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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Ted Humphreys

1990 - 1991 Committee

Hon. Sec.                Martin Grass
Treasurer                 Chris Smart
Caving Sec.             Jeff Price
Hut Warden             Chris Harvey
Tackle Master          Stuart McManus
B.B. Editor               Ted Humphreys
Hut Engineer            Nigel Taylor
Membership Sec.     John Watson
                               Ian Caldwell 


Apologies to those who did not get their May BB’s until July!  This was due to me being out of the country (the U.S. and I will write it up!) and nobody could find my mailing list.

On my return I found lots of articles, not all of which I could get into this BB.  Please keep them coming, more will be needed for the October and Christmas BB's.

The biggest recent news is that Wigmore Swallet has 'gone'.  See article and survey, pages 12 to 25.  I was hoping to have a colour picture of Wigmore on the cover of this BB but the cost was prohibitive!  Much more is expected soon, possibly the Mendip 'Main Drain' and, who knows, maybe eventually, a through trip from Wigmore to Bowery Corner!

On the subject of the cover. Its about time the picture changed was. Has anyone got a black and white print I could use?  Preferably of somewhere on the Mendips.

The St. Cuthbert’s report is at the printers!  I've seen a couple of sample pages which were tremendous.  It sets new standards for caving reports and will certainly become a collector’s item.  The report is due to "hit the streets" in mid-September, in time for the BCRA conference.

The only other item (I didn't know where else to put it!) is that the IDMF is giving Jake £100 for the Philippines expedition.  See Jim's begging letter on page 19.


Membership List Amendments

We welcome one new member, who is:-

Robert Taff. Erdington, Birmingham

We also welcome one member who has rejoined: -

870  Gary Cullen, Southwater, Nr. Horsham, W.Sussex

There are also five address changes, as follows: -

1144  Sophie Crook.        Batheaston. Bath
1116  Stuart Lain,            c/o Andy Cave
1128  Vince Simmonds,  Wells. Somerset
1154  Karen Turvey.       Wellington. Somerset
683 Dave Yeandle.         Eastville. Bristol

A.G.M. and Dinner, 1991.

The Annual General Meeting of the BEC will be held at The Belfry on Saturday, 5th October at 10.30 a.m. prompt.

You are reminded that nominations for the 1991-92 committee must be submitted in writing to the Secretary no later than 7th September 1991.  All nominations must have a proposer and seconder.  Present members of the committee are nominated automatically if they wish to stand for re-election.  There are some vacancies this year, however, as not all the present committee wish to stand.

The Annual Dinner of the BEC will also be on Saturday the 5th of October.

The venue this year is again the "Webbington Hotel", Loxton. The tickets are £15 per person and are available from Nigel Taylor.  With this BB you should get inserts detailing the arrangements that have been made for the evening, sample menus and an order form.  Please order as soon as possible.

Proposal for A.G.M.

Proposer Nigel Taylor. Seconded B.E.C. Committee

"That the A.G.M. consider the creation of a membership category of "Retired" or "County" membership and that this be on a cost only basis"

Working Day

There is a working day at the Belfry on Saturday 24th of August. Lots of jobs need doing!  Mr. N is planning a barbecue for the evening.


Congratulations and best wishes to Tav and Gen who were married on Friday the second of August.


The BEC sends its congratulations to Steve and Fran Milner on the birth of their daughter, Sian Elizabeth, who weighed In at 8 lbs. on the 21st of May.

and to :-

Chris and Liz Batstone on the birth of their second son who weighed in at 8 lbs 12 ozs on the weekend of 13/14th July.

A space-filler

from Alan Thomas

'When I wrote an article on nicknames a few months ago I said that I had never had one.  To bring it up to date I am now (thanks to Barrie Wilton) known as "Big Al"'.


Steigl Boot Boys On Tour

Austria Xmas 1990 – 91
"What do you get if you cross Snablet, Richard Blake. two pairs of skis and several bottles of Steigl?"

We set off with the great intention of pushing last years find, Bleistiftspitzerschacht (Pencil Sharpener Shaft), hopefully to a depth of -400 metres or more and of leaving the place wide open for the big summer push when we would know a little more about the place, but things didn't quite work out as planned!

The idea for going out to Austria for the second time in one year came to life at the BCRA conference over a pint or six whilst waiting for the boring lectures to finish and trying to decide between which one of the four interesting lectures to go to (the expeditions that have found kilometres of cave) that were all on at the same time.

It turns out that Tuppa of the NCC has pushed Verborgen Hohle (Hidden Hole) above Orkan Hohle (Hurricane Hole) to -250 metres which is a must for going deep next season and he is dead keen on going down Bleistiftspitzerschacht.  The others sitting around the table are fairly interested too.  Plans for the summer are afoot but we can not wait that long as there may be access problems.  Hallstattersee Caving Club are planning to initiate an access system similar to that of the Salzburg Gruppe Caving Club and although we have sent letters. reports and surveys to the Austrians we don't know if this has worked.

A short time later at a stomp in the Hill Inn a Xmas date was decided on.  All we needed was a strong enthusiastic BEC team to push the cave. We thought that this would be no problem as everyone was saying, after the last Xmas trip, "It sounds like you had a great time, count me in for a trip sometime next year"  So the word was spread and in true BEC fashion the huge party of Richard Blake and myself constituted the expedition .... What's wrong?  Don't the BEC like going down caves any more? or could it be people remembered the famous Blitz and Harper winter drinking expedition to Austria back in the dim and distant past. However help was soon on the way in the guise of the NCC.  So it was that the team of Richard Blake, Steve Brown, Ruth, Paul Ibbertson, Mark Wright and me (Snablet) was formed.

After a long train journey only broken by a long ferry delay (Apparently P & O, had forgotten to put any oil in the engine at Oostend ..... Viva la tunnel!) saw RB, PI and Snablet arrive in Halstatt.  It took no time at all for us to down our first statutory pint or two (or was it a litre or three) in the Diver's Bar and to stagger up the road to our five star hotel. We awoke the next morning in the Seilbahn hut nursing sore heads and with a distinct feeling of deja vu.  It was however a great feeling seeing our kit disappear up the mountain by Seilbahn.  In fact almost as good as a helicopter but the photos aren't quite as spectacular.  What was most spectacular was a certain Mr A Nerd's beer being carried up by Seilbahn at the same time (Remember him from Caves and Caving?).

Mountaineering skis were hired from Dachsteinsport for our journey to the Wiesberghaus as some b*st*rd had thoughtlessly left one and a half metres of snow everywhere.  There is a knack to ski mountaineering.  Once you have got it then you can go anywhere and everywhere.  It obviously helps if you know what you are doing and we found that we had to learn the hard way.

Richard had what can only be termed a crash, and I mean crash course in downhill skiing from the Krippenstein to Gjaid alm huts from Paul Ibbertson and me.  Then the interesting bit began, the uphill struggle. We slapped the skins on the skis and set off uphill cross country in the direction of the Wiesberghaus.  It was dark by now. Within 500 metres of Gjaid alm RB had lost his second skin and had resorted to walking the uphill sections. This may well sound like a good idea to you but as anyone who has been to the Dachstein in winter will tell you, the neck deep powder snow makes life just that ever so little bit tedious. The powder snow meant that his forward motion soon became a crawling exercise and unfortunately it wasn't long before the rest of us had joined him.  Its really good fun crawling out of Barengasse pushing your skis in front of you and with a rucksac on your back at nine o'clock at night in temperatures of -17 degrees Centigrade!

It was a six hour epic to reach the Wiesberghaus and the Steigl went down particularly well that night. All ideas of hard expedition pushing caving were filed in the bin for the while and we settled down to enjoy the Xmas festivities.  The Christmas dinner of Red Deer was particularly enjoyable.  The next couple of days were spent in skiing lessons from Elfie and an Austrian family who were staying at the Wiesberghaus such that we acquired some basic skill. However Richard still found it easier on occasion to head for the nearest snowdrift as a means of stopping.

We met up with MW, SB and Ruth at Gjaid alm on December 28th to make sure that they didn't have the same problems that we had.  A mega session was had by the six of us and Hans, our personal ski coach. Sixty five Steigls, some Schnapes, some wine and any free drinks that came our way left us wondering with the few brain cells that we had left between us if this was to be a sign of things to come.

We were awoken the next morning at 6.30 am! by Hans with the idea of going up the Dachstein.  The six of us in perfect unison told him where it was that he could go!  However in the twinkling of six hours later we got up and practiced skiing in the general direction of Bleistiftspitzerschacht but we failed to get there.  A discussion followed and a decision to give up caving for the remainder of the visit was made unanimously.  We however noted some good ice flows on the north face of Oxen Kogel, the south face of Niederer Grunberg and the east face of Hirlatz and considered the possibility of some winter ice climbing.

The following day we visited various entrances.  Orkan Hohle was only draughting slightly, this suggested to us that the majority of the air movement was coming out of PL1 (Polish numbering system), its presumed higher entrance.  Wies alm Hohle was draughting strongly and was a lot easier to find in winter. Magnum Hohle had no wind whatsoever. We returned to the Wiesberghaus and found that skiing the path from Wies alm to the Wiesberghaus was a lot easier to do than walking it.

A quiet night was had in the Wiesberghaus that evening and we had all crashed out by 12.30 in preparation for a 6.30 start up to the top of the Dachstein.  Believe it or not we managed to get up at the correct time. We had breakfast in the Simony Hutte while the weather cleared.  The skiing to the glacier only involved two major steep uphill slopes, both of which caused major epics.  In general we were not doing too badly despite a lot of falling over which we found a little unnerving when one is traversing just above a large cliff. Indeed the glacier was a lot steeper than I remembered it!  We got to Niederer Dachstein and the weather closed in completely.  We soon reached the Bergschrund of Hoher Dachstein and yet another expedition discussion was held.  It was decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we decided to jack it on the head.  It was beginning to get dangerous as the weather conditions were deteriorating, we were losing sight of people in white out conditions and there wasn't a lot of daylight left.  All in all a case of bad weather, bad light and very steep slopes stopping play.  One of the main factors in our deciding to wimp out was seeing the trouble that the very competent local skiers were getting into!

Its quite exciting skiing down a 50 degree slope littered with crevasses in zero visibility but the journey down was easier than the one up except for the steep bits.  Indeed we had nearly as much of an epic going down as going up!  In fine BEC tradition we stopped for a celebration drink at the Simony Hutte and found ourselves benighted.  Skiing at night is simpler than skiing during the day as you can't see the gullies or the cliffs to fall over!  We arrived back at the Wiesberghaus at 5pm and proceeded to continue with the celebrations. It was Sylvester, the Austrian Festival for the New Year, and we were forced to celebrate through the night for the next 12 hours.  Its great being abroad at New Year as you have to celebrate it twice.  The only problem is that I'm waiting to have the photographs developed to find out what actually happened!

New Years day didn't exist, well not much of it anyway, but we got up just in time for the evening session. Elfie prepared a massive spread for us as it was our last night as we had to go off down the mountain the following day.  We had spent virtually all our money and a huge bar bill each for New Years Eve night hadn't figured in the calculations.

The morning we left to go down the mountain, we said our goodbyes and had one customary leaving schnapes, two more for the road and three more for the gutter.  All this before breakfast left us slightly unstable for the journey home.  It only took us one and a half hours to Gjaid alm - much more respectable than our first efforts.  Another couple of schnapes (Cheers Hans) and a bite to eat put us in the right frame of mind to descend the 11 kilometres to Obertran, apparently the longest ski run in Upper Austria.  We considered it as a fitting end to a fortnights skiing.  Hans was a great help in ferrying the six of us and our gear to Robert's house.

Robert. an ex-guardian of the Wiesberghaus, was in fine form.  He is still as wild as ever and instead of shooting his Magnum at German soldiers, he has taken to shooting at Rotweilers that shit on his lawn!  A night with Robert left the six of us pooling our remaining small reserves of money to buy a crate of Steigl for the train home and the journey was spent in an alcoholic haze.


Austria - Summer 1991

There will a continuation to this saga in a few months when the Steigl Boot Boys and friends return to do battle with crates of Steigl and rounds of schnapps, oh yes and to push Bleistiftspitzerschacht (Pencil Sharpener Shaft), and Verborgen Hohle.  We will be taking a very strong team of hopefully 15 - 20 cavers but anybody is welcome and the area is great for walking.  The potential for Bleistiftspitzerschacht is good and a breakthrough is likely (hasn't every expedition to Austria said the same)!

Bleistiftspitzerschacht is at an altitude of 2000 metres and is directly above Wilder Wester Series in Hirlatz Hohle.  Hirlatz Hohle is now a 50 kilometre long system with a 988 metre vertical range (1987 figures) and we were told that it has recently been connected to Kessel giving a lower entrance at 517 metres.  It resurges lower than that in the lake so would give us the deepest through trip in the world!  Anyone interested in joining the Steigl Boot Boys for their summer tour needs to contact either Rich Blake (BEC), Mark Wright (NCC); Paul Ibbertson (NCC) or me, Snablet (BEC).


Ski Hire Tips.

Ski hire is quite a complicated business.  It consists of getting Wolfgang and Elfie to phone up in advance letting Dachstein Sports know what exactly you need i.e. type of skis and boots etc.  This hopefully gets you a little discount as the shop then doesn't consider you as a run of the mill tourist - could they ever I ask myself?  Are we not that wild bunch who annually get pissed up in the Diver's Bar and throw up in the gutters in the early hours of the morning while singing six different songs in eight different keys?

When you get to the shop wander in with as much tatty kit as possible. i.e. ice axe, crampons, caving lights, tackle sacs etc as it looks like you know what you are doing - again another possible chance of discount.

When asked if you are good at ski mountaineering answer "YES".  This means that you will end up with a set of half decent skis and not a set of pine planks, i.e. the cheap rubbish that they keep for beginners which are nowhere near fast enough for the likes of the BEC.

Beg, borrow or ask them for a spare set of skins as these come in exceptionally handy.  Then make sure that you have got your full BEC discount and your long hire discount before asking them how to ski!  Seriously it is worth asking them to show you how to put the skins on as this involves warming the skis and skins before putting them on.  This does however blow your cover as an expert skier somewhat!


The Future Of The Bristol Exploration Club!

A Committee viewpoint

The following is an article by Dave Irwin, known to most of you as Wig.  It is published with the knowledge and endorsement of the present committee.  It concerns a forthcoming questionnaire that will be sent direct to you in the near future. It will probably be ignored by most of you as it is to do with caving politics.  However if you have read this far the committee would ask you to read on and not adopt the head in the sand attitude of - "It doesn't concern me".  Some of you might remember a previous heads in the sand time when the issue of SSSI's and the NCC was ignored with dire consequences.  Two of the caves closed at that time have never been reopened.

Chris Smart


Re-structuring for British Caving

Dave Irwin

As far as cavers are concerned politics is the last subject they want to read in their caving magazine but I’m afraid that the situation OUT THERE is past ignoring and that you read on - bored or not or, at least, turn the page and read the last paragraph!


The argument that NCA needs re-structuring to reflect the current interests of cavers throughout the country continues.  In all regions, including many of the constituent members of NCA, it is generally believed that an overhaul must take place.  Even the most conservative CSCC (Council of Southern Caving Clubs) of which the BEC is a member, believes that some form of change should take place. Others, already pre-empting the situation are calling for individual caver membership and club membership.


Now for some indisputable facts.  In all the discussions I've been involved with in the last couple of years there is a general agreement on the STRUCTURE of a national body.  The constituent bodies i.e. the regional bodies (CNCC, DCA, CCC, CSCC, CDG, BCRA, BCRC etc.) will remain basically the same as now. The regional variations of cave access and other local difficulties are best handled by regional bodies, perhaps with different geographic boundaries to those existing at the moment, each having total autonomy but accountable to the annual meeting of it's own structure and, if necessary, to the annual meeting of the national association. It is also generally agreed that the executive should have the powers to act as an executive without the need to have to refer everything to the constituent bodies before progressing the problem.


Many of you will remember the questionnaires issued by the NCA Working Party on the possible re-structuring of the Association.  The results clearly showed the requirements of cavers and apart from a couple of issues all were currently carried out by NCA. e.g. Sports Council Grants for expeditions (administered on behalf of NCA by Ghar Parau Foundation) grants to maintain entrances, contact with external organisations both national and international and NCA have almost completed a third party insurance policy that is much better than BCRA's and so on.  On the training front there is little support for national training or commercial training. The second questionnaire clearly showed that the club was the best place for this to be done.  That is not to say that locally organised events by NCA is not out of the question - two such events will be held on Mendip during the Autumn of this year.


The point of disagreement is HOW THE EXECUTIVE SHOULD BE ELECTED.  Don't let anyone try to persuade you otherwise that the WHOLE structure requires overhauling.  It doesn't and when protagonists of the individual member system are pressed you will find only minor differences of emphasis.  The electoral system is the root of the argument.  There are two basic structures being debated: INDIVIDUAL AND CLUB and on the other side CLUB ONLY.  Basically the followers of the individual caver membership believe that the CLUB HAS NO IMPORTANCE IN MODERN BRITISH CAVING BECAUSE OF BETTER TRANSPORTATION AND THE GENERAL USE OF SRT MAKING THE CAVER INDEPENDENT OF CLUB TACKLE. The growth of the independent non-club caver, particularly in the north is the core of the argument. They also believe that a NATIONAL CAVING CLUB should cover the needs of the modern caver.  In other words change its name to British Cave Research Association minus the research element - though many will retort it's not a caving club!  Some acknowledge that in certain areas of the country clubs still play an important part in the caving scene but in Yorkshire and Derbyshire we are led to believe that the influence of clubs is fast fading from the scene.  The supporter of individual membership has included the clubs in the voting structure rather begrudgingly but believes as the individual membership grows the influence of the club will fall by the way-side.  On the other-hand, even if the club influence is diminishing in the north it certainly IS not in the south who have the greatest number of cavers by far.

In my view, if the NCA was to suddenly change its membership system and adopt an individual member structure, it would take a long time to accumulate enough members to make the organisation a viable structure.  At least when the BCRA was formed it accumulated the membership of the two bodies that merged to form that organisation amounting to some 450 cavers.  What these supporters want is an overnight transition which is clearly impossible; it takes time to accumulate members - the caving world in Britain would be left in a vacuum.  Whatever membership system is adopted I feel that a phased transition is the only pragmatic solution.  What the supporter of the individual membership wants is to replace the NCA with the BCRA structure; there is no other conclusion.

Readers of the last issue of Caves and Caving will have seen an outburst from its editor - Andy Hall, inferring that the National Caving Association is a dinosaur and that it must go. Presumably he means that the structure should be the same as the British Cave Research Association - a monolithic and undemocratic structure.  Frankly how the BCRA and supporters can say that individual caver membership is a more democratic voting structure than the existing system when they only get some 30 or so members out of 1100 to attend their AGM beats me - hierarchy rules OK. Further how the BCRA Council can have the nerve to state that BCRA policy is to support a form of individual and club membership for the national body without reference to its members beats me. This form of arrogance would not be tolerated in a club - but as only 20 - 30 members attend their AGM who on BCRA Council worries.  If this resolution ever comes before the BCRA Annual Meeting then I suggest that the CLUB supporters flood the meeting and throw it out.


The other side of the coin are those that support a CLUB BASED STRUCTURE.  I firmly believe that the basis of British caving is still the club. Loyalty to one's club remains as strong today as it always was.  Club competition is still much to the fore, even though groups of cavers from various clubs frequently cave together.  Further, who is involved with most cave discoveries, maintain the entrances, sort out landowner problems etc. - in the vast majority of cases THE CLUB.  How clubs vote for the executive is a matter for further discussion.  FURTHER, IF THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERSHIP IS THE ACCEPTED FORM OF ELECTING THE EXECUTIVE YOU WILL BE DISENFRANCHISED unless you are prepared to join the national organisation. At the moment you are represented by your club through your regional body.  For those cavers that do not belong to any formal club there is no reason why they cannot form themselves, for electoral purposes, into a non-aligned body and join in the same way as other clubs.

At the moment if you wish to have your say at national level you can easily contact your club representative and get it passed through the Regional Body direct to the NCA Executive. Try to persuade a national body comprised of individual members and, unless there is support from the officers you'll be a voice in the wilderness.  The existing system is unwieldy but it can be streamlined simply by enabling clubs to contact the national executive directly for consideration of any points they wish to be raised.  This allows you the club member to have a say in the national body directly through your club.  This boils down to allowing clubs to vote directly for officers and members of the executive and not rely on the Regional Council.


Eight cavers who are known to be worried at the state of the NCA arguments, now known as the 'gang-of-eight', were invited to a meeting in Derby during May to discuss the problems associated with NCA. The idea was good and I fully support it if their findings can help to resolve the current and seemingly endless round of arguments.  However, only one maintained that a club based structure was the best solution for membership to NCA - me!  Let me make it quite clear that those who support individual membership are very sincere in their beliefs and should not be the, subject of flippant criticism. Take their views seriously. During the next few months you will be receiving another questionnaire financed by the 'gang-of-eight' asking which voting system you would wish to see for a 'new type' NCA.  I urge you all, yes even all of us golden oldies, to spend 17p on a stamp and respond with a firm reply in support of club based membership for the National Caving Association and settle the matter once and for all.


Meets List

Sat 17th August                   Brirks Fell Cave, Yorkshire.

Sat 24th August                   Otter Hole, Chepstow.

Sat 7th September               Box Stone Mines.  Leader Blitz.

Sat 21st September              Lost John’s, Yorkshire.

Sat 16th November               Juniper Gulf, Yorkshire,

Sun 8th December                Peal Cavern, Derbyshire.

For further information contact Jeff Price Tel: 0272 724296


Cave Diving in the Yucatan.

Oliver C. Wells

The idea of seeing stalactites and 'mites underwater has been something of an obsession with me since seeing photographs of them in Robert Palmer's book "The Blue Holes of the Bahamas."  I suppose it was inevitable that I should go for a cave diving holiday in the Yucatan peninsula (May 3-10, 1991).

I spent the week with my wife Pamela and six cave divers in the cenotes within a few miles of Akumal, which is about 100 km south from Cancun.  The sea level was about 400 feet lower than it is now during the last Ice Age, rising to about the present level between 18,000 and 6,000 years ago.  During the Ice Age these caves were dry and 'tites and 'mites were formed in great numbers.

I found myself to be totally unprepared for how wonderful these caves are.  Imagine a flat country with impenetrable jungle on both sides of narrow, straight roads.  Here and there an unpaved road (if you can call it such) or a path leads off into the jungle to a cenote, which is a pool of water typically 50 yards across and 20 feet deep.  There may be an upstream cave underwater at one end and a tunnel downstream at the other (who knows? JGC).

Everything is highly organised in cave diving these days.  At the entry level is the "cavern diver" who stays within sight of daylight at all times.  Typically this involves a large underwater cave entrance sloping down to 50 feet depth, and with large stalactites on the roof.  An impressive underwater notice in two languages asks that people with no cave diving experience should go no further than that point.

Permanent nylon lines with a diameter of perhaps 0.125" start at some distance inside the dark zone. The dive leader lays a line from a belay point (plus backup) in the open water of the cenote to the near end of the permanent line in the dark zone in the cave, and reels it in again when it is time to leave.  The "main line" goes in along a chosen passage with triangular plastic arrows at intervals to the closest exit to air (there are numerous entrances and exits in most caves there).  In other words, these arrows either may or may not help you to come out again by the same route as you went in.  Lines into side passages start at various distances from the main line and can be reached with a "gap reel" if you know where they are. "Decoy lines" guide visitors away from places where the 'tites and 'mites are especially fragile.  The passage size inside the cave might be twenty feet wide and high (sometimes larger, sometimes smaller) at depths generally between 50 and 70 feet.

The halocline is at a depth of about 50 feet, where the fresh water lies on top of salt water. Initially the interface is quite sharp, but it widens to a few feet after divers have gone through.  Within the mixed zone vision is blurred.  The most curious thing is the way in which you must let air out of your buoyancy compensator (BC) as you go down through the halocline, and put some in when you come up.  This is as opposed to the normal situation when you put more air into your BC from time to time as you go down and let it out again as you come up. (You progressively lose buoyancy with depth in water of constant density because the air bubbles in your wet suit are compressed.)

The other divers wore the standard Florida cave diving rig with twin back-mounted 80 cubic foot tanks and a high capacity BC between the diver and the tanks.  They did not wear helmets, and one diver did not wear a hood (the water was quite warm).  Dive lights were in the range from 30 to 50 watts with the battery on the waist strap. Reels, dive computers, backup flashlights and other items were attached appropriately.

I was surprised by the arrangement of the manifolds.  The two tanks were permanently connected together with a separate valve for each of the two regulators. In other words, if the rupture disk on the tank blows out, then the air supply is gone.  I mentioned that I had seen a diver lose all of his air in this way in an open water dive a few years ago, but this information was not too cheerfully received. One of the divers told me that he preferred a manifold with one regulator on each tank and with an equalizing valve between the two.

I had two side-mounted 80 cubic foot cylinders with a separate regulator and pressure gauge on each of them.  The use of totally independent respirators avoids the problem mentioned above, but does not give access to the contents of a cylinder if a regulator should go wrong. The reason for doing this (as recommended by the Cave Diving Group) is that while carrying two completely independent bottles and regulators does not give access to air in a failed system while the diver is underwater (between sumps, yes!) it does however leave adequate air in the remaining working system for a return to safety if 'the rule of thirds' is used correctly during the whole dive.  (I describe this below.)

Obviously I am not intending to criticize anyone in this article.  Redundant respirators of equal size were first suggested, I believe, by Michel Letrone in 1955, and have been developed in various forms since that time. They are in use widely in the North-eastern USA, for example.  On the subject of rupture disks, Billy Young writes: "Your concern over loss of air from blow-out disks is one that cave divers have overcome by 'double-disk' installation.  This raises the safety factor considerably."

My greatest difficulty was in swimming on the surface of the water across the cenote to the entrance of the cave.  The other divers with their high capacity BC's and no weight on the head floated cheerfully with head and shoulders out of the water.  I had a small BC on the chest and the weight of four flashlights on the helmet (two primary plus two backup).  The result was that I floated with my mouth about level with the surface of the water.  On the second day I took my snorkel tube and the problem was solved.

Entering the water was a bit of an adventure at times.  For example at the Temple of Doom, a hole in the ground about twenty feet across gives access through the roof into a chamber containing water about 15 feet deep. The approved method of entry is to jump in.  In the event, I found the THUMP on arriving at the water surface after a free fall of 12 feet with two side-mounted 80's to be more violent than I had expected, but survivable.  (Cave divers have been known to enter the water from even greater heights than this.) A wooden ladder was provided to get out again.

My wife Pamela came for a swim at the Temple of Doom, being nibbled by the little green fishes when she was in the water and bitten by insects when on the ladder (there were very few biting insects anywhere else).  The instructor told us that in some of the caves these fishes had learnt to follow a diver into the dark zone where they eat the defenceless animals that live there.

On the checkout dive I swam slowly admiring the view, showed the instructor when I changed to the second mouthpiece at two-thirds pressure on the first tank, and called the dive when I was equally down on the second.  It was becoming clear that my objectives were different from those of the other divers.  I was there strictly as a tourist to admire the 'tites and 'mites and I had no interest in going too far from the cenote if I could possibly avoid it.  The other divers had studied the cave surveys and had decided to visit the more distant points.  In addition to the disparity in objectives.  I did not have one of my regulators on a long hose, which is considered to be essential for helping your companion by the Florida divers.

The other divers were courteous and helpful but it was clear that our aims were not compatible.  We solved this problem in the obvious way. My companions swam along the line at their own speed and vanished in the distance while I operated solo between them and the entrance.  Typically I would swim slowly for half an hour or so at depths between 50 and 70 feet through the wonderfully clear water and large chambers, admiring the 'tites and 'mites at leisure, being quite enchanted by these places.  My procedure was to swim in until I reached thirds, swim out again to the warning notice, recalculate thirds, swim in a second time, and so on.

I am not worried by the idea of solo cave diving.  This is a decision that divers must make for themselves.  You go into a different mindset being more careful about everything and being much more willing to stop where you are for minutes at a time if this is necessary to consider a question that might have arisen.  I shall not tell you how long I stopped at the line junctions and at some of the more intricate belay points, checking the arrow out, looking along the lines this way and that way, and examining the situation until I was sure that I could find my way back to the cenote even if all five of my lights had failed.  (The "arrow out" may or may not indicate the way that you actually went in and this can cause difficulties if you overlook the fact.  In the event the instructor explained the layout of the lines and the other divers held detailed discussions of the line junctions also. This is a serious matter.)

My final dive was in "Carwash,” so called because cars were washed there in the past (but fortunately not now).  This was unusual in having algae in the top six feet which was therefore a brightly illuminated light green colour with a visibility of about six inches.  You hit colder (but still quite warm) clear water below this where you can see for tens of yards below a bright green ceiling. By this time my companions had gone on ahead, so I swam around in the massive cave entrance until I found their line, and then on in.

After five consecutive days of solo cave diving my breathing rate was less than half of what it had been on the first day without my having made any effort to improve it whatsoever. My buoyancy control was much better, and I had finally learnt how to swim with my feet high to avoid stirring the silt.  Removing my ankle weights had been helpful here.  I swam slowly admiring the view for about 700 feet to a place known as Luke's Hope where you can see a bright green glow from an air surface.

Luke's Hope was discovered by a diver who was lost and almost out of air, rather in the way that Bob Davies discovered Wookey Thirteen in December, 1955.  He surprised his friends by taking a taxi back to where they were staying and greeting them long after they had given up hope of ever seeing him again.

While I was looking up at the bright green glow from Luke's Hope I became aware that the newer of my two regulators was free-flowing.  Not very rapidly, but an unwanted bubble every two seconds or so certainly clears the mind.  There was no line to the inviting green glow up above and I had no idea whether it would be possible to get out at that point.  I would have had to lay a line from my reel if I had wanted to investigate that matter.  On the other hand, I still had 2,000 psi in each cylinder, both regulators were otherwise working properly and the free-flow was nominal.  This was one of those occasions when I stayed where I was for several minutes to decide what to do.  At one point on the way out the delinquent regulator started to bubble away quite merrily, so I gave it a knock and it settled down to its previous slow pace. Back at the warning notice it stopped free-flowing altogether.  I also dived twice in Maya Blue and once at Naharon.

In our non-diving time we visited the Mayan ruins at Tulum and at X-Caret.  Many thanks to Steve Gerrard for organising the diving and for lending us his car on our day off, to Tony and Nancy DeRosa and Shelley Baker for the other arrangements, to my fellow divers and to my wife Pamela who has put up with this sort of nonsense for so many years.

I would like to thank Peter Schulz, Kevin Wills, James Coke, J. Billy Young and Michael Madden for their comments on early drafts of the above, and JGC for his more detailed comments given below.  If you are qualified as a cave diver, then you should not miss a visit to these caves should the opportunity arise.

Comments on the above by James G. Coke IV of the Akumal Dive Shop, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico 77710:

(1)     Luke Boissoneault made his historic dive on Nov. 21, 1985 in the company of two advanced open water students and an open water instructor.  They planned to reach a slate attached to the permanent line about 400 feet into the upstream section of Carwash.  I had explored that region originally 3 or 4 months prior.  The team of 4 (NOT trained in Cave Diving) reached their goal and signed the slate.  I still have this slate in my possession.  Silt flew at this point and three divers exited in confusion while Luke went exploring in the wrong direction where no one had been before. As he ran out of air he found the hole bearing his name; got out, cried and thanked God; and walked out of the jungle carrying his equipment!  He caught a cab to his camp ground where his initial hellos to the assembled group were treated like the salutations of an apparition!  I still keep in touch with Luke; he is a SCUBA instructor living in Quebec.

The other three divers also had their problems. One of them ran out of air shedding his equipment in the cave.  Moments later his guide found him (after assisting the other out of the cave) and brought him out.  He was resuscitated at the surface.

(2)     The "little green fishes" that follow divers into the cave are Mexican Tetras (Astyanax mexicanus).  They are found in almost every cenote in this region. There are some colour differences between the fish occasionally, from cenote to cenote.  They are very aggressive and will take advantage of a cave diver's lights when looking for small and large troglodytes to eat.  They will attack and devour the smallest to largest animals, including Typhliasina pearsi (a blind fish that occupies these caves).

I have seen Tetras as far back as 2,500 feet from air and sunlight; either lost fish or ones who have followed me in. BOLD little gaffers!!  This behaviour appears to be confined to the cenotes that are the most popular.  Carwash, being the most popular site, has the biggest problem with them.  Temple of Doom, Maya Blue, Naharon etc. are less popular, so fewer fish follow a diver into the cave.  So on the whole, the problem becomes more widespread as the site becomes more popular!

Tetras cannot follow divers through the halocline because the lack of oxygen in the lower salt water kills them. Amphipods and Isopods make short work of their carcasses should they remain in the lower salt water for too long.

(3)     There are areas of certain caves that have been declared sensitive; therefore divers have been asked not to visit these areas if they are not engaged in a worthy study of sorts.  For example, less-than-perfect buoyancy control and bubble damage from open circuit SCUBA plays havoc with fragile soda straw formations! Nobody likes to be told that they are not wanted, but what else can we do?

(4)     The underwater warning signs in Spanish were donated by the Cave Diving Section of the NSS.

(5)     The halocline is shallower in caves that are closer to the ocean.  There is a lens of moving fresh water laying on a static base of salt water, basically. At The Temple of Doom (TOD) (4.5 km from the ocean) the halocline is at 50 feet; the Carwash halocline (11 km from the ocean) is at 65 feet.  Often the interface is sharp; however there is a mix zone in some caves where the fresh water flow strips water from the lower zone.  Current-deficient areas such as in the Madonna passage in TOD display a sharp interface.  A Line Maya shows a distinct mix zone.  I am studying these phenomena with U of New Orleans currently.

(6)     The wooden ladder out of the water at TOD was installed by Mike Madden.  He also maintains the guidelines at Nohoch Nan Chich.  He installed the TOD cavern circuit guideline.  I maintain the guidelines in Carwash, Naharon and Maya Blue. All of the above have been surveyed (except TOD) with maps published; except for Maya which will be in print by the end of this year (46,600 feet of passage surveyed to this date with the Maya Naharon system --- Sistema Naranjal).  Many others have explored in these caves also.

(7)     The algae/tannic bloom in the top few feet in Carwash only occurs in the summer months.  In winter, the entire pool is clear.  The bloom is a by-product of the man-made clearing around the cenote. The natural sponge of the jungle has been removed; now all the rainwater washes tannic into Carwash.  Five years ago the cenote was clear all year round.


The Excavation And Exploration Of Wigmore Swallet

This article attempts to bring up to date the history of this dig.  Several previous B.B. articles have been summarised numbers 356, 357, 368, 371, 391/2, 393/4 and 406/7.

This classic swallet cave is located in a small wood at NGR 5571/5256 at an altitude of 880 ft ASL. It was originally dug from 1934-7 by the M.N.R.C. and in 1938 by W.C.C.  The shaft was then abandoned at a depth of around 30 ft.

When the B.E.C. arrived on the scene the shaft was filled with rubble, bones and assorted rubbish to within 6 ft of the lip - the position of the present concrete cap.

The dig commenced on June 25th 1977 (not the 21st as stated in B.B. 356).  With the aid of the M.C.G. motor winch and an assortment of technical digging equipment the shaft was cleared out until a relatively solid iron ore and calcite vein partly blocked the way on.  This was widened with bang and on 12/12/77 Hesitation Chamber was entered, at a depth of 40ft.  Two days later the lower of the two 10ft climbs below here was opened up and on the 24th, Christmas Crawl was entered.  The squeeze into Santa's Grotto was passed on 28th December.  During this period much work was done on "ginging" the entrance shaft and this continued throughout the summer.  On 16th September 1978 almost three tons of concrete was mixed on site and used to cap the shaft.  A steel grating from the road leading to the Isle of Skye was eventually delivered to the site!

The amount of work done in 15 months was remarkable, even for a Mendip cave dig; scores of members and friends being involved, including many overseas visitors.  (A Wessex man, meeting a Dutch caver in the Pyrenees was once asked "How iss Vigmore going?").  Digging tales of this period are legion - a notable one being the free-fall descent of a lager keg full of spoil which missed Trevor Hughes by 1/4 inch! (our aim was not good that day .... ) .

The surface work being completed it was noticeable how the number of enthusiasts suddenly decreased. A survey to B.C.R.A. grade 5C was undertaken and digging in the floor of Santa's Grotto started during early 1978. On the 17th October this "went" and Pinks & Posies was entered.  Work was then concentrated on enlarging this passage to crawling size until the Smoke Room was reached on 9/12/78.  Many months were spent digging here but all was in vain due to continuous roof collapse and this area was abandoned on 6/2/82, being used from then on as a spoil dump for the new dig in the floor Blitz Passage.

On 3/3/78 the stream was dye-traced to Cheddar Risings with a flow through time of approx. 42 hours. This gives us a depth potential of 980ft to the bottom of Sump 3 in Gough's Cave arguably the deepest cave in England!  The distance from sink to rising is over 5 miles.  The Blitz Passage dig occupied our time for some 5 months until the discovery of West End Series in Eastwater Cavern lured us away - the last visit here being on 16/7/82.

Work resumed on 17/5/86 and continued unabated for the next seven months.  A lot of hard digging, blasting and shoring was involved including the use of the Acro Jacks which have given their name to a small chamber. The last working trip of this session was on 6/12/86 before the delights of other digs in Hunter's Hole and Bowery Corner Swallet caused an eighteen months break.

On 31/7/88 work recommenced but ceased on the next trip of 6/8/88 Bowery Corner proving to be marginally more attractive!

A four month session from 26/6/89 - 2/10/89 saw more work in the foul conditions of the lower part of Blitz Passage where huge fallen marl slabs and a quagmire of red mud seriously delayed progress and put off a lot of diggers.

The present bout of enthusiasm began on 10/9/90 and was heralded by the purchase of a Bosch cordless drill.  Using this magnificent tool the offending roof slabs were converted to handy sized lumps and dispatched on their long, slow journey to the surface via a series of plastic dragging skips.  After some nine trips a breakthrough was made on 20/2/91 and the small chamber now known as Baghdad was entered.  This relatively comfortable spot marked the end of the notorious Blitz Passage but below it a similar bedding plane crawl led tantalisingly onwards with the usual howling inward draught.

This crawl was vigorously attacked with all the available tools and after a further nineteen digging trips the next "open" bit of cave was reached.  This took the form of a 5ft deep open rift just wide enough to get a boot into.  It stretched right across the crawlway and seems to have acted also as an inlet. Several trips were spent digging and blasting along and down into this rift as a wider section seemed to exist at its base.  On 24/5/91 a small, blind chamber (Ghandi's Pyre) was entered above this rift.  Work now concentrated on deepening the rift and on 31/5/91 some twenty feet of tight open passage was entered ending in collapsed wall slabs.  Two charges were fired on this blockage and on 3/6/91, after 1/2 ton of shattered rock was hurled into space (!) the cave proper was entered - almost 14 years since the start of the B.E.C. dig.


After the long, muddy man-made crawl from the entrance and the tight and awkward Sheep Dip it was almost awe inspiring for A.J. (Tony Jarratt) and R.B. (Richard Blake) to be suddenly confronted with a roomy 20ft pitch some 15ft across and 4ft wide.  An easy free climb down Blackbird Pot (named after the current residents of the entrance shaft) led to some 30ft of "WALKING" passage and the head of another, larger pitch - Vindication Pot. In high spirits the explorers returned to the Hunter's to celebrate and gather all available Monday diggers, six in all, for the afternoon push.

The second wave of explorers descended full of adrenalin and Butcombe to bottom Vindication Pot at 35ft. Below this a dangerous boulder choke in the floor was excavated to reveal a loose 25ft pitch which was descended by V.S. (Vince Simmonds), A.J., T.H. (Trevor Hughes) and R.B. leaving the cripples (G.J. (Graham Johnson) and P.M. jnr. (Peter Mcnab to attempt an extremely hairy traverse over the top of Vindication Pot.  The third pitch, Hernia Pot, ended in a strongly outward draughting rift with a short and muddy inlet adjacent.

Meanwhile, above, P.M. had conquered the traverse by using fragile calcite finger holds and after 30ft or so had reached a large chamber beyond the pot and christened it "Don't Feed the Ambulance" (We may never know why!).

The floor of the chamber consisted of a wide crater and a 30ft deep free-climbable pitch blocked at the bottom.  Beyond this the impressive washed-out mineral vein continued to a 10ft high vertical mud wall which defeated the climber's attempts to scale it.  The smugly grinning team then left for the delights of even more Butcombe.

The following day the draughting rift was banged and on 5/6/91 a five man team returned to survey the cave from Santa's Grotto and continue work at the end.  The first project succeeded admirably but the latter suffered a setback when it was found that Hernia Pot had collapsed!  The whole floor of Vindication Pot had dropped some 5ft and filled the chamber below.  Several rolled ladders were luckily rescued from the mess but a bag of tools was lost.  Despite our disappointment it was evident, on consideration, that the best thing had happened, the collapse could all too easily have occurred on the first descent when four people were directly below the tons of boulders which had moved.

Our next plan was to continue with the exploration of D.F.T.A. in the hope that it would drop back down to the far side of the terminal dig.  While trying to scale the mud wall R.B. received the full benefit of a two foot long rock on the head but despite this he was still usable as a stepladder to enable A.J. to reach the top.  A short boulder slope led to a blocked crawl which was soon cleared to reveal a huge black space beyond. Named Drake's Hall in memory of the late Hillgrove Swallet digger, Bob Drake, the chamber now entered was very impressive for Wigmore.  Some 50ft long, 25ft high and 15ft wide it has a breakdown floor and ends in a massive choke.  Two roof inlets exist here, one of which was later climbed but ended in a hairy choke after 10ft.  The inward draughts from the entrance and bottom dig both go up into these inlets so there could be extensive but choked passages at a higher level, possibly corresponding with the choked rift below Hesitation Chamber and the postulated passage above the Smoke Room.

When the survey team arrived a further bit of useful work was done by digging out a short and muddy by-pass which connects the bottom of D.F.T.A. with the bottom of Vindication Pot - avoiding the traverse.  A climb in a rift behind the pot led down to a small chamber which was chiselled open into the pot to provide a free climbable but awkward by-pass.


Construction work now began by the insertion of a scaffolding frame to support the Hernia Pot collapse.  This was accomplished over a few trips and access regained to the terminal dig. A tight upward squeeze was passed directly above an impassable 20ft rift. Beyond the squeeze a short length of rift with two side passages was entered one choked after 15ft and the other partially blocked with mud but with a tremendous echo and the sound of what seems to be a large stream.  This was particularly encouraging considering the very dry nature of the other Mendip caves at the time.  Another minor discovery at this time was some 20ft of loose passage heading upstream from the top of Blackbird Pot.  (The three baby Blackbirds in the entrance shaft had now left the nest, one having to be manually assisted from the bottom of the shaft!).

On 22/6/91 - a Saturday evening! - a team of six forsook their beer to break into the huge extensions expected beyond the muddy crawl at the bottom.  Some desperate digging and a tight squeeze enabled A.J., pushed by G.J., to enter the new bit.  BIT was the operative word as a 4’ wide rift leading off into the distance was revealed! So much for the booming echo.  The stream could still be heard in the distance .... At least we made it out for a few beers.

Since then work has concentrated on blasting the roof off the muddy U-tube/crawl - known affectionately as Butch's Arse and in widening the rift in the floor below Hernia Pot.

This was blasted out and descended for some 20ft to where it became too narrow and choked with debris. Digging continues. The siren like stream still echoes ahead and the diggers are confident of a lot more cave to come; even if it takes another 14 years.

Tony Jarratt.


Assynt Antics

"Ye're all doomed", "Is that so?"  Comment and riposte the catchphrases of this year's Sutherland trip.  The first delivered by Pete Rose as a rising eldritch shriek whenever a diver entered a sump and the second in the soft Tannochbrae tones of Willy Morrison from behind the bar at the Inchnadamph Hotel, usually in response to some breathlessly sensational outburst from a member of our party.  One hilarious post pub session was spent delivering ever more unlikely tales to be completed by this unlikely punchline.

But what of caving you cry? Ah, the caving.  Well, we did do some - and some cave diving as well so this article will stretch over the page.  Peter Glanvill's enthusiastic descriptions of the glories of Assynt resulted in double the number of visitors to the GSG hut this year.  More came from both Devon and Mendip and the result was a minor explosion in digging and diving activities.

For the first two days Pete Rose survived on a knife edge, his odd Scottish accent winding up certain Grampian members (up for the weekend) to a fever pitch.  The only thing that kept him from dismemberment was that they could not really believe he existed!  Things improved as the hut numbers shrank to manageable proportions for most of our stay.

On the first glorious morning Pete Rose and Tony Boycott were dragged off to Firehose Cave by yours truly who for, the past year, had convinced himself that there was a viable dig at the far end.  10 metres up the vertical jetwash which is Firehose, Pete ("caving is a cheap sport") Rose's wetsuit began to act like a reverse colander and he opted out of playing insey winsey spider.  Tony would have left as well only I was behind him with a crow-bar.

We struggled to the top and I took what must be some of the very few pictures of Firehose in existence. The dig proved to be a dead loss particularly as after an inspection of the roof at the end of the cave - where it gets quite roomy we realised that apart from one wall it was in cemented breccia.

Meanwhile Brian Johnson and Pete Dowswell tried to dive Lower Traligill again. I will draw a veil over this episode. Other bods did tourist trips in the Traligill valley in the process visiting Tree Hole.  In the prevailing dry conditions Tony Jarratt forced a downstream bedding squeeze into 60 metres of new cave (surveyed later in the week) which contained the main stream inlet.  Further prospects exist here and the squeeze is now passable by average sized cavers who do not mind an intimate acquaintance with underground streams. Waterfall Rising which looked good for an underwater dig was excavated by Vince, Jake and Tav (BEC) but despite spasmodic work during the week it never became passable for a dive - worth more digging tho'.

The next day was our Durness day with the prospect of another bash at looking for Tartan Holes and digs at Ach a Chorrain on the way.  A leisurely journey up via Lochinver and the Drumbeg road gave us superb coastal views.  Thankfully dumping Peter Rose with the diggers for a few hours Petes Glanvill, Mulholland and Cox plus unfashionably named Brian Johnson headed for Smoo. Another sparkling sunny day although with a cold wind blowing so no sun-bathing this time.  The Petes all went down to Smoo Geo while Brian concentrated on chatting up the local coastguard and doing a bit of spuddling about in the Smoo pools.  It was low tide and we were able to walk a long way down the geo before starting our dive. The mini resurgences seen last year were high and dry.  We finned out on the surface past my point of entry in 1990 and submerged to follow the eastern wall at a depth of 10 metres.  The marine life encrusting the geo walls became more prolific as we got deeper and diving was a real pleasure in the 15 metre visibility.  When we had got into about twenty metres of water things got really interesting.  The limestone walls smothered in a five o'clock shadow of brittlestar arms, hydroids and anemones were prowled by nudibranchs starfish and orange sea urchins. The odd small cave inhabited by shy navy blue lobsters could be seen.  On one rock ledge was a proper cave though - only 15 metres long it penetrated the cliff and seemed to be solutional in origin.  A few fin strokes further on and, like some magnificent cathedral nave, daylight streaming through its kelp fringed apex, reared a 20 metre high arch. It is at times like this that the weightlessness of scuba diving can be truly appreciated as one swoops from floor to ceiling with a couple of flicks of the leg.

All good things come to an end and regretfully I turned for home indicating to the other two that I had used up half my air.  The endless fin back on the bottom and the surface kept me warm in the chilly sea. The Petes made the mistake of surfacing early - they discovered we had been nearly 400 metres offshore.

Meanwhile, back at Ach a Chorrain, Pete was demonstrating how we dig in Devon.  Over 30 metres of passage was discovered and explored - spread over 5 caves just like Devon.  Still it isn't often you can discover and explore so many caves at once.

The day finished with an abseiling session at Smoo and a visit to local hostelries where Pete R. started his "Good Pubs to Shave in" guide - publication date from Pete. After a brisk walk back to Smoo from the final pub most opted for a night's kip in Smoo Cave while Pete R. and I opted for a tent over the entrance in the company of nesting Fulmars.  The next day the chuckling birds woke me and I found I could peer through one of the skylight entrances to Smoo onto Tony Boycott snoozing 25 metres below.  A brew-up soon had us all loosening up our sleep stiffened limbs before the journey back to Elphin.

While various team members surveyed Tree Hole, Brian decided to dive the Waterslide at Traligill where the stream disappears on its way to Lower Traligill Cave.  With help from Julian Walford, Pete Cox and others we humped gear down the steeply inclined and, in its lower sections, awkward bedding to the sump.  This trip was jinxed. Pete Mulholland saw one bottle take the fast way down when it slipped out of his harness, shattering the nerves of those below this novel bouncing bomb.  Then various valves began playing up and bottle pressures seemed to have strangely dropped as Brian put kit together.  A collection of glum faces including “Ye're all doomed” stared at the scum coloured pool.  At last a whip round got Brian into the sump.  He emerged briefly to sort out a gag before returning to the fray.  He explored 30 metres of passage which ended at 4 metres depth in an area of break down.  Using the remains of his air I went in for a look losing the line reel in the process - habit of mine!  We will return.

That night, it must have been night cos I must have been drunk to have volunteered, Julian Walford, the master of ANUS cave, arrived and assured us that the number one Scottish cave diving site lay in his domain i.e. upstream ANUS.  With charts, diagrams and tales of wondrous caverns his silver tongue beguiled us and Pete Mulholland and I found ourselves volunteering to push the sumps I had least expected to visit.  A trip to Lochinver for air the next day was called for.  Jimmy Crooks at the harbour nonchalantly pumped our collection of midget tanks while regaling us with diving anecdotes. He even fixed the damaged pillar valve on the Waterslide bottle.  The three diving Petes then stopped for a dive on the Drumbeg road on the way back. Scallops for the evening meal plus two dinner plates were brought up.  Long evenings mean you can pack a lot into a day.

The stroll to ANUS was pleasant with minimal kit and a host of sherpas.  Stripping in the chilly breeze was not quite as nice.  The carry to the Pit where the upstream sump begins is short and easy although the traverse down to the sump appears daunting to the first time visitor.  Soon, with the help of YAD ("ye're all doomed"), we were ready to dive. Suddenly a loud bang punctuated the quiet gurgling of the stream.  Pete Mulholland's high pressure hose had ruptured.  The option was to scrap the entire trip or for me to do a tourist dive through sump one.  The temptation was too great.  Waving goodbye to a seriously disgruntled PM, I gently pushed my head into the sump.

Clear water and good lighting made the dive along a gently meandering tube quite delightful.  At one point an inlet on the right could be clearly seen.  In low water conditions the wallow between sumps 1 and 2 was rather muddy while sump 2 was just a low duck.  At last I could dekit in a nice roomy stream passage and off I went to visit sump 3. Not having read the survey very carefully I was rather surprised to see a stream cascading from an aven near sump 3. Closer inspection of the aven suggested it would be a fairly straightforward climb so up I went. After 8 metres of back and footing I emerged in a sort of chamber (named Sotanito by Farr) formed where a section of partially filled horizontal upper passage had been washed out and enlarged by the stream inlet.  To the left beyond a delicate scramble over a mud bank the rumbling of a distant waterfall which I guessed was Thunderghast led me to a dodgy looking climb.  I turned back and looked at the right hand passage which ended in a sandy crawl.

Calling it a day I reversed the climb and rekitted.  A high pressure leak meant a rather unnerving single bottle return through the sump in low vis.  Elation greeted my discovery especially when I thought I had discovered a major sump bypass. The big put down came from Julian when it was pointed out that the aven was discovered by Martyn Farr 15 years ago. The only new thing I had done was actually use the route which in fact removes most of the hassle in getting to sump 4.

Over the scallops that night Julian persuaded us it was our duty to survey the downstream section of upstream ANUS to establish the link point with known cave.  Brian Johnson was dragged reluctantly away from a planned dive in Lower Traligill and the morrow saw a team of BEC diggers and cave divers shiveringly donning soggy wet suits outside ANUS.  The trip was uneventful apart from minor light failures.  The survey was accomplished, sump 4 reached and many acceptable pictures taken.  Meanwhile back in the main cave YAD was in digging frenzy mode.  I predict it will not be long before there is a dry way into upstream ANUS and we have Scotland's second mile long cave. Surface digs also could make the breakthrough.

The next day it rained - all day.  The three Petes went to Kylesku (pronounced Kile - Skew) and bravely kitting up in the vertical water entered the horizontal salty version lapping the south ferry slip.  Pristine clay pigeons littering the sea bed testified to the local hotel owner's lack of marksmanship while in deeper water and in a slacker current than last year we were able to explore a near vertical wall smothered in multicoloured feather stars. The whisky and Chicken Tikka in the pub afterwards were equally as good!  The evening was spent in a soggy fester with YAD again in digging mode trying to excavate a minute resurgence low down in Traligill.

The last day dawned bright and sunny.  It was go for it day at Lower Traligill.  Brian and I decided to go down unaccompanied while everybody else dug at ANUS or went down Claonite.  While I was taking a snap of Brian outside Traligill a fully grown male otter leapt out of the plunge pool and sleekly scrabbled past me to lunge into the Traligill flood sink.

The water level seemed ominously high at the entrance but we pressed on regardless with a small amount of kit.  Bitter disappointment struck when we found the diving line was submerged beneath 3 metres of peat stained water.  The jinx was still operative.  We spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures and gorge running down to Firehose.

Pete Mulholland returned to base in the evening very satisfied with his day's work.  He had made a detailed survey of ANUS sump 1, spending so much time underwater that the sherpas had begun to worry. Now plotted, this survey confirms that a dry link should be imminent.

Sadly we had to leave the next morning.  It was an extended farewell as we stopped periodically on the Ullapool road for pictures in the clear rich morning light.  We will return.  Finally if I have left anyone's activities out, my apologies - you can write it next time.

Personnel: Peter Glanvill (DSS,CSS,CDG,BEC), Peter Mulholland (DSS) , Peter Cox (CSS), Peter Rose (CSS,BEC), Tony Jarratt (BEC,GSG,CDG), Brian Johnson (BEC,CDG), Vince Simmonds, Rob Taviner, Graham Johnson (all BEC) , Julian Walford (GSG,UBSS, CDG) , Tony Boycott (BEC,UBSS,CDG)

Peter Glanvill June 1991


Tree Hole

Situated in the Traligill Valley, Sutherland, this cave was 80m. long until our extensions of 28th and 30th April, 1991 brought the passage length to 120 m.  The cave has formed across the dip of the Main Treligill Thrust plane and carries part of the underground Traligill River, entering from a low sump (7) at the upstream end and disappearing into a roomy downstream sump which would be a worthwhile dive.

The writer entered the extensions by passing a flat-out squeeze in the stream not far from the entrance (Section C on the survey).  It was not realised then that the attractive walking-size streamway beyond was new stuff! After a hundred feet or so the passage narrowed down to a tight rift with the stream roaring into it.  The water was now augmented by what seems to be the main flow of the Traligill River pouring into the extension from a slot in the roof, creating a superb 5ft high waterfall.  On a later trip the terminal rift was pushed for 15ft to a clear, diveable sump below a dangerous boulder choke with black spaces visible beyond - a dodgy digging site!

The whole cave was later surveyed by Tony Boycott (BEC/UBSS), Julian Walford (UBSS/GSG) and the writer (GSG/BEC) hence the credits on the survey.  There is potential here for links both up and downstream with other caves in the valley.

Tony Jarratt



Speleo Philippines

Bristol Exploration Club's Third Caving Expedition To The Philippines

Supported by the Sports Council

Please reply to:
Westbury Park
July 11, 1991

Dear Ted,

A couple of points for the next BB please:

  1. Please note my new address above - I shall be here until October.
  2. As many members will already know a small group of us - namely Trebor, Snablet, Jake and myself - are off to the Philippines later this year.  The expedition was planned as a low-key affair with members of the Sierra Madre Outdoor Club with whom I explored and surveyed the country's fourth­longest system last year.

Things have escalated since planning commenced and we ~ now in full partnership with the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines.  Our equipment requirements have expanded to meet the stature of our new partners and, like all serious expeditions; we find that we have to resort to sending out begging letters.

We have promised the NMFP that we will provide them with four sets of personal SRT rigs - i.e. harnesses, jammers, descenders, crabs etc.  I wonder if any of your readers have any of these items surplus to their requirements?  For example, they may have recently up-graded their gear but the old stuff is still serviceable, or maybe they have simply got too old to need it.  Whatever, Speleo Philippines is after bargain-priced and free gear and donors will be rewarded with the knowledge that they have helped and encouraged enthusiastic cavers in an under-privileged nation.

All expedition members will be happy to supply further information to anyone who feels they can help us. What might just be an old crab to you will be a prized possession in the Philippines.