Thursday, 15 December 2016

To bail or not to bail that is the question…

Trip date: 9th-11th December 2016

Team: Stuart Bennett, James Hallihan, Piers Hallihan,Duncan Hornby, Jo Myburgh,Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Phill Thomas, Claire Vivian

The team arrived on the Mendips Friday evening around 9.30pm. Abandoning Piers and James at the Shepton the rest went for the obligatory drink at the Hunters Lodge only to return and find Piers fully immersed in Southsea CC shenanigans.

Most of the team had either never visited Swildons or had not been in it for many years. After discussion it was decided that Swildons was to be the Saturday trip.

Shepton Mallet Caving Club hut, Sunday afternoon with sunset and mist providing an atmospheric backdrop.



A lazy start gave Duncan the opportunity to pop over to the MCG hut and pick up the Pine Tree Pot key for Sunday’s trip. We then all headed off for Swildon’s Hole.

It was going well so far. We were on time, had a callout sorted (thanks Toby!), were the first caving party to arrive at the barn in Priddy and were prepared to either visit Sump 1 (James and Piers), or complete the Swildon’s short round trip (everyone else).

Within minutes this all changed. Mike and Jann from CSS/GSS turned up and explained that they had been told one of the sumps on the Short Round trip was un-bailable. Hmm. Major sticking point for our group… We had a quick group chat and decided to stick with the main plan of going in to Swildon’s and just seeing how far we could get on the trip. It was Helen and James’ first visit to Swildon’s, so all of it would be new cave for them.

The SWCC team at Swildons Hole entrance.

The team all headed off downstream to enjoy the Twenty, Double Pots and Barnes Loop together, before breaking off into two parties at Tratmans temple.

Jo at the climb at what is known as the forty foot pot.
Piers safety lining Jo at the main pitch.
Duncan descending the main pitch.
Jo making the final climb down from Barnes Loop.

Piers at Tratman’s temple, it was this point that the team split into two.

As it turned out, this was a very good decision. Although over 20 minutes of bailing saw no noticeable change in the water level in Mud Sump - despite Stewart and Claire’s overly optimistic sighting of a tiny gap.
Claire and Stewart valiantly bail the Mud Sump without reward.
Malcolm pouring water into the contraption that syphons off the water away from the sump.

This was a bit disappointing, yes, but we still had good fun. We retraced our steps to Tratman’s Temple and then continued down to Sump 2. James got to try out his first caving ladder (on the Twenty) and Helen dived through her first sump, so altogether, an interesting day. As the pace was more gradual than expected, we had more time to actually stop and look around at the cave, admiring the formations. And, of course, no-one managed to fall in near the Double Pots on the way out…

Phil passing through Sump 1 only to immediately return to keep Jo company.

Claire passing Sump 1

Helen’s reward for passing through Sump 1!

James’ take on the trip
Jo and James

On Saturday it was my first ever trip into Swildons Hole - actually my first trip outside South Wales. Although a very good and interesting one it was a very wet and tiring one full of new experiences. One of the first was doing a twenty foot ladder climb under ground. Afterwards we thought that although it would make the other ladder climbs easier, perhaps starting on a calcite flow in a waterfall wasn't the best place to learn how to climb a ladder. Another new experience for me was getting properly wet in a cave. For all of the nine years of my caving experience (being only 12 that is all I could sensibly do) I tried to avoid water in a cave. Swildons wasn't the easiest place to do that. The first giveaway that it was a wet trip was the fact that I had to put on a wetsuit. If my dad had his way I would have got even wetter and gone through sump 1. No way! Being used to caving in the Brecon Beacons, I was used to seeing straight 15 degree rock strata so it was a shock to see the beds at Swildons were all wave shaped. I was glad that I had gone on that trip but slightly more glad that I went from the entrance to sump 1 and back instead of the round trip.

Eventually everyone exited the system and returned to the Shepton for a cup of tea and freshness up before heading out for a meal.

Relaxing in the Shepton.
James make short work of the Caving Table, the centerpiece of the Shepton Common room.

Team enjoying a drink and meal at the Queen vic, along with Southsea and Dudley caving club!



Sunday’s trip into Goatchurch was another significant event. Not only did it mark James’ 50th logged trip underground, it was also Lizzy’s first trip since the arrival of baby Aurelia 6 weeks earlier and Jo reminded us it was almost a recreation of her first trip with SWCC in 2009 when Lizzy and I led a team of new cavers, including Jo and Claire around OFD2.

Goatchurch is a fun little cave - there’s a few sporty squeezes and interesting traverses. There’s enough to keep you on your toes but it’s still a relatively safe cave for beginners too.

With this in mind, we put gave James a survey and put him in charge of route finding.

By the time we left SMCC after a leisurely breakfast, James had a round trip all planned out, taking in most of the cave, including both entrances. Packing all our kit to head for off I found that the SMCC drying room is largely ineffective and was very relieved at my decision to pack a spare undersuit!

We met Lizzy and family at Burrington Coombe car park - Mat was left in charge of looking after car keys and babysitting Seb and Aurelia and we set off on the stroll up the Coombe towards Goatchurch, seeing some significant signs of recent flood damage to the paths on the way.

Footpath to Goatchurch

Team at the upper entrance of Goatchurch

Once underground, James got to grips with the survey. The 3D cave is very different to the flat 2D map and doesn’t really prepare you for dangling over some interesting rifts with very polished handholds. We walked in the main entrance, past the remnants of a long abandoned attempt at making a show cave and, after working our way along a passage marked on the survey as “Bloody Tight” (it’s not that bad really) we made our way down to the Drainpipe, a nice, fossil lined low crawl that marks the lowest point of the cave.

Piers exiting the drain pipe.

James in the drain pipe!
We poked around the chamber beyond and decided that none of us (not even James) fancied what the survey described as a “Very Tight Final Rift”, especially as the guidebook adds “very difficult to reverse” to that description. Strangely, nobody fancied the “Hellish Tight” bypass either so we retraced our steps, climbing up over the Slide (or Coffin Lid, depending on which version of the survey you have) and into a maze of rifts of various sizes leading, eventually, to the Tradesmans Entrance to complete the round trip. James did have a bit of a surprise when he popped his head out of the flat crawl, almost into the mouth of a rather large dog which was looking into the cave!

Lizzy exiting Goatchurch via the lower entrance

The team out and alive!
After checking out the entrance to nearby Sidcot Swallet, we headed back down to the Burrington Inn for a well deserved lunch round the fire. There was even an early trip to Santa’s workshop - having found out that Mr “Starless River” Seddon was staying at the Wessex, we called in on the way back to SMCC to get a new pair of James sized knee pads and to order a replacement for my very well worn oversuit (When you touch the sides more than the average caver, your suit tends to wear much quicker!)

James’ take on the trip

Goatchurch was a very fun cave despite being very small and full of precarious rifts and climbs. At the entrance I was told that I had to navigate around the cave. After walking in through the main entrance we walked down a slippery calcite flow named the giants staircase, aptly named as some of the foot holds down it were very hard to reach. After we had gone giants staircase, we had to go down ‘bloody tight’ which as the name suggests should have been quite tight, it really wasn’t. After negotiating a very large step across the bottom of ‘bloody tight’ we were in boulder chamber. There wasn’t much to see and we were soon talking to some others staying at SMCC at the top of the slide. As there were three others yet to come over the actual slide we decided to climb down under the slide. After looking round the fairly unimpressive grotto we headed down to water chamber and down the drainpipe to nearly the end of the cave. We didn’t see the actual end of the cave as some members weren’t the right size to fit so we retraced our steps to the bottom of ‘bloody tight’ and to the other end of the cave by the coal chute. Whilst looking around to find the coal chute we noticed a single bat hibernating in the cave. After looking at the coal chute we decided that we wouldn’t climb up it without a handline (that we left in the bag in the car) and went around it. After slowly sliding up a calcite flow, we had a scary dog encounter where a dog appeared from nowhere and starting smelling my face. After we returned home, my dad pointed out to me that since our records began in 2011, I had done 50 caving trips, more than likely qualifying me for my cavers+ badge in scouts.

GB Cave

After a leisurely start on Sunday and a quite a bit of faffing Malcolm, Helen and Phill drove the short distance through rolling fog and mist banks and parked at the farm at Gorsay Bigbury. (For future reference note there is a £1 fee payable to the farm – apparently it goes to the childrens’ pocket money.)

A short walk across the fields (hopping over electric fences and high gates) got us to the right shakehole and the entrance blockhouse. Helen and Phill then made friends with the local ponies for twenty minutes while Malcolm went back to the van to get the cave key out of his trouser pocket…

Once in the cave we descended the steep entrance passage, adorned with various bats, and took the first left and generally headed downwards to enter the iconic impressive Gorge and then arrive at the Bridge. Further down we had a quick look at the view from the dizzying height of the waterfall and, after taking some photos, returned upstream and made our way over the Bridge and up towards the White Passage, where there are lots of fine calcite formations. 

Malcolm on the Bridge in GB

White Passage ascends steeply via at least one tricky climb to a boulder choke, with a similar steep dead-end passage reached through a short crawl near the top (West Extension). 

Back at the foot of White Passage we found the hole going down towards Rift Passage and followed this to traverse across the top of Rift Chamber. We were trying to find our way round the oxbow, working from Duncan’s half-remembered verbal description and a poor and increasingly muddy photocopy of an old survey. Rather than finding the way on we diverted off the main route up the narrow, and in places tight Rhumba Alley, oh what fun we had…. More bruises.

Error realised we returned to Rift Chamber and took the obvious easy route from the base of this, following the water. The Loop and Oxbow are fine sections of passage, with excellent stalactites visible in the roof and a couple of interesting down-climbs, which finally drop you out of Oxbow Inlet into the main passage, some distance downstream from the waterfall. Whilst posing for photos we could see the chain, at the top of the ladder dig climb, in the roof downstream of us.

Malcolm and Phill looking at the rigging points for the Ladder Dig in GB
After a quick break for a chocolate bar lunch Malcolm used an interesting method to rig a temporary ladder, so that we could explore the Ladder Dig. Once up we suddenly realised that it was much much wetter than we had been led to expect! The crawl led to a deep and freezing cold duck with only a very narrow airspace (apparently a damp crawl under normal conditions) and then within a few meters a second cold tight duck, which had us lying on our backs with our noses pressed to the roof!
Malcolm passing the ladder dig squeeze

To warm up we were met with a boulder choke with numerous routes up towards the Great Chamber. We made a concerted effort to find that chamber (almost losing the cave key down between boulders in the process), but eventually gave up as time was ticking on and decided to try and find Bat Passage instead. This was located by picking our way through the boulder choke guided by polished surfaces on the right hand wall, the only stable wall in the area. We were rewarded with a large taped passage, with some fine pure white formations lining the ceiling and walls. The passage ends at a large descending muddy dig with various tools and piping visible.

On our way back we exited by climbing up the waterfall in the main passage, which wasn’t as difficult as expected, and found most of Dudley Caving Club taking photos at The Bridge.

An excellent trip, to a similar level of difficulty as yesterday’s Swildon’s trip.

Trip time 5 hours.

Pine Tree Pot

The trip into Pine Tree Pot almost did not happen as on Friday the penny dropped and I (Duncan) realised that to do the trip one required some 8mm hangers. Luckily I met a Shepton member who was able to lend us the much needed equipment. Turned out that at the top of the main pitch there were 3 very nice new and shinny hangers in place, so I decided to use those instead of the rusting spit holes...

We had parked at the MCG and walked to the cave and I impressed Stuart and Claire with my uncanny ability to walk straight to the cave entrance. This had nothing to do with me previously looking at Google Earth…

Lifting the lid to Pine Tree Pot!
Duncan abseiling the entrance pitch (5m)
The entrance is a classic concrete tube which you can rig off to do the 5m pitch. Rules stipulated that the lid needed to be put back once in the cave but that would have been very difficult to lift off so it was dragged partially on to stop any sheep deciding to take up caving.

3m on into the cave is the main pitch. This was quite awkward as you had to post yourself almost over the edge to get access to the hangers, so in the photo below my feet are over nothing!

With a much appreciated double check from Stuart (who has more experience in rigging than I) and 12m later I was at the bottom of the main pitch.

Duncan rigging the top of Pine Tree Pitch with Stuart ensuring quality control!
The cave is quite small and definitely a Sunday tip, but that does not mean it’s easy as the name “Easy Street” implies! Following the obvious main way on down Rumble rift we followed Easy street which got progressively tighter. At some point Stuart had to do some strenuous reversing! If Claire says it’s tight I didn’t even bother…

We headed back and looked for Moonlight grotto, joking about the huge number of formations that were not there. We found the way into Moonlight Grotto and to our surprise it had lots of pure white calcite, a sharp contrast to the rest of the cave.

Claire and Stuart in Moonlight Grotto

Claire admiring formations in Moonlight Grotto.
Took some photos then headed out via another route back to the pitch. Stuart, Claire then I ascended the pitch, I derigged and we all came out into cool and sunny weather.

As it was such a short trip we decided to pop into the Hunters for lunch, only to find it had stopped serving food, so we went to the Castle of Comfort which had also stopped serving, then Burrington which was serving and we found the others with Lizzy and Matt enjoying lunch.

Trip time: 2.5 hours

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Provisional Members' Weekend

On a gloriously sunny 5th November 15 provisional members gathered in the Long Common Room. It was the first visit to SWCC for some and for several more, today would see them complete their first ever caving trip. They were supported by a team of current members who were ready to act as cave leaders for the weekend and introduce everyone to the club and caves they love. Although a nervous sense of anticipation was in the air, they need not have worried! A great time was had by all - and there was also an incredible fireworks display to watch on Saturday evening and a group curry in a nearby restaurant. A very big thank you to all involved. Here are some photos from the weekend and some descriptions of their trips from our new cavers in their own words.

9.30am start in the Long Common Room!
There are a remarkable number of people awake and eager to go underground for this time of day.

Leaders and new SWCC members sit side by side to have a chat before splitting up in to groups. In the left hand photo, wearing a blue hoody, we have James Hallihan, now 12, who has been caving since he was 3 years old and loves helping to introduce new people to the underground world.
Standing room only as people introduce themselves.

Last weekend my sister and I visited Penwyllt for the first time, we were strangers to the South Wales Caving Club and strangers to caving. Upon arrival I noticed how beautiful the cottages and surrounding area were. We arrived early Friday evening and there were already many club members there, all of them made us feel very welcome. At one point I was introduced to a young boy named James, he was 12 years old and told me he had been caving since he was 3, I couldn't believe it, it's safe to say I was both amazed and impressed, little did I know that he would be leading us on our second day of caving (he did a fantastic job). We spent the evening having a few drinks and chatting with members about their experiences in caves, I did feel a little anxious but that soon ended after discussing the next day's plan with Andy and Antonia.

Andy and Antonia with Kirsty, Chloe, Katie and Sarah.
Saturday morning came and the group took a lovely walk up the hill towards the entrance of OFD II. I couldn't wait to get in there! Having never been caving before I had no idea what it was going to be like, I expected dark tunnels and was actually shown a whole new world, there were some truly amazing sights... Who would have thought there was so much down there? We walked, crawled, slid, climbed up, climbed down and waded through water. At points when I thought I'd panic, the group leaders and adrenaline took over and helped me through it, I think the part that scared me the most was going down the corkscrew, knowing there was a big drop behind me and not being able to see where my feet needed to go was quite scary, that's where team work came in, without my team mates guiding me down I wouldn't have managed, it's definitely safe to say that teamwork is a must down there, luckily everyone was great and we all got on really well, helping each other along the way.

We were in OFD II for five hours, when we first went in it was broad daylight outside, when we came back out the sun was just going down. We'd spent the majority of the day travelling through a beautiful cave system, I felt like I'd seen so much, but after seeing on the map what areas we had covered I realised we'd only seen a tiny fraction of what was there, I couldn't wait to see more of it.

Andy disappearing down a small hole near the Corkscrew

Chloe in the Bedding Chambers

The team near the Judge formation

Swamp Creek
After getting back to the cottages and having a well needed shower, we settled down for dinner and drinks, again we had the chance to meet other members of the club that had arrived while we were out, I must confess that I don't remember the names of everyone we met, there were so many people and my nerves made it difficult for me to converse as well as I usually would, but I'm sure in time it will get easier for me, I was certainly made to feel very welcome there and everyone was really nice and friendly.
A mix of new and established SWCC members go for a curry after the fireworks.
Sunday morning came and we were getting ready for day 2 of caving, this time we were going to OFD I, we took a long walk down to the entrance, after climbing down a few ladders we were in, at this point I felt more excited than nervous.. I couldn't wait to see more! This time we had to take a cows tail each, I looked forward to finding out why we'd need it, little did I know that it would turn out to be one of my favourite parts of the day!
The team arrive at the Toast Rack

Kate on Bolt Traverse, her favourite part of the OFD1 trip.

On the route we took, there were four challenging parts that we were told to expect, although I must admit that two of them I found easier than some of the normal caving. At one point we had to climb up quite a slippery section, I lost grip of my feet and was dangling by my arms. Usually I'd have panicked in a situation like that but I found it a little funny and knew that my team leaders were there to help and that I had no reason to worry, Claire was very patient with me on that part and was a big help. One of my favourite parts was the Bolt Traverse, followed by using rope to get over and down a steep edge (Low's Chain), being afraid of heights. Both were scary but exciting. 

On the third challenging part Claire led me up first (we could only go one at a time), after I was up safely, she went back to guide the next person up, whilst I was waiting I took the opportunity to take a seat, turn off my head torch and just sit in darkness and listen to the sounds around me, it was very relaxing.
Much like day one, we had to crawl, climb, wade through water etc, we also had chance to go back to our childhood and roly poly through a long narrow patch :) everyone had some laughs at that point, it was good fun. We did a fair bit of climbing down boulders/rocks, it reminded me of when my brother and I used to rock climb at the beach on holiday, it was great fun.

Balancing on scaff bars across the potholes in the streamway
More streamway fun

OFD1 streamway
I was very impressed with James' caving skills, being so young I thought he might struggle, but struggle he did not, he was very confident and did an amazing job at leading us through, he made me realise that people of all ages could cave and that maybe one day I could bring my son along to try it out. 
We spent four hours in OFD II, the time flew by and I enjoyed every minute, again we had a great team and enjoyed each others company.

On both days the group leaders, members and provisional members were all great, I got on with everyone in both groups. Everyone at the club that I had chance to speak to made me feel welcome, it's like a big caving family :) I cant wait to go back and see more parts of the cave! 
The weekend was definitely an experience that I will never forget and I look forward to joining you again soon,
Thank you so much SWCC!!

Chris, Pete, Matt and Peter

Phil, Barbara and Jem

Ash, Phil and Catherine

Claire, Malcolm, James, Jenny, Jamie and Allan
We all met at the club on the Sunday and had a briefing on what to expect and a chat about safety. We then got kitted up into old clothes and wellies and split up into groups. Claire, with the help of Richard, Malcolm and James, were going to lead a group of five provisionals down OFD 1, a round trip. After a 20 minute walk we all assembled at the entrance. A 25 foot climb down ladders put us all into the cave system, where we all sat with our torches off to acclimatise to the dark. After a minute or two Claire switched on her torch and we all followed suit, and lit up the cave. My first real glimpse of what I can only describe as amazing. WOW I said out aloud. But this was just the beginning. We where soon walking in the most amazing passages covered in stalactite and stalagmites. Flowstone and straws ranging in colour from pure white to greens and browns. Suddenly we all stopped. It was time to do our first squeeze. I could feel my legs weaken and my heart race as it was my turn to get down on my hands and knees and stick my head into a hole just big enough to get through. With an encouraging tap on the back from Richard, I was in and crawling. What seemed like an impossible task actually turned out not to be that bad, and I actually enjoyed the experience and asked if there were going to be anymore? With a nod and a smile from Claire, the team leader, we were off again as a group onto our next challenge - a traverse with quite a drop into the stream way. We all clipped our safety lines on to a fixed wire drilled into the wall and one by one walked from left to right over a small slippery ledge. I went last but one, but everyone else before me made it look easy. I made it over without any mishap, but I was relieved to be across and safely inside the next tunnel and next challenge. This was a climb up through a tight passage and boulders but again we all seemed to rise to the challenge. Our reward was the most amazing massive chamber I could have ever imagined. As far as my torch could shine in every direction. Truly awesome. With boulders the size of houses and cars and buses strewn everywhere. My first thought was that it was time to turn around because there isn't any way to get through here. Then Claire asked 12-year old James to lead the way. To my surprise he rose to the challenge and we were all soon clambering and sliding on our bottoms down over boulders through the passage, with a small detour to see some outstanding formations. After another informative chat from Claire (believe it or not) we all played roly-poly under a huge slab of limestone bedding plane which came out at a 12 foot rope climb into a black limestone river passage. One of the finest of any British cave. With water over my wellies we made our way down stream to complete the round trip and back into daylight. I would like to say a big thank you to Claire for sharing her knowledge of the cave systems and how they were formed. And to Richard for his assistance on the climbs, and Malcolm for sharing his knowledge of where each passage goes, and James for leading us through a seemingly impassable part of the cave. 
James showing his cave leadership skills

Two groups of provisionals' pose outside the OFD1 entrance.
Crossing the impressive Bridge Chamber in OFD1
I thoroughly enjoyed my first weekend as a provisional member. I thought that the cave tours were pitched at the right level - I was able to see a lot of different techniques to tackle underground obstacles on an interesting route of reasonable length. The leaders paced the trip well with a good level of confidence so that no-one was too nervous tackling the obstacles. I felt that I got to see a wide range of different obstacles and appreciated advice on how to tackle each were many things to experiment with (such as how long you can commando crawl for!) In addition to the more challenging obstacles ( in my case the slippery helter skelter and Bolt Traverse) that I will look forward to mastering in the future.

I found the facility to borrow a helmet, headtorch and cowtails really helpful as a beginner and thought the routes were well selected for me. It is great that there are so many fantastic cave routes to explore in close proximity to the club premises. I found the atmosphere at the club very friendly - I was made to feel very welcome. The facilities are comfortable and very reasonably priced and the social gathering for singing in the evening with a few beers was great! It was great to meet other cavers from different regions of the country and there were plenty of people with interesting professions! I look forward to returning for some more caving in the near future!

Alan with Chris, Sam and Jamie
Jaime and James reach Timo's Table
Jamie and Jenny visit the Mini Columns for the first time
Jem, Phil and Barbara on a photographic trip in Gnome Passage 

Here are some of Barbara and Phil's photos from the photo trip with Jem:

Phil in Gnome Passage. (Barbara)
Just inside Top Entrance (Barbara)

Formations in Chasm Passage (Phil)

Formation in Chasm Passage (Phil)

Thank you for an excellent weekend everyone!

Provisional members: Andrew Baldwin, Jenny Cooke, Phil Cullen, Jamie Gordon, Colin Hoare, Jamie Huish, Chris Jones, Nigel Jones, Aaron Judd, Barbara Lane, Kirstie Orpen, Chloe Partridge, Angie Peacock, Matt Roberts, Kate Tinklin, Sarah Tinklin, Alan Walsh.

SWCC helpers:
Adrian Brown, Peter Dennis, Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Chris Grimmett, James Hallihan, Pete Hobson, Phil Knight, Malcolm Lloyd, Sam Moore, Ash Pursglove, Allan Richardson, Jem Rowland, Richard Sore, John Wellbelove, Jo White.