Chris H, Mark K, Maddie D, Ben E, Tom H, Mark R
As I sat in the car listening to the quiet hammering of heavy raindrops on the car windows I closed my eyes with a big smile on my face and reflected on the events of the last two days. I relaxed into the car seat, the low thud of the Prodigy, Invaders Must Die reverberated through the car and a great sense of relief swept over me… today we proved what we set out to do 10 months ago, that there is indeed more to Rowter hole than meets the eye.
The weekend was set up to be an exciting one following two excellent mid- week trips, the second of which saw us tentatively poke our heads under the 13m (unlucky for some) deep boulder choke and gaze into the underside of a horizontal undercut roof with just enough space to wriggle into without touching the choke.
We started the Saturday morning trip with four new 8ft poles I had been to buy on the Friday with a very specific purpose- sliding horizontally into this new space to form a wall behind which we could contain the toe of the boulder pile. This was done and reported in the Saturday trip report as a very nervous hour or so but we left the new undercut on Saturday in reasonably stable condition with plenty of space for one person to ‘comfortably’ work.
Sunday saw us one man down as Adam had to go home and be a husband for a bit but the remaining six Badgers were back at the farm at just gone 10:00- a record time. TomTom had driven back over from Liverpool having cancelled on his family to be there. For most people there, the day consisted of hours and hours of relentless hauling of rocks, 13m up the shaft, transferred to the diagonal tensioned line and hauled up that a further 15m into the Abyss aven. For me however, I sat in the undercut and pulled boulders out of the floor and the rift that cuts back parallel to and behind the main face of the dig. I wanted to clear the rift and also the floor of the undercut equally to try and ascertain where exactly the draft was coming from and to find the best way down.
Un fortunately, the walls of the rift are of very questionable quality and there were regular but thankfully small collapses of rock from the walls that all had to be hauled out. After a couple of hours I had focussed most of my attention on the rift rather than the floor of the undercut. The rock in the rift had mostly peeled off the walls and was fairly easy to remove with only a few stubborn large boulders requiring a capping. I was fairly confident that the walls wouldn’t collapse when I capped in the rift because I had my eyes closed reallytightly.
At some point there was a call for tea and a spot of lunch but this just happened to coincide with me pulling some rock out of the floor and peering down through a small gap into four or five metres of wide open space. I declined the lunch saying that things were getting interesting but did thankfully have a bottle of some sort of liquid pushed under my nose shortly after!
Eventually, after some more capping, lots of swearing and crow bar and scaffold tube poking the rift was clear of loose rock but there was still a problem. It was too small to fit down meaning it would require capping to enlarge enough to squeeze through but the left hand wall was full of wide open joints and fractures around big blocks that could be made to wobble with very little persuasion. One such block was at the bottom of the rift just above where it opened out and this required two bum clenching caps but was soon trimmed down enough. Two more caps in the right hand solid wall and there was enough space to gingerly squeeze through.
I lowered myself feet first down the couple of metres of rift trying desperately not to disturb the left hand wall and my feet touched down on a boulder floor. I bent at the knees and ducked my head through the capped walls to emerge into a natural rift passage with boulder strewn floor. The first clue I has as to the condition of the floor was when I moved to step onto it and immediately heard the clunking of a piece of rock falling away below... false floor then. At the far end, about 6m away the roof came down to the floor and a 1m tube continued into darkness beyond. I tentatively scrambled over the sharp boulders and poked my head over an edge to see a floor maybe 6 or 7m below. We were going to need a rope!
What followed were the most frustrating, exciting, infuriating, exhilarating 15 minutes of my life! The message for a drill, rope, bolts, hangers, hammer, setting tool, spanner and SRT kit was passed back up the chain of people- now requiring at least two to relay messages to those at the top of the dig. Eventually everything arrived and I got the first bolt placed and sat for what felt like about a week for the 13mm spanner to be found and sent down. Mercifully it was recovered from some dark recess of the dig and found its way through the shattered rift. I edged through the hole now attached to a bolt and feeling much better for it, to look down and see directly below me where I couldn’t previously. There was a bloody huge boulder jammed in the rift passage just a couple of metres down making it an easy climb to the floor.
As the track changed from Warriors Dance to Run With the Wolves I recalled my first impressions of the new rift passage I was then stood in, and turned up the car heater another notch.
It was around 8m high and 1-2m wide. It narrowed at the bottom and a stream ran over my feet! THE stream we have been hearing for the last few months. Almost immediately however I was puzzled.. this stream wasn’t flowing in the direction I had quite anticipated. It ran from right to left (west to east) which on the larger scale made sense- east towards Castleton and downhill. But the water from Hypothermia, which is what we always presumed this was, ran from east to west. I followed the stream down a few metres to a large, very large choke where it cascaded over a natural false floor with relict stream passage beneath it and off into the choke. I turned around here and headed back, calling for the next person to come through and have a look with me- this was all a bit too exciting for one person.
Chris was first through and we went back to the choke for a look around. The water disappears into a low, tight windy passage full of boulders so we climbed up into the choke. This is where we spotted a second inlet of water entering from the east- surely the water from Hypothermia. This ran down through the choke and into the same area as the first stream under the boulders.
We spent some more time poking our heads into holes here and there and assessing the work ahead of us before heading out and posting the others down for a look around. The downstream sink(s) in the choke will require some very careful thought as to how best to tackle the pile of boulders without destabilising the fractured left wall. Never the less, this is an exciting prospect that with time will hopefully let us find the confluence of these two water streams and any continuing passageway associated with it.
The upstream at low level terminates at a waterfall running through a boulder filled roof. We think there is a relatively easy way into this at higher level where we drop through the shattered rift but that again will need a little bit of digging, although not much and some careful stabilisation.
We also need to seriously sort out the shattered rift and try to make that left hand wall safe. In the short term this may involve some timber stemples and cement pointing into the open joints, long term… not sure, I think digging the floor of the undercut roof may yield new easier safer access but this will be several more trips work.
The total length of new passage is probably only about 25m but the significance of finding the new stream adds some weight to this figure we feel. We will be back to survey properly as soon as we can.
I was snapped back to reality by the clunk of the gate into the field. I looked through the rain blurred windows to see TomTom walking towards his car, a smile on his face.
The dug shaft has been called Gin Shaft, after the squeaky gin wheel used for hauling the boulders and the staple drink of the Buttered Badgers.
The connection between the bottom of Gin shaft, under the boulder choke and undercut roof and down through the shattered rift has been called Foster’s Faith after the kind support of Neil Foster. Meaning is added to the name when squeezing through the shattered rift, praying for the walls to stay intact.
The stream passage discovered beyond Foster’s Faith is called Badger Rift in recognition of the efforts of the hard working and far travelling Badgers over the last 10 months. I am personally especially grateful to everyone for their tireless hauling efforts this weekend without which the dig would go nowhere. I appreciate how demoralising it can be being stuck at the end of a hauling rope for hours at a time not being able to see what progress is being made. Well done to all involved in the project so far. There will be more to come!
On that note it is worth saying that we have chosen to report this recent find, not hide it away. We would appreciate it if the rest of you eager cavers out there would respect our hard work and allow us the opportunity to spend some more time exploring the new leads we have opened up and making safe the very unstable sections of the cave before coming to have a look. We would hate to find you squashed in the shattered rift on our next trip down ;)
Photos and survey to follow as soon as we can.