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Morton’s Pot – The Final Solution

By ‘MadPhil’ Rowsell

March 04 saw Jake and myself return to the end of Pointless Pots to evaluate the prospects of continuing the dig. On our last trip down there the previous winter, we had been chased out by rising water just after breaking into the 2nd Pointless Pot (Ref:- Belfry Bulletin 519 – “The Trials and Tribulations of Eastwater”). From memory the way on didn’t look too inspiring. The memory wasn’t wrong.  It did look pretty grim but we decided to blast along the rift a little way in hope that the passage would open out a bit. After a relatively short distance of awkward blasting the rift broke into very immature canyon passage 1.5m deep, and too narrow to pass. Only by selective blasting could progress be made.

Progress was painfully slow, Jake had started work so it was pretty much a solo project with the odd guest appearance by Tony Jarratt to boost morale and observe the progress. Humping up and down the club’s aged drill and Clansman batteries proved particularly awkward and frustrating. To make matters worse the batteries started randomly playing up, whereby one would often get down to the dig site with one not working or only allowing several seconds of drilling before cutting out for a period of time. Nightmare.

Salvation suddenly came on two fronts, one from Charlie Adcock who came up with a supply of free bang (saving me personally a huge expense on bang) and the other from Jeff Price who supplied a 36V Hilti drill. What sanctuary!! Compact, effective and a delight to use. Couple these together with a newly attained Hilti bar (courtesy of Gadget - Nick Williams) and good progress was made. By using a combination of first Hilti-ing to gain some sort of access, followed by retro-blasting to make the passage workable, more passage could be yielded per blast. 

With new enthusiasm I continued the painful task. Just when morale was waning again, a small chamber was intercepted. Just beyond this chamber a low “round window” gave access to a very narrow immature passage. Things didn’t look too good again. Why wouldn’t the place roll over and give up!!. There was somewhat astonishment when the following trip revealed that the blast had broken into negotiable passage and some 22 metres were jubilantly pushed to a too tight corner, with open passage the other side.  The subsequent trip gained another 15m or so to a 4m pot. Exploration was halted here to give Kev Hilton and Emma Heron some reward for their efforts surveying down in Southbank. The following trip, we managed to push through a very awkward and entertaining rift passage for another 15m to an impassable squeeze, again open passage beyond. The survey showed the passage was 60m distance from Lambeth walk.  A nice reward before the dig was shut down for Austria.

On my return,  I was desperate to push this passage through to Lambeth walk  before going away again to Peru in two weeks time. Initially progress was good, rapid progress with Hilti-ing, but after a series of short pots, the passage degenerated to immature and it was back to blasting once again. It was quite demoralising returning to the slow progress through a particularly nasty section, the trips being even more gruelling having to take the drill through what was now called the “Technical Masterpiece”! Weekends were always good as Kev and Emma would be around to help, greatly boosting morale. Despite a relentless effort involving many trips no break through was made. The last trip however did give some hope as after passing a very awkward and tight squeeze “Hells Gate”,  the rift height increased again giving  more hope of passable passage.

After the joys of Peru it was back to reality once again and painful drill and blast. The surveys showed the distance to be around 25-30m to Lambeth Walk. As each trip yielded more tight rift, I began to wonder how much survey error there would be. You would head down each time with high hopes of recognising the Lambeth Walk window, only to be totally demoralised with another tight rift. A subsequent survey indicated the passage to be only 10m or so from Lambeth. With the passage seemingly heading off into the distance, we even took a trip down the old route and up Lambeth Walk to see if this would shed any light.  Sadly this gave no clues away either. Morale was at an all time low!

It was with some relief when after another 4 blasts I surprisingly recognised the window into Lambeth walk. It would need one more blast to get in, but the ordeal was over. The following night I sat alone in the top of Lambeth Walk for almost half an hour, partly elated but partly dumb struck with wondering what was I going to do now? The obsession was finally over!!

The break through had been on a Friday night. Kev and Emsy weren’t around until Saturday and then Tony refused to close his shop on Sunday, so I had to wait the whole weekend until Sunday afternoon (17/10/04) before the inaugural round trip could be completed. A great trip.  (Ref - Journal of the Wessex Cave Club, Vol 28 No  294 April 2005 “Eastwater – Backwards and Feet First” by Kev Hilton)

Figure 1 shows the general layout of Eastwater and the position of the new passage and its connection into Lambeth Walk. The survey is a compilation of both some old survey drawings supplied by Trevor Hughes (grey dotted lines) and recent re-surveying work by the team.

Credits Due

A big thanks has to go to both Kev Hilton and Emma Heron, who towards the end came on trips to help whenever possible, greatly boosting morale. Furthermore, they were often subjected to my frustration paddies when Hilti’s were failing or drilling conditions very awkward and cramped. I am glad I have some good friends. A big thanks also has to go to Tony Jarratt, who also came to the call for help when needed, sacrificed his need for bang at his dig when times were short and helped with much of the surveying.  Both Charlie Adcock and Jeff Price provided services without which this passage would have never been completed. Graham Johnson who helped push much of “A Drain Hole” and the upper end in Pointless Pots. I hope one day he will find the enthusiasm to see what he has helped create.

Finally while being thanked in previous articles, all those who have helped in the digging of Morton’s Pot & “A Drain Hole”, both during  both the two attempts I was involved in and those in previous attempts, as without these people’s help in the relentless hauling out of sacks, the Drain Hole would have never been cracked. It’s the end of a 100 year plus saga, including the Jepson/Morton’s dig. Long may it rest in peace!

Warning: While being a classic bit of cave passage, most of the passage is a very immature stream canyon, being both tight and awkward. It is only really suited to slim experienced cavers. Once in the Technical Masterpiece, rescue is not an option. The passage also takes the whole of the Eastwater stream.  While the majority of the passage is unlikely to flood to the roof, certain sections (particularly some of the squeezes e.g. Hell’s Gate) would not be the place to be caught in a flood pulse. It does happen, I have been caught twice now.

The Aftermath and  The Dawning of a New Era

The hope of the dig was that some fossil passage may be intercepted, but alas this was not the case. The passage was a direct but awkward connection to Lambeth Walk and Southbank. It did however give a slightly shorter, but dry access to Southbank meaning digging here will be less of a chore.

With the addition of “the Apprentice” (Andy Smith) to the team (a superb con job by J-rat) led to the formation of the Eastwater syndicate (alias The Eastwater Appreciation Society), who’s goal was to push the depths of Eastwater further. A short break from the continual body battering gave renewed enthusiasm and it was decided that the Pea Gravel dig would be  first priority as it was thought it could  possibly yield a by pass to the Terminal Sump. Several trips were made down to dig this, however water tended to plague the dig. Interestingly in wet weather water flows into the dig from a hole on the left further along Tooting Broadway but the dig however stays at the same level i.e. flows off somewhere. 

Previous work we had conducted at the terminal sump (Ref - Journal of the Wessex Cave Club, Vol 28 No 293 Feb 2005 “Eastwater – Southbank Work on the terminal sump by Emma Heron) had shown the Terminal Sump level could be dropped 1.5m or so by bailing. In hope that this might also cause the Pea Gravel dig to drain, (the two being only 4m or less away) , the Terminal Sump was bailed. Despite being able to hear digging activity and tapping at the Terminal Sump from the Pea Gravel Dig, surprisingly no change in the water level was seen. The Pea Gravel Dig was eventually pushed under a lip to a small chamber, but with no further obvious digging prospects. The dig was abandoned. No obvious drain off point was found.


Attention was turned once again to the terminal sump.  Several attempts were made here in late Nov 2004, but were plagued by a leaking dam and stream volumes too high for the dam capacity. The dig was abandoned for the winter and a foray to warmer climates - Tasmania. With my return in April, the dig has been resumed with a more serious nature. Since water volume was a problem in the last attempts, a plan was devised to wall off  ¾ of the sump and back fill it to reduce the amount of water in the sump. It would require a lot of material etc to be brought down through the Technical Masterpiece, but the reduction in water volume required to bail would have great benefits. After a number of carry trips, the wall and back filling construction proved surprisingly easy and was completed in one session. The following weekend the sump was bailed virtually dry  to approximately 1.6m  vertically. It revealed a small, well washed 10cm dia tube heading off parallel to the sump. 2m further along this tube it seemed to constrict further. With the dam at full capacity any further evaluation had to be curtailed.

While the 10cm dia tube is not the most encouraging find, the bailing of the sump dry does indicate that it must be relatively short, with possible open passage (air space at least!) the other side. As shown by Figure 2, the relationship between the Terminal Sump and Pea Gravel dig is even more confusing, being so close and similar height but are not hydrologically connected. Plans are afoot to return to the Terminal Sump and dig along the wall to ensure this tube is the only exit point (current or fossil). This will only be achievable in very dry conditions with the stream virtually dry, so that once bailed a reasonable time period is available for work.


Credits Due

A big thanks has to be extended to both Emma Heron and Andy Smith (the Apprentice) both who have spent many long sessions, both carrying down kit and spending hours doing engineering work and bailing. Kev Hilton also needs a special mention, who has sadly been missed recently due to injury – hopefully he will be back to full strength soon. A thanks also to Duncan Butler and Tim Ball who have also rallied at times to the call for help.