Sunday, 16 July 2017

Alum Pot......a Sunday trip?

After a good nights sleep we headed to Inglesport for a full breakfast to start the day and also to pick up some 60m of club rope.
I had chosen a real classic for the days play, Alum Pot.
Kay wasn't over keen on doing any longer pitches and so we headed in with two rather full kit bags each plus my camera.
Unsure if it was the couple of pints (I'm such a light weight!!!) or just a bit of dehydration but I was feeling quite rough for this one. I'd forgotten to take my sunglasses off and so could hide my heavy lids behind them on the walk across.
We entered via Long Churn. Normally lugging kit doesn't bother me but my head was thudding away and obstacles that I normally skip over were causing me bother. I didn't even try to traverse around the pots and simply sploshed my way through.
We met an adventure group at the Cheese Press and I encouraged Kay to have a go, insisting that I'd made it through with a bit of help so she'd have no bother. After 5 minutes of grunting and squirming she eventually wriggled back out and I admitted I'd never actually been through at all, but it was fun to watch her try :)
Dolly tubs was already roped so I decided to rig the alternative down to the balcony.
Here the sun rays were so impressive I completely forgot about my headache and grabbed for the camera.
After 10 minutes play we rigged down the greasy slab, across the traverse and down the bridge. The 45m was again already rigged so I continued along the traverse and rigged us down the 25m. On the way to the sump we met up with some guys from Manchester Uni and chatted for a bit before heading down to the sump to recce for a future shot of the last pitch on Diccan before we headed back out.
At the entrance we dumped the kit and headed through Upper Long Churn to exit via Dr Banisters. I grabbed the kit bags and my sunglasses and headed back to the van.

Job done all that was left was my 4 hr journey home, hampered by a brake down just in front of us as we were about get on the M6!

The Balcony View to Alum Pot
The balcony View to Alum Pot

The greasy slab
Alum pot sump area at the foot of Diccan
The Steps en route back from Upper Long Churn

Present: Mark Burkey & Kayleigh Wood

Saturday, 15 July 2017

A rather wet Swinsto Pull Through Trip

With only Kay and I available for this weekend away I decided to head up to Yorkshire to introduce Kay to a couple of the Yorkshire classics.

As it was to be just the two of us we had a leisurely 9am start and arrived in Kingsdale at just before noon to a drizzle and mist in the air. We first popped in to Valley Entrance to to rig the exit pitch from Kingsdale Master Cave. I had intended to take a couple of photo's of the entrance series, but it has been a while since I was last there and I'd forgotten the larger passage wasn't until after the pitch and so tied the camera box to the rope with the intention of taking photo's at the end of the trip instead.

We returned to the van to grab the two bags of rope and SRT kits and headed up toward the entrance.....and when I say toward the entrance it was really in the vague direction as I wasn't quite sure exactly where it was!
Kay found a likely looking hole and I popped my head in to it and found a bolted pitch, but it just didn't feel quite right and was closer to the path than I recalled. After a further 5 minutes I was looking down a hole which I was almost certain was the entrance to Swinsto and so kitted up and headed in. As soon as I saw the first pitch I knew we were in the right place.
Soon we were splashing through the Swinsto long crawl to the head of the next pitch. All went as planned until Split pitch where the water was ferocious, far stronger than I'd seen it on my previous two visits. We abseiled down to the ledge where there was no respite from the deluge and struggled to pull down the rope which was being whipped and twisted and fighting against us. After ten minutes we finally won and gratefully continued our way out of the force of the waterfall and on to the next pitches. At Spout chamber again the water coming in was incredible and this time I remembered my point and click and took a bit of video. We finally made our way to the short pitch in to the connecting chamber and on to the linking crawl. I must admit as we made our way through I was wondering if the link ever sumps and was very relieved to see plenty of air space to exit.
As we headed down stream it was all we could do to keep our legs under us and as we reached the short pitch back to the valley entrance series there were waterfalls coming in from everywhere, it was truly spectacular. Where I had lowered the end of the rope on to a cobbled floor just a few hours before was now thigh deep. I grabbed the camera gear and expressed excitedly to Kay that I just had to try and get a photo.
5 minutes later the camera gear was good for nothing, but the shot had been taken and so we got out of the water and headed out.
As we changed we witnessed the Kingsdale Bore, something I had never seen happen before so we gawked at the dry riverbed filling for a bit before heading off to meet up with friends and a well deserved pint :)
A rather damp start to the day
Didn't get any drier in the cave!
Normally dry, The pitch up to Valley Entrance

The Kingsdale Bore

A rather damp trip indeed!

Present: Mark Burkey & Kayliegh Wood

Saturday, 8 July 2017

There's nothing more dangerous than sunbathing! A trip in to Longwood Swallet

Jess and I had offered to help man the bars for this year's Priddy folk festival and so put out an email asking if anyone fancied a trip down mendips way on Saturday.
We had a good number of takers and were joined by Keith,  Tony, liz, Mark and Chloe. Chloe asked for a trip on to Longwood, I remembered the entrance series as being tight and as I've put on a bit of weight over the summer months put thoughts of the squeeze to the back of my mind. The gang met for the usual breakfast stop at the priddy cafĂ©, with Chloe and Mark joining a little later. Permits and keys were obtained and we headed off. Due to numbers I would head in with a group of 3 first  and the others would form a separate party. The lid lock was as awkward as usual and it took Mark's dodgey lock picking skills to coax the thing open.  With the squeeze at the forefront of my mind I dove in first to get it out of the way and found the entrance series more awkward than I remembered. Soon I was diving head first down to the letterbox and found it as snug as I'd feared. I exhaled and wriggled to find the widest part, exhaled pushed, wriggled and popped gratefully through. I was soon joined by Jess and then Tony. As Tony is a skinny whippet and could comfortably lie in the squeeze he had the honour of being my model for a quick photo before we thrutched on to the first pitch. Here I called for the ladder only to find logistics had gone our the window and both ladders had been left with the other party! I could hear the others coming down behind us and called to Keith that we'd need a bag moving forward. There were some mutterings and swearing but eventually the bag appeared and the first obstacle was rigged. Our group descended and we're soon joined by Keith,  Liz and Kay.......we had already lost Mark and Chloe who weren't 'feeling it'. As we were now 6 the group elected to stay together for the rest of the trip. We headed straight to and down Swing Pitch and first headed up stream to check out the choked passage and take a couple more photos and video before following get the crawls and cascades down stream to the sump. On our way back I popped in the inlets passage but gave up after ten minutes of samey hands and knees crawling to rejoin the others. Whilst the gang made their way back up swing pitch I grabbed another photo opportunity before joining them at the head of the pitch. We dumped the cameras at this point to do the August route out and headed through a surprisingly dry series back to the foot of the pitch in. At this point Kay and I went back to grab the camera boxes and tackle bag and regretted it most of the way back as everything caught and snagged as we heaved it back towards the entrance. Once again I wanted to get the squeeze out of the way and so shoved through a tackle bag ahead of me and then dove in to join it. I made the mistake of not finding the widest part and instead pushed on wedging myself completely, face full of tackle bag and legs flailing unable to find purchase to push. Jess had a go at pulling me back out but it was obvious there was only one way to go and so braced herself for me to push off. It took a lot more effort to get through than it had on the way in but with relief I gradually felt the constricted grip of the rock release me. The dog leg proved bloody awkward with a tackle bag ahead of me and Jess and Kay would also find the same as they exited. All that was left was to have the usual 5 minutes play trying to coax the lock before heading back to the vehicles. As Jess changed I noticed a large bruise on her side and asked what she'd done....."what I've done" she snorted, "that was you flapping your boots about trying to push off of me!" Karma would get its own back the next morning. I rolled out of the van on the hall green to the sound of church bells. Popped a towel on the grass and sun bathed and had a snooze.  10 minuted later I thought I felt someone stepping on my arm and opened my eyes to find an elderly lady just run me over as she had reverse parked! Who'd have thought of all the hobbies I have that sun bathing would be by far the most dangerous!
Tony in the letterbox squeeze
Tony and Liz at the upstream chokes
Keith and Jess at Swing Pitch
Jess sports a boot shaped bruise....ooops sorry honey!

Present: Jess, Keith, Liz, Tony, Kay, Mark Burkey & Fleetingly Chloe and Mark Burgess ;)

A Video of the Trip

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Mistral Hole

Friday the 30th june.

We had all agreed to meet at either the red rose or the marston arms that would be myself, Jess, Mark, Loz, Mel, liz and Tony. Unfortunately due to events out of mine Jess’s and Mark’s hands we didn’t make the pub. But Liz, Tony, Mel and Loz all enjoyed a drink lol.

Sat  1st july.

We aimed to head of around the 10am mark which we did. And present for the trip down mistrals hole was Loz, Mel, Jess, Mark C, Liz, Tony and myself Kay. Mark B was off taking photos of some friends horses so he didn’t join us.
So of we headed with some confidence we would find the cave entrance, we headed past Lancaster Pot so was on the right track and we arrived at the cave entrance within 30 mins, I headed down first followed by the others and we headed for The Gour Hall first which we found with little difficulty im pleased to report, however on the way back a few of the members went the wrong way down a oxbow wont mention names lol.
We got back to just after the Hall Of The Ten and then headed right towards the stream way, which to get there you have to walk through a really muddy chamber and down a hole at the bottom of the chamber, which is very slippery so you have to be very careful not to travel to fast.
We all headed upstream towards the waterfalls, we had to climb up some smaller waterfalls which we all made it up fairly easy.
We made it to the chest deep water right before the waterfall but decided to not press any further as we had been told that the water should only be chest deep but it was in fact deep enough to need to swim a little bit, so defeated a little we headed back down the stream way to the muddy chamber, we headed back through dusty junction, where just after i had to pause for a second to get my bearings before proceeding down the left passage and out back to the sunlight, or rather cloudy sky lol.

After we had got back had a shower and got changed some of our group headed home. So with only four of us left to enjoy the festivities of a red rose bbq we dug in and ate and drank and was merry. Even though our call out had deserted us for a pint at the Marston arms lol.

Sunday 2nd july

Me, Mel, Jess and Mark B got up with the plan of doing a trip into Wretched Rabbit, which after the festivities of the night before none of us really fancied doing it and so we headed to Inglesport for a breakfast with the idea of doing a smaller trip.

Which unfortunately didn’t go ahead as after breakfast we all decided that we would just head home.

Trip report.
Kayleigh Woods

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Photographing beyond the there in the end!

With time fast running out, there were just a few bits and pieces that still needed sorting . On some test dives both mine and Christine’s Peli cases flooded and so all the gear would need to be dived through the sump in dry tubes. For added protection I decided to protect the gear in the same way as I do in the UK and heat seal everything in to bags. Fortunately Ashley was driving to Croatia and kindly took a lot of the heavier camera consumables that I would have otherwise struggled with if I’d had to fly with it.  My normal battered and bruised Scurrion lamp was also deemed not up to the job and so I am eternally grateful to Rolf at Scurrion for the sponsorship of a dive version Scurrion for the trip.

Christine had already shipped my Apeks dive gear (Also sponsored, see the pattern of thanks and recognition here!) , flash bulbs and walkie talkies, so my packing was looking a little more realistic than normal.  At least it would have if I hadn’t needed to stuff  in a bulky wet suit, wellies, helmet, 3 camera lenses, laptop, various chargers etc, etc……still who needs more than one change of clothes anyway!
Licanke resurges through to this impressive lake
Day 1

Although I managed to forget my mobile phone, the flight out went smoothly and we were soon being collected by Richard Walker and being chauffeured to Krnica Dive centre where we met up with Ashley and Robbie.
We were soon fettling gear, analysing gas bottles, putting twinsets together and robbing as much lead as we could get our hands on to try and sink the large dry tubes we would be taking.
Soon Ash’s van was overflowing with kit and it was time to grab a quick bite to eat and head to Fuzine to the house we would be using as our base for the next few days and hook up with Rick.
Krnica Dive Centre
Ashes van gets loaded to the roof!

I tested and re-tested every piece of the camera and video kit, sealed everything into bags, ensured there were spares of batteries, cloths, SD cards, added heat packs to make certain the lenses would not fog, just about everything I could think of as once the kit was in the cave there would be few chances for do overs.
Priorities, the camera gear gets its own bed!

In fact I was so focused on trying to make sure I didn’t mess up on the entire reason I had been invited on the expedition that it didn’t even occur to me to be nervous about the impending cave dive itself!

Day 2
The big day

The drive to Licanke was short, only about 10 minutes and in no time we were unloading a vast amount of gear that would need to be dived through the sump. I busied myself by walking my twinset over to the sump pool and went through all the pre checks Christine had taught me., then went back to keeping myself occupied with taking stills and video of the preparation.
Finally it was time. I sealed my camera in to the dry tube and hoped it would all go to plan.

I hadn’t given the dive a second’s thought until now. I slipped in to the cold sump pool and Robbie dropped the twinset down to me.  I would be dived through first, chaperoned by Christine and Rich. I was finally feeling a little nervous. In my training I had never worn a helmet in the water and it felt odd and a little off-putting.
Rich went through my buddy checks and the dive plan. He would lead followed by me, and then Christine.
I dumped the air from my wing and descended in to my first sump.
Me in the 1st sump

I was very conscious of my buoyancy and keeping the sump line within easy reach, but quickly these became automatic as I marvelled at the clarity of the water and the passage itself.  It was almost dreamlike, floating in the flooded passage effortlessly, and all too soon we were surfacing.
Christine eagerly asked how I’d enjoyed it and I think my grin from ear to ear must have answered her.  Throughout the next couple of days the visibility would deteriorate considerably in the sump, but the enjoyment of diving it would not.
Rick in the 1st sump

Back to the job at hand - the dry tube was brought through and the flooded camera boxes dried out and filled with equipment. I was possibly more nervous of shooting video than I had been of the diving, but quickly took to the task at hand and begun cataloguing the equipment being dived through, put on to an inflatable raft and scooted across lakes to the large dry cave beyond where it would have to be carried to the 2nd sump.  

Gear being scooted across one of the lakes

Day 3
Back in my comfort zone

Again we would be mostly shooting video of the gear being hauled. The combination of the fact that the cave had only ever been visited a handful of times and that it will flood during heavy rains meant there would be a lot of loose and moving boulders, which would have to be carefully navigated.

Licanke Main Stream Way
Christine moving kit through the main passage

Rich took a tumble at the sump pool just to remind us that an accident beyond a sump is something to be avoided at all costs. Ash dove the decompression bottles in to the sump in preparation for the push dive and once filming of this was complete I was allowed back in my comfort zone to take some stills on the way out.

The sharp and loose rock was unforgiving

Day 4
The Push

This was what the whole thing boiled down to. Christine and Rich vented their pre-dive nerves by squabbling over who’s neoprene gloves had the holes in them……I kept well out of the way!
I headed straight for sump 2 to set up the camera whilst Richard and Christine  took their time as they were caving in full dry suits and trying their best not to work up a sweat that would cost them valuable body heat on their push dive.
Each diver would have an ‘assistant’ to help them kit up and ensure that everything was checked and re-checked.
I tried to get some shots of them for the record, but both were eager to get going before nerves and the cold could take hold.

Christine checks her bottles ready for the push dive

Ashley and Rik had come up with the awesome plan of taking in a jet boil and making hotdogs so we could keep ourselves busy as we awaited the divers return.
We knew they were diving a fluid plan that would allow for a maximum of 60m and were expecting them to be around an hour and a half.
We spent a little time taking a couple of photo’s and munching hotdogs as the time ticked on….and on.
I had been told I would see their lights at the 6m decompression stop well before they would surface which would give me time to set up the video and capture their return. The hour and a half came and went and still no sign.
Ashley and Rik seemed slightly less concerned as they happily begun eating the hotdogs and buns that had been put aside for our heroic push divers to celebrate with!
At this point a light appeared in the sump pool and we all eagerly took our stations to record their return.

Christine and Rich surfaced, excited and full of adrenaline. There had been a ‘moment’ where in zero visibility the line had snagged on of their many tanks and snapped, separating them. This in my training had seemed the scariest thing I could imagine happening, but fortunately both Christine and Rich are well practiced in their drills and recovered the line before it could pose any risk to them.

Rich with his bouquet of bottles in sump 2

Jubilant, they looked to us for their celebration hot dogs. Ashley looked sheepishly at them and completely lied through his teeth telling them the buns had perished in the water so only a couple of sausages remained for them!

Hot dogs, the perfect caving food!

Later that evening the line data was analysed and was found to have yielded 99m of new passage with the end still wide open. Fortunately the passage hadn’t gone deep and had in fact levelled out somewhat, but it would mean that to push further next year, re-breathers would be needed. 

Day 5
Don’t you pee in your wetsuit?

The final day in Licanke would be spent stripping out all the kit. It would be all hands on deck for this and we soon mastered the best way to perform this by creating chains of people across the various obstacles and passing the kit along. After only a few hours we were packing up the dry tube and trying to get enough weight on it, and failing miserably, for Rich to dive it out.
Christine asked if I fancied being scootered through the sump and I agreed. She explained that I would need to keep well tucked in behind her and keep a hold of her harness strap at her tail end. Once the other side I was allowed to play in the sump pool and eventually resurfaced giggling like a 6 year old.
At some point talk degraded to weeing in your wetsuit and Christine admitted to releasing often in the cold water. I couldn’t help but think that the sump had seemed a little warmer than usual as she had scootered me through and tried to push the image out of my mind!

This has been an awesome experience. I have made some great new friends in Ash, Rick, Robbie, Rich and Christine along the way and got to do something I had never imagined I would be capable of.

The Gang

Report by Mark Burkey

Friday, 23 June 2017

Photography beyond the sumps......gotta get there first!

In 2004, whilst on holiday I took my PADI open water and advanced qualifications and haven’t dived since.
I wasn’t what you would call a natural in the water and the training didn’t exactly leave me feeling confident in my abilities, and so, although a nice experience, I figured it was probably not for me.

I have also been reminded of a conversation with my mum when I first started caving. I was keen not to be nagged by her and told her something along the lines of  “No mum caving is really quite safe, far less accidents than climbing, it’s not like I’ll be cave diving….now that’s dangerous!”

Fast forward several years and I get a phone call from an enthusiastic Christine Grosart whom I had met at Eurospeleo 2016 and had been underground with a sum total of once.

After a quick round of pleasantries she dove in telling me she had a cave project in Croatia called Licanke, that a team had been the previous year and this time they wanted someone to come along to help with stills and video. I explained the photography would be no problem, but video would be all new to me and whilst I was happy to give it a go, I couldn’t promise what we would wind up with. I had a flick through the diary at the dates she had proposed and pretty much agreed that I’d be available.
“There’s one other thing,” Christine added, as I was about to hang up. “You’ll need to dive a small sump to get in to the cave.”
I spat out my tea in my lap, and laughed nervously and then realised she was serious. For the life of me, I have no idea why I went and agreed, but that is exactly what I did. We would have 3 months to see if I could be turned from an underwater version of Bambi to someone who wouldn’t be a liability to himself and the team.

This had all happened just before I was due to head off to Meghalaya and so I put it to the back of my mind and headed off for a month.

I had been back less than a week when I got a message that the first thing we would need to do is see if the CDG would agree to me joining as a member specifically for this project.
I would be diving a back mount twinset, the same as the rest of the team, and so would train in this configuration. At the CDG meeting everyone was most welcoming and agreed to my membership with the caveat that Christine took responsibility of me as my mentor.
What have the CDG let themselves in for!
Our first couple of training sessions would be in a pool in Bristol. This would mean driving down from the Midlands after work to meet up for the evening pool session at 8pm and typically getting back in the early hours as the M5 was going through night time closures for road works.

I have to say I think I really did look the part in my shorts, t-shirt and wellies; certainly it seemed to impress the other ‘try dive’ students who all seemed to be pointing at me admiringly!
Rocking the look!
It was immediately obvious to Christine just what she had taken on as I coughed and spluttered my way around the pool with all the finesse of a hippo!
Christine is however a very patient and skilled teacher and, eventually, I begun to grasp some basic diving concepts such as….. how to NOT somersault under water every time I lost my buoyancy…. NOT to try and breathe when the regulator isn’t in my mouth and finally that although you can get away with peeing in a wetsuit in open water this is frowned upon in a swimming pool ;)
With these important basics covered it was time to move on to something more serious.

We then progressed to quarry diving in Vobster Quay and Stoney Cove. Apeks Dive equipment had kindly offered to sponsor me all the dive kit and so I was even beginning to look a little more the part.
Under advisement I had purchased a 5mm semidry, which isn’t dry at all, but a two-piece wetsuit.
The quarry temperature in May was around eight degrees and whilst I pulled on my neoprene the more experienced divers, all in dry suits, looked at me like I was mad. Christine assured me that as the water temperature in the sump would be around seven degrees that it was a good idea for me to train in a wetsuit…she explained this whilst struggling on another layer and getting in to her dry suit ;)
Apeks Kit Talk
All dressed up and nowhere to go!

I didn’t really notice the cold as we submerged - I was far too nervous. This would be the first time I had properly dived in over a decade.  I had been briefed and practiced on the surface the drills we would be performing and Christine would demo what she wanted first and then I would try to replicate.   I would be so engrossed in the lessons I often didn’t even notice the cold until I surfaced with a blue tinge to my skin and lips, and so it would repeat.
Video was shot so I could get feedback between dives and slowly over the sessions I begun to feel I was progressing.
Feedback time

As things slowly begun to drop into place the quarry sessions would become more complex to include: following line reels blindfolded to simulate zero visibility, then lost line searches then gas failures. The itinerary was full on and hard work, but I found the more I was taught the more comfortable I was becoming in the water.

After a couple of evenings in the pool and several weekends in the quarries practicing drills, skills and overhead environments, Christine declared me ready…well she kinda had to.  We were out of time!

Photo's and video courtesy of Christine Grosart