Upper Southern Stream
5 December 2009 by Tom Foord
Alan and I had planned a trip to Broadside, but lack of manpower made this not a viable option. Plan B was a taping trip to the Promised Land in Craig a Ffynnon, but water levels (thanks to the wettest November on record) and weather forecasts ruled that one out too. So it was that we reverted to plan C, a poke around in aÂ lesser-visited yetÂ interesting part of Aggy: Upper Southern Stream. John Stevens had been solo surveying down here recently and reckoned it followed a very different line to the actual stream passage below, but he hadn’t reached the end, so it was worth a look.
Upper Southern Stream is a real ‘collector’s piece’, narrow and tortuous, oftenÂ with noÂ usable floor but insteadÂ a horrible ankle-grabbing slot. It was hard work. I had aÂ proper struggle getting around one particularly committingÂ s-bend (a couple of extra joints in my back and legsÂ might have helped!), and Alan took an unplanned excursion (or three) to the bottom of a hole in the floor when friction ran out on a holdless traverse. After what seemed a long, long way we passed over a hole in the floor down to the stream passage below. With perfect timing a group of cavers on a tourist trip to the Iles extensionsÂ passed beneath us and informed us that we were only just downstream from 1st Inlet,Â not exactly what we wanted to hear!
However shortly beyond here things suddenly became a lot more spaciousÂ where an inlet passage came in on the right. This inlet passage was clearly bigger and better developed than the one we had been following so farÂ but itÂ led straightÂ to a dig after just a few metres, with the initials BNS, 1961 inscribed above it (BNS stands for British Nylon Spinners, one of the old clubs involved in the early days of exploration in Aggy). The dig had clearly only hadÂ a few hours of work put into itÂ before the diggers moved on to more exciting prospects in the far reaches of the cave (perhaps the left branch of Gothic Passage which also bears the BNSÂ initials). HoweverÂ itÂ appeared very easy going and felt like there was maybe a slight draught emerging,Â so we could’t resist having a poke. We spent maybe an hour and a half enlargingÂ the digface and progressing forward for a metre or so to a right hand bend.Â The mud came away in big flat layersÂ which could then be shoved and thrown (we had no drag tray) backÂ down the passage to the junction where there was loads of room for spoil in a big hole in the floor. Digging doesn’t come much easier than this.Â
At the corner the draught wasÂ definitely noticeable, as it was coming through a smaller arch here, and we could see the passage continuing with a 6 inch airspace, gently rising ahead.Â This is well worth pursuing further, as it will possibly provide an easy way into Sandstone Passage which is nearby. Or it may even intersect some as-yet unknown higher level passages in this area. However we had other things to look at today, so we moved on.
From this point on Upper Southern Stream was relativelyÂ easier going,Â withÂ simple traversing and some sections of peculiar false floor. But before long we reached a junction where the main, roomier part of the passage appeared to go right before inexplicablyÂ fizzling out in a tiny tube. The only way on was left alongÂ aÂ narrowÂ passageÂ which got progressively smaller and more committing. This was mainly sideways crawling and stooping round endless corners,Â often above another one of thoseÂ tapered floor slots that’s just waiting for a stray,Â ankle, knee, arm…Â or entire body. We passed the two ends of whatÂ appeared to be an oxbow up on the left, although it wasÂ a bit too low to get into. Beyond this things got more awkward still until we reached a final squeeze that we just didn’t fancy. As chance would have it we have since worked out that this was the exact point where John turned back on his solo surveying trip. I have to say that IÂ personallyÂ would have turned back far soonerÂ than this hadÂ I been on my own!
We had also planned toÂ take a look at Sandstone Passage, but this somehow seemedÂ less appealling after allÂ the exertionsÂ of Upper Southern Stream,Â and we chose to head out instead. We completed a small round trip byÂ climbing down the holeÂ just below 1st Inlet and exiting up Southern Stream, a far easier prospect than traversing the full length of Upper Southern Stream.