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Assault on Assynt - Mendip Migration - 2009

By Stuart Lindsay 

Its 2009 and almost a year on from the untimely departure of Jrat, the April migration of Mendip for the assault on Assynt has started. Paul “Brockers“ Brock was the first to arrive, very apt, and was there to greet the overnighters Estelle and your scribe, arriving at 7 am. Straight to bed of course, but not to sleep, an untimely cup of mega strong coffee around Perth, and a GSG member and lady friend arising from slumber dashed all hope of that. So stowed the gear, had a conflab about an easy trip later in the day and got to bed about 10 am, arising 2 hours later. 

 

Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave – survery detail.

An easy trip, an easy trip at Assynt? You have got to be kidding! Brockers taxied us to the car park, up by the “Inch” to go to the cave fondly called Knockers, (cnoc namh uamh) It was my first visit to Assynt so I was completely unaware of where the cave was, in relation to the car park, Estelle and Paul were fully clued up of course, being veterans. Suffice it to say therefore that a pleasant walk was rewarded with an interestingly fun trip of about an hour or so. The major feature is the fantastic water shute, at 45 degrees, water cascades down at a rate of knots, terminating with froth coating the ceiling over and around a sump. The climb back up is interesting, as exposed to daylight the rocks can be a bit green and slimy.

Crawls, stoops, wet stream passage, dry and dusty decorated chambers are features of the higher entrance, herein exploration still continues amongst “pooey gloop”? and the odd inviting passage that will eventually, in the decades to come receive attention. There is an exposed 3rd entrance, which Paul managed to exit from, about 20 feet or so deep. Knockers was an absolutely fantastic cave to warm up in for the assaults ahead.

What happened next? 

You walk back down the valley, admire beautiful scenery, distant deer, and eagles floating overhead, get changed and go for a couple pints in the “Inch” true Mendip style caving!

DAY 2. (26th April) More arrivals time, with 12 or more persons now ensconced in the hut. BEC representation now the aforesaid mentioned 3 plus Pete “hold It, hold It, damn the flash hasn’t gone off” Glanvill, the “explosive” Tony Boycott, Pete Rose and Trevor Neath made it 7. Tav had joined the merry band, along with “storming” Norman Flux, Milch and Kirsty, and Derrick “can you model for me” Guy.

Caving on day 2, another valley, another cave. Estelle, Paul Brock, Stuart L and Derrick joined with Tav to explore the possibilities of dig sites within ANUS C. (Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave). Within the predominately Cambrian Limestone 4 or 5 sites were investigated, a little exploration around Drip chamber, Siphon chamber and then a touristy bit through the twin flat out crawls at sphincter, and crossing a couple of very interesting traverses it was possible to drop into the streamway and wade down to the “thundergast” a waterfall! At this point 3 of the 5 declined this submersion into near freezing water and all but one visited the upholder (lack of energy) to see the formations. Exit was uneventful, and for the more portly returning through the crawls at sphincter was less daunting.

Results of the investigations was that off of siphon chamber a dry, a small dry, passage referred to as Estelle’s Dry Crack was earmarked for future attention, as was the Pete Glanvill dig around the sphincter area. To these sites we would return. ANUSC is an active stream cave, with boulder choke terminations. Work is very periodic in a number of sites with plastic tubes pipes and the suchlike awaiting further use in situ or other promising targets within the system. ANUSC is a friendly system, with varying and interesting features. It is wet, dry, dusty, tight, exposed and eeeerroouuuuummm wouldn’t touch that bit!

You walk back down the valley, get changed and go for a couple pints in the “Inch” then back to the hut for another “master chef” meal from the recipe book of Mr Brock, with yours truly elected to prepare, chop and slice the supplied ingredients and prevent the simmering pot from burning…..for an hour or so!

Extract from the GSG log.

Team: Tav, Paul Brock, Estelle Sandford, Stu Lindsay, Derrick Guy.

Mission: Investigate 5 dig sites and tourist trip.

Extract: “then over to Damoclean – dug through the silt and gravel to get back to a depressing and dodgy end. Then dumped a load of digging kit at Toll Radian. Still looks a promising lead _ the week will tell if it’s a long term goer. Finally relocated Titian Pot for its second descent in 10 years. Good productive day with several leads noted”. Tav.

Day 3 (27th April) The day we met Coln Coventry. After 2 days of marching up and down the valleys a rest was called for, well it was a holiday! So a day off sightseeing up to Durness and a visit to Smoo and the infamous pie shop in Lochinver seemed in order. The party was Paul, Estelle and yours truly. In no time at all we had done the pretty route, visited a waterfall some 300m from the road, patronized the local shop in Durness for chocolate, ice cream and fizzy drinks and made our way down the stairway to the very impressive entrance of Smoo. A lonely figure sat back some way inside the massive entrance arch, an array of helmets piled up on a table beside him. As Paul got close, instant recognition resulted in handshakes, greetings and introductions. A short bit of spiel and we were off, into the boat, mind your head.. oooops duck…under the waterfall.. feed the piranhas…and on to shore, well passage and….. I will leave it like that as it may spoil it for you should you visit. However a 10 minute or so discussion ensued at the end of the passage, about the passage, inlet and sump and what, how, why and when things may have transpired, and then back in the boat to the entrance. Bidding farewell to Coln, back up the cliff, Paul and Stu then wandered over the top of the waterfall, and off across the cliff top after Estelle and out toward the sea. Took some pics and then headed for Lochinver and the pie shop. It was pretty obvious that a visit here meant no grub needed back at the hut so we terminated at the Inch, the usual finale.

Extract from the GSG log:

Teams: Tav, Tony Boycott and Pete Glanvill with Derrick Guy.

Mission 1 Blow up roof flakes at Estelle’s Dry Crack. Blow up roof of Toll Radian. Tav/ Tony Boycott

Mission 2 photos / filming and investigating PG dig in sphincter area. Pete Glanvill / Derrick Guy.

Extract: “Then off to Toll Radian to convince a boulder to relocate. (bit of hanging death in roof!) This was done successfully, but there is more hanging death to sort out before serious digging commences, it may be necessary to remove all and uncover the full rift to the surface. Then back to ANUSC- we were unable to look at the effects of the bang due to the presence of hanging fumes. So we wandered off to look at PG’s new dig. Spent an hour digging and looks pretty interesting” Tav

“voices were heard and it turned out to be Tav and Tony who had fought their way through clouds of fumes to check we were still alive” Pete Glanvill.

Day 4 (28th April) BOOM BOoooOM DAY and photos, too. The return to ANUSC and the assault on sphincter and Estelle’s dry crack dig with a little chemical persuasion, administered by Tony Boycott. Elsewhere a photo session with Pete Glanvill and strategically modelled by Derrick and latterly with Stu around the traverse and near the entrance to Oxford Street…All going well …when, off go the flashguns and BOOOoom, Tony had fired off the charge in PG’s dig near sphincter, and was headed our way, a hasty retreat is called for, off to the entrance is requested, as it was necessary to bang the charge at Estelle’s Dry Crack, before the combined fumes began to fill and percolate up toward the entrance… we all got out safe. 

What happened next?

(1) A note was left at the entrance, to warn the odd lone caver who may pass and decide to enter. As yesterday to the surprise off the visiting party a caver ascended from the depths on their way to thundergast! ! ! !

(2) Usual stuff, off down the valley into the pub, back to the hut and get some grub, have a few cans, back to the pub then hit the pit….NO 

Not quite, firstly up another hill to Toll Radian, and Titian Pot, as per the following log report, then to the pub!!

Extract from the GSG log: 

Team: Estelle, Stu Lindsay, Derrick, Pete Glanvill Tony Boycott along with Tav, joined by PaulB.

Mission: Clear Estelle’s Dry Crack, (ANUSC) and chemically encourage a bit more width! Also widen the dig near sphincter. Next to garden and tidy up Toll Radian entrance and reduce roof rocks to handy size.

Extract from GSG log: “…where Tav turned the hanging death into footholds (not without excitement). Pete Glanvill and Stu Lindsay cleared a load out. Roughly 30 skips in all. We opened a second entrance to make the hanging death safe- there is a large wedged block between the two holes…( not removed as would leave a large hole at surface)….Another bang to finish to remove the large boulder which used to be in the roof” Tav

DAY 5. (29th April) In search of the draught. Armed with my capping kit we set off for ANUSC, Paul, Estelle and yours truly. It was a heavy load but my fitness was growing. Estelle still suffered with a bad foot, a legacy from her liveaboard adventure in the Red Sea the week before. At the dig, Estelle’s Dry Crack, Estelle was soon at it pulling out the debris from the bang. Paul decided to go off to investigate the other site. I then set about removing a couple of lumps in the floor and a bit in the wall. Testing out my new rods of stainless steel 3 lots of rock were popped out. Drill chisel moved some more till it jammed, so lump hammered it and some rock out. Estelle attacked a similar bit of wall removing a fairly sizeable lump. Just before the return of Paul I managed to get in a couple of body lengths and scooped out a freezing cold hand full or two off salubrious mud.

Paul attacked the passage with vigour, a lump hammer and a shovel. The gooey mud was passed back down the chamber to Stu, about 8 buckets full, and duly disposed of either side of the entrance crack. Debris from the dig, rock that is, was used to under pin a boulder on the slope at entrance to the now enlarged but now damp crack. Both Paul and Estelle were getting cold, Paul because he had been flat out in the freezing goo, and Estelle due to lack of activity. Estelle had one final clean out and look up the passage, and exited to the sunshine outside. Stu crawled in for a couple token photos, tidied up and an exit was made. The passage, according to Tav is now about 4 m, 3 or more body lengths, and visually about the same amount again ahead. The direction seems to be going under the surface stream bed and heading under the opposite bank, near to the entrance. Estelle said she heard banging coming out of the rocks in the stream bed, as she soaked up the warm sun, prior to the arrival of Paul and Stu.

What happened next? The walk, the pub. Hut for grub a few cans and bed.

Extract from the GSG log.

Team: Peter Glanville, Tony Boycott, Tav and Derrick Guy

Mission. To complete the Foinavon Traverse.. a major walk, not a caving hazard.

Quote .“Foinavon Traverse from lane to Gualin House. Very fine walk 16 miles 11 hours could have been shorter if the truth be known” Tav.

Day 6. (30th April) Turmoil Thursday. It was a day when we “ were” then “weren’t” then “might be” but “might not be” but “ could be” but “wasn’t” and then “didn’t”. So Paul and I decided on a walk, a walk toward Suilven! A delay of some 45 mins due to heavy rain, and a later than expected start somewhat curtailed our effort. A walk up past the Kirkcaig waterfall took us to the other side of the loch, toward Suilven. It was drizzle, rain and a strong breeze, so 2 ¼ hours after leaving the van we returned. On the way back found a slo worm and heard a cuckoo. But there was no sign of the heron we saw on the way up. We returned via Lochinver, but didn’t buy any pies! The round trip, by road from the hut is a single track road passing through some spectacular scenery.

Extract from the GSG log.

Team: Tony Boycott, Tav.

Mission. Kit to Rana, grid to Toll Radian investigate bangs in ANUSC.

Quote. “The sink chamber dig, (Estelle’s Dry Crack.) is still interesting. The draught comes from a tight vertical crack which must connect back to the stream choke. The solid tube however continues beyond the current end in a straight line and seems to get bigger beyond. It has a chance of crossing beneath the surface stream and who knows?” Tav.

Day 7.(May Day) Confirmation day. Well this day was to execute the new “orange” whistle test, find the missing links, and complete the Rana to Claonite through trip via a couple of sumps, Estelle probably the first female diver to complete this. All was easily, well in caving terms easily achieved, as the connections seem close, and conversations could be had at both sites above the sumps. 

Now Rana is a spectacular system, especially if you are on the less skinny side of the divide between big and small ! The entrance is quite impressive, around 30m / 100ft of fixed ladders and “via a stainless hoopla” (makes via ferrata look tame) cows tails strongly advised. At the bottom, a rift, around 20 to 40 cms wide, and on this day with 5 foot of freezing water has to be negotiated to gain access to the main cave. It seemed awkward but was easily passed after “the it takes your breath away” inevitable immersion. The rift was in 2 parts. After climbing over a cluttered stone wedged in the passage the second part was passed above the water level. GOOD fun but more to come. This trip was for Pete Glanvill and Estelle the divers, making the whistle connections and doing the through trip. Paul Brock, Tony Boycott, Derrick Guy, and Stu Lindsay accompanying Tav on this mission……to find the links above or around the sumps. 

Past the skyeway progress was made to the black rift through a lot of breakdown in inclined bedding, and a couple of squeezes. The ladders on the split pitch total about 40 foot, cowstails advised for the access and midway switch from one to the other. At one point in the ancient history of this cave the passages must have been quite large, as the slabbing in them now is quite chunky, and extremely plentiful. Eventually you gain the streamway and the sump, 6b. Kitting up the intrepid pair set off about 15 mins after our arrival, Tav took the most likely point of access and 3 of us spread out, Paul had gone on his own “expedition”. Simple really, dive the sump prepare to blow and there you are chatting to each other a couple metres apart............who needs whistles! Meanwhile Derrick sets off on a voyage of discovery, in the direction of the duelling pianos, Tony can’t follow, Stu is on point duty at the sump .Paul returns and with Tav heads off to Edward concrete head, latterly followed by Tony and Stu and all 5 of us meet up in the massive breakdown chamber, Derrick had found his way from one side of the sump to the other through the boulders, the whistle blowing Tav having confirmed the second potential link.

Now the Neofleece, is a good concept, but a bit cold if left standing around for half an hour or so. But soon to be warmed up, Tony, Derrick and Stu head off for the highlight, (touristy bit of the trip ) TGNTM…The Great Northern Time Machine. Tony had a minor memory lapse from 6 years ago, and after all, massive great lumps of dusty mud covered rock everywhere do cause the odd bit of confusion, but it all adds to the suspense. Eventually found the sandy, dry “mud” covered floor which leads up hill on hands and knees to the centre piece. A MASSIVE lightly decorated chamber/s with strategically placed tapes as protection for most of the caverns delights. OBSERVATION. Always remember to carry a spare battery, take less pics or battery is fully charged, especially when wishing to take photos. Sods law, 2 of the best pics using a small camera were lost, when the over worked battery of Derricks camera gave up. At this point we were joined by Paul and Tav, and although it would have been nice to have spent a little more time here in, viewing and exploring, it was prudent to leave.

Getting out was going to be more difficult than getting in! It was all uphill after the crawl down through the muddy sand from the Time Machine. On reaching the ladders at black rift, and in hind sight it may have been advisable to have employed a life line. But whilst the climb is “tight” any error may have resulted in an awkward situation. A cowstail is advised for the swap to the upper ladder, and the exit off from it is awkward, being a “squeezy” bit up the last bit.( the ladder being hung some 6 foot lower than the entry / exit point). Derrick followed me up, and found it as exhilarating as did I, your scribe!!! BUT now it got interesting…………..

…………the next squeeze, for me, it was a bit tight on the way down, but I did have gravity on my side. Going back, you reach up and pull a bit, but get little help from the ground. Shoulders are in the breach, but hips with belt and cows tails are caught, wiggle wiggle, a little panic. I’m stuck, no I dropped back down. Off came the belt, as I added the comment, “well I suppose if I don’t do it this time off comes my coverall”.

(My mind also drifted back to an Aggy trip, where through the lower 2nd squeeze in a boulder ruckle, it had been necessary for my complete wet suit, down to my birthday suit being removed. Covered in scratches from being tugged remorselessly by the feet through the last 2 boulders, we eventually returned to the hut, only to be advised “oooooops forgot to tell you the boulder ruckle” it moved last week and the squeeze is now different and tighter).

Back to Rana, arms up, pull wriggle wriggle no foot holds, pain in chest, lump of rock sticks into sternum, push my feet please need something to push on, Tony and Derrick oblige, I am up, thanks again lads. Now, I still do not know if this was a character building exercise, as Tav sat patiently grinning just out of reach as I exerted through the hole, is there an easier route up? Did I go down through this one? ? ? uuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm. ( 3 days later I had 2 large bruises on the chest )

By the time the last 3 of us reached the Skyeway, Tav and Paul had gone. Norman who had been beavering away when we entered had also departed. Crossing the rift to the ladders over and in the water was achieved, and the exit up the ladders was without incident. Even the hoopla course was a pleasant experience. There is quite a lot of rusting iron work in the shaft, and not just around the fixed ladders. I guess at some time in the future, this may be removed and a rope or ladders will need to be taken to the hole for future visits.

The divers had made a successful exit and collected their kit from the top of the shaft. Took a picture, and had a BOVRIL along with Pete and Tony Boycott, a good day and experience, and an appreciation, and admiration of the work that had been done, and a small tear as I thought of Jrat, and what he must have added to the many days of endeavours….jokes, stories … his spirit lingers on, I never dug at Rana but I could guess at what his presence at this achievement would have cast… I bet it was fun. Thanks to all diggers of Rana Hole.

What happened next?

Well a well spread out line of souls marched off down the hill, passing the bear caves, trudging over the spring and discarding wet and grubby clothing in preparation for a visit to the “ Alt”. Same tradition but different pub. Some ate within, all had a few pints and some returned to the hut to feast….A fantastic day, a fantastic cave trip, fantastic company and only a day to go as it turned out!!!! 

DAY 8. How to cajole! 

Three Mendippians set off for TOLL RADIAN,( the new one!), it’s been blasted, cleared a bit, tidied a bit and now needed a cover. Tav, Estelle and Stu Lindsay in rain and drizzle carry 2 grills of 4ft by 2 ft up to the dig.

(Pete Glanvill Derrick and Kangy King with Ivan go back into Rana for photos. Tony Boycott joins storming Norman to blow up some boulders, and MarkT is also there as well, but herein is a different story.) 

The toll of walking up and down the valley begins to show, 7th time in our visit, or maybe it was just the knowledge this was the last adventure, or nothing exciting was likely to happen, or simply carrying a lump of metal up a mountain for a few miles in inclement weather, I don’t know, but Estelle and myself were struggling, even Tav stopped a couple times ! Was it the rain?, for a breather? Or just to be sociable?

Got there, windswept and damp. Tav was soon down the hole, tap tap tapping, wedging gingerly around, under and wherever to “secure” the hanging death, at least he was sheltered from the elements, whilst the wind and rain was making it miserable for Estelle and me. 

Now how to cajole?

T “I’ll get the wedges in and we can go back down”! 

S “I reckon we ought to dig out at least 3 buckets”, 

E “OK just 3 buckets then”, 

S “Well 3 EACH that is.. jokingly!”. 

Rain has stopped, first bucket, 5th bucket, 10th bucket,

S “might as well make it 20 then.”

E Quick shout to Tav, ( at 17 buckets out), might be going to rain in a minute how many do you reckon?….. 

T “We’ll go for a quick 30, if it rains stop at 25”,

So 30 it was, the rain started upon reaching 30, but lasted for about 30 seconds. A quick tidy up, I took a couple of photos and that was it……………done and dusted, well, done and drenched!

What happened next?

Well as has been the way, back down the track to the little car park, stopping at the rising to wash out the kit. The Toll Radian entrance is only small but my is it mucky. There is a mixture of black, and I mean black, homogenised peat, mud and gravel amongst the pulverized roof rock and infill debris. It sticks and stains..urgghh..

Finally we down the last couple of pints at the Inch, cheers and beers and then reluctantly back to the hut. Collect up all the gear, tidy up the log, have a chat and finally go to bed in the small wee hours, it’s just a short nap! and an early breakfast.. we left early.

The route home took us via Ingleton, for a quick spend, “ouch, 3 figures”… “there’s a hole in my pocket dear Eliza….”

And that was that, fantastic week……………….when is the next one???? 

Rana Hole / Claonite

 

Over the past few weeks a number of GSG (Grampian Spelio Group) have been in the process of decommissioning the digging side of Rana Hole. The entrance shaft of Rana at the time of the Mendip Invasion back in April / May was a true classic descent, and a testimony to the diggers ( including our own Jrat and Brockers) as they progressed down via a hotch potch of scaffold bars fixed ladders and stainless steel hoopla's, I was lucky to have done it. It is now in the process of being de rigged and fitted with eco anchors. The Black rift is also being eco anchored and stabilised, just the odd loose boulder to be wary of!

The plan is to try and get all this work done by the end of September, but unlike Mendip it is not exactly on the doorstep. Plug and Feathers have been used to "tidy up" various anomalies to good effect, but, as has been found here on Mendip drill battery capacity is soon used up with the larger 20mm or 25 mm Plugs. Our own TrevH using 14mm Plugs  seems to have struck a happy medium, as my 10mm work, but are efficient only for chipping brick size lumps at best , Trev's 14mm size is more than capable of  breeze blocks plus. There is loads to do up in Assynt, so if you find your way up there,  or want to try something different, explore/assist, have fun, walk, enjoy a couple good pubs or juuuust laze around in the sun lounge and watch the occasional eagle glide by get in touch with the GSG. 

 Stu Lindsay