Sunday, 26 April 2015

Charterhouse - A Cave for Contortionists

This is a cave which has been on my hit list for many years. I knew that since it went big in 2008, bigger in 2009 and even bigger in 2010, making it the deepest cave on the Mendips, that trips deep into the system were very challenging, but I had no idea just how difficult a trip could be until on evening before the trip I read some of the description, talked to people who had done it and watched a couple of YouTube videos.
To say that I was a little apprehensive would be a gross understatement and I think I would have made my excuses then if I hadn’t been told that we were only going to go as far as Diesel Duck - about half way in.
Gate squeeze near the entrance is used as a loading gauge for the cave, limiting the size of cavers who can enter the system. This squeeze is only marginally tighter than many other squeezes and contortions that follow it.
“Never mind”, I though to myself, “Perhaps Mark won’t get through gate squeeze and I won’t have to do the trip.”
Due to the perceived difficulty of the trip I decided to not take my video gear and Mark must have been feeling the same as his camera box remained in the van.
We met our guide, Clive Owen, on time at 10:30, got changed and walked the short distance to the cave. As he attempted to open the lock he explained that recent visitors had had some difficulty unlocking the gate. Perhaps my luck would be in and the lock would refuse to open.

Bugger, the door swung open - the trip was on.

Mark glided gracefully through Gate Squeeze.

Bugger, we would have to go on.

He pissed through the pools and crept through the crawls

Bugger, we would have to go on.

He whizzed through the Wallow.

Bugger, we would have to go on.

After Splatter Chamber the gradient of the cave increases considerably to around 40 degrees. Getting in had proved to be relatively easy but climbing out when tired would be hard.
We scrutinised at the Citadel - a large well-decorated void and continued to descend steeply. We stared at the Singing Stal and articulated through Aragonite Crawl.
We were now at Chill Out Choke. This massive vertical choke, over 100 feet deep took 26 years to get through and was finally passed in 2008. Many of the false leads have prominent warning signs - DANGER DO NOT ENTER.
Shortly after the choke is the Narrows - 60 feet of constricted descending rift with pinch points. Perhaps this would spell the end of the trip for Mark?
He nipped through the Narrows.

Bugger, we would have to go on.

We descended Dragon pitch and still we went on.
We breezed past the Blades (very impressive) and still we went on.
Shortly past Frozen Cascade is Portal Pool, a perched sump that has to be drained by an impressive syphon system. Thankfully we were able to rest for the 35 minutes it took to drain and then we went on.
We rushed through Route 66, oozed through Onion Passage and also swum slowly through sand.
We were now at Diesel Duck.

Double bugger it was dry, we would have to go on.

We hurried on to the Hall of Time - the end of the 2009 extensions and bypassed it by following a high level traverse. Shortly after this was another tight constriction and thankfully we decided to turn back at this point.
The way out was not as difficult as I thought it would be but it is a steep upwards climb all of the way, very tiring, and Mark, the bugger, who slipped easily through all of the constrictions and contortions on the way in needed a little assistance a couple of times on the exit. Why couldn’t this have happened on the way in?
The trip took 5 and a half hours and although it would have made excellent video I’m glad I didn’t take the camera box - I think I would still be in there now!
Would I do it again? To quote the leader of the opposition, "Am I tough enough? Hell, yes, I'm tough enough."

The Team: Jess and Mark Burkey, and Keith Edwards

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