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

No Signs of Stopping...

By Martin Beale 12 June 2004 | Dig Face Photos
Time: 13h23m
Time at dig face: 7h30m
Progress made: 3.5m
Trays of spoil removed: 71
Length of Grolsch Passage: 19m
Prospects: Excellent
Diggers: Martin, John, Arthur, Tim, Tom, Pete (Bristol), Stuart (Bristol)

Whitewalls was a hive of activity when we got there. There were two totally dressed speleologists (who must have been very hot in their full cavegarb), some caving club digesting a fried breakfast and pondering how to get into Aggy (in the end, I think some of them went into Aggy and some into OyDC) and John and Arthur were there cutting up water drums for trays and packing rope into bin liners for the haul into Severn Beach.

It has to be said that I was somewhat put out at not being given the rope to drag in, as dragging is one of my favourite cave activities. I sorted this out when Arthur was not looking and secreted the "new" drag rope into the bottom of my caving bag.

John and Arthur were just starting the Whitewalls tea ceremony when we were ready to set off and given that John had perfected his tea ceremonies from months in the orient, we decided that the five of us should set off before them.

Tim wasn't quite aware of the true monotony of SS Pasage, but became so after the first 20 minutes of purgatory. I was having difficulty entering my usual zen state as Tim was noting how tedious various boulder obstacles were (it is very difficult to separate mind and body when the mind is reminded of the pain that the body is suffering). I found it notably easier on the way out (10 hours later) to pretend that SS Pasage wasn't happening to me.

Lunch was had at Severn Beach. I was itching to go and had just one sandwich. My solo-digging objective was a tedious boulder that was sticking out of the right side of Grolsch, just down from the drop. I started off trying to chisel this down to size. When that wasn't working, I got on the case with the crowbar, then realised I could chisel the blighter into two by exploiting a line of weakness in the boulder. Once activated, the line of weakness split the boulder and I was soon levering a big boulder out with the gorilla bar. The objective was to make it easier to operate the dig with fewer people (the boulder in question had got in the way of dragging trays up to the vertical hole). This objective had been partially achieved, but will only be totally realised when the protruding edge of the remaining boulder is bludgeoned into submission (maybe this will get sorted on June 16).

I surfaced with my boulder to find the whole team assembled around the Severn Beach dining table, raring to go,

I unpacked the "new" rope to find that it was a basic green colour with what looked like white icing sugar on top. It had a mushroomy kind of odour to it (not the eating variety). This rope was clearly a health risk, but was the only show in town. I ensured that the rope didn't get anywhere near my face as I uncoiled it and tried to keep a respectable distance from it all day.

We have a new system with the trays. In the old system, we had two trays that were permanently connected to the drag ropes. We now have 3 trays that can be disconnected from the ropes with karabiners (the Wild Country wiregates down there are particularly good for this). This system works really well, especially with two people at the dig face. For the first three hours, we had Tom and John at the dig face and they made a huge amount of progress. Once everyone had settled into the system, there was a constant stream of trays coming back and forth. The job of the person behind the digger is to hitch / unhitch trays and to ensure that the digger always has a tray to deal with. This allows for a really focussed approach to digging.

Tom and John excavated 46 trayloads before finally being persuaded to come out of the passage. We re-grouped at Severn Beach for a little break where the two diggers told us eagerly of the progress that had been made. Apparently, things were going well, but an ancient roof collapse meant that there were some large boulders lying on the sand that would require thought.

Arthur went down and started giving the boulders a good hammering with the lump hammer we had down there. What John had described as "too big" came out as multiple medium sized rocks once Arthur had worked his magic down there. Apparently, Arthur is known as the man to deal with rocky objects and after his effort down there this time, you can see why. Arthur's time at the dig face was thus marked by the removal of some fairly obstructive features: good effort.

Arthur left the dig face for a break with the rest of them. Rest was not at the forefront of my mind. I went to the dig face just for a look, but got really inspired by the action of the gorilla bar. As the name suggests, this is a real beast and boulders are no match for it. It seems to have exactly the right curve on it for levering boulders. A combination of the gorilla bar and its smaller cousin saw much spoil being created at the dig face. I got rid of this with my other favourite implement, the hoe, thus creating a (not too tidy) pile of rubble behind me. I just couldn't stop myself.

Tim, Pete and Stuart left at about 7:30pm, leaving the other four of us down there. Progress thus slowed somewhat as handling the trays became more complex (John must have been doing a good job at the drop down out of Severn Beach as I was receiving a steady stream of trays at the dig face). As I had a pre-dug, pre-hoed pile of spoil for the rest of the team, the first 8 trays or so came out quite quickly, but progress slowed as I started digging once more. One problem we have come up against is that the drag rope is no longer long enough to reach from the dig face to out of Severn Beach. The digger now has to chase the rope back down the passage to retrieve it (which is a little sub-optimal).

The dig face was getting a little constricted (due to the large ancient roof collapse boulders on the right and a rocky matrix on the left). In a rash moment, I decided that one of the roof collapse boulders was going to disappear (the one closest to the dig face). It only took a couple of levers of the gorilla bar for it to be lying at the bottom of Grolsch Passage. I then had the horrible realisation that this baby might be too big to move. Eventually, I managed to work out how to tie a slip knot around the boulder and shouted to Tom to take in. Nothing happened. When I applied myself to pulling as well, we got but a little bit of movement, but it was only when I got behind the boulder and started pushing with my legs as Tom pulled as hard as he could that we got any sensible sort of movement.

We shifted this boulder about half way along Grolsch, but it became kind of obvious that it wasn't going to get pulled out of the vertical step. The solution we chose in the end was to resign this boulder as a museum piece in the Grolsch alcove (previously excavated by Mathias and filled in with one of Tom's previous efforts). It was then difficult enough to move Tom's boulder from teh alcove and out of the passage.

The effort required in removing these boulders and the advancing hour suggested that it was time to get out. The last thing we did before getting out was to photograph the dig face and to measure the new length of Grolsch Passage : 19m, implying 3.5m of progress.

The trip out required the usual zen state, but was made more interesting by caving anecdotes from John and Arthur (such as John's record for an Aggy exit from Baron's Chamber of 8m30s: good effort).

I could hardly speak back at Whitewalls: I was that knackered. I only started to come round as the first swigs of Carling entered my bloodstream. The next hour (until 2:30am!) was spent talking to John and Arthur about caving (Ogof Draenen in particular). It is great being able to talk to fellow cavers who are actually excited about the activity and feel no shame in saying they are cavers: this is the way it should be. I am a caver too.

Prospects in Grolsch look more promising than ever. The airspace is getting bigger, there is a clear view ahead, the passage is no longer descending, there is a good draught. We feel it is only a question of when we break into some other passage, something will happen with a draught like that!

Martin Beale, Bristol, 14 June 2004

How to operate the dig optimally...

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