Here’s some news via text from Tony who is with the Russian Cavex team in Slovenia:
Cave is the Gulliver entrance to Cernelsko Brezno. It weighs in at just under 1300 currently.
Full of WWI artillery shells and barbed wire, like everything else up top. Hell of a place to fight a war. Nothing to see but a bit of a Golgotha I suspect. Shells hitting bare rock make a lot of splinters and there’s nothing to absorb impact (even Flanders mud does that). Rain would wash a lot of uncollectables into the karst I reckon.
Two teams diving two sumps, both in the bottom part of the cave. From the lowest entrance they’re in the 900m+ region. Expectations of short sumps and dry passage beyond are high! Depth potential of at least another couple of hundred, maximum in the area is 1800+
Tony and Paul McKrill have completed the first traverse of the Xitu/Couliembro system in the Picos mountains in Asturias, Northern Spain. 1264m vertical ascent and 9km horizontally. This is either the deepest or the second deepest diving / caving through trip in the world.
More as soon as I have news!
Ok, this is really Tony’s story, so I will let him tell you all the details. This is just a quick post to say that over Easter a second attempt was made by Tony and Paul Mackrill, ably assisted by a strong Irish and English support team, to radio locate the end of Poll na Grai in Doolin, the aim being to find a diggable entrance to the dry cave beyond the sumps. Despite a hilarious session arranging comms signals:
“So when we hear you we will say ‘Surface, surface, surface’ “.
“What will you say if you can’t hear us?”
anyway, despite, as I say, considerable thought being given to the comms arrangements, the radio beacon didn’t work. Geology may be to blame. All however was not lost as Paul and Tony went back the next day, did a bit more investigating at the far end, were encouraged to find tree roots which suggests the surface can’t be that far, and re-surveyed a chunk of the passage beyond the sumps.
A proper write-up of this work in progress will follow when Tony writes it. Or not.
The Starless River shop was over in Doolin for the annual SUICRO symposium. In between running the store and drinking Guinness (and doing VAT returns!) there was a bit of time for a couple of trips down Poll na Grai under Knockaunsmountain with Paul Mackrill and several parties of sherpas. This is an interesting, joint-controlled and often narrow streamway, from the entrance down to Sump 1. The Sump 1 bypass is an excavated inclined-plane squeeze which is quite small and involved, for me, wetsuit removal! A further small point squeeze and a climb over a chest-deep pool (which everyone falls in) takes you to a duck and Sump 2, the first diveable sump. This is an easy 8m dive to walking passage, followed by Sump 3: about 80m. No need for fins as it is equipped with a 9mm pulling line and has numerous airbells in which the rope is belayed. An unimpressive, chest-deep gloomy canal suddenly becomes a much bigger passage: 2-3 m wide and very high, going on for over 2km of walking, crawling, wading and boulder piles.
Our aim was to radiolocate the end of the cave. It’s an interesting place, with a noticeable draft, some living insects, and a sense of being hardly visited. We set up the beacon and transmitted for an hour, but the surface team didn’t hear anything. The previous mapping was done by the explorers, UBSS, who did a preliminary survey using a diving compass and pacing, but may have been sufficiently out of their reckoning that the end of the cave is not where we think it is, given the complex nature of the passage!
This is Paul near the end of the cave where we did the radio location. After this there is a drop down, which we decided not to negotiate – the end of the cave shortly afterwards is described as too tight.
Photos courtesy of Paul Mackrill, who is the handsome chap in the photos – the ones with the big muddy bum are all mine! Many thanks too to Robin, Fred, Steph and Tony B. for organising the radio-location and the carries, and to Andrew Atkinson for information on the sumps. Finally mega-thanks to all the sherpas of the three different carrying parties – you know who you are!
Diving from Aquamole to KMC
Late July saw me caving in the Three Counties system, on a trip which was written up in the Mail on Sunday by caving journalist David Rose. Have a look at the article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1296308/Into-abyss-Stretching-counties-70-miles-inside-Britains-vast-newly-pioneered-cave-system.html.
August was a busy month. Firstly here is me emerging from an archaological dive with a twelfth-century gravestone, at a site which will have to remain secret for the moment:
Next here is me in Croatia, carrying gear in to Lukina Trojama, a 1392m deep system being explored by a group of Croatian cavers. My part in the exploration ended up being to carry a 11l diving bottle out from the bottom…
A family holiday took me to the Swiss Alps, where I took the opportunity to get up some easy 4000’ers – this is the descent from the Weismeis in the Vallais (Wallis) region.
Next I visited the Masson expedition to the Berger to help with the derigging. This is me, nearly at the Moliere on the way down:
This month I also had the chance to see some prehistoric remains of ursus spelaeus, the cave bear. (Once again I am afraid the location will have to remain a secret.) This is apparently a juvenile individual (the bear that is!).
Well, I camped underground for seven days in Skalarjevo Brezno!
We based ourselves in a significant side branch (Sleeping Dragon) at about 590m or whatever. I found a nice 100m pitch that, sadly, reconnected with a main route near its base. Pleasant work, though, and interesting as it was basically a small gap in the boulder floor of a chamber that many people had walked through… so we just moved half a dozen rocks and then had to slide through a hole in the floor at the base of a boulder slope – then try and get a rebelay in as soon as possible, because it was not a good idea to have rope rubbing against any of the rocks around the hole! When you were on the pitch (Nervous Breakdown) you could look up at the floor of the chamber overhead that folks were walking across…
Also did some of the rigging across a big traverse (must have been about 40+ metres, as the direct line was 14m – I can just about do the equation) that led into a very old abandoned stream passage across the shaft from camp. The passage was about 120m long and leads to some very interesting draughting digs that might lead to much bigger stuff. The traverse (“Made in Heaven”) was moderately desperate, as it started with a completely footless section about 5m long, with the bolts about six to eight inches above an overhang…so you were desperately trying to make progress with no easy way of unweighting your cowstail, while hanging horizontally. When it was my turn to have a go at making progress, I got to the last bolt on this horror show, equipped with drill, bolt kit, etc etc, and thought “bugger, I had better go forward and see if there is a place to rest, because I`m blowed if I have the strength to reverse that right now”. Fortunately, there was a nice ledge hidden a few metres away around the next corner!
The fact that this was at the head of a 293m pitch (Rolling Stone) meant absolutely bog all, as with a hole that big, even a Scurion doesn`t make that much impact!
So – some discoveries (and some good potential resulting), no more depth, but a couple of fun moments. Also, I avoided dying yesterday, when the camera person dropped his big expensive bag of film goodies down the pitch when he was about 30m above me… which was a good result. As the pitch was about 80m from where his bag parted, to the bottom, suffice to say that several thousand Euros worth of cameras and data recorder were *not* in a good shape when they were recovered!