Hopeless hole - Portland


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Another good session in Hopeless yesterday.  Richard arrived early equipped with a pile of wood and bucket of cement to look at stabilising some of the death boulders around the Steve's connection.  Myself and Sas appeared at 10am and Gaynam joined us for the afternoon.  When we arrived we found Richard led under one of the dubious bits of ceiling having removed all the previous supporting rocks on one side!  Best part of 30 loads of spoil later we gave up at 4pm. 

Richard spent a large part of the day constructing dry stone walls to support the ceiling and hold back some of the loose stuff in the area of the Steve's connection.  More to be done but great progress.  Sas & Gaynam assisted with spoil removal whilst I generated it. 

The end of the cave is now an interesting place, however once again things have become unclear.  As mentioned in the last report the ceiling of the tunnel we'd been following had become shattered.  The right hand wall also appeared to take a right hand turn.  We cleared some of the shattered ceiling heading up a couple of feet into the void.  Initially this was about 8 to 12 inches high but is now substantially more having cleared a lot of rock.  It seems like this void is a result of the roof of the phreatic tunnel parting company with the bedding layer 12 inches above and collapsing onto the mostly mud filled passage below.  This means our dig is now effectively above the roof the hopeless tunnel.  This is a similar situation to how we initially found the end of the cave back at the Steve's connection.  It appears we have a passage heading off to the right and also something straight ahead.  Digging down on the left hand side is what I believe to be the previously elusive left hand wall (currently buried under spoil awaiting to be taken out).  Straight ahead on this level appears to be mostly rock peeling off in layers to create a void a few inches high.  The course of action here will be to dig down and trace the route of the left hand wall probably having to remove both the peeling roof layer and a lot of mud.  Digging down in the right hand passage appears to unearth a right hand wall heading off at 90 degrees to the main passage.  So we now seem to have 2 digs!  Ideally we need to completely empty this junction area to fully understand what's happening here, but only time will tell if we can be bothered.  We cannot say for certain this is a junction rather than a right hand bend in the passage however the junction option feels more likely.  The right hand passage looked like it's predominantly mud to dig.  No sign of open passage yet.  Hopeless is certainly hiding it's secrets well as we're now a good 5 to 10 m beyond the Steve's connection and it looks like a lot of hard work is required still.

Some photo's:

Richards timber store

Richards 'hopeless' wall

The spoil Sherpa's

The 'hopeless wall from the other side

The straight on dig (and our long poking pole).  The left hand wall is 2ft below the pile of rocks on the left of the photo.

The right hand dig


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It's been a few months since we've had a day in Hopeless - mixture of bad weather and the distraction of making connections on the other side of the island.

Equipped with the new trolley Me, Sas and Richard set off to hopeless to spend a day clearing spoil.  17 trolley loads were removed.  No progress at the end of the cave this time, however we've made the existing bits much bigger and un-buried the potential right hand side passage just before the current end which had been filled up by Mike and Monica.  It's not massively clear where we should be digging at the moment as we've lost the tunnel again so our approach is emptying all which isn't solid rock.

Few issues with the trolley wheels falling off a couple of times which caused some merriment.  The trolley was christened 'Tim's Ingenious Trolley' or the 'Hopeless TIT' for short by Richard. 

A few pictures:
Apparently this was amusing, particularly a little later when pulling it through a puddle on the cliff path my boiler suit fell off...

Trolley loaded ready to be taken into the cave...

Richard hard at work...

Richard still hard at work...

Empty Carpet returned for filling...

Sas in the same bit of passage...

Current end of the cave...


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Since the last report on here we've done another 2 trips into Hopeless / Steve's.

The first being 3 weeks ago - myself and Richard did some bolting so that the exposed climbing around the Steve's / Hopeless connection can now be protected for those who need it.  Although competent climbers won't need rope, Steve's to Hopeless will make a nice SRT training trip with 5 short pitches, the longest of which is about 8m.  Alternatively, the climbs can just be protected with a lifeline as everything is perfectly climbable.  You'll still need one good climber in your team though as there are 'up pitches' in both directions which would need to be free climbed by the first person.   

After completing the bolting we pulled 5 or so trolley loads of spoil from the end of Hopeless and finished by doing the through trip with Gaynam who had joined us at lunchtime. 

The second trip was today - a whole day in Hopeless.  We mustered a team of 6 - myself, Sas, Richard, Nick, Sam and Gaynam.  I think Richard counted over 30 trolley loads.  Today's efforts focused on further emptying the area around the end of the cave which has resulted in a 'chamber' appearing which we even got 3 of us into (and you can sit up).  As previously mentioned we had two possible digs to choose from.  The first is what appears to be a right hand turn and the second 'straight ahead' dig (which takes a 90 degree left turn after a couple of feet).  Both of these leads are in the void under our solid ceiling which is roughly 3 ft above the height of the Hopeless tunnel.  We also went looking for the continuation of the Hopeless tunnel which we'd lost (again), by digging a hole in the floor on the left hand side of the 'chamber'.  As our chamber is approx. 3 ft above the level of the tunnel we knew the tunnel was somewhere beneath us. The good news is it looks like we've found it, the bad is that it looks like the tunnel is filled to within 2 inches of its roof with mud.  Interestingly, if this is the tunnel, it looks like it goes straight ahead passing underneath our 'straight on' dig.

So now we have 3 digs at the end of the cave but at least there's plenty of room to manoeuvre and temporarily stack spoil.  There's plenty more which could come out in our chamber and no doubt, Richard will continue his mission to 'take up the floor' but at least we're now in a position to choose one of the three options and dig forwards.  Unfortunately, it's not clear which is the best choice so we might dabble with them all and see what happens.

The trolley is proving to be great.  Today we roughly doubled our output compared to the pre-trolley days.  It's just a pity Hopeless is not giving up its secrets easily.

Quite a bit of talk today about a return to Showerbath so perhaps Hopeless will get left for a bit again?  Only time will tell.  We've just not got the commitment our Mendip friend have!


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Today marked a return to digging in Hopeless Hole having given it a break over the summer. 

The original plan was that there would be 4 of us, with the intention of having 2 in Blacknor at the end of 'Next to Go rift' and 2 into Steve's where we'd recently been digging to see if we can establish a vocal connection.  Unfortunately Nick had to work today leaving 3 so a new plan was needed.  The end of Steve's dig will have to wait for another day.

Having got in touch via the forum a couple of months back Ed and I met on Portland for a trip round Blacknor - Ed's first experience of the islands fine caves having recently moved down South from North Wales.  Ed joined us again today and Portland stalwart Richard was the third person.  We started with the Hopeless to Steve's through trip which was completed in about 1h30 so that Ed could see the delights of one of the Rift caves.  As had become custom, Richard spent a fair amount of the trip somewhere above our heads whereas myself and Ed decided to use the floor to progress. 

Having completed the through trip we spent around 3 hours continuing the end of Hopeless Hole dig.  This has been left for the last 6 months, partly due to loosing interest and partly due to needing a biggish team.  Richard was on TIT (Tim's Ingenious Trolley) duty whilst myself and Ed fannied around at the end pulling out spoil and filling carpet loads.  Approx. 15 trolley loads were evicted from the cave.  One oversized boulder needed breaking up, otherwise straight forward digging today.  Approx. 2 to 3 m of progress was made.  Just before giving up a couple of rocks were shifted in the right hand wall giving a view through a small hole into what looks like proper cave ahead.  Another session of clearing spoil is needed after which I hope to have something more interesting to report.  The 'proper' cave isn't exactly tall (I'm guessing 18 inches at best), however it looks several feet wide and possibly containing some descent formations.  There is orange stal visible ahead which was being dripped on (possibly from a rift above?).  All of a sudden this dig is looking reasonably promising however whether we'll have a few metres or something better is impossible to say just yet.  With any luck we might get a few of us together next weekend to continue.

Unfortunately my camera got left at home today, however Ed had his so perhaps he'll post a couple??


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Tim lying where the large boulder used to be while trying to support the hanging ceiling. The way on is to the right, just beyond the hanging ceiling.

The way on, buried up to its neck in even more stuff to move but it looks very promising indeed!


Staff member
tim.rose2 said:
Having got in touch via the forum a couple of months back Ed and I met on Portland for a trip round Blacknor

That was good to read  ;)

The photos look, erm, precarious!

The Old Ruminator

Well-known member
Great progressive dig read with clear images. It's rather a shame that its called " Hopeless Hole " though that might be the incentive to find more. I liked TIT. Many years ago I had NEDFROB though is probably best that we don't go into that. Our team is digging every week and I have actually got to use a bit of scaffolding now neatly disguised behind a stone wall. Peter's conveyor belt has been added and this makes hauling and crawling so much easier. When we ever find anything we will let folks know but it won't be anytime soon.


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Yes, Tim we should have some light but durable conveyor belt knocking about it you need some.


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Thank Ed for posting the photo's.

The way on is basically behind all the loose stuff on the right in Ed's top photo.  Right at the end of our session on Saturday I pulled out a few bits just beyond that very dodgy boulder and a hole appeared with a view to better things.  I'd always thought the way on might be the other side of that rubble but until then, moving various bits on that RHS showed nothing other than more rubble so we followed the good wall on the left instead.

As for that boulder it didn't look that bad when I crawled under it!  I did put some 'supporting spoil' underneath so it wouldn't go far.  Might look at taking it out next time or just digging though the rubble this side of it.  From what I could see pretty much anywhere through that right hand mess will achieve the same outcome.  No doubt you've all guess by now, the loose stuff is what has dropped down yet another narrow rift crossing our cave!

As for digging, the TIT is working really well in the main passage as far as the Steve's connection (base camp 1).  The section further in is being served very well with the carpet drag trays.  We've got a fairly smooth dry floor so I don't think conveyor belt would add much.  Very kind offer though.  What we really need is more help - any volunteers?  Or just someone to finish the job for us.  All dig pirates welcome on Portland on the condition you tell us what you find!

I reckon one more trip will get us into what ever we've caught a glimpse of last weekend.  As much as we try not to leave spoil everywhere (Richard even noted how tidy I'd been keeping the place), we do have a reasonably large clear area only a few metres back from the dig face.  I like to call it a chamber because 3 of us fit in at once and we don't have many 'chambers'.  We've been using it as base camp 2!  There's always the option to pull spoil back to there and deal with it later. 

Otherwise, I suspect the dig will take a break again whilst we poke around at the potential Steve's to Blacknor dig (see other thread).  We didn't really intend to work on this one last weekend.

As for the name I don't know the history.  Presumably the cave was named 'Hopeless Hole' by past Portland explorers due to the state of the collapse under what is now the Steve's / Hopeless connection.  It certainly didn't look worthwhile to us but we set to anyway.  Our main goal was to establish the connect to Steve's which I don't think had been considered previously.  The SDS drill has been vital to our effort and without it I'm certain we too would have considered the place hopeless.


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Well Hopeless Hole is certainly proving to be hopeless!

As you've probably guessed by my first sentence we've not found the caverns measureless to man (on Portland that refers to anything Richard sized) we'd hoped for.  Myself, Sas and Richard spent a good few hours in Hopeless again today.  After removal of a reasonable amount of spoil I managed to grovel my way along the low, 'open' passage seen on our last trip making around 4 m of progress.  1 m ahead was the flow stone bank we'd gained a glimpse of previously; unfortunately no further passage was found.  In fact it seems the flow stone is completely blocking the way ahead (assuming one exists) leaving us with a dead end.  Another large spoil removal task would be required to open the route to the 'end' allowing sufficient room to work, and that's assuming there is something at the end worth working on.  All very disappointing really considering how promising it had all looked.  We have a solid roof, a good wall and it's heading in the right direction!  Bugger. 

So we called a committee meeting.  The outcome being that we're going to leave Hopeless for the foreseeable future.  Consequently we've had a bit of a tidy up today and Richard plans to return to remove the rest of our junk over the next week or so.  As for the future, we might clear a proper route as far as the stal bank for three reasons...
1. To be certain there's nothing further worth digging.
2. To make a proper end to the cave which has a view of a few pretties.
3. It's all been rather good fun so why not continue even if there's no purpose.
Or we might not bother!

What I did manage to do is take a few photos:

Here's Sas and Richard in our chamber:

Sas looking through the hole on the far side of the above chamber which leads to the end of the cave:

Richard about to round the final corner (to the right beyond the boulders).  This whole section has been cleared during our last 2 trips.

And round the corner he goes:

Once round that corner, a bit of wriggling later this is the view of the end:

The flowstone bank mentioned is central on this picture behind the last few rocks I couldn't be bothered to move when I had my head up level with them.

Well Hopeless has provided us with much amusement over the last 18 months so I dare say we'll be back one day!  In short though our efforts have resulted in the connection to Steve's providing a cracking through trip (which incidentally was completed again today by Nick and Jerome whilst we were digging) and we've doubled the length of the phreatic tunnel.  We've agreed the priority over this side of the island now needs to be the potential Steve's - Blacknor connection.  I've also got a few ideas for new places to bugger around in and of course there's always a return to Showerbath to consider.



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Well it's almost as if we can't keep away!  Myself and Richard convinced Sas today she should complete the Steve's to Hopeless through trip have successfully avoided it since we made the connection.  What else is there to do after reaching Hopeless than the spend a couple hours digging the end? 

Today's objective was to bring the bloody ceiling down.  One thing we all agreed on after our last disappointing trip was that any further progress would require the removal of the rocks to the right of Richard in the third photo in my previous post.  The photo makes them look reasonable however it was all a bit dodgy on the far side and furthermore to give better access to the end we'd have to remove some of the bits holding it all up. 

In a change to tradition, Richard set to, doing unholy things with the long poking pole, whilst myself and Sas acted as spoil sherpa's.  About an hour later Richard had made the cave shorter as it was no longer possible to pass beneath the beast of a boulder he'd moved.  I then set to with the drill, plug and feathers.  Another hour later and the lot was gone.  Whilst I was breaking boulders Richard took out 5 TIT loads.  Spoil removal was slow today as we'd taken the carpet drag trays home previously.

Richard's convinced we should at least make a proper route down to the previously mentioned flow stone at the end of the cave and see what, if anything, can be done to continue ahead.  Today's effort has gone a long way to achieving that.  There's certain potential for a reasonable find, it's just a question of how much effort is required!

No photo's of today's digging, however here's 3 taken whilst in Steve's:




Back to the 'End of Steve's End.' dig on Friday.


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An update on Hopeless Hole...

Only two trips since Feb due to some annoying virus doing the rounds.  The first was a few weeks ago - very little to report from that one.  It was simply a tidying up / spoil removal session and a rough survey taken (below). 

The second was today and finally an opportunity to attack the flowstone bank at the end of the cave.  To be honest I didn't expect much from this.  It wasn't clear whether we should be digging at the penultimate corner or the end 4 m further on.  Consensus was to try the end (first).  Turns out mud, infill, boulders and flowstone is a very boring combination to dig.  Nether-the-less 4 hours later and about 1 m of forwards progress a drafting hole appeared which was soon enlarged to provide a view beyond the blockage into further 'passage'.  The Passage ahead appears to be about 30cm high with a solid roof.  Approx. 1.5 m wide and we've estimate at least 5 m long.  The 'floor' is a mix of mud and rock with the true floor probably 1 m below.  As with the last piece of passage in Hopeless we'll need to create a trench to crawl in as we progress.  Two keyed in boulders currently block entry into this which need breaking and removing next time.  Hopefully the next few metres at least should be quick progress.  The effort we've put into this place deserves some open passage now! 

A couple of photo's:

Looking ahead from the penultimate corner to Richard working at the flowstone bank. 


We've been able to retain a decent amount of the flowstone bank by keeping to the left.  This is what remains:

Gaynam sporting his latest headgear invention.  Basically a battery powered streetlight. 

The survey we took (which will hopefully be completely out of date after our next session):


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The team returned Saturday and through the flowstone we go.  It took approx. 30 mins, a dose of the drill, plug and feathers and some grunting with the crowbar but the 2 boulders blocking the exit from the flowstone choke succumbed.  A bit of a tidy up and enlargement of the hole through before the 'trenching' began.  With Nick at the lead we'd made around 5m of forward progress before lunch.  Beyond the choke we have a good ceiling and two walls with a passage width of approx. 2m.  Unfortunately we cannot tell the true height of the passage as it's filled nearly to the ceiling leaving a head space of around 20 to 30 cm.  Being 2m wide, half the width was sacrificed to home small spoil from our trench, whilst larger rocks were sent back for removal by the spoil sherpa's.  After lunch a further 3m of forward progress was made but this was very low due to inefficient 'spoil hiding' and hence running out of space.  I'd not tried very hard - knackered from the mornings efforts and desperately hoping it was magically going to get bigger!  At the far end, the passage continues the same for as far as we can see, being around 5 to 10 m.  On the plus side, it's clear where we're going and what we need to do.

We'll need to spend some time improving Saturdays forward progress making it a bit bigger and doing a better job of loosing the spoil but other wise progress should be fairly quick.  The problem of course is spoil removal as we getting a long way from the entrance (approx. 40 m) and very few other options.

What I'm struggling to understand is how the passage, which if empty would be sizeable for Portland, has become filled with rubble. Obviously some event has created the fill but I can't imagine what that would be.  The fill is a mixture of rocks ranging from aggregate to small boulders around 2ft square, a little soil and loads of broken up flowstone / stal.  We've worked our way along roughly 8 m of this and can see it continues ahead so there must be at least a 15m section.  There are no rifts above and other than a good splattering of 2 to 5cm long stals the ceiling is clean and flat.  The broken stal in the fill is far bigger than anything on the ceiling so it's not come from there.  The fill almost looks like the output from the stone crusher which has been pumped in!

For those who know Portland, the passage resembles Comfort Crawl in Blacknor being square shaped, however in the case of Hopeless the gap above the rubble floor is too small to fit through.

And for those who like them some photo's...

Looking through the hole we've made in the flowstone choke to Nick working on the other side:

The new passage on the far side of the choke showing the left hand wall and the ceiling.  The right hand side has been used to home what we've take from the left:

Richard inspecting the limit of Saturdays efforts at the end of the day (he might have commented that it wasn't big enough!):

A sample of the broken up bits of flowstone & stal found amongst the fill we're removing that we've put aside:


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On that last picture it looks like the stal could have come from the ceiling originally, where that black patch is now?


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The black patch is chert in the ceiling - there's loads throughout the whole cave.  I've caused a bit of confusion by not explaining the 4th photo better.  Those bits of stal came from several metres further into the cave.  The fourth photo was taken where we were sorting spoil and those bits were picked out and placed on a convenient ledge as we thought we'd retain a few.  They would have come from somewhere below the ceiling shown in the 2nd photo.  There's also loads of it.  Every other piece of rock is at least partly flow stone so it's certainly not from the odd bit which has fallen off the current ceiling.  One theory I have is that the current ceiling was not the original ceiling.


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I've just noticed how long it's been since I posted to this thread...
Obviously Covid hasn't helped and we've had other distractions (Persil & Nookey) over the summer but work in Hopeless hasn't completely ceased.  In fact during the last couple of months since ticking off Persil as done there's been a renewed effort.

A couple of critical things have happened...

The dig became increasingly difficult.  We hit a patch where the 'head space' we were following was only a few inches high.  Below this was layered calcite, anything up to 12" thick sat upon a thick layer of mud.  This meant that progress was slow, the calcite had to be painstakingly broken up and a huge amount of material had to be taken out to the entrance.  Being 40+ metres from the entrance a big team is required to achieve much as stacking spaces in the cave are limited.  It turns out even a team of 7 isn't enough (which is our record in terms of people)!!!  We do have a system of using intermediate stacking spaces which works pretty well with 5 but any less and we quickly end up being unable to move. 

The original aim was to find open phreatic beyond the collapse below Steve's Endeavour.  Being 20 m beyond Steve's End. and with the cave looking less likely we were ready to abandon this one.  The final task was to survey what we had to see if that shed any light on things.  The survey didn't help with where the 'open' passage might be, but we did realise we were only 5 m from the end of C&A rift in Ariel Cave which was a bit of a surprise as I'd assume we would be 20+m south of there:


The aim of the dig changed from finding open phreatic to forging a connection to Ariel and therefore connecting both Hopeless and Steve's End. into the larger system. 

This didn't remove the need for a big team and so bugger all happened through the spring of 2021.  As mentioned above, other projects occupied us during the summer and so we've only returned to Hopeless again recently. 

It was big effort over several trips but eventually the calcite was gone (well enough of it).


The end isn't huge but it is big enough:



A fortnight ago we found what we were looking for; 4m beyond the last survey point a large rift appeared in the ceiling.  Unfortunately (and as expected) it was full of debris which kept on falling every time it was poked and by the time we'd finish every orifice to hide spoil was full.

Another session today and monumental effort in spoil removal.  They must have been spurred on by the 2 beautifully made carpet drag trays I treated the team too.  Richard reckons 25 TIT loads left the cave which we're estimating to be well over a tonne.  A good portion of that was from the rift at the end of the cave, now over 50 m from the entrance.  By the time we were finished we were looking up through a hole into an open rift above.  The hole was certainly person sized, but guarded by some pretty hideous rocks that no one fancied poking at the end of the day.  Any attempt to climb through the hole would almost certainly dislodge something, if not the bloody lot, potentially resulting in a trapped caver, so for now the what lies above is unknown.


We're obviously hoping we're into C&A rift and the survey certainly suggests that's likely.  The rift above looks about the right sort of size too.  The question is whether we're about to pop up into the rift within the known cave, just beyond the end where further digging will be required to forge the connection or in fact in a different rift entirely.  If the latter then there's probably some new cave to explore.  In the next couple of weeks we're going to pop into Ariel and head to the end of C&A to see if we can find evidence of our efforts.  If we can we're hoping it'll be easier and safer to sort out from that end.  Otherwise there's another hard session in Hopeless ahead where at least one member of the team will need to bring spare underwear. 

With any luck our next connection to Ariel Cave is imminent which will complete my dream of a Persil to Steve's Endeavour through trip.

To be continued...