retired".  On one of these we found an air filled chamber and a lot of passage underwater.  Although retired he was always pleased to see visitors and talk shop.  My wife was amazed by the wide range of his interests and his persistently enquiring mind.  I kept in irregular contact with him and took him to diving functions and AGMs etc. until his recent illness.  He will be sadly missed by his friends and leaves a large legacy of books, reports and articles that will take a lot of sorting and cataloguing.  He is survived by his stepson.

John Buxton



On 25th February this year Richard Websell committed suicide.  He was not a member of the BEC but he was well known to many of the members.

Richard was born and raised in Salisbury and started caving while at school.  Together with Andy Sparrow, Dave Walker and others he founded the Salisbury Caving Group whose members eventually joined mainstream Mendip Clubs. His academic years in London brought him into contact with SWETCC in the heyday of such characters as Aubrey Newport, Trevor Faulkner and the unforgettable Brian Quillam.  This as much as anything influenced his move into the Wessex.

I first met him in the late 70's.  Our views on caving and its ethics were identical and together with Paul Hadfield we formed a very active caving partnership during the exciting, and occasionally fraught days, of the development of SRT.  We both joined the CDG.  With Al Mills loaning equipment and giving advice ("Don't go below thirty feet those bottles are filled with welding oxygen") embarked on a series of "learning" trips - also quite fraught on occasion.  When I defected to the BEC we still carried on caving together on a regular basis.

His short stature and reserved manner tended to obscure the fact that he was a very hard caver. Although primarily a tourist caver both in Britain and Europe he did take part in original exploration - most notably in the pushing of Gough's cave in Cheddar and in Norway.  No underground hazard or problem seemed to bother him and his sense of humour never seemed to fail however grim the situation.  I remember one occasion in Mangle when it appeared that we would both be trapped by my inability to get back through the squeeze out of Aldermaston Chamber even after stripping off my wet-suit.  Eyeing my pink body apparently irrevocable wedged, Rich was heard to comment that it was like stuffing a marshmallow into a piggy bank.

In his youth he had been a bit "wild" and his life had not been without its problems. However we all thought that was behind him since he met Anne twelve years ago.  He seemed settled and thus the news of his death was a terrible shock. At his funeral the chapel was crowded and overflowing.  A testament to his popularity and not solely within the caving world.

On a personal note. He was my close friend; a kind, funny and totally dependable man who was always good company.  I still cannot believe that he has gone.

Rob Harper


"New Beer Warnings"

Club members may have problems relating to this compilation of beer warnings-Ed

From an e-mail received from the former editor Estelle

Due to increasing products liability litigation, beer manufacturers have accepted the Medical Association's suggestion that the following warning labels be placed immediately on all beer containers:

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is a major factor in dancing like a Wan*er.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to tell the same boring story over and over again until your friends want to smash your head in.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to thay shings like thish.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe that ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them at 4 in the morning.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may leave you wondering what the hell happened to your trousers.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you can logically converse with other members of the opposite sex without spitting.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you have mystical Kung Fu powers.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to roll over in the morning and see something really scary (whose name and/or species you can't remember).

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of inexplicable rug burns on the forehead.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may create the illusion that you are tougher, more attractive, and smarter than some really, really big guy named Franz.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe you are invisible.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to think people are laughing with you.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause a flux in the time-space continuum, whereby small (and sometimes large) gaps of time may seem to literally disappear.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may actually cause pregnancy.

Skittles Night

Craven Pothole Club joined Wessex and BEC members for a skittles match at the New Inn, Priddy on 27m May 2000.  I was a late arrival, but found the members and guests in great form, both skittles and beer going down well.  On the scene reporter Greg Brock managed to preserve the final outcome on his arm!  A fun and enjoyable night was had by all. No formal competition was set up just a social event with prizes for the highest scoring participants.  A £1 entry fee was taken from each person and the profit of the event will be donated to Sarah Blick to help her get to the Advanced base camp of K2 on the 26.07.00.  In amongst all the social drinking the winners of the event were: -

Cliff - Highest male scorer.

Judy Clark - Highest female scorer.

Judie - 2nd highest scoring female who won the boobie prize.

Don Mellar - 2nd highest scoring male who won the other boobie prize


Stock's House Shaft - The Spring Offensive

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos. 502, 504-506.

February 2000 commenced with the escorting of an MCG Wednesday night tourist party around Five BuddIes Sink and the Shaft.  Needless to say they were then conned into assisting with the dig and 50 bags were hauled out while, in the depths, vast amounts of rock was being moved along the level.  Some of them even threatened to come again - but haven't yet!  During the rest of the month and early March another 160 loads reached the surface and four more new diggers were recruited.  Much of the work involved transporting full bags and rocks from Heinous Hall to the Shaft.

On the 13th March the last two boulders from the Heinous Hall collapse were banged and on 15th another 46 loads were hauled out.  Analysis of water samples by Roger Stenner seemed to indicate that the Upstream Level inlet is fed by water from Waldegrave Pool - as is the flow from the Treasury of Aeops.  As these levels went in different directions this seemed odd.  Further water samples were taken on the 19th, both underground and on the surface.

During the rest of March another 214 loads were laboriously hauled out on the man winch but life improved considerably on 2nd April when Ivan arrived with the newly fettled, trailer mounted hydraulic winch and painlessly removed another 74.  The following day, with the assistance of two press-ganged Grampian men, down from Inverness, another 74 came out on the hand winch - in a rapidly worsening snow blizzard.  Work continued on clearing the Upstream Level on the 4th and the terminal inlet sump was drained to enable an airspace to be felt beyond.  This was investigated further the following day and found to be the continuation of the Level.  With high water conditions it was left for the stream to excavate for us.  Another 75 bags reached the surface.

On 6th April the writer, digging in the floor of the Upstream Level on a solo trip, was fortunate to find an almost complete and nicely decorated clay pipe buried in the silt on the RH side of the passage just upstream of the 5m aven (now named Pipe Aven).  Its fine state of preservation may be due to its having been protected by wooden shoring along the Level wall - now rotted away.  Being still intact and useable it is postulated that the pipe may have been put down by its owner and fallen behind the timbers.  The cherry-like designs on the bowl are stylised tobacco plants and on one side is what appears to be a church window or bishop's mitre with a star below.  The circled W on the other side may be the initial of the pipe maker.  Further research is being done on the date and origin of this minor treasure and the current "guesstimate" is late 1700s - possibly from the Oakhill area.  It will eventually be displayed in Wells Museum. A small piece of clay roof tile was also found.


On this trip the now drained sump was further enlarged to gain access to another 20ft of level, bearing to the WNW under the road and towards the ruined Stock's House.  This now added weight to Roger's drainage theory. It was pushed further on 9th by the writer and Greg Brock who demolished a small roof collapse to continue for another 15ft to a choke. Next day the backfilled naturale (?) passage on the SE side of Pipe Aven was partially excavated.

Another 46 loads came out on the hydraulic winch on 12th April and a set back occurred next day when a fairly major roof fall just beyond Pipe Aven luckily happened while the writer was having a fag break at the Shaft.  The 16th saw 74 loads out, more water samples taken and the new collapse banged.  A follow up blasting project the next day was curtailed by more raining boulders.

This is another example of the roof of the level coming down when the supporting infill is removed. Bits of rotten timber and black staining show that all these dodgy areas were previously timbered up by the Old Men who were fully aware of the consequences of leaving them unsupported.

On 26th April Trev and team cleared most of this fall, despite having to dodge more rocks, and hauled 30 loads out.  May started with 87 bags out on the 3rd and the next few days were spent in lowering the floor of the Upstream Level to gain access to the visible continuation. This was entered on the 8th May in high water conditions and found to be aloft long section of apparently modified natural streamway with an attractive section of scalloped grey limestone at the start.  51 more bags came out two days later. Three clearing sessions were then done in the Level during which some natural/mined alcoves were revealed directly under the road. These will be fully excavated at a later date.  The arrival of summer and associated problems was heralded by the stealing of our modified wheelbarrow and the throwing of a full bag of cement down the Shaft by some pathetic pratt.

The hydraulic winch was in operation again on the17th when 66 loads came out after considerable experimentation with tying-on techniques.  Eventually a system was devised whereby ten loads could be hauled up in one go.

The Scene on 3rd April at Stock Hill (you can just sees the winch)

Andy Elson emerging from the "natural" section of the Upstream Level.  Photo by John Williams, 22nd April

Visitors from Kent Underground Research Group were shown the workings on 20th May (and persuaded to shift a few bags) and the next day a mere 3 loads were hauled out by Rich Witcombe who was excavating a trench across the flat ground behind the winch to see if it could have been a horse whim circle.  He found no evidence for this so this ground can now be used to extend the spoil heap.  Down below work was continuing on clearing the Upstream Level and on the 22nd the collapse at the end was poked with a long crowbar to bring down another supply for our regular rockery customers. Caveable passage could be seen above the collapse but it was deemed prudent to leave it to settle - the healthy water flow continuously washing out the fine silt and gravel.

An exciting evening was had on 25th when 87 loads came out, generally a dozen at a time, on the hydraulic winch.  The weight caused the scaffold tripod to slip - heavy bits of metal narrowly missing the unloading team.  At the Shaft bottom a couple of head sized boulders had the same effect on the loading team as they ricochetted into the two different levels where they were sheltering.  Valuable lessons were learnt for future winching as having two thirds of the digging team wiped out in one go would be counter-productive!  The last rock out to surface contained a superb shothole section, 23mm in diameter and 116mm long to the bottom of the hole - which still contained a greasy black deposit.  This was collected for possible analysis as it is likely to be the residue of the burnt gunpowder charge.  The spring session ended with 104 bags to surface on 31st May.  Hopes are now on the weather drying up (some hope!) for a late summer push downstream.

This section will be walking sized when the floor spoil is removed ..

Additions to the Digging Team

Wayne Hiscox, Arthur Spain, Greg Smith, Roger Wallington, Mick Lovell, Brian Pittman, Viv Beedle (all MCG), Dave Boon (Frome CC), Barry Hewlett, Danny Burnett, Steve Windsor, Fergus Taylor (ex Camborne SMCC), Mark Denning, Estelle Sandford, Martin Parsons, Ken Ansty (Blackmore CG), John Moorhouse (Soton DCC), Jim Conway (Grampian SG), Dave Hodgson (GSG), Mike Merritt (SMCC), Chris Franklin, Ian Butler, Dave Morgan, Phil Spice, Nick Smith, Peter Burton (Kent Dnd. Res. Group), Mark "Gonzo" Lumley.

Additional Assistance and Photography

Graham Mullan (UBSS), Lou Maurice (DBSS), Marek Lewcun ( Bath Arch.Trust), Maurice Hewins (WCC).

Diggers always welcome to J’rat's Digs (or the many others!) Especially welcome, thick arms and a natural propensity for grovelling in waist deep mud!  Contact the diggers at the Hunters Lodge Inn, Priddy any Wednesday evening.  Ed


Tales of a lesser known caver Part 2

by the Editor.

As no doubt many of you know, there are lots of cavers who go climbing or walking up mountains.  I know of quite a few.  Perhaps it is some of the yearning to visit beautiful places, perhaps it's the thrill. Whatever it is, I was a relative newcomer to the climbing part of this scenario until quite recently.  As part of my work, I needed to attend a course in first aid and since others at the centre where I work wanted similar training, a group of four instructors drove to North Wales last year and booked up the Climbers Club cottage at Helyg near Llyn Ogwen, Snowdonia.  On arrival late on Friday evening, we were greeted by a terrible smell; similar to one that used to lurk at the Belfry some weekends after a group had visited.  We fumbled around for light switches and got the place warm by lighting the fire - coal supplied, and the smell gradually faded.  Further unpacking took place and then a fridge was opened and the smell came out and seized me by the throat or was it via the nose.  Yes cavers, you have guessed, it was a very former piece of chicken, still in its wrapper that had been left in the icebox.  Later, after gagging and cleaning the suppurating mess out of the fridge, I looked up the date of the last group.  Two weeks ago!  They had dutifully turned off all the power and complied with the plethora of little notices, forgetting to empty the icebox, but remembering to open the fridge door!  Nature had taken its course, but had been frozen once again when we arrived and powered up the place. Appropriate notes were left in the log!  Anyway, back to the point of the tale.

Snowdon from Plas y Brenin (many mines, few caves)

By now it is nearly 11pm and my comrades suggest a freshen up outside.  Packing two full ropes and a rucsac of bits, we are rapidly off up the road to stop at a blurry shape in the dark.  "Milestone Buttress," Chris exclaimed, Off you go Torbs, it's just like caving as it's so bloody dark you can't see anything.  So, Petzl on, up we go!  After about three pitches, I arrive at something akin to the entrance of a cave. In I go only to find I am snuggling up against a large boulder and a wall.  Well it felt safe, so on we go. More ropy things, a traverse across into nothing and a haul up and I can see a glow below.  F**k me it's a bloody great lake!  I am miles up!  Faint tremors of the legs are followed by turning the light out.  Can't see anything so nothing to worry about. "Off you go Torbs", so off upwards I go, finally reaching somewhere called the top.  By now I cannot see the bottom or the top so it is most cave like.  I can see I am on a ledge and there are a couple of other lights, one above, one below, and then we are all together.  "OK, time to get off and to bed", says Chris.  It's now 1.30 a.m. and I am tired.  A long icy, wet gully descends at a steep slope angle, far to slippery to do without a rope, so tie on and down we go, good cave practice this! Soon I am on a flat bit, then on a path, then I see the road and we are back, hot, sweaty and happy, just like a caving trip but in reverse (you go down to get out).  Well that was all fine and we are still alive so home we go.

About a year later, I am in Snowdon again doing some training and drive past Milestone Buttress.  I stop and go up to find the climb but cannot.  Just like a cave you visit in the dark with friends in foreign places, you can never find the entrance!


Extract from the Sherborne Mercury 1816. 

Sent in by Sett.


On Tuesday the 12th day of November, 1816, on the premises, at Priddy Minery, in the parish of Chew-ton-Mendip, in lots:

Lot 1. A STEAM-ENGINE, with a 16-inch Cylinder, Air Pump, and Condenser, standing in a wood frame, with a wrought iron boiler, cast iron round top, 6 feet and a half diameter, nearly new, with a grate thereunto belonging.

Lot 2.  A STEAM-ENGINE, with a 12-inch Cylinder, a wrought iron boiler, six feet diameter, cast iron flat top, with steam pipes, brass cock, and piston.

Lot 3.  Two 8 inch PUMPS, that lift about 30 fathoms with buckets, clacks, and iron rods to the same.

Lot 4.  A LIFTING CAPSTAN, with cogs and nut, standing in a wood frame.

Lot 5.  A STEAM-ENGINE, 6-inch Cylinder, worked with a flywheel & crank, and a 4 feet wrought iron boiler.

Lot 6.  A 6-inch PUMP, that lifts about 15 fathoms, with buckets, clacks, and iron rods to the same.

Lot 7. Sixty yards of INCH-ROPE, nearly new.

Lot 8. Sixty yards of Ditto,          ditto.

Lot 9. Sixty yards of Ditto,          ditto.

Lot 10. A quantity of Hods.

Lot 11. Shovels, Sledges, Mattocks, &c. Lot 12. Iron Screws, Nuts, and Pins.

Lot 13. A quantity of Iron.

Lot 14. Sundry Windlasses.

Lot 15. A quantity of Timber.

Several Servants Beds, Bedsteads, and Bedding, in lots.

Sale to begin precisely at eleven o'clock in the fore-Noon.



By: Ted Howard, manufacturing adviser and R.S. King C.Eng. Aerospace structural specialist.
January 1999

This summary presents facts about the design of karabiners


It is worth reminding ourselves about the function of karabiners used with ropes.

A karabiner is a much used link in a chain of components intended to provide a life support system either potential, to guard against inadvertent fall, or direct employed in a rigged system intended for rescue, access or industrial use.

The potential life support system is only intended to be used in case of a fall. The gear and its placement is more of a hindrance than a benefit apart from its moral support once placed.  Some risk is accepted.

The direct life support system is gear used dynamically for support as a controlled method with full knowledge of its characteristics.  Risk is not acceptable.

The acceptance of risk is the reason that recreational users are content with less robust and lighter gear than the industrial user.

Fitness for Purpose

The choice of a karabiner in a given situation must be its fitness for purpose.  When it is needed it must work.  It must have adequate strength and stiffness and continue to provide these in the working environment.

It is not the purpose of this summary to give the statistical results of tests readily available through the U.I.A.A., nor to arouse the wrath of manufacturers, but some salient points are given in the hope that they will aid selection of karabiners for specific purposes.


1.                  Many karabiners are made of aluminium alloy by user demand in the pursuit of lightness and also to gain a competitive retailing edge.  They have become lighter and lighter.  Advances in manufacturing and materials technology allow this but gradually the load carrying ability of specific karabiners has decreased.

2.                  Given their working conditions, aluminium alloy is probably one of the worst materials that karabiners could be made from.  Weight advantage has been gained by using increasingly higher strength alloys. These alloys are one of the strongest materials on a weight to strength basis that can be utilised currently for their manufacture.  However in the compromise required to achieve higher strengths these alloys also have reduced ductility and tend to crack more readily, with higher crack propagation rates.  This has the consequence that once a small crack appears then because of the concentration of stress and the nature of the material then the high tech. alloys can rupture easily, even under working loads.

3.                  All aluminium alloys have approximately the same low modulus of elasticity so that improvements to stiffness can only be made by careful detail design of the overall shape and the shape of the local cross-section.  Low stiffness means that the gate can deform requiring a screwed gate to restore some strength by providing a load path.  The size of the pins limits the magnitude of the load that can be carried.

4.                  Aluminium alloys are highly prone to corrosion which has given rise to a huge amount of effort devoted to the problem.  Aircraft in particular use these high tech. alloys and are sometimes grounded for weeks while corroded parts are repaired or replaced.  This means being aware of the various types of corrosion.  These are many.  Only three main types are considered here;

a.                  Surface, is caused by an impurity exposed at the surface making a small electrical cell in the presence of water.  The aluminium becomes an anode and corrodes.  The appearance is a flaky white powder.  The repair is to remove this mechanically and polish the exposed surface until no black pitting shows.  Restore the protective finish.

b.                  Sub-surface is caused by corrosion along the grain boundaries, starting at an edge or a hole. Sometimes called exfoliation corrosion, because the metal flakes, it is hard to detect in the early stages when a simple repair might be possible. The undetected corrosion represents a loss of strength.  Usually the repair is to throw the affected item away.

c.                  Galvanic corrosion is caused by dissimilar metals in contact in the presence of water. For example steel hinge pins in aluminium, unless they are coated with cadmium, will cause corrosion. Unfortunately aluminium will be the anode and will corrode.  It then becomes another throwaway job.  Water, particularly with salts, is damaging.  The simplest repair is to remove all corrosion but please note that both strength and stiffness are reduced by material removal!


5.                  Weight.

Design is usually a compromise between a number of conflicting requirements. The best link might be a closed steel loop tested safely at 100kN.  Anything less is a compromise but we are obliged to compromise.  A gate is required, that adds weight and reduces strength.  Weight is always a consideration if someone has to carry it, but how light should we go? Constructional rigging and rescue work recognises more readily that the strength of the links is paramount and in such situations weight can be tolerated if adequate personnel are available. After all, lightness is of no benefit if it leads to failure!

In climbing or caving the choice becomes blurred, with the decision being biased towards lightness in the interest of success.  How often do we contemplate falling off!  Remember too that a direct belay or an abseil point where one or more lives are at risk can be considered to be a direct life support system which needs higher security.

It is a useful exercise for a climber to weigh a rack of twenty lightweight karabiners say 20kN rated, and compare the difference in weight with a rack of twenty 28kN rated.  With due consideration it may be decided to leave a bar of chocolate behind and take the stronger rack - unless chocolate drives you on!

6.                  Material.

Steel is a much more robust and reliable material than the high tech, aluminium alloys and the red rust of corrosion is more easily spotted with less damaging effects.  Stiffness is a function of the material and also of the detail design.  If we assume that an aluminium and a steel karabiner have the same shape (or volume) the following comparisons can be made. The steel unit will be about twice as strong and three times more stiff but three times more heavy than aluminium.  So, for the same strength the steel karabiner would be about 50% heavier.  You'd get about 18 of these aluminium karabiners to the kilogram or 12 steel ones.  Steel is harder than aluminium and better resists abrasion and impact damage.  It's your choice.

7.                  Detail Design.

Since the advent of competition sports climbing, the availability of longer nosed karabiners, to aid fast clipping of protection points, has increased. This may be why they feature prominently in shops and that there are so many of them.  Are they fit for your purpose?

Karabiners are essentially like crane hooks.  The load is intended to be carried through the back which is shaped for maximum strength.  It is also designed for stiffness so that the hook will not deform and allow the load to slip out.  A karabiner has to have a gate and modem design makes it part of the strength but it is also a weakness.  It should not deform so much under static load that it cannot be opened intentionally, in an emergency.

The loaded rope is reacted by transferring a direct tension force across the link.  The sketch (fig. 1) illustrates this.  Any offset from the line between where the load is applied and where it is reacted will cause additional, weakening, bending forces.  The highest strength is achieved by keeping the line of action of the load as close as possible to the back of the karabiner.  This will give the lowest offset bending.

Pull or tension tests to destruction, are done with a karabiner mounted under ideal conditions.  Tests are done with the karabiner mounted with twelve millimetre rods tucked tight into the corners of the back.  This gives the least offset and consequently, the highest strength.  In practice extra offset bending can arise because the loading geometry is different.  If the same test is done with a twenty-millimetre tape in place of the rod then the point of application of the load is displaced from the ideal position and has an extra offset which significantly reduces the breaking strength (fig.2).  If the karabiner is jammed against something so that it can react force sideways then the rope or tape can slip towards the gate.  The offset is now far more than it was designed to be.  In these circumstances there is a danger of premature failure, (fig.3).

The figures illustrate the fact that the greater the offset from the line of action of the load the less the potential strength of the karabiner because extra bending forces arise from leverage.

8.                  Dynamic Performance of the Gate

A good 'open-gate' strength is difficult to achieve.

Consider the gate design.  It is made so that the latching end of the gate (as opposed to the hinge end) has its latching pin in a design distance clearance to the receiving slot in the nose (fig A ).  This allows the back to build up resistance as it comes under load.  The deflection of the back then allows the gate to engage and start to offload the back.  This device delays the build up of strain in the gate so that this weaker component can add its strength just before the back starts to yield (or permanently deform) on its way to failure.  This gate feature greatly improves the resistance of the karabiner.  However because of the reduced stiffness of aluminium alloy with the resulting deflection, avoid screwing up the gate when under load.  It may be impossible to unscrew it without loading it again.

Dynamic testing, involving a given load dropped through a specific distance, fastened to a rope running through a karabiner gave some very interesting results.  These were analysed in slow motion and it could be seen that as a result of the vibration set up in the karabiner the gate oscillated open with increasing amplitude. This sympathetic response would significantly reduce the unit's strength should the impact occur with the gate open. It might also allow the rope to escape. Without a gate to help, the integrity of the unit can be compromised making a sort of Russian roulette.  This should be enough to encourage the use of screw gates, twistlocks or any other gate locking device.  Again, more fuss but a reduced risk.


9.                  Care in Use

Where karabiners are made for a specific purpose they are not necessarily fit for multi-purpose use.

Avoid linking karabiners together.  They have a way of twisting against each other, especially when on a ledge, getting a back against a gate and opening it.  They can then slip apart.  This has been recorded many times.  It is a very real danger.

Lock the gate - against the rope slipping out - against vibration and to improve strength.

A lot of thought and experience has gone into the design and manufacture of karabiners.  They are made more and more for specialist purposes which may not be compatible with your requirements.

Different features often arise not as a technical improvement but as need to produce a new product and stay commercially ahead. "A karabiner is a karabiner" is not necessarily true.


10.              Will they last forever?

No, they do not last forever.  It is essential that any safety equipment, including karabiners, be treated with respect.  Karabiners need cleaning regularly.

·        After use, especially near salt water, wash in warm water with detergent, rinse in demineralised water, dry and lubricate with a water repellent including the gate hinge pin. Remember that soft waxes (WD 40) evaporate and need regular replacement.

·        Check for distortion, bent gate pins, fractured noses, surface damage such as indentations or cracks.

·        Check that there is a take-up clearance (fig A) at the nose latch, particularly if the karabiner has had a shock load.  Lack of clearance may indicate that the unit has permanently deformed and has a reduced strength.

·        Don't forget that one long abseil on a rope which is wet and dirty or covered in mud can scour a groove so deep that it puts an alloy karabiner beyond safe use. Cut it in two and throw it away.

·        Guard against sympathetic vibration by checking the spring resistance against the gate opening in comparison with a good quality new one.  If in doubt contact your supplier to have a new spring fitted. It is a simple job.

·        Karabiners are like any other mechanical device.  They are prone to failure, need maintenance and eventually are unsafe to use.

Choose your equipment carefully with its purpose in mind.  If it is to be part of a direct life support system where weight is not a problem then it is safer to use properly maintained steel.


Meghalaya 2000

by Tony Jarratt

Tom Chapman and the writer were the BEC's representatives on this year's expedition (Brian Johnson and John Whitely being the Club's agents on a separate Devon/Yorkshire trip to the south of the country which I am sure they will write up for the BB!)  The rest of the team consisted of our leader, Simon Brooks (Orpheus & Grampian), Fraser Simpson, Dr. Kate Janossy, Roger Galloway, Pete Dowswell (Grampian), Mark Brown, Dr. Kirsten McCullough (Sheffield Uni.), Kevin Garwood (Canada) and Dr. Mandy Edgemont (S.W.C.C.)  The Meghalayan Adventurers contingent were Brian Karpran Daly (leader), Donbokwell Syiemlieh (organizer), Ronie Mawlong (token small boy), Bokstarland Franklin (organizer/guitarist), George Nongkhlaw, Spindro Dkhar, Betty Chhakchhuak, Neil Sootinck, Lindsay Diengdoh, Andy Tyler, Adora Thaba, Myrkasim Swer (chef), Larsing Suklain (guide, caver and bigamist) and a host of cooks, assistants, drivers, guides etc. Hospitality and entertainment were once again provided by the ever popular Ladies of Shillong.

This trip had two primary aims: - 1) Continuation of the work done by Wells Cathedral School C.C. (1999) in the Sutnga area, Jaintia Hills, east Meghalaya (recced. by us in 1998 and 1999).

2) Recce. in the Garo Hills, west Meghalaya, following on from work done by earlier expeditions.

Aim one was accomplished very successfully, despite a total lack of surveys or information from the Wells team but aim two had to be cancelled due to insurgency problems in the area.

The BEC contingent left Mendip on 9th Feb. after getting a lift to Heathrow with Tony Boycott (who we had exchanged this year for three young and attractive lady doctors - good swap eh?)  Here we met Simon, Kate, Kirsten, Mark and Fraser and flew on to Meghalaya via Amman ( Jordan) Calcutta and Guwahati ( Assam).  A luxury coach then took us on the four hour drive to the capital, Shillong, where we met Pete, Roger and the local lads at the Embassy Hotel.

11th Feb. was a shopping and equipment sorting day followed by party number one at Brian and Maureen’s house.

12th Feb. hangover number one was suffered on the coach to Cherrapunjee (Sohra) where we went for a day trip to a proposed holiday resort owned by Brian's friend Denis Rayen.  Its spectacular location near the village of Laitkynsew gave views of the towering escarpment cliffs of Meghalaya which were as impressive as looking at one wall of the Grand Canyon - greatly enhanced by the endless flat plains of Bangladesh below.  The nearby sandstone cave of Krem Wah Sang was explored and surveyed by Simon, Tom and Mark to a length of 106m and depth of 32m.  Meanwhile, above, the rest of us sat around a bonfire drinking and listening to Roger playing Irish and Scottish folk tunes on his tin whistle as dusk fell over the plains below - we'd arrived!

Next day we left by coach for the five hour journey to Sutnga taking with us Betty (of the unpronounceable surname!) and Kevin - a travelling Canadian who expressed an interest in caving and, more importantly, was a computer programmer (we had two lap-tops with us).  On arrival we established HQ at the village Inspection Bungalow, some 3/4 hours drive from the main limestone block of the Nongkhlieh ridge.

The 14th saw the whole team pushing leads left by the Wells students though the lack of information from them was to frustrate us throughout our time in this area.  Near the village of Lelad, on the north side of the ridge, the horrific boulder maze of Krem Sniang was surveyed for 90m length and 47m depth to the head of a probable 10m+ "pitch".  Any attempt to descend this would have meant dislodging keystones holding up the 47m of boulders above!  It was abandoned in disgust as the strong draught indicated a big cave below.  The name, " Pig Cave", relates to an aberrant porker rescued from the entrance pit before providing sustenance for a village feast.

The nearby Krem Umsohtung was also visited and a pitch descended and surveyed to the head of a second pitch.  We later discovered that this had already been done more lack of information.

Today's best find was Krem Mawshun where a split 20m pitch (left un-descended by Wells C.S.C.C.) led to an extensive horizontal system - see later.

The 51.5m deep Krem Kdong Moomair was bottomed in one pitch by Tom, Mandy, Kirsten and Fraser to a choke. The long snake skin at the top of the shaft caused the explorers, especially Fraser, some concern as to whether its previous occupant was awaiting them below!

On the following day, after a long drive in our Mahindra 4WD pick-up, we arrived at Litien village where a couple of local lads were found to guide us to Krem Wah Sarang ( Rusty Water Cave).  A dry entrance above a small resurgence led to a fine 200m long, 3m wide and 4m high stream passage to another entrance on the far side of a ridge, near the sink. Other small caves nearby were investigated but found to be choked or sumped.  As our pick-up had gone back to HQ we were forced to hitch a lift home in the diesel soaked back of a monstrous 4WD Shaktiman truck - driven by a lunatic who was obviously late for his tea.  This was the most exciting part of the day!

Continuing our recce of this area next day, we went in search of Kut Sutiang - a hill fort with stone-barricaded caves which was stormed by the British in 1862 to eradicate the last of the Jaintia "rebels".  With the hill in sight we made a courtesy stop in Shnongrim village and had tea with the headman. Unfortunately he had previously been approached by the Jaintia Adventurers Assn. - a breakaway group from the Meghalayan Adventurers - and they had requested that the area be reserved for them only. Having experienced India's first case of "caving politics" we beat a diplomatic retreat after bribing the headman with Polaroid photographs of his family.  This short sighted action by the Jaintia cavers will do little to further serious exploration as they have practically no equipment, no vertical experience, no survey kit and very little intention of actually doing any serious caving. They do have a great interest in seeing their names in the papers and encouraging sponsorship though!  This problem will be resolved by next year as we have "friends in high places"

On February 17th-18th survey teams worked in Krem Mawshun to map several hundred metres of impressive streamway and a maze of wet tubes and boulder chokes leading to a large flood resurgence entrance in jungle covered pinnacle karst.  This system's total length was 3.3km.

The 19th was a rest day and we were invited to the village church/school fete very like a typical English one with folk dancing, hoop-la, tea and cakes etc. but with the exciting addition of a couple of fighting bulls let loose in the crowd and no safety fences!! Fortunately no-one got gored and the local bull was champion of the day so the villagers were in fine form, especially after celebrating with the traditional rice beer.  That night another party and sing-song developed.

Scenery above Krem Wah Ryngo

Next morning, late, the whole hung over team travelled by bone shaking Shaktiman for two hours to the remote village of Umteh.  Here we were shown the dry flood resurgence of Krem ah Ryngo ( Charcoal Cave).  With a name like that it was just begging for passage names with a Beatles theme.  On this first trip about 1km of impressive, walking size and up to 10m wide tunnels were surveyed and at least eight main ways on left unexplored.

We returned the next day replete with camping gear and cooks and established ourselves in a deserted coal miner’s settlement consisting of several bamboo framed huts devoid of roofs or walls. While the cooks rebuilt the place we returned to "Ryngo" and split into two teams to survey a further km or so including a huge, well decorated and sparkling chamber, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, and an attractive Gothic-arched phreatic tunnel-Abbey Road.

That night the jungle resounded to the joyful sounds of yet another party - this time with a roaring camp fire.  The departed coal miners would have been impressed as their ghost town sprang back into life for a brief period.

The morning of the 22nd saw the team breakfasting off baked beans, rice and bananas to the accompaniment of monkeys howling in the forest.  Another km was surveyed in "Ryngo" and a short but impressive shaft to surface climbed by Tom.  This was the dry main sink entrance, situated on the south side of the Nongklieh ridge above the camp.  In a plantation here we met three local rice planters who gave us tea, betel nut and biris (Indian fags).  In return we gave them Wills cigarettes and demonstrated the joys of lighting lumps of carbide.  Luckily we had George, a Meghalayan caver with us, who spoke to them in Khasi as they admitted that they were ready to run off and hide on first seeing the strange white men appear from nowhere!  We returned to the camp through the cave and completed a long closed loop to Abbey Road en route.

That evening four of us and the two cooks opted to stay for another night while the others returned to Sutnga.  A huge bonfire and limited rum and fag supply kept us going as we fondly thought of the body-destroying Shaktiman ride our colleagues were suffering.

Corned beef hash, noodles, oranges and bananas set us up for the day and while George and the cooks decamped Tom, Roger and I mapped another 300m of fine passages, loops and a large chamber - The Magical Mystery Tour - which fortunately led back to known cave after a committing climb down in its floor.  A low and wet route upstream from Lucy in the Sky was left unsurveyed due to lack of time and we came out via the top entrance to walk on up the ridge to the dirt road above.  Here we met George and the cooks who had built a roadside fire and prepared tea and biscuits.  As night fell and the strains of Roger's whistle soothed the savage beasts in the surrounding jungle we saw the welcome sight of the pick-up's lights in the distance. Bung, our faithful off-road driver arrived bearing fags and beer and took us back to Sutnga - tired but happy!

Meanwhile big things were happening at the nearby Krem Shrieh ( Monkey Cave).

Mark had rigged the gobsmacking 97m deep entrance shaft to enter a huge stream passage with lots of fossil galleries leading off.  In the adjacent Krem Um Sngad Fraser, Larsing and team had found over a km of streamway, fossil passages and a large downstream sump.  This cave eventually yielded 2.4km.

On 25th four of us drove for, surprisingly, only one hour to our old stomping ground of Lumshnong village. Here a fruitless recce. was done to try and find the resurgence of India's longest cave - Krem KotsatilUmlawan.  A shaft reported by local caver Spindro Dkhar was also not found.  The lower altitude here resulted in tropical temperatures and clouds of multi-coloured butterflies which made up for our lack of discoveries.  The plateau above Krem MaTom (Mf. Tom's Cave) was also looked at and the top of the impressive 30m+ Yorkshire Pot aven (found last year) was located on the surface - shown to us by immigrant colliers.  After tea with the villagers in Thangskai, where we had to arrange guides for the next day, we returned to Sutnga to find that Krem Shrieh had now grown to 1.6km with no sign of an end.

Back to Thangskai the next day for a long recce. in the forest with local guide Moon Dkhar (who we decided got his name due to his arse hanging out of his trousers) about 1 1/2 hours walk from the main road.  The first, Krem Pui Pui (pic above) was found by following a dry river bed downstream to what the non-English speaking Moon seemed to indicate was a small hole

Simon going over the edge at Krem Pui Pui

As we stood, suffering from vertigo, on the edge of an awe inspiring shaft, 34m deep by some 40-50m in diameter we realised that our interpretation was not correct!  With only 10m of ladder and a short length of rope we left it for another day and went to look at the second cave, Krem Thloo Mawriah.  At a mere 13m deep by 25m diameter this was a baby but still too much for our feeble amount of equipment, despite valorous attempts to lasso the top of a tree growing up from the base of the shaft in an attempt to shin down it to the floor. The third cave, Krem Khlien Wah Shyrtong, was reached after a long trek through dense undergrowth.  A small entrance in a cliff led to a 10m+ pitch which Simon found to be capped with loose debris and again needing more tackle than we had with us.  These three pots were formed by breaching of the thick sandstone cover and being in a previously unvisited area held great promise for potentially large cave systems filling in the gap between the Lumshnong and Sutnga karsts.

With the arrival that night of the party-loving Ladies of Shillong, plus a few more Adventurers, the inevitable happened.  Gorged on beer, betel nut and Beatles songs a few hardy souls were suddenly surprised to find that it was daylight.  After staggering off to bed at 6am it was not long before we were up again and on the road to Lumshnong where Brian and I visited the extension in my dig in Krem Umkhang/Kharasniang.  This was to confirm Tony Boycott's report of last year that it was too tight to push further without more banging or awkward hammer and chisel work.  Four other party survivors managed a Krem Kotsati tourist trip.

On 28th Simon, Fraser and I were back at Krem Pui Pui with plenty of rope, SRT kit and a video camera. Simon abseiled first into this mini "Lost World" followed by Fraser, our cameraman.  I joined them to find that the only way on was a sink passage almost completely choked with trees, boulders and bamboo.  I managed to dig through some of this to reach a blind 4m aven and then down through the floor into a most unpleasant section of draughting, spider-infested crawls over rotting vegetation which would need a considerable amount of digging to progress further.  A similar result occurred at Krem Mawriah where the pitch was laddered to reach a boulder choked draughting hole in the floor of the main shaft which would be a suicidal dig.  We had no time left to descend the third cave and our hopes for the potential of this area now having been drastically reduced we headed back to Sutnga to find that the others had had more success, Krem Shrieh now being over 5km.

29th February -St. Alactite's Day.  To celebrate this rare event I joined the Krem Shrieh team on a survey trip.  As my last SRT trip had been a year previously in Synrang Pamiang I was a bit rusty on the changeovers on the 97m entrance pitch so had plenty of time to admire the view and ridiculous amount of exposure!

At the pitch bottom we first mapped 120m of low inlet passage containing a couple of small animal skulls.  Tom then noticed a complete and very dead racoon-like creature curled up in a nest of leaves and still with all it's fur intact.  How did it get here?

On downstream to survey a series of large oxbows and smaller inlets for another 1.5km leaving several huge upper levels unlooked at.  These were in the Orang Utan Series, the cave having a "monkey" theme.  The prusik out in the dark was even more of a "ring clencher" than the descent as tiny spots of light signified colleagues on the chamber floor and lower ropes.

The next day Kate, Fraser, Tom and Mark continued with the survey - three of them opting to stay in overnight to make the most of the time available.  Another 2km was added to bring the final total to 8.66km and the title of India's fourth longest cave, a just reward for the effort and enthusiasm put in by them.  There is still potential for a few hundred metres here by surveying various small inlets.

Brian, Simon, Kirsten and I, led by Larsing, had taken the easy option and returned to Litien village to continue the survey of the impressive Krem Iawe - a river cave partly explored and mapped by the Wells team.  Our only information was a good thumbnail sketch by Kate and a write up in Caves & Caving.  A search by Simon and co. the previous day had failed to reveal the cave and it had become a matter of honour to finish the job.

The redoubtable Larsing took us straight to it and, resisting the temptation to go off looking for another wife to add to his collection, accompanied us underground in dry grots.  We had read the poor description provided and wore life jackets and wet suits!

The deep entrance pot was entered halfway down by a crawl from the surface and a steep slope then followed to a short climb and huge river passage.  On the LH side, facing upstream, we surveyed over 200m of labyrinthine, dry, phreatic passages ignored by the Wells explorers.  Leaving Larsing and the fag supply on a bit of dry ground we then commenced surveying upstream in a waist deep canal.  As we progressed the canal passages multiplied to become a fantastic flooded maze with the chilly water held up by a series of bright orange rimstone dams.  A very large black bat insisted on sharing the same airspace as ourselves and at one point missed the tip of my nose by the thickness of an After Eight mint. With 188m in the bag the maze became even more complicated, time was running out and we were all cold so we left the place with scores of ways on in an underground reflection of the street-like grykes in the pinnacle karst on the surface above.  There will be a few more kms in this place yet and we haven't even looked downstream! The shivering Larsing was collected on the way out and in true form had a bonfire raging at the entrance within seconds.  It’s a wonder that there is any forest left in Meghalaya with the amount of fires visible at night from any high ground.  A surreal walk back across the flat paddy fields in the dark was followed by tea and shortbreads at the local chai shop and the usual Polaroid donation.

March 2nd was our last day in Sutnga and Fraser wanted some video footage of local coal miners. Adora accompanied us to one of the nearest workings to the LB. to act as translator - the miners being immigrant Nepalese. They were delighted to be filmed and much of the medieaval methods of mining such as hauling coal carts, filling baskets etc. was recorded.  We then crawled underground with them to film a collier hand picking a shallow coal seam.  In return they were given Polaroid snaps and lent our Petzl helmets - probably the first head protection they had ever worn!

Later that day we returned to Shillong via the hundreds of impressive, ancient monoliths at Nartiang village.

On 3rd March a day trip to Cherrapunjee (now once again officially the wettest place on Earth) was made to tidy up the survey of the Krem Lumshlan/Rong Umsoh/Soh Pang Bniat system. In three teams we mapped over 700m of ongoing passage in the two main arms of this complicated cave network. Some fine, superbly decorated streamway was found leading to yet another maze of low passages.  Mark had a nasty fall when a bamboo maypole we had persuaded him to slide down snapped under his weight.  We later realised that it had been used as a canopy support over an active limekiln and had subsequently been baked brittle!  Moral - always use green bamboo.

The weekend was booked for a coach ride, ferry trip and beach party to the Ranikor River, near the Bangladesh border.  With the Ladies of Shillong in charge and several crates of beer on board it promised to be a memorable occasion!  We took the scenic road via Mawsynram and eventually reached the river at dusk. This was just enough time to board the ferry for a short voyage to the nearest upriver sandbank where camp was established, huge bonfire built, chef put to work, chicken sledge hammered, food eaten and beer drunk.  The usual sing-song was dampened by heavy showers which necessitated crowded tents of revellers and the omnipresent, whistle playing Ronie.

We awoke to a fine, hot day and chicken curry for breakfast.  A Garo fisherman was hired to take some of us across the river to look at an impressive rock shelter, Lieng U Blei (Gods' Boat), the legend being that the gods were building a vessel but were interrupted by a cock crowing and left it unfinished, upside down -which is exactly what it looks like.

Gods' Boat

Two wooden canoes and their Garo oarsmen were then hired to take us 1 1/2 hours upriver to the first river junction.  It was here that we found out that the caves and limestone were actually at the second river junction, two days paddling upstream!  Making the best of it we spent the day festering, swimming, drinking and admiring a couple of working elephants which appeared from the side valley dragging huge tree trunks.  One also carried Mark and the dreaded Ronie as the mahout had offered them a lift. One of the boats had returned downriver and on to the Bangladesh border post to buy more beer at double the usual price as it was a Sunday.

On the way back to Shillong that night Fraser, Mark and I got dragged into a "shebeen" in Mawsynram to sample the delights of rice beer.  This is sold in a poly bag and looks like a fairground prize without the goldfish!  It was apparently good stuff as none of us went blind.

On 6th March the last caving trip was made to Cherrapunjee where Simon, Kirsten and Mark added 100m to the Umsoh system survey and the rest of us recced the hills above the cave. Some small but interesting sites were found for further investigation next year.

Once again a magnificent time was had and some world class cave explored and surveyed - 20.34 km in all which was well up to standard considering that there were fewer cavers than last year, much more travelling to the caves was done and there were several unprofitable but necessary recce days.  With the 3.8km (snigger, snigger) found by the Devon/Yorkshire team the Meghalayan total is now well over 150km.  Who said there are no significant caves in India?

Our undying thanks must go to the Meghalayan Adventurers - especially Brian and Maureen, the Boks, Rose, Swer, Neil and Betty, Barri and all the cooks, drivers, assistants, Ladies, chai shop owners and beer suppliers (in the words of Fraser "swally wallahs").

REFS:- Edmunds P. "Earthquakes, cobras and marsala tea" Caves & Caving no 85 (Autumn 1999) pp21-23.

Various expedition reports, articles in the BB and International Caver and MSS Logs (A. Jarratt)


New Scientist Radon

A recent article in New Scientist (5th April) warns about the exposure to Radon that cavers could be subjecting themselves to.

"Researchers from University College Northampton and Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon measured Radon in a popular system of caves in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. They found that cavers who spent just 40 hours a year underground could receive a radiation dose of as much as 4 millisieverts - four times the annual safety limit for members of the public recommended by the UN ..... Guides and instructors spending 800 hours a year underground could receive as much as 120 millisieverts five times the safety limit for radiation workers"  (Journal of Environmental Radioactivity vol 49, p235).  Worried cavers should read the article!

White Pit

A new entrance lock has been fitted to the cave as the intellectually challenged have been dropping stones down the entrance shaft.  If you were a previous keyholder either call on Tony Jarratt at Bat Products or contact Rich Long (the caving secretary).

Waterwheel Cave.

Following an act of vandalism in this cave, the access controller, Charterhouse Centre, Near Blagdon, BS40 7XR on behalf of Somerset County Council the landowner, have further restricted access to the cave.  The lock has been changed and the key will only be available via Charterhouse Centre as before.  In future, all visitors will be asked to fill in a log.  Further work on strengthening the lid, retaping sensitive areas and recording formations will take place.  This work will be carried out by Cheddar Caving Club under the guidance of CSCC/Charterhouse.  No novice groups, leader plus six members only.


West Australia 2000

by Mr. Wilson

Rich Long and myself, plus our respective wives decided to visit W Australia in March 2000.  The plan was to visit the various relatives, go walking and fit some caving in.  Rich was going to stay somewhere near Rockingham (south of Perth) and we were staying with Hillary's sister at Yanchep (north of Perth).  As it worked out I never did find out where Rich and his wife managed to stay but I am sure that they really enjoyed themselves!  Hilary and I plus Pat and Neville went down to the Stirling Ranges and camped at the only site there.  I managed to fall foul of "JOYCE" the idiot site owner who seemed to think that customers were there to be patronised.  This was a shame because the site was in a good location in a National Park (hence the monopoly).  Her name was not Joyce but she reminded us of Joyce Grenfell of St Trinians fame.

Hilary, Neville (the brother in law) Pat (the sister in law) and myself managed to ascend two of the major peaks.  Neville did really well - he just took two of his live longer pills and then proceeded to climb (Bluff Knoll 1073m and Tolbrunnup 1052m) Tolbrunnup was the hardest of the two.  These mountains are very much like the Snowdonia range in Wales, but they have their own eco system which is totally opposite to British mountains.  The approach walks are fairly dry and featureless but as you get to the 500m mark the undergrowth starts to sprout, getting more and more lush until the top is reached.  This is due to the cooler temperatures and cloud and rain around the top of the range. It is possible to have difficulty pushing through the thick lush growth on some of the lesser-walked peaks!  This range stands alone in the south west of OZ as the highest points, but 60k south of the Stirlings lie the Porongorups which resemble the Malvern hills, these hills have many more roads leading to the start of the routes and have several camping and caravan sites on or nearby. The region is basically a farming area, mostly cattle on a grand scale probably like the small American ranches.

We liked this area and would have been happy to spend a couple of days more exploring the soft and accessible hills, in the end we managed to ascend two routes here, Castle Rock a super route with a boulder finish and good views, and a short Karri Tree walk through the forest towards Devils Slide.  For those who have an interest in forests the Karri tree walk in Walpole is a must, you walk 30m up on a walkway high in the treetops, we really enjoyed our afternoon there.

Having toured the south coast a little, Hilary and I visited Jewel Cave on a private tourist trip.  This is a stunning cave, very well decorated and well worth a visit.  There are many caves nearby which I visited later. North of Perth in a National Park is Yanchep, a caving area (mostly small caves similar to Burrington). Hilary and I went on a very good walk in the National Park which encompassed most of the caving area (we also found a really superb bunkhouse in the middle of the bush, which would make a good base for cave exploration, see photo).  The major caves in the region are for the tourists, that is Crystal and Cabaret Cave, not overly long.  There are 500 caves in all, mostly numbered.  The principal explorer of the region, Lex Bastian told me that it would be impossible to name all the sites and caves, so you have this quaint situation where someone says we are going to visit no. 54 today, meaningless to anyone else, but very practical!  For example Carabooda Cave (yn 485, the largest cave in the area to date from my map would be 260m 027deg magnetic from yn 484.  This cave is a short distance out from the western foot of a fairly steep ridge, the entrance being the largest solution pipe in the centre of a solution doline with several exposed pinnacles.

The Western Australia Speleo Society were very helpful to me and I managed to spend a busy long weekend with them at Margaret River, the principal caving area at the moment with 300 caves listed at this time!  Their shed is big and roomy but has no water or sanitation plus no lighting, this means every thing has to be brought with you (it also has these quaint tree squirrels that run up and down the tin roof at night - very noisy)!  The toilet consisted of a spade and a beer crate with a toilet seat attached to the top, the plan being to walk as far away as possible, dig a large hole, place the crate on top, sit on the seat and perform, backfill hole and return to shed with crate under your arm.  "No one would possibly know where you have been." The club took me to the flat roof extensions in Jewel Cave, a totally wonderful place with floor to ceiling pretties everywhere.  The cave itself is a fairly easy trip but the high humidity and CO2 levels can make it seem hard going, the series is about 40m deep and in total 3k long.  The water table has been dropping for about 12 years now and there is a great deal of discussion as to what is the cause (it is now a good metre lower).  Our next visit was Moondyne which is an "adventure cave".  It was also well decorated and contained some extremely good cave coral, it used to be called Coronation Cave for many years but has now reverted back to its original name. The cave would not put anybody to the test but is worth a visit.  It has fairly high CO2 levels and is only approx. 400 m long.  The next day I visited Easter Cave. This was the highlight of my trip (I have subsequently discovered that this is the most well decorated cave in Australia).  We spent some time wandering in the bush trying to find the entrance.  This is not surprising as the cave is only open 4 times a year to parties of 4 (very tight access).  I was privileged to get a trip on this visit many thanks to WASS.  It is a superb cave, stunningly decorated, 2k long and about 40m running depth.  There were some small lakes and ducks, but the steady drop in the water table has made the trip easier and dry with a lovely draught.  We have nothing like this in Great Britain, 15 to 16 degrees temp and 80% humidity. There is more beauty lying on the floor than in the whole of GB cave on Mendip; the crowning glory being the LEMON, a wonderful rounded stalagmite with a reddish coloured base.  Apart from the 10m entrance ladder pitch and several dry crawls the trip was not hard as we know it.  I sincerely hope that the tight access arrangements keep this cave safe from mindless idiots.  Deepdene was my next cave which involved a walk in the bush but we found it first time. WASS have been doing access checks with little trigger machines powered by batteries.  This was basically a trip to help them retrieve the kit.  The person who is conducting this survey is a WILLET CLONE right down to beer pot smile and general build, I couldn't believe my eyes so I head butted him and got a Willet result "GRUNT GIGGLE hit me again."  This guy John is Willet's doppelganger!


Hilary Wilson in the hut at Yanchep

We had a look at the cave which at one time must have had some really superb gours they have now all dried up.  The whole system was only 160m long.  Years ago people used to light fires to illuminate the formations (in the 1890s it was common practice to illuminate the King's Chamber with burning rushes. They would then retire from the cave and watch the smoke drifting lazily from the entrance!).  Luckily this practice has died out now!

My last cave visit was Brides, a 50m deep hole doline with a small cave at the bottom right hand side. There used to be a wooden ladder / staging which served as access, but it burnt down in a bush fire (probably the same fire that demolished the first WASS hut).  Perhaps this was the same fire that burnt the BEC hut down!  The access is now a 50m abseil via some bollards - quite pleasant.  This concluded our tour of West Australia and I drove back to Perth in the borrowed 4 - wheel drive Nissan Patrol. (Thanks Neville I could not have managed without transport).  We intend to return in the near future and go north where there are even more caves and good walking.  I cannot thank all the Western Australia Speleo Society cavers enough for their efforts and the Retirement Rellies who we sponged off for four weeks (so they say!).

Mike Wilson.

NB I am going to buy some of the brother in law's livelong pills just in case they work.

Ross (WASS member) in Easter cave

Mike Wilson’s Map of the area visited in Western Australia

 (Apologies for the quality – Ed.)


Male Pin-ups?

Some Pin-ups for the female club members – all in St. George’s Cave in Assynt. 

Photos by Peter Glanville.



by Peter Glanvill

The following comments were prompted by features in the last 2 BB's.  First of all with regard to Wig's article on lost caves (BB Dec. 99 Vol. 50 No 12) I would suggest that the cave Trevor Knief found on Cothelstone Hill which was subsequently dug at and photographed by myself and Tony Boycott is that mentioned in 19th century writings.  The cave we found consists of a large chamber about 10 metres long and 2 metres wide the entrance of which had been obscured by a cliff fall which has now slumped into it forming a scree slope which obscures the natural height of the chamber - probably 2 metres plus.  When we dug at the end we found the remains of a clay pipe.  I know this doesn't prove habitation but does suggest the cave has been open in the past.  The size of the cave suggests extensions may be possible and there are choked side passages but they would need quite a bit of digging.

Elsewhere on the Quantocks we have Dodington House Cave.  I have visited the area and you can see the engine house in a field - a little piece of Cornish landscape on the Quantocks.  Of more interest is that Nick Chipchase's research revealed that the mine was closed but mothballed and the shafts capped.  The adits remained but have all slumped in except for one.  This opens into a lane in the Dodington area and is invisible to the casual eye.  Unfortunately this low drainage adit was bisected by a brick lined water extraction shaft.  This presented an obstacle to exploration up the adit until local cavers chiselled away a course of bricks either side of the shaft to enable progress upstream. Unfortunately when the site was visited in 1987 the diggers were chagrined to find after another 5 metres that some of the stone lintels roofing the adit where it ran under the field above had collapsed blocking the way on.  Further digging just produced more collapse.  This would be an ideal site for a Hymac dig at the point in the field where the adit enters solid rock and would allow access to a perfectly preserved mine (and the cave of course).  Nobody has visited the site for 13 years.  If you want to know more contact me or Nick Chipchase.

See - Men and Mining on the Quantocks by J.R. Hamilton and J.F. Lawrence 1970

Beer Caves

Rob is to be congratulated on re-inventing the wheel with regard to the caves at Beer.  These were originally mapped, listed and surveyed and the descriptions published by Chris Proctor in The Caves of East Devon. The cover has a nice drawing by the author of the largest cave.  I have got photos of some of them but cannot find them at present!  I did try to match up all the names but Chris has listed more than Rob and the grid refs are more detailed.  He lists over 40 caves, the longest of which is known as the Hall and runs through the point north of Beer Head.  Another cave nearer Beer Beach is known as Tooth Cave and has about 67 metres of passage with several levels.  I strongly recommend visitors check tide times before having a look here.  It is possible to traverse the entire distance from Beer Beach to the Hooken Beach (the beach below the Hooken Landslip) on a low spring tide and then walk back over the top of the cliffs.  Visit on a falling tide for obvious reasons.

Finally, on the next page, for those looking for curiosities take a look at the adit running off the beach just to the east of Sidmouth.  It lies about 100 metres along the beach from the river mouth and may be obscured by cliff falls.  The tunnel was driven from somewhere inland reasons unknown.  The entrance to the adit was visited in February 98 and at that time there was an easily negotiable grille over it.  You will probably find notices telling you not to use the beach if you go there.  I haven't been down the adit - the fact that it is in red marl is just a teensy off putting but it is down for a 'nothing to do on a wet day' visit some time.

Sidmouth Adit

Looking out of Sidmouth Adit


From a Belgian magazine given to J’rat detailing articles on Priddy Green Sink.

Het beste uit andere tijdschriften

Doorsteek Priddy Green – Swildons Hole.

Vincent Coessens vertaaide voor u dit artikel met de ‘officielle’ versie van deze doorsteekm vorsachen in de ”Belfry Bulletin”  Het is zowat het meest scabbreuze dat ooit ib Spelerpes vewrscheen.  Lees ouk het virige artikel en heb medelijen met de Belgische speleo’s die zich lieten meeslepan.

The best from other magazines

Through trip Priddy green – Swildons Hole

Vincent Coessens translated the official version of the explorations that led to the through trip from BEC’s  Belfry Bulletin.  One of the darkest tales Sperliepes ever published .  Have a look at the previous article and feel sorry for everyone who has ever been there!

Flash sur les autres revues

Traversee Priddy green – Swildons Hole.

Vincent Coessens a traduit pour vous cet article qui est la version officielle de cette traverse.  C’est vle texto le plus scabreux ayant jamias paru dans la Spelerpes.  Lisez aussi l’article precedent et ayez pitie de ces pauvres speleos beiges qui vse sont fait savoir.



Pages From The Belfry Log

15/4/00             Swildons 2

John Williams and Andy Smith

Down to sump two and back: Met a party on the 20 whose lifelining technique was similar to fly fishing!

16/4/00             Swildons 2

Down to sump, in via the wet way with high level detour to avoid a large group.  Once through the sump we left our tackle bags at the turning for the Black Hole and continued down towards sump 2.  We climbed up to the Landing and continued on up to the Troubles.  We ducked through quite a few ducks until we got to the one which appeared to be the last of them all, and certainly the worst of them all.  JW sumped it, but me - no way!  After a quick baling session on the other side, JW returned then we went to what appeared to be Vicarage Pot.  On the way back passed what seemed to be the descent to NW stream passage? Got back to the bottom of the landing and looked at some very muddy passage that didn't go far - thankfully, then back to the tackle sacks where both our batteries ran out!

After changing to fresh lights we went up Approach Passage and then came back and went up Howard's Dig crawl instead!  At the T junction we turned left down Mayday Passage and then headed back up towards the Black Hole.  My battery turned out to be not so fresh, and so the Black Hole remained black (for me) and we turned around and headed back out, never having used any of the tackle we'd brought with us!  A cool trip, which finished off even nicer when Taylor produced some hot food for us. Cheers!

16/4/00             Wigmore

Vince and Greg

An excellent sporting trip down to the upstream and downstream sumps.  My first time in the cave and I was impressed.  I'm sure I will do it again (Greg Brock)


Mike and Tim’s silly Northern Adventure

We did playing on string and other silly games in:


Cowpot (Easegill),

Gaping Ghyll,(dihedral route)

Tatham + Vin (Northern Bird 1)

Bore Hole and Split Sinks + other silly hole in Easegill Beck

Juniper Gulf + Liz (Northern Bird II)

County Pot + Liz

Marble Steps + Liz

Alum Pot + Liz

Had a top time even though most of the entrances took many hours to find.  Best trips were Dihedral route - amazing exposure and great views; once Mike ran back to Clapham to get his helmet! and Juniper Gulf (we found it at 7.30 pm!)

22/4/00             Ogof Draenen

Vince, Bob Smith, Mr.Smith, Dave Fear, James Adie

Down to Megadrive for a bimble!


Rolling Calendar

Date                          Details -  Contact

June 10-11                 Cavers Fayre Priddy

16-18                         BCRA Conference

18                              Pwll Du CMG meet: 10.30 Gwesty Bach, Brynmawr

July 7-9                      NCA Cavers Fair, Pindale Farm, Derbyshire

14-18                         1st NAMHO International Conference, Truro School

August 1                    BCRA research fund deadline

25-28                         ISSA Workshop, Yorkshire Dales – Robin Gray

27                              Columns Open Day, OFD

31                              Ghar Parau foundation grant application deadline

Sept 15-17                 Hidden Earth 2000, NCC Bristol

Oct 20-22                   Issa Workshop, North wales


January 1                   Columns Open Day OFD

12-14                         ISSA Workshop and AGM, Mendip

New members

Welcome to the club and meet soon in the "Hunters"

Ian Matthews, Frome, Helen Hunt, Glastonbury, Philip Middleton, Nailsea James Weir, Wells, Dave Fear, Wookey.


The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Adrian Hole

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Adrian Hole
Caving Secretary: Greg Brock
Tackle Master: Mike Alderton
Hut Engineer: Neil Usher
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general


Welcome to my first Belfry Bulletin as Editor.  Before I set out my plans for the future of the Journal, I would first like to thank Martin for his efforts and the quality of the BB’s that he produced - and hope that I can continue his high standards.

Firstly, I plan to make the BB a Quarterly Journal with a seasonal issue.  This will both ensure a regularity of publication and allow me to take advantage of school holidays to produce them.

Secondly, I plan (as far as possible) to shift the emphasis of the content towards a focus on exploration - and especially exploration under Mendip.  The strength of the club lies in exploration - digging, diving, surveying etc and its journal should reflect these preoccupations.

Finally, each issue will not only summarise the main events of the preceding season but also have a clear theme on a single cave or area of the Hill.  It is thus with complete bias and not one jot of apology that this issue has an Eastwater slant.  This is in order to record events, speculate on areas for further progress and most importantly to stimulate interest in exploration - the whole point of the BEC!

NB        The summer issue will be going to press in June - articles are needed now, especially on Swildon's, Cuthbert's, or the Charterhouse area.


Digging and Diving News.

Eastwater Cavern.

The Morton's dig (see Phil Rowsell's article) is predictably beneath several metres of water - however, there does not seem to have been any great infilling of the shaft and tidying up should prevent a repetition of the mid 1990s disaster.  The stream has been noted to have changed direction through the boulders (the right hand dam is only taking water in flood, this usually takes most of the water).  The cause seems to be the movement of a boulder at the base of the entrance. It has rolled out from the right hand wall exposing a loose slope of gravel.  The offending rock now lies in the middle of the first short crawl.  The reason? Someone seems to have removed the prop that was holding this rock in place.  Stealing props from the entrance of Eastwater frankly beggars belief - is this the action of a new extreme sports club or simply that of a git?

Halloween Rift.

Renewed interest in this site has been scuppered by the Wookey Management who currently are refusing access.   On the few trips that were possible it was found that the entrance crawls to the extensive bedding at the base of the rift had been backfilled.  The clearing of these alerted the owners who have denied any further work on the grounds of liability (interesting to note that crawling around with a few skips is deemed more dangerous than diving to Wookey 25!)

Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.

See Tony's article for recent news.

Rhino Rift.

Trips over the Christmas break saw some progress along the terminal crawl at the base of the scaffolded shaft through the boulders.  Digging was slowed by the tendency of the crawl to fill with water - the first trips down Rhino by wetsuit clad diggers seems on the cards this spring.

St. Cuthbert's Swallet.

Work continues in the dig near Sump Two.

Swildon's Hole.

Greg Brock and Mike Alderton have been looking at the possible leads at the end of the cave and contribute this report of a trip in early February:

"A thoroughly remote trip to Sump 12 in Swildon's to re-climb Victoria Aven and get into Desolation Row.  Both divers in zero visibility made it safely to sump 12, where upon the easy rift climb to the ledge was ascended.  MA after failing to kill GB with boulders (not without trying) placed a bolt and entered the extremely tight tube leading to Desolation Row.  MA was unable to belay or unattach himself from the rope so GB proceeded to climb up the rope securely anchored to MA who was not going to easily be pulled out of the constricted tube.  Slow progress was made up the committing tube before we both decided to head for home and do some research as to where the tube was leading.  An uneventful return was made; fortunately meeting a group of WCC members who helped carry gear out for us - Cheers Lads".


Life, the Universe and Eastwater Cavern.

By Phil Rowsell (alias Madphil)

My fascination with Eastwater Cavern can be attributed (or blamed dependant on who you are!) to Tony Jarratt (J-Rat).  After the break through at Stock's House Shaft, I was looking for a new project to keep myself occupied over the summer.  Tony introduced to me to Adrian Hole (now my digging partner in crime) who was also intending to spend the summer digging.  Adrian had originally intended to push a few leads in Swildon's but with its closure due to foot and mouth, this was obviously a non starter.  Eastwater Cavern was the next option, Morton's Pot and the illusive connection to Lambeth Walk.

Morton's Pot/A Drian Hole Dig

I had been down Eastwater many a time before, but never down to Morton's Pot.  I always remember the first trip.  I learnt on the way down that Adrian had been one of the digging team that had pushed Morton's Pot 5 years ago.  They had found another vertical pitch below Morton's Pot named A Drain Hole (an obvious name connection).  They had dug down to a depth of approx. 5m before weather closed the dig for the winter. Disaster took place when the surface stream bed was cleared by the farmer and over a short period of time, the diggers watched the dig filling back up with silt to the top of the pitch. Man, it must have been a demoralising sight.  Since then no one had been back to dig.

We spent most of the time clearing the silt traps in the top of the 380ft Way and dumping the spoil in the rift before finally heading down to look at the dig.  The trip down was a bit tight and narrow but not too bad. The dig site itself was now filled up to a small chamber above the pitch, so we had no idea where A Drain Hole was.  It looked easy digging, mainly sand, but I just kept thinking about the problem of getting rid of the spoil.  Hauling it back to the Lower Traverse was going to be a real ball ache.  A couple of seilbahns had been put in place to assist hauling, but these were in pieces.  Everything would have to be replaced and a few modifications may improve things.  Being an engineer, this was right up my street.  The dig was a good challenge, I was sold.

Over the next week or so, equipment was salvaged and the seilbahns reinstalled.  Several modifications were also made to reduce the number of people required to move spoil.  It was highly unlikely that we would ever have the luxury of 10-15 people to haul bags that the previous attempt had had.  The mere mention of helping to dig Morton's Pot, often led to a rapid exodus from the Hunters, leaving you sat in playing Billy no-mates! Progress was also made at the dig site, the chamber was excavated and the bagged up spoil used to line the bedding plane heading up to the base of Morton's.  This would hopefully help future bag hauling up to Morton's Pot. On our 6th trip down, we finally discovered the ladder bolt over the top of A Drain Hole, a great boost as at least we knew where we were and had to go, down!

Despite lining the bedding plane, hauling sacks up the bottom of Morton's Pot still proved difficult. A 3rd seilbahn was installed down the bedding plane which sorted the problem.  The base of Morton's Pot rapidly filled up with sacks and our supply of empty sacks was exhausted again.  We had no option now but to transport the sacks out and empty them in the Lower Traverse. I guess we had to check out the hauling system sometime.

The lack of volunteers meant we had to do the hauling in stages.  The most awkward stage was to move sacks from the base of Morton's Pot to the bottom of the 380ft Way.  Fortunately we developed a method to do this with only 3 people.  From here, Adrian and I could move the sacks up the 380ft Way and dump them in the Traverse on our own.  A slow process but we had no other option if we were to keep the dig going. The first batch we emptied (50-60 sacks) we found we had a high mortality rate as almost two thirds of the sacks were badly holed.  Examination of the hauling system revealed the 380ft way seilbahn to be the culprit. The system was modified to a skip slung between two pulleys.  This was a great improvement, reducing the effort required to haul as well as dramatically improving bag life.

The dig and hauling continued on its slow painful progress, generally one digging trip to four or five hauling trips.  Occasionally the hauling would get a boost with the addition of press ganged volunteers. Our highlight came one Wednesday evening when we managed to hijack the Wednesday night digging team and had a total of 6 people (the most we ever had) hauling bags.  The complete system got a good test, moving bags from the base of Morton's Pot up to the top of the 380ft Way.  Some 60 sacks were moved in the space of 2 hours.  Great to see, the bags flying out of the place!  Unfortunately this only happened once, but it proved the system.  It also showed us that this would be possible to do with only 4 people but at a reduced rate. If only we could have found a couple more regular volunteers.  Frustration or what?


Ivan Sandford hauling in the 380 Foot Way - during the last Morton's campaign in the mid 1990s

Each time we moved bags from Morton's Pot and emptied sacks, it gave us the chance to dig again. Initial progress was slow, due to the awkwardness of digging at the top of A Drain Hole.  Once sufficient room to kneel up was made we took off and rapid progress was made.  Each dig session was measured by the number of rungs we had exposed, generally 2-3 rungs a session.  At rung 12 we found the old platform with a number of tools, among them Tony's prize miner's pick.  At rung 14.5 (4m from the ladder bolt) we dug into water which was a big surprise as the weather had been dry for the past few weeks.  As digging continued, it was evident that the water was draining back from the undisturbed fill on the sides. It was as if we had hit some kind of water level.  To make matters worse, it was now early September and time for the schools to go back. I now lost my digging partner who had to return to teaching kids once again.

Obsessed, digging continued solitary.  Thankfully Trevor Hughes came up with a massive supply of new sacks which helped delay the necessity to haul and empty until I could press gang anybody into helping. The conditions at the dig site didn't improve and I continued with the dig partially in water until nearly waist deep where it became impracticable.  Nightmare, needed a solution.  The idea of taking some drums down to bail the water into seemed feasible but they wouldn't fit through the rift at the bottom of the 380ft Way.  I eventually hit on the idea of walling off half the dig site with sacks, and bailing the water into survival bags, creating a sort of dam.  I could then dig the exposed half down a metre or so, dump the water, rebuild the dam on the other side and dig the other half.  With the total dig area only about 0.7 x2.5 m wide, it was pretty cramped work.  The system worked pretty well, and I even had the dig totally dry at times but it proved a very labour intensive and time consuming method.  I was still digging though.  To create more digging/damming room, I dug back into the rift toward Morton's Pot, forward progress being barred by a large rib of rock.  I was surprised to see the well developed rift continue rather than pinch down as expected.  With more room, I continued digging on down and eventually hit hard and "original" fill.  We had finally passed the previous effort.

The solving of the water problem had in itself created another, getting rid of sacks out of A Drain Hole.  It was impossible to do it on my own.  I installed a 2nd platform on which to stack bags, and this also served as a staging post to lift the sacks up to the first platform.  By triple or quadruple handling the bags I could get both platforms full of bags.

This was stacking room for about 50 sacks, but it still didn't get them out of the pitch. Occasionally I would manage to persuade someone to help me haul bags out of A Drain Hole into the little chamber and allow me to keep digging.  Progress was really slow as much of the time was spent man handling bags around and moving the dam etc, but digging continued.  The dig got down to a depth of 6m (from the bolt).

There was good encouragement at the dig face too in the fact that a rib of rock that was blocking forward progress (as opposed to down) was moving back to the right resulting in the rift opening to full size below it (Figure I - Section along AB).  With luck if forward progress was made, a drain point for the pot might be intercepted.

Disaster however stuck on the 3rd October when heavy rain resulted in the dig being flooded to a depth of 2m (4m from the bolt).  There was no way of damming this amount of water!  I guess I had been digging on borrowed time for some time as the weather had been remarkably dry for September.  Nightmare, my number was finally up and I had no option but to clear and put it to bed for the winter.  I monitored the dig for several trips keeping myself occupied surveying and tidying up. The water fluctuated in depth; after very heavy rain it would be flooded up to the bolt and in drier times it would have drained back down to 4m from the bolt.  It never however drained past the 4m mark.  This was also the water level initial intercept when digging down in dry conditions.  Figure 1 shows the survey of the dig site.

Dig Observations

The drain off point of the pot seems to be at the 4m mark, below which it is terminally choked. This level also corresponds to the base of a small calcite curtain that has flowed onto the top of the rock rib (see Figure 1).  This may have protected the fill below it, preventing compaction and hence the believed drain path.  The base of this curtain was poked with a bar to approx. 1.5m, and loose fill found, but rapid draining was not achieved.  With the pitch now being clear of fill to well past this point, it will be interesting to see whether this will clear itself over the winter.

The rate at which the pot drained also posed an odd question.  In high flow, the drain rate observed would not be sufficient to remove all the water, but there was little evidence of water backing up further than the little chamber (foam on roof).  This mystery is believed to have been solved when on one monitoring trip, a plastic digging sack was found to have been washed to some depth into a small (3") worm hole near the bolt.  This hole was originally believed to be an inlet as it headed upwards toward the Upper Traverse.  It appears that in high water, the pot backs up until water 'U' tubes up this worm hole to flow off to an unknown point.  This may be of great significance as it provides a possible place where water from the bottom of A Drain Hole may be pumped away.  This has not been investigated.

In Figure 1, the Section along AB shows that approximately 4m below the bolt, the rift opens out in a forward direction but forward progress is barred by a rib of rock sandwiched in between the rift.  As previously mentioned on top of the rib is a small calcite curtain, under which the pot is believed to drain.  Consideration was given to removing this rock rib, but the dig flooded before this was undertaken.  If removed, it may provide access to an open drain point.  It is also possible that the removal of this rock may prove unnecessary as at the 6m point, this rib of rock had cut back to the right face opening to a full size rift once again.  This will only be determined in dry weather when digging is resumed.

When digging back towards Morton's Pot to enlarge the dig site, it was a great surprise to find that the rift continued to be well developed rather than pinch down.  Only a metre or so was dug in this direction and probably connects to a small pot which was dug and subsequently back filled in the little chamber.  It does however have some interest to the Soho Dig (explained later in the article) the potential continuation of the wide rift development is of great significance.

A computer model of Eastwater Cavern

Conflicting rumours were abound in the Hunters as to where the "Morton's Pot" dig would eventually break through.  Some said Snotrom Aven, others Lambeth Walk where bang wire and pieces of digging sacks had been found, allegedly washed in from Morton's Pot.  After all the pain hauling those sacks out, would I be mad if we just broke in to Snotrom Aven!?  The only way to really tell and explore the possibilities was to generate a computer model of Eastwater Cavern.  This would enable easy viewing and more importantly, to be able to rotate the views around and obtain a good understanding of the relational orientation of the various passages.

The only survey commercially available was that done in the 1950's by Warburton & Surrall.  The survey was known to be of high accuracy, but it had some problems that could affect the tying in of subsequent surveys; the entrance to the cave was now in a different place and Dolphin Pot has also partially collapsed. 

The major problem however was that none of the West End Series was on it.  This had been partly surveyed and drawn up in the late 1980's but the data never published.  I felt sorry for the boys in the Hunters again, as if I wasn't badgering people for digging sacks it was survey data!!  I have to thank Trevor Hughes particularly, Tav and Tony, who supplied me with data.

Converting the Warburton survey back to readings to enter into the computer package, was painstakingly slow, involving much computation.  This process had also to be conducted on the Southbank as the only data available for this was a map produced by the Moodys in a WWC log book, and Morton's Pot data produced in a BB article (Vol 48 No 6).  Thankfully most of the other data supplied still had the original or transposed survey readings.  As the accuracy of Morton's Pot was fairly critical, it was resurveyed from surface, both the new data and that lifted from the map were in fairly close agreement.  Figure 2 shows a plan and Figure 3 shows an elevation through the complete Eastwater system.

The plots show that there are some discrepancies in the data, particularly in the West End data.  Where surveys overlap, or two data sets are available the discrepancies seen are not huge +/- 5 metres.  The West End series, however is an open loop system and thus with no closure it is difficult to assess true positional errors at the lower reaches of the cave.  Furthermore, the Southbank map is believed to be only Grade 2. Despite these inaccuracies, it does give an idea of relative positions to a reasonable degree.  The system begs however, to be accurately re-surveyed.

Points of Interest from the Survey

In Figure 3, the cross section, it can be seen that the majority of the cave is made up of a number of washed out bedding planes that are generally interconnected by rifts and vertical pitches.  The bedding plane has an approximate dip of 32 deg and strike of 168 deg.  This seems to be true of the West End series including Southbank and Lambeth Walk.  What is not apparent and was highlighted by T. Hughes's work, was that most of the big pitches (Primrose, Cenotaph and Gladman's) in the cave line upon an approximate bearing of 243 degrees, possibly indicating a joint or fault plane.  What is of great interest is that A Drain Hole also falls on this line, possibly indicating the presence of another large pitch. In addition, it can be seen that the position of A Drain Hole is not in the vicinity of Snotrom Aven, and it is not thought that this will form a connection as has been previously suggested.

The Southbank data wasn't added until A Drain Hole was flooded. Its significance to A Drain Hole is apparent as shown by the conjecture lines on both the plan and cross section.  The data seems to indicate a straight line connection between Soho and Lambeth Walk, i.e. both seem to be on the bedding plane. This also passes directly beneath A Drain Hole.  This is very interesting as it may well support the theory that the bang wire and sacks found at Lambeth Walk may have indeed washed in from the Morton's Pot dig area.  Furthermore, if a vertical pitch is dropped from the bolt in A Drain Hole down to the assumed Soho Lambeth Walk bedding plane (a vertical distance of 35m) the base of the pitch is 83m from Lambeth Walk, but more significantly only 45m from the Ifold's tunnel in Soho.  This definitely warranted investigation.

The Soho Dig

Fuelled with what the computer model was indicating I was keen to have a look around in the Soho area.   The chance came on a trip to rig the ladder pitches in the West End with Andy Heath.  We were in no rush so I said I would like to spend a bit of time looking around Soho, to see if I could find any possible lead at the base of Soho shown by the survey.  The original survey notes of Soho showed that two passages had been looked at but choked or were too tight.

There was a stream running out of the Ifold's tunnel heading down the bedding plane, so I decided to try and follow that, the thought being it could possibly be part of the Lambeth Walk stream.  It was quite open to start with but gradually got tighter, having to kick boulders out of the way.  I was pretty sure with the distance I had gone, I was past previous attempts.  I could hear the stream gurgling over what sounded like a small waterfall.  Driven by this and the dream of finding the connection to the base of A Drain Hole and more hopefully Lambeth Walk, I pushed on past a very tight 'S' bend squeeze, to finally sit up in a tiny rift chamber, somewhat relieved!  The chamber was shoulder width and approximately 2m long. An abrupt corner at the end of the chamber prevented further progress, but the passage opened up into a well developed 5m plus high rift, which continued along on approximately the same bearing.  It had a good stream running in the base, but looked fairly narrow in places.  A few bangs and we should be able to get a better look and pass the corner.  Well promising and what the survey was indicating.  Thankfully the squeeze turned out to be easier on the way out. I was buzzing!!  I think I floated down to Blackwall Tunnel and back!!

Five further trips to drill and widen the passage were accomplished.  My various companions had varying degrees of success negotiating the squeeze.  After the first bang, blown from Ifold's, J-Rat and myself were surprised to be chased out of Ifold's by the bang fumes!!  Big draught, very encouraging.  The bang widened the chamber, but still did not gain access to the comer.  It did however give a much better view of the rift.  The rift seemed to be narrow for 2m, before opening out to body sized passage. Encouraged, the passage was measured and found to be some 16m from the Ifold's tunnel, only 29m from the projected base of A Drain Hole.  The 2nd bang was blown from the Strand so that we could wait about for a bit and then see the results.  This time no quick extraction took place and I sat with J-Rat for over an hour in the Strand before the fumes finally cleared enough to go and have a look.  The bang had done a great job.  It had widened the passage right down to the comer and given enough room to potentially squeeze through the narrow part of the rift hopefully into the body sized rift.  The bang debris was quickly cleared, and I made an attempt.  Man was this tight!!  No go.  More kicking debris out of the floor and on the second attempt I eased through and stood up in rift passage.

The author returning through the second of the squeezes

The way ahead in the Soho Dig.

Jubilation, but it was only short lived.  The rift continued on for as far as the eye could see, but after approximately 2m closed down to 20cm wide and looked like it was a fairly constant width.  It also didn't look as though there were any high level routes either, but difficult to tell with the place still shrouded in fumes. We headed on out.  I was bitterly disappointed that I didn't get to solve the riddle of Morton's Pot, JRat was jubilant that he was going to get a pint after all and that he probably wouldn't have to go down to that desperate place again!!  His classic quote was "you have to kiss a lot of toads to find a princess"!

The rift still looked well encouraging; well developed, at least 5m high heading off into the distance and survey wise tying in with that above Jepson's Dig and heading straight for Morton's/A Drain Hole.  Not willing to admit defeat, I headed down another time to survey the dig properly and have a proper look around, hopefully able to see a bit more being clear of bang fumes!  Andy Heath again came to the call for help and another trip down to Soho.  Thankfully he made it through the squeeze into Thank-god Chamber.  I pushed on through the 2nd squeeze, but found it really awkward this time.  At one point I thought I wasn't going to make it through!  I eventually stood up in the rift with a clear view.

No doubt about it narrowing down to about 20cm for the majority of its height.  There was however encouragement at stream level. Further down (3-4m) it looked like it opened out to passable passage, but the immediate section looked very tight. I had a go at squeezing along the floor, but this was well out of my and most people's league!  No chance of digging out the floor as it was solid rock! Bummer.  It would need a number of bangs to pass this section to hopefully get to wider passage.  Where I could stand up the rift continued on up as a body sized rift, so I chimneyed up to 4m, but found I couldn't pass an awkward narrow part.  The rift did seem to continue on up at this width, and this needs to be checked again to make sure a high level by-pass is not missed.  The view from this height also confirmed that the passage did seem to open out at stream level further along, but it would need some widening to get to this point.  Resigned, we surveyed back out.  Figure 4 shows a survey of the Soho Dig:

Dig Observations

In Figure 5 - a survey plan of the Soho area, it can be seen that the found passage (rift) lies almost directly beneath the rift connecting the 380ft Way to Morton's Pot.  This rift was originally a deep narrow development but was back filled by previous digs.  It is suggested that this is the same rift development as the Soho Rift found. Further support is taken from A Drain Hole which is again a rift development that also follows the same trend line as the 380ft Way - Morton's Pot rift, the Soho rift and a conjectured connection to Lambeth Walk.  This could possibly indicate the possibility of a fault plane or a joint which has been eroded to the rifts presently seen.  The Lambeth Walk connection is pure speculation, but it seems to fit the evidence well and is supported by the digging debris which is found there.  Much less speculative is the probability that the Soho Rift will connect with the base of A Drain Hole, the rift following the same trend and only being 27m away. In the near future, it is hoped that some form of water tracing will be undertaken to determine this, or whether this water appears at Lolly Pot as has been previously suggested.

The Soho rift is accessed by two fairly awkward squeezes the 2nd being particularly tight, yielding a 2m section of body size passage, before narrowing to 20cm preventing further progress.  It does seem that the rift does open out at stream level after 4-5m. To access this however, selective widening will be required, involving a number of trips (and drop hammer techniques rather than bang).  It may also be necessary to widen the squeezes, particularly the 2nd to allow "normal sized" cavers (fat bastards!) access.

Unfortunately with my departure to Tasmania to cave for 6 months, it is unlikely that this will be pushed until next summer.


First and foremost, I have to thank J-Rat for his support and advice, the supplying of articles, surveying data, digging bags and equipment etc.  In addition, the trips to A Drain Hole to help pull out bags and lately, the trips to widen the Soho Dig.  Much appreciated.

A big thanks to my digging partner Adrian Hole, again for his support, time and ideas, both with A Drain Hole and the Soho Dig, and lately for his help in writing this article. A big thanks also goes to Andy Heath for his help digging and sack hauling in Morton's and his help with the Soho Dig.

A thanks also to Ben Barnett who has spent many hours pulling sacks through the rift at Jepson's Dig, despite the rift being too narrow for him to get down to the dig site; Bob Smith who has also done several trips pulling bags out of Morton's Pot, almost the only times he had been underground this year; and Trevor Hughes for the supply of invaluable survey data, and a massive supply of digging sacks.

Finally, a thank you to all the people who came down to help dig or pull bags at both sites.  I hope to see you there again next summer!!


Jarratt A.R. "History of Morton's Pot Dig" ,Belfry Bulletin Vol 48 No 6.


Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink - The Latest News.

By Tony Jarratt

"Even a large flow, several million gallons per day, easily traverses passages impenetrable to man" - Willie Stanton, "Digging for Mendip Caves.”

Since the initial digging report in BB 511 work has continued here at a steady pace - a total of 70 banging trips being recorded to date.  The steeply dipping natural rift which takes the flood stream was joined after some 40ft (12m) from the base of the entrance shaft by a very low bedding plane passage at ceiling height on the western side.  Being more open than the rift this was followed by blasting out the floor to "Ben and Bev sized" dimensions for a distance of c.15ft (5m).  It has an attractively eroded ceiling with many tiny straws and curtains - most of which are proving to be surprisingly impervious to blast damage.  It is some 5ft (1.5m) wide and continues on into the distance with many more small but attractive formations visible ahead. Some fine fossils can be seen in the pleasantly water worn floor of "Pub Crawl", particularly at the first RH bend.

On the 15th of November Mad Phil surveyed the cave to a length of 59ft (l8m) and a depth of 29ft. (8.9m). This has since been increased to c.95ft (29m) length and c,39ft (l2m) depth. The current end is approximately 30ft (9m) south of the car park/field wall.

A minor breakthrough occurred on the 16th January when a 3ft (lm) deep rift in the floor of the bedding plane was forced down into some 7ft (2.1 m) of relatively open lower bedding plane passage with narrow open rifts below - one of which sucked in Adrian's lump hammer from a distance of 15ft away (sorry mate). (Ed. I was wondering where it was).  This passage has brought us back onto the line of Pub Crawl and if necessary the intervening rock could be blasted away to ease skip dragging.  Visitors should be warned that in the event of a rapid flash flood this lower bedding plane would not be a nice place to be - as was found out during a clearing trip on the 23rd January.  The bench between the shove ha'penny board and the fireplace being a far better alternative (depending on the time of day of course).

Work continues at this extremely promising site where a c.10ft deep rift in the floor is being enlarged to gain access to the Master Cave below.  In very cold surface conditions plumes of mist can be seen rising from the entrance shaft and the strong, and occasionally intermittent draught, has given rise to the theory that this is caused by the guides at Wookey Hole opening and closing the show cave door!

Spoil hauling in the entrance shaft has been made much easier thanks to the donation of a magnificent lightweight tripod by Paul Brock.  A variety of both mains and battery drills have been used underground and our favourite so far is the 110v.  Makita, unknowingly loaned by a discharged seaman's employers.  The cost so far of drill hire and explosives is about 490 pounds - just over 5 pound a foot.  This figure will obviously reduce drastically when the extensive system below is entered!

In advance of the future exploration party we have sent ahead a bit of Frank Jones to do the first through trip (and he thought his caving days were over!).


Jacquie Dors was delighted to report the comment of an elderly lady customer speaking to her husband in the car park - "Yer, I just seen someone climb out of the barbecue!”

More Diggers and Helpers

Phil Massey, Jake Johnson, Ben Wills, Fergus Taylor, Ray Deasy, Rich and James Witcombe, Phil Collett (SMCC), Ivan Hollis (SMCC), Stuart Sale, Malcolm Davies, Mike Willett, Andy Heath (CSS), Pete Hellier, Ian Matthews, Guy Munnings, Ben Holden, Roy Wyncoll, Mark "Shaggy"Howden, Helen Hunt, John Walsh, Rich Blake, Jake Baynes, Davey Lennard, Barry Hulatt, Bill Chadwick (Bracknell & District C.C.), and Frank Jones (part of, deceased).


Pumacocha 2001

Edited By Rob Harper, BVM&S, MRCVS, FRGS

The Team

Back row: Les, Nick, Mark, Ian, Matt and Rob.  Front row: Juan.


In June 200 I six cavers from Britain, Canada and Peru undertook a short reconnaissance expedition to the Yauyos District of southern Peru where there is a large area of karst with numerous cave entrances.

As far as could be ascertained by a review of the available references none of this area had been examined in detail.  Both the geology and topography suggested that there was considerable potential for both deep and long cave development.

The primary target of this expedition was the large open shaft taking the waters flowing out of Lake Pumacocha which had originally been noted by Les Oldham a British geologist and caver living and working in Peru.  Subsequently Nick Hawkes had descended the first part of the entrance shaft and discovered that the cave continued beyond the daylight zone.

After a few initial promoting sessions by Nick amongst cavers in his home region (the Mendip Hills in the UK) news of an exciting new caving prospect deep in Peru slowly became public knowledge among the local caving community.  In early 200 I Rob Harper took the bait and contacted Nick with a view to a reconnaissance trip. After emailing around their acquaintances an experienced technical caving team was put together.






Rob Harper




Mark Hassell




Nick Hawkes




Ian McKenzie




Matt Tuck




Juan Castro




(Les Oldham




Note 1   A.S.S. = Alberta Speleological Society

Note 2   Due to personal circumstances Les was unable to take a part in the active exploration of the cave.

Location and Topography

Satellite photograph indicating the cave location.


The cave is located within the 100,000 scale Yauyos map sheet number 25-L which was mapped in 1996 by the Instituto Geologico Minero y Metalurgico (INGEMMET).  The entire mapsheet covers a half degree quadrangle which equates to just over 3000km2.  Several areas within the mapsheet including the area directly over the Pumacocha cave have been mapped in detail by Les Oldham while exploring for base and precious metals.  During the course of his mapping Les first recognised the potential for major cave development in this area.

Geological controls are the primary elements which dictate a cave's location and form.  Caves form in limestone, and the best caves are developed in massive limestone with little or no interbedded silts, shales or other non-carbonate dominated lithological horizons.  Within the country of Peru the best limestone for cave development is the Upper Cretaceous Formation known as the Jumasha Limestone.

The Jumasha limestones are dominantly a massive thickly bedded sequence of dolomites and limestones. Within the Yauyos mapsheet approximately 700km2 of Jumasha limestones outcrop, making the area highly attractive for speleological exploration and karstic studies. In the region of study this lithological unit has been estimated at approximately 400m thickness (Megard et al., 1996).  Directly overlying the Jumasha.  Formation is another limestone unit known as the Celendin Formation which was also deposited in the Upper Cretaceous and has also been estimated as having a thickness of 400m.  The Celendin Limestones are not as favourable for cave development due to common interbedded layers of gypsum, red-brown shales and some sandstones. Nevertheless caves can and do occur in this formation.  Below the Jumasha limetones lie two further Cretaceous limestone bearing formations, namely the Pariatambo and Chulec formations which together form an estimated 330m of potential cave bearing stratigraphy.  Jurassic age limestones also occur to the northeast of the principal area of study yet still within the Yauyos mapsheet.  These are the Lower Jurassic Condorsinga unit of approximately 1000m thickness and the middle Jurassic Chaucha Formation of an estimated 300m thickness.  In total therefore the region has over 2400m of limestone stratigraphy which has subsequently been thrusted and folded during a sequence of orogenic events. The deformation is likely to be closely associated to a period of intrusive activity during the Paleogene and Neogene epochs, which has left the limestones commonly tightly folded, and in many areas standing near vertical.  During this period of deformation it is likely that many of the predominantly limestone hosted mineral deposits for which this area is famous for were formed.  The principal mineral deposits of the region all have strong magmatic associations suggesting direct association with the Cenozoic intrusive activity.

Topographical map of the cave and immediate area.

Geology at Pumacocha.

The Pumacocha cave system lies between two active mining camps.  To the south is the San Valentin polymetallic mine and to the north lies the larger mineral district of Yauricocha known for its rich copper bearing limestone and shale hosted deposits.

The cave is located within the Jumasha Limestones adjacent to the contact with a large Miocene granodiorite intrusive.  The entrance to the cave is formed very close to the contact between the granodiorite and the limestones.  The presence of considerable cherty horizons which were located underground suggest that the mapped cave to date lies close to the lower contact with the underlying Lower Cretaceous Pariatambo Formation.

All limestones where the cave sinks are vertically bedded and this clearly explains the extreme vertical nature of the cave development.

The valley wall above the cave entrance showing the vertical bedding.

Geomorphological Controls.

Previous speleological expeditions to the Andes have commented on the lack of deep and well developed caves and have attributed this in part to an effect of the excessive altitude (Imperial College, 1975).  The argument proposed is that rainwater falling at such altitudes is less acidic since less CO2 has been absorbed during the descent.  As to whether this argument is valid or not is not here disputed, indeed the presence of acidic waters is clearly a pre-requisite for large scale cave development.  It is of particular significance that at the Pumacocha system all water draining into the cave, which drains a catchment area of approximately 30km2 is also draining over the granodiorite intrusive which in turn is rich in small sulphide veinlets and disseminations.  Oxidised sulphides are an excellent source of acidic fluids and would therefore enhance considerably any cave development in this area.

Cave Exploration and Cave Description

On arrival in the area we examined the main sink and adjacent entrances which appeared to be part of a single cave complex.  In the absence of a local name, we designated the system as Sima Pumacocha, (SP), and the active entrance as SPI.  Two other dry entrances were noted in the small gorge downstream of the main river sink (SP2 and SP3).  Later yet another small entrance was found between SPI and SP2 which was then called SP1.5.

Due to the large volume of water flowing into SP I as well as a large quantity of dumped explosives in the main entrance it was decided to start by exploring SP2 and SP3.

Diagramatic section from Pumacocha to the presumed resurgence at Alis Springs

A view of the river - looking toward the entrance.

NB: All left/right descriptions below are "true", i.e. from the point of view of someone facing downstream.


Sima Pumacocha 1

Location: - E424208 N8630500 – local datum PSAD1956.

The first pitch was descended to a ledge at about -15m but not pursued further for the reasons outlined above.

Mark ascends the first pitch of SP1.  Note the rolls of explosives on the ledge!

Sima Pumacocha 1.5

Two small passages leading left from the entrance chamber in SP2 were followed to a stage where a connection could be confirmed with an entrance in a small depression about four metres from the entrance of SP2.

Sima Pumacocha 2

Location:-E424208 N8630500 -local datum PSAD1956

A strongly draughting entrance about 30m down valley from SPI in the left wall of a small gorge.

First a steeply descending rift passage led after 11 m to an 8m pitch (40m rope to natural belay at entrance) to the floor of a chamber.  From here two side passages on the left were pushed back to the surface at SP 1.5.  However the main way forward was a rift passage with two short (c3m) free climbs to the head of a 31 m pitch (40m rope, natural belay to boulder, deviation, 2 spits, 1 deflection and 1 natural thread belay).  This pitch ended at a large ledge/small chamber where a large aven could be seen entering on the far side at about five metres height that was not investigated.

From the floor of the ledge/chamber the next pitch ("Ammonite Shaft" 113m, 1 natural belay, 1 natural rebelay, 6 spits, 2 deviations) dropped down a large (c 20m x8m) rift to land on another ledge, "Blitzkrieg Bridge", so called because of the periodic rain of small stones from above.

To the left at the base of "Ammonite Shaft" a short horizontal rift passage at "Blitzkrieg Bridge" was followed for c 50-60m to an, as yet, undescended pot which will probably just come into the roof of "Huanca Gorge" - see below.

Ian assess the draught while Rob kits up at the entrance of SP2

The next pitch ("Cages on Highway Nine") was a free hanging 20m (2 spits) pitch immediately to the right of the landing point at the bottom of" Ammonite Shaft". This pitch ended at the head of a very large (c 10 x 15m) passage ("The Huanca Gorge") which descended steeply via a series of ramps and short drops passing an intriguing cruciform calcite decoration en route to a boulder blockage after c75m.  A short section of crawling and a two metre handline pitch was followed to regain the main passage now smaller in dimension (c 3x3m) still sloping at the same average angle which steepened to become a broken 40m pitch to a very high narrow (c 1m) vertical rift with a small inlet stream.  Downstream was blocked by a boulder fall after a few metres but a 2m climb gained a more spacious higher level. Then a short steeply descending passage (handline) led to a ledge about six to seven metres above a large active streamway ("The Shining Path" - c 4m x 15m) which is almost certainly the water sinking at SP 1.

On the left hand side immediately below the boulder ruckle was a window into a parallel stream passage sloping down to the head of a pitch.  This was not descended but from the noise almost certainly links back above the Shining Path streamway.

From the ledge above the streamway a short abseil (3m from natural belay) allowed access to a sloping ledge on the left of the passage about 3m above the river.  Upstream the water came down a pitch of unknown height and flowed off down a series of steep cascades.  The ledge was traversed to gain a short high-level oxbow on the left. Approximately ten metres of passage with two short,(c2m) free-climbable drops led to a small resurgence and pool followed immediately by a 25m wet pitch (2 spits, 2 rebelays) where several small streams entered and at the foot of the pitch the main streamway was regained at a large pool.

Rob surveying with Matt just above the "X-Files" ledge

At the far side of the pool a steep and powerful cascade of about eight metres ended at a large pitch of unknown depth.  This cascade was avoided by a sloping abseil on the left side to a large ledge ("The X-files Ledge") but the force of water precluded further progress at this level without a significant amount of upward artificial climbing.  However it was found to be possible to cross the cascade at the lip of the pitch and from this point a three to four metre free-climb of the right wall gained good natural belays.  Abseiling from these belays to further natural belays it was found to be possible to descend the pitch avoiding the water.  A spit was placed; the pitch was descended for 30-40m to the end of the rope.

At this point the caver was once again coming under the main water flow. This and the fact that there was no floor in sight for at least another 15-20m prompted the decision to return rather than tie on the separate short length of rope in the tackle sack.

Sima Pumacocha 3

Location:-E4241 07 N8630438 -local datum PSAD 1956

Following the gorge downstream from SP2 across a large depression allows access to a small vadose trench ending in a large (c 20x5m, open rift aligned in a North/South direction with a noticeable outward draught.  From the lip of this rift a daylight pitch (c 120m) ends in a large (c 20 x 50m) chamber floored with boulders through which the draught rises.

SIMA PUMACOCHA 3 (Grade 1 Survey)

Survey Notes

1.                  For the Grade 4 sections of the survey all measurements were taken using either a 30 or 25m fibron tape read to the nearest centimetre, a Suunto Compass and a Suunto clinometer, both read to approximately half a degree.  The resulting data was recorded immediately.

2.                  For the Grade 2 sections of the survey distances were estimated from rope lengths and angles assumed because of the vertical nature of the passage.  This data was recorded immediately after exiting the cave.

3.                  The raw data was processed on a laptop computer within 24 hours using "COMP ASS" software to produce a centre-line and a computer generated passage outline. This was then imported into CorelDraw and the final survey drawn.

4.                  GPS readings were taken with a handheld Garmin 12 GPS receiver using local datum PSAD 1956. Unfortunately neither the exact time of the readings or the degree of confidence were recorded.


The vertical and steep sections of the cave were traversed using SRT (Single Rope Techniques) and "Alpine Style" rigging (rebelays as needed to avoid rope/rock contact) was used as far as possible.  The principal rope used was a 9mm static rope from Sterling Ropes. Initially this was a comfortable rope to use for both abseil and ascent.  However despite careful rigging the abrasion resistance of this rope was not good.  There were problems with slipping of the sheath over the core that might have been avoided by washing the rope before use.  Also after only a short period of use flattened sections of rope were discovered. Although these sections were probably as strong as the more conventional rounded rope they caused a marked change in the friction characteristics for descenders (both racks and Petzl Stops) and gave rise to some worrying moments.

Wherever possible natural features or rock climbing protection devices - such as nuts and "friends" - were used as belays.  When this was not possible either pitons or self-drilling 13mm rock anchors (Petzl) were inserted using a hand held driver.  The members of the team provided their own personal equipment for rope work.  Everyone used a "Frog" system.

Travel and Accommodation

All team members assembled in Lima and then travelled to the area of the cave by road.  Accommodation was generously provided free of charge at an "executive workman's" hut belonging to the Llapay hydroelectric station, kindly provided by SIMMSA, approximately 15km from the cave.  This was at an altitude of only about 3000m as distinct from the altitude of the cave entrance, (c 4400m), which greatly facilitated altitude acclimatization.  The excellent free food, clean beds, warm showers, daily room cleaning and access to electrical power were also much appreciated.  By common consensus this was the most comfortable expedition in which any of the team members had participated.

Medical Report

All members of the expedition suffered to a greater or lesser extent from mild Acute Mountain Sickness caused by low oxygen levels due to the high altitude of the cave entrance. Fortunately the clinical signs were restricted to breathlessness and feelings of faintness on exertion, nausea and headaches.  Those suffering from headaches were easily able to control them with simple non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin and ibuprofen) and within four to five days everyone had acclimatized well.  This was helped greatly by being able to sleep at a much lower altitude. Oxygen and appropriate medications for treating the more serious forms of AMS (pulmonary and cerebral oedema) were included in the medical kit but were not required.

Because of the increased water loss through panting particular care was taken to avoid dehydration including the establishment of depots of water and electrolyte solutions within the cave. Apart from the above and a slightly infected small wound on a digit, which responded rapidly to topical medication, there were no medical problems


(a) Geological References

Megard, F., Caldas, 1., Paredes, J.& De La Cruz, N., 1996, Geologia de Los Cuadrangulos de Tarma, La Oroya y Yauyos. INGEMMET, Bo1etin 69, Lima, Peru.

(b) Speleological References

No direct references to cave exploration at or near Pumacocha could be found.  Below is a list of general caving references relating to Peru.

Bowser, R.J. et aI., 1973, "Imperial College Expedition to the Karst of Peru." Cave Science: Journal of British Speleological Association. No.52.

Di Mauricio, T., 1979, "Pedizione Peleo-Alpinistica in Peru" Speleologia 2, 28-29

Gilbert, A., 1989, Le Karst de Cochapata irma Grande. Spelunca  36 pll-17.

Hartmann, H. "Eine Hohle in der Kultstatte Kenko bei Cuzco ( Peru

Imperial College, 1984. "Imperial College Expedition report"

Maire, R., 1986 Une classique de la cordillere des Andes: La Sima de Milpo (-402m), Perou

Spelunca 5 (23) 28-31

Martinez, A. Romero, D., Romero, M., et C.Ribera, 1983, "EI carst del nord del peru expedicions HIRCA-76 I MILLPU-77" Speleon, 26-27, p147-180.

Martinez, D., 1977, "Expedition Speleologique "cordillera Peruvienne" Rapport de expedicion"

Bibliotheque de la F.F.S.14p.

Masriera, A., 1973, "Nota sobre la Expedicion Espeleologica esanola alas regiones karsticas del Peru"

Espe1eo1e.G 18 979-981.

Morales Amao (Cesar), 1970, "Primera expedicion cientifica de espeleologia. Caverna de Huagapo(Tarma)" Revista Peruana Andina Glacio1ogia, Lima V.8 p173.

Orville, M. 1977, "Recherches Speleologiques au Perou"

Spelunca 3, p98-102.

Ribera,C. & Belles X., "Perou" Dept Bio1ogia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona.

Romero, D., 1979, "MILLPU". Espe1eo1eg, 28, 539-541.

Rossell, G., 1965, "Cavernas, Grutas y cuevas del Peru" Lima, 54pp.

Sammartino, Y., 1982, "Perou 82 - Expedition en Foret Amazonienne D 'Altitude" Club Bagno1ais d'investigations souterraines.

Sammartino, Y., 1984 "Perou 82" Spe1unca 14.

Sammartino, Y., 1987, "Expeditions au Perou 1802-1986" Fed Fr Spe1eoi.

Sammartino, Y., Staccio1i, G., & K1ien, J.D., 1981, "Perou 79, expedition du groupe Speleo Bagnols Marcoule." Bagno1s/Ceze -Rapport d'expedition,183p.

Ullastre Martorell, J., 1973, "Aportacion al conocimiento geoespeleologico de algunas regiones karsticas del Peru." Pe1eon, 20, p167-224.

Ullastre Martorell, J., 1983, "Cuevas Exoticas" Ediciones Grijelbo, S.A. Barcelona. pp 47-96.

Wilson, J.M. et aI., 1982, " Peru 82, Southampton University Exploration Society Peru Expedition"

Southampton University.

1987, "Perou". Spelunca 28, 10-11.

Unknown 1977, "Espeleologia a HIRCA -76" Muntanya 86, (690) p339-347.


The team would like to express their thanks for the hospitality shown towards them by the people of Laraos, the workers and management of the San Valentin Mine and above all the extreme generosity of the mine and hyro-electric station owner, Don Jesus Arias, who most generously provided both food and secure lodging for us during our stay.  In addition we wish to thank Jenny the cook and all the security personnel at the hydro-electric station for making our stay so enjoyable.

Our thanks must also go to Sterling Ropes for providing a generous discount on five hundred metres of rope.


The speleological potential of this area is immense - as shown by the results of just one small reconnaissance expedition.  At -430m Sima Pumacocha is the deepest limestone cave and the second deepest natural underground cavity yet explored in South America and, so far, has shown no sign of ending.  The presumed resurgence is approximately 16km distant from the entrance and almost 1000m lower in altitude thus there is great potential for a very extensive cave system.  There is also the exciting possibility that some of the shafts noted by expedition members near the Yauricocha mine may be higher entrances to Sima Pumacocha.  If a connection exists then Sima Pumacocha could be one of the deepest known caves in the world.

A full colour version of this expedition report is available.  Contact Rob for details.


John Stafford's Memoirs.

By Chris Castle

The March '97 batch of new guides at Cheddar included one whom we thought to be the famous actor Patrick Stewart, fallen onto bad times.  This was not the case; it was in fact John Stafford.  He had moved down from Northants, having previously lived in many parts of the British Isles, and had taken a job at the Caves for a quiet life until he retired.  He had to put up with cries of "Make it so" and "Belay that order, Mr. Worf'-indeed, he joined in with the fun and told visitors that he used to be a Starship captain.  Fortunately we have since become bored with the joke.

He enthusiastically accepted an invitation to join a trip around the Adventure Caving Route in Gough's Cave, and because there were three Johns he told us to call him Staff as that was what everyone, including his wife Anita, always called him.  I soon found out that he had been a keen caver in his youth, had been a member of the BEC, and had taken part in many of the early explorations of St. Cuthbert's.  "Are you the Stafford of Stafford's Boulder Problem?" I asked, and of course, he was.

Staff started helping out with the abseiling, but his activity duties increased after I had a slight climbing mishap in July '98 and put myself out of action for a few months with various broken legs and things.  Staff continues to do this work at Cheddar.

His caving enthusiasm re-kindled, he has been on many Mendip caving trips with me, including many sherparing trips to Lloyd Hall for the CDG, and joined NHASA (Junior Section). In October of this year he visited Cuthbert's II for the first time, accompanied by myself and Rich Long, and I afterwards asked him if he would write up his Memoirs of his early teenage years exploring the cave.  This he agreed to do, provided I typed them up for him, which I have done with, I must say, great labour as I am a lousy typist.  However, I was helped by the fact that Staff, being of the older generation, can spell and string coherent sentences together.

A few explanations may be helpful.

"Knobbly Dog" - a hand climbing aid, consisting of a single length of ladder wire with short lengths of aluminium tubing swaged every 0.3 metres or so. One survives near the end of Cerberus Rift in St. Cuthbert's.

Pemmican - "A North American Indian preparation of lean flesh-meat, dried, pounded, and mixed with fat and other ingredients." (Chambers Dictionary).

The Shunt - a constriction in the old Cuthbert's entrance (abandoned in 1964).

Staffs Memoirs

The earliest trips in Cuthbert's could probably be best recounted by Chris Falshaw as my first visit did not occur until the "long trip" of the 20th/21st March 1954.

This party was particularly honoured by the presence of Bob Bagshawe Secretary and Treasurer of the BEC. Requests for vast expenditure on tackle for exploration of this new system had caused Bob some concern - he had to see if there really was a big cave so close to the Belfry.

The trip was absolutely amazing.  A fair amount of water was pounding through the cave, no fixed tackle, only rather primitive wire and wood ladders and heavy lifelines.  The main streamway from Pulpit Pitch was the normal route at that time which meant you were pretty wet throughout the trip.  Four hours was about normal to reach the Dining Room and each "outing" was about the same length so we had hot food and drink at about four-hourly intervals.

We newcomers - Bagshaw, Knibbs and myself - were conducted to the marvels of the Gours and on to the Sump. In many places throughout the trip one or other of the party would have a quick look into holes / passages not yet explored.  The main exploration involved the continuation of Cerberus Series into Mud Ball Chamber and the discovery of the Lake Chamber.

It so happened that the Lake was at a level where parts of the ceiling touched the water and gave an impression that the Lake might continue further than we could see. This, as you know, has proved to be a false hope.

Coase confidently stated that a vertical passage from above the Rat Run would lead to a particular hole in Everest Passage so he was told to get up there and prove it, which he did. I think Bennett went next, then it was my turn.  The others had gone up using a handy hold half way up.  That hold, and the rest of the boulder attached, came away in my hand. I was not far enough up the tube to push it to the top and it was too big to drop past me.  Instead of descending, getting rid of it, and starting again I was stupid enough to try pushing it up as far as I could, letting go and trying to wriggle up an inch or two before it landed on my head and then repeating the operation.  Again and again and again.  In true BEC fashion no-one helped at all, just rolled on their bellies laughing their socks off.  All except Bagshaw who had dozed off in the Dining Room while all this was going on, as far as I can recall.

Someone put that boulder carefully aside and, for at least a year, I had to check whichever load I was handed to carry out of the cave to make sure that it did not contain that bloody boulder.  Those good friends of mine did their best to trick me into carrying it out so they could present it to me at a Club dinner.  The phrase "boulder problem" they thought was most apt as I was then, or became soon after, the Club Climbing Secretary.

On this, my first, trip I probably also saw a sight that became synonymous with Cuthbert's trips. Norman Petty wore a stout all wool fireman's jacket under his boilersuit.  Whenever we were waiting at the top or bottom of ladders Norman would undo his overalls, produce a damp rag from his tunic pocket and carefully polish the uniform buttons whilst singing quietly to himself about Pretty Little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green.

More trips followed; many were concerned with more detailed examination of passages and chambers only briefly looked at in the earliest trips.  Not much remains in my memory of the details apart from being sent up for a good look round what became known as Pyrolusite Series.

On July 3rd with Waddon, Petty and Falshaw a real find was made when we pushed a simple squeeze into Rabbit Warren Extension.  The going was easy and new routes were in abundance.  Each of us must have had the thrill on several occasions of being first into a new chamber or passage that day.

Two sightings of Plantation Stream were found and possible continuations of routes located.  One of those was what I believe is now known as T-Junction Chamber.  A very short length of exit passage was partially blocked with good stal.  The passage appeared to continue beyond this stal but not with any certainty so we did not touch.  Years later, following the discovery of September Series, the explorers (King & Co?) pushed Cross Legged Squeeze then were stopped by a stal formation.  As they could see a chamber beyond the stal they broke through to where we had been in July 54.

Apart from the actual caving we were also working on a scheme to rig fixed tackle so that more caving time could be devoted to exploration.  Coase, Bennett and I all worked at the Avonmouth Smelting Works. Don found that a load of steel ladders had been stripped out of the site by a demolition contractor with a yard in Shirehampton.  Don, Roy and I then spent many lunch hours dashing to the yard in Don's car, unbolting ladders into moveable lengths, then a hurried return to work.  By trial and error with wooden mock-ups it was found that the maximum length of ladder we could introduce into the cave was (I think) 5 l/2 feet.  On Thursday nights the ladders were sawn, drilled and fish plates prepared in Clive Seward's garage which was handy for the Wagon and Horses, the Club Thursday night boozer, near St.Mary Redcliffe- no longer in existence.  (The pub, not the church).

The Sandhurst club had been asking to see our new discovery so they were invited to assist in the installation of the fixed tackle.  This must have been quite a trip.  I managed to avoid it!  Get Kangy to tell you, it was his first time in the cave (Feb.55). On this general topic, the Knobbly Dogs used at that time were far better handline aids than the chains and ropes now in the cave.  You could grip the KDs much better despite cold, wet hands.

The fixed tackle made a considerable difference to the time and effort of getting in and out of the cave. Conditions had previously been so severe that Jack Waddon wrote to the firm which had supplied pemmican to the '53 Everest expedition, explaining our problems and asking if we could purchase any old stock.  They kindly sent us the last two tins as a gift.  The parcel arrived just as Jack was leaving for Mendip so he brought them along and added them to a couple of tins of bully beef in a Cuthbert's surprise stew.  I am still grateful that I was not on that trip as various people became ill on the way out and none was at work on the Monday except for Jack whose cast iron stomach was unaffected.  Concerned about the state of his friends he looked at the manufacturer's notes enclosed with the letter.  It seemed that everyone had eaten at least a twelve man-days ration in that single meal. The pemmican really was concentrated!

Our apres- caving meals took a turn for the better when the owner of the Miners' Arms (cafe, not pub) began offering cavers suppers, as much as you could eat for 3/6d (17 1/2p) at any time of night or day by prior arrangement.  The meal comprised of a bowl of soup, meat and three veg followed by bread and marmalade till you gave in.  He really did serve us at 3.30 am when asked on more than one occasion.

A trip I recall from later that year was the start of a high standard survey.  To begin with, all the tackle had to go to the Duck. Coase, Petty, Collins and myself dealt with this rather awkward job, passing numerous items from hand to hand whenever we could not get along carrying the gear.  Alfie, of course, started composing a song to go with the shouted checks on items being passed along.  The chorus was something like:

First tripod forward
Second tripod back
Third astro compass
UP Fourth man's crack!

The kit eventually reached the Duck and the first leg of the survey made back to the Gours.  We then had to push on in order to get out by closing time.  All went well until we were up the Entrance Rift and Petty, who was in front, decided to try a different way of getting through the Shunt into the bottom of the Entrance Shaft.  For the benefit of those who never met him I should mention that Norman was over 6 feet tall.  How he managed it I do not know but he seemed to get himself doubled up the wrong way round and was jammed in there for Gawd knows how long. When we eventually surfaced closing time was horribly close.  Without changing out of our filthy wet overalls we put a cleanish sack on the driving seat of Don's car and he drove to the Hunters with the other three of us hanging onto the outside of the car.  We passed money in and the hilarious mob within passed mugs of beer out through the windows to us.

Mention of the Entrance Shaft reminds me that part of the shoring was a large board stating that:

Climbing is Dangerous
and is Prohibited
by order
G. Robinson Manager Gough's Cave

As I am now employed by Cheddar Caves I find this memory rather amusing.  I had originally taken a sign from the other side of the road.  Older, more responsible, members told me to take it back because it must be National Trust property.  This I did the following Saturday after closing time and took the Gough's Cave sign instead which was deemed to be perfectly O.K.

Round about this time we started to break through the Bank Grill in Gour Rift.  King and I were there one day thumping away with hammer and chisel and were, we thought, about to succeed.  Both of us were nearly out of carbide but as there was a small stock in the Dining Chamber, went on hammering away.  We eventually gave up when our lights were seriously low and sped to the Dining Chamber to re-fill. The whitewashed wall on which messages were left said that Don's party were on their way out and were very sorry but had used all the spare carbide supply.  The other spare carbide supply was in Pillar Chamber and it is probable that the time Kangy and I took to get there has never been bettered.

On the following weekend Tony Dunn and I eventually opened the Bank Grill and Tony went through. He came back to say that it did not appear to be worth pursuing.  As far as I know this is still true.

That autumn (55) was really the end of my "early" Cuthbert's.  I had failed my exams which finished my deferment from National Service. In the November my call-up papers arrived, but I was not aware of them.  I had crashed my motorbike the night before and have no knowledge of the next four days.  It could have been worse but I was wearing an ex- WD crash helmet purchased from Roy Bennett three hours previously.  After two more medicals the Army still wanted me.  Due to argumentative skills learned in the Hunters' and the Belfry I persuaded the Army to leave things long enough for me to have another go at the Great Traverse of the Black Cuillin of Skye in May 56.  This I managed with John Attwood and returned to find that the Glosters wanted me next Thursday.

Thank you for asking for the stories of caving with the wonderful characters concerned.  I am glad to say that last week I had my first visit to Cuthbert's II - many thanks to Chris Castle and Richard Long who acted as guides and minders.  In another few days I shall be at Alfie's Geriatric Dinner - 50 years after my first club dinner which I regret to say was the Wessex.


Club News

Firstly, for those who have not already heard, I have some sad news.  Frank Jones passed away at the end of last year.  An obituary can be found below.  I am sure that I am not alone in saying that his seat by the fire in the Hunters' seems strangely empty - although Quackers is doing his best as a stand in for Frank.

Tony and others are soon due to return from their Meghalaya Expedition and news of their exploration will be in the next issue of the BB.

Phil Rowsell has sent brief news of his six months digging in Tasmania - he has mentioned something about a new shaft in a system on Mt. Anne and the possibility of a new Australian depth record. Somewhere in Tasmania there are some poor knackered cavers gazing at a calendar and thinking of the rest that they will have when he returns to Mendip!

Work has begun at the Belfry on clearing the ground for the new extension.  Contact the Hut Engineer for details of future working weekends as this issue will be too late for the early March one.

A new computer has been installed in the Library courtesy of Becca Campbell and Bristol Waterworks.

Finally, although there has been a fair deal of trips by club members in recent months the Logbook reveals only a fraction of this activity.  There are two good reasons to fill it in.  Firstly, it is an historical record for the use of future cavers. Secondly, if it is not used more, the extracts from the Logbook section of your BB is going to read like a personal log for the few that bother regularly to write up trips.


VALE: Francis (Frank) John Jones.


Frank joined the BEC in the early 1960s whilst he was living at his parent’s home in Clifton.  At the time he was working as a draughtsman.  He caved through the mid 1960s, frequently in St. Cuthbert's (which seems to have been his favourite Mendip cave system).  He then joined the Merchant Navy - his departure from which launched the countless jokes about a "discharged seaman".  Moving to Priddy at the end of the decade he remained in the village until his death from a heart attack while at home in mid December 2001.

Frank near Quarry Corner in St. Cuthbert's Swallet on the 5th of January 1964.

Photograph by Roger Stenner.  Also present on the trip were: Dave Irwin, Joyce Rowlands (now Franklin), Brenda Plummer ( Wilton), Joy Steadman, and Kevin Abbey.  Other sites visited on this photographic trip included Mud Hall, Pillar, Boulder and Upper Traverse Chambers.  For a more recent (albeit posthumous) caving trip by Frank see Tony's article on Hunter's Lodge Inn Sink.

His well attended funeral, with well over eighty mourners, reflected his popularity and his ashes were scattered in a number of places locally - indeed there are now plans afoot for a lasting memorial to one of Mendip's (and the BEC's) true characters.

If you have more information or stories about Frank, and particularly about his caving years, please send them to the Editor for publication in the next issue.


Extracts From The Logbook.

14/11/01: Eastwater Cavern ( Soho Dig): Madphil and Andy Heath (C.S.S.)

Went down to survey dig and check possible leads with no bang fumes.  Andy made it into '"Thank God" Chamber, which was good. Squeezed through into rift and had good look around. Rift continues on, generally pretty narrow (5 inches), but seems to be wider at bottom.  Narrow part for next 2-3 metres, needs to be widened.  Tried to squeeze through, but well tight!  Not the mega nightmare previously thought, but definitely a project. Climbed up rift, but no way on. Surveyed our way out. Good trip. Not all is lost, but guess this will be next year's/summer's project!

17/11/01: Priddy Green SinkiSwildon's: Mike Alderton, Rich Bayfield (S.U.C.C.) and Chris (S.U.C.C.)

Priddy Green Sink through trip (not bad for Chris's 5th trip) had a look at possibilities for blasting drainage from Mud Sump from this side, but nothing looks promising.  No ladder on Twenty, despite hundreds of cars when we left, so set up hauling line for Rich and Chris.

28/11/01: Welsh's Green Swallet: Madphil and Andy Heath (C.S.S.)

Tourist trip to have a look at dig etc.  Not as muddy as expected.  Now off to "Tassy" ( Tasmania) for six months.  See you in June!

5/1/02: Rhino Rift: Ivan Sandford, Rob Harper, and Adrian Hole

Typically disorganised trip in - left keys in Land Rover, rope too short etc.  Dug passage to Stal to a workable size.  Cold, wet, squalid - but made good progress until water became a problem.  Skip needed. Ivan of the opinion that no breakthrough imminent, but still a good site - must go back with wetsuits.  Rob found squeeze easy.  Ivan did not - mainly due to having to have RH stand on his shoulders to get through.

12/1/02: G.B: Mike Wilson, Tom, and Ben

Steady trip to the Ladder Dig. Looked at the RH dig and took some photos of same.  Out via standard route.

Dollimore's Series: good digging to get connection!  Headed south downstream to choke, where we had a prod at a couple of likely spots before turning our attention to the choke.  Climbed up and removed several rocks before being halted by a precariously balanced slab (above head) and several of its pals - will go back with another type of persuasion!  Onto Yellow Van Passage where the connecting duck was more than that, but did find likely spot in the roof tube to wait for fumes to clear.  Turned and made way out.  Around nine hours.

The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general


First apologies to all anoraks who noticed the error in the last BB, which was wrongly numbered.  It should read as follows: June 2000 Vol.51 No 2. Number 507.   My mistake entirely.  A prize will be winging it's way to the eagle eyed member who spotted this terrible gaffe!.  Please alter your copy accordingly.

Other editorial gibberish is that your Editor might see you a little more often on a Wednesday evening at the "Hunters" from now on. I found out what was causing the problem .....

Do keep the articles coming please.  A quick look in the club hut log is enough to convince me that BEC members actually do go caving - despite rumours from other tea drinking clubs and so on.  These short notes can easily be…….nuff said, it's your magazine!!  Also, pictures and articles are BEST sent to me on disc or e-mail, pictures as jpeg files and articles as Microsoft word for windows format.  I can deal with Corel, but files written in notepad (er Pete Rose please note and thanks for the last one) take a lot of editing.  In fact, I have rejected one or two recent articles due to their being excellent but computer written paper copies that I haven't the patience or time to copy out again!!  Send me the bl***dy disc!!  Short articles accompanied by a photograph and totalling LESS than a page are quite acceptable if you have no access to a computer (thank you Roger Haskett). Please keep them coming.

Last copy date for articles and pictures for the December issue is 15th of that month.  Electronic preferred!- Ed


E-mails and other Snippets

Priddy Mineries Reserve

Richard Witcombe and Tony Jarratt have recently been appointed as joint managers of this Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve.  They will be looking for volunteers in the summer months for various projects such as repairing the Minery Pool dam, weed clearing from Waldegrave Pool, etc. These will be excellent public relations opportunities that need your support.  The fact that Stocks House Shaft Upstream Level may soon pop out in the Reserve had absolutely nothing to do with their appointment!

Sad news is the reported death of one of the cavers known to anyone who visited the Philippines as a caver.  The report I received is short and to the point.

Hey Mike,

I would just like to inform you that Erwin "Ugadz" Ginson of the Philippines died from neck injury while rafting.


"Its either you live with it or you can eat your heart out"

This E-mail came to me from Dave Irwin.  It refers to Simpson's Pot, Kingsdale

Hi guys, please spread this around to anyone who might need to know the place is a bit scary right now, and is an accident waiting to trap the unwary or inexperienced or unlucky.  If anyone can put up notes in club huts, web-sites etc, please do.  If some wally goes getting clumsy in there, it'll take a long time to dig them out!

The area below the Great Aven in Simpsons Pot, Kingsdale is dangerously unstable.

A number of large boulders and a quantity of mud has fallen from beneath the huge jammed boulder which forms the 'floor' which you land on descending the Great Aven pitch, threatening to block the way down into KMC.  One very large boulder (-3 cu M ) is perched just above the squeeze down at the base of Simpsons/Swinsto final pitches and seems likely to be knocked further by any more falls, effectively cutting off this way on.  Philosophers crawl may remain open, but if the huge boulder comes down this will also likely be blocked.  Looking up, it is difficult to work out what is holding the rest up, and further collapse seems likely.  For the time being it seems sensible to avoid descending the Great Aven, and potential through trippers should be aware that Simpsons/Swinsto through trips may well be impossible, and should bear this in mind if contemplating one way trips. I've sent this to Descent, but that's not out for a bit, so we printed some notices at Bernies and put them at the entrances and on the gate and in Bernies and Inglesport.  Difficult to know what to do, apart from a very big bomb to sort things out one way or another.  Any Ideas?

It's the BPC Presidents meet this weekend (in Kingsdale) so a couple of us might go have a look see, if anyone wants to join in, get in touch.  Dave.

Also from Dave Irwin, a short note about the library.  He writes; Several missing copies of B.S.A. Speleo Abstracts have been replaced by Jim Smart - very many thanks.

Dave has donated a photocopy of "Cave Illustrations before 1900" by Trevor Shaw - an essential reference work for antique cave print collectors.

Hidden Earth conference September 15-17th John Williams and Joel Corrigan will be giving a lecture on their exploits in the Dachstein.  This will be on Sat 16th in the evening


"Sago" and "Tich"

By Jan Setterington

As reported in the last BB, Sago Rice died recently and I also have news of the death of Tich Setterington.  This obituary is for both of these two "giants" of The BEC.

I'm going to live forever ... you will remember my name!

Words from the song that are a fitting description of both Sago Rice and Tich Setterington who both died earlier this year.  They were both "giants" of the B.E.C. and just as well known and well loved in many areas where their numerous interests lay - they will both be long remembered and stories will long be told of their many exploits, achievements and disasters!  Each one of us will have our own particular memories - let us share them.

Tich was the archetypal "laid back Englishman".  Never rushed or harried, he always gave the impression of calm serenity (although paddling like Hell under the water - like the proverbial duck) happy in any situation or climate, conversing ably with the natives in their own language- often in accents and dialects they couldn’t make head or tail of - but getting his point across anyway: as happy and at home in Spain, Africa, Russia or Germany as he was in England.  Some people might say he was happier in Spain, especially when he had a seat in the shade for the corrida: how excited he was the first time he saw Manuel Benitez - El Cordobes - in the early sixties. Tich recognised that this man would change the face of Bull- fighting and re-instate it as an art form that matched a newly emerging modem Spain.  Whether or not you approve of the corrida, Tich was an aficionado - he understood bulls, recognised the bravery and artistry of bull and man, and followed the careers of matadors, picadors, banderilleros and bull breeders through Spanish publications, building an extensive library on the subject.

Although he took to driving late in life and never understood the workings of the internal combustion engine, Tich was an accomplished navigator of elderly motor cars. With his friend Alan Hancock he regularly took part in the London to Brighton Veteran Run and travelled to rallies around Europe in Alan’s 1901 Rolls Royce.  Tich once assured me that Alan had allowed him to drive his old Elmore (an electric car of great age) because he naturally abused gear boxes and could "bang the thing into drive".  I can testify to this inability to come to terms with a manual box when "sitting in the hot seat" while he was learning to drive .... Maybe it was better that he always settled for an automatic ...

Tich was a microscope man - working for Beck and then for Zeiss - if you wanted to wind him up you whispered "Hilgar and Watts" and he exploded: it worked every time to any child's delight!

Tich was a bachelor and "uncle" to many adoring children, especially Julian and Nessy "Sett".  He treated them as little adults and never doubted their intelligence or appreciation of any given situation.  This respect was returned and uncle Tich was more popular than Father Christmas in many households!  Because of his rare blood grouping, the antibodies it produced and the fact that he was a blue baby, Tich had a link to thousands of children around Britain, he saved their lives by manufacturing life saving plasma in his blood system - hence his frequent visits to be wired up at the blood donor centre.

Spending most of his working life in London and living for many years in a flat overlooking the "Poly" ground, Tich was first and foremost a Rugby player - playing way beyond the time most blokes hang up their boots.  When he finally retired from the game he took up golf and spent many happy days trying out various courses around the country then sampling the local food and beer!

Tich came home to Somerset a few years ago and had latterly been working on his family history from a flat situated very conveniently, just behind the Somerset County Cricket ground in Taunton. Whether caving, playing rugby or squash or golf, navigating those old cars or managing the "pits" for his friend Alan during a brief motor racing career (a pit manager - he didn't know what a spanner was for!) Tich was always a sportsman and as age and general wear and tear took its toll he became an informed supporter.  It was but a short stroll to a seat in the stands to watch his team take on the country and the world!  And that, I suppose, is the abiding memory that I will carry of Tich - a man strolling through life, happy and secure in his station, without prejudice and offering friendship to all he met.

Sago exhibited many of Tich's traits, especially in his ability to accept all men on their own terms. He appreciated the other fellow's point of view whilst maintaining his own, but his opinions could be swayed if a logical enough argument was produced.  Sago's Mendip activities, caving, climbing and motor cycling exploits are well known, often embellished a little by the man himself!

But how many people on the "Hill" know of his extensive knowledge of geology and the respect accorded him by university staff in Bristol and Aberdeen. His geological education started late in life with a University of Bristol extra - mural class and progressed through "O" levels to University Certificate standard.  He could have taken his degree, but said he was not dedicated enough to keep up the work - then set out to make some quite exceptional geological slides and concentrate on sedimentary rocks and was never happier than splashing about in contemporary water courses pointing out newly forming structures replicating those lower down the sequence.

Sago travelled extensively in Britain, Ireland, Europe and the USA in pursuit of his geological hobby, and the high point of these exploits must have been his visit to the Grand Canyon.  He took a very bumpy flight through the Canyon and produced some brilliant photographs.

Photography was one of Sago's many interests and for a number of years he and Graham Robinson belonged to various societies and could be seen lurking around Bristol, waiting for the perfect shot.  Some of the best pictures that he took were of English churches and cathedrals giving life to his love of architecture and history. A trip to a castle or other old building with "Uncle" Sago was a lesson in history and he enthused many youngsters (and oldsters) with his graphic stories of long ago battles and intrigues.  He had the knack of making history come alive, although he was always a little bit biased towards the English! Historical discourse with Sago was always a pleasure - especially when one was arguing against him from a socialist stance!!

Ancient man and archaeology figured highly amongst Sago's interests and for a number of years he was involved with Peter Reynolds on the Butser Experiment in Sussex.  Latterly he had been working on pollen samples from the site.  He shared an interest in ancient astronomy with "Sett" and Aubrey Burle and he was enthusiastic about and confident in ancient man’s ability to erect accurate observatories and "calculators". I remember how thrilled he was when Sett took him to see the Menec stone rows in Brittany - their exact purpose provided many hours of, eventually, fruitless speculation!

For an essentially outdoor man - caving, climbing, motorcycling, the T.A. (following a period in the Army) and geology - Sago had three other passions - music, books and art. I remember accompanying him around galleries in Paris and his delight in the brilliant colours of the Impressionists and of his visible pleasure when holding a rare book - his own library was extensive and included many treasured volumes - especial favourites were a limited edition of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom and The Washing of the Spears, Donald Morris's story of the rise and fall of the Zulu nation.  Sago's taste in music was catholic, Bruckner to Brubeck and all stations in between!! There is a story, true, not apocryphal, that many years ago a young man walked into the Hunters and said "I've just heard the best record ever made".  Another young man replied " Summit Ridge Drive on one side and Special Delivery Stomp on the other".  Sago said "How did you know that"?  Sett replied" You stated a fact"!  It has to be said that Sett was the mathematician and statistician and Sago was the romantic, but that was how a lifelong friendship began - a friendship that led, ultimately, to Sett selling Sago his old Matchless. Years after the accident that cost Sago a leg and the demise of the Matchbox, he was in a pub in Cornwall talking to some modern bikers about the machines he had owned and, pointing out his missing limb explained to reason - the bikers nodded in sympathy - not for the loss of the leg but for the wrecking of a beautiful vehicle, an attitude Sago understood.  He never dwelt on his disability but faced each day as a challenge - many are the slightly timorous geology students who, faced with a steep climb down a cliff path would much rather have stayed put at the top but were forced to descend in the wake of a trail blazing Sago who sat down, pushed off and slid down to the beach below.

Sago had many friends all round the world - it didn't matter where he went there was always someone who would pop up and say "Hallo Sago, Fancy seeing you here!" he was gregarious, good natured and generous.  A friend.  My favourite memory of Sago is sitting on a rock on a beach on the Dingle Peninsula surrounded by extra - mural students happily identifying the rock samples they brought to him.  He was a natural teacher and took time to explain always appreciating that students needed to learn at their own pace.

Tich and Sago.  Two friends with many friends and beliefs in common.  Neither was a Christian and neither believed in an existence on another plane after death. This formed the basis for philosophical discussion between us - I am a Catholic and believe that there is a life after death and that our thought process goes on (possibly this is why the Universe is expanding).  Two friends who died within a couple of weeks of each other.  Both strolled through life, confident and accepting.  How fitting then that Sago should be the first to take the next step - he will have been waiting and when Tich arrived he would say, quite naturally, "Hello Sago, fancy seeing you here."

Jan - Wiveliscombe


Do all Cavers Have Beards?

asks Adrian Thomas
(first published in Cavers Digest)

Here in Ireland we have a relatively small caving population and cavers from across the country come together from time to time to practice rescue techniques.  Not so long ago a small group gathered at the appointed place and time on a dull wet day with mist blowing across the bleak karst landscape that is known as the Burren. We headed into a small shake hole in the forest and as we dropped the 3m (10ft) into a small canyon carrying a stream one diligent lad counted us in - EIGHT cavers.  After a few hours of wrestling with simulated injuries and manipulating stretchers round tight comers and through flat out crawls in the water, we emerged into a slightly brighter dull day.  The same diligent lad counted us out and got NINE !!  After a few moments he exclaimed that we appeared to have gained a caver but very quickly went on to identify which one!  His task was made easier by the fact that the caver who had arrived late and found his own way into the cave was clean-shaven. In fact eight bearded cavers had gone into the cave and the late comer was the only one without a beard.  I wonder if anyone has ever done any serious research on beards in caving.  Quite a lot of (male) Irish cavers are either bearded or were at one time.  But the question arises - is it a fashion - are cavers copying one another?  To some extent this might be an attempt to be "macho imago" and maybe many cavers are actually insecure wimps who just want to look tough??  I have had a beard since I was a student (almost 30 years ago) and although I have always loved caves, I only started caving properly about 10 years ago.  Is the fact that I always had a beard significant?  Maybe I was always a caver and just didn't realise it??  I know that I would have great difficulty parting with it even though my wife would love to see it go.  It can't be that I'm lazy although the thought of shaving every day does frighten me.  Perhaps I need psychiatric help?  I'd be most interested to hear what other cavers, and particularly the ladies, think on this subject and whether any of them have ever wished they could grow a beard so that they'd be proper cavers like the rest of us bearded ones?  If this is an inappropriate subject for the cavers page then I apologise.  I have been reading the digest for many years and don't recall this fascinating and deeply personal subject being dealt with.  It would help my research enormously if those males submitting to this digest would not alone indicate where they are from but also their bearded status - maybe just for the next few months?? (eg Bearded, non- bearded, was-bearded).  Females could be excused this ritual at their discretion?  Rude and insulting replies can be directed to me at [email protected][removed] Interesting replies to the Cavers Digest!

Adrian ( Ireland, Europe, bearded )



"How Not to Go Caving in Northern Spain"

by Pete Rose

"Donde es les Cuevas?" (to the tune of 'West of Santander, down ole Picos way') a famous cowboy song.

Sue, my wife, had always wanted to go to northern Spain and had convinced me that 24 hours on the Plymouth - Santander ferry was good for my health.  Our sons, Martin and James wanted a free holiday after finishing Uni, and having a negative bank balance, I was forced therefore to embark with only a copy of "The Caves of France and Northern Spain" by Sieveking, and "Beneath the Mountains" by Rose (no relative) and Gregson, plus several torches.  This was too much of a contrast to result in any success in finding suitable Fairy cave type situations .... as it turned out.  The ferry contained various members of a biker group from the North strolling around, flexing tattoos etc.  I had been listening in on one conversation that started with how they were motoring down to southern Spain and one had got lost on the way somewhere near Accrington!  (IMPORTANT FERRY TIP.  Do not have a cabin with a low number, like 200 to 300.  These are way down below the car decks and this only results in one contemplating the escape route all night.. .. If something catches fire etc.) We met some friends in Santander, and decided to camp near them for the first week and then go to our farm cottage in the mountains for the 2nd week. We duly drove off to Llanes on the coast west of Santander and set up in a luxury campsite next to some New Zealanders on a world tour (lonely types).  Martin and James had two tents and one set of pegs, so one tent secure or two tents half-done?  I had read the exploits of Oxford Uni. down the Sistema del Xitu by now and thought it highly unlikely I was capable of this sort of stuff with torches and a Petzl headpiece so we offed to Ribadesella, west of Llanes, to see some cave paintings in the Tito Bustillo cave early one morning, but not early enough!  Our friends had missed the cave last year as there was a queue and a quota on numbers (don't breathe over cave paintings or they disappear or get fungal growths or something) this year there was a 100yd queue at 9.30am.  The 250 per day had gone, and I guess everyone buys tickets for groups etc. The Dave Irwin "get us a postcard" factor clicked in but no cards, no nothing.  Eventually found a few at 50 pesetas each in the town and drove off into the mountains nearby looking for caves.  The signpost said Cuevas, 5km ... so we followed it. A large overhang swallowed the car, 100ft high.  A drive in cave!  The road disappeared into 250 metres of high stream passage.  We stopped and climbed up a steep rock slope to look at huge stal, we scrambled around gour pools next to the car!  This was a well-known route for tourists and various Spanish cars came in and tooted.  We drove out into the next valley and the village called Cuevas.  A days caving eh lads!  Next day we started out even earlier allowing for the quota factor, and together with the Jonathan Woods family drove to Cangas and the Cueva del Buxu (pg. 224 in the book, Northern Spain etc).  The road from Llanes meets the Arenas de Cabrales to Cangas road and a few km before the town of Cangas, turns right into the hills.  We zoomed up the hill for miles until it petered out and zoomed down again until someone spotted the word Buxu on a small sign in a small hamlet. We walked up the track for a km passing a Spaniard on the way down.  It was midday by now and this was the guide going for lunch.  This was a maximum 30 per day quota, and his maximum was up! We saw the entrance however, a steel door in a bluff, and retired to a restaurant.  I found a few postcards of Altamira Cave in Cangas, but nothing else.  This town has a nice Roman bridge.  The road to Covadonga nearby was the route to the top of the Picos and the Xitu etc but. .. the wine/beer had got to us.  We drove off to Arenas de Cabrales and passed a Sherborne school bus and on to Panes, where we turned south along the Rio Deva towards Potes.  We got to our converted farmhouse/barn complex beyond Potes at a place called Lerones along an unmade road.  Anyone know any caves around here?  Next day we foolishly followed another sign that said cueva nearby. It was a village, not a cave.  So, we did our up the cable car bit at Fuente De, to the west of Potes, followed by our friends and the New Zealanders (lonely types) this cable car goes straight up a cliff for 800 metres to 1800 metres. Very Impressive!  Any caves up here?  We walked down again carrying rucksacks full of water to drink, in a clockwise direction to Espinama in 3 hours and contemplated caves again.  Our lift back to the cars at Fuente had missed us by minutes so we hid in a bar again.  The Cares gorge walk was next day and is really spectacular!  Three hours along a track carved out of the gorge, with a canal next to you carrying water for a hydroelectric scheme.  From Puente Poncebos (near Arenas de Cabrales) to Cain and 3 hours back again.  The track rises 250 metres at first and then meanders along the wall of the gorge to emerge at the village of Cain.  Along the way one can see resurgences below and above.  Halfway along, the Culiembro is the resurgence for the Xitu, and here was a cave above the resurgence if we could find it.  We lunched at Cain and on the way back (there's even a bar halfway along the gorge) we climbed up to look for the cave.  The map showed a stream - the Culiembro, surely a cave up there! We didn't try hard as we were late for the return drive. (Determination and drive at a low level).  We watched a spectacular rockfall across the gorge along with hundreds of other tourists and it was 3 hours back from Cain to the car and to Sue (who had looked dehydrated and had returned back earlier).  We waved to the Sherborne school bus again.  Still no caving!  Later in the week we tried again ... off to la Hermida, a village in the gorge between Potes and Panes.  A bar owner in la Hermida tried to be helpful and explain about the Cueva de Cuenda?  We set forth again looking for a track across the river and up the hill near Rumenes. Jamie led the way until the path petered out and acquired various ticks. Anyone know this cave?  It wasn't where we were!  Next day the final effort was to be the Cueva del Indal showcave.  This was in the book.  On the coast at Pimiango, 4km from Unquera, 24 km from Llanes. We set off down the road from Potes to the coast, and Unquera is where the road joins the coast road to Santander (there is another show cave at El Mazo, 2km from Panes, called Cueva de la Loja, and we drove slowly through El Mazo, on route for Unquera and the Pindal without seeing any signs).  We had set off late - a mistake let's face it!  The Spanish are up and at 'em early, and in the restaurants for lunch.  The cave is on the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Biscay, in a narrow valley.  Several bars are located here.  The entrance sign mentioned its quota of 20 or 30 as usual - no postcards, no nothing!  No pretty cave paintings again.  We gave up and retired to a local beach.  That was it really ... and we drove slowly through El Mazo on the way back looking for 'la loja' but I had the leaflet which stated 'cupo maximo diario de 30 personas', so I wasn't hopeful at all!  We did the beaches after that, plenty of sea caves of course!  We returned on a Thursday/Friday via Santander and the new Hypercor supermarket.  This is near the ferry port and had 2 caving books. I bought both, 'los colores de la oscuriadad' by Ortega is superb, and was 5500 pesetas.  It has descriptions and magic photies - all too late, of course, but I can sit in my armchair and translate the Spanish slowly - 'the colours of obscurity'? It's all perfectly clear.  (The bikers were on the ferry on the way back, don't get lost looking for Accrington lads!)  It was a holiday and we didn't waste the batteries.

Cheers, Pete Rose


Nostalgic Wanderings

by Roger Haskett

Doolin, Ireland circa 1967.

This was my first ever trip to Ireland.  Accompanied by Alan Butcher, Bob Craig, Pete Bowler and Dave (The Piggy Wig) Irwin. We flew Aer Lingus from Bristol to Cork.  We knew we were on the right plane because when they took the boarding ladder away, the plane fell over!  One of the (clever buggers) had hired us a tiny Vauxhall Viva to take five hairy cavers from Cork to Lisdoonvarna.  We made it with no tread on the back tyres, and no dirt or dust on the fronts, they never touched the ground!

We stayed at McCarthey's Cottage, which in itself wasn't too bad in those days.  However we did have some problems with an old Toppy who lived up the road.  He broke into the place and stole lots of bits and pieces, including The Wig's camera. This is probably why there is not a lot of photo evidence of the trip.  Of course, we only discovered this after we had returned from O'Connor's Bar, say at around 12.30 am.  Pissed as puddings, but nary a daunt, we collected our few remaining lights and, intrepidly, set off across the Clints in hot pursuit.  After falling down a few times, and expending lots of bad language, we eventually sobered up enough to go home.  I might add that we did not find any of the gear, although the Cops did recover some of the stuff at a later stage - knackered of course!

Apparently the old man that did the job was an anti - British and used to write allover the road, "Go home Black and Tans", but as we didn't mind drinking the stout without the brown ale, we stayed!

We did actually do some caving whilst we were there.  Sort of in between the drinking, fishing and fishing and drinking.  We did Catherines, Doolin, Coolagh River, Catherines Two and one of the finest trips I have been on, Aille River Cave.  I can only remember swimming the canals, but it sticks out in my mind as a really memorable jaunt.  Last but not least, there is always the story of one member of the party, who spent an evening trying to shove sharpened sticks up a certain crustacean's private orifice, after one of the fishermen had told us that it would stop the meat from going mushy when it was boiled!

Feanor Strand

Left: Doolin circa 1967
Right: The author showering outside the pub in


65 Years Of Cave Diving At Wookey Hole And Graham Balcombe's Wake

By Tony Jarratt

The evening of Friday 14th July saw some seventy people gathered in the 3rd Chamber of Wookey for the unveiling of a brass plaque mounted on a limestone plinth to commemorate the first dive here on 14th July 1935 by hard-hat divers Graham Balcombe and Penelope "Mossy" Powell.  It was also an opportunity for some of Graham's ashes to be spread on the sump pool of the 9th Chamber - the rest going to Swildon's and Keld Head.

The event started with a champagne and canapes reception in the 3rd Chamber with a steady trickle of vintage and modern cave divers and others appearing throughout the evening. Characters included Ann - Graham's fiancé, the BEC's own Sybil and John - the son of Gordon Ingram-Marriot (one of only two divers who have drowned here in the last 65 years).

Peter Hayling, one of the Cave's directors, then gave a short introductory speech followed by a longer historical account given by Jim Hanwell - much appreciated by those present. The plaque was then unveiled by long retired cave diver Sett.  Everyone then got stuck into the beer, wine and buffet while members of the Historical Diving Society re-enacted Balcombe's dive by sending a brass helmeted, bottom walking diver through to the 4th Chamber (and back!).  He was fed air from a heavy hand pump similar to that used on the original dive when Balcombe made BBC broadcasting history (and instant removal from the airwaves) by shouting back to base "Pump you bastards, pump!"  This re-enactment was very atmospheric, especially with the surpisingly clear water conditions.

Many of the assembled went on to the Hunters to continue the evening in traditional style and a well attended wake was held there, in the back room, on the Saturday night complete with a last minute singsong.  A dedicated few finished the night off at the Belfry - some to drown their sorrows after losing the annual cricket match to the Wessex!

Many thanks to the management of Wookey Hole Caves, the Cave Diving Group (Somerset Section) and the Historical Diving Society for their hard work.

See also "Jade Green Water", Descent 155, Aug/Sept 2000, p35

Attendees at the PlaQue Unveiling! Ceremony - Wookev Hole Cave

Ann Turner, Terry Dickenson & Maureen, Sybil Bowden-Lyle, John Ingram-Marriot, Tony Setterington, Dany Bradshaw, Angus Innes, Dave Irwin, Peter Stewart, Clive Westlake, Tony Jarratt, Jim Hanwell, Clive Gardner, John & Audrey Buxton, Rich West, Chris Howes, Judith Calford, Clive Stell, Jonathon Roberts, Fish & Liz Jeanmaire, Dave & Rich Warman, James Cobbett, Tim Chapman, Tom Chapman, Malc Foyle, Mike Thomas, Nick Mitchell, Roger Haskett, Willy Stanton, Mike McDonald, Keith Savory, Carol Tapley, Bob Cork, John Williams, Kev Jones, Sean Parker, Pete Mullholland, Ben Holden, Pete Bolt & family, Martin & Sue Bishop, Chris Batstone, Nigel & Viv Taylor, Amanda Edgemont, Margaret Chapman, Mike Merrit, Roz Lunn and others - (Graham's family, friends, cavers and cave divers). Peter & Cheryl Wingett, Adrian Barak, John Smillie - (Historical Diving Society).  Peter Hayling, Barney & Mrs. Butter ( Wookey Hole Caves directors) and the guides and staff.

Scanned article from the Wells Journal of 20th July 2000, page12.

The article and picture have suffered as a result of scanning a photocopy of the original! Ed

Plaque unveiled paying tribute to cave dive pioneers


Dreadful ditties

by REG

Where is this beautiful cave scene, photographed by Robin Gray?

In Cuthbert's Chas had quite enough
At the rift he'd run out of puff
But the reason was clear
He'd drunk too much beer
And stuffed up his snitch box with snuff!

Caving is not for the masses
And there's often a shortage of lassies
The reason is clear
They drink gallons of beer
Which results in some horrible gases

In past days cave painters were found
In secret grots far underground
For paint they used mud
Saliva and blood
Small wonder their work is ever found!-Ed

There once was a caver called Dave
Who went to the pub on his bike
And on the way home
He damaged his knee
When he missed the right hander in Priddy!

A poetical painter called Gonzo
Did pictures of the Matienzo
His pictures were fine
And they sold every time
But his poetry just didn't quite sound right.


Travels in America Part 2

by Rich Long

Well, as you may remember, I was in New Mexico, with new chums who were going to deliver me into the Guadalupe Mountains, for camping, hiking and contemplation, brought on by not having loads of money to stay in large hotel complexes, not that there were any about.

My friends were true outdoor types, not content to pay the extortionate $5 to park at Sitting Bull Falls, we exited the three 4x4's we were distributed in and seven adults, three children one pit bull terrier and all our caving gear piled into Gus's pick-up. If ever a bunch looked like a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and the Manson family, it was us, hungover and still covered with yesterdays cave dust and bar-b-que grease.  Caring parents were seen to clutch their small children to their bosoms when we rolled into the car park.  However, the car park attendant never turned a hair, he was about 5' 2", around 65, clothed in jeans, a brown windcheater, zipped to the neck, mirror sunglasses and wispy grey hair sticking out from an old faded baseball cap.

"Five bucks for parking friend." he said to Gus.

"Good Morning, Sir," said Gus, the politest man I've ever met "I have a yearly pre-paid sticker to the Falls."  Pointing at the front windscreen of the truck, cracked all the way across, which seems to be an obligatory feature in this part of America.

"God-damn it, you durned city slickers, ooh, O.K. Park up."  He did seem somewhat peeved for a second or two, but soon cheered up when Gus asked Warren, which was the gentleman's name, if he would keep an eye on the truck as all my worldly possessions was in it. "No problem, I've got a .357 Magnum in the truck, if anyone tries anything ... why I'll give them so much grief." said Warren.  We thanked him and walked off to see the falls and splendid they were.

Time raced by and it was time to bid my chums farewell and I hiked off into the sunset carrying my pack up the cliff path past some excellent climbing spots.  I walked towards the Last Chance Trailhead until it was getting dark and found a very pleasant bit of flat land close to the river, set camp and listened to the canyon start to wake up in the coming dusk.

There were still a few bats about, some as big as Jack Russells, so, I kept my hat on, I didn't want any of them getting tangled up in my luscious, flowing locks.  It was awe inspiring laying out on the rock looking at the night sky, it was still warm in the early evening and you could still taste the warm trail dust and then catch the sweet scent of the trees overhanging the gently flowing river.  Every now and then as the earth cooled I could see the breeze coming up the canyon ruffling the tops of the trees and moving on, just like a huge invisible hand stroking through the leaves.

Jeeesus Christ, I've got to stop drinking so much, I'm turning into Ernest Hemingway.  Still, perhaps I'm not drinking enough!

Well, for the next several days I hiked, trying to do all the trails into the mountains, picking up on the old sites of interest, going to all the viewpoints I could make within a days travel.  It was excellent, unfortunately, as I was drinking river water cleaned by chemicals, not the most pleasant.  Then, one day I didn't drink enough and as you know dehydration, doesn't do you a lot of good, especially as you are about 50 miles from the nearest known habitation. So, I decided to hike back down to Sitting Bull Falls, where I knew there was water at the picnic site.  Head aching, I reached the top of the cliff walk above the falls and looked down.  I knew it had been the last weekend of the season when I had been dropped off, so I didn't expect to see anyone.  Rightly so, no one there, except, in the distance I could see a white pick-up truck, with a guy leaning on the back of it, it had to be old Warren!

I reached the tap after the climb down, had a tentative few sips and filled up my five gallon container, then, walked over to say Hi to Warren.

Warren was dressed the same as the day I'd left the falls several days before, elbows resting on the back of the truck he watched me approach.  "Hi, Warren, how are you today?"  "Fine and yourself?" he replied.  "Pretty good, thanks.  I filled up with water if that's O.K.?  Not too many people around now the seasons over, I guess." I said.

"No, that's just how I like it!" he said, he seemed to be sweating a little "It allows me to do my own thing.  In fact, I'll show you!" then he stood back from the truck and pulled down the zip on his beat up old windcheater and there, stood in a car park in New Mexico, 50 miles from town, I see my first transvestite!  Well, that's what the big boys told me they were called.  He's wearing a red Basque with black lace trimming. He leans towards me and glances round furtively and says, "I've got black lace panties on too!"  It would have been pretty damned attractive on a woman, but with half a dozen grizzled old hairs poking out from his skinny little chest, somehow it didn't do a thing for me!

Now, being brought up in Farrington Gurney, you don't get a lot of cross dressers and if you did they'd damn well keep quiet about it.  We did get one guy transported to Australia years ago for doing something to a sheep, but, I think he married it later and it was all sorted out amicably.

I honestly can't remember what I said but I think it was something feeble like " .. As long as it doesn't do anyone any harm etc."

I quickly took my leave and headed back up the cliff trail, thanking God that I didn't tell him where I was camping.  I looked back from the trail head and far below he was still leaning on the truck, windcheater now zipped up.  I hurried on thinking about the film Pulp Fiction, before I left for America my youngest son would think it highly amusing to play the CD featuring the track "Bring on the Gimp", the part where Marcellus Wallis has very unpleasant things done to his bottom area!  I in turn started to think about Deliverance another film about the great outdoors and equally unpleasant things.  Reaching my camp at a canter, not an easy feat with five gallons of water strapped to your back, I settled down for the night with my brand new Spider co knife attached to my wrist, cuts a tin in half, no problem!  Just what I need tonight!  Still, I can handle Warren, but what if he has pals, Oh dear!!!

The night passes, no visits from anyone except the usual snuffly animals, which I only assume wasn't Warren, swift hysterical kicks to the side of the tent and a lot of screaming soon got rid of them, so everything was fine, as soon as I had stopped crying.

I kept on with my hiking, one day seeing a mountain lion from close quarters and I wouldn't have seen that if it hadn't made so much noise running away, it had obviously heard that us BEC members get everywhere!!  No bears though, shame!

Time came for me to leave and I had to go back to the falls where Gus had arranged to pick me up. No Warren though.

When I told Gus he thought it was hilarious and quickly stated that it had been the first time he had ever met the man!!

We stopped to look at Apache petroglyphys on the way back to town and eventually ended up in Lucy's Mexican restaurant.  Gus suggested the platter, which was a bit of everything and we would have medium strength, well, we downed a couple of Mexican beers with slices of lime stuffed down the neck of the bottle, pretty nice, and proceeded to tuck into the meal. After a few mouthfuls, my nose started to run and I casually wiped it with my serviette, ever the gentleman. Now my head started to sweat, profusely, I now wished I hadn't wiped my nose, sweat and mucus across the top of my shaved swede, not a pretty sight in a restaurant.  More beer!  It turned into a vicious circle, fortunately by now I had plucked up courage to actually look up and Gus was suffering the same fate as me, sweating and nose running. My, what a pleasant sight for the rest of the clientele, fortunately the more beer consumed the less we worried. Still come the end of the meal, we didn't dare move for at least half an hour.  A couple of days later I met one of the greatest guys.  I was doing my washing on a Sunday morning, the nearest thing I get to organised religion, when I got a phone call from Michelle, "Would you like to come climbing?"  Now, let me see, doing the washing or going climbing?

Hmmmmmm!!!! Tough decision! I'm ready!!!!

Curtis picks me up and once again we head off up into the High Guadalupes where we meet a gentleman called Danny Moore, he lives in an Apache Hogan, all on his own.  His Hogan is filled with chess and climbing books, there are skis hanging on the wall, bows and arrows, one bow he has made himself, a black powder musket, "The same kind we chased you British out with!" he said.  "Well, we didn't want it any way!"  I lied.

"O.K. lets go!  I got some great bouldering I want you to try!"

Danny said "Who's coming in my truck?" in the absolute silence and the rest of the group drawing pictures in the dirt with their toes, I in my absolute naivety volunteered.  Danny all this time was walking around in bare feet, mainly because he only had one pair of boots and they were being fixed.

"Only need one pair Bub!" he assured me.

Well, we set off and it soon became apparent why I was the only passenger in Danny's truck, whereupon normal people approach a rock step of approximately 18" on a dirt road, they slow down, fix 4 wheel drive and crawl up over it, Danny floors the pedal and we gun it as fast as the truck will allow.  My head hit the cab like a scud missile, fortunately it didn't explode, but I got a hell of a bruise.  So I learned swiftly and jammed myself in and held on!  My pals were easily amused at the lump already growing on the side of my head, fortunately it didn't spoil my good looks, as it kind of balanced up the lump I already had on the other side of my head, you know, the one where I had the steel plate put in.  Ahhhh, the memories, I knew I shouldn't have camped at Rorke's Drift.  Mr Haskett did warn me!!

Oh yes, the story.  We climbed and sadly I climbed like a caver and ended up with bleeding knees, they were really good about it and only ridiculed me greatly!

Well after I'd lost about three pints of blood we settled down and watched the sun go down from Ridge Road, Curtis broke out cold beers and believe it or not the coyotes started to howl.  Wow, this was everything I had dreamed of.

This was magnificent, me, I'm easily pleased, give me beer, good company, a beautiful sunset and a pack of coyotes and that was heaven!  Look, I know we are cavers and this should be about caving, but, next time I'll tell you about Big Manhole and the hundred mile an hour descent!!

Rich Long


Glanvill’s Photos

Two pictures from the camera of Peter Glanvill of a lighter humour.


Song: The Young Mendip Caver

Tune: German Musicianeer
Author: P. MacNab
Source: Belfry Bulletin Vol 32 No 2 February 1978

Well I'll sing you the song of a young Mendip caver
And of the adventures that overfell ' e.
Though he'd led a good life, he was hardly a raver
Until he went caving with a girl called Betsy.

Sing fal da ra lal de ra lal de la laddy
All kinds of holes this young caver'd been through
But the ones he preferred, they were both wet and hairy
And his favourite trip was to do Swildon's Two.

Now these two went down Swildon's, the boy and young Betsy
The bike of the Belfry, invariably free.
They slipped on their wet suits and went down together
There was no-one else with ' em, there was just he and she.

Now he'd charged his nife cell and she took her stinky
As down to the dark this young couple did go.
He thought he was hard and she thought he was kinky
And they both hoped the other one wouldn't be slow.

When the Forty was passed he led over the Twenty
Down to the streamway past ruckle and squeeze
But he found the sump wider than he had expected
And very soon after he was down on his knees.

Then it's "Oh!" she did cry, "Well me lamp it has failed me.
Have you got a pricker to bring back the flame?"
So he pulled out his wire and tackled her stinky
And very soon after, 'twas working again.

But this trip down below, it got wetter and wetter
And time after time she cried "Do it again!"
Till he'd tried every way and he could do no better
And then she did say "Try the first way again."

Now when they came out, they were both tired and weary
And the charge in his cell, well it almost was through.
And there's only the moral to tell of my story
Wet stinky's need pricking down in Swildon's Two


Minutes of the 1999 B.E.C Annual General Meeting.  Saturday 2nd.October.

The meeting was started almost on time, at 10.40 am, by the Hon. Secretary (Nigel Taylor).  He advised the AGM that insufficient persons had responded to the Request for nominations for the 1999/2000 Committee, and therefore 8 of the outgoing Committee are automatically re-nominated. However he had received three late nominations in the last 48 hours (Mike & Hilary Wilson - seen by the Committee as prospective replacement Treasurers, and Rich Long - interested in the Post of Caving Secretary).  He explained that now presented twelve candidates for election.  He asked the AGM to consider having all twelve candidates. Vince Simmonds (VS) Spoke in support of this idea, and it was accepted 'On the nod' by all present.

The Hon. Secretary noting that 35 members were present, called for nominations for a Chairman, Martin Grass was the only nominee, and was dually accepted.  P:Mike Wilson (MS) s:Roger Haskett (RR).

Angie Dooley (AD) then successfully proposed and Brenda Wilton (BrW) Seconded that " .. .it should be a 'Smoke Free' AGM" Voting: 14 For, 8 Against, 8 Abst

The Secretary had received apologies from: Rob & Helan Harper, apologies were given from the floor for: Fiona Lewis, Ivan Sandford, John Buxton, Kevin Gurner, Dave Glover, Bob Cork, John Freeman and Jeremy Henley.

The following members signed the BEC AGM Attendance Sheet: Colin Dooley, Angie Dooley, Brenda Wilton, Barrie Wilton, Nick Gymer, Dany Bradshaw, Trevor Hughes, Emma Porter, Mike Wilson, Hilary Wilson, Jim Smart, Graham Johnston, Mike Willett, Greg Brock, Mike Alderton, Stuart Sale, Brian Prewer, Bob Smith, Toby Limmer, Martin Selfe, Helan Skelton, Dave Ball, Ruth Baxter, Roger Haskett, Chis Smart, Ron Wyncoll, Nigel Taylor, Vince Simmonds, Roz Bateman, Estelle Sandford, Chas Wethered, Martin Grass, Rich Long, Roger Stenner, Dave Turner.

Item 4, Minutes of the 1998 AGM:- The Secretary pointed out that these had been printed in the BB just after the AGM .. these were P:BrW, Seconded Trevor Hughes(TH), Carried nem.con.

Item 5,Matters arising from the Minutes:- There being no matters arising, these were P:Mike Wilson (MW) & S: Ron Wyncoll (RW) and carried unan.

Item 6 Hon Secretary's Report:- Nigel Taylor had published this in the B.B.  There was surprisingly no debate upon this, and the report was carried nem.con. with one abstention, P: Graham Johnston @ 'Jake' (GJ) S: Angie Dooley (AD).

Item 7, Hon Treasurer’s Report: Chris Smart (CS) apologised for his missed attendances and asked the meeting to accept that there was a valid reason for this.  He then told the meeting that he had won an 80% rates rebate, and were not due any Inland Revenue taxation.  He added his concerns as to the High cost of the BB.  TH queried if we received any monies back from the BB, the Treasurer said no. NT pointed out that the recently renegotiated St. Cuthbert’s lease may have some extra legal cost implications but he awaited invoicing from the Club Solicitors.  However he was pleased to inform the meeting that he had negotiated with the Landowner, Messrs; Inveresk Group not to pay their costs, a generous consideration by them.

Item 7 Continued: Stu Sale (SS) Asked why the phone was on Business rate, but our rates were Domestic.  Both CS & NT explained.  TH asked about Heating Oil, NT advised that there had been no purchases and he monitored this.  The treasurer thanked Roz Bateman for her fundraising and membership money collecting. P: Estelle Sandford (ES) S:TH All in Favour, 2 Abstn.

Item 8, Hon. Auditors Report: Barry Wilton then discussed this with the meeting.  Voting then was P: RH, & S:Brian Prewer (BEP): Unan, 3 Abst.

Item 9, Caving Secretary's Report: No Report given or attendance.

Item 10,Membership Secretary's Report: This was then read to the floor by Roz Bateman.  She advised that there were 170 Members in total, 132 Paid-up members, 38.  Life She spoke on the availability and usefulness of Membership Cards and the Members Handbook.  She particularly thanked younger members for their suggestions. P: AD, S: Martin Torbett (MS) Carried Unam.

Item 11, Hut Wardens Report: The Hut Warden (Vince Simmonds - VS) then gave a verbal report to the meeting based on his joint six month tenure of the post. P:Dave Ball (DB), S:Helen Skelton (HS), Carried Unan.

Item 12, Hut Engineers Report.  No report and No appearance.

Ron Wyncoll asked that the movers of the Fire Extinguishers replace them from where he had positioned them ASAP!  ( Battery charger relocation!).

Item 13, Tackle Masters Report: Mike Willett (MWt) gave a verbal report to the meeting.  He thanked Jake (GJ) for his assistance this year.  Jim Smart (JS) Asked why there was no 'Booking out' Book maintained, MWt said that it was a new system.  RW stated that he thought the system had improved.  The report was voted: P:MT, S: SS. and carried Unan.

Item 14, B.B Editors Report: Estelle Sandford gave a verbal report to the meeting.  BEP Proposed Estelle a vote of thanks for the excellent Club Journal, P:bep S:CS carried Unan.  The report was then taken: P:Toby Limmer (TL) , S:VS. Voting: Unan.

Item 15, Librarians Report:  No Report or appearance.

Item 16, Ian Dear Memorial Fund Report:  No Report or appearance.

NT asked the AGM if it was happy with the levels of payments.  BEP suggested that the Committee liaise with Mike Palmer and Tony Setterington (With the Caving Sec, these are the three man IDMF Committee). VS suggested that many new and younger members were joining the club, and they should be encouraged to claim whatever they can.

Item 17, Election of Officers 1999/2000: The Floor accepted the following: Roz Bateman, Chris Smart, Vince Simmonds, Mike Wilson, Hilary Wilson, Rich Long, Martin Torbett, Toby Limmer, Mike Willet, Bob Smith, Nigel Taylor.

Item 17, Election of Officers Continued: As is customary, this was done from the floor of the meeting, and Nigel Taylor again declared a possible 'conflict of interests' to the meeting prior to any vote; He reminded them that his explosives business was working in Limestone areas, he was aware that it could be a conflict of interest.  The AGM declared this laudable, and agreed that they did not see it as a conflict of interest.  He further advised that he would shortly be working away in the Falklands and should miss both the November and December meetings, again the AGM accepted this.

Voting for the posts then followed:

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor.P: CD, S: Dany Bradshaw (DB) Carried Unan, 1 Abstn.
Hon. Treasurer: Chris Smart.P:RH, S:RW , Carried Unan, 1 Abstn.
Caving Secretary: Rich Long P:MW, S: NT, Carried Unan.
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman. P:CS, S:MW Carried Unan.
Hut Warden: Vince Simmonds, P:N/K,S:GC, Carried Unan.
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer P:NT, S: GC, Carried Unan
Tacklemaster: Mike Willet, P: VS, S:ES, Carried Unan.
B.B Editor: Martin Torbett, P:ES, S: Bob Smith(BS).

Non -Committee Posts Confirmed:

Hon.Auditor: Barrie Wilton. was also reaffirmed as Auditor, P:NT, S: RH, nem.con
Librarian (Not filled, Committee to oversee until volunteer came forward).
Hut Bookings Officer: Fiona Lambert.
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock

A Vote of Thanks was proposed by CS FOR Dave Irwin for his Unofficial Librarian role over the last twelve months, this was seconded by BEP, Carried Unan.

The Hon. Secretary then excused himself from minute taking in order to prepare the AGM lunch, and Chris Smart stepped into the minute takers position:

Item 18, Members Resolutions: Much discussion re removing the whole of Section 'D' from Paragraph Section 5. The floor debated whether some jobs were ‘... more important than others?...’ TH felt that ‘We need one person accountable…such as Secretary or Treasurer…’  After lengthy discussion, the proposal was P:CD, and S: GJ, voting 4 For, 24 Against, 1 Abstn, this failed.

A further proposal to delete the single sentence from the Constitution: "Change of Office….General Meeting" From 5D, Was P: Roger Stenner(RS) S:ES, Voted 28 For, 1 Against, 1 Abstn.  This is therefore a Constitutional Amendment to be raised at the next AGM on the 7th October 2000.

Chris Smart (Member 915) Proposed, and Nigel Taylor (Member 772) Placed a Members Resolution forward as follows:  (See also 1998 AGM Minutes Item 21)

"That the Constitution be amended as follows: Section 3a) Classification of Membership to include an additional group 'G - Temporary Members'.  This group to have membership limited to a maximum of one period in 15 days in anyone calendar year, and to have no voting rights whatsoever and to pay normal guest Hut rates.  The Temporary Member to pay a fee to cover this expense." Both CS and NT outlined their concern and reasons for this proposal (Effectively to cover an Insurance position when prospective members cave with Members -NT).  The Proposal was put to the AGM and Carried Unan. This is also a Constitutional Amendment and must be raised at the 1999 AGM

The meeting then adjourned for Refreshments for half an hour, and on resumption 31 members were present:

Item 19, Details regarding the Annual Dinner, the AGM was told that all tickets had been sold.

Item 20, Any Other Business:

TH proposed A £1 increase in Club Subscriptions as a guard against inflation supported by NT, 12 For, 19 Against 3 Abstn.  Motion Failed.

TH then expressed his worries about the Cost of building an Extension.  NT presented the meeting with the Approved Plans, reminding TH that this had been discussed and approved at the last two AGM's, and further that a full costing would be undertaken before any main part of the Construction started (This does not include minor ground preparation! footings work).  DB was asked to comment by NT on the MRO Position respective the Old Stone Belfry Lease, and other club's attitudes.

TH was concerned about the 'Public Perception that the BEC was having a new extension built at the cost of the MRO - NT (Himself an MRO Warden) was outraged at this "ill informed and perverse attitude"  He added that the BEC at cost only to itself had welcomed the MRO in the Old Stone Belfry for more years than most could remember, and had never charged the MRO a penny for rates, rent, electricity or anything else in that time. Now MRO had a requirement to as it were ‘Take over the whole of the Old Stone Belfry’ and therefore the BEC would lose its only Tackle Store and Workshop space, then The BEC would build its own extension at its own cost. However, in return for an all encompassing 21 Year Lease on the Old Stone Belfry it was only fair that MRO, and indirectly now, other Mendip Clubs should pay towards that MRO lease. Further this fee, which had yet to be agreed, was to the BEC as Lease dues.  What the BEC chose to do with those funds was at the BEC's own discretion.

RH suggested that the BEC thought about obtaining lottery funding for a new extension.  BEP, Dave Turner (DT), TH, AD, also expressed similar views on the subject.  NT commented that he would explore the situation and report to the AGM.

CS Thanked Ron Wyncoll yet again for his 'at cost' Servicing of the BEC Fire Control systems.

NT asked the AGM to confirm the proper appointment of Martin Grass (Committee appointed Acting Trustee). As one of the Four Club Trustees, this was seconded by Chris Smart and carried unanimously.

Nigel Taylor as Hon. Secretary, announced the details and date of the 2000 AGM, as 10.30 am, Saturday 7th. October 1998 at the Belfry.  Martin Grass as Chairman then declared the AGM closed at 2.00 pm.

Minutes recorded by Nigel Taylor and Chris Smart, and later typed:

Nigel Taylor, Hon. Secretary, Sunday 3rd. September 1999.


Tackle Masters Report

2"" October 1999 AGM

Hello all and welcome another AGM.  First of all I would like to start this brief report with a big thank you to Graham Johnson ('Jake') for all of his hard work in the tackle store; Repairing damaged tackle, and making more replacement ladder for the surplus store.  The new system for obtaining tackle, set up by the previous tackle master Richard Blake, bas been successful, as no ladders seem to be disappearing.  In the main tackle store (the old MRO carbide store) which all BEC members have full access to there is: -

  • 2 ten meter ladders.
  • 1 five metre ladder.
  • 2 spreaders.
  • 2 wire belays.
  • 2 Lifeline.
  • 1 tackle bag.





The St. Cuthbert’s ladder, which is tagged, is also still kept here and must only be used in St. Cuthbert’s.

In the surplus store we have: -

  • 12 ladders, between 5 and 10 metres in length.
  • 7 spreaders.
  • 11 belays of various lengths.
  • 4 life lines.




Jake is also in the process of making three ten-metre ladders, which are almost finished and will be added to this surplus store.

For people with digging propjets, there are also various lengths of digging rope which may prove useful, if so, then any committee member on site with the key will gladly let you have access to the digging rope basket.  Failing that, contact the Tackle Master and arrange access.

This is the current status of the tackle store at the time of this AGM.

See you at the pub!

Mike Willett


Report Of The Hon. Secretary 1998/9

Those of you who were interested enough in your club to attend last year's AGM, will no doubt recall that I stated my intention to stand aside this year should any member want to take on the role of Hon. Secretary.  This was not because I was fed-up with a post that I actually enjoy, but rather as an expression of my concern for the best interests of the Club as a whole, and to enable the BEC to have a fresh face for the new Millennium should it so wish.

Unfortunately, we could not even raise any interest in getting nominations for the Committee this year.  On the evening of 'close for nominations' there remained two vacant positions, the seven existing committee members being automatically re-nominated as is the custom of the BEC.

Estelle Sandford encouraged Toby Limmer to stand in the Hunters that night, and Martin Torbett's nomination arrived in the post the next day.

Thus miraculously, we had a Nine person committee with no requirement for an election to be held. However, and this is a point that I will already have addressed the 1999 AGM upon - I have in the last week been advised of three persons who are prepared to stand.  These are Rich Long, and Michael and Hilary Wilson.

Now if you consider that on most Committee meetings this year, we only had three or if lucky four elected committee members attend, much business was transacted on behalf of the many, by the few!  This caused great difficulty in actually effecting the efficient running of the club, and also ensuring that any decisions taken were democratic.

I suggest that if we now have more than the statutory Nine candidates prepared - albeit at a late stage - the AGM might care to adopt them all, in order to ensure that if last years disgraceful situation reoccurs then at least the club should not suffer the indignity of such committee support.

Last year's AGM directed that committee members attendances should be recorded and passed to the club's AGM, these appear as an addendum to this report.  I make no further comment upon them, except to point out that members are volunteers, and they are entitled to their private lives and associated commitments, some of which unfortunately may not have been apparent to them when they stood for election last year.

Rebecca Campbell unexpectedly had to resign her Hut Warden's post in mid turn due to a relocation in Scotland, and I believe that the BEC owes a great big "Vote of Thanks" to Fiona Lewis, who stepped into the role of Hut Bookings Officer both efficiently and without portfolio!

In a similar vein, both Vince Simmonds and Bob Smith were co-opted onto the committee and have been stalwart in their roles as joint "Hut Wardens".

I have this year finally renegotiated the completion of a new Ten Year lease upon St. Cuthbert’s Swallet with Inveresk.

Martin Grass was offered and accepted the vacant position of a Trustee of the BEC, and I trust this AGM will endorse this action.

Clive Stell and Alan Butcher (SMCC and Ex-BEC) should also receive the AGM's thanks for their efforts in preparing architectural drawings and obtaining planning permission for the proposed extension to the Belfry (New Tackle Store, to replace the Old Stone Belfry being possibly taken over under an MRO/BEC lease still under negotiation.)

Please, please remember it is your Club try to do your bit however small that may be, to ensure that the BEC goes from strength to strength in the 2000's !!!!!!!

Nigel Taylor Member 772.
Hon. Secretary Bristol Exploration Club,
1998/9 Saturday 2nd. October 1999.


Stock's House Shaft - Summer Madness

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-507.

"Day after day the hole grew deeper - which is the right direction for holes"
The Goon Show (The Evils of Bushey Spon) 1958

The last trip of the Spring (by official Hunters Fireplace Time) was made on 31 st May when 104 bags came out on the hydraulic winch.  Some fun was had in the concrete entrance pipes when an errant boulder which had forsaken its bag threatened to return to the bottom and had to be recaptured.

The Summer season began, literally with a bang, next day when the collapse at the end of the Upstream Level was attacked.  The debris was cleared by the writer and Jonathan Davies (ex Camborne School of Mines c.c.) on the 4th June.  Ahead seemed to be a major choke with the stream issuing at high level through huge boulders.  It was decided to leave this to settle but on reversing out a huge slab of apparently solid rock ceiling dropped without warning onto the writer's head and upper back - with a stupefyingly crushing weight.  Luckily Jonathan was immediately behind and was able to dig away floor gravel with the long crowbar.  This took several minutes, during which time the stream backed up over the writer's nose and mouth giving him more concern as to being drowned before getting slowly squashed!  In shouting, or rather gurgling, panicky instructions back to Jon he drank a fair amount of Mineries water - not his preferred beverage.  Being wedged in a tiny space under one side of the slowly descending boulder the pain from his wedged Oldham cell was adding to the misery but just before the pressure and water became overpowering Jon shifted enough gravel to allow him to desperately thrutch backwards to safety and a much needed fag.  This was a closer call than the "Rat Trap Incident" and the writer is exceedingly grateful for Jonathan's clear-headed action - apparently this is a regular occurrence in C.S.M.C.C. digs!  In this instance there had been no time for an M.R.O. callout. It cannot be stressed too much how unstable the local dolomitic conglomerate can become once the supporting debris or stempling is removed and that it comes down noiselessly with no prior warning.  Thin beds of lubricative clay do not help matters.

Work was now concentrated on clearing the Shaft area and the Downstream Level and on 7th June 75 loads were winched out.

The 11th was devoted to photography and Pete Glanvill took record shots of all the workings, including the dropped roof slab in the Upstream Level.  A faulty flashgun ruined some of these.  Some tidying up was done underground on the following day and on the 14th eleven diggers, including four Wessex visitors, moved a vast amount of spoil along the Downstream Level and back to the Shaft.

The next few trips were dedicated to deepening the floor between the sumped end and the Rat Trap so as to gain maximum reservoir capacity for the forthcoming "big push".

98 more loads came out on the 19th June when the team was honoured by the presence of it's most vintage member, Sett - smartly attired following a lunchtime gathering of lots more Vintage Belfryites at the Hunters.  More bags would have been removed but for yet another unfortunate accident which stopped play and resulted in the writer (who else?) being carted off to Wells Cottage Hospital, by Tangent, to get five stitches in his eyebrow.  The wound was caused by the snapping of a cord loop attached to a Clog jammer used to clamp full bags to the hauling rope.  Due to greed and over enthusiasm each Clog bore two bags - giving a maximum winch load of fourteen!  One pair had jammed in the entrance pipe and were being cleared when the cord broke, the Clog shot upwards into the writer's head and the bags returned to join Vince at the bottom - along with a liberal quantity of blood.  Another lesson had been painfully learnt and future loads were reduced by half.

Over the next two days another 72 loads came out and then a week was spent in further deepening of the Downstream Level floor and removing the main dam.  A rock floor was eventually reached with an apparent, possibly natural, stream gully on the NW side.  A strong Sunday team on 2nd July winched out 135 loads with a further 42 coming out next day - a breakage of the winch starting cord suspending operations. The Wednesday Nighters were thus forced below to move another vast amount of bags back to the Shaft.

The winch was repaired on the 6th July by Trev and the writer and used to remove 105 more loads from the Shaft.  A local walker, Les Watts and his wife kindly delivered several plastic containers to the site for modification to digging skips.  Over the next few days further clearing took place until, from the Rat Trap to beyond Heinous Hall more solid rock floor was revealed.  Lots of old timbers were found in this area including one with a finger-sized drill hole in one end - presumably to take a wooden pin. Wednesday 12th saw another 100 loads out and the completion of the Loop Level "through trip" by Tangent. The next day, while on another clearing trip, the writer used a long crowbar to easily dislodge the 3ft long by 2ft square roof slab which hung over the Shaft loading area like a Sword of Damocles.  This was banged, together with a large rock buried in the floor on the 17th.  With a small stream still flowing work at the end was temporarily abandoned and a project of clearing the Downstream Level, to the rock floor, from the Rat Trap back to the Shaft was initiated.

124 more bags came out on the 19th July when passing North Wales caver John Robinson was collared to drive the winch.  Further clearing operations took place over the next few days with the rock floor being exposed almost all of the way back to the Shaft and on Monday 24th July another 104 loads reached the surface.  Two days later 117 more came out and lots of full bags were moved along the Level.

Whilst clearing the Shaft bottom on 27th July a wooden plank floor was revealed and this was further exposed over the next four days.  Where it abutted into the Downstream Level two hand made red bricks (8 1/4" x 2 1/2" x 3314") were found edging the planking. 64 loads reached the surface on solo digging trips over the next three days and the UBSS hand winch was dismantled and taken to the Belfry for storage.

August began with 109 bags out in the first two days and the disinterment by Trev of the handpump - buried in silt near the end.  After the removal of a small stone this was put back into action and, with the new Heinous Hall dam in place, the residual pool was pumped back and a few bags filled. All was now ready for a concerted attack on the terminal blockage.

Further clearing of the Shaft bottom on the 3rd August led to the finding of a 6 3/8" (162mm) long section of clay pipe stem above a distinct bed of blue/green clay in the undercut north comer.  This clay was later used to puddle the leaking Heinous Hall dam.  The hydraulic winch was removed to the Belfry and padlocked as Jake J. had spotted "Three scum bags in a pick-up truck" taking an interest in it.  This reminded us of the imminence of Priddy Fair and the resultant spate of petty thefts.

A surprisingly large team, including new boys Gary Seaman, Chris Connors and ex-MNRC member Ray Deasy (now resident in Australia), turned out on Sunday 6th and dragged all the bags stored downstream back to the Shaft.  Further clearing of the plank floor here was later done by Alex and the writer - three hands being better than one!  Two visiting, hungover Grampian men (Fraser Simpson and Graham Marshall) helped out the following morning when the dam was plugged and several bags filled at the end. It was certainly novel to hear the lilt of Fife accents in subterrenean Somerset!  The dam was found to work perfectly and water ponds up all the way back to the Shaft.

A three man team removed 105 loads on Wednesday 9th August and during the following week water was pumped back several times to enable a considerable amount of silt to be bagged up at the current end.  This was stacked in the level to displace water when the dam was broken.  Further clearing of the Shaft bottom took place and another pipe stem 4 1/2" (109mm) long was found.  Greg's Level was also dug to give more reservoir capacity. 117 bags were hauled out on the 15th.

The next day work started in earnest on clearing the last of the in-washed winter silt behind the terminal choke.  The capacity of the reservoir gave over two hours of digging time and good progress was made in atrociously slimy conditions by Gwilym and Neil.  Plans were laid to hire a submersible pump to make life easier but a very favourable deal from Brown's Tool Hire enabled the writer to purchase a new one along with an extra 50m of cable.  This was put to good use on the 20th August when a B.E.C./Crewe C.P.C. team eventually pumped the end of the level "dry" after a few teething problems.  About twenty bags were filled and stacked and last year's terminus was within sight.

The same team continued on the 21st and after winching out 149 loads repeated the pumping exercise. Another twenty or so bags were filled before a stray boot unfortunately knocked the bung off the dam outlet resulting in a rapid evacuation to the Hunters'!  Operational hiccups with the winch and pump caused some delays but were eventually (hopefully) sorted out.

A solo Shaft clearing trip by Alex next day revealed several more bricks laid alongside the floor timber and apparently acting as a barrier to deflect the stream from the planking. Better even than this was his unearthing of a broken iron shovel blade wedged vertically behind a boulder.  It had probably been used to prise out the rock but had been snapped off in the attempt and left in situ. It was hammered out from a single sheet of iron and may have been a long handled, Cornish-style, tailings shovel - used to clear sediment from the wooden floor (picture next page).

On 23rd August a strong team avoided the fleshpots of Priddy Fair, pumped out the Downstream Level and filled about fifty bags with chocolate mousse-like slurry until the collapse reached last year was again within their grasp.  A distinct draught encouraged the diggers.  Four days later the operation was repeated and a fair amount of rock was removed from the choke, as was a short length of very sturdy wooden stemple put in by the Old Men as a roof support.  There are at least two more of these beams in place which will be replaced with scaffold shoring if necessary.  It is planned to clear out the whole working face to standing height to allow us to dig in comfort and safety.  Much of this was accomplished on the 30th when much more rock was removed from the choke - which appears to be at the base of a shaft, natural rift or roof fall, time will tell - following the hauling of another 106 bags to surface the previous day.  These pumping extravaganzas have cost several hundred pounds so far - any donations to the "Digging Fund" would be gratefully received!

Work has also continued in emptying the Upstream Level of infill, around ten feet having been done so far. A plan of the Shaft bottom and updated survey of the workings will hopefully appear in the next BB.

Additions to the Digging Team

Jonathan Davies (ex C.S.M.C.C.), Tony Littler (M.N.RC.), Nick "Mushroom" Powell (M.N.RC.), Matt Cook (Cheddar Cliff Rescue Team), Kate Lawrence (Somerset Wildlife Trust), Dr. Peter Glanvill, Sean Briscombe, Neil Wooldridge (W.C.C.), Simon Richardson (W.C.C.), Emma Heron (W.C.C.), Kathy Glenton (W.C.C.), Tony "Sett" Setterington, Ray Martin (S.M.C.C.), Crispin Lloyd (So'ton U.C.C.), Helen Hunt, John Robinson (Grosvenor C.C.), Neil Usher, Ray Deasy (ex-M.N.RC.), Gary Seaman (Cheddar C.C.), Chris Connors, Fraser Simpson (Grampian S.G.), Graham Marshall (G.S.G.), Richard Wright, Chris Binding (Cheddar C.C.), Glynn Rowland (C.C.C.), Alan Allsop (Crewe C.P.C.), Kate Hughes.

Additional Assistance

Wells Cottage Hospital staff, Jane Jarratt, Mr & Mrs Les Watts, Ray Mansfield, David Gilson, Jane Allwood (Archaeology Officer, N. Somerset Museum Service), Les Good (Curator, Medieval & Post Medieval Archaeology, Bristol Museum), Adrian Sharman (Brown & Partners Ltd), Dave Walker (Curator, Somerset Rural Life Museum), Heather Coleman (Clay Pipe Research Society / Dawnmist Studio).

The Clay Pipes

Enquiries as to the age and origin of these have been made to several museums and individuals and have elicited a good response - unfortunately, so far, without any positive result. It is generally agreed that both pipes date from the late 1700s - 1800.

Tony Jarratt
Priddy 1/9/00

The pipe found at the bottom of the dig – date circa 1790 – photo P. Glanvill

Tony Jarratt examines the shot-hole – photo P. Glanvill


Scratchings from the Club diary

Compiled by Ed- any mistakes in names etc, entirely mine!

6-7-00 Dan yr Ogof

Vince, Trebor, Rich Long, Sean Howe, James Weir.

Excellent trip to the Risings via Flabbergasm Oxbow, Grand Canyon, Cloud Chamber.  The canal was a pleasant puddle.  Out via the Lower Stream, Bakerloo etc.  The Lakes were one lake and very damp and deep; water had risen during the trip by approx 9 inches.  Great way to spend a wet Sunday morning in West Wales.  Cheers to our leader Trebor!  VS

11-7-00 Thrupe Lane Swallet

John (Tangent) Williams, Paul Brock, Pete Hillier.

An SRT trip on Mendip! Planned in the Hunter's, that actually happened!  We had an excellent time down this cave, descending Slit Pot, Atlas Pot (from Marble Streamway to one side) and then Slither Pot.  This was quite muddy, the water obviously backing up a way during floods. Despite a roaring draught, none of us felt inclined to squeeze through a wet slot into the streamway.  Back on the ropes our exit went smoothly, Paul doing all the de-rigging, and my glasses steaming up which caused me a few route finding problems.  Overall a great evening, a little hurried at the end as we got out just before midnight! JW

15-7-00 Eastwater

Mike A and John W

Nice trip in Upper Series, climbing Rift Chambers and looking for climb to Dark Cars ... completed round trip, coming out for some beer and cricket!!  MA .. Absolutely, the way on to Dark Cars remains elusive, and rather dark as the Speleo Technics lamp I'd borrowed was even worse than mine! (Sorry Bob) so as usual my trusty LED lit the way.  A great trip  JW

15-7-00 Tynings Barrow Swallet

Vince and Roz

Steady trip downstream. Had a poke up into muddy passages above streamway and up Drunken Horse Inlet did NOT go into Mountbatten Chamber. Air quality not 100%.  Pleasant enough trip.

As for the annual cricket match the BEC gallantly managed to lose again.  Too many potential players decided to go caving only returning to drink beer!!!  VS

11-8-00 Swildons Hole

Rich Long, James Wear

Went to sump 1 as MRO (Bryan Prewer) asked us to change pull through rope, it certainly needed it!! Replaced with nice black SAS rope, we used full camouflage face paint while handling it and spoke in tough manly voices.  Swildons was dryish and formations below Tratmans' were drying out - the coffee coloured crystals were spectacular.  RL

28-8-00 Swildons Hole

John Williams ,Chris Holmes

A splash down the wet way, pausing along the way to admire Barnes Loop.  A little persuasion! description of sump 1 was all that was needed to encourage CH to try diving through it. .. An excellent trip, complete with the usual light hassles  (Speleo - Technics related - Princeton lee saved the day again!)   JW


Dachstein Caving Expedition 2000 Eistumen Hohle (G5)

- An interim report and some ramblings from Tangent -
(photos by Joel Corrigan)

Over the first three weeks this August 17 cavers returned to the wonderful wooden Weisberhaus (a bit like the Hunter's except at 1883m).  The main objective of the trip was to continue pushing G5 towards the Sudwestern Series of Hirlatzhohle, in the hope of making a connection.  This year pushing trip were going to be staged from an underground 4-person camp located at -300m. With the comfort (?) of a cosy campsite to return to, it seemed that the expedition was destined for success.

The Cast of Characters (in no particular order)

Pete 'Snablet' MacNab (the one responsible for this gathering) Mike Alderton, Annette Brecher, Greg Brock, Joel Corrigan, Chris Densham, Tim Francis, Rob Garrett, Rich Gerrish, Lev?, Pete Hall, Peter Hubner, Rich Hudson, Tim Lamberton, Mike 'Quackers' Duck (as surface support 'cos TSA don't make oversuits big enough anymore), Paul Windle, and John 'Tangent' Williams.


The expedition had received generous sponsorship and support from numerous sources: -

A grant from the BCRA purchased the underground camping equipment

Total Access supplied 1000m of rope at very reasonable rates

Various members of the B.E.C. were recipients of money from the Ian Deer Memorial Fund to help with transport costs.

A big thank you to our host Wolfgang & Alfi of the Weisbergahus for their kindness, hospitality, and support.

Thank you to anyone else involved in the preparation, planning or execution of this expedition..

Tangent at the entrance ofG5 (IC)

Deep, Dark, Dachstein ..

By John 'Tangent' Williams

Only for good reasons did the cavers travel along the roads and invisible footpaths within the stonewalls of the cave.  The cavers were like moving shadows.  Exploring, bolting, rigging, and digging.  Scattered dots of yellow-orange light cast by the caver’s carbide lamps were the only signal of their presence.  The occasional bolt and rope, the only sign of their passing.  The caver’s lamps were like small islands separated from one another by an enveloping sea of dark and empty cave.  The caver’s lights were soon swallowed by the blackness of their surroundings.  For them, what existed beyond the beam of their lights could only be imagined. Here was the familiar darkness of a cave; but on an incomprehensible scale.  After their passing, the cave could then return to its original icy silence once more; as it had always been in the time before men came to explore. Their activities were insignificant and soon vanished in the width of the eternal night of that cave.

During the expedition we were able to study the Dachstein from a distance, from up close, and -unique to cavers- from beneath.  Like the Poles and desert regions, the underground environment is one of the few places on Earth where on first acquaintance the landscape is truly desolate, barren, and seemingly devoid of life.  A much closer look shows this impression to be utterly wrong.  On the surface the karst is swathed in forest, only the larch trees are barely 12 inches high, being forced to the ground variously by crushing snow pack or fierce unrelenting winds, their growth stunted further by the aridity of the karst during the short summer growing season. Hidden and small are the well camouflaged animals that occupy the landscape, the occasional droppings or hoof prints just hinting at their presence.

Everything on the mountain requires intense study if it is to be understood at all.  This is very true of the rock, especially if you're trying to follow a new cave system beneath the mountain.  The place both above and below ground is one of extreme diversity and richness; it is also a harsh and unforgiving place, which demands the utmost respect.  The landscape here has far more meaning than that which can just be described through geology, geography and ecology.  Through our little explorations deep under Dachstein, I have gained a better appreciation of this place and its landscape.  Over the past years, through our mapping of the caves, we have made our own invisible contribution to this landscape, and in some small way maybe we have become a part of it also.

In the Dachstein Daze ...

By John F. Williams

After hours of sleep deprivation, combined with a ceaseless tide of Boris Yeltsin-like consumption, my mind was in a fog.  This was due to a night of righteous partying that had been triggered by returning to the sanctuary of the wonderful wooden Weisberghaus after a 3 day long pushing trip in G5.  Later on feeling wasted, distant voices filtered through the fog.  They suggested preparing to push other leads and of the impending demands of the de-rigging trips.  Our retreat from the cave was like the Americans' evacuation of Saigon but without the helicopters, and with even less glory!

Charlotte Bronte once wrote; "Life is so constructed that the event does not, cannot, and will not match the expectation ... " However I don't think she ever had the opportunity to drop into the depths of one of nature's subterranean skyscrapers whilst in the grip of the attendant intense gravitational forces!  On occasions one's expectations are entirely overwhelmed, such moments tend to hit you when you're unsuspecting, and thankfully, only very occasionally.  One such occasion happened to me whilst leaving camp at the end of a pushing trip in G5.

Rich had gone on the ropes ahead leaving me to replenish the water supplies at the camp and fettle my carbide lamp by which time he would be finished ascending the big pitch out of the Hall of the Mountain Numpty.  There was just one slight problem; I couldn't locate the rope that would provide my passage up and out of the place!   A lot of aimless wandering around I sat down on a large boulder in the centre of the chamber and thought about my predicament some more.  Deciding to renew the batteries in my spare torch I then methodically shone its bright beam around the vast cavernous room until the slim silhouette of the rope appeared at the top of a debris slope, hanging within metres of where I had searched several times already.  Keeping its location firmly transfixed in my vision, to the exclusion of everything else, I moved speedily across to it and attached my jammers to the rope in readiness for the climbing.  My mind is now on autopilot.  My nerves are calmed by the prospect of the repetitive routine of ascent. Especially after the uncertainty and isolation of the past half-hour, whilst searching for the way out.

I slide my top jammer up as far as it will go.


Weight foot loop.

Pull with right arm.

Stand up ...

OH ...

... FUCK!

The words are instinctively ejected from my mouth.  They are nearly my last.

My surroundings accelerate past me.  The silence of the cave is shattered.  My cry is soon drowned out as tons of rocks begin to fall, the chamber echoes with the sound of crashing, crushing rocks.  My mind barely registered the frenetic sequence of events that brought me back to my resting-place, looking upward.  My immediate landscape appeared to have taken on a radically new orientation, as if torn by some cataclysmic tectonic force.

Ah ... yes.

The Hall of the Mountain Numpty ...

The Mendip Numpty ...

My mind slowly registering my whereabouts, new thoughts keeping time with the gentle bounce of the rope, hanging there just inches above the ground.  From above Rich's voice boomed down.

'Tangent are you okay?'

'I'm okay ... I'm safe!'

The veteran French speleologist Robert De Joly captured the mood of the situation well when he wrote:

"Life is decidedly precarious in these fateful depths." De Joly (1975: 17)

I began the ascent once again, this time with a lot more caution.  During the long climb, my mind played and replayed the events that had just happened at the base of the pitch, haunting my every motion upward.  It would seem that just as I stood up in my foot loop to leave the deck, I lost my footing on the slope and pendulumed across the slope only inches above the ground, but completely at the mercy of gravity and inertia.  Above me, the sudden movement on the rope must have dislodged tons of precariously poised rock from the chamber walls.  What was it Snablet had written about this place last year?

"It is at this point that the walls turn to sugar and the boulders are held up by plasticine."

I vividly recall a T.V. sized rock glancing off my shin as the tempest of falling rocks commenced. By good fortune the rope must have come taut at that moment and I pendulumed back out of the way just as the falling rocks were in full flood ... Phew.

Later on that day Rich and I eventually reached the surface.  By the time we emerged from the confines of the entrance the darkness had extended from the cave to regain a foothold over ground.  The sun having long since slipped silently away over the horizon.  It was also time for us to slip away in the direction of the Weisberghaus where our friends would surely be awaiting our return with bottles of beer at the ready ...

Pushing at the limits of explanation

You are 300m deep inside Eisturnen Hohle, a cave of severe character buried beneath the Dachstein mountains of Austria.  In front of you at the bottom of a slope of broken boulders is the camp.  Behind you lies the Hall of the Mountain Numpty, a massive black void that you have just abseiled through to arrive at camp. According to your companions, once you get through the passage called Only fit for insane worms and gecko's, you've done the hardest part and there's no good excuse to turn back from the trip - a rest at camp followed by pushing at the current limit of exploration awaits you. On the surface the mountain climate generates a seemingly endless torrent of thunderstorms.  The weather, your caving friends tell you has no impact on the lower portion of the cave, unlike nearer the surface where normally dry pitches can transform themselves into cold cataracts of wild water.  Some have been there; trapped at the base of pitches, pinned down until the flooding subsides, or else have fought for air and ascent against the floodwater.  Your confused:  It's cold and damp, and the view in every direction disappears into waves of blackness beyond the glow of your torch, but something inside you is relishing every moment, part you is actually enjoying it!

You soon begin to question your sense of time and space.  Rebelay's that appear close take half an hour of repetitive motion to reach. You quietly question your own significance in this underworld.  Why you choose to spend your entire summers' holiday away on a caving expedition. Just you and your deluded caving friends and the darkness.  The American climbing writer Michael Bianchi describes a similar situation:

"You mentally compare the void outside to the one inside"

Down in the Birth Canal you look ahead and realise that there is nothing to focus on anymore. Only blackness and varying shades of brown from the all-pervasive mud. In this place the rock recedes and is replaced by layer upon layer of thixotropic mud.  Pausing for a moment to recover from a particularly savage series of manoeuvres amongst the mud, you take a 'look' around.  Above you the rift twists and turns, mirroring that below, a signature to the waters power.  Ahead is more of the same, two sheer walls separated by a strip of black.  In cave exploration there is no horizon to strive for, only a icy draught to chase and sometimes water to follow.  Eventually you stop relying on your eyes, amongst the mud and darkness, other senses take priority.  What you feel: soft mud, sticky mud, dry mud, wet mud, and cold dictate your next move.  What you sense is a feeling of being at the edge of something far bigger than you are. This time you have pushed the 'current limit of exploration' a little further forward, but in doing so the 'limit of explanation' has been exceeded.

Extract from the log 9/8/00: Rich Hudson & Tangent go pushing G5.

"Our descent passed by fairly smoothly, until we reached the heinous Birth Canal.  I'd been labouring with the misapprehension that it was a long vaguely phreatic walking passage named in honour of the Vertical Guru's daughter (born in '99 on the day the passage was discovered).  It certainly is not.  The walls are coated in thick sticky mud, some parts are narrow, some high and exposed, all of it is desperately gruelling.  Some distance in, feeling decidedly unnerved and intimidated, I told Rich that maybe I should call it a day.  After a little discussion (and a song from Rich) we agreed to carry on a bit further.  Soon we were at a pitch head, and once more on rope, dropping down some 50m into a vast chamber.  At the base of the pitch a short drop was descended.  Rich went first followed by some scary flying rocks knocked by a careless Tangent stumbling around in the 'daylight' glow of his Princeton Tec L.E.D. lamp.  From the base of the pitch a steeply descending 1-2m wide rift, about 40ft high, carrying a small stream, led off into the unknown - or as Peter Hubner says' ... "To the final frontier ... "Unfortunately this was G5 not Hirlatz, so the 'final (fucking) frontier' was a gruesome collection of awkward birth canal esque rift, coated with a hefty dollop of mud. This mud was not your average friendly cave mud ... It was more like some slobbering Jabba the Hut manifestation, consisting of hideous plastic clay which could easily conceal or consume two cavers and all their gear without effort or trace.

The work of 'pushing' began.  Rich started rigging a high level traverse line.  His work was hampered by a very badly packed tackle bag, the aforementioned mud, and trying to stay in place perched amidst the mud.  (Did I mention the mud?).  After organising the gear between us the 'Traverse of a 1000 spits' was made and a short pitch (35') dropped.  Much, much, more of the same awaited.  The only redeeming features were some mini mud formations created by flakes of rock protecting their tops allowing the development of little cones beneath.  These were mostly squashed by Tangent whilst explaining how they'd formed to Rich. The return journey awaited.  The second time around the Birth Canal didn't seem so bad (I'd gone 'off route' on the way in by the ladder).  Back at camp we ate and then slept." J.W.

The following 'day' Chris Densham and Pete Whitaker continued pushing from where we had finished. Their logbook entry reads:

10th Aug-

"Set off for the bottom at 2.30pm.  With no great enthusiasm we pushed beyond Rich and Tangent's limit.  But first to put off the evil moment, Chris pendulumed across to a floor c.10m from the top of Total Access.  After 10m proved to be a blind alcove.  So we had to go to the bottom.  Foul walls of slime.  Pathetic immature streamway at the bottom of rift, slimy mud higher up.  Continued about 30-40m beyond Rich and Tangent's limit with a further couple of sections of traverse line.  Pete was most determined, and reported the streamway to cut its way down steeply and narrowly.  The traverse level also appeared to pinch out shortly after an area of collapse.  We decided the cave was concluded so derigged out .... " C.D.

The limit of exploration / explanation had been reached in G5, the depth being somewhere around the -600m mark.  The passage seemed poorly developed, and the mud severely hampered progress in an already desperate piece of cave.  Attention was now focused on pushing possible phreatic leads higher in the cave between -300 and - 400m.

Some ideas on the hydrology of G5 and its relationship to the Hirlatzhohle drainage system.

The Hirlatzhohle system has three distinct levels of phreas.  Each of these developed in conjunction with the prevailing hydrological and topographical conditions of each glacial / interglacial cycle.  For example during the earliest phase of cave development ('level 3') the altitude of which is between 1300-1500m in the east (rising to the west with the hydraulic gradient) the surrounding topography would have been quite different.

During each of the subsequent interglacial periods a new lower phreatic level evolved.  This was in response to changes in base level and hydraulic gradient as the land surface, cave passages, and hydrological regime were modified by the effects of glaciation and the associated climate change.

The relevance of these phreatic levels to G5 and its potential for connecting with the Hirlatz system, is that the altitude of the 'level 3' phreas in the west could be intercepted by the much younger G5 development anywhere below -300m.  For example the phreatic passage met at the head of 'Only One Can Hold Me'.  With this knowledge pushing various phreatic leads that appear in the cave became a priority. It also has the advantage of expanding the cave laterally as the G5 passages at present have occupied a very narrow vertical column within the rockmass by spiralling around on themselves.

On a final note Peter Hubner pointed out that if nothing else, establishing that the water in G5 is flowing away to the N.W. refines our understanding of where the watershed / catchment for Hirlatz lies.  It would seem that the present water in G5 drains to the hydrological connection that is known to exist between the Gosausee and Waldbach Ursprung. Following a flowpath beneath the Hosswand AIm area, where it could collect further water on its way to the resurgence (Waldbach) which is at an altitude of 910m and seems to be fairly young having only been established at the close of the last glacial maximum (c.15-20ka.).  During winter conditions the resurgence is dry and has been explored to a depth of -40m terminating in a low (O.5m high) bedding some 20m or so wide.  These observations lend support to the idea that the conduits behind the resurgence are young and poorly developed, which corresponds to the active passage encountered at the present limit of exploration in G5.

Levels of Phreatic development in Hirlatzhohle:

'Level 3': Highest, oldest, 1300-1500m altitude (in the E. rising in the W.)

'Level 2': Middle, main level, 1100-1300m (in the E. rising in the W.)

'Level 1': Lowest, modern level- completely flooded and still evolving (poorly developed) *

*The fact that in time of peak flow during times of thaw/flood, the water levels rise dramatically by at least 100-200m to completely fill the Western part of Hirlatz (level 2) suggesting that the modem phreas has a small storage capacity and is still immature.

Key to schematic diagram of the levels in the Hirlatzhohle:

•••        Large fossil passages with significant mud fill

////////    Large fossil passages which are still active (no mud fill)

_____   Large passages of probably younger origin

………. Passages with high gradients connecting different levels Mainly rift dominated.

John (Tangent) Williams

Pete Hall (Red Rose), Snablet (BEC), Quackers, Greg Brock (BEC) at the Weisberghaus ( photo JC)


65th Annual Dinner

The Market Place Hotel, Market Place, Wells.
Saturday, 7th October 2000, 7.30 for 8.00 pm.

I produce below a sample ticket with actual menu on the night, sent from Mr Nigel- Ed

To reply to this dinner offer, you must return the tear off form- this will give you a BB with half a page missing!




Breast of CHICKEN on a Cream of Mushroom Sauce  or  Braised Blade of BEEF In a Red wine & Shallot Sauce

Iced LEMON PARFAIT with Mulled Black Cherries  or   BREAD & BUTTER PUDDING


We are Limited to 100 Persons for Comfort, so PLEASE BOOK Straight away, First Come First successful!

Please enclose a stamped address envelope with your form as there will be no tickets on the night.  I want to enjoy my meal as well! (SORRY, NO Phone Bookings OR e-mails)   A Coach will leave the Hunters Lodge Inn at 7.15 pm PROMPT!!......Please book names only, with the Booking Form Below. please note:- Bookings CLOSE By Saturday 30th. SEPTEMBER

Rolling Calendar

Date                          Details -  Contact

Sept 15-17                 Hidden Earth 2000, NCC Bristol

Oct 7                         AGM and annual dinner

Oct 20-22                   ISSA Workshop, North wales


January 1                   Columns Open Day OFD

12-14                         ISSA Workshop and AGM, Mendip