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Pete Goes Down Upper Flood

By Pete Hellier

After not being free for the club trip, a number of emails saw me at the MCG hut on an icy Novembers day.

A brisk walk over was followed by an interesting time getting the bolt under the lid to undo in the freezing conditions. The inside was quite balmy, not least because I had added an extra layer of underwear beneath my furry suit and normal base layer. By the time we had got to the static duck we were all rather hot, and I realised I had forgotten how small the cave passage was and all the obstacles. The duck was not too high (glasses stayed well out of the water), and the stream not in full winter flow yet. Hoods were removed at the red room, and drinks taken before we dived into the boulder ruckle to Golden Chamber, with not-to-be-missed crystals immediately inside the chamber. A drop and narrow rift rejoins the streamway, but not for long as the main boulder choke and succession of squeezes and manoeuvres are encountered.

BB542-25I can’t remember the sequence or which ones need to have a head or foot first approach, as this can be important. The worse pinch-points have been enlarged since the early trips, and now accommodate ‘most’ cavers. I didn’t find them particularly tight, but they were awkward, particularly on the return. The helpful hints I had could be most welcome. I only had one rock collapse on me on the return, and it wasn’t really as big as it felt.

After all that it was good to get into proper passage – must have been mind-blowing for the original explorers. Even after seeing all the photos it was a bit of a shock. The Departure Lounge narrows to stream passage, and this is probably the nicest passage down to Walk The Plank with the present stream running under or beside a lot of stalled up boulders. At the unusual stalled up rock formation known as Walk The Plank what appears as fossil passage is reached in a dark chamber. The dark colouring is thought to come from the lead tailings, and the area is the favoured connection point for Stainsby's shaft.

Plenty more stream passage with the odd short crawl in the water until the stream is lost. This length of passage was all explored in the first trip which must be one of the longest stretches of open Mendip cave explored in one go. (There’s a theme for the Belfryites to discuss!)

After a very short traverse and little scramble the cave suddenly changes with a number of routes in different directions. East passage is like South Wales fossil phreatic passage without formations where we took a mini-circuit to see Zebra Aven, and then return. Ahead and up a few feet over stal is more stal to look at, and the entrance to South Passage which is a crawl. To the right there is (You’ve guessed) West Passage. An odd move over a stal covered block and we were in an area of lovely clean stal with superb little formations. I guessed quickly that the stal and crystal covered passage to our left was the no-go zone heading for the fabulous pork pie formations - Neverland. I guess I would have liked to take oversuit and boots off and been given the chance to see them - no point having them if you can’t see them! But the idea is to find another way into Neverland, so that they can then be viewed from the other side. Maybe.

West Passage has a different character again, being essentially a straight passage with a dog-leg to the left and back, about halfway. The first feature is Chuckle Choke, which having been dug (and the site of one of J’rat’s last bangs) drops to a loud but totally impassable stream. At least the crawling here was easy over fine silt and clay. We played games feeling a good draught in some places, and not others. The end lies at a boulder choke so anything is possible. We had a token removal of boulders-that-were-in-the-way session as a precursor to planned large banging session. There are quite a number of dig sites, but none are looking easy.

By the time we got back to the Boulder Choke I had already forgotten how many awkward moves there were, and I finished with dead arms. Given the shallow gradient and lack of any pitches, that’s quite an achievement which I put down in part to fighting against all the clothing on my arms, like a when you have a full wetsuit. There did seem to be an awful lot of crawling in the old cave (aka ‘the entrance series’), and I still have sore knees days later.

Just to round the trip off nicely engineering tactics were again needed on the entrance, and we had a rather chilly walk back in minus something. Splendid trip of course, but not to be taken lightly, and I was glad of my snacks. As for kit, I was not over-dressed, and once soaked never overheated. The others wore neofleeces with the leader having a fleece on top including balaclava - he should know!