Volume 44 Number 1 Article 5
The Long Big Meanie
(A Dream Trip)
Following the publication of Mike Cooper's excellent "Not for the Faint Hearted" there must have been many "in-pub" discussions over a couple of sweet sherries as to possible additions or omissions. After one such late night session we came up with what we thought was a prime candidate for inclusion, it ticked all the right boxes in that it could be tackled by a small determined team, had tight sections that many cavers could negotiate, had low airspace sections (or sumps that needed bailing, depending on which section of the guidebook you read!) and was a reasonably serious undertaking (for wimps like us). Many cavers will have done the classic Big Meanie to Deaths Head Hole exchange but a quick look at the guide book reveals that it is possible to continue the traverse into Long Drop Cave, it's just a simple matter of scaling a 23m wet gully and bailing the ducks/sumps in Dolphin Passage. Searching historical records reveals that the trip has been done from Deaths Head Hole through to the bottom of Long Drop Cave, though whether the cavers then made the exit via Long Drop is not made clear. It is less likely, however, that the trip from Big Meanie to Long Drop has been done but just to make sure we were the first, we thought the best thing to do was find another entrance and then to use that.
Finding another entrance was simple, everybody knows that caves are found in limestone so all we had to do was look around where there was limestone until we found an entrance and then connect this to Long Drop Cave. It took us two hours to find a new entrance (Short Long Drop Cave, see Descent 195) but unfortunately the cave ended at a boulder choke just 3m short of the connection. We were digging in Long Drop Cave so the pitches were rigged but the boulder choke at the foot of the first pitch (which you have to squeeze through) was beginning to look increasingly unstable. Using scaffold donated by Steve Round of Bernies and clamps paid for by the CNCC (hopefully) we stabilised the choke, just in time because the whole thing began to collapse while we were inserting the last few bars. While scaffolding there was the ever present pungent aroma of freshly deceased rabbit wafting up through a corner of the choke, so as soon as this was made safe we dug at the corner and within the hour we had broken through and connected Short Long Drop to Long Drop via a tight muddy squeeze. This little section added a great deal of character to the proposed trip because of the squeeze and the restricted nature of the new pitch head.
The next problem was rigging the pitch up from the final chamber of Deaths Head Hole so an evening trip was planned to scale the gully and place a rope to allow easier access for all. We picked one of the drier weeks of the summer but even so, the wet gully lived up to its' name as the first part of the climb involves difficult moves in the full flow of the water. The climb should be called Salmon Leap, for the easiest way to get established on the halfway ledge is to swim like a fish until with one final gigantic leap you find yourself floundering onto the ledge which is actually a pool behind a loosely jammed boulder. At this point it is possible to rest the fins awhile and to allow the gills to take in oxygen. The guidebook implies that climbing is now up the outside of an obvious chockstone. Initially this is an easy chimney, but suddenly, 10m above the last runner (a piece of 1930's rope slung hopefully over a loose flake) the whole thing opens out, and with legs shaking faster than a Singer sewing machine on overdrive your mortality comes clearly into view as the pull of gravity suddenly increases. At this point the best option is to descend slightly slower than gravity would have it. Once back in the halfway pool more uphill swimming leads to a final cascade, an impossible swim. Luckily, at this point there is an easy traverse out above the chockstone to the top of the climb.
Having established the rope up into East Passage we decided to check out the Dolphin Passage ducks. Armed with neoprene and a bucket we crept boldly up to the first duck, hoping to catch it unawares and empty, no such luck. A very uninviting duck awaited, it just lay there, unmoving, unforgiving. Frantic bailing with the bucket appeared to have no effect, the moment bailing ceased the duck was full to overflowing, only now it appeared muddy and menacing, angry at being disturbed after all this time. Having come this far we had no choice but to push on through, we needed to know if the trip was possible. Fortunately it proved to be just a short duck into a canal where it was possible to stand upright. We particularly enjoyed the second duck, which was easy with plenty of airspace, sadly the way on lowered immediately to a crawl over a gravel bank. Beyond the gravel bank was the "piece de resistance", a deep pool with just a few inches of airspace and a flat roof. Having pushed one duck it becomes easier to insert yourself a second time so we dived in slowly, after all, we'd done worse ducks and things could only get better. Wrong! After 2m the airspace lowered again as the roof changed into an inverted 'V', just big enough for a small nose. A strong draught whistled through and if you ducked your head under so that an ear was above the water you could hear water falling down in the 'final' chamber of Long Drop. Now all was in place for the trip.
We haven't done the trip; after all it's just a dream trip!