Mark R, Adam W, Luke, Mark S, Andy H, Rachel "Buckets" F
Six people! Time for some real progress. The space under the shark cage was much bigger than when I was last there, meaning there was almost room to stand up in the bottom section. Another ring had also appeared below the top one, so the first job was to dig dig dig. Pleasingly we were now truly heading downwards, rather than the messy job of diagonal digging that I'd been involved in on my last few trips. I was lucky enough to be first on digging duty, and with four people at the top of the shaft and a loop of rope meaning every bucket hauled up saw another arrive at the dig face, progress was great. The digging was nice and easy, mainly dry brick-size pieces. Only Mark R got away with slacking during the morning as he stood at the dog-leg "guiding" the buckets as they were hauled...apparently. ;-) The draught at the base of the shaft was certainly noticeable, and on digging out some of the larger blocks, Mark and I were both feeling blasts of nice cool air. Exciting!
After a really good hauling session that had lowered the floor by a foot or two, it was definitely time for another ring, as more and more rubble was coming in from the sides. It was becoming clear that the tricky part of making a dog-leg half way down the shaft, as we'd needed to do, was not just making the diagonal section itself; the inability to get long boards in place made stabilising the walls extremely tricky. With a bit more space and security at the point we'd reached, we could get back to creating a level, square ring, reducing the size of the digging area slightly to speed up digging as we progress. Once in place, Mark and I started to squeeze 3 ft boards in place to attempt to create an improved barrier to the continual collapses. Unfortunately things had to get worse before they got better, and after an especially loud rumbling that saw rocks come in from all sides, and from above, we decided it was definitely time for lunch!
Post-food, we (thankfully uneventfully) finished off the boarding, and made way for Rachel and Adam to have a go at the bottom. Again we could make rapid downward progress, and buckets were rapidly filled and hauled. Luke headed off home before the diggers requested a consultation. A new set of boards went in as we all stood at the base enjoying the cool air drifting up the shaft, before Mark also headed off home, leaving four of us to keep going. By this point we were all suffering a little from the amount of hauling we'd done, but we managed another 30 buckets or so before the rest of us had had enough.
On the way back home, we estimated we must have hauled an absolute minimum of 100 buckets at roughly 20 kg each, meaning at least 2 tonnes had come out from the dig face. The progress at the bottom was clear, and I'd guess we made 3-4 feet of vertical progress. When we left, there was comfortably room for two people to stand at the base of the shaft under the Shark Cage, with room above. What's more, it looks like the next few sessions should be nice vertical digging through loose rubble; there's nothing like tempting fate. It feels like we're now at least down to the level of the original Eldon dig, so we're truly heading into unknown territory. Watch this space!