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

Boulder Problem Solved!

By Martin Beale 22 May 2004| Cave Photos | Interactive Map | Messageboard
Time: 13h23m
Time at dig face: 8 hours
Progress made: 3m (?)
Trays of spoil removed: 90+
Length of Grolsch Passage: 15.5m
Prospects: very good
Diggers: Martin, Tom, Arthur, John, Mike

On Wednesday, there was the distinct possibility that we had come to the end of Grolsch Passage as we had met a section where the roof seemed to come to the floor. The first topic of conversation we had with John and Arthur at Whitewalls was thus about prospects. John was full of ideas when we talked to him, "sounds like the chert band", "remember that obstacle we hit in Resurrection Passage?", .... We were obviously in good hands. John decided that nothing more exciting than a hammer and chisel would be required to see to this obstruction.

John had suggested that the team would take about 3 hours to get to the dig. I was thus mentally prepared for a long slow graunch down Southern Stream Passage. In reality, John, Arthur and Mike were down Aggy like a team of ferrets up a trouser leg. I was certainly suffering at the back and feeling like a right novice.

Everyone regrouped at Severn Beach for sandwiches and pop (the conventional type). John, Arthur and Mike had these little Pelican case lunch boxes: it looked like lunchtime at school.

John was first down into Grolsch Passage and set about digging. Trayloads were coming thick and fast. The dragging team had to quickly adapt to the pace of progress. John was down there for about an hour and a half when he came out and swapped. His verdict was that the boulder wasn't going to be a problem: all we had to do was dig down and under the obstacle.

In the next 8 hours, this is exactly what we did. The pace of spoil removal was extremely promising: they kept on coming. Arthur was spoilheap manager and by the time we had finished at the dig, the spoil was no longer being filled into a trench, but was being piled into a mound.

I had about an hour and a half at the dig face (I followed Tom). I was really pleased with my time at the face. I spent the time digging the passage deeper and wider, but got obsessed with a couple of boulders that were in the passage ahead of me. Once you get obsessed with these things, there is nothing for it, but to get rid of them. My technique was to dig all the sand off the top, then to dig a trench round the side of the boulder. Once this had been done, a couple of levers of the crowbar seemed to start the boulders moving, then getting the crooked end of the crowbar over the far end of the boulder and a good pull would usually see the baby out. I got two boulders out this way (one of which was too big to fit in the tray and had to be hauled out using a slip knot around the boulder). Arthur might have had a better solution to these boulders: a bloody good tw@tting with a hammer saw my prize boulder in two easily manageable pieces. When you get rid of a fair sized boulder, you make quite a bit of progress. I was pleased with my boulder, but it is probable that Tom had an even bigger boulder out - too big to drag down the passage (maybe it'll get Arthur's hammer treatment next time)! Both Mike and I had the impression after our times at the dig face that the airspace was getting much wider around us (the blackness seemed to go off for ever on the right hand side). It was weird, but this seemed to be an illusion: later on, when I had a look around at the end of the digging session that blackness seemed to have disappeared. This is no bad thing anyway: we want a leftward widening / kink anyway!

It was probably about 9pm when we regrouped and had another bite to eat. We decided that John should have one last go at the dig face (for a look around and a rabbit burrow push forward). John went to the dig face and another frantic digging and dragging session started: you can't stop that man. While we were expecting to wind down and pull maybe 5 trays out, the pace of digging actually seemed to increase: we were lugging tray load after tray load of spoil out. I got to the stage where I was reconciled to an all nighter in the cave.

Eventually Mike put a stop to it all by limiting John to 4 more trays (which were obviously going to get very full at this stage in proceedings). Eventually, we managed to drag John out of there.

I went back down as the official team press corps and took some photos and looked at the state of the ongoing dig. Things looked so much more promising than before. The passage continues in more clay-like sediment now. John gave the impression that this was a good thing as you can cut a square trench out rather than dealing with a load of sand that falls back into the dug passage. The airspace seems to now be about 3 inches at its highest, though is more like 1-2 inches in general. To my mind the highest part of the passage seems to be curving left a little and heading down.

The last job was to measure the length of the passage we had dug. We did this with a calibrated knotted string and read off a distance of 15.5m. I think we made maybe 2-3m of forward progress (though this is always difficult to tell). The dig is certainly in a much better state than the way that we left it last time. I can't wait to get back in.

John, Arthur and Mike were depressingly quick on the way out. Much pain in Southern Stream Passage would eventually see Tom and I catching up with them. They would sit there fresh as daisies as we dropped our weary bodies for a rest: then they would be off again. They are really good at this caving business. It is great to go caving with the experts.

Prospects for Grolsch Passage are looking much better than before. There is good air in there now, the roof is good again, the medium we are digging is amenable and the passage seems to be going somewhere. It might just have been wishful thinking, but I thought that there was more of a draft in Severn Beach after all our efforts. Hopefully we shall find out why next time!

Martin Beale, Bristol, 10 June 2004

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