Oregano Trail breakthrough
14 March 2005 by Martin
Two months later, the circus returned. Having dug up from total sand fill into an airspace, hopes for some sort of breakthrough, however minor, were rising. I met some cavers from Cardiff Uni at Whitewalls who spared me the trauma of a solo trip to HRC. We caved in together until the ladders where I was unleashed and left to charge onwards to the HRC. By the time I reached HRC, I was carrying two dragbags and a large water container. Tired and thirsty, the first thing I headed for the solace of the camp beer depot: how sweet the 1664 tasted that night.
The Cardiff crew appeared some time later and we all sat around eating, drinking and talking of the impending breakthrough (partly to encourage some of the Cardiff crew to peel off from their REU trip and to join in on our digging efforts: we won the support of Loius and Rhys).
On Saturday, we dug uphill through the sand all day until we could see boulders ahead. The air seemed better this time and we got away without the wafting trick in the dig. The spoil filled up back in the Oregano Trail (7 diggers were really useful to drag the spoil all the way back). Henry reached the boulders after lunch and valiantly handed over the digface to Charles on the verge of void ahead. Charles dug two skiploads of boulders and we were up into a small bouldery, slab filled chamber. Charles called the guys forward and we looked in awe at a chamber that was maybe 0.5m high and 6m wide, with a few grubby stals hanging from the ceiling. Charles and Gonzo explored a hole on the right with a draught coming from it. Boulders and slabs lay ahead (almost filling the passage to the roof). I set to work with the hammer and crowbar and the slabs started disintegrating. I threw the stones down the climb up into the slab chamber from where Adrian sorted them into skips for the journey to their final resting place (a very neat drystone wall that beautifully protected the drip holes in the Oregano Trail). Extremely happy with our minor breakthrough, we retired to the HRC where we discussed tactics and lashed up.
On Sunday, Gonzo was talking about how the thing we were digging was just like Acupuncture Passage. He decided that we were going to terraform our way forward and that is what we did. I was sent down to the little hole on the right (I complained – it reminded of the disgusting squalor of digging in Ogof Draenen, but it was clear that the decision had been made). Gonzo dug, Charles threw stones down the hole and I stacked them like some medieval prisoner in the dungeons (and watched bits of roof peeling off). An hour later, Gonzo shouted that he could see void and straws ahead. People went up to have a look and a sense of awe filled the air. I was given the honour of breaking through to the virgin void. I peeled back the final slabs (I tried to terraform a decent sized hole going through, but the team were too anxious to explore the breakthrough) and looked over a cusp into an prettily decorated extension of New Boots and Panties. The sight of my first breakthrough was totally gobsmacking. A passage curved rightwards through speleothems off into the distance. I was sure I could count 1664 straws, but Gonzo assured me there were fewer (oh the excitement of the breakthrough!). The obvious passage name was thus rejected and we settled with ‘Where the Sun Don't Shine’?. I went forward into the unknown, but couldn't bring myself to try passing the speleothems in case I damaged them: they looked so pristine. The team agreed that we should only try to progress along this passage as a last resort (it is not quite going in the direction we would like anyway: it trends north and east).
On the left, there was another passage heading due west: the way we wanted to go. Adrian dug (with the hoe), the guys shifted stuff back, and I stacked sand in the slab chamber. Half an hour later we were through again, sitting by this mud pit on the edge of a comfortable chamber with calcite dribbling off the roof and on to the floor. A good draught came down the passage, but seemed to get lost in the walls. We didn't want to take the obvious route into the pit and damage it before trying other possibilities (which will be on future trips). This was an obvious time to call it a day, so Charles, Adrian and I left in high spirits, leaving Gonzo and Henry to survey the extensions.
Exiting the cave started well and I stomped up Bonsai and the Time Machine, but I really slowed down by the ladders and getting out of the exit series was a graunch (two bags). 50h05m.
Note to future explorers: The passage through the formations and mud pit have been taped off. We have done this to protect the formations rather than to protect any potential unexplored passage or digs. At this stage, the only sensible way to pass the tapes is to terraform a bypass to one of the sides (maybe 15 to 20m of digging). This will take a lot of effort and is the intended method of progress for the Daren diggers. Please respect this ethic.