What our customers did on their holidays, Part 1

This is Sverre Aksnes, Kjetil Avset, Professor Stein-Erik Lauritzen, Ane Mengshoel and Danja Mewes, at the base camp for their exploration of Trude Hole, a 4km long white marble cave in Nordland, Norway.

Ario Caves Project

This isn’t really news, but I want to take the opportunity to wish the Ario Caves Project the very best of luck with their summer.

They’re leaving in about a week from now, and are all working very hard at washing and preparing ropes, putting together shelters for underground camps, and double checking that all the rest of the necessary clatch is in place. I’ve seen them at work these last days and you can see the tremendous amount of effort and preparation that’s going into making it work as smoothly as these things can go. I remember that sense of rush, the insuperable, seemingly endless series of jobs that always finishes (always, miraculously, just in time) when you slam the boot of the car, get in, and say “right, now we’ve just got to get there”…

I can’t make it out this year – the Congress in Brno is making a big hole in my expedition season – and already I’m deeply jealous. The Picos de Europa is one of the loveliest caving areas in the world; wild but not harsh, grand, but still on a human scale. The cave that is the prime objective – Pozu del Xitu (as I still call it, although not the best local name as we’ve found recently) is possibly the best trip out there, so far. Challenging, varied, not unduly nasty and with some excellent situations. Plus, I’ve had some cracking days caving in there over the last couple of years with some very good mates; it’s that sort of cave, and the expeditions to the Picos are those sort of trips.

But this year, all that’s to do is to feel proud to have been part of the tradition of exploration out there; to look at old photos; and to wish the team heading out a grand old time and a safe return.

News from Kanin #2

After a camp of seven days, three divers from the Cavex team passed a 100m sump into around 300m of new dry passage at the bottom of Sveliko Brezno in the Monte Kanin region of Slovenia.
The new sump was reached by diving two previously passed sumps at a depth of slightly less than 1000m from the surface. The camp at 700m is reached via a combination of mainly small muddy pitches and slightly awkward meanders. From camp to dive base involves about half a mile of continuous, proven lethal boulder choke, until with relief the last 120m depth is gained in muddy pitches and a large but safe boulder slope.
The mini-rebreather I used in the Culiembro-Xitu traverse worked well here, too. Only a 3l and 5l cylinder needed, and this was almost too much! Also the Speleo Pro wetsuit from Warmbac coped with 4°C water, in conjunction with a Fourth Element thermocline vest.
As ever, the Scurion was excellent and reliable, thankfully!
After 7 days underground and 700m prussiking
A storm over the bivouac
The Rombon caving area, Gulliver entrance in the left hand area
Is this the bone of a pack mule, or otherwise?


News from Monte Kanin

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+

News from the Cares Gorge

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!

Return to Poll na Grai

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.


Hallowe’en caving in Poll na Grai

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.

This rather dark picture near Mayfly inlet.

This is Priory Streamway, showing the characteristic joint-controlled passage.

This is the end of the cave at the high level, which is choked – down below somewhere is the low level way which pinches out.

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!

Tony Seddon





Tony Seddon and Paul Mackrill
Paul Mackrill and Tony Seddon

Diving from Aquamole to KMC

Summer news

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!).