Mark R, Ben E, Luke N, (Evil) Tom and Maddie
Sat 26th May 2012
With the end finally in sight, Mark seemed pretty set on another weekend of excavations, pushing on and clearing the final leg of the dig to reach the choke. So preparations were made and spare caving kit compiled (for the novices among us) ready for a weekend trip t’up north!
Unfortunately the ‘A’ team were apparently off doing things like exams; weddings; and general girlfriend related activities, so it fell to the reserve crew to man this expedition into the unknown. Whilst being very excited I reached Badger HQ at a very reasonable time, spurred on by talk of a BBQ, Ben unfortunately decided to spend the evening on the M25, finally making it up in time for cold leftovers and plenty of potato salad.
In the morning, bacon sandwiches were ordered and then picked up enroute (from a very helpful cafe) and we settled down to admire the sunshine (that seemed to have come out specifically because we were heading 70m underground) whilst waiting for Luke to arrive in his trusty cave-mobile with a mystery guest…Tom!
After packing all the important things like leftover pork pies and egg fried rice for lunch, and finally admitting defeat that the bowl of potato salad wouldn’t fit in the daren drum, we headed off for the coalface (or in this instance ‘leadface’).
A quick refresher on how to re-belay and I found myself for only the second time at the bottom of the 70m shaft and faced with the sharp reminder that I don’t really like rope ladders. Finally however, we reached the bottom and needless to say everyone apart from Luke (my dutiful babysitter – that boy has the patience of a medical professional…) were already hard at work digging, hauling and empting, with Mark taking the first shift at the forefront.
…Some time later, after much admiration on my part at the efficiency of the setup (including the shiny pulley system that has recently been installed along the dig) and Luke and Tom’s hauling abilities; a geology lesson from Ben on Galena (I liked this – it appealed to my magpie sensibilities);and many complaints from Mark regarding arctic tidal waves that hit him every time the rapidly disintegrating box was hauled out, our fearless leader finally had to admit defeat to regain the feeing in his limbs. Time for lunch! – Tea was made, our resident medic checked Mark for signs of hypothermia, and rice was consumed - mostly using a knife (the forks may have been removed and left at the surface).
Round two – after quite a bit of shivering Mark decided to escape to the surface to enjoy some more of the elusive British summer. After taking the long crawl down to the dig face I soon realised why. Looking at the small tight wet hole, and the location of the shovel I was left wondering how anyone possibly managed to fit into such a tiny space, let alone do any digging! A hasty retreat was made, whilst I let Luke have a go at widening out the last 2m of the dig enough to get to the choke. Whilst this set-up might not have been quite as productive as with Mark the amazing contortionist at the forefront, several bucketful’s of sediment and rocks were removed and the end was closer in sight.
Luke eventually became overcome by the shear arctic chill, so I decided to conquer my fear and have another go. Finally realising that it was in fact possible to squeeze into the end of the dig (although whether there was space to actually dig was still debatable in my mind), I settled in to do my bit. It soon became apparent that I couldn’t manoeuvre the little shovel very well in such a confined space (No matter what people may say this is not the size of a small cavern) so I resolved to using it simply loosen the rocks and then pull them out by hand. Very little progress was made with this technique – it is not recommended. Although I do feel it may have been unfair to finish everything and leave nothing for anyone else…. A treat for those finishing exams perhaps?
The choke could be reached however and as I could no longer feel my fingers enough to scoop up any more rocks into the mostly broken tub (this may have been its last journey along the dig face), I decided to call it a day.
Now the only question was how to get back out…. The good news was that clinging to a rope ladder for dear life with fingers that feel about as responsive as a pack of sausages warms you up very quickly. The even better news was that among the gear id been given I got my first introduction to a foot jammer! This I soon discovered maybe the sole reason I made it back out into the glorious sunshine, where I found the others all changed packed up and ready to go.
Back at HQ a celebratory BBQ was had(Mark’s fourth of the week I believe), which was possibly an excuse for Mark to try some more BBQ’d haloumi (yes there really is nothing better than cheese). The potato salad had unfortunately not quite made it through the day in the back of a very warm car…
Well done boys, a very successful lesson in excavation 101 I’d say, I look forward to stage 2 – techniques in rapid choke excavation.