This was planned as a between-tide trip to finish off the 6m lead that Raif had previously spotted. With the sump due to open at 10am, we could have a civilised 8:45 start. Raif had optimisticly bought surveying gear and I had foolishly forgotten my contact lenses. After dawdling a little on the way down (and noting several trees had fallen since Raif's trip the week before) we entered the cave at 9:23 and arrived at the sump 35 minutes later.
Although the sump was gurgling loudly to itself, the week's rain had raised the streamway which meant that only the eyehole was open. Whilst I was happy to wait and let the sump open properly, Raif thought we should press on and swim to the eyehole. After I reluctantly agreed he announced "I'll go first, I'm wearing a wetsuit!" - which maybe explains why he was so keen to swim.
Cave water always feels cold and the eyehole always feels like a struggle but pretty soon we were through and motoring on through the streamway. We were both finding ourselves short of breath and it seems that CO2
levels increase in the cave later in the season.
Even on the two hour "commute" to explore in the cave, you can't help but be staggered by the number and scale of formations. No time to stop and admire though, there's work to be done.
After arriving at the aven and kitting up, I'm quickly up the in-situ rope and soon able to begin bolting a rising traverse to the top of the flowstone cascade. Raif pulled on his balaclava and ate a pasty.
It's truly beautiful at the top of the aven; a cloud of straws hangs from the roof and nests of fine helictites sprout from the walls. In any other cave this would merit a trip on its own.
About 4m along and it's obvious the rope isn't going to be long enough to reach.
"How much rope is on the floor?"
"The rope's too short, how much is on the floor?"
"A few metres."
It'll have to do, we're not giving up now. I reverse the traverse and pull up the rope until it's a metre off the floor, then readjust all the knots and make the loops as tight as possible. I think I've gained enough and call Raif up to join me while I bolt across the last few metres.
With my long cowstail clipped into the last bolt I just manage to lean across and climb onto the flowstone. It is quite stunning; like many formations in this part of the cave, the flowstone is streaked with black lines but the curtain to its left and the small column above it are pristine, white calcite. There is as an opening between the curtain and the column, it’s too tight but might be enlarged and squeezed if it looks worthwhile. I poke my head in to look.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“What’s the good news?”
“The good news is it’s pretty, the bad news is it’s pretty small.”
“I think I cursed us by bringing the surveying stuff”
The passage went in for about a further meter, then pinched down completely in a blind rift. With nothing further to explore up here we reversed our route, removing the traverse bolts on the way and rigging a retrievable abseil to escape. It’s a strange feeling - no-one has ever been in this wonderful place before and, with the ropes pulled down, no-one is ever likely to visit again.
We pack up, stash the kit, and head for the exit. On the way out the sump is wide open and we exit the cave at 4pm.
A heavy rain shower on the way up the hill did little to wash off the mud. It was nice to be greeted by Jan who had been trimming undergrowth along the path.
In summary: A disappointing result but a nice day’s caving. It’s time now to refocus attention on the big climb at High Aven.