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!