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Maytime U-Tube Recce

Date: 23rd January 2005
By Tom 7hours Tom Foord, Martin Beale, John Methvenrd

After the previous day’s 13 hour dig-athon in Grolsch Passage and Iles Inlet we decided to opt for something a little easier for a Sunday trip. Or not!

John S had previously mentioned a small side passage near Aggy sump 4 in Maytime, which ended in a wet muddy U-tube with a few inches airspace, heading in a northerly direction (ie. directly towards the end of Daren). It had never been dug! Not to miss an opportunity like this, Martin, John M and I donned our kit (cold, wet and miserable in mine and Martin’s cases!) and headed off along the tramroad in the snow.

In the Chelsea Exploration Journal there is a description of a major flooding incident in Maytime. It starts: ‘The day started cold and frosty with a couple of inches of snow laying on the tramroad’. I couldn’t help but notice that the conditions today were absolutely identical! On that occasion there was a sudden thaw leading to a huge flood, and John Stevens and Geoff Newton became trapped on a ledge above the streamway for many hours and were by all accounts pretty lucky to escape. Fingers crossed the forecast today would be correct and the cold weather would hold out with no thaw!

We shot down Southern Stream Passage in seemingly no time at all (pretty impressive as this was John M’s first trip down this part of the cave). At Gothic Passage we picked up Duncan Price’s dive line, and a hoe for digging with which we had left there on a previous trip. After a bite to eat at the aven in Synchronicity we set off down the long series of sandy crawls in Resurrection Passage towards Maytime, letting the line reel roll off into the distance ahead of us in the generally downward trending passages. Evidently this section was not going to be so easy on the return trip!

Eventually after a couple of impressive excavated sections through boulder chokes we emerged in a passage where you can clearly see a major fault in the roof – the very same fault we are hoping to hit in Grolsch Passage. It was interesting to note that there was water trickling down this fault in several places, and also formations. Does this mean that the water in Grolsch is a sign that we have nearly reached the fault?

Continuing along easier passage we soon emerged at the top of a steep slope down into dark water – Maytime! The whole place was far more impressive and foreboding than I remembered from my one previous trip several years ago. However the water levels were reassuringly low and we headed off through a short waist deepsection before the going became easier again.

On reaching sump 4 we stopped for photos then backtracked to the bend where the passage heads off to the dig. Actually getting into this passage proved a lot harder than expected, as it involves a 1.5m overhanging climb out of the stream onto a steep mud slope (a rope would be useful in future). After some acrobatics and combined tactics we were all up and headed to the end of the left-hand branch of the passage where the u-tube is situated. We noticed that there were no footprints in the mud, so this area clearly floods completely in extreme conditions. We did however find that the u-tube at the end of the passage was almost completely dry, so evidently the water had not been up here for quite some time, which was reassuring.

The approach to the dig is down a 2m drop. We will normally need to lift the spoil up this drop in order to stack it further back along the passage. As this was just a recce trip though we decided to utilise a small alcove on the left next to the dig face. There is plenty of room at the bottom of the drop for 2 people to work in kneeling/standing positions, so its all pretty civilized so far.

There were only a few inches airspace through the u-tube, so initially we dug the floor down in order to be able to progress forwards. Beneath the layer of wet sticky mud 2-3 inches deep the fill changed to much sandier material, so the digging was pretty easy, and the hoe proved to be the perfect tool for the job. Before long we could get our heads in far enough to see that the roof did not rise straight back up as we had hoped it would, but instead there appeared to be a solid rock wall ahead. But did the passage go round a corner? It was hard to tell, so we carried on digging, each taking turns at the front while a 2nd man stacked spoil and the 3rd rested in comfort at the back.

After about an hour we could see that the passage did indeed turn a sharp corner to the left. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to dig far enough forward to see around the corner on this trip. I shouted a few times and got the impression that maybe there was a kind of an echo as though there was a small chamber ahead, but maybe I was imagining this. We are in the top of a narrow archway with maybe 8 inches airspace, which bells out sideways beneath the fill, so the digging is pretty straight forward and we should easily be able to get a view around the corner on the next trip.

The long sand crawls certainly were a lot harder going in the uphill direction on the way out. The journey was also pretty painful for myself due to an unfortunate incident with sand in my suit which resulted in me being unable to walk for 2 days afterwards! Despite this we made it out on schedule after approx 7 hours underground, and definitely keen to return for a more concerted effort at this new dig site sometime in the near future.

Tom Foord, Cardiff, 1st February 2005


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