Author Topic: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving  (Read 2461 times)

Offline Duncan S

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Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« on: May 23, 2016, 03:01:36 pm »
18 months ago I was an overweight software engineer rarely leaving my desk.

My life utterly changed when I was introduced to caving....
Here are a few stories from my wild ride into the spelio world.

I've split it into two parts because UKC has a 20000 character posting limit and it seems I've exceeded it!

Offline Duncan S

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2016, 03:03:14 pm »
How I got into caving...
No one understands how I managed to live in Priddy for 10 years without going underground. When I was younger I used to enjoy mountaineering, especially Snowdonia, but a combination of partners who weren't into that sort of thing and disillusionment about how busy the mountains have become led me going less frequently.
However, I had become friends with the Home Close diggers and their lively banter over a few pints in the Queen Victoria had become my highlight of the week. Most of this group rarely go 'normal' caving and one day Sarah Payne offered to take them and their partners caving; would I like to join them! So with borrowed gear I headed underground and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Sarah organised a second trip the following week and before long she was regularly taking me underground. My initial trips hurt like crazy and took several days to recover, but I found my improving stamina let me reach Sump 1 and eventually Sump 2 in Swildons - I was getting there!
As my fitness improved other guides started to take me caving including Estelle Sandford and Mad Fi. Every week pushed my boundaries and it seemed like I was once again undertaking my 'toughest trip ever'.
Things eventually spiralled and I started caving at short notice with just about anyone I could persuade to tag along with. My record was nine consecutive days of caving with several stretches of 8 days consecutive caving. I lost 15kg and eventually my core strength returned to what it had been at the peak of my mountaineering days.
18 months later I'm now using my fourth caving suit and third pair of Wellingtons!

My brand new caving gear and Sarah's, which isn't! As you can see, I'm a little bit on the tall side :)


One of my earliest photos taken with a compact camera and minimal lighting. I'm still proud of this one!



Cave photography...
During my early caving I always took a camera with me. I take my photography seriously and I set myself a goal of taking a set of images of underground Mendip. For a long time I lacked the stamina to carry my own gear for the duration of the trip and I'm indebted to my caving guides for their patience with my slow caving and photography experimentation.
It took 6 months before I started getting the images I'd originally had in mind and the set was entered into Hidden Earth 2015 and I was dead chuffed to be awarded Best Newcomer with one of my images getting a Distinction.
As the caving bug bit I started taking my camera less often as I needed to improve my caving skills and fitness enough to be able to contemplate getting my camera to the locations I was being taken.
I'm still not taking my camera gear regularly as I'm needing to up my game considerably to be ready for the big expedition this Autumn, but I have a lot of photography experience to draw upon and it is the least of my current challenges!

Alan Gray invited me to use Redcliffe Caves as a relatively benign way to take my DSLR underground for the first time and experiment with lighting.


My distinction at Hidden Earth was for this image of The Landing in Swildons 2


Dive exploration in Rhiwbach with UKMC. A lucky shot!


Jonathan Da Casto high above the Swildons Streamway



I fell in love with a caver...
After Hidden Earth 2015 a group of us were sat in the Queen Vic and the table next to us sat a lone woman. Sarah twigged she was a caver and invited her to join us. This was Miri from Finland over in the UK for Hidden Earth and taking the opportunity for a bit of caving before flying home. She was good company and it was an excellent evening.
The next night in the Hunters Miri showed up and we invited her to join our table. She'd just got back from caving having visited Swildons Sump 2 and Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink in the same day. Our eyebrows raised as that is pretty keen by most caving standards and at a casual glance Miri looks over-weight and doesn't really look like she should be doing trips like that. Since then we have learned that her appearance is deceptive and she has strength and stamina most cavers would envy.
Miri friended us all on Facebook and we started chatting as she was bringing a group from the Finnish Caving Society over to the UK for New Year. Their plan was to spend a week at SWCC and a week at the Wessex; I offered to sort them out routes, guides and permits. Our chatting strayed onto non-trip things and it seemed we enjoyed messaging each other.
In January the Finns arrived. It was properly wet and the trip down Swildons was intense. There was a lake above the blockhouse and the streamway was thundering. I put a hand line in the eyehole at the bottom of the 40 and went through to check it was OK, the power of the water was amazing and I needed the handline to get back through. Not everyone in the group was up for this level of madness so we turned the group around for a sporting exit via the wet way. It was the right decision as it turned out another group had a lucky escape when one of their members got ejected out the eyehole landing badly below the waterfall.
Planning for the next day I wasn't going to be available to act as guide, so Miri and I decided that I should take her on an evening trip to GB so she could lead her group. Water levels were high and it was an excellent trip, but when we got back to the car our hands touched. We have still no idea why it happened, but we suddenly found ourselves in each others arms.
It turned out that I was able to join the GB trip and was happy to tag along with Miri leading. Water levels had dropped a bit overnight and the whole group made it up the waterfall. The next day I again had commitments, so Miri and I decided to reccy Goatchurch and Sidcot so she could lead her group. Goatchurch was fun as we tried to push into the Dexion Extensions before giving up. Sidcot was hilarious as we both struggled with the Lobster Pot, but we made it. These trip weren't just about the caving, there are secret locations in both caves that will remain special to Miri and I :)
The Finns departed and it felt very strange. I'd not had a relationship for many years and unexpectedly, wham! Why did it feel serious with Miri after just a few discreet cuddles; I've absolutely no way to explain. But all I can say is it felt right.
Miri invited me over to Finland which was a strange experience. Arriving in a foreign country without even having her address and not knowing what was going to happen. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see where it takes you. I honestly thought I would be sleeping on the couch but I received a warm welcome and it seemed we both felt ready to let each other into our lives. Miri took me caving in Finland's only cave and we did a bit of sightseeing. It was a wonderful week!
It is less than 5 months, but our love has grown and we have flown to meet each other a few times. We have both learned that it is not possible to explain to anyone else why we feel the way we do having spent what appears so little time together. It is as unexpected for the two of us as it is for our friends, but it feels great!

Miri in Finland's only cave


Helsinki Harbour


Looking down at the coast near Kaliningrad, Russia. We had been flying for an hour when I took this. I had little appreciation for how far it was to Finland!


Offline Duncan S

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2016, 03:05:55 pm »
Picos expedition interview
Sarah messaged me asking if I would tag along on an Eastwater trip taking 12 year old Daniel and his Dad around 13 Pots. The Dad was David Rose, which was bizarre as I'd just bought Beneath The Mountains on recommendation from Miri as essential cave reading, but hadn't read it. Daniel did really well and it was a good trip, but not without incident. We had gone in via the Woggle Press and David had pinched his chest enough to cause pain during the rest of the trip. He didn't really want to go out the same way, so Sarah took Daniel out via the Woggle Press while I took David the longer but slightly larger route via Bakers Chimney Bypass and the Upper Traverse. The Bypass is only fractionally larger and is equally awkward; David looked increasingly uncomfortable with the tight climb and it became clear things weren't going to plan. Not knowing David, I went into full nanny mode talking him through every move to make it as easy as possible for him and I carried on with this all the way out. With hindsight this was rather embarrassing as I had completely forgotten about his history and experience and treated him like a novice. David didn't say anything and let me get on with it. I still cringe thinking about it.
Unexpectedly, the next day I received an email from David inviting me on the 2016 Picos Expedition!
It was time to start reading Beneath The Mountains :)

David and Daniel crossing The Canyon in Eastwater



Gandara Left Hand Extensions
Cantabria with SWCC was an interesting week. Unfortunately the mix of people in the group meant there was going to be no attempt at any of the classic big through trips and Miri and I ended up doing a lot of caving on our own. In some ways it worked out well as Miri and I quickly found we make a very effective caving team with our skills complimenting each other and strengthening our relationship. The culmination of the week was a big trip in Gandara. Miri had previously done the through trip and had a burning desire to reach an exceptional chamber in the rarely visited Gandara Left Hand Extensions which we estimated at 12 hours. I'd estimate from the wear and tear in the Left Hand Extensions that less than 100 people have visited the system. This felt like proper exploration, especially when we met our first survey anomaly. The climb out of the huge passages was indicated as a P40, but what we found was two tiny SRT pitches and we weren't sure if we were headed off route, but looking around this appeared to be the only way on so we decided to have a look. The passages shrunk into tight loose rifts and the chambers contained scary levels of instability. Route finding became immensely difficult and the further we went the less well marked the route became until every chamber we entered involved a thorough search of all the leads until we found something that went.
We eventually reached a large chamber which judging by the coating of mud flooded to a great depth. Some of the fridge sized boulders on the floor had a clean black side which we realised were caused by shattering after falling out the barely visible roof. Looking around we found black shrapnel lying in every corner. This place was hideously dangerous! Unfortunately the survey showed two routes on towards our destination, a tight wiggly feature and a large passage, so we opted for the large passage especially as the large passage was about the same height as us and the tight wiggly passage would mean searching at the top of a loose debris slope filling the vast chamber. The survey was unhelpful as there are no spot heights, so we didn't know whether our destination was above or below us. The large passage had us confused as it descended to a T-junction that wasn't on the survey. We double checked we had the correct passage and were convinced the left hand fork wasn't on the survey. All the cave at this point was covered in ice-like mud from the flooding and we followed it downwards to a point with a 7m drop with no signs of being regularly rigged. It seemed like an excellent point to turn back, especially as looking at our watches we were already going to be pushed to get out in under 12 hours. We had a quick explore down the mysterious left hand fork which went dead straight in a room sized tube for about 100m before a yawning hole in the floor stopped progress. Our lights could just get a hint of a floor, but this immense hole which makes absolutely no sense on the survey! Back in the large changer we contoured around the debris slope and to our horror spotted a cairn high up on the slope and investigation revealed a faint zig zag path; we'd gone the wrong way. But we had run out of time and couldn't follow the route even though we badly wanted to. Re-tracing our route was relatively straightforward even though the maze like qualities of the chambers caused some confusion.
I had a brown trouser moment when a jug I was swinging on at a traverse came off in my hand. I caught myself and although it was only a small drop onto a steep muddy slope a fall would not have been good. It shook me and brought home just how far away we were from help. One thing about that incident was I felt positive that I totally trusted Miri to be able to go and get help if it had been needed, no small thing given what we had undertaken. Turns out she felt the same way. It seems we have been caving as equals and are both happy to push ourselves to our limits without worrying about the other person. It feels wonderful.
Back in the relative safety of the big passage past the not-P40 we stopped for a well earned break. Although it was still many hours to the surface the hard caving was over and we finally felt we could relax.
Back in the UK, Sarah told me off. She says we both know we shouldn't have undertaken that trip on our own, it was far too risky. She has a valid point. But Sarah also added that in the same circumstances she would probably have done exactly the same thing, otherwise she'd have given me a proper bollocking. Sarah is right, and it is something for us to take seriously when planning future trips.

Miri in Gandara, these are typical passage dimensions!


Miri on the entrance traverse. Tough going after nearly 12 hours caving while carrying 70m of rope and tackle.


One of the maze like chambers in the Left Hand Extensions



Photographing in Swildons 4
I mentioned that I haven't been taking my camera gear as often as I used to in order to build my caving skills. This trip was an exception. I teamed up with Tom Batten for a photo trip into Swildons 4 via Blue Pencil. Tom wanted to take his own camera gear, so both of us were carrying large bags.
I'd only been through Blue Pencil once before and it is not easy for someone my height. I know one other tall caver who has made it through, and they are the same size as me. My first attempt failed. My second attempt I trapped my Patella pinching a nerve and lay screaming in pain. Tom thought the trip was over at that point, but after I regained my composure I made it through on the third attempt.
Swildons 4 is one of the most impressively shaped passages I have seen, and although we ran up and down the streamway to keep warm we only managed to grab a few photos before the cold forced a retreat.
Getting a camera bag through Blue Pencil is a real problem as most of it is keyhole shaped and the bag drops and gets stuck in the bottom. By the time I made it back to the Short Round Trip I was totally exhausted and I'm proud to say my fitness and stamina is sufficient that after resting I made it out without issue.

Tom Batten in Swildons 4



SRT practice in Titan
One thing I am going to need for the Picos expedition is lots of SRT experience. So an invitation to join Bradford PC on a trip down Titan seemed perfect. It turned out not everyone shared this view as given how little SRT experience I have and it was suggested Titan was way too much too soon. My view was that I needed to know whether my SRT was likely to be good enough for Picos. I have to admit that stepping out the window at the top of Titan is one of the most scary things I have ever done. Just Wow!
The connection at the bottom of Titan was known to be impassable, so a through trip was not on the cards. Most of the group opted to explore the cascades leading up from Event Horizon but two of us wanted bottom Titan. The pitch was rigged and I followed. Neither of us had been in Titan before and we had no survey. We were expecting to be joined by someone who knew the cave, but it soon became evident no-one was following us down and we were on our own. So we decided to go exploring by following our noses and not really minding where we ended up. It was great fun and we later worked out where we had been. It seems we managed to explore the Far Sump series (very pretty), find our way through Snakes and Ladders and climbed the first two pitches in Calcite Aven before realising we didn't have a call out time and at some point the group would start worrying about us.
I de-rigged Titan - yay! The ropes were soaked and heavy, but it went well despite getting cramp halfway up the bottom pitch (dehydration) and thoroughly knitting my gear on the Event Horizon rebelay. Hauling the bags up to the Titan window was hard enough that it felt like the rope was jammed, it wasn't, but they weighed so much we could barely lift them. Thanks goodness we were carrying a locking pulley!

The caver in this shot is only half way up the bottom pitch of Titan!



Digging in Tankard Shaft
I consider myself lucky to have been invited into several digs for a look, but never expected to be digging regularly. A group of us were sat in the Queen Victoria after the Priddy Implements Sale and I was trying to explain just how weird a tractor parked on the Green was and failing, when a man propping up the bar came over and said it was his tractor we were talking about. The tractor was an agricultural stationary engine, and yes, it is very weird. This was Tim Payne (no relation), and at some point in the banter he asked if would like to come and have a look at a mine shaft on his land. We fired up MCRA and found nothing listed apart from Tankard Hole, a promising but scary dig pushed in the late 50's of which nothing remains after the ground was levelled in 1970.
Tim took us to a small metal lid in one of his fields and heaved it open. We were speechless! A ginged shaft dropped to depths our lamps failed to penetrate prompting questions like 'why isn't this documented?'. Using SRT to descend it became clear the walls were hideously unstable and it terminated in a debris cone at 30ft. Sarah, Tim and I decided to spend a single session attacking the debris cone before knocking the project on the head. Luck is where you make it, and Sarah uncovered a mysterious hole that looked like we could see a bit of cave wall and stones thrown through the hole seemed to bounce down a fair way, so it looked like it was worth persisting a bit longer. We only expected to find some bits of old mine, but we hoped that if Tim found us a reliable trustworthy bunch of cavers then we might get permission to re-open Tankard Hole. Engineering advice was sought before work started to stabilise the shaft as it was a huge undertaking. Tim is amazing; he did a lot of the work on the shaft walls himself. This dig would never have happened without his enthusiasm and support.
Eventually the shaft walls were stabilised and digging commenced at the bottom. More holes were uncovered revealing two body sized crawls which were opened up allowing entry to the mine. Sarah and I found a complex series of seven small chambers in a boulder ruckle which eventually surveyed at 150ft of passage. This was my first breakthough and I know understand why cavers dig; it is intoxicating, there is no feeling like it! However, cavers don't like old mines because the miners left nothing intended to last, or boulder ruckles because of their instability. We have found an old mine in a boulder ruckle - hey ho...
The bottom of the mine always feels fresh and cold, so we never doubted there was more to find. Smoke testing was confusing and it seemed the draft came from the entire East side of the mine. Eventually, we started to look for the way on. Sarah and Mike Kushy opted to dig in the floor of The Well which wasn't draughting but they felt looked promising. I opted to dig in the floor of the chamber having the greatest draught which wasn't big enough for more than one person to dig in at a time, but at least there was lots of space to stack boulders. I soon opened up a too-tight hole between large boulders offering a tantalising view of crawlable passages heading off in two directions. A second session attempting to clear these boulders showed they were substantial and unlikely to be bypassed without chemical persuasion; a bit disappointing. Meanwhile, Sarah and Mike's dig made a breakthrough. They had dug down about 3m before finding a horizontal hole under a large boulder. This was enlarged and Sarah, Mike and I entered yet more mine forming a lower level to the previously found passages. A light connection was established to where I had been digging and it would have been fine if it hadn't been for those too-tight boulders. What is interesting about the new lower level passages are that they appear to be mostly in natural rifts instead of a boulder ruckle, which is good news. The other news is that the main rift descends and turns away from the rest of the mine.
At the bottom of the new passages is something that ticks just about all the boxes for the perfect lead. It is a walkable water formed rift with scalloped sides descending in solid rock to a letterbox sized hole. The air at the bottom of the rift is fresh and cold and the hole is drafting strongly. The draft remains consistent regardless of the weather on the surface. Also, there is an intriguing vocal resonance through the hole that sounds like a significant void; there is nothing like this elsewhere in the dig. Before we open up this lead we have taken a step back and are performing remedial work to secure the way in and out of the dig. This may take some time. As they say, watch this space!
If you want check on progress at the Tankard Shaft Dig have a look at our dig log in the Mendip section of UKC.

Tony Massey, Tim Payne, Sarah Payne and Charlie the Dig Dog.


Mike Kushy and Sarah Payne during exploration of the breakthrough into the lower level.



I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories - it has been fun writing them!
See you caving sometime!
All the best - Duncan

Offline JasonC

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2016, 08:32:25 pm »
Excellent !  So rarely does romance feature in caving stories :)

Maybe there's an opportunity for a future competition thread - How I Found True Love While Covered in S***e ?  Or maybe not

Offline Pegasus

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2016, 08:37:47 pm »
Quote
I've split it into two parts because UKC has a 20000 character posting limit and it seems I've exceeded it!

Well I didn't know that...

Fab write up Duncan, thank you  :thumbsup:


Offline Duncan S

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2016, 11:12:42 pm »
Quote
I've split it into two parts because UKC has a 20000 character posting limit and it seems I've exceeded it!

Well I didn't know that...

Fab write up Duncan, thank you  :thumbsup:
Apologies for a somewhat OTT submission - I didn't feel I could cut it down to fit a single post!

Offline David Rose

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2016, 08:38:39 am »
You have no need to cringe at the memory of escorting me out of Eastwater via the rift instead of the Woggle Press! Truth is, I hadn't paid attention when approaching the press on the way in, and when my chest caught on a spiky bit I foolishly just used brute force instead of a little intelligence to get through - so, I think in hindsight, cracking my sternum. It got steadily more painful as the trip progressed, and hurt for about six weeks afterwards.

So your reassurance was very welcome, as was your confidence in the route.

You will be pleased to know that at least in C4, our main Picos objective this year, there is nothing remotely like the Woggle Press. There are two awkward rifts between the last pitch and the junction with the main streamway, but the first has undergone enlargement, rendering it easy, and the second, while a bit strenuous with tackle, just needs a steady approach. The main thing is there are good footholds all the way and if you think about each section before you do it (as I did not in Wastewater) it's a breeze.

Other than that: great post. It's not often you get a love story wrapped up in a caving report!

Offline David Rose

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2016, 08:40:10 am »
Wastewater = Eastwater - autocorrect.

Offline Duncan S

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2016, 09:05:22 am »
Cheers David!
Thanks for the kind words :)

Miri was a bit worried about the squeeze at the bottom of C4 as she has little practical experience of tight caving. So I took her around the Eastwater Upper Series including Hallelujah Hole and Bakers Chimney Bypass. Hopefully your post will reassure her that she will be OK  :thumbsup:

Eastwater = Wastewater
I've met one experienced caver who says the best thing to do with Eastwater is to fill the entrance in with concrete. I think this was after a particularly nasty trip attempting the Technical Masterpiece so that comment may prove heart felt and accurate. At least my physical size means I'm never going to be in the position of thinking about going there!
But I love the 13 pots trip; I reckon Eastwater is a lovely cave  :-[

Offline David Rose

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2016, 09:28:55 am »
C4 is DEFINITELY a lot easier from the point of view of awkward passage than Eastwater. She has nothing to worry about at all.

Most of it is very spacious. The pitches are straightforward, too, although you need to be just a bit careful at  the top of The Monster (130 m, if I remember right) where you should take your time with two or three diagonal changeovers and deviations that steer you clear of loose rock. Once in the streamway, there are some boulder piles  that you clamber up and around and then stomping flat passage to the enormous terminal lake and sandy beach.

Offline mirisra

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #10 on: May 26, 2016, 09:59:46 am »
Reading this thread just gets better and better! Thanks for encouragement :)

Offline RNCM

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2016, 12:55:45 pm »
Very interesting read!

Offline ianball11

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2016, 03:44:03 pm »
Great read and cracking photos.

I've had the pleasure of caving with Miri, you're a lucky fella   8)

Offline Duncan S

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2016, 04:16:20 pm »
Great read and cracking photos.

I've had the pleasure of caving with Miri, you're a lucky fella   8)
Cheers Ian!
I know it  8)

Offline alastairgott

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2016, 06:03:10 pm »
Chapter 2- surveying to the centre of the earth?

Good to chat to you at the weekend :)

Offline Duncan S

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Re: Makita Drill - My wild ride into the world of caving
« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2016, 06:49:13 pm »
Chapter 2- surveying to the centre of the earth?

Good to chat to you at the weekend :)
Cheers Alastair!
Just about feeling ready to go and do a surveying test underground - watch this space  ;D