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Last updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004 13:11

Night Digging in Grolsch Passage

By Martin Beale 20 October 2004
Cavers: Martin, Stone
Time: 6h49m
Digging time: 1h40m
Trays removed: 7
Progress: up to 0.5m
Prospects: looks like an old stream passage ahead, probably getting larger

We had a really foggy walk to Aggy. It was very difficult staying on the path and then finding the cave was a bit of a task. We found the walk a bit more demoralising than usual because we had no waymarks along the way. I hope it isn't this foggy in the KIMM.

We got in the cave at 7:52pm and arrived at The Beach just after 10pm. Our time in was a little longer than last time as I had a bag to drag this time and Stone started to feel unwell on the crawl into Glevum Hall (well, this is where he first complained of feeling unwell!). The bag contained a drum of bottles of mineral water and chocolate. We left the drum at Severn Beach as a stash for future nightdigging operations (we can go bagless in the future).

We started digging at 10:15pm. Stone was at the dig face and I was in charge of dragging. We had a new dragging system this time. I would drag conventionally from the alcove about half way down Grolsch. Once I had amassed two full trays, I tied one of the trays into the middle of the next rope and one to the end of the rope. I'd then go up the passage and pull these two trays up consecutively. This system seemed to work reasonably well provided I left the trays in an optimal place (where they wouldn't catch) before starting the drag. The old spoil heap is now full for all intents and purposes. I have started to adopt the space on the left as you go down to Birthday Surprise as the new heap. It looks like there is space for a good few trays here and it looks like this won't block anything interesting off.

After digging the sixth tray, Stone came out complaining of feeling sick (not good when you are that far inside the cave). I suggested that he have a rest at The Beach while I had a "look" at the dig face. It looked like Stone had removed a few largish boulders from the digface, but we still couldn't see along the continuing passage. I set to work with the gorilla bar and the hoe and soon had a bit more progress sorted out. There was a real problem looking boulder on the left (a large rectangular thing). I had thought this would prove a real trial, but it was no match for the gorilla bar. I couldn't drag this baby out, but it can be pushed out of the way into Grolsch Left Hand and then manhandled out when there are more of us around. Removing this baby allowed me to look along the passage.

As John suggested, the passage is now looking like an ancient stream passage (I even thought that some rocks in the area looked pock- marked and water washed). There seems to be about a foot of airspace in the passage ahead. There are a few medium sized boulders in the passage, but these never get anywhere near roof level and should be extractable by conventional means. Things are looking very promising again!

I spilt the last tray while dragging it out at the end (I did have four trays to remove by myself, so I have an excuse). I didn't have time to correct this problem, so there will be a small amount of work correcting this next time we are down there. Stone was feeling pretty cold by the time I surfaced, so he headed off without me while I finished dragging and dumping the last three trays.

Caving out on my own was decidedly spooky. Half of me wanted to cave slowly and ensure that nothing untoward happened on the way out while the other half wanted to go as quickly as possible to rejoin human company. The speedcaver in me won through, though it has to be said that thoughts of my light failing were continually rushing through my head (thank God I was using my Petzl rather than a chronically unreliable SpeleoTechnics headdark). I met Stone at the avens before the final crawls to SSP. I was really pleased to see his light in the distance: really pleased.

Stone was not feeling too well which meant that our passage along SSP and the exit series was a bit of a grudging slog. The water had risen since our way down SSP and we got a few really good drenchings in the low sections: quite gruesome. We finally exited the cave at about 2:30am - a long night by any stretch of the imagination (and a good effort from Stone given that he was under the weather). It was fantastic to get a warm shower, food and a bed at Whitewalls.

I think we are getting towards the stage where we have nightdigging sorted out. The key is dragging. What makes dragging feasible is that the first pull is a long straight pull with few obstructions in the way. One pull thus gets trays all the way from the dig face to the alcove. The alcove also allows trays to be swapped around in a wider section of passage. If you are careful about getting the trays in good alignment, it is then possible to drag them past the boulder in the roof before re-alignment and a third drag to the drop. The trays can then be marshalled above the drop, then aligned and pulled out to the spoil heap. On the way back in, you just kick the empty trays in front of you until you get to the alcove again. What seems to be key is to tie one of the trays to the middle of the dragging rope and the other one to the end of the rope. This allows the two trays to be dragged consecutively. What makes digging somewhat easier with this system is that the passage is wide enough at Grolsch Left Hand to allow empty trays to be stored and full trays to be temporarily stashed before the dragger removes the trays. At our best, we were operating at 2 trays every 13 minutes (approx 10 an hour). This seems to be a useful little pace, though not as quick as when we have a larger digging party. Given that the digger has longer to do the digging between tray hauls, he is in a much better position to get technical with the odd boulder.

I think that the dragging situation will be helped if we can clear the boulders from the alcove. This should really help us to marshall trays around on nightdigs. I'm hoping to get these boulders removed next time we go down on a weekend digging trip.

All in all, it was an encouraging trip. It showed me that we can get to a stage where we can make some decent progress of an evening once we get our technique sorted out. It is also really good that we now have a stash of food and water down there for future nightdigging trips.

Martin Beale, Bristol, 22 October 2004

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