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Progress Report From Cuthbert’s Two

By Tim Large

Since the breakthrough into Cuthbert’s II at the end of October last, the sump has flooded and silted due to the winter weather conditions.  The digging team, which consisted of Bob Craig, Roy Bennett, Martin Webster, Martin Mills, John Riley, Alan Butcher, Bob Meyhew and myself worked throughout the winter to re-open the sump.

This was accomplished by building a concrete and boulder dam in the sump passage and piping the water through the sump.  By this method, the sump pool could be bailed and the passage kept open with about six inches of air space.  This work was completed on April the 11th.  At this time, the ‘soak away’ in the sump was still taking some water, thus draining away any percolation that entered the sump area.

Now, the sump open, the team – joined by Ray Mansfield and Pete Rose – could get down to some serious digging.  Initially, the ‘soak away’  hole in  the sump was dug to a depth of about three feet below the general sump level. This only succeeded in blocking it, so that the sump flooded again.  Thus, on May the 9th another plan of attack was put into operation.  The sump was bailed to a passable level and a hundred and twenty feet of hosepipe was used to siphon the water out of the sump.  It was set up so that it would siphon continuously, thus keeping the water level in the sump constantly low.  Thus it has been done very successfully ever since.

As the bottom of the ‘soak away’ was now continuously under water it was decided to dig in the side passage just downstream from the sump.  This was begun on May the 9th.  To make digging easier, the passage was dug out to walking size.  The first minor breakthrough came on May the 19th when a drought was located blowing out from the dig from a four inch high airspace above the mud infill.  From this pointy, the dig went upwards and over a mud and gravel infill which was interlayered with stalagmite false flooring – some two inches thick.  The team were now burrowing a passage which followed the roof, and the airspace could be seen to get bigger a little way ahead.  The further the dig progresses, the more glutinous the mud became, until everyone was walking up to their necks in it.

The Whitsun weekend saw a hive of activity at the dig when Bob Craig, Bob Mayhew, Martin Mills and myself put in fourteen hours digging and dug the final thirty five feet that led to the breakthrough.

It came on may 24th, when a passage five feet wide and six feet high was entered.  Everything was coated with mud, the floor being a foot deep semi-liquid mud lake.  At the far side of this chamber there was a bedding plane about six feet high at the top, rising steeply and trending back up towards Gour Rift.  Dotted along the passage were some fine and unusual stalactite formations.  All were inactive and appeared to be very old.  At the top of the bedding plane, the passage sloped upwards over boulders and stal flows to a squeeze over a flowstone floor.  This led to a small well decorated chamber.  Most of the formations were inactive and in the process of disintegrating, thus producing some peculiar and interesting shapes. From the nearside of the chamber a way on could be seen, but this entailed crossing the chamber and damaging some of the formations.  It was decided to wait until the chamber had been photographed before continuing. This has since proved to have been a wise decision, as the chamber has suffered unavoidably from the passage of cavers.

On May 26th, the chamber was photographed.  The survey was begun by Martin Mills.  Afterwards the chamber was crossed by squeezing under some fine curtains to an obvious exit on the right.  The passage turned sharp right and was even more finely decorated – white sparkling stal adorning the whole passage and dry gours full of crystals on the floor. After twenty feet, the passage turned sharp left down of a stal slope about five feet wide to a rift which appeared to be about twenty feet deep.  From the top, it located is if the passage continued in both directions.

During the trips along the bedding plane, a strange noise could be heard.  This was eventually traced to a small hole halfway along the passage.  Aural connection was established between this hole and one of the holes in the roof of the sump passage.  The noise was that of the water entering the pipes from the sump passage dam.  This connection was later proved by pouring water down the tube.  The unfortunate watcher received a full face of muddy water!

The new extension, although not getting us any nearer to Wookey, has possibly provided an answer as to where the Dinning Room dig would come out.  It will be seen from the survey that the end of the new passage is heading straight for the Dining Room dig and bears the same characteristics as the dig.

As well as digging, there has been much other work done in Cuthbert’s II.  A thorough exploration of the roof, looking at high level routes has been undertaken, but nothing has been found.  About six sites were maypoled in the area of the Ten Foot Pot, but were all just high level continuation of the sttreamway.  Just below the pot, the stream passage is about seventy feet high.

The next digging site is at present uncertain.  There are three possibilities.  The first is a return to the ‘soak away’ which has now been completely rained by increasing the rate of flow from the siphon.  The second possibility would be to dig at Sump II hoping to break into Cuthbert’s III.  This would involve building a dam just upstream if sump II and possibly using techniques similar to those which enabled Sump I to be broken through and drained.  Finally, Dave Turner and Colin Clarke have started a dig at the end of the Gour Rift which is making steady progress.

Some work has already been done at Sump II which has encouraged the diggers.  When the dams are put in, Sump II drains very quickly, thus enabling us to get twenty feet into this sump before rock meets water and the sump continues amid a floor of liquid mud.  The sump was dived, incidentally, on the 15th of February this year by John Parker in very bad conditions.  He reported that the sump went down about fifteen feet to a tight hole.

Despite the many setbacks, prospects still look good for extending the limits of Cuthbert’s yet again.

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Most readers of the B.B. will know that the prize for the ‘Stop the Clock’ competition was won by Kay Mansfield.  We have recently received a letter from her expressing her thanks for the prize money of £25, which she used to buy a diamond ring.

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A survey of the new discoveries in Cuthbert’s II which formed the subject of the article concluded above will be published in the NEXT ISSUE of the B.B.  The survey has been held over to enable this B.B. to be got out as quickly as possible.

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Next month’s B.B. will include articles by Martin Webster on the Lost John’s New Roof Traverse, the resumption of ‘Monthly Notes’, and an article on the Swinsto-Kingsdale link by Roy Bennett.

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