Taking on board The Old Ruminators comment about "lot's going on, not a lot getting reported on here", I have written a few words (quite a lot of words by my satndards) about our ongoing project in Burrington Combe, Mendip.
Since the 2007 breakthrough by the Cheddar Caving Club from Bath Swallet to Rod's Pot in only 8 digging sessions, attention turned to linking Rod's Pot to Drunkards Hole, some 200yrds further up the hill.
Initially efforts focussed on a phreattic arch in the 3rd Rift Chamber of Drunkard's, eventually stagnating after 14m of progress.
Attention shifted to Rod's Pot, where after getting sidetracked creating a sporting round trip, "The Murlis Loop", steady progress began at a lower level in the cave, below the two Blind Pots.
The dig went down, then up and up and up until an eventual breakthrough in 2013, just in time to miss the publication of the new 5th edition Mendip Underground. The Erratum Extensions consisted of a reasonable sized rift chamber with a number of possible new dig sites.
Fast-forward to 2015 and in true Mendip style, we have now almost completely filled the breakthrough chamber and we're back to needing about seven or eight people to get the spoil back from the dig face. Given that we rarely see a turnout of more than two, progress was slowing and enthusiasm waning, so we decided to switch back to Drunkard's.
Smoke testing back in January had identified a strongly drafting rift, unfortunately rather narrow and blocked by boulders at the top, but after a couple of sessions, we managed to create a route up past one final boulder into open cave above. The offending boulder was quickly christened the "(Death)Trapdoor" and scheduled for removal at the soonest possible date.
Returning the following week with drill and rock splitting gear I managed once again to pass the obstruction and set to work, but the boulder had other plans... After a few chunks had successfully been removed, the boulder decided to slip. Anxious that it would completely block my only way out, I did everything I could to stop its advance, but all in vain.
I didn't stand a chance, it was far too heavy and no amount of adrenalin could help, there was only going to be one winner. As it fell into the narrowing rift below, it took my hand with it and pinned me to the wall by a finger; there was nothing else I could do and as I eventually relaxed, I felt it slip further. The pain spiked, but at least we seemed to have reached some sort of equilibrium...
All this time, Max had been sheltering from the fractured rock raining back down the rift, I shouted for him to help, but soon realised there was nothing he'd be able to do; all I could think to do was pull, as hard as I could.
To my good fortune, my finger came out of the glove before it came out of its socket and I was free, well free to move, but with no way back out of the cave.
My right hand was virtually useless (I'm right handed by the way), so further work reducing the boulder was slow, but bit by bit it got smaller, until I realised I was about to land myself in more trouble. If the boulder got small enough, it would drop further into the rift, still blocking my way, but out of reach from the ledge where I was sitting...
Fortunately Max, who was in a slightly more level headed state of mind, suggested getting a belt around it and rigging up a hauling system to lift it out. I managed to find a small column of calcite, no bigger than my finger, but with nothing else to rig to, this would have to do. A thread behind this enabled Max to keep a steady tension upwards on the boulder, but with so much friction he could do nothing to help lift; this friction turned out to be a life saver though.
I could just about rock the boulder enough to gain a little slack in the rope, Max was able to take in this slack and because of the friction at the calcite thread, he was able to hold it. Rock it again and we gained a little more slack and again Max was able to take this in and hold it.
Lifting micrometers at a time, the boulder slowly emerged from the rift and was eventually manhandled across and rolled away. I don't think I have ever felt so relieved, I virtually forgot the pain in my hand.
The whole operation had taken about three hours, so we decided to call it a night and head to the pub!
Amazingly I survived virtually unscathed, the swelling soon went down and I regained full movement in the finger, but I was left with a dead area at the end with no feeling. Slowly over the next 6 months the feeling came back, though there is still a slight tingle when I press on it.
Surveying "The Attic" followed, to record 31m of new passage over a 17m vertical range (including the 13m rift to get up) and a new dig site was established, at a similar level to the Rod's dig and on a similar bearing.
Progress started quick, with no distance to move the spoil and no shortage of stacking space in the large rift chamber, we've even managed to get three people digging up there on one night!
On one such night as I was heading in with Andy and Neil, the cave decided to pull its next trick.
For those unfamiliar with Drunkard's Hole (most I suspect as it is not (yet) a well visited site), a steeply inclined narrow rift leads to a short crawl, over a traverse, to a climb back under the traverse and down a steep slope through the 2m wide "1st Rift Chamber". The traverse is generally passed by bum-shuffling out along a ledge and getting a foot onto a large chock-stone to push yourself around the corner to the climb down.
That evening, as I descended the climb below the traverse, I heard a shout from above, that word usually associated with a bit of mud or gravel getting kicked over a ledge, but somehow, that one word "BELOW" carried a slightly more urgent message than usual. I dived back up the climb to hear an almighty crash as the chock-stone we've all been standing on for years made a bid for freedom, falling 20 feet before crashing on down the cemented boulder slope, finally coming to rest in the mouth of the old Wessex dig at the bottom of the rift.
I didn't think much of it, it was close but we were all ok, Andy however was visibly shaken. He later explained that in the previous incarnation of the Drunkard's dig, they regularly had a large team, who would end up spread right down the rift on the way in; had that chock-stone fallen on a different night, there could have been a very serious situation indeed. It doesn't take much imagination to realise what a three foot long slab of rock could do falling from that height and tumbling that distance down a such a steep slope.
That was a few weeks ago now and we've not had many other scares since! The dig is progressing steadily and the passage seems to be enlarging making progress a little easier.
The next task is to re-survey from the end of one dig to the other as there could be anything from 20 to 40m left to go. We're up there most Wednesday nights, so if you need a top-up of adrenaline (or mud) feel free to come and join us!