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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 and Caving News

I have received a letter from Jack Lambert reading as follows:

Mummy (Fi) and Ivan Sandford are getting married on Saturday 24th March in a private family ceremony, but everybody is invited to join us in the backroom of the Hunter's from 7.30 pm onwards to help us celebrate!

Signed Ivan, Fi and Jack

This week saw a general re-think for active people who cave, climb or mountain walk in the countryside. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease has led to measures restricting access to many areas.  The NCA sent the following message:

Deep Cave, Deep Cave, Deep Cave

The following information was recently received from UAYCEF member Daniel Filippovsky of Kiev, Ukraine:

Now ... Voroniya Cave (Arabika, Abhazia, West Caucasus) - is the deepest cave in the World!!!!!!!!

Denis Provalov came up to the surface from camp -1200m on 6 January 2001 to tell the world of the news:

The Expedition of Ukarinian Speleological Association (leader - Kasian) achieved a new world record depth of 1680 meters in Voronia Cave!!!!!  There is one more pit (approximately 50 meters) and work is ongoing.

The Expedition members were as follows:

Yuri Kasian (Poltava) Nikolay Solovey (Kiev) Julia Timoshevskaya (Poltava) Oleg Klimchouk (Kiev) Denis Provalov (Moscow) Konstantin Moohin (Moscow) Sergei Zoobkov (Kiev) Vitaly Galas (Vzhgorod) Anatoly Poviakalo (Poltava) Dmitry Sklyarenko (Moskow) llya Zharkov (Sverdlovsk - Pensilvania)

Address Change

A late message from James Smart with a member address change re: Ron Wycoll

Hi Mr Editor the above named asks me to tell you his new address is: EXMOUTH,  Devon


A big thank you once again to all contributors.  I struggle less each time!  Please keep the articles coming in and keep sending them by email if you can.  Ed.



The situation has deteriorated rapidly during the past few days with twelve cases now confirmed in various parts of the country.  In view of this very grave situation, everyone is requested to immediately stop all caving and associated activities until the crisis is over.  Indeed all unnecessary visits to the countryside should be avoided.  Many clubs have closed their headquarters to visitors and have cancelled bookings.

Graham Price
Conservation Officer
National Caving Association

Your committee has decided that the Belfry will be closed in line with this advice.


2001 Foot & Mouth Disease and BEC Policy to comply with prevention.


We regret taking these measures, but hope that you will all agree that in order to be both seen to act responsibly, and to show support and solidarity to local farmers upon whom we all rely on their goodwill for cave access - and, also to other caving clubs who are also taking similar action, we have closed the BELFRY and site as detailed above.

The Belfry Drive/Car park will be physically closed on Monday 5th March to ensure that no one visits the site until further notice.  The Committee have agreed to liase on a regular basis to review this action. No further BEC Committee meetings will be held at the Belfry until further notice.  It was also agreed that the point of contact for any queries should be through the Hon. Secretary - Nigel Taylor on either 01934 xxxxxx or 07860-xxxxxx.

You are strongly requested to comply with this action, and should be aware that the local Authority has indicated that breaches of Footpath Closure orders will result in legal action with £5,000 fines mentioned as penalties.

Please be patient during this troubled time,

Kind regards to all, Nigel Taylor Hon. Secretary. 
On Behalf of the BEC Committee Saturday 3rd. March 2001

Stock's House Shaft View during the week of 9th March. "so near and yet so far .... " See main article on page 20


Cheddar Cave Club find Skeleton

A group of cavers from Cheddar Cave club have recently unearthed the skeleton of an ancient race of Mankind, thought to be extinct.  The skeleton, that of a male, with a severe leg injury and a small brain has mystified archaeologists.

Local expert Chris Binding is reported to have been amazed as to how the severely crippled man could have got to the site at the top of the Gorge, above Goff’s Cave. Chris said, the finding of this fossil, along with many other artefacts dating from the culture associated with Homo touristensis, is strong evidence that this type of human roamed the gorge centuries ago.

The skeleton was found alongside a number of contemporary cultural artefacts.  One of these, an old crisp packet yielded enough material for carbon dating, showing the skull and the site to be 3500 years old making this one of the oldest Homo touristensis finds in Europe.

Local trader, Huge Cornfield said "This amazing find lends strong support to the idea of a chair lift to the top of the Gorge.  If we can re - introduce this sub species of humans to the area above Goffs caves, they will create their own ecological habitat, thus saving millions of pounds in conversation measures."

The find is sure to fuel the controversy as to how long ago it was that people first came to Cheddar as tourists.


Reservoir Hole Meet

by Kangy King

If you travel in the Orkneys you can visit marvellous prehistoric chambers constructed by man; some say over a long period of time.  The sides are tidily made of stones neatly fitted together, the roofs are corbelled and finished with great slabs.

Why, you might ask, go to Orkney when with little effort you can visit Reservoir Hole in the Cheddar Gorge? This had been entered in 1951 by Wessex party and in 1965 Willy Stanton created more cave with chemical persuasion and devoted many hours underground extending it.

I was there because Rich Long was kind to me and lent me a rollerblade elbow pad for my bursitis and when my old NiFe cells went dim, a smart modern cigarette packet sized lighting set.  The Irwin and Jarratt Guide gives their usual precise factual account of this cave with a little star indicating restricted access.  Martin Grass was the answer to that.  We met him by the reservoir.

We started promisingly enough with Martin leading us on up the muddy bank above the reservoir. 'Ah, sorry, we need to go back.'  'Ah, sorry, we seem to be too high.'  'Ah, sorry, I'm sure it was here last time but they've cut the trees down.'  'Ah sorry - Oh here it is!'  Low on the ground, out of sight behind a rib of rock, was a tiny crevice.  It was blocked with a star shaped plate gate and was secured by the usual gritty lock which was difficult of access.  Martin applied the magic penetrating oil spray and we were in.

It was a head down job through the spiders until the tunnel steepened past the horseshoe bat dangling from the ceiling.  The passage became steeper and seemed totally man made with neatly stacked deads. Martin said that Willy Stanton had spent years digging this out.  Original passage was not obvious but the climb down, through stones lining a spiralling shaft stabilised by stemples and perhaps concrete, was cave like and interesting.  The passage we were following entered a much bigger rift at right angles which must have been an exciting find for the digging man.  Following this through small chambers linked by tunnels through infill, led to a 'final' enlargement in the rift.  With so many alternatives it was not obvious that the way on was through a small dug passage at the lowest point.

The extent of this speleological masterpiece began to dawn upon us.  What a hero!  Willy Stanton had dug this cave for years.  He must have lived in it.

When we finished going down - we started going up.  Neat walls of stones lined the way.  Steps had been constructed up the steep bits and were contained between these walls. It was hard to see where the small spoil was hidden.  Everything was so neat.  It reminded me of the tidiness of a show cave. And more.  I began to have the feeling that I had been here before. Orkney I thought.  There is an amazing new find about 10 miles south of Kirwall in the Orkneys.  A farmer had broken into a most unusual underground prehistoric man-made chamber.  From the entry point at the top of a mound he had entered into a substantial stone staircase spiralling down.  After two turns of descent, it stopped on a flat stone slab.  That was it.  A monumental staircase in stone.

Willy Stanton's steps continued up through the magnificent rift feature of the cave.  It had that big cave feeling.  Higher still I thought I saw steps cut into solid rock. Perfectly possible if you are removing rock split along the bedding plane but amazing to see in an open passage where rock need not have been removed.  Everything had been done to facilitate the safe passage of the cave visitor.  Rope handrails eased our way. Neatly arranged tapes mounted on little cement pyramids protected vulnerable formations.  On each side imposing vertical slabs formed the rift.  There was perhaps evidence of silken sides on one of the walls and in the same area there was damage caused by boulders dropping out of the stunningly high roof and impacting with glancing blows on the walls below.

Eventually the rift ended as the floor steepened into a wall and a ladder invited us to climb to a higher level.  A fixed rope eased the considerable exposure.  The party assembled on a balcony and climbed around the back to find a wide path.  We walked back towards the rift which, even though we had climbed high into it, still soared above us.  Wider at the top, the black walls of the rift plunged for a couple of hundred feet into the gloom below.  We savoured the extensive view in silence then turned back to examine the path more closely.  It had been built up out of excavated material.  The disturbing thought was that this implied hard work; the need to shift many tons rock from one place to another.  Many of us might regard this as the unattractive face of exploration. Here however, it became an aesthetic way and created a naturalistic feature; an interesting part of the scenery.

An anthropologist would also have recognised the site as showing signs of lengthy human habitation. Water management was the main preoccupation with various gauge tubing, cans, tanks and cement channels guiding water to its appointed quarter.  A small rock basin, with a curious sediment and a thin polythene tube supplying water from a higher reservoir, was identified as a cement mixer.  A rusty spade stood patiently by.

At the end of Reservoir Hole only a muddy pit remained.

Or is it the end? Perhaps Willy Stanton is planning more banging digging, stacking?  When are you coming back to finish this Very Good Cave, Willy Stanton (hero)

Meet participants; Martin Grass, Rich Long, Stuart Sale, James Weir, Zot, Kangy,

Kangy 28th November 2000


Travels in America Part III

By Rich Long

I'd been in a New Mexico a few weeks by now and was getting to know various people and how things worked. Firstly, we may have bit of a moan about getting a key for a cave or having to arrange a leader, but to get a permit in the States you have to have a degree to be able to fill out all the paperwork.  Even then you may only get in to clean a bit of stal. with a toothbrush for four hours. Fortunately for me, not being blessed with either good looks or intelligence, God has made me rather lucky, as Mr. Wilson will bear out by my getting into Glover Chamber in Gaping Gill, purely by accident.

Well, as my luck would have it Stan Allison of Carlsbad Cavern and Lehuguilla got me fixed up on a dig in Big Man Hole, along with my new pals Aaron and Gus, both extremely bad influences on a poor Englishman, I'm glad to say.

We arrived up at the meeting place in the Guadalupe's at about 9.30.  Already there was lots of activity with about 15 people strolling around on this already very hot morning.

Jim Goodbar with whom we had already caved greeted us.  Jim was the co-ordinator of today’s dig.  In typical cowboy politeness he took us around the group, introducing us to people I had seen on the Discovery Channel and read about in books.  Firstly there was Dr. Mike Queen, he was the guy who helped Ronal Kerbo fix up the parachute line and kiddy's helium filled balloons to snag stalagmites in the Big Room in Carlsbad and then ropewalk up into the Spirit World, some 230' up.  Now anyone who goes up that height on an unknown rigging point deserves a pat on the back and an appointment with a psychiatrist as soon as possible.  Next guy was Dave Belski, as we approached he was talking to a group of people and his wife, "Get off this Goddamned mountain woman and take that goddamned dog with you!"  I don't think Dave and Germaine Greer would have got on too well.

So, introductions over we trekked to the cave mouth, it is very similar to the entrance to Lechuguilla, a small slot on the anti-cline of the mountain.  It is situated not to far from Lech's entrance.  While in Jim's office he had shown me a Geophysics report and illustration of the cave system.  Where we were to dig today there was about 30' between us and a 300-metre void.  The trouble was the geo. plan shows the voids but it can't show you relative depths, so this huge area could have been on the same level or as easily 300' down.  Still we just wanted in and the excitement was growing.

Dave Belski rigged while we made friends throughout the group and while we were waiting to rappel in, Mike Queen invited us on another trip later in the week.

Well, it was Gus's turn to go in, the abseil was about 80' through the slot, when you went in you were actually right in the middle of the roof of a big egg shaped chamber about 60mtrs by 35mtrs.

In the midst of these top-notch cavers you didn't want to appear twerps, unfortunately Gus and I both failed.  Gus was on a borrowed rack instead of his usual figure of eight and miscalculating took out a bar instead of adding one, so while we watched from the top he began a very swift rappel and to compensate he whipped his rope down and behind him, i.e. Fig. of 8 style.  As you can imagine this didn't help and he proceeded to descend at about a hundred miles an hour, yelping like a ten year old girl, whilst contracting a severe case of abseiler's hand.  He corrected about 10 feet off the ground to much applause and cowboy hollering of "Rock and Roll!"

Unfortunately as some of you are well aware, any cave with a nice straight down abseil is not only frequented by cavers but by non abseiling animals and this one was no exception.

Big Man Hole had porcupine, rabbits, calves, etc., the latest acquisition was a ring tailed cat and a big one as it had tended to puff up a bit while it had been lying there, waiting for Gus to abseil right into it.  Whew, did that cat stink!

It was now my turn and I wasn't going to make a fool of myself, famous last words.  Rigged on with my cows tails, then check my trusty Fig of 8, no problem, Jim was the last in behind me, "See you in there Jim." Down I go. About 2 feet, then nothing, jump up and down on the rope, nothing.  Check I'm not hooked up, no, clear, just dangling with Jim watching and chuckling.

"I should unhook your long cows tail Rich." Smiled Jim, helpfully. "Christ!!!"

O.K. down I went red faced and England totally embarrassed.

We soon split into two teams, one filling a previous shaft and one digging towards the void.  I knew which one I wanted and scuttled off with my new friend Dave Belski.  The rule was you did 15 minutes and no more, digger goes to the end of the line and wait to dig again.

I was third in line, the first guy did his dig, second, after about 10 minutes, hit through and there was the most enormous blast of air.  It kicked up dust out of that hole like it was the Intercity 125 blasting through.

Now it was my turn, I never really knew what Gold Fever must have been like until that minute.  I dropped into that small shaft and I went at it like a man possessed.  Dust, rock, wind blasting, I had only been this excited on the outside of a cave before!

All to soon 15 minutes raced by.

"O.K. Rich, times up!" Dave called.  I chose to pretend I didn't hear him and continued frantically as I could now get my hand and most of my forearm into a cubby hole I had made.

"Rich come out!" called Dave.

"Carry on Richie boy!" I thought, this is it.

"Goddamned Limey B*****d!  Come out, NOW!  Or you won't go in again!" Dave bellowed.

Common sense prevailed!

We dug all day and the wind continued to howl, sometimes sucking and then blowing.  We made about four feet and we were getting to the point of whole arms being thrust up the tunnel and being able to move them and loose rocks around, it was definitely going.

We all got out around 6.00pm.  Said our good-byes and went home, Jim told me that even if we had broken through we wouldn't have been allowed in.  Apparently NASA has first shout, as they believe there could be organisms, fossilized or otherwise that may be similar to life on Mars or Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Ah well, it had been a good day.

I guess that will do for now, time for my medication!  Oh, Nurse!


Danger Brock's May Fall At Anytime!!

Greg Brock & Mike Alderton

I will start by apologising for the disjointed nature of this report, as we are writing this after a Friday night at the Hunters.

Our Christmas time adventure started on the 22nd of December, when I arrived in Essex to meet a disorganised and hungover Greg, slowly getting ready for a couple of weeks of camping and walking in Scotland.  After a hearty meal, we packed up the car and headed north through the night.

The drive went very quickly for me as I spent most of it hungover in the passenger seat while Mike drove most of the way to Scotland.  Arriving early on the Saturday morning we pitched the tent just outside Glencoe after travelling through the night from Essex.  We pitched our tent by the side of the road and had a well-deserved sleep before travelling the rest of the distance to Fort William the next day.

The Saturday was spent wandering around Fort William, spending too much money and finding out information about routes and weather, and then setting up camp in the woods. We got up early the next morning, and after packing our rucksacs, we were on the tourist path up Ben Nevis before sunrise.  All was going well and soon we were up at the CIC hut at the foot of the crags on the rear of the mountain.

We consulted the guide book for the last time before heading up towards Tower Gully.  After crossing all the boulders and rocks at the bottom we were soon on snow and ice where we were able to try out our crampons for the first time.  Slow progress was made up the gully as we were carrying quite a lot of stuff and our feet were hurting from new fully stiffened mountaineering boots.  After a while Mike, who was leading at the time, stopped at a conveniently placed boulder.

I was just stopping for a quick drink from my frozen water flask while Greg climbed up to join me. I turned to speak to him, when instantly he disappeared from sight.  'Flip!' I thought as I watched him vanish from view over drop-offs and round comers, 'he's dead and I'm stuck half way up a mountain, this is not good.'  I rapidly learnt to down climb, desperately trying not to go the same way as Greg.

As soon as I felt my feet slip away and I started sliding I did an ice axe break which as soon as I hit the ice the axe was ripped out of my hands and down I went in my uncontrolled descent.  People keep asking me what was going through my mind but everything went so quickly that the only thing I can remember is landing in boulders at the bottom realising I wasn't dead.  Then doing the automatic check of seeing if I had broken any bones.

Thank God for mobile phones eh?  Greg managed to phone me on my descent to say he was still alive which was quite relieving, so I carefully continued down and soon was helping Greg back round the mountain to the CIC hut where we were kindly allowed in to enjoy warmth and a cup of tea.

We struggled back to the car and finally ended up at Fort William Youth Hostel, where we stayed for the night.  The following day we decided mountaineering was no longer the way forward as I couldn't walk so we headed down to Yorkshire for some caving and for New Year.  The first couple of days I spent mincing around the RRCPC hut while mike went caving but after couple of days of recovery I headed down Meregill and the following day down Dihedral.

We had some superb trips in Yorkshire, and plenty of hard-core bar room mountaineering all the way to new years day, where a heroic Greg drove back to Essex with me suffering (not very) silently in the passenger seat mincing.

The caving in Yorkshire was good and New Year was quite memorable (Or not as the case may be).  After our mountaineering epic, we are going to do something safe now like cave diving.



Western Australia Spelio Group Conservation Appeal 2000.

This article has been published in Descent, but I felt that many people do not buy Descent on a regular basis and would therefore miss this serious conservation issue.  I would like to add that this is not the only issue in Western Australia at this moment in time.  There is also a development company in the north Perth area that is digging up caves to build a new housing estate.  Sadly, the WASG can only afford to concentrate on the larger and more serious issue in the Cape range, as the costs are crippling. PLEASE READ ON.  I have recently been in contact with the WASG who have informed me that they have a serious conservation problem in Western Australia.  The club is relatively small, but has to police (if that is the right word) a huge area from Margaret River in the south western comer of Western Australia up through to Perth where there are caves in the Yanchep National Park, then on up to Exmouth and the Cape Range.  Also, beyond into the North West Territories!  This is an almost impossible task with the financial resources they have, so they do the best they can, relying on the park Wardens, local people, and conservationists to help them.

At this moment in time, a Mining Corporation LEARMONT LIMESTONE is applying for licences to mine 82 sq. KM of the Cape Range.  This will devastate the karst area around Exmouth and the Cape! There are 600 known caves in this region with another 50 approx being found annually.  (I quote from the official report THE CAPE RANGE KARST IS A VISUALLY STUNNING LANDFORM THAT WOULD BE PERMANENTLY SCARRED BY THE PLACEMENT OF A MINE ON THE PROPOSED MINING LEASE. KARST LANDFORMS ARE RELATIVELY RARE IN AUSTRALIA OCCUPYING ONLY ABOUT 3% OF THE TOTAL LAND MASS).  There is also a report on the impact to the flora and fauna in the region and underground.

WASG and other organisations are trying to oppose the lease using Court Action; "the hearing opened on the 3rd August 2000" but this will be crippling financially to the club and others involved.

The Lawyers are advising a softly, softly approach to the problem and WASG do not want this to become a blazing issue until the sensible method has been tried.  At the moment an alternative site for mining has been proposed by the conservationists.  However, the caving club and all the groups are desperate for financial help and I appeal to all the clubs in Great Britain to make some kind of contribution, however small, every little helps!

At the moment the information I have is that cheques should be made out to CAVCARE which is the WA cave conservation fund set up for this purpose . You can send the cheques to my home address and I will forward them on to CAVCARE or they can go direct to WA at CAVCARE 27 BECKENHAM ST, BECKENHAM WESTERN AUSTRALIA.

My address is Keynsham, Somerset. Email mwi1co@[removed].

Please help fellow Conservationists in their struggle to keep the Cape Range flora and fauna, caves, and landscape intact!  Mike Wilson.

To illustrate this appeal, Mr. Wilson has sent me an article written some while ago which describes some of the delights of caving in this threatened area- Ed  (see next section)


Caving Down Under

by Wendy Short

Taking a deep breath, I crouched in silence.  My powerful light beam cut a white arc across the cave ceiling dripping with pure crystalline soda straws.  The air had a different smell underground here than the caves on the top side of the world.  I was totally fixated as the four of us paused to admire the beauty of Jewel Cave and set up camera equipment for a photo.  I smiled to myself, feeling lucky and blessed to participate in this experience.  I was caving with the Western Australia Speleological Group (WASG) President, Jay Anderson, her husband Ross Anderson, and a gentleman from the UK, Mike Wilson (BEC).  Only four trips a year are allowed in these caves in the Margaret River area of Western Australia (WA), no more than four people per trip.  Many local cavers from the Perth area had not ever visited these caves.  Since I was a "foreigner", I felt lucky and privileged indeed.

When I was planning my trip to Australia, I wanted to see what the caves were like Down Under, the differences and similarities, as compared to American caves.  I looked through the NSS members manual and found one person listed in the area I would be visiting, Rauleigh Webb.  After emailing my interest to him, he forwarded my letter to members of the caving group.  It wasn't long before I heard back from several members offering their assistance and support, Fran Head and Ian Colette being my initial contacts.  Fran was very helpful and accommodating in making arrangements and was willing to lend me all her gear.  That was very necessary since I did not have room to pack my own gear, and was only bringing my boots!

I was under the impression that Australia was a karst-poor continent.  But after spending two months traveling most of the country, I found caves and karst features almost everywhere I went.  The Southwestern comer of WA is well known for some of it's beautiful show caves, Jewel Cave, the largest show cave in WA, being one of them.

After kitting up in the parking lot of Jewel Cave in the early morning, we were ready to embark on our 4 hour trip into the "wild" section of Jewel Cave.  The rocks in this area are some of the oldest in the world.  At one time the cave was exposed sand dunes, worn away by wind and erosion.  Falling in behind the tour group, we walked through a heavy well-constructed vapour lock door.  The door was impressive, protecting the cave air and environment, or so I thought. Then I smelled the heavy perfume on the visitor in front of me.

As we came upon the first chamber we saw pair of pure white calcite straws of extraordinary length, one of which is the largest straw found in any show cave in the world at 5.5 meters in length.  It has grown 3.5 cm since the cave opened, Boxing Day 1959.  For the majority of tourists, the most memorable section is the jewel cask cavern.  The size of a small room, the walls and ceiling are profusely decorated with intertwining stalactites, straws and helictites.  It's so intricate and extensive that it is hard to find the tiniest space not covered.  The jewel casket is a sparkling cluster of cave crystals.

We followed the tour for a bit, then nicked off (headed off) down a crawlway away from the artificial lights.  The wild section of the cave is called the Flat Reef Extension.  Each room was full of soda straws, cave coral and helictites of varying length and thickness'.  I was just awed by the beauty, which rivals any cave in North America I had seen.  The cave was well mapped, and we followed a well-marked path of reflective arrows.  We were now on a private tour.  I felt Mike and I were being tested a bit as well; our skills, techniques and conservation attitudes.  Down Under is one place where you must "cave softly".

Jewel Cave is about 700 meters in length, with many beautiful large rooms. Every section was decorated except one crawl at the terminal end.  There was one place that had Tasmanian tiger bones covered in calcite, 25,000 years old. We spent the morning in Jewel, which is an easy, manageable, mostly walking cave.  Still, we got winded at times due to the high carbon dioxide levels we all felt.

The next cave we visited was Moondyne, located in the same park as Jewel.  We just happened to time the end of our lunch with the beginning of a wild cave tour, and my hosts convinced the guide to let us tag along. Moondyne is only about 300 meters long, basically just two large rooms. The main feature is walls and walls of stunning white cave coral.  I was not real impressed with the "wild cave" tour and glad we were not asked to pay for it.  It was just too easy.  Walking and constant stopping as the guide explained and showed points of interest proved somewhat anti-climatic.  The two hour trip could have been done in a leisurely 45 minutes.

We had time to explore another short cave, and met up with others from the caving group, including Fran Head and Ian Colette.  The cave was located a short walk through the bush.  About 10 of us entered Deepdyne through a broken entrance gate.  This used to be a tourist cave in the 1920's my hosts thought.  I wasn't too impressed now; the entire cave was only about 150 meters long and 20 meters high.  The formations were very old, dried and dead looking.  I could see in its prime it must have been stunning, as it had the same formations as the other caves I had just been in, with the addition of huge old rimstone dams.  It was apparent that the water levels in this entire area have been dropping.  I asked around .... does anyone know why?  Not really, only a stray theory or guess, none of which bode well for the future of these caves.

By the time we left this third cave it was getting late, a swim in the Indian Ocean was in order at Hamlin Bay before heading back to camp in the Leeuwin National Park.  WASG had a nice base camp and "hut", a semi-permanent set up there that slept several dozen people, and the campsite was quiet in a remote section of the bush.  Mike and I were on a very natural high and still in awe of what we had experienced, with promises of the best cave saved for the following day.  There was great camaraderie and kidding around the campfire that night.  It was similar to cavers getting together in America after a long day of caving, except some of the Aussie jokes went over my head.

The next morning Jay, Ross, Mike and I got an early start and headed back to the park where Jewel Cave is.  We were going to Easter Cave; highly restricted, vastly beautiful, and quite long and challenging.  After kitting up in the parking lot, we all headed off in different directions in the bush looking for the entrance. Jay and Ross had not been there in years and the path was no longer discernable.  I carried the belay rope.  The forest was thick with peppermint and eucalyptus trees.  We searched and searched.  Regrouped, spread out, and looked some more.  It was getting later and hotter.  I was getting really thirsty but I wanted to save my water for the long trip in the cave.  We were looking for a small depression in the ground.  Suddenly I saw a small rock in front of me, then a doline. I almost stumbled into the pit it came up so unexpectedly.  "I found it!" I yelled out.  I was glad to feel useful and like I contributed something.

There was no entrance gate at Easter, the entrance being a 10 meter drop through a hole in the ceiling of the cave.  A cable ladder and belay were rigged and we each descended one by one.  I climbed down carefully, not having been on a cable ladder in over ten years.  Rappelling sure seems easier.  Easter Cave is about 18 kilometres long.  My hosts had no map ..... something political.  Only a handful of people had been here.  We started on our six hour journey that covered about 3 kilometres of the cave.  We stuck tightly to the track, which was marked with reflective tape, very visible and easy to follow and stay on the designated path.  The cave looked virgin to me it was so pristine.  The lack of permits given to visit this cave really showed.  We slowly travelled through room after room of highly decorated passage.  This cave was more dynamic than the others I had seen. Some of the floor was damp and had calcite rafts still growing.  I was just in awe that so much could be so decorated.  The cave had a variety of crawls, squeezes, and walking passage. It was very dry.  Still, the formations were alive and stunning, catching our light beams wherever we shined them.

Our destination was a formation called "The Question", which Ross wanted to photograph.  I relaxed and listened to the echoing drip drip drip of a live formation as the shot was set up.  The trip out did not seem to take as long as going in as we did not stop for pictures on the way out.  Still, because you have to be so careful not to touch anything, it was pretty slow going. I did not mind, it gave me time to memorize all the beautiful things I was seeing.  And I believe that my presence left no impact on the cave that day.

I would like to thank Jay and Ross Anderson, and the WASG for making it possible for me to experience some of the finest caves in Western Australia.

Mike Wilson


I Don't Want To Push It - It Might Go!
The exploration of C33

By Mike Alderton

I had just returned from a three day trip in G5 and settling down with a few beers started looking forward to a couple of days of rest and recovery - but Joel C and Tim F had other ideas.  Waiting until I was well lubricated with wine and beers they proceeded to tell tales of a promising cave left at the head of a 15m pitch, bound to drop into Hirlatz and only ¼ of an hours walk from the Wiesberghaus!  This is how their log book write up actually went. ...

Anyway I had been convinced it was going to break through and persuaded Tim L and Peter Hubner to join me on this exploration.

Armed with survey kit, rigging gear, SRT kit and Sam of discarded climbing rope we reached the present survey limit.  Peter was not impressed by the tortuous passage we had now entered and headed back to the surface just before Buffalo Breech.

From this point the passage started to get quite committing, with desperately tight squeezes, sharp corners and no possibility of tuning around for about an hour - a real delight for us Mendip cavers.

We reached the pitch found by Joel and Tim and I soon descended it, dropping into a steeply sloping chamber in beautiful white limestone with fluted cascades in the floor - Awesome, virgin passage to explore!

Within no time, Tim was down the pitch and off we headed along a typical Dachstein meander, but easy going and peppered with easily climbable cascades.  We threw ourselves along the passage, barely able to take it all in, until instead of breaking out over an unfathomable pitch the cave deteriorated to more desperately tight twisting passage.  With our hearts rapidly sinking we followed this for a while until leaving the remainder of the climbing rope we headed back out.  Our progress was speeded up after noting the clean washed nature of the floor, wall and roof - this place must flood like a beast when it rains ...

The return was uneventful, cold and slow, but when we had passed Buffalo Breech, smiles returned to our faces - we were finally going to escape from this incredible cave. Climbing up the 40' pitch, through the entrance meanders, up the entrance climb and we were out, heading back to the Weisberghaus where our companions were waiting with a crate of Zipfers.

After a few of these, Tim wrote in the logbook ...

The Hirlatz survey shows that C33 has all chances of dropping straight into the master system, so for next years expedition we are looking for young, flexible, skinny young cavers with a limitless supply of oversuits.  Are you interested?



Dachstein - Austria 2000 (The Overall Picture)

By Greg Brock

"I Cave Mostly in Somerset you know " Tangent

Our Austrian expedition started the week before in Yorkshire where myself, Mike Alderton and John 'Tangent' Williams arrived at this small wooden hut in Braida Garth, the NCC Hut.  It was here we was going to meet Snablet for the first time and sort out last minute arrangements for Austria.  In the morning, after the usual large quantity of alcohol the night before we headed into Ingleton where we met Snablet in a cafe.  We also bought extra expedition kit from Bernies.

The following week passed quite quickly and before I knew it I was meeting up with Snablet, Annette and Pete Whitaker (WRCPC) at Munich airport.  The travelling to Halstat was amazingly simple but this was helped by the fact Annette could speak German.  Once at Halstat we met up with the others who had driven out and prepared ourselves for the 3 hour walk up to the Wiesberghaus.

"G5 – It’s a classic!............A real fu**ing classic!.............
Not sure if I like it though………..”
Rich Hudson

G5 - Einsturner Hahle (Ice Gymnast Hole) was my first Austrian cave.  The rock was extremely sharp, hard on gear and as the name suggests very cold.  This was to be the place of three weeks worth of continuous pushing & exploration. The first couple of trips were quite easy going but soon turned into 24 hour trips, and when the camp was set up they turned into 3 day trips.  It soon got to the stage where rest days were needed between trips.  On one particular rest day it was decided to do a Dachstein pub crawl, but this turned out to be a bit more adventurous than planned and was summed up by Tangent once back at the Wiesberghaus…….

"Now I need a rest day to recover from my rest day. " Tangent

Eventually last years limit of exploration (explanation) was reached and new cave was starting to be explored, albeit very slowly.  The rift was getting harder to traverse along and in places traverse lines were rigged because of the walls being covered in a horrendously slimy mud.  After pushing trips being hindered by bad weather the higher level fossil stuff was decided to be our only hope of finding a significant amount of passage.

"Only One Can Hold Me - You're our only hope." Rob Garrett

In the remaining week before de-rigging, "only one can hold me" and another passage by High Flyers were looked at but neither were fully pushed.  "Only one can hold me" was seen to continue but realistically who wants to go back and push it?

"Is there a carnival like atmosphere on the glacier" Tangent

Apart from G5 which was where the majority of the expedition's resources and efforts were focused there were other sites to push and other things to do.  The glacier, surrounding cliffs and the other mountain huts provided things to do on rest days from G5.  Some excellent climbing was had not only up by the glacier but also on bolted routes by the Wiesberghaus.  When resources like food and gas ran low there was always the reluctant option of walking back down to Halstat and collecting provisions.

Greg and Mike on the glacier - picture Greg Brock

After this years' exploits in Austria I think G5 has been concluded but there is lots more to push and lots more places to prospect both on top of the mountain and down in the valley near Hirlatz (The main master system).  Lets look forward to next year!!!!

Moving gear through G5

Tim Lamberton in "insane worms" - Greg Brock


Two Combes Walk


by Vince Simmonds

Start from West Harptree village and follow Ridge Lane, found next to the village stores, uphill and just beyond the last house take a footpath on the right (west) waymarked for the 'Limestone Link'.  Head west across fields to Cowleaze Lane, which can be rather over grown, take care at the end of the lane where you will meet the road that goes up Harptree Hill. Go up the hill for a short distance and another path is met on the right proceed west towards Compton Martin. From the fields good views can be seen of both Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes.  The path soon drops into Highfield Lane and you turn to head uphill for about 250 metres to reach a path on the right leading through a field gate.  Through this gate and then drop down hill to some cottages following the lane down (north) for a short distance before taking a path to your left which after crossing a couple of fields takes you to the bottom of Compton Martin combe.

On passing the cottages almost immediately on the left is the path leading up to Compton Martin Ochre Mine NGR ST55/5419.  5670 which if you have picked up the key from the Belfry and brought with you a helmet, lamp and some caving grots is well worth the visit.  Even if you don't feel the desire to venture underground there are some interesting surface features and relics of a bygone age to keep you amused for a while.  Take care on the slope if it's wet it can be extremely slippery.

For a full description and survey of the mine refer to Mendip Underground, D.J. Irwin & A.R. Jarratt.

Follow the path up through the combe past the disused quarries, the combe has some interesting karst features but they are rather small.  In the spring it can be an amazingly green place.  At the top of the combe the path leads along the drive of Whitegate Lodge to reach another lane.  Turning left (south east) here takes you to a crossroads, go straight over into Western Lane, all along the ridge excellent views of Chew Valley and surrounding hills are seen.  Follow Western Lane for 1½ km down to the bottom of a steep descent from here is a choice depending on the time of year.  If its late spring turn right (south-west) up Garrow Bottom after about 500m you will be rewarded with the most fantastic display of bluebells. From Western Lane turning left (north east) follow the path across a field into Harptree combe where you have the company of a small stream all the way to the bottom.  About halfway down you come across some small mines which are worth a little poke around.

For a full description and survey of these mines refer to Belfry Bulletin March 2000 Vol. 51 No.1 "An excursion to Harptree combe and mines" by Vince Simmonds.

You may also wish to have a good look around Richmont Castle which is also found here.  A Norman lord known as Azelin was the possible builder of the castle sometime post-1066 he died 1120 leaving the manor of Harptree to his son John, the manor then became known as Harptree.  After John's death the manor then passed on to his son William de Harptree.  The political situation around this time was very unsettled and after the death of Henry I the throne was left to Matilda, who was also known as Maud.  The throne was contested by her cousin Stephen with the backing of some of the more powerful lords while William de Harptree and others in the West of England formed an alliance supporting Matilda and they garrisoned Richmont Castle in 1138.  Stephen laid siege to Bristol and then in 1139 led an army to Harptree and took possession of Richmont Castle.

The castle stayed in the hands of the de Harptree family, but around the time of Henry III, Sir Robert de Harptree assumed his mothers name of Gournay. Sometime between the 12 and 15 century the two Harptrees split the Gournay family took control of West Harptree while the Newtons took East Harptree.

By 1540 Richmont Castle was a ruin and it's stone had gone to several possible local sites, Eastwood Manor being just one of them.

There was also the belief that the castle walls covered valuable mineral deposits, it was around this time that a strong brass industry flourished in Bristol.  Several pits in the castle site may be the result of some later working of the area.

The presence of shot-holes in some of the mines would suggest working of a later date possibly late 1600's or the 1700's.  An interesting fact is that in 1728 Sir John Newton, who owned the biggest part of East Harptree, also owned several coal mines in Kingswood ( Bristol) where the coal was used to supply his brass smelting works at Warmley ( Bristol).

When reaching the bottom of the combe turn right (west) to cross the stream and stile and crossing fields will lead back to Ridge Lane and West Harptree.

Allow 3 hours for the walk more if you plan to explore the mines and the castle.


East Harptree: Times Remembered Times Forgotten, Jon Budd.

Worle, Woodspring and Wallop: The Calamine Connection, Nick Corcos; Somerset Archaeology and Natural History, 1988 pp 193-208.


Stock's House Shaft - Towards the Hundredth Ton.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-509.

BB 508 article - correction: The drawings of the bronze bearing liner and "timewaster" were not, as stated, reproduced at the correct scale but had been reduced in size by the printers.  The length of the latter is 154mm, width of blade is 60mm.  The bearing is 60mm x 39mm x 27mm.

For a couple of weeks in November only Alex visited the Upstream Level on one occasion, 'flu, work and idleness having wreaked havoc on the rest of the team.  On the 3rd of December the deep rake near the tumulus c.110m north of the Shaft was investigated for possible dig sites in the hope of by-passing the flooded terminal choke.  The floor of the rake is composed of loose boulders but major excavations would be necessary to open up any underground workings.

Back at the Shaft work continued on clearing the Upstream Level and the bag pile in the Rat Trap and Greg's Level.  51 loads were winched out on the 8th.  The Treasury of Aeops stream diversion was still working well - to the extent that Five BuddIes Sink was found to be almost sumped just before the initial choke breakthrough point.  With this Autumn being the wettest on record this was hardly surprising but at least the stream in the Shaft, though sumping up the terminal choke, was not backing up to any degree.  This bodes well for open passage beyond.

On December 11th a visit to Pipe Aven revealed another roof fall which had again luckily occurred during our absence.  The large spur of rock supposedly held in place by the long Acro-prop had come down, prop and all.  Just beyond it the hanging death once supported by Old Men’s deads had also come down and the Level was again partially blocked.  This was actually very good news as these Damoclean "Henries" had been a continual source of worry to diggers passing warily beneath them.  The enormous boulders hanging in the now spacious void above will also undoubtedly come down in the near future and should hopefully wedge across above the Level to provide a relatively stable ceiling.

A map of all known cave and mine passages along the road between the Hunters and the Miners was given to the civil engineers putting in roadside trenches for fibre optic communications cables.  They were very grateful as no-one had informed them of possible dangers and one of their planned sites for an underground junction box was exactly on the site of an "old trial shaft" - now lost and not marked on recent O.S. maps!  (Incidentally this road is referred to in Gough's Mines of Mendip as Harptree Way).

The 13th saw a three man team clearing all bags and rocks from the Upstream Level and then leaving it severely alone as further extensive roof falls in the Pipe Aven area appeared imminent.  113 loads came out on the 17th and many of these were wheelbarrowed onto the Reserve where they were used the following day to construct a temporary dam at the head of the flowing stream behind Stock's House.  It is hoped that this will divert the water from the Upstream Level and into Five BuddIes Sink.  The remainder of the spoil was used to level the ground between the Shaft and Forestry car park in order to make winch access easier.  Another 124 loads came out on the 20th making a total since the start of this dig on the 25th August 1998, of c.7,6S0.  At an average, probably under-estimated weight of 251bs this works out at 78 tons brought to surface so far!!!

The surface drainage trench into Five BuddIes Sink revealed another interesting relic of the 19th century washing operations on the 22nd of November when a rusty iron bolt was spotted in its floor.  A few minutes work with a spade showed it to be just a tiny part of a section of cast pipe with a "flow diverter", broken but otherwise identical to one previously found in the wheel pit, rusted solidly onto one end.  The total length being 1.148m - see drawings appended.

The Christmas week saw very few diggers, lots of hangovers, much clearing of the Loop Level, Treasury of Aeops and the deposited silt in the start of the Upstream Level.  By the end of the year another 105 loads had reached the now frozen and snow covered surface.  At last the continuous rain seemed to have stopped (or at least turned lumpy) and it was hoped that a good freeze would dry up the inflowing streams. A note in The Pew (Priddy, Easton and Westbury parish magazine) states that the rainfall in Priddy during 2000 amounted to over 1270mm (50").  The standard average rainfall in the Chew Valley being 1100mm (43").

On the last visit of 2000 a short length of rigid aluminium ladder was erected in the Treasury in an attempt to avoid climbing over the huge and unstable boulder partway along. Suddenly it proved to be very unstable as it slid towards the ladder during tidying up operations.  The digger was prepared for this and rapidly retreated to the Shaft to plan a future banging project! In the meantime this level should not be entered.

New Year celebrations took their usual toll and it was not until the 3rd of January that a return was made to bring out 101 bags of spoil.  A return was also made to the awful, depressing wet weather.  11 more bags came out on the 8th when the Upstream Level collapse was utilised as the base of a dam for future water retention. A 6" plastic pipe was installed here on the 14th and the dam further built up the following day. Another 85 loads emerged on the 17th when surface and underground water levels were noted to have dropped considerably.

A banging trip on the morning of the 22nd of January disintegrated two boulders in the U/Level collapse, two at the Shaft bottom and obliterated the front of the huge "Henry" in the Treasury.  In the afternoon much of the resulting debris was bagged up by Alex.  The rest was cleared on the 24th when Trevor poked the looming remains of the "Henry" with a long bar then left it to hopefully slump down to floor level.  On this occasion the standing water level in the Downstream Level was found to have dropped over a foot.

On the 28th another 71 bags came out and the winch was removed to the Belfry.  All the rock dumped at the roadside was transported to the Mineries dam for repair work.  This continued on the following day when Stock's House Shaft was tidied up on the surface as the writer was off to Meghalaya to find some REAL cave. During the next three weeks only Alex could be bothered to turn up on six solo clearing trips in the Downstream Level.  The current foot and mouth scare has now curtailed all work on the site for the foreseeable future.  Total amount of loads out to date is c.8023 about 82 tons!

Additions to the Digging Team

Clare Thomas ( Cardiff Univ. C.C.), Ben Barnett. Bill Cooper.


The search for Pant - y - Crac or Fun adventures up the gorge

About 5 years ago, I decided to have a good look at the plant life in Cheddar gorge that grew in all the places inaccessible to the usual plant recorders.  My reason for this was because of a faint grumbling in the air about tree cutting and rock damage caused by tree roots penetrating rock and levering them off (onto the heads of unsuspecting passers by).  Well, I began at the top end of Cheddar Gorge by Black Rock Gate and gradually worked my way down (and up) the gorge so to speak. At the time of my investigations, the flock of Soay sheep would retire each night to a series of ledges on both sides of the upper gorge.  These ledges were protected from view by dense tree growth.  As most if not all of the caves or cave entrances in the Gorge had been used at some time by sheep, goat or man, I felt it a necessary part of my investigations to check these out at the same time.  It was whilst on one of these forays that I came across a deep cleft in the rock face high up from the road on the Showcaves side.  Many a strange sight has greeted me on these excursions, sleepy sheep, bottles filled with dead mice and piles of rubbish in most unlikely places.  This one, however, was one of the strangest finds to date, for there wedged in the crevice was a collection of women's clothing.  Most of the items seemed to be old, although one or two were obviously recent. My first reaction was to look around for the body or what was left of it- remembering a similar "lost person" incident not that long ago that was discovered by a club member .... Anyway, to my great relief, there was no visible body and as I made my way across the narrow ridge of rock, a few more items appeared, mainly of the ladies under dress type of garment.  Well, shortly after this I discovered a superb specimen of a once magnificent male Soay sheep, complete with curved horns.  This I eagerly dragged down to a safe spot where I managed to cram the skull into my rock bag, and promptly completely forgot about the earlier strange find.  The skull now graces my front room and has been used on many a talk about the Gorge. Now, I am getting off the track a bit but, some 5 years or so later, which takes us up to last December, I happened to be talking to a Cheddar Cave club group about adventures in the Gorge.  One of them asked, had I ever found Pant -y -Crac?  At this, I became interested and he told me of his own ventures and discovery some ten years ago.  We decided then, that we must both have discovered the same crag, and decided that come the warmer weather, we would both try to remember the location of the site. What follows is an account of the excursions into a part of the gorge that offer a superb alternative trip through the area, yet one that has only been done by very few people.  We started our first trip in early January, working upslope from the bend below Bone Hole (see map).  The scree slopes in this area are loose, most of the tree stumps are dead and many of the small bluffs offer excellent short climbs of a somewhat dubious nature.  Many of the buttresses that we passed across from the top have flat tops where you can rig an abseil and get down fast.  Others are connected by deep loose and dangerous bottomless hanging gullies, which a slip down would end in death- if the occasional shrubs didn't stop your progress!  It took an hour and a half to progress some 400 metres horizontal distance.

This was about 800 metres vertically, looping up and down, often using a rope for support, often stopping on a ledge to look in and never discovering our original site.  We finally made the road by descending the scree slope to the left (uphill) of Sow Hole.  Disappointed but exhilarated by the dangers, we agreed to meet again later the following week, with an aim to explore the upper section of the area.

Our second trip began from the path that rises from Black Rock Gate to meet the top tourist route from the pinnacles.  As the path bears right near the top there is a series of buttresses running to left and right of the path.  Our route was to the right, working along the steep slope above the road.  There are about twenty or so of these small climbable rock faces.  Many of them are deeply fissured, covered in trees, moss and so on.  A few are bare enough to boulder climb, but the rock is pretty loose in some sections, deeply cracked by ice heave and plant erosion. This trip took us on a diagonal path down to the road in an area that we both felt from our earlier memories was "about the right place."  Nothing! We finished off by descending a 50-metre scree slope - using a rope to add to the fun - down to the bend in the road opposite to and just below Bone Hole.  By this time, doubt was creeping in - although we were having a great time in the Gorge, discovering all sorts of fun adventure routes for the fun adventure types - maybe the place had been tidied up by the benevolent workers of Lord Bath's Estate!  Undaunted, we returned to my house for tea, cream, jam and scones (or is it scones?) and had another think.  We agreed to meet again the following afternoon, and to fit the trip in with a check on the lid to Bone Hole which was rumoured to have been "banged.

Below: - An old map of the area, showing our routes

Below: an unknown (to me) phreatic tube some 15 metres from the top of the Gorge, left (facing downslope) of the Pinnacles.

Trip three picked up from where two finished, for we felt it sensible to cover the ground thoroughly (looking for holes).  This was the trip above the buttresses that run up from road level, rising some 30 metres as the road nears the final bend before Reservoir hole.  The going here was very tough - mainly vertical, and often crossing the previously mentioned bottomless gullies.  My companion on this trip (son Edward) was not quite as intrepid as he thought, and we covered the ground slowly in some regions, using the (now essential) rope on some sections.  Disappointed again, we descended Shoot gully to the road.

A change of plan was called for as we were getting nowhere and it was looking like the wrong area was being searched.  Our next and most ambitious trip took us right to the top of the Pinnacles, starting at road level at the bottom of Shoot Gully.  This is the steep scramble just beside the "Showcaves bus turning circle".  For cavers, just below White Spot cave!  I won't bore readers with details of the climb up, suffice it to say, at the last section about 40 metres below the top, a sheep path goes right and left from the gully.  Right facing (downslope in the gorge) the path leads to a magnificent viewpoint but no caves and no way down or up except on a very long rope!  Left along the sheep path however, leads soon to the caves shown in the photos.  Doubtless, these have all been seen and recorded before, but new to us, it was fascinating to find phreatic tubes at such a high level in the Gorge.  It must have been very wet once.  Some idea of the age of the caves can also be gauged from their height.  Perhaps one or two might just lead down to ..... great site for a dig .... !  The trip ended with a superb sunset as we came down - certainly for me a great buzz coming off the hill at dusk - so no disappointments and we had discovered some caves.

Looking back at our trips, we decided to leave things for a while.  We were obviously trying too hard.  A bit of lateral thinking as to what we were looking for and how it might have formed led us to think that Pant -y -Crac might be quite easy to get to, but well hidden. Whoever had or had not been there before us probably wasn't a caver, although he might be a diver looking into tight places!

Anyway, rain for a week or so and then work, more work then suddenly one Friday afternoon an excited phone message on the machine from Chris.  "I've found it!  Details in the White Hart tonight, we visit tomorrow".

Saturday came, my hangover was cheered by the lack of rain, and Chris called at 12.30 that day and up we went.  Our second trip along the path from Black Rock Gate had passed very close to the spot that Chris now took me to.  We had dropped down too quickly, or started too far to the right, however, suddenly there it was.  Chris had carefully marked his way back to the path with small piles of stones and (with difficulty for there are many stones in this area!)  I followed his trail and there on the ground, a spotted mouldering half buried dress?  Further on and there it is at last, Pant -y -Crac, complete with at least five bras, three sets of tights, another dress and then as we slid down the slope after recording the crag, more dishevelled remains.  It was difficult to know what to think as I skidded down the scree slope to the road.  The remains certainly spanned a number of years, five? ten? Had the den more than one visitor?  Was it where I had imagined?  Anyway, the outcome of the search was that we had discovered some brilliant scrambles and hairy walks in the Gorge.  We had systematically familiarised ourselves with a huge section of largely un-peopled terrain and into the bargain had a bloody good time.  Anyone know of a better way to have some fun!

Martin Torbett and Christopher Binding Photos by the writers.  February 2001

Pant -y- Crac, Cheddar



Meghalava 2001 - Exploration in the Jaintia Hills and the Discovery of India's 3rd Longest Cave

by Tony Jarratt

PARTICIPANTS; Austria; Peter Ludwig, Switzerland; Yvo Wiedmann, Germany; Christian Fischer, Daniel Gebauer, Herbert and Christine Jantschke, Thomas Matthalm, Anja Renner, Harald Kirsamer, En~land; Julie Hesketh, Tony Jarratt, Mark Brown, Simon Brooks, Tom Chapman, Tony Boycott, Rob and Helen Harper, Stuart MacManus, Scotland; Alan Jeffreys, Roger Galloway, Fiona Ware, Dan Harries, Fraser Simpson, Wales; Rhys Williams, Paul Edmonds, Amanda Edgeworth, Meghalaya; Brian Kharpran Daly, Lindsay Diengdoh, Gregory Diengdoh, Neil Sootinck, Betsy Chhakchhuak, Allard Harris Diengdoh, Sanjay Choudhary, Tiewlin Kharsati, Sasha Nongsiej, Vivien Warjri, Gerard Khonglah, Larsing Sukhlain, Shelley Diengdoh.

STAFF, GUIDES, PARTYGOERS, ETC; Myrkasim Swer, Asif Khan, Almas Laloo, Amzad Khan, Ngait Bareh, Marlon Blien, Bung Diengdoh, Sunny Diengdoh, Bobby Moore Paswat, Dominic Sawdong, James Fancon, Karlin Pyrngap, Nonkin Dkhar, Dilbhadur Subedi, Kunga Darna, Churchill Sukhlain, Rud Sukhlain, Elias Bareh, Forestar Pajah, Pyntyngen Bamon, Wesley Rupon, Holding Bamon, T. Mannar, Jonah Dichan, Pyubha Suja, Mulda Rupon, Condrick Dkhar, Spindro Dkhar, Co!. Fairweather Mylliemngap, Maureen Diengdoh and the Khasi Ladies, the Gentlemen of Shillong, the villagers of Sutnga, Tong Seng, Shnongrim, Sakhain, Lakadong, etc. And last, but by no means least, Ronie Mawlong.

This year's expedition to Meghalaya, N.E. India was swelled by the unexpected addition of Rob Harper's Assam team - having decided to abort their exploration in this state due to insurgency problems.  They concentrated on the Cherrapunjee area in the Khasi Hills where about 5kms were explored. A separate article is being prepared by Rob.

The main team arrived in Shillong on the 2nd February and split into two groups.  Simon led a recce. party to Borsora in the Garo Hills where they were to survey some 6kms of impressive caves and later join the rest of us at Sutnga in the Jaintia Hills.

Here we had established ourselves at last year's base - the Inspection Bungalow about an hour's bone jarring drive from the main caving area on the Nongkhlieh Ridge.  On arrival we found that the Meghalayan Adventurers had done a fine job of preparation in making the place comfortable and secure with a huge meal bubbling away in the outside, tented kitchen - courtesy of Master Chef Swer and his assistants.  To wash it down there was a seemingly unlimited supply of bottled beer and rum. Its hell in the jungle ....

Daniel had failed to arrive which was very worrying as he was known to have been prospecting in the Gujarat area at the time of the horrific earthquake. Thankfully he turned up unharmed. He was apparently sitting on the bog when the 'quake struck and blamed it all on the curry!  A few tremors were felt in Sutnga during our stay, it being in the same 'quake fault zone though many hundreds of miles to the east.

On the 5th caving started in earnest with parties tidying up leads in Krem Wah Ryngo and Krem Kermit.  I joined an optimistic group who were hoping to resolve the access problem at Shnongrim village so that we could extend our explorations into this area which the Jaintia Adventurers were trying to keep for themselves - a misguided policy as they do little caving and no surveying or recording of data.  After lots of tea, biscuits, fags and betel nut with the headman and his cronies we had got nowhere so, leaving Brian to continue the discussion the rest of us walked back along the ridge recceing areas that we had permission for on the way.  This almost instantly paid off with the discovery of two new caves - Krem Risang ( Squirrel Cave) and Krem Shynrong Labbit ( Bat Skull Cave) - both named by us due to a lack of local names.  The first consisted of an impressive 25m shaft leading to a couple of routes through boulders into a scalloped streamway which soon ended on the brink of a 70m pitch - Black Bat Pot.  Over the next couple of weeks this cave was pushed, mainly by Mark, Yvo, Lindsay and Rhys, to a total length of 4.5km of varied, sporting streamway.  There are still a few leads to survey.  The second began as an extensive and well decorated, horizontal fossil system adjacent to the previously recorded Krem Labbit (Shnongrim).  A series of pitches in the floor were descended to reach a huge bore passage carrying the main stream and with lots of inlets, avens and side passages.  Most of the team worked in this stunning cave at one time or another to eventually bring its length up to 5.71km.  There are still climbs to be looked at here and there is a chance of a link with Krem Labbit (where Thomas, Anja and Harry persevered to establish a connection but didn't quite make it).  The cave is notable for the large amount of bat skulls, bones and ears (!) found on the floor.  It has a good sized blind fish population and at least one resident toad and was the highlight of the expedition until a small group of "old gits" went to look for a horizontal cave of their own.

When leaving Krem Risang one day we were accosted by an old chap, Churchill Sukhlain, who presented us with sweet potato and betel nut before proceeding to show us the easy scramble down which avoided 20m of the 25m entrance pitch!  Roger was best pleased as he could, in return, proffer one of his American fags with the classic phrase "Care for a Winston, Churchill?"  He also took a team over the ridge to the hidden Tong Seng village where they were shown a plethora of huge, undescended pots and told of many more.  The locals were very friendly and helpful and soon most of the expedition work was taking place in this attractive area.

On the 10th the 81m deep Krem Khlaw Lakhar (Lakhar Forest Cave) was bottomed by Tom, Mandy and Fraser, the incredibly strongly draughting Hairdryer Hole looked at (and left for next year) and a 20m+ deep pot, Krern Urn Thloo (1) also visited by Goon, Brian, Daniel and myself.

Our superbly efficient guide, Pyntyngen, had indicated that this was easily accessible but we found it to be an SRT job for which we were not equipped that day, being in a decidedly horizontal frame of mind.  It was left for the younger "tigers" and the old gits continued their walk through the forest for a couple of hundred metres to be shown an Eastwater type entrance almost totally choked with rotting bamboo.  This was an obvious flood sink and was also known as Krern Urn Thloo (2) (Water Hole Cave).  A short climb down led to a reasonably well decorated, spider infested series of chambers with a horrific looking vertical boulder ruckle in the floor.  With a chance of bagging 100m or so surveying commenced while the writer, being spare man, attempted to find the way on.  At a depth of c43m a solid walled phreatic passage was found which soon closed down but was at least horizontal and safe. This was surveyed and feeling reasonably pleased with ourselves we started out, pausing briefly to insert Allard, our token small boy, into a grotty little dry sink in the floor. This soon opened up and we followed him through into slightly bigger passage which now had to be mapped.  The whole cave was hot and draught free and held little promise until I suddenly found my feet in a metre of slowly flowing water with a howling draught disappearing through a low duck on the left. Things were now looking up and we continued downstream in walking sized wet, then dry phreatic galleries.  With time running out we were about to stop surveying when Allard pointed out the sound of falling water ahead.  On rounding a comer from our already impressive passage we were stunned to walk into a 6m diameter " Master Cave" bore tube crossing from left to right with a healthy stream cascading into another large passage straight ahead.  It was now very obvious that the old gits had hit the jackpot and found a nice horizontal system to fester in - by the end of the expedition totalling over 12.2kms with scores of leads for next year.  By the 22nd it had overtaken Krern Shrieh, found last year, as the third longest cave on the Indian Subcontinent.

The main upstream passage was later pushed for a couple of kms to a high aven with a possible high level passage part way up and climbable with aid.  Several kms of wet and dry passages lead off from this, generally in a northerly direction and towards the crest of the ridge, beyond which lies Krem Shynrong Labbit, Krem Labbit and Krem Risang.  Daniel informs me that the limestone goes right through the ridge so there may be potential here for connections and the longest cave in India.

Downstream was surveyed through lots of spectacular passage (which I never got a chance to see) and a side entrance found by Goon and team in a jungle filled doline.  They were found by us sitting on an obscure path in the pitch black early evening, completely lost.  We were on our way back from Krem Ticha (Tea Cave) located at the edge of the flood plain a long way below Tong Seng village and luckily guided by the redoubtable Larsing - caver, guide, ladies' man, Caroom champion, etc.  The cave behind their lower entrance was apparently of continental show cave grandeur and proportions and ended in a boulder choke where they thought they had heard voices.  Our resurgence cave had started as a magnificent tunnel but had deteriorated into flooded maze pas ages with boulder chokes above.  If we had climbed up instead of staying in horizontal mode we would probably have met them and connected the two caves.  This was to happen the following day.

Other caves later connected to the system via surface potholes were Krern Urn Thloo (1) - where Tom had halted his survey at a low, draughting duck unaware that one of our stations was a mere 1.5m away on the other side, Krem Lyngkshaid, Krem Moolale and Krem Myrlait.  The latter dropped some 50m straight into a small chamber previously reached by Tom and Rhys by digging out a crawl from the main system.  They had only found this because of the strong draught issuing from a tiny hole in the floor.  Once they had both squeezed into the chamber they realised that they were not alone - a small but wide awake snake was beginning to take an interest in them. Alas, that was the last interest it ever took as they could not afford to let it get into the crawl behind them.

By now Pyntyngen and his fellow guides had established a fine tradition of building a raging bamboo bonfire for our return from the depths.  Not content with that, and with an increasing amount of time on their hands, they also built bamboo clothes drying racks, a rain shelter for our kitbags and on one memorable occasion a complete shed with a banana leaf roof, indoor bonfire and signpost stating (in Jaintia) "Krem Myrlait - very deep cave".  We repaid them with fags, biscuits and beer.

The Krem Urn Thloo System was also remarkable for its wildlife, much to the joy of our speleobiologists Dan, Fiona and Christian.  Thousands of blind fish, crayfish, shrimps and freshwater crabs live in the streamways and pools.  One large crab got its own back on Roger when he foolishly picked it up.  If he hadn't been wearing thick gloves his tin whistle playing would have been severely curtailed!

Dan also became a speleoarchaeologist when he surveyed up an inlet deep in the system.  About 100m before the foot of a 30m aven he came across masses of broken pottery water vessels which he assumed had been swept in from the surface.  They have been left in Shillong for possible dating but may only be 50 or so years old. Even so, their presence indicates a habitation site on the ridge above which may be traceable.  There are many other unclimbed avens in the system awaiting exploration next year, either from below or by descending the virgin potholes from the surface.  At the bottom of one of these Dan also found the grotesque skull of a Hanuman monkey - a baboon like creature, sacred to Hindus and now absent from this area.

To sum it up - a superb system with a great variety of passage, spectacular caving, lots more potential and bonfires at every entrance!  We will return.

The other main triumph of this part of the expedition was continued exploration in the equally spectacular Krem Iawe - situated in the next spur to the north east and probably the lower section of a similarly sized system draining the Shnongrim area.  Partly explored last year it consists of a massive stream passage ending in a choke but with an amazing labyrinth of canal passages rising gently to another section of now fossil bore tube.  There are many fantastic formations including foot high mud stalagmites and bright orange gours.  Its current length is over 1.7km with plenty of leads.  The only problem is either finding it or, conversely, finding one's way back again over flat paddy fields in the dark.  A GPS is a very useful item in these circumstances but a Simon or Daniel are definitely not!

Other notable caves surveyed in the area were Krem Churchill - 302m, Krem Pakse -716m, Krem Ka Tham Thyrsin ( Crab Claw Cave) - 359m and Krem Labon - 687m.  Lots of other small caves and extensions of old ones were found and any amount of unvisited sites recorded from many informants from all of the villages visited - including Shnongrim where we were eventually allowed to cave and were personally guided by the headman himself.  He was obviously unhappy when he couldn't find any open caves for us but a better look next year should reveal this area to be equally productive.  One problem this year was the great amount of time spent travelling to the caves and so satellite camps near the entrances are planned for the future.  The very remote Lakadong area was visited and has great potential with several deep pots. A small, new ill here will make life easier but the presence of illicit "shebeens" may limit the amount of exploration done!

Other useful expedition work included photography (Yvo, Simon and Fraser) video (Fraser and Paul) collecting cave legends (Brian, Larsing and me) PR (everyone), international joke telling in an Austrian accent by a one-eyed caver wearing edelweiss braces (Peter) and mooning unintentionally for the camera (Herbert).  The conservation minded Ronie thoughtfully collected over 500 beer bottle tops (!) which we found very commendable - until we realised that the little sod got 1/2 a rupee each for them!

Great trip, caves, company, food, booze, Khasi Ladies, guides, weather (until the last day) and, despite a few minor illnesses, I believe that a good time was had by all. Yet again our thanks must go to the stalwarts of the Meghalayan Adventurers and all the local people who helped us in so many ways.

Surveys and photographs will hopefully appear in a future BB. A report covering the last few expeditions is intended to be produced this year and Simon's slides, together with Fraser's videos will be shown at this year's BCRA Conference in Buxton.  We are planning to provide the Meghalayans with a Sked rescue stretcher so a slide show may be arranged on Mendip to help with funding. Any donations will be gratefully received!