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Last updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004 12:51

Grolsch Passage is longer...

By Martin Beale
Cave date: Sunday 16 May | Cave Photos | Interactive Map
Cavers: Alan Brady, Mark Long, Tom Foord, Mathias Willerup, Martin Beale
Time: 11h30m
Digging time:  5h30m
Progress: 3.5 Roystons, 50 trays

Cavedigging is an art that requires equipment. As I learnt to my cost, one essential piece of equipment is rope. A good rope really helps when it comes to dragging spoil out from the dig face. John Stevens had a good rope. It was a very long rope and it was a very heavy rope. John gave me this rope at Whitewalls and I packed it in my drag bag. I was so enamoured with John's rope that I packed it in preference to lager.

John's rope got wet in Southern Stream Passage. When the rope got wet, it got even heavier - to the extent that it was pretty difficult lifting it over the innumerable boulders in the passage floor. This time SSP was pure purgatory. Once again with my friends, I thought the party would never end.

Alan and Tom were kind to us in Priory Road and pretended to get stuck in some of the squeezes, but this kind of behaviour was fooling no-one. Their credentials as elite speleologists were cemented when they instinctively ferretted up some solution tube to find The Cathedral (something that had eluded Royston and myself over three previous trips).

I came into Severn Beach to find the other four spread around the beach eating and comparing sandwiches (I had hung back a little in Glevum Hall). I ate a little, but excitement and the alluring prospect of the dig got the better of me: I had to go in. I was instantly greeted by the sight of a perfect medium to large boulder in the passage which looked like it would do for starters (good burly training). I was impressed by the dimensions of the passage that John and co had dug out a few weeks ago: it looked like we could make progress. I exited with the newly won boulder and then went back in with the hoe.

Digging the sand out was the easy part. The harder part is getting the sand in the tray ready to be dragged back. It seems to take an eternity to fill the tray by hand. Given that our technique here might be somewhat lacking, we will in future overcome this problem with a mini-shovel (from the cavedigging aisle of B&Q Warehouse). I didn't know what was going on behind me, but when I shouted "take in", the tray disappeared with a pristine rope behind me, to appear empty moments later with a now skanky, sandy excuse for a rope. It was clear to me that the team behind the front line were developing an efficient system behind. Progress forwards was fairly easy with a sweeping action of the hoe across the dig face, with an occasional use of the crowbar to persuade the odd boulder out of the way. It is a fine line between making a headlong lunge forwards in the dig and doing the decent thing by widening and deepening the dig: I think I erred on the side of the lunge!

After 10 trayloads, my time at the digface was over. I moved back through the passage and saw the dragging system that everyone had set up (impressive!). There was someone stationed at each obstacle and they were changing trays at the step up. I ended up being stationed at the furthest back station (manning the spoil heap). The spoil heap station is the most relaxing one: you can lie back between trayloads and rest. However, I took it upon myself to rearrange the spoil heap somewhat to allow us to shift a lot of sand if need be.

I counted the trays out as Tom was digging. You get an idea of what is happening at the digface by the nature of the contents of the trays as they are finally tipped out. Tom had a beguiling mix of fresh sand and a few medium sized boulders suggesting forward progress. Mathias had a mix of sand and mud that came out very quickly (suggesting some forward progress as well as deepening of the passage: all frantic stuff). Alan had mainly wet mud suggesting he was enlarging the passage. Mark's trays were full of dry sand suggesting a final desperate lunge to The Hoegarden beyond.

Time was flying in there, but as Mark was filling his sixth tray, it was decided that we had to start making a move outwards. It was with some reluctance that we then retreated from the digface to the beach. Our tired bodies were refreshed with eponymous Grolsch: within 10 minutes, I was raring to go again. I went back for one last look at the digface (that I hadn't seen since I was digging 4.5 hours ago). I was really surprised and heartened to see the progress that the team had made. They must have got about 2.5 royston's (5m?) further than I had, the dug out area was nice and large and there was a really beckoning view ahead. I was surprised to see that the passage went down quite a bit before levelling off (the digface is now in a horizontal, or possibly rising, passage).

Ahead, the roof changes character a bit, looking a little more blocky. The airspace widens to about 6 inches and there are some rocks / boulders sticking out of the sand. The passage seems to be rising (at last). I'm hoping that the passage is about to reach a chamber or better still, a main trunk passage heading directly towards Dweebland. Fingers crossed. [Photo of digface]

To cap it all, despite leaving Severn Beach at 7:35pm, we made last orders at The Horseshoe with time to spare!

Martin Beale, Bristol, 17 May 2004

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