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Hopeless hole - Portland

Andy Sparrow

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Fantastic work chaps!  Way back in the 90s when my friend Des Marshall was compiling his 'Selected Caves of Britain and Ireland' I suggested to him that Blacknor/Ariel be included - an idea that was swiftly rejected!  It feels now that a very respectable cave system is being pieced together, which I'm sure will attract cavers from a much wider area.  I'm looking forward to a visit - assuming I fit!


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Even before the Sandy - Ariel connection was made in the early 90's Ariel was a decent cave and in my opinion more notable than quite a few in the book.  I believe Ariel alone was in the region of 1km.  When Sandy is add to the mix, and adding Persil now that's connected, I'd take a guess the total length must be around 3km.  If and when Hopeless / Steve's joins that'll add another few hundred metres.  In my opinion the Sandy to Ariel (or Persil) through trip is a sporting classic far superior to a lot of trips in that book, it's just unfortunate the connecting rift is tight.  I'd even go as far as saying that if the book was ever re-written the Grove Cliff Caves would be worthy of inclusion too now that the combined cave length is around 600 m.

Bit of an update on Hopeless...

Yesterday me and the two Mike's went into Ariel and to the end of C&A rift.  Unfortunately there was no evidence of our activities at the end of Hopeless.  Mike R headed back out of Ariel and around to Hopeless.  This allowed us to established a weak vocal connection.  Unfortunately the sound was coming through the rift beyond where it's person sized and furthermore appeared to be up & over rather than along so we're assuming horizontally there's a blockage between the two.  Mike K and I did a lot of gardening dislodging a few tonne of loose rock at the end of the C&A rift to make digging safe.  C&A ends by the rift splitting with both branches being too tight.  We are guessing the connection will be 5 to 10 m beyond the current end along the right hand branch.  Once the gardening was done we used up drill batteries beginning the enlarging work along this.  Unfortunately it's going to be a slow job if this is the way to go - we can see the rift continues too tight for approx. 4 m and the walls look pretty solid. 

Meanwhile Mike R did some gardening in the rift at the end of Hopeless bringing down all manner of stuff!  This will now need clearing from the Hopeless end but Mike R reckons the rift will be safely climbable once done.  The rift at the end of Hopeless also appears much wider (i.e. person sized) so it's obviously not too tight the whole way.  By comparing the layers of rock (specifically a thick chert band) we're convince floor level on both sides is the same height so digging straight ahead in both would eventually meet.  What we're hoping is that there's an easier way over the top but until we can climb from Hopeless and properly examine the rift on that side we'll not be able to determine this.  Both myself and Mike K did climb the end of C&A but there wasn't anything obvious and at least some enlargement work would be needed.

I guess what we discovered yesterday is that Hopeless will connect to C&A eventually, it's just a matter of how much time & effort it will take.

Interestingly the left hand rift at the end of C&A has a massive draft emanating from it.  This is on the inland side so probably warrants some investigation too.  Accessing this from Hopeless might prove easier so getting the rift clear and climbed in Hopeless has to be the priority.



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Another Hopeless update...
Myself, Mike R, Mike K & Gaynam spent today removing more spoil from Hopeless.  12 TIT loads completely out the cave and a lot more moved back toward the entrance and dumped in various locations.  Right at the end of today's session Mike R managed to get into the rift found previously and then blocked himself in.  Once let out I had a look too.  Stop press, it is official, you can stand up at the end of Hopeless Hole!!!  We didn't climb the rift as the way in is small, right in the base of the rift and there's still loads of loose rock.  One wrong foot could easily block the way out and having already done that once at the end of the day we deemed it best not to do so again.  To the left will eventually connect to C&A in Ariel.  It initially looks blocked with infill but should be easy to clear.  Somewhere beyond has to be the narrow rift to C&A which will need enlarging.  Hopefully we can get to a point we can work this from both ends.  Immediately right is blocked with spoil but it could well be open higher up - it's not currently clear how high the rift goes but we can see approx. 5 m at present which is more than person sized.  Amongst the spoil removed today I did find some roach stone which is one of the high bands of Portland stone; the only way that could have got there is fallen from much higher up so I'm optimistic the rift could be a lot higher than we can see from the base.  The rift is a decent size so I'd be surprised if there's not something open to the right if we can find our way through the spoil / wedged blocks.  It'll be nice to find some new cave after all this effort.  The other 'good' news is that the Hopeless phreatic tunnel continues the other side of the rift, more or less immediately turning left.  Initially it's going to need some clearing but beyond looks bigger and littered with rocks rather than calcite / mud as found before the rift so it should be much easier (and therefore quicker) to progress along.  The next session will need to be another mammoth spoil removal but I'm hopeful once into the rift properly we might be able to lose a lot there.  Once again I'm hopeful Hopeless is giving up it's secrets.  But then we've been here before and found nothing.


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Hopeless gets bigger...

Five of us today; Myself, Mike R, Richard, Gaynam and new recruit (to Portland caving / digging) Woody.  The day started by explaining to Woody all the caves are shit, uncomfortable and not worth exploring, but otherwise just as good as Mendip!  Having got the enthusiasm out of the way we headed over to Hopeless, meeting a couple other local cavers on route who were off to have a look at our recent discoveries in Persil.  Great to see other people caving on Portland and more so visiting places we've discovered.

Once in Hopeless I decided to bring down the ceiling in Squatting Hole Chamber which had been looking increasingly dodgy.  Me, Gaynam and Richard then set to clearing the spoil I'd just created and then the heap left from the last trip.  Meanwhile Mike and Woody started shifting more backward from the sharp end.  A couple of hours later Gaynam had to leave as he was on a time limit.  Me and Richard moved ahead to aid moving spoil back to Squatting Hole Chamber recreating the heap we'd just cleared.  As she wasn't present Sas's squatting hole ended up in less than a pristine condition (I'm blaming Richard).  Around 2:30 I was summoned by Mike to have a look at the end with him.  It was finally time to climb the rift!  After a little discussion Mike decided to head up to the left.  After moving a few rocks he announced he could see into the tall rift above and within 10 min Mike was through.  A quick look and we realised we'd best get the others (who by this time were outside yacking to the cavers we'd seen earlier in the day).

So what did we find?  Off to the left the rift went for approx. 10 m and then became too tight.  Mike had a go at this for 20 mins extending it a couple of metres.  Unfortunately the next bit looked like a lot of work.  We're both confident we were looking through to C&A rift in Ariel cave (we'd previously established a vocal connection so it can't be far).  We'll need a team both sides to work out how to attack that one.  My guess is that the distance between the 2 is around 5 m and will take 2 or 3 trips to make the connection.  This does of course mean my previous estimates of how close the two caves were was wrong by at least 10 m! 

To the right it was possible to traverse up and over all the loose stuff we could see from the end of Hopeless Tunnel.  The rift increased in size and height, but unfortunately ended at another blockage after approx. 25 m.  Again any extension here would need a reasonable effort so left for another day.  The other lead is the continuation of the hopeless tunnel which appeared to run along the base of the rift in a massive undercut.  Richard had a look at floor level further along the rift and reckons he found it through a couple of small holes which would be an easier place to dig.

So we've managed to get 5 people standing up simultaneously at the end of Hopeless with plenty of room for more.  We estimate 35 m of new cave.

A few photos.  Faces rather than arses are allowed today as it was a breakthrough.  I like the idea of Faces when we have something to smile about and arses / feet the rest of the time!

Mike emerging from the end of Hopeless tunnel into the rift:

Woody on the initial climb up in the rift.  The way ahead follows the underside of the roof seen in this photo for a few metres and then emerges into the tall rift:

Richard in the new rift:

Mike at the Southern end of the new rift:

There are formations:

And the usual splash of colour:

We did explain to Woody that breakthroughs on your first ever digging trip isn't that common.  Good start to 2022!  Hopefully more to follow.



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Hopeless continues to frustrate & surprise...

Yesterday myself and Monica dropped into Ariel and headed to the end of C&A whilst Mike and Sas went to the new rift in Hopeless.  It quickly (much to my surprise) became apparent the vocal connection to C&A was not at the left hand end of the new rift.  Instead it was through a narrow rift found roughly opposite the end of the Hopeless tunnel and perpendicular to our new passage.  When we discovered the new rift we did look at this but wrote it off as too narrow and not worth poking!  We've now got a strong vocal connection, being able to hold a sensible conversation between the two caves, but no light connection yet.  We think there's a corner approx. 4 to 5 m ahead from each side.  We're also confident the dig on the Hopeless side is approx. 2 m above that in C&A rift.  There's a very obvious thick chert band which runs through this part of Portland which allows easy comparison of relative heights.  The other thing that became obvious is that joining the two caves is going to be a big effort so don't expect a connection just yet.  We may need to hold a number of 'bring your own drill' parties to get this done.

It of course leaves the question of where the two ends of the new rift go, both of which pinch out.  More to the point how does the new rift at the end of Hopeless relate to everything else in the area as it clearly isn't the continuation of C&A as we'd thought.  Some surveying is needed!!!

Having given up in Ariel me and Monica went round to Hopeless to join Mike and Sas.  Me and Mike did a fair bit of climbing in the new rift confirming there's no way over the top at either end or the mid-way rift.  I'd estimate the rift is 15 to 20 m high with the upper parts containing some very nice bright yellow formations (or as Mike described it "dehydrated piss coloured").  It's only when you start climbing you discover how tall the rift is.



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The surveying is done!  Yesterday Sas and I surveyed all of hopeless and the route from Hopeless out to Steve's Northern entrance.  Pretty much as expected; the rift is at a bit of an odd angle.  It also clearly shows the relationship between Hopeless and C&A.  Whilst in there we also emptied two drill batteries in the connecting rift.  It's not impossible digging but it's going to be a long job so one to plug away at over the coming months.  The good news is that it's a 2 person dig.  End to end the new rift is 35 m long horizontally, which incidentally is bang on our estimate when we found it.  As the caver travels Hopeless is now 94 m long in total.  Adding the bit of Steve's, we surveyed a total of 112 m yesterday.  I'm intending to survey the rest of Steve's over the coming weeks and will draw something up once I have all the data.

In the mean time this is what Hopeless looks like plotted on Google earth:

And in relation to the other caves:


Ed W

Really exciting stuff Tim.  For me the most interesting thing is that if the phreatic tunnel of Hopeless Hole continues in a straight line it will go underneath those in Blacknor Hole, it does not (at least as yet) look to be associated with the lower level passages of Sandy Hole further south - could there be a load more phreatic passage north of Sqezy Rifts, if so you could be on the way to finding a whole load of new stuff in the near future.  Best of luck!


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Unfortunately it's not clear where the Hopeless phreatic has gone at the moment.  Opposite the end of the tunnel and approx. 1 m higher is an undercut running perpendicular.  This looks like a phreatic roof.  If this is the main tunnel then it's taken a 90 degree turn North West, full of debris & essentially wrecked by the rift.  I think it's unlikely we'll bother following this.  At present we can't see what's directly opposite at the same height as the end of the tunnel as we've not cleared enough spoil.  I'm hoping to use the new rift to house the spoil to unearth this but a bit of work is needed first to gain better access to the rift.  The problem we've had with Hopeless is the shear number of rifts.  Previously we've always dug straight ahead and found the tunnel continuing so I'm hoping the same will happen again.  It would certainly be good to find some open phreatic and as you've noted something at this level north of Squeezy Rift has plenty of potential.  The other interesting place in this respect is Showerbath - the current end is approximately level with Vortex passage and heading roughly North.  Big draft and you can see the tunnel continuing beyond the current restriction / end / death trap (all apply).  I should really survey that properly to pinpoint the end.  Personally though, I'd rather find rifts than phreatics on Portland as they tend to be better decorated and a better size!  I see the phreatics as a useful connection between the rifts. 



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Probably time for another Hopeless update...

Despite my lack of posts on here work has continued over the last few months, albeit rather sporadically whilst we've been distracted elsewhere. There's also nothing significant to report! We've continued with some tidying up and stabilisation in the connection area to the new rift and there's still a bit more to do. We've started poking around at 5 locations;

The left hand end of the rift forks - both rifts are too tight. The left branch has been pushed for around 3 to 4 m but seems to keep getting smaller. I think we've now written this off. The right hand branch is draughting well so we've started attacking this too. It's very small so will require a lot of effort. It's also surrounded on all sides by known passage with no known vocal connections so I'm not sure there's much to be found / gained - I suspect we'll loose interest in this one.

Yesterday we had a brief go at the right hand end of the rift. This is draughting very well and heads into blank space inland of Steve's Endeavour. Unfortunately the rift appears to split (or is blocked with an enormous flake just ahead of where I can now get too with both branches looking very small. Mike had a look and concluded it might be worth heading down and then along. Either way this looks like a long term dig, but it does have good potential for new cave.

The area at the end of the phreatic tunnel has taken a little attention too - I've spent a couple of hours starting to clear rocks but as yet unable to determine where the phreatic continues. The issue with this one is spoil; it either need taking out the cave (team of at least 5 needed) or dumping in the rift which at present is a little awkward due to having to carry it up a 2.5 m climb. There's also a selection of large blocks which need splitting. This is one to keep plugging away at when bored!

Finally the connection to C&A rift in Ariel - this is now our main prize! We've made a good start. Basically whilst messing around with all of the above we've had somebody enlarging the connecting rift. As of yesterday we've put three 4 to 5 hour sessions into this and have made about 2 m progress. My estimate was that the gap between the two caves was around 6 m so we're probably looking at another 5 to 10 sessions to breakthrough. Not a quick win but certainly achievable. 1 more session then it would be worth getting people both sides again to see if we have the light connection yet.
A couple of photos working on the rift leading to Ariel:

The pinnacle & sunset outside Hopeless entrance at the end of the day:


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The next instalment of the Hopeless tale...
So what have we been up to since November? I'd take a guess at about 6 or 7 trips, 4 of which has been in the last 3 weeks. In that time we have;
1. Stabilised the gubbins in the rift up to the right at the end of the tunnel. This was all a bit dodgy as we kept arriving to find a bucket load or two had come down. Nothing huge but a substantial collapse here could easily have blocked the way out resulting in an extra few hours digging which we all agreed would have been very boring if stuck on the wrong side.
2. Improved the way on (route up to the left) at the end of the tunnel. Some loose and annoying rocks / dirt has been removed and a staircase installed to make the climb a tad easier.
3. Stabilised the slope up to the dig. Mike did some rearranging of the boulders you climb over so they moved less.
4. Improved access to the spoil dump in the left hand rift.
5. Pulled some more rock out of where we think the phreatic has gone (it's hiding well). This serves three purposes. The first obviously is the search for open phreatic, the second is a 'reserved' space to quickly loose a load of spoil should anything collapse around the end of the tunnel and we need to dig our way out and the third is that it make life much easier getting back into the tunnel on the way out.

As for the main dig towards Ariel...
Whilst all the above has been going on, at least one person has always been positioned with a drill attacking the rift which will eventually connect the two caves. We've made plenty of progress and we're now around 6 to 7 m in. Last weekend we reached the long expected corner and got our first glimpse of Ariel cave from Hopeless. This was confirmed by just about seeing the bit of fluorescent orange tape Mike had left in Ariel as a marker. Yesterday me and t'other Mike enlarged the corner and section just beyond. We now have a good view into C&A rift along the narrow continuation. I'm guessing another 3 to 4 m to go and I'm predicting breakthrough day is 4 trips from now! I dread to think how many drill batteries this project has drained. In the last two weekends I think we've gone through 21.

Some pictures:

Mike hard at work - some point last weekend.

One of the many boulders suspended in the rift which 'fell into bits' and no longer exist.

The view back along the enlarged rift.

The current end just around the corner. C&A rift in Ariel Cave is approx. 3 to 4 m ahead along that narrow rift. You can't quite see where it opens out again in this image. There's some bits which will peel off the right hand wall fairly easily and otherwise the left hand wall at this height seems to yield fairly well. Higher up however is a nightmare as it doesn't P&F very well.


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4 trips is was...

It is official, you can now access Ariel Cave from Hopeless Hole.

On Friday 21st April (following two other trips since I last posted on here) we managed to get 4 of us together for what we hoped would be the last bash. Mike R and I went in via Ariel whilst Mike K & Sas attacked as usual from Hopeless. Despite between us having 3 drills, 14 batteries, 16 sets of plug and feathers and 6 hours underground what remained to be enlarge at the start of the day proved too much for success on that trip alone. We did however have the first handshake between the caves, and more importantly could pass tools through the gap so they could go out the easy way (thanks Mike & Sas for carrying most the kit out!). We also left knowing that we'd be through on the next visit.

The following week (30/04) Mike K, Sas and I all entered via Hopeless. With fresh batteries and bodies we managed to get Mike through within an hour. Another 4 hours working from both sides, we'd made the connection a very generous size. We had decided to keep going until all batteries were spent. As it's all enlarged, our intention was to make this a 'friendly' way in. On the C&A side there's still a lump we might yet remove for further comfort. Once we'd given up drilling, to mark the occasion, we did a quick trip through to Queen's Entrance to peer out to daylight and claim the first 'through trip' before returning via Hopeless as we'd not taken any abseil kit and we're too knackered to exit via Persil or Sandy.

The first proper through trip (and photo trip) was yesterday. Again the same team, Mike K, Sas & I entered via Hopeless, through the new connection into C&A Rift, down to The Confluence, back along Ariel Tunnel to Grand Canyon and then out via Persil which we'd previously joined in Aug 21. We did make a detour from the confluence the other way along Ariel tunnel as far as Brownsea Island as Sas had never been there, and me and Mike K wanted to 'look at something'. The Hopeless to Persil through trip direct is about 2 hours caving. Brownsea and back adds about 1 hr 15 to the trip. Alternatively the though trip can be extended by starting at Steve's South entrance completing the Steve's to Hopeless through trip (approx. 1 hr 30) and then continuing on into Ariel, then Persil.

The ultimate through trip now is of course Steve's South to Sandy, which I'd take a guess at being 4 to 4.5 hours hard caving. No doubt we'll try this out in the coming weeks! The beauty is that for those competent at dealing with Portland caves, no kit is required to get from Steve's to Sandy.

There's still a bit of tidying up that we intend to do:
1. Remove most of the dray trays and other stuff we have in Hopeless. We have reasons to retain some stuff but will clear up what we don't need.
2. We'll probably take off the annoying lump from the connection.
3. Improve the access into the rift at the end of the Hopeless tunnel as this could do with a bit more work.

We're going to poke around elsewhere for a bit, but the mystery of where the Hopeless phreatic goes is still to be solved and no doubt will receive some attention in the future. We also think the right hand end of A Hope in Hell Rift warrants a more sustained effort as it drafts really well and it's one of several indicators that suggest another big rift somewhere in that area yet to be found.

As usual some pictures (breakthroughs mean faces rather than arses):
Sas exiting the end of the Hopeless tunnel (Jan 2022 breakthough into A Hope in Hell Rift).

A Hope in Hell Rift

The exit from the dug connection on the C&A Rift side

C&A Rift, Ariel Cave.

Enjoy if you choose to visit! I'll try to put together a sketch of the cave showing how it all now links.


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The promised sketch of the cave now Hopeless & Steve's are linked:

This is not a proper survey. It's been produced by putting the bits of surveying we've done in Google Earth, overlaying several old surveys which have been published, some as far back as the 80's and then tracing over and adding some artistic licence in the gaps. I've also left off the bulk of Ammonite passage. Due to there being no complete survey of all this lot we don't really know, but I'd estimate the total cave length to be well over 3km.

Sandy's Northern Rift is a new discovery - obviously inland of anything known, big (for Portland) and heading into a very interesting area. Work there will continue now the weather is improving. We found it rains in there in the winter and we don't do damp digging! The other very interesting area is the blank patch between Steves' and Ariel Tunnel. There's a few pointers around to there being another large rift in the gap running parallel to Steve's, something else we're hunting from a few locations.

The caves:
Ariel - Purple
Sandy - Pink
Steve's / Hopeless - Blue
Persil - Navy.

Grey = Cliff line
Red = Footpaths.

West Cliff Caves 09-05-23.jpg


Congratulations All!

To the best of my knowledge there are no other caves in the UK that manage to combine both water-worn passages and mass-movement rifts on anything like this scale, if at all; and this growing system is quite something!

Looking at your outline survey, there are still intriguing gaps to fill somewhere, and you keep finding more to explore. I've long thought Hopeless Hole and Sandy Hole link somewhere, you've pushed Showerbath Cave for some distance, Clay Ope Dig remains enigmatic largely thanks to its very difficutl access; and where the heck does Ammonite Passage think it's going apart from "Continues for a long way"? (I've never seen that on a survey before!) Oh for something that gives its remoter parts an entrance, but I've looked for caves along those cliffs, you've searched even more thoroughly and found Wellington Hole (I think - have I recalled the name aright?), and I daresay others have, over the years; but there are far fewer rift-caves along there, and we soon reach sea-level.

Prize-Day / North Passage must do something beyond their choke; and this, the flat-out roof passage near World's End and Shitzenstrasse hint at perhaps a series to the East, though they might just be the remains of discreet, autogenic inlets rather than part of a network.

There's also the question of where Ariel Tunnel goes past Brownsea Island but it seemed to me to be too smashed up by mass-movement collapses to search - though I'd always had to leave it to others to ferret about above that traverse.

So - fine work, everyone, and here's to the next km!



Active member
It's certainly becoming a very respectable cave and yes I totally agree there's plenty of intriguing gaps.
Showerbath certainly needs more attention and could well be the key to one of the mysteries but we've been distracted elsewhere recently. It's also become hard work as like we had with hopeless it's now 50 m back to the entrance and that's where all spoil must go! Just ahead of the current end is a huge slab held up by what looks like 3 pebbles with a view of open 'big enough' passage beyond. The problem is that those 3 pebbles need removing to progress and to remove those three pebbles requires some space creation. The outcome will likely be a lot of time led down with a drill and then a lot of dragging rocks back to the entrance.
The 'continues for a long way' on the above 'sketch' is my addition. Mike R has told me ammonite passage is over 1200 m long, but with no published survey beyond the bit included on the 1981 survey it seemed an appropriate (and bit tongue in cheek) way of dealing with it. At some point I need to survey a little way down ammonite passage. I intend to have a look at the first rift crossing and whether it corresponds with anything on the surface. As you rightly point out a way into the southern end would help matters. Mike said they did look at the rifts in the past but with modern surveying devices, google earth and SDS drills his opinion was that it's certain worth re-exploring the potential.
We're working on the continuation of Ariel tunnel at the moment - two places we're hunting it down. One in the area around brownsea, the other in the new rift now marking the northern end of Sandy. My current opinion is that the water worn passage turned inland so should cross our new rift about 10m to 15 m north of the current end.
Andy MacTavish told me he'd joked with Dorset Cave Group back in the 70's before the discovery of Ariel that he and his boys would find 6000ft of cave on Portland. Soon after, they discovered Ariel and recorded 600ft on the first survey. 3km is approx. 10,000 ft? Obviously a lot of work by many others has contributed but it could certainly be argued they did it!