Volume 35 Number 1 Article 2
Saturday Afternoon Series, Lancaster Hole
In February 1997 Ray Duffy and Angela Hare surveyed the Portcullis Extensions off Montague West in Lancaster Hole. This was undertaken as part of the larger Easegill Survey Project. At the end of one excavated passage it was noted that there was a strong draught. This passage had previously been dug extensively by Tim Eyre et al.
Ray Duffy subsequently returned to this passage with Dave Edland and Pete Grant. They enlarged the flat out crawl at the end to improve access and then began to dig straight ahead. When Neil Pacey and Angela Hare returned to the dig site it was noted that the draught was now stronger from a side passage to the right. The main dig straight ahead was left and attention was focused on digging the side passage. After two hours of digging flat out the way ahead could be seen through a narrow bedding plane with a rock roof and a tightly packed mud floor. This was too tight to be pushed so digging resumed. Eventually after a further two hours of digging a way was forced through the bedding plane. The flat out crawling became gradually easier passing a left hand bend until both cavers were on hands and knees in a trench. the excitement grew as the floor of the trench sloped down and the roof slope up. After a few meters they were in walking passage wide enough to walk side by side. The roof of this rift passage, a few feet above their heads, was full of tightly choked boulders.
The passage quickly started to slope upwards again until it reached a major junction with two passages going off to the left, the trench carrying on straight ahead and a large passage going off to the right.
The walking passage to the right was explored first and again it forked. The right fork was followed to a muddy slippy climb up to a large boulder strewn passage (this climb was left for the next trip). The left fork intercepted another passage - to the left was a tight vertical slot going up about 6 meters, whilst to the right the passage sloped up to a flat out crawl which became too tight but the floor was filled with cobbles and sand. Airspace continued along this flat out crawl under a small rock arch for a few feet. Again a draught was noted at this point. It was thought to be a good dig site for future trips.
The couple returned to the main junction. Straight ahead the trench was filled almost to the roof with mud so this passage was also noted as a future dig site. The two passages to the left at the main junction joined to form a small oxbow. However four further passages branched off this oxbow. The first, second and fourth all lowered to flat out crawls filled with tightly packed mud and boulders. The third passage led to a small aven. This climb was also noted for the future.
The following day Neil and Angela returned to the extension accompanied by Paul Swire (Beardy) and Pete Hall. Paul and Pete attacked the aven climbs, Neil dug the trench straight ahead at the main junction. While Angela dug the draughting flat out crawl at the end of the right hand passages.
The climb in the small aven unfortunately became too tight at the top. The muddy, slippy climb which led up to a large passage with huge boulders rapidly ascended and rapidly narrowed becoming too tight. It was later noted by Beardy that this passage looped towards the passage where Angela was digging. A vocal connection was made and then some rocks kicked by Beardy hit Angela on the head and arm confirming the connection! (Both these climbs were later reclimbed to the bitter end by Alan Swan.
The trench straight ahead at the main junction was dug through by Neil into a small chamber and then through another arch into another chamber totally choked by boulders and mud. The upstream flat-out passage was dug by Angela, later joined by Neil. They could see through to a small "airbell" under an arch. They continued to dig whilst Pete Hall and Beardy surveyed out.
The next attack on the upstream dig was by John Kelly (JAK) and Neil Pacey. Good progress was made into the airbell where it was nearly possible to go onto hands and knees rather than flat out. Another little arch was found and once this had been dug out the passage made a sudden left turn of 90 degrees. This passage was again flat out sloping gently uphill and required digging. By this stage a digging tray was necessary to remove the spoil.
The next trip was made by Angela Hare, Neil Pacey and Yassen Roussev. Digging in the upstream passage extension resumed. Digging flat out with a trowel in the soft sand made easy progress but removal of spoil was more difficult. It had to be dragged back down in your arms down the sloping flat out narrow passage, then pushed down past your body at a wider point then kicked into the arch sealing it off. The next person in the "airbell" had to re-dig the arch out and fill the digging tray. A complex manoeuvre then had to be made in order to get the digging tray past your body so that the third caver could pull it away. After taking turns to dig Neil broke out of the sloping passage into a level flat out crawl for approximately three meters. A small hole half filled with mud and rocks was straight ahead. Neil chose instead to continue by taking another sharp left hand turn this led him up a very steep incline, flat out digging to squeeze through. This was named "The Ramp". It was several meters to the top of the ramp. Neil dug through another small hole and popped out in a small chamber which he could stand up in. Indeed when Angela and Yassen joined Neil they could all stand up together in this chamber.
Again the way ahead was fully choked with mud, however there was a passage seen going off about 2-3 meters above there heads. Angela headed up the slippy climb and found herself in an even more slippery, sloping hands and knees passage. This went for a few feet before levelling out in a small chamber where it would be possible for two people to sit (uncomfortably). The mud was now dry and caked again. Once more the passage forked. The right fork after two metres became totally choked to the roof. The left fork was a flat out crawl with some beautiful helictites in the roof. The left fork was another uphill flat out crawl over mud. This was noted as another possible dig site.
The party returned to the hole at the bottom of the ramp. It did not take long to enlarge this hole and Angela pushed through, the passage again turned sharply left. Initially this passage was quite roomy, for the first 2 meters. It was possible to he on your side not just flat on your belly. Indeed Neil squeezed in next so the two cavers could just about fit side by side. Unfortunately after this the passage became very low and tight. Both Angela and Neil, in turn squeezed forward and found the passage not only became low but also narrowed to body width and descended rapidly down a steep incline. It looked like there was a mud floored bedding plane below. This site has not been dug as further spoil removal would be very difficult.
On the next trip attention was focused on the main junction area. Neil Pacey and Angela Hare dug the first left side passage of the left oxbow. This initially looked promising as a black space could be seen above and ahead but, unfortunately it ended after about three meters in a boulder choke, tightly packed with mud directly above your head when digging flat out. On the same trip John Kelly (JAK) commenced digging in the end passage on the left, above the climb at the top of the "ramp". He achieved a further six feet then returned to the main junction. There he focused his attention on a boulder choke in the roof. Jak employed the technique of prodding vigorously with a crowbar and then running away very quickly! Several small and large boulders were removed in this way. Eventually progress was blocked by a rather large boulder. Thus boulder could be removed in the future by employing some hilti technology.
Hugh St. Lawrence, on the same trip had a careful look around. After some deliberation he decided to focus his expertise on the third side passage of the oxbow. This started as a flat out dig in the familiar sand, boulders and mud. It is now heading upwards with a draft. Hugh returned to this dig with Adam and made further progress. This dig remains ongoing.
On the next trip, Angela Hare and Neil Pacey headed for the end left passage above the climb above the ramp. The climb had become extremely muddy, slippy and dangerous. So Neil put a bolt in at the top and attached a handline while Angela began digging. The fill was very easily removed with a trowel despite being flat out. Despite the digging being easy, Angela was getting out of breath before her arms got tired (too many fags??). The shortness of breath was disproportionate to the amount of exercise being carried out. After finishing bolting Neil took over digging commenting that Angela should get "digging fit". Interestingly Neil soon became short of breath as well. Unfortunately when he had realised that he had practically sealed himself into the passage by pushing so much mud behind his feet Angela had to wriggle up the passage and dig Neil out. Angela was not allowed to speak because Neil was scared that she may use up the remaining oxygen in the passage. When both were back in the slightly more airy small chamber at the top of the climb it was decided to call the passage "Hypoxia Passage".
Angela commenced digging in the right hand fork of the same passage while Neil descended the climb and began digging in the trench in the floor opposite the top of the ramp. The right fork proved to be very tightly packed, progress was slow and not encouraging. The floor trench dig was easier, in looser sand and mud, though with no airspace. Neil made good progress at this dig which remains an ongoing dig.
The latest trip involved Neil Pacey and Beardy. The pair bolted up the walls of the large boulder strewn passage near the main junction. Unfortunately the passage at the top became too narrow. Neil and Beardy also completed the survey on this trip.
There are now no more "open" leads in the Saturday Afternoon Series but still some encouraging dig sites.