Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index

 

White Pit - Prophecy Pot Extensions

By Tony Jarratt

 

Discovered on 4/11/92 White Pit has seen a great deal of effort put in to extend the cave over the last five year notably in Waist of Thyme, Brian's Attic, Talus IV and above Masters' Hall.  The one place that has received little attention since its discovery by Andy Sparrow on 1/12/92 has been Prophecy Pot - the lowest part of the cave.  It was visited by a large team the day after it was found and on the next day the writer and Trevor Hughes dug here, following loose rocks and gravel downwards, but decided it would be a long term job. A month later the writer returned with Rich Blake but they were again put off by the large amount of spoil to be moved.  Due to CO2 problems throughout the cave the bottom of the Pot was only rarely visited over the next few years and it was only after the proposed abandonment of Estelle's Anticlimax dig that it was once again investigated with a view to digging on 3/4/97.

Four days later the writer and Jeff Price were wielding a pick axe at the lowest part of the floor until thwarted by calcited breccia and boulders.  Probably due to the increased airflow from St Alactite's Hall air conditions were good and the expected mud flow from the Waist of Thyme spoil dump below Forty Backs had not materialised.

On 12/5/97 the writer, Rich Blake, Quackers Duck and Tony Boycott were laboriously hammering away at the floor when they were astonished to feel a distinct draught.  Three solo trips by the writer (one involving a dropped tackle bag, broken drill connections and an ear sliced open by a falling ammo box lid) gained several feet of depth and necessitated the use of bang on the calcited rocks.  A tarpaulin was used to deflect fly-rock from the formations in the Pot above.

He returned again on 2/6/97 with Jake Johnson and Tony to lower the dig another four feet to draughting holes in the floor.  A second, very noisy, charge was fired.  This was cleared on a solo trip on 16th and the dig was banged again the following day.

The 20th saw the writer and Stuart Sale clearing this and filling up the inlet passage at the base of the Pot with spoil leaving very little dumping space without encroaching on the gours opposite.  A return was made on 22/6/97 along with Estelle Sandford, Nick Mitchell, Mike Willett and Guy Munnings and despite a plague of light pox the dig reached over ten feet in depth.

The next day the writer installed four sections of scaffold pole in the hole and carried on digging downwards under a rain of large rocks peeling from the walls.  The draught and echo gave intimations of a large void nearby.

The first breakthrough came a day later when the writer, Estelle and Jake banged the floor and, following a fag break in Masters' Hall, returned through the rapidly dissipating fumes to dig down into a small and heavily calcited chamber below the choke. A couple of ways on needed bang to progress further.  More raining rocks and the onset of closing time saw a late exit from the cave by the elated diggers.

"Our great hopes of yesterday were not fulfilled but once the floor choke is removed I am sure we will be off again!" - A. Jarratt, MSS log, 2/12/92.


The delightfully clean, calcited boulders were drilled and banged on 25th 28th and 29th June, the latter trip being notable for the sudden increase in the outward draught just as we had finished laying the charge.  The writer, Tony B. and Estelle were suddenly enveloped in bad air pouring up from below the dig and were lucky to get out of the cave before they were affected too much. Despite this the charge was fired on the way out!  A temporary new lock was then put on the entrance and the cave left alone for two days until exploration fever stupidly got the better of the non medical pair of the trio!  Candles were taken down and they burned with a bright, yellow flame as the bang spoil was confidently cleared giving no indication of CO2.  Unfortunately other noxious gases (nitrous oxides?) were present and as a fresh charge was laid on the one remaining boulder preventing access to a 10 feet deep by 4 feet wide black hole these took effect on the diggers. Another slow and worrying retreat was made with lots of resting on the way out - at one point to fire the charge. Jane Jarratt was about to raise the alarm as the gassed ones staggered down the drove to West Cott.  Not wanting a third dose of fumes and despite knowing that the way on now had to be wide open, a longer period of time was left for them to clear.

The breakthrough trip came on 6th July when the writer, lubricated with Guinness got firmly wedged in the hole opened up by the last bang.  After being extricated by Tony B and Estelle, he widened the rift to allow the three of them plus Jake to squeeze down into a "walking sized" phreatic bore passage heading steeply down-dip for some 20ft to a choke with a nice grotto above.  At least there was plenty of room in the extension to open and imbibe the bottle of Vintage Brut brought along for the occasion! (note 1)

The following day Andy Sparrow and the writer dug at the choke until the poor air conditions necessitated the usual slow retreat.

On July 9th a larger team continued digging here in improved circumstances and two further trips on the 16th and 21st saw more rock and mud being dumped in the phreatic tube.

The next breakthrough came on 23rd July when the final boulders in the bottom of the calcited choke were barred out to reveal a 12ft climb down into a 15ft long, 6-8ft high phreatic alcove with the only feasible way on being back under the dodgy breakthrough choke.

Estelle, Rich and the writer returned on the following day with a scaffold pole and long crowbar to attack the choke which was eventually passed after some very hairy boulder redistribution to reach another large phreatic tunnel.  This went steeply down-dip, apparently directly to the Swildon's/Wookey Master Cave! Estelle was given the honour of the discovery but after only some 25ft or so the cry "Bastard, bastard" rent the air as a nasty little, un-diveable sump pool loomed up!  Cancel one Master Cave.

The air at this point is decidedly stale and the draught seems to have been lost in "Follow Through Choke" (tastefully named in honour of Richard who was at this time somewhere on the surface contemplating the purgative effects of a surfeit of Butcombe!)

The writer and Estelle returned on 3rd August to vainly probe the Choke in three different places - all of which seem to be dangerous long term options.  At this point we are some 250ft deep with about 300ft to go to the streamway.  The total length of the extension is around 100ft of quality passage, most of which was surveyed to BCRA grade 5c on 13th August by Trevor, Tony B and Estelle until the bad air drove them out.  The job was finished by the latter two and the writer on 30th November when more air samples revealed conditions to be much improved.  An attempt at digging the choke is being co-ordinated by Jake, to whom all volunteers should apply.

References:

Sparrow. A. Feb. 1993 Descent 110 p.11 (Discovery)

Sparrow. A. Dec. 1992 Belfry Bulletin 466 46 (4) (Discovery)

Jarratt. T. Aug. 1993 Belfry Bulletin 468 47 (2) (Waist of Thyme)

Anon.    Jan. 1994 Belfry Bulletin 472 47 (5)  (Access procedure)

Jarratt. T. Mar. 1995 Belfry Bulletin 478 48 (3) (St. Alactite's Hall Simmonds V. & survey)

Jarratt. T. MSS Logs Vol. V 1992 - date.:

Hughes T. MSS Logs and unpublished survey and other diggers MSS logs.

Note 1   Tony Boycott took some air samples with a Drager analyser at the bottom of Prophecy Pot with the results as follows:

617/97             Way in              Way out

C02                  1.5%                 3%

CO                   Nil                    Nil

Nil                    Nil                    Nil

He suspected that the O2 level was lower than normal but had no means of measuring this.  He repeated the readings on 1317/97 (CO2 only):

                                                            Way in              Way out

            Bottom of Prophecy Follow         2%                   2%

            Through Choke                          4%                   4.5%