Hopeless hole - Portland


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Perhaps a dangerous assumption, but I enjoy reading other peoples digging efforts & trip reports so I'm hoping writing up my daft projects on Portland is of interest to someone other than me...

Having spend Saturday messing around in Showerbath Cave (see other thread), we spend a couple of hours on Sunday poking around in Hopeless hole.  For those who don't know, this is another short phreatic tube on Portland ending in a choke underneath one of the islands longer caves Steve's Endeavour.  This tunnel being a fair bit bigger than Showerbath.  There are two things to aim for here...
1. Enlarge the rift which almost certainly connects to Steve's End. to create a through trip.
2. Find the continuation of the pheatic tunnel.

Nick & Sam spend a lot of time clearing the tunnel of rocks from other peoples past efforts in this cave (back in the 90's I believe).  There's now a big pile outside.  I spent some time clearing a working space beneath the rift at the end and then poking the ceiling to encourage bits out to enlarge the rift.  Not a huge amount of progress on this trip from my part, but there's a big block ready to come down next time which just didn't want to drop despite being loose.  First assessment, I think creating the Steve's through trip should be quite easy if this block comes out nicely and I don't die from over enthusiastic ceiling poking.  The continuation of the tunnel on the other hand is going to be a massive effort.

If you're wondering I have a short attention span - there's two other places I also intend to poke around at!

A few photos...

The rift which connects to Steve's before we started:

Sam with the pile of evicted rocks:

Nick in the tunnel collecting some dirt out the floor to patch a hole in the climbers path outside (best not ask!)

The bit of ceiling next to the rift which needs to fall out as a starting point to making a man size route through to Steve's:



Active member
Perhaps this photo should also be posted...  It's the end of the cave just beyond the rift to Steve's - a very 'stable' looking place!  The phreatic tube is somewhere below this lot.  The void here is the gap created by the ceiling collapse, with the rubble floor being roughly level with the roof of the tunnel.



I think the pictures showing the airy nature of the roof speak for the past digging attempts not making much progress... including my own team's in the '80s.

One thing we did was start to clear the floor to solid, to make the passage nice and roomy, then on the next session we found someone had used the cave as a khasi!

Unimpressed and trying not to gag, I buried the offensiveness outside, then we dragged rocks back in to make the first yard or so uninvitingly low and jagged.

It is an interesting prospect though, and it would be good to see the continuation of the ancient stream-passage beyond the area wrecked by Steve's Endeavour Rift (a mass-movement fissure) having opened across it.


Active member
Thanks Nigel.
We've left the deliberately annoying, knee destroying stones in the entrance for the same reason as you returned them, however Portland climbers are far politer and more conscious of the environment these days.  We've even lent a few people who've been climbing in the area our lights & helmets to go and have a look after they showed an interest.  The spoil removed so far was from much further back in the cave to create a good run for a drag tray.
The ceiling of the end of that place it truly terrifying though.  I think a route to Steve's is possible to make a new through trip, but digging the tunnel could lead to a few brown trouser moments.  My opinion is to start back before the current end and follow the right hand wall stacking spoil in the middle of the current termination 'chamber' to hopefully hold the roof up.  With other less pants staining options elsewhere to focus on Hopeless is now low down our list.


Active member
Another session in Hopeless Hole today -Me, Nick & Sam.
I'd not bothered to mention on here, but between my last post and this one, there has been at least two other occasions where I've been back to Hopeless to attempt to move the block which needs to come out before a link to Steve's above is established.  Both failed - it's loose, moves up, down and sideways a few inches but will not drop out.  Today we decided to work on objective 2 - the continuation of the tunnel.
The first job was to work out where to focus efforts in the breakdown as the tunnel is 'lost'.  The first point to note is that the 'end' of the cave had previously been dug up into the void created by the rift and hence the floor was roughly level with the ceiling of the tunnel.  Secondly, previous efforts seemed to head off to the left a bit.  We decided to attempt to follow where we expected the right hand wall to be, assuming the tunnel was straight and then dig down.  After an hour or so of shifting rock a potential bit of wall appeared covered in flowstone.  Unfortunately this was under a very dodgy boulder.  A 'wall' was built to add support and I simply headed forward.  After a further hour a magic poke resulted in a fairly significant load of stuff fall out the ceiling.  This turned out to be another rift in the roof.  The rift is big enough to fit in, but is currently blocked with infill 1.5m up.  After clearing enough of the stuff that fell it's now possible to see the ceiling and top of the walls of the continuation of the tunnel.  Unfortunately the tunnel is filled to the ceiling with rocks and we've found it more or less at ceiling level.  It should be fairly straight forward (but time consuming) to empty now we know where we're going and most importantly the ceiling beyond this new rift is stable.  The end of this cave now looks significantly more promising and will receive our attention for the next few trips.  I'd guess about 3m of progress today.

Some Photo's:
The end of the cave - you can see the outline of the arched tunnel.  It's not clear in the photo, but above the rock fill the ceiling can be seen continuing for several metres.

Today's dig & 'support' wall

Nick under our latest death boulder.  This is the same boulder which is the main feature on the right hand side of the 'end' photo in the post above.



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Another fart about in Hopeless today.  Just myself and Sas this time.  Both of us working at the end of the cave.  I spent the time pulling rocks / mud from the dig face attempting to follow the now defined right hand wall, Sas worked on sorting the spoil.  Small stuff got chucked down the left hand side of the wall holding up our death boulder and large stuff got moved back down the cave toward the entrance a short way and then stacked for subsequent removal.  No evidence of a left hand wall yet though.

Just like we've experienced in Showerbath some of the ceiling at the sharp end was parting company with the bedding plain break 8 inches above creating annoyingly large boulders.  These bits were levered down and all but one very large lump which will require breaking up before moving taken out of the way.  It now looks like the 'tunnel' ceiling is stable beyond.  A small void (but not big enough to fit in) is opening along the RH wall ahead which should make progress easier however other than this there's no sign of the rock / mud fill decreasing.  Another couple of trips at least required - perhaps next time it'll become obvious where all these rock have come from as it's almost certainly not the ceiling.

Although things are looking more stable ahead, the area we've just broken through is really loose above - twice today stuff fell out the ceiling.  Some stabilisation might be necessary in the near future.

The other good news - in moving what we have today we've found a draft hitting us in the face coming along the tunnel.  Prior to today the only draft (a very strong one) at the end of the cave was dropping down the rift from Steve's End. above.  Our new tunnel draft is rather faint compared to Steve's at the moment  but perhaps it suggests open passage beyond?

No photo's I'm afraid - the camera got accidentally left in the car.


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Another few hours in Hopeless yesterday - myself, Sas & Richard this time.

Most of my morning was taken up breaking the remaining boulder from our last trip into something more manageable using a combination of drilling, plug and feather, swearing at it and then beating the crap out of it with a hammer.  Eventually enough bits had broken off to leave something which could be moved.  Meanwhile Richard and Sas had cleared all the spoil from our previous trip and dumped outside the cave entrance.  We agreed the remaining bit of boulder would be moved from the end of the cave and then stop for lunch.  Unfortunately in doing so I clobbered the dodgy shit under our death boulder which resulted in a brown trouser moment as the ceiling lowered an inch or so and another 'dusting' of crap fell out the rift.  Richard swiftly came to the rescue and helped move the boulder out of the way allowing my rather hasty retreat down the cave.  Definitely time for lunch. 

We declared the end of the cave off limits until we'd properly assessed the roof stability following this movement.  First thing we did was build a rock pillar under one of the worst looking bits.  I'm not massively certain this would have done much other than provide moral support but it felt good at the time.  Next the dodgy shit on the right hand side under the death boulder got poked with as long a stick as we had (which felt about 30ft too short).  It all fell out with no further movement in the roof.  Richard then had a good look at things and we realised the ceiling had simply lowered itself on to the supporting wall we'd built last time and was now well supported on the left hand side.  Richard then used the loose stuff we'd removed to build a supporting wall under the right side of the roof boulder.  We're now fairly content our death boulder is well supported on both sides.  Work could resume!  Over time we intend to fill as much of the void in this area as possible to support the roof.

Another hour of working at the end followed - mostly mud removal now as we've hit a band of silt, though a return to stone is visible a couple of feet ahead.  Richard set to on taking the floor up in the tunnel before the breakdown area.  He seems determined to walk! 

No sign of open passage yet, however the draft coming down the tunnel significantly increased during this trip.

Some photo's:

Richard under our death boulder.

Now supported on both sides.  The support on the right is significantly better than this photo portrays.

This shows the progress at the end compared to the photo from two trips ago.

And a close up of the end.

Still no evidence of a left wall or where the in fill has come from.  In the last image you can just about see a couple of rocks protruding from the soil which will need to come out next.


Active member
Myself and Richard spent another 5 or 6 hours in Hopeless today.

First thing to note Richard popped into Hopeless during the week to remove our stone pillar built last time and replace it with a more sensible wooden support.  He'd also had a little poke of the end of the cave and created a pile of dirt.

Back to today - Richard seemed intend on removing the boulder blocking the route into Steve's.  First I had a go at it with Richards 12 tonne bottle jack.  It didn't take long for me to end up a quivering wreck - it was clear the bottle jack would bring down the boulder but possibly the ceiling too.  I then headed to the nice safe end of the cave and dug some mud whilst Richard scared himself.  We then decided it was too dangerous and concentrated on the end of the cave for a couple of hours.  Some more progress was made however we're now at another cross rift and the tunnel is choked to the ceiling with mud and rocks.  The nice stable ceiling is also gone.  Trying to look ahead through the gaps in the rocks I don't think this is going to be too horrific to get through.  We can only hope this is the last such area of breakdown. 

We then decided to call it quits for the day, but Richard announced he'd have one more go at the boulder.  I took a siesta in the main tunnel whilst Richard 'poked' and 'prodded' the boulder.  Starting to feel a little chilly I then decided to start clearing spoil from the main tunnel again.  An hour or so later bits of rock started to drop and another 10 min later the bloody boulder was down.  After a bit of clearing up and poking our heads up the now reasonably size rift we gave up completely knackered.  Stirling effort by Richard and his nerves.  I was definitely too wimpy to beat the shit out of that boulder in the way Richard did.

Assuming the void above is one of the known bits of Steve's End. then nothing more than an hour of gardening loose stuff should be needed to achieve the connect between the two caves now. 

Some more photos:

Richard joyous after the boulder dropped (big one on the left he's holding) and his pile of spoil which also fell out at the same time.

The boulder:

Richard up the rift:

Richard's improved ceiling support.  Turn's out Richard has better wood than me - this is a lump of 4x4 oak rather than some shitty bit of 2x4 pine I tend to turn up with.  We intend to keep filling underneath all the horribleness with spoil to support the ceiling (and hide the bits which look unfriendly).  The Steve's End rift connection is to the left.  Our 'end of the cave' dig is straight ahead.

I don't remember farting

The 'end of the cave' dig face

Richard with his mighty fine tool

View toward the dig

View along the main tunnel.  It's a fine looking passage, could do with being about 10x the size.


Staff member
It didn't take long for me to end up a quivering wreck - it was clear the bottle jack would bring down the boulder but possibly the ceiling too.  I then headed to the nice safe end of the cave and dug some mud whilst Richard scared himself.

Laughed out loud at that  :LOL:


Well-known member
You need the Old Ruminator with his cement and scaffolding and acro props and trench supports and mesh............................................ etc!


Active member
Or access to some of the toys used in the quarries.

We've spoke about scaff & cement but can't be bothered - the place would just become a massive engineering job.  In the case of cement I think nothing short of a concrete pump would suffice.  Ideally the whole bloody lot will fall down (when we're not in there) so we don't have to bother.  Alternatively the bit of cliff pealing off which makes Steve's Endeavour could drop (that would be a rock fall worth seeing), opening up the continuation.  This option might upset the climbers though as some of the most popular routes are on the outer wall of Steve's.



Active member
Well as of today, Portland has a new through trip.  Hopeless Hole is now connected to Steve's Endeavour.

Following Richards excellent work getting the boulder out during the last trip reported on here and then subsequent solo trip a few days later to clear a huge amount of spoil there was very little to do today.  Nick started to climb up the rift doing a little gardening and enlarging on route heading toward the sounds of some seagulls.  I then followed and ended up taking the lead following my gut instinct of up.  After a fairly energetic climb of what we estimate to be 15m we popped out into a recognisable bit of Steve's Endeavour high up in the rift.  Back down to fetch Richard who claimed the connection wasn't Richard sized.  30mins of hacking bits off the rift wall and clearing further loose stuff and a route that was Richard sized had been created. 

All three of us then climbed up into Steve's and completed the through trip exiting from the normal entrance around 12:30.

For anyone mad enough to want to experience this through trip:
Firstly the connection is likely to be snug for medium to large sized cavers - be warned.
Route finding is easiest from Hopeless to Steve's however does require a good ability at free climbing Portland rifts.  This includes the Steve's entrance pitch (which obviously could be pre-rigged) and the 6m pitch often laddered further into the cave.

Follow the hopeless tunnel from the entrance to a small breakdown chamber containing a wooden pillar.  At the wooden pillar take the rift on the left.  Follow the obvious route up the slope ahead for a couple of meters until it is possible to start climbing up.  Climb more or less directly up for approx. 10m until it is possible to step left onto a false floor.  Continue climbing up another 5 m heading right handed over loose boulders.  Once on top the boulders you're in Steve's Endeavour and only a few meters from the end & window to daylight.  Climb down the other side onto the top of a huge flake and then down to floor level - this is where I would imagine most who have been in Steve's before would have turned back.

I'll update the Portland Caves Website in the next few days to provide a better description of the entire route.

After completing the through trip we headed back to Hopeless to continue the end of the cave dig for a while.  Mostly removing spoil today to improve access to the end - another 21 trays / carpets worth removed.  The end of the cave is now back into an area of collapse / rocks and it's not clear where the tunnel continues.  I'm guessing straight on, however it's possible we've also hit a right hand turn.  The next trip should provide the answers!

A few photos:
Richard with one of today's many 'carpet loads'.

Richard and Nick up in the connecting rift through to Steve's.

Nick at the end of the cave deciding where to plant his marigolds and begonias.

On the way back to the car I had a little scrabble around at the base of the cliff - possibly another choked phreatic tunnel to investigate.

Nick's also taken some photo's today - Hopefully he might post them on here!


New member
Here are some photos of the wooden pillar mentioned in Tim's report, Tim working at the end of the phreatic passage in Hopeless and a view down the rift that connects Hopeless and Steve's, showing Richard negotiating the tight spot at the beginning of the climb up to Steve's.


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sawneybean said:
Here are some photos of the wooden pillar mentioned in Tim's report, Tim working at the end of the phreatic passage in Hopeless and a view down the rift that connects Hopeless and Steve's, showing Richard negotiating the tight spot at the beginning of the climb up to Steve's.


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New member
Here are some photos of the wooden pillar mentioned in Tim's report, Tim working at the end of the phreatic passage in Hopeless and a view down the rift that connects Hopeless and Steve's, showing Richard negotiating the tight spot at the beginning of the climb up to Steve's.


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Active member
I've updated the Hopeless Hole page on the Portland Caves website to include a description of the connection to Steve's should anyone want to do this trip:


I'm in the process of updating the Steve's page but can't remember enough to write a descent description beyond the pitches at the moment.  I'll complete this and include a description of the connection the other way around once I've been back.


Active member
Last weekend Myself, Nick and Sam completed the through trip the other way around from Steve's to Hopeless.  Finding the connection this way is more difficult.  I've updated the Steve's page on the Portland Caves Website to include what I hope is a reasonable description.

We also shifted another few loads of dirt / rocks from the Hopeless phreatic dig whilst we were there.  Nothing much to report other than we've found another shattered area where it seems the roof and right hand wall we've been following become undefined.  I had a more careful look at the rifts above in Steve's whilst we were up there on Sunday.  Assuming this shattered area is caused by another over head rift, I'm confident it's not a known apart of Steve's we're below.  This rift is approx. 4 or 5m further North.


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Me and Richard spent another couple of hours in Hopeless today after first digging a hole in the side of the footpath and then filling it back in (we thought there was a cave hiding - turned out to be nothing more than a undercut in the cliff) followed by a trip to Gemini rift around the corner from Hopeless.

First we cleared out some left over spoil from Sunday.  I then continued digging mud from the end of the cave whilst Richard progressed his mission with the floor to create a walking sized passage in between removing my spoil.  Another 6 carpet loads of mud was removed.  A thorough ceiling examination followed after which both myself and Richard declared it dodgy!  A good session of ceiling poking with the long poking pole resulted in a good deal of it falling down.  I then spent best part of an hour wrestling the largest bit a few metres back to a point it can be drilled and broken up next time.  We finished with an examination of what mess we'd created.  This is where it gets interesting.  It turns out this shattered area is not another rift as previously though.  Instead the ceiling of the phreatic tunnel plus the chert band a few inches above has parted company with the more solid layer of rock above that.  The good news is that this provides a solid ceiling and once cleared we should have a good sized space here.  Our first thoughts on the disappearance of the right hand wall is that we've found a side passage.  Amongst all the loose stuff and rubble it appears there are voids both ahead and to the right.  Quick progress should be made next time and no doubt we will learn whether indeed we now have two passages to deal with.  Our end of the cave dig might be about to become 2 digs!