Author Topic: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole  (Read 1024 times)

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« on: July 23, 2017, 11:03:45 pm »
I was fortunate to receive 80m of rope from ukCaving.com for projects here in the Forest of Dean and here’s my attempt to document that exploration.

When most of our caves were found, bolt-climbing was hard, slow, work. 15+ minutes to hand place a spit; this, combined with the little puddle of gloom that was called a caving light, meant many high leads were never pushed. With the advent of modern lights and small, affordable, drills it may be time to direct more attention upwards in our caves.

Reading the literature, examining the survey and speaking to local cavers suggested some leads in Otter Hole that have never been looked at.

Since much of the cave passage is fault-controlled, I was particularly interested in the junction of faults at the High Aven near camp one. The survey shows this as 13m+, height unknown. There are many other avens in the cave that would also merit climbing.

I put together a proposal and submitted it to the Otter Hole wardens at their annual gathering in March. I was pleased when they gave permission and offered me a key!

Thanks to Pegasus and Badlad for sourcing the kit and to the generosity of the anonymous donor. Thank you too to Lisa for transporting it from Ingleton to south Wales.

Thanks are also due to those who’ve joined me on these trips and those who’ve portered kit into the cave.


Reading List

Dye Tracing at Otter Hole, Chepstow. UBSS Proceedings:
http://www.ubss.org.uk/resources/proceedings/vol26/UBSS_Proc_26_1_85-100.pdf
Limestones and Caves of Wales
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TdMh2hwqzgMC&lpg=PA117&vq=otter&pg=PA117#v=onepage&q&f=false
BCRA Transactions, Vol 6 Number 4, December 1979
http://hinko.org/hinko/Dowloads/BCRA/BCRA%206-4-1979.pdf

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Preliminary visit
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2017, 11:06:50 pm »
Sat 8th April

Every year the Otter Hole Wardens make the first trip of the year. Fixed aids are checked and conservation jobs sorted. This year’s trip was no different with a large pond liner and fleece to take into the camp area; the pond provides water for washing formations.

•   Jan
•   Raif
•   Chris
•   Matt

The effort to drag the pond materials can be imagined by those who know the cave.  (Report here: http://www.cambriancavingcouncil.org.uk/pdf/newsletters/2017/apr2017.pdf)

I tagged along to stash some hardware in the cave and recce the High Aven, my load was a more reasonable bag of krabs, maillons, etriers, bolts and hangers

The sump failed to open forcing us to wade through the pool and wriggle through the eyehole, a strenuous and wet option.

The kit was packed in a drybag to leave for a future visit, but on arriving at the High Aven I discovered the bag had leaked and the kit was damp. Removing from the bag to air seemed the best option.

Enlisting the others' lamps, we peered up the aven and noted some potential leads to investigate.

On the way out we passed

•   Jann
•   Jennie
•   Martin

Who were portering 30m of rope which they left for me just before the camp.

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Slow Progress
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2017, 07:57:35 am »
1st May

•   Raif
•   Matt

Despite carrying a heavy bag of drill and hardware we made good progress, 35 minutes from the entrance to the sump and this time it was wide open. After negotiating the streamway, the boulder chokes and the crawls of the Mendipian Way we arrived in the Upper Series, always a relief, and wandered along to High Aven.

The hardware that had been stashed was already growing a layer of slimy crystals, it is obvious that anything to be left in the cave would have to be stainless steel.

A slight corner leading up to an obvious opening at around 8m was the target for today. Progress was much slower than hoped; a layer of calcite over the top hid loose blocks and the rock was much harder than in Wet Sink. The holes needed to be reamed out slightly before the bolts would screw in. Eventually I reached the ‘hanging death’ at the top and after some gardening was able to climb into the window where I could make myself safe. Raif had been patiently belaying me; although sat in his bivi bag he was cold and glad to be free to move around.
With a little judicious hammering I wriggled around the corner but barely got a body length before if closed down into a too-narrow rift. I backed out and abseiled down, penduluming towards a ramp of better rock where I rigged a belay to leave the rope in-situ for a future visit.

On the way out Raif noticed a short aven with a flowstone cascade and what might be an opening at the top off it; one for a future visit.

The trip out was long and exhausting, doubly so as we were carrying out the pre-placed hardware (minus the stainless hangers), I was really struggling and grateful for Raif’s help. This visit didn’t achieve as much as hoped but at least a start has been made.

Offline cavemanmike

  • obsessive maniac
  • ***
  • Posts: 408
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2017, 08:08:16 am »
Cracking report, can't wait for the next installment

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2017, 08:46:58 am »
Cracking report, can't wait for the next installment

Thank you, see below!

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2017, 08:48:26 am »
Reposted - see below, cheers, Pegasus  :)
« Last Edit: July 24, 2017, 11:05:18 pm by Pegasus, Reason: Photo issues »

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Logistics
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2017, 12:17:14 pm »
6th May

•   Adrian
•   Oxford University Caving Club

After struggling last time I decided to ask the scheduled group to carry the drill and 15m of rope into the cave and leave it ready for my next visit. Packing the drill box with desiccant should keep it safe for the next visit. Thanks guys!

(This report is in the wrong date order, could a moderator move it?)

Offline Pegasus

  • NCC
  • Administrator
  • forum hero
  • *****
  • Posts: 1723
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2017, 10:02:32 pm »
Hi Mattrees, unfortunately we can't move the post's position.

Note your photos aren't showing any longer - which is a shame as I was going to ask if I could use one for a caption competition!  Any chance you could repost them using tips from this post:

http://ukcaving.com/board/index.php?topic=19799.0

Thank you, Pegasus

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2017, 10:43:47 pm »
1st July

•   Rich
•   Chris
•   James
•   Jonny
•   Matt

I was warden for the scheduled trip and checked in advance that the group were happy for me to do some climbing while they ate their lunch. The plan was that I would bolt up the short aven to the lead that Raif had spotted.



With the kit preplaced we could move quickly and I had purchased some stainless steel krabs that could afterwards be left in the cave.

Climbing the aven was straightforward, apart from one worrying moment when an overtorqued bolt sheared! Frustratingly, the battery ran out as I was tantalisingly close to the lead; at the same height but needing to traverse in order to see in past the curtains. A return trip is needed.



After securing the rope and abbing off we wandered up to Long Straw Chamber which was lit up light daylight by Paul Taylor’s film crew.



At this point we made a fatal error by offering to carry bags out of the cave, in reply Paul handed us the biggest tackle sacks you’ve ever seen. Many days later (at least that’s how it felt) we emerged into the daylight: tired, muddy but not quite satisfied.




Photography by Rich of Phoenix Caving Club


Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2017, 10:46:42 pm »
Note your photos aren't showing any longer - which is a shame as I was going to ask if I could use one for a caption competition!  Any chance you could repost them using tips from this post:

http://ukcaving.com/board/index.php?topic=19799.0

Thank you, Pegasus

I'm not sure why and was unable to edit so have reposted - perhaps deleting the one with the dead links is possible? I'll ask Rich, the photographer, about the photo.

And thank you for supporting the project with rope.

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2017, 10:56:36 pm »
I put together a proposal and submitted it to the Otter Hole wardens at their annual gathering in March.

Included here for completeness.


Offline Pegasus

  • NCC
  • Administrator
  • forum hero
  • *****
  • Posts: 1723
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2017, 11:08:20 pm »
Love the photo of the muddy cavers - please may I use it for a caption competition sometime??

I remember coming out of Otter, clarted in mud and washing it of by a bath (?) - the midges were blood sucking attack devils, flippin nightmare  :o

Great report, thanks for posting  :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2017, 12:31:31 pm »
Love the photo of the muddy cavers - please may I use it for a caption competition sometime??


Yes, that's fine.

The mud is a pretty memorable feature of the cave.

Offline Huge

  • forum star
  • ****
  • Posts: 597
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2017, 01:09:32 pm »
Best of luck with your climbing project Matt. I don't envy you spending hours bolting after going through all that mud in the entrance series!

I saw your UkCaving donated rope hanging on High Aven the weekend before last, on a trip led by your climbing partner Raif. It reminded me very much of the climb I'm doing at the moment, being the same rope and up about the same height!

Sent from my Moto G (4) using Tapatalk


Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
Re: UKcaving rope in use in Otter Hole
« Reply #14 on: August 10, 2017, 09:38:08 am »
Best of luck with your climbing project Matt. I don't envy you spending hours bolting after going through all that mud in the entrance series!

I saw your UkCaving donated rope hanging on High Aven the weekend before last, on a trip led by your climbing partner Raif. It reminded me very much of the climb I'm doing at the moment, being the same rope and up about the same height!


Thanks Huge,

I'm pretty meticulous in cleaning the tidal mud at the scrubbing off point but still get caked going through the crawls leading to the upper series - the mud makes everything less pleasant. Raif and I went back last Saturday to finish off the shorter climb, report to follow.

Offline Mattrees

  • regular
  • *
  • Posts: 58
  • GSS
“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
« Reply #15 on: August 11, 2017, 12:59:22 pm »
5th August

•   Raif
•   Matt

This was planned as a between-tide trip to finish off the 6m lead that Raif had previously spotted. With the sump due to open at 10am, we could have a civilised 8:45 start. Raif had optimisticly bought surveying gear and I had foolishly forgotten my contact lenses. After dawdling a little on the way down (and noting several trees had fallen since Raif's trip the week before) we entered the cave at 9:23 and arrived at the sump 35 minutes later.

Although the sump was gurgling loudly to itself, the week's rain had raised the streamway which meant that only the eyehole was open. Whilst I was happy to wait and let the sump open properly, Raif thought we should press on and swim to the eyehole. After I reluctantly agreed he announced "I'll go first, I'm wearing a wetsuit!" - which maybe explains why he was so keen to swim.

Cave water always feels cold and the eyehole always feels like a struggle but pretty soon we were through and motoring on through the streamway. We were both finding ourselves short of breath and it seems that CO2 levels increase in the cave later in the season.

Even on the two hour "commute" to explore in the cave, you can't help but be staggered by the number and scale of formations. No time to stop and admire though, there's work to be done.

After arriving at the aven and kitting up, I'm quickly up the in-situ rope and soon able to begin bolting a rising traverse to the top of the flowstone cascade. Raif pulled on his balaclava and ate a pasty.

It's truly beautiful at the top of the aven; a cloud of straws hangs from the roof and nests of fine helictites sprout from the walls. In any other cave this would merit a trip on its own.

About 4m along and it's obvious the rope isn't going to be long enough to reach.

"How much rope is on the floor?"
"What?"
"The rope's too short, how much is on the floor?"
"A few metres."

It'll have to do, we're not giving up now. I reverse the traverse and pull up the rope until it's a metre off the floor, then readjust all the knots and make the loops as tight as possible. I think I've gained enough and call Raif up to join me while I bolt across the last few metres.

With my long cowstail clipped into the last bolt I just manage to lean across and climb onto the flowstone. It is quite stunning; like many formations in this part of the cave, the flowstone is streaked with black lines but the curtain to its left and the small column above it are pristine, white calcite. There is as an opening between the curtain and the column, it’s too tight but might be enlarged and squeezed if it looks worthwhile. I poke my head in to look.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“What’s the good news?”
“The good news is it’s pretty, the bad news is it’s pretty small.”
“I think I cursed us by bringing the surveying stuff”

The passage went in for about a further meter, then pinched down completely in a blind rift. With nothing further to explore up here we reversed our route, removing the traverse bolts on the way and rigging a retrievable abseil to escape. It’s a strange feeling - no-one has ever been in this wonderful place before and, with the ropes pulled down, no-one is ever likely to visit again.

We pack up, stash the kit, and head for the exit. On the way out the sump is wide open and we exit the cave at 4pm.

A heavy rain shower on the way up the hill did little to wash off the mud. It was nice to be greeted by Jan who had been trimming undergrowth along the path.

In summary: A disappointing result but a nice day’s caving. It’s time now to refocus attention on the big climb at High Aven.