Caving in the UK – Part 1 – Mendip

I arrived on Mendip on a Friday midday. Hat Stand and I were to meet up with Dr. Peter Glanvil for a trip into Reservoir Hole to the Frozen Deep, the largest chamber in the UK. We were a bit late at the meet, but luckily, so was Pete, so he wasn’t waiting that long. We changed into cave gear and headed across the road to the entrance. They had tried winding me up saying it was up the cliff on the other side, I played along although I had it figured out! So off we went.

The entrance to Reservoir is tiny. We made our way down-down-down. Luckily one of the diggers (of which I forget his name) has a thing for making neat paths, so parts were almost a steep staircase of limestone rather than a crumbly scree slope. Heading in, I couldn’t help but this “aww, dang, I’m going to have to come back up all this on the way out!” It made me think about TAG caving and how it seems that often we go in the resurgence so the general path of the cave is upward (unless it’s a pit or multidrop of course). Here in Mendip though, the entrance tends to be the swallet at the top! I never really have noticed going so deep into a cave before without the use or need of rope.

As we approached Grand Gallery and Topless Aven, I saw a lot of white stuff that looked like spray on Styrofoam coating the walls. Apparently, *that* is what moonmilk looks like! You could even see where someone had touched it, fingers dragged through. Quite an interesting kind of formation.

Moonmilk on the walls.

We ducked into a side route, the location of yet another Reservoir dig, to grab a drink. There are quite a few caves I am told that have these areas where they catch water dripping into the cave and it’s suitable for drinking. The cool crisp almost-sweet limestone filtered water was delicious. We moved on.

After going down what seemed like forever, we had to climb up in Resurrection Chamber. Almost to the Frozen Deep now! Only a few obstacles in the way. First was the awkward climb up. After climbing up about 100-ft or so on a rather steep scraggly slope, we had to get up on top of a boulder wedged in the passage; the top was about 8-ft off the floor. The only way onto it was to chimney over that expanse below. It was a bit of a reach for me especially not being a fan of exposure without being clipped in to a safety. It took a few attempts, but finally I rolled over onto the massive boulder and peered forward into the darkness.

The last obstacle was two ladders. Cable ladders, or electron ladders as some call them. Mendip cavers tend to dislike SRT and will use these ladders instead. Frankly, I’d be happier with a rope (you need a belay line anyway for the ladder) but of course they insist. The last time I was on a ladder was a half-failed attempt in Swildon’s Hole at the 20-ft waterfall pitch, where the flowstone at the top similar to the lip at War Eagle wore me out until I caught my hand and then fell (on belay), almost breaking a rib or two when it arrested my fall. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about trying these cable ladders again!

I watched Pete and he gave me some pointers. Going down on a ladder luckily isn’t as hard as going up in my experience. Despite being apprehensive, I was down in no time and was immediately hit by the massiveness of the chamber. They say it is the largest chamber in the UK. Now, the Dales people will be quick to argue, saying Titan or Gaping Gill is larger. I would beg to differ, as I would term such a shaft, not a chamber. Until I hear a better reasonable argument, I will have to agree with the Mendip cavers.

Massive flowstone and drapery wall by the Frozen Deep entrance.

Pete wanted to get some photos so at this point, it was a photography trip. We wandered all around the Frozen Deep, setting up shots.

A small part of the Frozen Deep, looking towards one of the columns of the “iconic trio” (the bright line left of center).

 

Iconic Trio

We probably spent a few hours wandering around. Eventually though it was time to leave; Pete needed to get home to his wife and getting down to the pub sounded like a great idea to me! Back up the ladders we went. I watched Pete carefully and listened to pointers about how to hold your upper body to the ladder (harder for me with things catching from my well-endowed chest!) and keeping knees bent to kick out from the wall so feet can make it into the rungs. All went well, even at an awkward traverse at the top of one, having to step off the ladder upwards onto a skinny 2” slat in the wall whilst reaching for the traverse rope to shimmy across in a “leap of faith”.

Climbing back out I realized just how far underground I was – more than 600ft. I think that may well be the deepest underground I’ve ever been without using rope. And I do believe that climbing a rope 600ft is MUCH easier than vertical crawls, climbing dug out walls, and scampering up slopes. Then again, I’m conditioned for ropework, not free-climbing.

We emerged into the rainy evening. Pete went home and Hat and I went to Hunters, aka The Center of the Universe. Friday night at this caver’s pub is quite a busy one, as everyone is arriving at Mendip for the weekend.

Myself and Pete in the Frozen Deep under some lovely bacon.

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With Saturday came the spirit of “Faff Now, Cave Later” motto held by many a UK caver. I decided to go out and spend some time on the SRT training tower outside the Wessex Cave Club hut. After a while, Kevin showed up and wanted to go down to Swildon’s so Hat and I went along. I really didn’t feel like more ladders, especially not the 20 in Swildons as it’s terrible undercut flowstone bell edge, with worn out areas from years of ladder use so the rungs fit into the groves on the flowstone like pieces of a puzzle just did not seem like a fun time. Instead, I stayed in the upper series exploring and taking photos. There is quite a lot above the 20 so it wasn’t hard to stay occupied.

Passageway in Swildon’s Hole

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My last cave on Mendip for this trip was GB Cave. The entrance is, like so many Mendip caves, a lot of climbing down, somewhat narrow, small, and winds around. There is a squeeze and then pop – out into the Gorge!

Bridge in the Gorge of GB as seen from on top of it.

The Bridge in the Gorge of GB looking back towards the entrance. Note on the bridge is Kevin in red with yellow helmet for scale.

We continued under the bridge, deciding to head straight towards the Ladder Dig and up to Bat Passage. A high (30-40ft) climbdown on the side of a waterfall later and finally we were at the start of the Ladder Dig. It was rather impressive watching Hat get the ladder up, he used both ends, hooking in one side of the ladder, climbing up high as he could, then reaching hooking the other side of the ladder to the next highest bolt, transferred over, and kept hop-scotching his way up the 15-ft or so climb.

There is a really tight squeeze with water in it to get to the great chamber and bat passage. Lying on my back and going headfirst I wormed through. After some debate about attempting to get up into Great Chamber or move on to Bat Passage, we continued forward.

Even the crawls here are often pretty! No person for scale as it is too small – that hole to the right  on the bottom of the frame is our belly crawl squeeze path!

Hat was a bit worried about remembering the route to Bat Passage, but he lead us rather directly there. Indeed, there are a lot of nice white formations. It is about 6-10ft wide on average, and about the same tall, just low enough sometimes formations require duck walking to avoid hitting them.

Look close and see Kevin in the middle for scale. Formations line Bat Passage.

On our way out, we used the 3000 lumen light I had along to bring daylight into the Gorge. Both Hat and Kevin remarked at how much they were seeing that they’d never noticed, or perhaps even been able to see clearly, before.

Looking down the Gorge in GB. Two “fang” formations in the ceiling are the Snake Teeth. Beyond Kevin is the waterfall, and about 80-ft total of down climbing.

 

2014 Caves of TAG Calendar!

 

I published a calendar last year, and people quite liked it! Now, I am happy to announce the 2014 Caves of TAG calendar will be ready shortly! Thick glossy pages and full calendar with neat cave dates and caving events, plus of course normal holidays, included. All the space to write in your own as well!

All pre-orders (order before October 30, 2013) will get a $5 discount! Just mention you saw this post. I do accept PayPal.