It’s been a few months since we provided any update on the goings on in the North York Moors.
Work in the 2020 ‘Covid Extensions’ in Jenga Pot has been continuing in parallel with another high-prospect project elsewhere (about 4-5 miles east).
This summer we have finished surveying of the remaining major sections of the cave and are close to being able to publish an updated version of the survey.
The Covid Extensions contains four sumps: Upstream and Downstream (sumps 4 and 5) in the small, presumed percolation-fed stream in Pandemic Passage, and then Upstream and Downstream (sumps 6 and 7) in the Excalibur Pot streamway (rediscovered about 300m downstream of the furthest limit of exploration in Excalibur Pot) as shown in the survey above.
Sump 4 has been the greatest focus of attention this year. This is the upstream of the first streamway encountered in the Covid Extensions. We initially thought this must be the lost ‘Shit Creek’ streamway from Excalibur Pot, but some quick compass measurements revealed the water to be coming from the south, not the north, so this theory quickly collapsed.
The stream emerges from a low arch, a canal, which you can enjoyably float through for several metres until a low airspace duck is reached. When we first found this there was barely 2-3 inches of airspace for about 6ft, but some dredging of the downstream floor has managed to achieve 5 inches of airspace, which is decent. Beyond here, the passage becomes low crawling in a gravel stream with a few short walking-height sections, for about 40m, until the true Sump 4 is reached.
Ian ‘Snazzy’ Dawson dived Sump 4 back in 2020, continuing south, surfacing after about 15-20m in a low-headspace continuation of the stream passage; but with this being one of his first solo cave dives, and the water being freezing, he didn’t hang around to explore.
Returning to Sump 4 this year we have found the entrance to it to be badly silted up, prohibiting access to Chris Armstrong who attempted to dive (Snazzy has moved to Australia so didn’t fancy coming out on Wednesday night to have another go).
However, above Sump 4 on the left is a high-level passage which starts spacious, but after 15m became progressively too restricted due to thick, sticky mud. Over the last few months, we have made several visits here trying to dig a way on, as black space was always visible ahead, and we could hear the enticing drip-drip of water and a decent echo. We assumed this might provide a bypass to Sump 4 and back to the streamway that Snazzy glimpsed a few years earlier.
The breakthrough came a few weeks ago, dropping down over the mud into a low section of new streamway. Downstream, the water vanishes through chert blockages into what feels like a pool, but there is no way this could be where Snazzy surfaced, as it is totally blocked with chert. We reckon Snazzy must have surfaced in a short section of ‘dry’ passage, which only 5-6m further on sumped again, just downstream of where we have now intercepted.
Upstream in the new section, 20m of low thrashing in the water and another sump was reached; This was pushed by Andrew ‘ChooChoo’ Northall and Richard ‘Sparky’ Edwards as best as possible without diving equipment, but without success.
Sparky and Andrew managed to capture some awesome, video footage; This shows the initial breakthrough, exploration upstream, Andrew pushing the sump, and a short interview with Sparky afterwards, extoling the virtues of the new section of cave. The quality is rough (no high-definition video here), but Gary Douthwaite has edited it together, so you can see that F’ing Hopeless Pot is nowhere near as lovely
(Ps; lots of bad language, not for those easily offended... subtitles available for those who don't speak Yorkshire).
Thanks to Andrew and Sparky for capturing this!
It is becoming clear that this passage is a continuous alternation between streamway with some airspace, and streamway with none, as the roof rises and dips. Quite how far it goes, we don’t know (not much further we expect), and where it is coming from is an even bigger mystery.
Either way, this is becoming quite a serious Wednesday night project. Last week, work was undertaken to remove a lip of rock and chert which was artificially raising the water level in the new upstream sump, and diving kit is now in place for an attempted push here maybe this week.
As you can see from the video, this is a challenging spot for a diver, but Chris Armstrong seems unusually invested in this hideous opportunity!
We haven’t even attempted the far more promising Sumps 5, 6 and 7, which are spacious and cleaner. For some reason we started with the shittiest sump first. Sumps 5 and 7 offer the prospect of diving downstream and encountering the fabled confluence between the River Dove and Hutton Beck water, where the diver can then swim upstream, exiting at The Well, become the first person to complete the valley to valley through-trip, and be treated as caving royalty for evermore.
While all of this has been going on, myself and Gary have been engineering a route over Sump Three. To get into the Jenga Covid Extensions after a flood we need to pump Sumps 1, 2 and 3. Sump 3 is the only one that had a (tiny) natural fissure over the top. Last Wednesday, we finished the job and engineered a human-sized route through over the top of the sump.
This means that there are now only two sumps to pump out. This is important, because we can simultaneously commence pumping of Sumps 1 and 2 without even going underground; We just fill the generator on the surface, crank it up and go to the pub; However, to pump Sump 3 requires a trip underground to a switchbox after Sump 2. Access will now be much easier.
Lots of exciting stuff going on!