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.
Lines on Ingleborough Cave by MT Mills
The Ahnenschacht – 1969 by RD Craig
Extensions in Wookey Hole by B Woodward
Published by the Shepton Mallet Caving Club
The Mineries, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU
The next issue of the club Journal will be published in March 1970 and will be a special issue commemorating the twenty-first anniversary of the founding of the club. It takes the form of a brief history of all aspects of the club from 1949 to 1969 and will probably cover about 35 pages. Club members will receive a copy free of charge as usual, but copies will not be sent to non-members unless specifically requested. Only a limited number of spare copies will be produced so it is suggested that requests be made immediately. The cost will be 5/6 each post free. Free copies will not be sent to clubs with whom there is an exchange agreement.
Attempts to pass the sump are summarised chronologically, ending with the successful attempt and exploration in October / November 1969. A description and survey of the discoveries are given.
The terminal sump in St. Cuthbert's Swallet proved to be an impassable barrier for over twelve years, which taken at face value, suggests apparently little effort was made to tackle it. However, if the history of the work at the sump is examined, the nature of the enormity of the task with which many cavers were faced may be appreciated. Indeed, there were many who thought the prospects hopeless.
When the cave was first descended on 30th August 1953, new discoveries followed, not surprisingly, in rapid succession, and by 28thNovember 1953 a party comprising of Roy Bennett, Vivian Brown, Don Coase, Chris Falshaw, Alan Sandall and Jack Waddon had descended into Gour Rift only to be halted by a sump (now known as The Duck). On 9th June 1957, Don Coase and John Buxton accompanied by a strong support party attacked the sump with crowbars. After an hour and a half's work John Buxton was able to duck through, and Don Coase followed when John Buxton reported there was a way on. Whilst the support party constructed a temporary dam in Gour Rift, Buxton and Coase set to work with crowbar, shovel and sledge, and lowered the sump, making it a duck with three inches of air space. The passage continued for an estimated distance (at the time) of two hundred feet to the Sump (as it is known today) at a depth of 402 feet below the entrance.
The first attempt to pass the Sump was on 28th July 1957 when Don Coase, accompanied by Ron (Kangy) King and Pete Miller, immersed himself feet first whilst maintaining hand contact. On 2nd May 1959 a party comprising 'Mo' Marriott, Mike Thompson and Mike Wheadon inspected the Sump with regard to digging possibilities. On 6th June of that year a party including Ken Dawe, Mike Thompson, Jerry Wright, Chris Falshaw and Mo Marriott commenced to dig in a mud filled passage which was thought to have been the original stream route. The digging, however, was abandoned when the heavy roof trickle turned everything into a slurry. In SMCC Hut Log Vol. 3, page 48 Ken Dawe states that a dam is necessary to keep both this and the stream back, an early prophesy of the key to the eventual breakthrough!
The first underwater dig in the Sump was started in 1963 by Mike Thompson, Steve Wynne-Roberts, Fred Davies and John Attwood, and although conditions were very difficult, a passage claimed to be fourteen feet long was forced. An entry in the SMCC Hut Log, Vol. 4, page 149 dated 7/3/64 records digging by Noel Cleave and Steve Wynne-Roberts. The log stated that considerable silting had occurred since the last dig and reduced the Sump's appreciable length to about five feet; winter silting is a common problem. They took turns with a SEBA-ATEA oxygen kit but progress was very slow and the cold forced a retirement after an hour.
In 1966 John Cornwall commenced digging in Gour Rift, near the Duck, and in the Sump. After several abortive trips he was convinced that cavers without diving equipment would only pass the sump by constructing dams at various points in the cave; the Sump would bebailed whilst the water was being held back. An entry in the SMCC Hut Log Vol. 5, page 67 dated 4/9/66 by Phil Romford and Roger Haskett records digging in the sump with John Cornwall, Steve Causer and five others. Three dug in the Sump whilst the othersenlarged the Duck bypass. They concluded that the Sump needed explosives. Roger Haskett stated that with the stream dammed the water level dropped ten to eleven inches and the dig in the left hand side of the Sump was visible. He stated that the water was still going down when the dam gave way. A further entry by Roger Haskett in the SMCC Hut Log, Vol. 5, pages 67-68 dated 11/9/66 recorded building a three feet high dam across Gour Passage. He noted that the Sump level dropped with an aperture visible. The Sump was dug before releasing the water. When the stream flow was back to normal the water was noted to be a couple of inches lower than previously.
Three members of the Cave Diving Group, Mike Jeanmaire, Phil Kingston and Barry Lane were so enthused with the work at the Sump that they organised, with Dave Irwin and Roy Bennett, a digging operation to be held over the weekend of 5th-7th February 1967. Interest was stirred even further when Dave Drew's water tracing results showed that lycopodium spores took only eleven hours to reach Wookey Hole from the entrance of the cave, indicating the existence of open and unrestricted passage for much of the way. In Swildons Hole the spores took twenty five hours to reach Wookey Hole. Over fifty cavers and divers supported the project, involving working at the Sump on a continuous shift basis. The previous weekend the Mineries pool was dammed at the outlet, preventing water from entering Plantation Swallet, and dams were also built at strategic points in the cave and on the surface. A telephone was run from the Duck to 'The Belfry' and cooking facilities and soup were available in the cave. A dozen clubs assisted and many cavers went underground twice, the first party entering the cave at 8pm, on the Friday evening, but unluckily the weather was wet and there was a lot of water in the cave. The spoil bank to the left of the Sump collapsed during the digging and had to be removed during the SMCC shift (vide the entry in SMCC Hut Log, Vol. 4, page 84 dated 4/2/67.) Eventually, due to several reasons, the project collapsed during the early hours of Sunday morning and the desired results were not achieved.
Two teams, digging and diving, formed the basis of the operation. The diggers were to dig a trench as far as they could reach in the sump. Beyond this limit the divers continued digging underwater, whilst the diggers removed the spoil to Gour Rift. The divers used 'surface demand’ breathing apparatus and removed spoil with a garden trowel. The digging became subject to setbacks caused by the undermining of the silt banks by the stream, resulting in their collapse. Due to increased water entering the cave and the extremely cold conditions under which the divers worked during their ten minute submersion, diving was abandoned at 2am on Sunday morning. Diving tended towards the use of self-contained kits as the surface demand breathing apparatus was found to be too expensive. During the weekend the final distance reached in the sump was nine to ten feet.
After this operation small teams of divers continued digging at regular intervals, but progress was very slow and they often returned to find that they had lost ground. Many cavers now had lost interest and only Barry Lane, Mike Jeanmaire, Colin Priddle and Phil Kingston were digging regularly. However, they appeared to be making gradual progress and by 22nd October 1967, the measured length of the dig was twenty one feet – the furthest yet reached (vide SMCC Hut Log Vol. 4, page 116, an entry by Barry Lane). The passage turned sharp left after twelve feet into a more rift like section. At the end the sump appeared to be opening up. Little further progress was made by diving, however, due to the flood of 10th July 1968 which caused extensive re-silting.
An entry in Vol. 5 of the SMCC Hut Log, page 147 dated 29/5/68 by Bob Craig records digging in the Sump Passage with Dave Irwin and Dave Turner. The site was in the choked bedding plane to the left and a few feet upstream from the Sump. It was not thought to be promising as the sump level would soon be reached.
Towards the and of 1968 a team of cavers from the BEC and SMCC discussed a new approach to beat the Sump. The plan was to build a series of dams in the cave to prevent water from entering the Sump Passage so that the Sump could be baled or pumped out and attacked as a dry dig. Although dam building had previously been suggested as a method of passing the Sump it had never beenattempted seriously. The dams were to be built with concrete (at least in part) as it was necessary to use the dams many months after construction (vide SMCC Jnl, 4, (7), pages 19-21). The dams were to be sited at Mineries (outside the cave), Lower Traverse Chamber, Everest Junction, Stalagmite Pitch, Plantation Junction, Gour Hall and the Sump Passage. Work on the Lower Traverse Chamber dam was started on 4th January 1969 and was completed to a height of six feet in three trips. As was the case with other dams in the cave, difficulty was experienced in scaling the dam as it was built on gravel, the bed rock being many feet lower, and several more trips were necessary to make the dam watertight. Progress on the dams was slow as there was little active interest in the project except for regulars: Alan Butcher, Dick Wickens, Martin Webster, Dave Irwin, Martin Bishop, Dave Turner, Martin Mills and Bob Craig, although 'tourists' occasionally 'volunteered to land a hand'. On the surface Jok Orr organised the building of the Mineries dam which was completed in two weekends in June – mainly due to the sunny weather – and not surprisingly many people turned up to assist in the construction. In July the work came to a halt again as the dam builders became disheartened when they realised the enormity of the task ahead of them.
Late in September the same team of cavers, who were engaged in digging a tunnel from the Dining Room every Tuesday evening in an effort to find yet another way round the Sump, came to a fateful decision. Because the Dining Room dig was making little headway, and no work was then being carried out on the dam building operations, it was decided to postpone the Dining Room dig in favour of dam building on Tuesday evenings. With this purpose in mind Roy Bennett, Pete Franklin, John Riley and Tim Large went to Sump Passage on 30th September 1969 to select a site for the Sump Passage dam. They were surprised to notice that the sump pool had disappeared. The following Tuesday a party comprising Dave Irwin, Martin Webster, Roy Bennett, John Riley, Tim Large and Bob Craig visited the Sump with the intention of clearing the stones and silt which barred progress at the time. Digging commenced at once and nearly six feet of progress was made on this trip. The water in the cave was very low following a long dry summer. Enthusiasm grew rapidly and when there were enough cavers, work was continued on the Gour Hall dam as well as in the Sump. Martin Mills, Derek Harding, Dave Turner, and Brian Woodward joined the team and rapid progress was made as the pace hotted up to four trips a week. There was more than a little urgency in the work as there were fears that the Sump may return to normal at any time and almost certainly if it rained. Luckily, October was one of the driest Octobers on record. On Tuesday 21st October 1969 the Sump had inexplicably filled up and could not be drained, presumably a soak-away hole had choked. Although more work was carried out on the Gour Hall dam there were fears that the opportunity had been lost. A few days later, however, the Sump had drained again and the digging was continued. The diggers were taking the same route that the divers had followed. About ten feet from the original Sump level the stream turned sharp left in the passage (as reported by the divers) and appeared to run for a further ten feet before draining down a small hole. This hole was prodded with drain rods in an attempt to enlarge it but it was thought best not to use this method when one of the rods disappeared down the hole, and pushing the mud in was always liable to block the hole completely (as it nearly did on one or two occasions). A little trouble was experienced with silt banks collapsing but the spoil was easily removed.
On Friday 31st October 1969 the breakthrough came. While Dave Irwin and Bob Craig completed the Gour Hall dam, Roy Bennett, Martin Mills, John Riley and Martin Huaun continued digging in the Sump. In Martin Mills' entry in the SMCC Hut Log (Vol. 6, pages 144-148) he notes that there were two alternative points to dig; either where the water was draining away with 'delightful glooping noises', or on the right where the roof was higher. He noticed a two inch gap between the top of the gravel and the roof of the Sump and the roof appeared to be rising as he dug. On peering through from below it was difficult to see whether the gap was four inches or eighteen inches. Although time was getting on they toiled on and soon there was room to get a head between the top of the gravel and the roof. Urged on by the others Martin groped up against the bank and peering over the top he described the view as "momentous". The silt on top of the gravel continued for six feet or so with twelve to fifteen inches of space, to an arch about eight feet wide. Beyond, the roof rose to at least standing height and about twenty feet beyond could be soon the far wall. Roy Bennett returned to check the level of the water in the Gour Hall and temporary Sump Passage dams, and returned to say that it was alright for at least ten to twenty minutes. At the far wall noted by Martin, the passage turned slightly left and increased in height to about forty feet, and varied between four and ten feet in width. The floor was broken with clear shallow pools and every now and again various digging debris – buckets, polythene bags, drain rods and divers' probes. A crawl between a stalactite curtain and under a boss curtain brought the explorers to the head of a ten foot drop. This was soon found to be free climbable and was descended to a three feet deep pool. The passage continued to be sixty feet or more high and ten feet wide with yet more polythene bags littering the floor at intervals. The party turned back at a boulder obstruction with a tube ascending to the left and a hole on the right showing the passage to be still going, but as the dams would probably be nearly full it would have been unwise to press on. On returning the passage was paced and found to be 260 paces. Curiously, there was no running water in the passage, which was odd because water had been running into the Sump all evening and no sign of it was evident in the new cave. Whilst searching for signs of running water they heard a curious glooping noise while examining a muddy tube to the left looking downstream, and about fifty feet from the Sump. This was traced to a hole in stalactite curtains high on the right hand wall of the main passage and further downstream. No sign of the water could be soon and the effect was very puzzling. (It has since been found that the noise is intermittent but this only increases the mystery).
The following day, Saturday 1st November 1969, a large party including Brian Woodward, Martin Webster, Martin Mills, Roy Bennett, John Riley, Dave Irwin, Mike Luckwill, Colin Dooley, Bob Craig and two others entered the new extension to continue exploration. This continued downstream with a traverse through a muddy rift to regain the floor of the passage. The passage continued for about 150 feet before the roof descended suddenly and confronted the explorers with a sump. A dam of mud was built and the water lowered about four inches but no way on could be seen. Various attempts were made to climb the rift in several places in an attempt to find a high level route but no high level route was found. About fifty feet downstream from the Sump a steeply ascending rift passage on the right was forced for about one hundred feet before it became too tight to follow. Ten feet upstream on the opposite side work started on a descending passage heavily silted with gravel. Eventually, work was concentrated on digging a trench a few feet deep on the downstream side of the Sump in an attempt to make it passable in any conditions. The diggers were so absorbed in their work that nobody noticed the Sump gradually filling with water (neither of the dams were in). Roy Bennett was the first to notice and he suddenly gave a surprised shout and disappeared through the Sump, just making it to the other side. He was able to block the dams, allowing us to leave the new series without the embarrassment of having to be rescued.
The new discovery totals 950 feet of passage, 850 feet being the Main Passage which runs almost due south for most of its length (see the accompanying survey which is based on a CRG grade 4 survey made on 1st November 1969 by Dave Irwin, Mike Luckwill and John Riley, using a prismatic compass and 'Fibron' tape only.) The straightness of the passage would suggest that a major fault is being followed, as evidenced by a superb example of a monocline on the left hand wall about seventy feet from the Sump, and at the second sump where fault breccia can be seen on the roof.
There are only two side passages in the series. One a descending muddy tube about fifty feet from the Sump on the left hand side, which is being dug and may regain the stream, the other a steeply ascending rift passage opposite the monocline which becomes too tight to follow after one hundred feet. The second sump has been examined but it is too tight to follow, being very heavily silted with material of a sludge consistency. The cave drops from thirty to forty feet between the sumps although the gradient becomes very slight below the ten foot pot.
There are a number of sites which would appear to give a chance of extending the system further. The most obvious, the second sump, has already been probed but heavy silting barred progress after only a few feet. This sump has been lowered several inches with relative ease which would suggest the barrier to be short. The muddy descending tube fifty feet downstream from the Sump has been dug for about ten feet and is still descending, and may perhaps connect with water soaking away in the sump.
The soak-away hole in the Sump, which is capable of taking a small stream, has been enlarged to some extent, although it is too early to say whether further extensions are probable here. It is interesting to note that two four foot divers' probes fell into the hole and have not yet been recovered. It is feared, however, that the water may only be draining into a tiny fissure, although the hole may be incapable of taking a larger stream due to very heavy silting with hard packed mud.
The roof has been maypoled in a few places but only one aven appears promising at present. This is about thirty feet downstream of the ten foot pot and has been maypoled to thirty feet, at which point the roof could still not be seen, although it is very doubtful whether progress downstream could be made by this means.
Figure 1 – Survey of St. Cuthberts II
Figure 2 – Survey of St. Cuthberts Swallet and Surface Features
by Robert Story, printed by J Tasker, Bookseller (Skipton, 1840)
To James Farrer, esq. of Ingleborough House these lines are respectfully inscribed by the author.
Lover of Nature! those feet have pervaded
The wildest recesses where verdure has birth,
And whose eyes have beheld, from these mountains unshaded,
The grandeur of ocean, the beauty of the earth –
Deem not, though thy pleasures be pure and abiding.
That thou hast exhausted the whole she e'er gave:
Go, enter yon rock, whence waters are gliding,
And witness the WONDERS she works in the Cave!
Go then, and alone, wouldst thou view the scene rightly;
The Poet, invisibly joining thy side,
Shall talk with thy soul, shall be moral or sprightly,
And summon his spirits to light thee and guide!
Look up! The green daylight yet blends with the lustres
Sprite-furnished, and gleaming along the dark wave,
Smooth rock ornamented with stalactite-clusters –
What ceiling can view with the roof of the Cave?
But on! – The day fades; but the lights, borne before us,
The brighter appear, and are richer by far;
For see them beneath us, beside us, and o'er us,
Reflected from stalactite, water, and spar!
If splendour thou lovest, 'tis here in profusion,
More pure than in courts, for it doth not deprave;
And shouldst thou suggest that the whole is illusion,
I ask, is illusion confined to the Cave?
On, on! – the lights pause, Is yon block rock the ending?
No, no; thou hast farther and fairer to view;
So, follow we must where the elf-lights, descending,
Half show a low vault – Don't they burn a bit blue?
Start not! there's no ghost, I assure you, to fear, Sir;
But stoop – lower yet – if thy head thou wouldst save:
Pride sometimes gets checked in his onward career, Sir,
And Humility's well in the world and the Cave.
But hark! there is music! All fairy-like stealing,
It comes on the ear, as from distance it came;
'Tis Nature's own harmony fitfully pealing,
And this for her PALACE the Goddess may claim!
Look round! 'tis enchantment! suppressing whatever
The tales of the East on young fancies engrave:
So, now for description, my friend, if thou'rt clever –
Reflect me, in song, this STATE ROOM of the Cave.
What song shall reflect it? – a gem-studded ceiling,
On columns of crystal appearing to lean –
Sides flashing with brilliants – the bottom revealing
A pure water – mirror that doubles the scene –
Away! 'tis prosaic, where all should be sparkling,
And rugged, where Music should breathe through the stave.
But see! my torch bearers have left us, and, darkling,
We follow the light as it winds up the Cave.
Then on! – We are now at the roots of the mountain,
where Nature, as knowing the pressure, has thrown
A bold, massive arch o'er the line of the fountain,
An arch a la Gothic – ere Gothic was known!
Here rest we before, into daylight returning,
We return, too, to cares and to topics more grave;
And mixing a bowl, while the elf-lights are burning,
Let us pour a libation, and drink to – THE CAVE!
The above item has recently come into my possession bound in a 8vo ¼ morrocco volume of eight pages. It is understood that the British Museum do not have a copy, and because it is believed that this poem has not previously been published in any speleological publication it is published here for the record. The words underlined are in italics in the original.
Some comment on the date of the poem would seem appropriate. Ingleborough Cave (or Clapham Cave to it is also known) lies in Clapdale a little over a mile NE of the village of Clapham. Prior to 1837 the cave had a length of 56½ yards where it ended in a stal barrier known as 'The Bay'. This barrier was about 5 feet high, almost completely closed the passage, and a pool could be seen stretching away into the darkness, at first 2 feet below the roof and then this space become less and less. On the 16th September 1837 there was a great flood in Clapdale, water rushed out from the cave, Beck Head (a resurgence just a few yards beyond the cave entrance on the same side of the dale) and also a further hole in the hillside 20 yards beyond Beck Head. On the 22nd September Mr. Farrer, owner of Ingleborough Estate, set two men to work to remove stones from the latter opening in order to reduce the flood. This was unsuccessful, and so the following day Josiah Harrison, who was Mr. Farrer's servant took three men into the cave to 'The Bay' and broke through this stal barrier (the remains of the barrier are still visible today), thus releasing all the water penned behind. John Gornie and Robert Bradley, two of the men, then waded through the Basin and Second Basin beyond to a distance of 85 yards from the entrance. In the afternoon Matt T. Farrer and Viscount Erncombe also reached the same distance, chest high in water.
On the 26th September of that year James Farrer, Matt T. Farrer, Thomas ?, Henry ?, etc. in two trips, reached Pillar Hall and the beginning of Cellar Gallery about 450 yards from the entrance. Three days later, on the 29th, James Farrer, Matt T. Farrer and Henry ? reached the area of the entrance to Giants Hall (this was in fact not found until the following year, 1838, and was then known as Baron's Hall) at about 790 yards from the entrance.
The details and dates of the rapid exploration of the cave are known because they were fortunately recorded in Mr Farrer's 'Cave Book', a manuscript Journal for 1837 to 1853. No doubt as to result of the extension of the cave in 1837, its fame spread and Robert Story visited the cave during the ensuing three years as the poem is dated 1840. Story was a Northumberland poet born at Wark on 17thOctober 1795, and was educated locally at Wark and Crookham schools. He had a varied life working as a gardener, shepherd, schoolmaster, and in the Audit Office. Early in his life he was ambitious to follow the plough like Burns, and although he gave up this form of work, in 1845 when he visited Paris he was introduced to Napoleon III as the successor to Burns. He died on 7th July 1860.
In the text of the poem several references corresponding to features in the cave are apparent. The low vault in verse four, line four may be the Abyss of Pillar Hall; verse four line six may be the low roof in the passage beyond Pillar Hall, where for the first time one has to stoop. The music in verse five line one is probably to the sound of dripping water, either on the formation now known as the 'Rippling Cascade' in Pillar Hall, or a similar formation beyond. The State Room in verse five line eight may be to the formations now known as 'Ladies Cushions' just before the Gothic Arch which in itself is referred to in verse seven, line four. Apart from the latter there are mentioned several other Gothic arches in the cove (in fact almost any arch has been termed a Gothic Arch), in particular a long Gothic Arch beyond Cellar Gallery and shown named thus on the survey of the cave made by Hodgson in 1838. That there was at least one feature known as Gothic Arch at that date tends to substantiate reference to it in a poem dated two years later.
A diary account of the 1969 expedition to the Ahnenschaht near Ebensee, Austria.
Monday 4th August
We arrived at Ebensee at 9am after two days driving plagued with endless troubles to the mini-bus, which included a failure of the charging circuit, a punctured water hose pipe and the exhaust system collapsing. These troubles apart, the weather was fine with the temperature in the eighties, and we were keen to get up into the mountains and to explore the vast caverns of the Ahnenschaht. After a short stop for nourishment and the necessary purchase of a stout pair of climbing boots we were away again, this time climbing a steep twisting track through dense pine forest, occasionally obstructed by stacks of logs. I was not sure whether they were intended to hold the track together, the side of which had collapsed in places, revealing some awe inspiring precipices.
After a rather nerve-racking drive, we arrived at Mitteraker, which is just a solitary log cabin in a clearing, with nearby, the gantry of the Saubahn from which two wires led off into the sky and merged with the summit of a buttress two and a half thousand feet higher. Our home for the next two weeks (three weeks for a few of us) was near the summit of this buttress, and whilst the kit was being loaded on to the Saubahn, we set off at varying times and varying paces for our new home. The path was pleasant to follow at first, taking a flat course through an avenue in the pine forest, but after 300 yards it suddenly tilted upwards and the walk became a duel on a stony twisting track. After an hour's battle with the path, the gradient eased somewhat and the climbing hut peered into view. I staggered to the door of the hut with a raging thirst and was greeted by Alan Thomas who thrust a Schiwasser into my hand. I returned the greeting after downing the drink in one and sat down to observe my immediate surroundings.
To the South, three small mountains were visible in the near distance, one of which was tilted to give a massive overhang. On the horizon the hazy shape of the Schonberg was visible, which at 7,000 feet is the highest peak in the area. The hut at which we were staying is about 5,000 feet above sea level.
The remainder of the day was spent in pleasant strolling when we visited a famous ice cave. It was rather disappointing as the warm summer had reduced the ice to a few snow drifts and a pool of ice.
Tuesday 5th August
Today it was agreed that we split into two parties, one to enter the Ahnenschaht and ladder as far as Sinterterasse, about 450 feet below the surface, whilst the others were to look in the valley on the near side of the mountain for possible entrances to connect with the 'horizontal' system of the Ahnenschaht.
After assisting to carry tackle up to the cave entrance, which is two and a half kilometres distant and 1000 feet higher than the climbing hut, Martin Webster, Derek Harding and myself descended into the valley to attempt to locate a horizontal entrance. The valley was thickly wooded, with numerous tight holes, none of which we could afford to omit, and it was no joke tramping out in full caving gear on a blazing hot day. I noticed one hole and trudged about 1,000 feet up the mountain only to find it was a shadow thrown by the sun. At times someone would find a promising hole, return to tell the others, and then be unable to locate it again. Eventually we decided to call it a day and feeling very weary and hungry, we trudged back to the hut where a few beers were very welcome. The party in the Ahnenschaht had a better day, and achieved all their objectives in a 5 hour trip.
Wednesday 6th August
After a massive breakfast of corn flakes (you had a choice between rice crispies or corn flakes and consumed as much of either as the stomach would hold; it had to last ten hours before the next meal), the second tackling party prepared for the trip. The party consisted of Martin Webster, Colin Priddle, Dave Yeandle, Robin Richards and myself.
The path to the Ahnenschaht skirts to the West of the mountains in the South, the trail always rising, usually steeply. Loaded heavily with kit as we usually were on each trip, the path seemed endless with the sun beating relentlessly down, and I always felt fairly exhausted even before entering the cave; but after ten minutes rest the energy and strength quickly returned.
The plan for today was to take enough tackle to ladder the 900 feet level, but the ladders for the 250 feet drop to this level were to be left at the top of the pitch. As far as Sinterterrasse the pitches are mostly short; the longest being 80 feet, but the large number, about ten pitches, made for slow progress, loaded as we were with tackle. After about two hours we reached Sinterterrasse and started lowering ladders down the first big pitch – 170 feet. The number of ledges and overhangs made climbing very difficult, and on one long section, the ladder always engaged the overhang below so that the climber invariably found himself behind a sloping ladder which put tremendous strain on the arms. After much difficulty in lowering the bags, the next pitch of 40 feet was descended to the head of the 250 feet pitch. This, we decided, was enough for one day, so we hastened to the surface after seven hours underground.
Thursday 7th August
This was intended as the first trip to the horizontal system but all that was achieved was the laddering of the 250 feet pitch, which Martin Webster descended and the short pitch below of 20 feet. Much of the difficulty was caused by the ladder snagging on rock overhangs on the 250 feet pitch, and Martin had to free the ladder several times before his descent could be continued.
As I felt in need of a change I did not accompany the party this day but instead set off with Brian Talbot to climb the Schonberg.
Friday 8th August
Today we prepared for the first trip to the horizontal system. The party included Mike Luckwell, Martin Webster, Dave Yeandle, Brian Talbot and myself. The two Austrians, Helmut and Walter, were also to accompany us and the others were to lifeline us down the big pitch.
Good progress was made to the head of the 250 feet pitch, but from then on things started to go wrong for us. First, Helmut, feeling rather off form, decided to descend no further and Walter had to return with cramped arms after descending 50 feet. This was not all; whilst lowering the tackle, the handle of an ammunition tin, which contained a radio to communicate with Sinterterrasse, broke sending the tin plummeting a further 150 feet where it struck Mike's shoulder. Mike luckily escaped without injury although his shoulder felt slightly stiff. The radio, however, was damaged beyond repair.
The base of the 250 feet pitch, named Schahtgel by the Austrians, is rather like a bridge connected to two further shafts. On one side a shaft descends about 150 feet and on the other, the shaft is about 300 feet deep, and was descended by Alan Thomas on the previous expedition a year ago, when it was named Joseph Shaft. About 20 feet down this shaft it is possible to step off the ladder onto a ledge which gives access to a window leading to the horizontal system found last year (see the accompanying survey of the lateral development of the system, originally published in the Belfry Bulletin by the Bristol Exploration Club). Our first task today was to explore and survey any passages found at the bottom of an unclimbed shaft in this system. On gaining entry to the horizontal system we followed an easy rift passage for 100 feet or so, traversing round a shaft of unknown depth to the hole on which we had centred our interests, which lay immediately adjacent. About 20 feet down this hole it was possible to step off the ladder into a roomy passage. We followed this to a mud chamber of sizeable proportions, but care was needed on the awkward climb down to it. Only one passage of note led from the chamber and soon terminated (as far as we were concerned – we had very few ladders today) in a very deep shaft.
We returned up the ladder and decided to go to the end of the Wind Tunnel to investigate the prospects of further exploration. En route we traversed round an immense shaft, where a stone takes nine seconds to fall to the bottom. The Wind Tunnel certainly lived up to its name with a very strong draught throughout its 1000 feet length. The route was easy going most of the way, but sported one 30 feet flat-out crawl, the passage ending in a pitch of about 80 feet with seemingly good prospects. To the left a short crawl led to another drop, and a stone took five seconds to fall here. Since time was running out we returned to the entrance of the horizontal system for some hot soup and to leave the 'pushing' for the next party. The wait at the bottom of the 250 feet pitch seemed endless and we all felt very cold in a cave temperature of only about 1°C. After a twelve hour trip we were very relieved to reach the surface, but finding our way back to the hut in the dark was not all that easy.
Saturday 9th August
This day was spent resting as we prepared to spend twenty four hours in the horizontal system the following day. We had planned to camp in the cave but the breakdown of the Saubahn meant that we should have to start detackling by Tuesday at the latest.
Sunday 10th August – Monday 11th August
The team which included Alan Thomas, Martin Webster, Derek Harding, Dave Yeandle and myself soon descended to the bottom of the 250 feet pitch, and since I was the last I gave the signal which meant that our lifelining party would not return for twenty four hours – a grim prospect which caused me to hesitate a little before giving four blasts on the whistle.
Our first priority was to ladder the pitch at the end of the Wind Tunnel but a quick descent of the pitch revealed no ways on. A little disappointed, we returned to the start of the Wind Tunnel where one long descending passage, explored the previous year to a 20 feet drop, was next inspected. For most of its length the passage is tunnel-like in shape and about 20 feet in diameter. Over one section the passage narrows after dropping through a loose muddy hole, and in a few places it is necessary to squeeze through passages with sharp angular walls. Further on the passage widens to a lofty chamber at the bottom of an aven of unknown height. Beyond this point holes appeared in the floor more frequently, and a little care was needed in traversing round them as a stone dropped took five seconds to reach the bottom. Eventually we reached the 20 feet drop, the limit of last year's exploration, and examined our surroundings for the easiest method of passing the obstacle. This year it was found possible to traverse the drop, using a doubtful looking ledge on the left wall, but after two people had negotiated the ledge safely it deteriorated somewhat and closer examination failed to reveal any means of its support.
It was thought safer to descend the pitch using a rope. A massive boulder seemed an obvious belay and Derek made the first descent by this method without incident. I followed next, but had barely climbed over the edge when a stack of boulders, apparently supporting our belay boulder, started to rock. I attempted to stabilise the boulders by pushing them back with my legs but was swept aside as the boulders crashed to the bottom, leaving me dangling on the rope. I slid down to the bottom a little shaken, and we advised Dave to stay at the top as there was now considerable doubt about the stability of our belay boulder. The bottom of the pitch was a huge platform of assorted rubble, with holes here and there which led to shafts of varying depths. Alan Thomas started descending one shaft but we were far too short of tackle for him to reach the bottom, and this looked the shortest of the shafts. Again we were forced to retreat and as we had not eaten for twelve hours or so we felt in need of some sustenance. After a meal of hot stew we decided there was little else we could do in the cave with the limited tackle available, and in order to pass the time (we had sixteen hours to wait before the lifelining party were due) we agreed to try and get some sleep in a sandy passage. Alan said that he had a blanket, which he claimed would keep us warm but when he produced a large sheet of silver paper from his pocket I began to have doubts. The doubts were confirmed when we grew colder and colder beneath the wrapping, and we felt in need of some exercise to get some circulation back into our frozen limbs. Alan felt in need of immediate and vigorous exercise, but unfortunately he neglected to take his helmet and lamp with him and ran straight into the side of the passage causing a nasty gash on the crown of his head. Luckily he was not concussed and the injury only caused him some minor discomfort, but it could have proved very serious especially as we were not well equipped to carry out a rescue in this part of the cave.
After exploring a few minor passages we again attempted to get some sleep this time on boulders, the theory being that contact with the body at only a few points would limit loss of heat by conductance to the surroundings. Certainly I felt much warmer this time, even without a blanket, and managed to gain about two hours sleep. In this fashion we wasted away twelve long hours, which left us another four hours for a brew and the wait for the lifelining party, which we hoped might be early. The support party was not early however, and we had another long wait at the bottom of the 250 feet pitch. At Sinterterrasse hot soup was waiting and was very welcome, but the most satisfying thing was to emerge into sunshine after thirty hours underground.
Tuesday 12th August – Friday 15th August
These last few days were spent detackling and relaxing in the sun. Although we had not fully achieved our objectives, we had extended the exploration of the cave and perhaps we were a little ambitious to hope to find a horizontal entrance or to connect with the Rauker, a few kilometres distant, in the limited time available.
Figure 3 – Sketch Survey of the Entrance Series of Ahnenschaht
(Reprinted from the Belfry Bulletin Vol 22 No 9)
Figure 4 – Survey of the Ahnenschaht
The discovery and exploration of Wookey '20' are described.
Since the discovery of the ninth chamber in 1948 there has been no significant dry passage entered in Wookey Hole. Since then the main obstacle, both physical and psychological, has been the depth involved in passing through the fifteenth 'chamber', first entered by Wells and Buxton in 1958, the depth of the sump at this point being about 70 feet. In 1966 Dave Savage led the pushing which culminated in the discovery of Wookey 18 – a rather small air space approximately 300 feet beyond the fifteenth chamber. The way on however appeared to be through low wide sump passage going off to the left which at that time was badly silted up. In 1968 Dave Savage and Phil Collett made the last serious push in the sump but bad visibility and ear trouble thwarted their attempts. Progress until this point is well documented in the review by Savage 1968 (1).
On January 3rd 1970 a party consisting of Oliver Lloyd, Mike Jeanmaire, James Cobbett, Chris Harvey, Andrew Brooks, John Parker and myself went to Wookey, primarily to give Chris and Andrew a training dive, and for John, James and myself to re-lay the line to 15 which had broken. If time was available we were then to push on as far as possible.
Those who have not met John Parker would have thought him rather ambitious when they saw him arriving with his 1,000 feet line reel, endless enthusiasm, and thoughts of Ogof Afon Wookey on his mind. In the ninth chamber John and James prepared to dive first and I would dive if and when necessary. The small amount of rainfall during the previous weeks meant that the visibility was excellent. The slow moving water deposited a large amount of silt in the 'slot' and when the two divers reached this point James was unable to get through due to his back mounted twin set, so he passed the line reel to John who carried on alone. James meanwhile returned to base in '9' and after a further thirty minutes and John not returning James made a second unsuccessful attempt at passing the 'slot'. By this time we were becoming rather anxious about John and I apprehensively dived to find out what had happened to him. On passing through the 'slot' visibility was again very good but there was no sign of John, just his line reel on the bottom. It later transpired that he had discovered an old line reel with which he continued after first belaying it to his line. From the fifteenth chamber the passage rose quite steeply and I followed the line until it eventually turned left into the passage previously entered by Savage and Collett. It was still good visibility and there was no sign of the mud bank which had prevented earlier progress and one presumes that this disappeared during the Great Flood of 1968. Eventually I surfaced in a passage about three feet wide, which led into a large deep sump pool.
After about ten minutes John returned whistling some Welsh ditty and going on about the enormous chamber he had found. Together we retraced his steps through a large boulder choke on the left of the sump and entered an impressive chamber approximately 200 feet long with a cross section about 60 feet square. The left hand wall had magnificent flutings 25 to 30 feet high and about a foot deep while on the right a mud slope led down to a large clear lake with a big underwater passage leading off. The flood level in this chamber is about 8 feet above the level of the lake and corresponds with the flood level of the ninth chamber. Diving in this pool may provide an easier access to the new series as it must connect with the main stream at some point.
At the far end of the chamber we passed some well developed mud formations and drip pools and from here a passage up to 30 feet wide leads off in a NNW direction. At this point the cave is developed in the limestone as opposed to the dolomitic conglomerate of the show cave. The roof shows phreatic development and the floor is covered with boulders cemented together with stal. The passage is about 2,000 feet long, well decorated and an estimated 300 feet above the streamway at its farthest point. It was noted that the far reaches of the passage entered the conglomerate again. At this point it was decided to return to base in '9' as we were well overdue. After the first few feet of the sump, which was relatively constricted, it was possible to dive side by side. In '15' we cut John's line reel from the line, tied the two free ends together and proceeded back to '9' to be met by James and Fish. On hearing the good news James expounded the advantages of back mounted bottles in the most colourful terms!
The fact that the new passage climbs approximately 300 feet above the stream level means that there is a distinct possibility of finding a dry entrance to the new series if the location of the cave could be plotted in relation to the surface. With this in mind a second dive was planned for 24th January on which a radio location device would be taken through the sump. The party consisted of Maire Urwin, Tim Reynolds, Phil Collett, James Cobbett, John Parker and myself. The power unit plus coil were successfully taken through the sump, each wrapped in four or five polythene bags in an ammobox. The first transmission was made from the large chamber but due to our delay in setting up the apparatus, the thickness of limestone and competition from Pen Hill the signal was only heard faintly for about five minutes. The surface party, consisting of Mel Davies, Jim Hanwell and Janet Woodward, had the pleasure of running round in the pouring rain and in darkness trying to locate our signal. In the cave we were again running late and the second transmission was made approximately one third of the way along the ascending passage as opposed to the end as we had planned. This time Mel picked up the signal loud and clear and the point was marked with a cairn of stones.
While the transmission was in progress we went to the previous limit of the passage; two new extensions were found adding another 300 feet or so to the total lengths, both passages dropped through the boulder floor for about 40 feet but after short horizontal sections, both closed down. The return trip through the sump provided one or two alarming moments, the worst being when Phil Collett's pressure hose blew. Others had trouble with the loose line which still remains a major hazard and one person had to resort to cutting the line.
A third dive was made with the intention of photographing the new section of the cave. This however was an unsuccessful trip, and the only thing gained was the re-laying of the line at the far end of the sump.
At the present time there is no obvious way on in the dry section. The next sump is wide open but getting enough air to this site is a major problem and the only solution seems to be a dry entrance to overcome this obstacle.
The following map and explanation is a brief report produced by Jim Hanwell showing the relationship of the cave to the surface feature around Wookey Hole and is reproduced with the author's permission.
Figure 5 – Survey of Wookey 20
The map shows the geology and fields of the Mendip escarpment north of Wookey Hole. The cave is indicated in relation to the surface; the show cave portions extend to the sharp bend c.500 feet north of the entrance, while the remaining passages to the east require diving.
Point 1 approximates to the beginning of the new series which was explored by members of the Cave Diving Group on 25th January 1970; its location being fixed by a radio signal received on the surface. Point 2 is a similar, and possibly more accurate, radio location position further up the cave. The dotted line indicates the general direction and length of the new series based on these stations and divers' reports. It ascends about 300 feet.
The map seems fairly accurate since the passages are known to be developed along the strike of the rock. Here limestone dips approximately to WSW beneath Dolomitic Conglomerate infilling a very old 'fossil' volley. Re-excavation has exposed a small 'window' of limestone north of Smokham Wood, and the present end of the new series must lie close to its eastern flank. The exact position is uncertain as yet; but, since the divers report entering Dolomitic Conglomerate at the end, and the surface hereabouts is c.550 feet OD, it seems reasonable to suppose that the cave is not far underground, say 20–50 feet. Buried connections with the surface are not improbable as it is likely that some water would have sunk at the 1st conglomerate contact by Smokham Wood.
Figure 6 – Sketch showing Wookey Hole Cave and Relation to the Surface
- Savage, D – Diving at Wookey Hole. Wessex Cave Club Journal, (120), pp191-197 (December 1968)