Note that this is a re-print of the original publication, based on a scanned copy. During the process of converting the original paper copy to this electronic version, the original formatting, page layout and page numbers have been lost. All diagrams and surveys have been scanned from the original and are consequently of poor quality.
Steep Holme 1963 by BM Ellis
1963 Expedition to the Puits de Berger by S Wynne-Roberts
Survey of Swildons Seven by FJ Davies
Published by the Shepton Mallet Caving Club
The Mineries, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU
This year so far has not produced any great new discoveries but our activities can perhaps be summed up as consolidation of the present situation. A provisional survey has been made of the streamway of Stoke Lane III and IV, and a fairly detailed survey of Swildons Seven which is published in this copy of the Journal.
The Charterhouse Caving Committee is now really getting into its stride, we will soon be issued with our permits for access to the Charterhouse area and it is to be hoped that uninsured parties will no longer be gaining access to Longwood and so compromising the position of responsible cavers with the Bristol Waterworks.
Fourteen members of the club spent the weekend of the 14 / 15 September on the island of Steep Holme in the Bristol Channel.
The party were taken out by boat from Weston-super-Mare on the Saturday morning, and before landing us on the island the boatman kindly circled the island, so enabling us to examine the cliffs and locate some cave entrances.
After settling in at the Barracks we investigated one of the entrances seen from the boat. This cave, situated at the top of cliffs on the north side of the island at NGR ST/230608, is apparently unnamed although it has been examined on several previous occasions.
Walking westwards along the path on the north of the island a small rectangular concrete building will be seen down the slope from a point some distance west of Tombstone Battery. Forcing through the undergrowth to the building it will be found to be two tanks with a hole at the base on the seaward side. We belayed a rope to a crowbar placed across this hole. The rope was used as a handline during the descent of the cliff. The entrance was difficult to locate from above but was finally found on a bearing of about 20 degrees to the right of the tanks. Entering the cave was another difficulty finally solved by Mike Thompson who used a lifeline in addition to the handline.
The cave was entered by an open pothole, about ten feet deep and ten feet by eight. At the bottom is a large opening looking out to sea with a bush growing outside, this was the entrance visible from the boat. At the top of the pothole a few feet of passage led to a third entrance in the cliff.
On Sunday we examined the sea-level caves. Walking down to the beach the two caves surveyed by the Wessex Cave Club and described in their Journal No. 88 (Feb 1963) were found first. The more westerly of the two is known as Hall Cave and although the Wessex did not name the other it appears to be generally known as Jubilee Cave.
Continuing westward along the north shore of the island we found, 50 yards past Hall Cave, what we believe to be Five Johns Cave. The entrance is about forty feet above the shore and Mike Thompson failed to reach it. Maypoles, a very good climber, or a boat at high tide would appear to be necessary. The cave has been entered in the past as a description appears in the proceedings of the Bristol Naturalists Society, 4th. Series, Vol. 8, Part Four, (1938). From this description it appears to consist of two chambers linked by a passage and a vertical chimney.
On the south shore of the island we eventually found Window Cave. This is situated at the base of the cliffs about one hundred yards beyond the Barracks, about the same distance short of Split Rock, and nearer three hundred yards west of the South Jetty than the two hundred quoted by Barrington in The Caves of Mendip (Dalesman, 1962). These distances have been read from the OS map and are based on compass bearings taken from the cave entrance. The entrance is at NGR ST/228605.
Window Cave is just over seventy feet long and consists of a rift about four feet wide running parallel to the shore. From the entrance it is necessary to climb a boulder pile some ten feet high and at the top one reaches the window looking out to sea; this is a small hole in the cliff face, about six feet wide and two to three high. Beyond the window it is possible to proceed over boulders for fifty feet to the end of the rift. For the last forty feet it is possible to proceed to the same distance from the entrance, at a lower level, on the left of the rift. This has a salt water pool 1½ to 2 feet deep and eighteen inches wide.
Whilst Brian Snedden, Chris Ladd, and Bryan made a survey of Window Cave the rest of the party continued westward and another cave was found just west of Split Rock by John Iles. Situated at NGR ST/226605 at sea level it was a high narrow rift running straight into the cliff. The rift was about eighteen inches wide, twenty five feet high, and some sixty feet long. John thought that it might continue at a higher level but did not investigate. No name has been found for this cave in the literature we have searched and so, provided no earlier name comes to light, we suggest Split Rock Cave.
Figure 1 – Sketch Survey of Window Cave, Steep Holme
The 1963 Expedition comprised thirteen cavers of many clubs though predominantly BSA members. The Somerset area was represented by Mike Boon and the writer, who joined the group in April of this year. There was little opportunity to cave together. People were very dispersed, and much time was spent on the preparation of gear before setting out on July 28 in two Land Rovers and a Dormobile for the Sornin Plateau.
We arrived at midnight on Sunday, after a memorable meal in Sassenage. The gear was immediately unloaded from the Land Rovers, Dormobile, and trailer. Our kit was mainly packed in specially made expedition canvas bags and a few standard kit bags. Also provided were welded steel tube pack frames. The frames were loaded and carried two miles along a footpath through the woods and over the lapiaz clint to the cave entrance.
The entrance, sat among pines, is an enlarged fissure, half-circled by a steep 30 foot bank which merged into the hill side. On the other side the plateau continues as horizontal lapiaz with a few trees. To enter the cave a 30 foot scramble led to the top of a 20 foot ladder hanging down a vertical slab. The floor at the base of the slab was a slope of earth and pine needles which led from its lower end into the small eyehole from which the way continued over five or six pine stemples to a log platform at the head of a 90 foot pothole, Ruiz's Shaft.
While two members of the party laddered the first few pitches the remainder continued carrying from the camp-site to the cave. At first the frames had been hopelessly over-loaded and quickly bent. The porters were thankful to carry lighter loads for the remaining journeys. Carrying continued until midday on Monday when all the bags, canisters and ammunition boxes were assembled in a great heap weighing about two tons.
The party changed into caving clothes and moved into positions between the Entrance and Cairn Hall. Kit was lowered by rope and pulley and manhandled from the entrance down Ruiz's Shaft to the series of three small pots, the 20 foot wet pitch and down the 80 foot Cairn Hall shaft to the sloping, stony floor of the chamber. The French telephone system was not used although it would have saved time and possibly damage to kit, much of which had to be broken down into smaller packs after the first day.
Our first camp was made in Cairn Hall, which, like Ruiz's Shaft is a true pothole with smooth water worn walls. These upper shafts were frost damaged, the yellowish surface of the rock being crazed to a depth of about an inch. It was a very inhospitable place, snow and ice remaining un-molten on the floor and with a strong draught blowing down the length of the chamber (about 60 by 20 feet) into the meander passage at the lower end.
The meander, or winding cleft, has a total length between Cairn Hall and Garby's shaft of some two hundred yards. It starts with a fairly narrow high passage where it is possible to walk on the floor and for two people to pass each other. There are several showerbaths in the roof to keep one on the move. After 50 yards the floor drops away making it necessary to traverse the next 100 yards to a small chamber, the Boudoir, where it is possible to stand on a solid floor once again. The passage becomes gradually dryer and less draughty as the floor drops further away and 50 feet before the Boudoir it becomes a cascade. The stream can be heard but not seen and it would require some difficult climbing to follow it down the increasingly narrow cleft. The 100 feet of passage leading from the Boudoir to Garby's is completely dry and it is possible to walk on the floor all the way.
Garby's is an example of a classic pothole, 130 feet deep, almost perfectly circular, 30 feet in diameter with smooth water worn walls (though now completely dry) and a ladder pitch that hangs clear of obstructions throughout its length. From the bottom of Garby's a 100 foot traverse leads to Gentards shaft, this meander passage is 80 feet deep throughout its length, i.e. the same depth as Gentards, which is the only point at which it is deep enough to be climbed. Gentards is tight at the top with little room to store kit bags and it is a major job to feed them clear of obstructions down the pitch.
A small stream enters at Gentards and this is followed down the succeeding three small pitches, a 20 footer, a 30 footer, and another 20 footer along a meander passage to Aldo's, a 150 foot pitch and the last of the dry entrance series. Those who had remained dry until this point received their first of many soakings on Aldo's before passing along one hundred feet of easy meander to an eye-hole into Petzl's Gallery.
Petzl's is the first of the main stream galleries and marks the change in nature of the cave from predominately vertical to horizontal, in addition to a marked change in passage size. The rock has also lost its yellowish look at this point and acquired the dark grey colour we are so familiar with in Mendip.
The second camp was made in Petzl's near the enormous Telephone Boulder, conveniently near the stream and far less draughty than Cairn Hall. There were so many drips from the roof that, in the absence of tents, we constructed a lean to shelter from polythene sheets supported on ropes lashed to pitons.
Following a nights rest the party started the carry to Camp One, leaving Petzl's Gallery by a short climb over boulders into the Great Gallery which has an average width of 50 to 60 feet and is up to 100 feet in height. The stream meanders between mud banks and boulders while the path continues, at first by the left wall, and later crosses over to the right, over mud and boulders. Here for the first time we met areas of soft creamy white mud, or calcite, very slippery and similar to that met in some Irish caves.
The stream gradient levels out after 200 yards to the area that in wet weather forms Lake Cadoux, some 200 feet long. The lake is bounded on its lower side by a barrier of boulders and calcite. This is the first large area of formations in the cave, the Bourgin Hall, a shallow basin 80 to 100 feet across and completely covered by calcite and stalagmites which are in turn covered by a soot like patina. These formations continue for 100 yards to the Little General cascade, the black patina is soon lost and they then have the pure milk white colour so common on East Mendip. There are few stalactites, one six feet long, very slender, pure white, hanging from the left wall is outstanding, for the rest there are a few straws and mud stained stalactites.
The stalagmites are outstanding, a profusion of every shape and size, many of the large ones had formed curtains of stalactites at different levels giving a pagoda like effect. The largest were about fifteen feet high with the shape of the frustum of a cone but the more typical form was short and stumpy looking in outline as though they were made from a pile of platelets.
These formations petered out at the Little General cascade, a wet 30 foot pitch, followed after 100 feet by a ten foot cascade and an awkward traverse at the water level.
A quarter of a mile of boulder scrambling down the streamway, in a passage of gradually decreasing size, leads to the Tyrolienne cascade. A calcite slope on the left (looking downstream) curves down to become a 15 foot vertical pitch with the ladder ending in a pool. The French had used a horizontal ladder to avoid the stream and pool but the British party, without exception, got their feet wet.
Past the Tyrolienne the passage opened out to become an enormous boulder filled gallery where the impression was more one of mountain walking than caving. The scramble down the steep boulder slope led to a cleft and thence down a steeper, dusty, slope to an area of softer rock, easily flaked off by hand. A 50 foot long scree run now led to the legendary Hall of Thirteen.
This half mile long chamber is decorated with stalagmites of many shapes and sizes, some, 15 feet high and 10 in diameter at the base are used as telegraph poles, while many calcite covered boulders are growing the typical stumpy stalagmites at many different angles. The most remarkable of those are the 'fried eggs'. These are three to four inches in diameter with the top a flattish curve stained with iron salts to look exactly like a fried egg.
The party set up the first big depot at Camp One in a valley between two boulder slopes and overhung by the wall curving up to meet the roof. The fourth side of the 'valley' continued to the Hall of Thirteen itself with its many gour pools, some 30 to 40 feet long. The sides of the chamber are lined with a forest of grotesque stalagmites and a profusion of straws hang from the roof.
The journey from Petzl's to Camp One was a most severe day's forced march. The party were working at a pace they could not hope to maintain and, symptomatic of this, more than a fair share of minor mishaps occurred in this section. Two men returned to the surface for paraffin after a barrel of ships biscuits had fallen 50 feet down the entrance and landed on, and bursting, a four gallon container. Of the remaining eleven, one suffered a pulled knee, one a sprained ankle, one bad blisters, and one sore eyes from the explosion of a seven pound tin of carbide. Common sense prevailed and the party continued towards Comp Two with much lighter loads.
The journey to Camp Two was made over a period of two days, the party returning to Camp One to sleep. The first half of the work was the establishment of a dump at the half way mark, which conveniently coincided with the point at which the dry section ended and exposure suits donned for the journey down the stream.
All the kit was carried down the terrace upon terrace of gour pools around the few massive stalagmites finally reaching the Balcony Pitch some quarter mile from Camp One. Here a wire belay broke, fortunately no-one was hurt, and an additional rope belay rigged. (Subsequently it was learned that the belay on the open air pitch had also broken, again the climber being uninjured.)
At this point it was decided that Camp Two would not be reached that day, all the personal bags were returned to Camp One by half the party while the remainder descended the Balcony Pitch onto the steeply sloping calcite that ended after 100 feet in a rock barrier. In this section of the cave, indeed, from Petzl's Gallery, the way had passed through chambers and passages that were very large, the roof was out of sight, and commonly it was not possible to see one wall from the other with a carbide light. The passage descending the slope from the Balcony diminished in size until it was 20 feet wide and 20 feet high at the Barrier.
Passing through a cleft in the rock barrier it was possible to see the "enormous cascade" noted by the French explorers. This remarkable stream fills the passage with a roar quite out of proportion to the trickle of water causing it. A truncated hollow stalactite, 18 inches in diameter, protruding one foot from the roof pours forth a flow of water equivalent to that of a house-hold tap. The water falls eight or ten feet onto a "bee-hive", thence cascading into the streamway in the Michallet Basin.
The streamway is some eight feet wide at this point, on the left side a narrow ledge gave a dicey traverse for ten feet to where the path crossed boulders in midstream to the right hand side, which is a solid calcite slope. Here several of the party received an involuntary bath, later to find there were excellent hand-holds cunningly hidden the length of the traverse. Following the right bank the path led alternately through mud and boulders, and through a forest of small grotesque stalagmites where it was necessary to weave a tortuous path. Two hundred feet from the cascade a ten foot climb led to a muddy chamber about 100 feet in diameter and on the far side a handline was set up to assist climbers up the 50 foot climb over mud and calcite. From this high point the party made their way down a steep calcite path to a platform 60 feet below in the Cloakroom, here the halfway depot was set up beside the left wall before the party returned to Camp One.
Those who had finished carrying at the Balcony on the previous day started 5 hours before the rest carrying kit from the Cloakroom through on eyehole and down fifty feet of steep calcite to a 20 foot ladder pitch. Descending this we momentarily met the stream again before climbing over calcite covered boulders into a chamber about fifteen feet by twenty. Dropping down a hole in the floor we only had to traverse a short stretch of horizontal, but narrow, passage before meeting the first of the canals.
The canal started about 2½ feet wide by 10 high with occasional small formations. About 70 feet from the beginning the canal increased in size and it was necessary to swim for 100 feet down a passage averaging ten feet by ten. Throughout this section are many formations. The rubber dinghies were used for the first time here, they were towed, full of kit, by wet-suited swimmers. The personel were left to fend for themselves. This stretch of water is one of the danger areas where water is known to back up and a party of Italians were trapped for 14 hours last year.
From the point where the boats were beached 80 feet of scrambling leads to the Abelle cascade, a 25 foot wet pitch from the bottom of which a series of pools, cascades, and canals (into which the pack-frames disappeared for all time) leads through a streamway of varying size and gradient to Claudine's cascade. The stream passage is well decorated with living formations fed by inlets in the roof. The formations appear to grow very quickly, there were signs of deposits on telephone wires, pitons, and rawlbolts. The transport of gear through this section was very tedious, second only to the winding cleft despite the frequent use of Tyroleans on the cascades.
Claudine's was a surprise, in the dry weather conditions in which the party first saw it there was no need to hang the ladder out in space on the end of the French scaffold pole in order to avoid the water, and it was certainly not necessary to use boats in the pool below. The greatest difficulty was handling kit in the small space at the top of the pitch and slinging it onto the Tyrolean running to a boulder (the size of a small house) on the far side of the chamber.
From Claudine's 100 yards of walking, scrambling, and climbing through an area of calcite led to the Topographers cascade and the difficult 20 feet of traverse beyond; here three men had to balance on water worn, sloping, holds passing sodden and very heavy bags from hand to hand. From the traverse a 20 foot ladder down a small waterfall led to a vast chamber, Eymas Hall and Grand Canyon. Following the stream we then cut across the boulders and dried mud to the highest point of the chamber where Camp Two was established on the site of some earlier and happier parties - vide the champagne bottles left there - compared with this party to whom even coffee was at this time forbidden.
The party ate and slept before sorting and assembling the kit to be carried to the bottom. Six of the party set out down the very steep slope of dry mud and boulders (comparable with the Main Chamber of Agen Allwedd tilted to 45 degrees) and as on the approach to Camp One the impression of exposure, as on a mountain, was very strong. The chamber levelled out to meet the stream above a 50 foot pitch, the Puits Gache, which descended in a high streamway to three large boulders piled on top of each other, the water running underneath to fall down a series of cascades to a pool 30 feet across. A 40 foot ladder passed through the cascade into the pool, very difficult getting on or off, and almost impossible to maintain a carbide lamp alight. A karabiner was clipped to a piton where the ladder passed over a boulder and many of the party, failing to pass their lifelines through this karabiner were pulled further into the water. A Tyrolean was rigged here but it proved difficult to operate, the bags refusing to run free of the rock across the pool to the top of the next ladder. This is a 15 foot pitch in a 4 foot rift, splashed by a waterfall, and ending in a pool about ten feet long at the head of Garcia's Pitch. Here were abundant signs of the good work done by French explorers since 1953. The 130 foot ladder used here is hung in a series of steps, clipped at the top of each vertical section to a piton. Credit is due to the French cavers that fixed this row of pitons, a task requiring climbing skill and determination of a high order. Unfortunately our party had not mastered the art of rigging such pitches and the ladders often hung with rungs more vertical than horizontal. The 'engineering' here, and on the Little Monkey pitches further down the cave is more impressive than that on the better known in Claudine's. It is axiomatic that without this, and much other work, the 1963 British party would not have reached the final sump, let alone dive in it.
Garcia's Hall was a large wet and windy chamber tapering away to form the stream passage once more. It is comparable to the Hurricane shaft but smaller and less hospitable. A Tyrolean was rigged across the chamber as the best means of handling even the small quantity of equipment which remained with us below Camp Two.
From Garcia's the stream led us to a six foot waterfall ending in a pool deceptively deep and difficult to pass kit across.
The passage continued to diminish for a further 100 feet to a fork. The left hand branch followed the stream through a duck whilst the right hand branch, after a low wet crawl, rejoined the enlarged passage beyond the duck. Thereafter it was easy walking size. The passage opened up above the pitch and a dry inlet gave us room to set up a kitchen, the hot soup this provided warmed the bodies and raised the moral of those suffering long cold waits on the Little Monkey – Hurricane complex of pitches which followed.
At the kitchen the passage is 8 feet wide and 10 feet high with calcite covered walls and unspectacular formations in the roof. It narrows towards the pitch, 30 feet downstream, where the water passes over a calcite lip sweeping down into a deep pot, spills over a lower lip to tumble down a curving slope and disappear under a rock arch four or five feet thick from whence it cascades down nearly 200 feet of the Hurricane shaft. This area is very impressive, noisy, and technically the most difficult in the cave.
A six feet climb on the right wall leads to a traverse across a calcite slope where the Little Monkey ladder is belayed to a stalagmite. The first fifteen feet of ladder is strung horizontally to a flake and acts as a hand-line to assist the traversing climber. In addition a pillar with many small curtains growing from it provides hand holds for negotiating the first part of the traverse.
From the flake the ladder hangs free for thirty feet, it was at this point that one of the expedition ladders snapped, fortunately the only result of this mishap was a long cold wait below for one of the party. Below the vertical section the ladder is belayed some ten feet away on the calcite causing the climber to perform antics as he reaches the horizontal portion; the ladder is likely to turn over on him so that he is crawling along below the ladder. The easiest way to tackle these pitches which descend in steps is to use the rock for footholds as much as possible and the ladder as a hand-line. An exposed traverse then leads across the calcite slope to the top of the lower vertical a forty foot climb down a calcite covered wall until, in the last ten feet, the climber swings free over the torrent as it disappears beneath the arch and over the Hurricane.
It was necessary at this point to perform some spectacular gymnastics to gain a ledge on the left wall, 6 feet above the water and ten from the natural hang of the ladder. The movement of kit down the Little Monkey proved to be one of the most difficult and time consuming operations on the trip. It was impossible to run a straight Tyrolean to the above mentioned ledge from the top of the pitch. A compromise arrangement was reached whereby Pearce clipped himself to an intermediate belay then received bags from the upper part of the Tyrolean and fed them on to the lower. The pull lines were controlled by the men at the top of the pitch, and the ledge, out of sight of each other, and continually misunderstanding the whistle signals which became rapidly more frequent, furious and incomprehensible.
The ledge is backed by a small chamber about 10 feet in diameter, climbing over a six foot stal barrier leads to the head of a forty foot climb of only moderate difficulty over calcite which for safety was laddered, the bottom of the pitch is a 150 foot drop into the Hurricane shaft but a sloping shelf on the left entered a small tunnel, six feet long, in which the Hurricane ladder was belayed. The unfortunate lifeline man had to sit doubled up, struggling with 160 feet of stiff wet sisal rope, while a cold wind, carrying drops of water from the Monkey Cascade, blew across him.
The Hurricane is probably the most impressive shaft in the cave, it is wet for roughly a third of its length under dry conditions, or a half under wet. The chamber is nearly 200 feet high and 100 feet across tapering to a corner where the stream leads off along the final canals to the sump. A strong wind carries spray to all parts of the chamber and follows some way down the steep boulder slope to the canals. About 300 yards from the Hurricane a high oxbow leads off to the left and it was here that the base for the diving operations was established.
On the first 1963 visit to the terminal sump six members carried diving gear to the depot, and then continued for 100 yards through canals, swimming most of the way, to the sump. The diving site proved to be excellent, a low dome 15 to 20 feet high covered the sump pool and stony beach, the pool being 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.
The left side of the chamber is an almost vertical rock wall on which a line of foam showed where water had at sometime backed up to a height of ten feet. Where the curving roof meets this wall, dipping at about 20 degrees into the sump, can easily be seen the submerged passage through the very clear water. Close to the walls are under water calcite growths, and noted in the final canals were inlets, jets of water forcing their way out as horizontal streams at intervals of 100 feet or so.
The six returned to Camp Two in rising water conditions. The intention was to take a short rest, but it was sixteen hours before the water level dropped appreciably and Ken Pearce, Bob Toogood, Alan Clegg, Bob Gillibrand and Steve Wynne-Roberts returned to the sump.
The divers kitted up in the oxbow where a brew of hot rum fudge from a horlicks emergency pack was made up. (This is to be highly recommended.) All except Bob Toogood than went down to the sump, where the only photographs of the trip were taken. Both divers turned on their bottles and checked contents while the supporters laid out the line and belayed it. A 240 foot long length of ¾ weight nylon was being used for the first dive, while if this proved too short two line reels holding 600 feet of courlene each were available. Pearce dived bottom walking, lined by Gillibrand and Clegg, while Wynne-Roberts sat, bottles turned on and twiddling thumbs, awaiting developments. All the party were now wearing wet suits and too cold for comfort. Pearce returned after 15 minutes to report that he had entered a large passage which quickly sumped again. He had taken out all but thirty feet of the rope.
Wynne-Roberts then dived, finding he gained depth rapidly to pass under the rock arch but failed to equalise pressure on his ears. Pressing the mask against his face to remedy this the seal was broken and the clamping ring displaced. He returned to base. Pearce did not wish to make any further dive but offered the use of his equipment to Alan Clegg, who declined, and the party returned to the oxbow and changed into caving kit.
The diving party consumed the contents of an emergency pack before discharging the gas from all the cylinders, and then returning to the Hurricane. Toogood and Pearce climbed up and it had been agreed to line up the equipment before further personal. Clegg and Gillibrand were so chilled by the long cold wait (both were still wearing wet suits) that they showed signs of exhaustion and they were sent up as soon as possible. The work of hauling tackle up the pitch soon raised their temperatures to a safe level.
The Little Monkey caused long waits while kit came up the awkward step to the head of the pitch. Great credit is due to Noel Booth who spent ten hours patiently life-lining without complaint.
A brew of soup was enjoyed before moving on to Camp Two, the surveying party being met at the head of Garcia's Shaft. The surveyors had spent four hours in the region between the Puits Gache and the top of the Little Monkey,
A sleep and a meal (“double rations") and clean up of the camp site preceded the journey to Camp One which was accomplished in good spirits and half the time of the inward journey.
After one night at Camp One the party set out with tackle, but not camping gear, to establish a dump higher up the cave. At the Tyrolienne the stream was found to be running high and the rubber dinghies were once more brought into use. Some of the party returned to Camp One for exposure suits while others donned theirs on the journey to the Little General, where everyone who had received only half a soaking at the Tyrolienne really completed the job.
Lake Cadoux was once more a real lake, out with the dinghies again, and many shower baths not previously present were splashing from the roof of the Great Gallery. The climb up into Petzl's had to be taken on the right as the left side was awash and Petzl's itself was unrecognisable, only the huge Telephone Boulder showing above water where we had camped.
Two runners were sent ahead to find the state of affairs higher up the cave. They returned to say that Garby's was dry but water for cooking was available nearby. The main party, having cleared Camp One, therefore camped at Garby's whilst an advance party went to the surface to make reports to the press and the expected time of exit of the main party.
This advance party, of Lee, Toogood, and Wynne-Roberts, spent the Thursday night on the surface but returned to line gear up Garby's shaft on the Friday. The main party emerged in the early hours of Saturday morning; too late for the long awaited celebration in Sassenage. Only a short nights sleep came before a hurried packing and departure late on the Sunday afternoon.
Some Comments On The Organisation
The expedition was a highly organised and ambitious project but to the writer there appeared to be some shortcomings.
In general, the equipment used was excessively heavy and weight could have been reduced to a considerable extent by the use of dehydrated foods, lightweight ladders (2000 feet), and synthetic fibre ropes (3500 feet). Oxygen, or mixture, rebreathing diving apparatus would have been lighter than the compressed air kits actually carried.
On the other hand, tents were not carried but the additional comfort would more than have recompensed for their weight.
The party had no reserves of manpower and so selection was of vital importance, the last minute addition of Bob Gillibrand was a great help, but not all the party were sufficiently fit or willing.
In common with many trips, the wear and tear on equipment was underestimated, the expedition bags were too large, overloaded, and not strong enough.
Much has been made, especially in the press, of the lack of telephones; the writer does not feel that this lack was at all important. There was neither the time nor manpower to repair the existing cables and so the handsets taken to France were left on the surface.
The expedition had three aims: to dive the sump; to survey from Camp Two to the sump; and to climb an inlet passage near the sump.
A successful dive was made by Ken Pearce, after a week underground and working very far from base. In the course of this a world record was broken (about which the press has made considerable fuss), the record, however, was incidental and record it is not, or should not, be a reason for caving.
A section of cave was surveyed between Camp Two and the Little Monkey pitch; but the passage beyond the sump was not surveyed, or the climb attempted.
The writer feels that these aims would have been fulfilled completely given two changes in programme:
- A team of surface based cavers to help on the carry to Camp One, this could have saved at least a day underground.
- A bivouac site between the Hurricane and the final canals. When the assault team reached the sump for the first time they were full of drive and enthusiasm. After the return to Camp Two, the delay while the water subsided, and the second journey to the sump they were short of time and drive, cold, tired, and inefficient. The wrong conditions in which to start a cave dive.
On balance the expedition was very worthwhile, despite its shortcomings, and the writer at least intends to re-visit this magnificent cave.
For the present I cannot close without expressing my deep gratitude to the many people who assisted the equipping of the expedition, and in particular those listed below who were approached by me personally:
KR Dawe and the SMCC committee who loaned ladder and other equipment.
LWE Devenish for help with diving equipment.
Normalair Ltd for discount on pressure gauges.
John Rabone & Sons Ltd for the gift of three 'Fibron' surveying tapes.
Ken Watson (Sub-Aqua Products) for the gift of six 750 litre cylinders.
Last, but far from least, all the French cavers whose earlier work in the cave was decisive in the success of our 1963 expedition.
It may make Steve's account of this great trip a little clearer if I point out that the Camps One and Two that he refers to are those of the French expeditions. (See 1000 Metres Down, by Cadoux)
Unfortunately during the typing the name of Jed Scott was omitted from the list of people forming the assault party. He was actually present among the support party when Pearce made his dive.
The survey of Swildons Seven was at last carried out by Steve Wynne-Roberts, NHL Cleave, and FJ Davies on Saturday 14 September. The three surveyor-divers were supported as far as Sump 2 but from there travelled under their own steam to Swildons VII via the streamway. The breathing apparatus used was the SEBA/ATEA by all three.
The survey instruments carried into the cave were, a liquid filled prismatic compass, a home made clinometer of the pendulum pattern, and a 100 feet 'Fibron' tape. The aim was to reach CRG Grade Five standard. Having reached VII, the first people since 1962, we found a tightly sealed half gallon paint tin. Inside we found a 66 foot steel tape, a compass, Watkin mirror clinometer, and 10 Senior Service. We took the clinometer and Senior Service for our use and found both to be in good condition.
The actual survey was therefore made using a hand held prismatic compass and Watkin clinometer, and distances measured by Fibron tape. The tape was later checked against a steel tape and found to have no significant error. The survey was made by the 'leap-frogging' technique, fore and back sights taken from alternate stations, and therefore, although the clinometer was not calibrated there should be little error in the vertical correlation of the first and last stations of the survey (this should be born in mind when studying the result of the survey). The compass was calibrated a couple of weeks later (admittedly not a good practice) by sighting along lines clearly recognisable on the OS 6" Survey.
The co-ordinates of stations relative to each other were computed in the usual manner and the survey drawn on plain paper using T-square and set-squares to give grids. The survey here published is on a scale of 50 feet to the inch and stations could not be plotted much closer than the nearest two feet. The details of passage cross-section were estimated at all stations and some intermediate points.
The survey must, of course, be linked to the master plan of Swildons Hole published by WI Stanton. To this end we ran the tape through Sump 6 and took a compass bearing along the run of the tape. The point in Swildons Six to which we taped appears to be about midway between stations 11 and 12 on the plan of Six by Derek Ford (see SMCC Journal Series 3, No 2) and has therefore been assumed to have the co-ordinates on the WIS plan of :
E 10380 N 9061
At this scale of presentation it was not found possible to mark the positions of stations on the survey but a grid corresponding to that on the WIS plan is given. Further details may be obtained from the author by any interested parties.
Unfortunately Derek Ford did not quote any values for the altitudes of his stations in VI and so we have shown altitudes relative to Sump 7, and not OD. Here perhaps though is the greatest surprise of the survey. There is a fall of a little over 20 feet in the streamway between sumps 6 and 7. There would appear to be a marked change in the gradient of the cave occurring here.
At present the survey is not available in any form other than the duplicated version here published but it will in the not too distant future be added to the Master Plan when a revised edition is produced by WI Stanton.
Figure 2 – Survey of Swildons Seven