Volume 45 Number 2 Article 4
The fifth visit to the sump proved to be inauspicious. I arrived up at the Farm the evening of Dec 29 everyone still abuzz with the news of Gavin Lowe’s accident and rescue. Toby was up for doing a carry the next day, and Rowena Crawford was a Cambridge caver whom I had given a lift to from Oxford, so I had the beginnings of a team. On the other hand Hilary Greaves had promised me a carry, but she had marking to do: what a feeble excuse for not dragging bottles underground! My original plan had been to leave dive gear in the sump overnight (just bringing bottles out) and to dive with a third “stage” bottle. The easier carry by diving the Lancs side on the previous dive and the success of reaching my peg made me feel that completion was within grasp.
I kept telling people that “the optimist in me thinks I can secure my line in BPW and start the survey”. Everyone I spoke to picked up on the fact that another outcome was possible. The next morning it rained solidly, on top of the rain that had fallen the night before. Around 1 oclock in the afternoon Toby got up. Beardy was around, and would carry if I needed it, but said he preferred to do another project . Rosa Clements was teetering on the brink of being the first Oxford caver to sherpa for me, but her preference was for a jaunt down County with Keith and Arry. In the end Keith and Arry preferred to walk to the pub in the rain, timed to arrive just after the pub shut, so Rosa joined our trip. Toby, Rosa, Rowena and I were joined by Frank.
The carry to the sump was uneventful, but as we turned the last corner we could here the rush of water in the normally static sump. It turned out that a respectable torrent was poring down Wild Taylor’s Passage. My first thoughts were something along the lines of “do I dare tell my team it’s been a wasted trip?” I dumped the gear and went to check the sump. Walking along the passage where I had kitted up the last time and the others had sat, the water was knee deep and the current strong. When I got to the line the water was higher than before, but the slightly wider passage meant the current didn’t feel so strong.
Clearly I was not going to achieve what I had hoped, but I decided to dive and just see how I got on. When I was kitting up I found that my compass had got damaged, so I couldn’t have do a survey anyway. The others decided to have a look around while I kitted up and dived. At one point I saw then heading down WTP and thought the water was abit dicey. Minutes later they returned.
Getting in I found the flow as high as I’ve experienced in awhile. Florida cave diving tends to be high flow, but the “pull and glide” technique works well there with plenty of cave formation to hold onto and good viz. Here I had a gravel floor and10cm viz. Additionally I had two lines, the 2mm 40 year old Mike Wooding line and my 4mm line laid the last time. Double the line equating to double the entanglement risk I tried to keep my fins off the line while holding on with my left hand, but the current kept pushing me onto the line. At the 20m mark I seriously considered turning back, but I decided to squeeze abit more out of the dive. When I got to the 30m mark I thought about turning back or trying to explore the side passage. I imprudently decided to explore the side passage, hoping foolishly that the current and viz might be better. Tying my jump reel off on the main line I started to see what I could find. Almost immediately I found myself getting confused in the low viz, with the risk of entangling myself in my jump line. When I got back to the main line I had difficulty untying the jump line in the current and poor viz. My options were to a) dump the reel with the risk of putting slack line into the system being a real entanglement danger b) sorting out the attachment which I was struggling with or c) leaving the jump line attached and just sliding it down the main line. I opted for the latter and let the current sweep me home, all the while carefully managing my breathing rate back down.
I was very relieved to get back to air: having done 50 odd cave dives this had been my worst, with the exception of the time I got lost diving in Linley Cavern with Duncan Price and thought I was going to die. Putting a more positive spin on it I had learnt a great deal. I now better understand how that sump responds to water. Sometimes the only way of establishing boundaries for safe practice is to go beyond the boundaries and learn for the experience … assuming, of course, you survive. At the Farm that evening I was discussing the decision to dive with Toby. He pointed out that however annoying turning back without diving may have been, not coming back would have been even more of a downer. Grasshopper is wise beyond his years ;-).
The next day I took a little jaunt to the sump with Steve Robinson. It had stopped raining and the sump was back to normal: 1m viz, no current. I was sorry I hadn’t chosen to dive the next day.
The sixth visit to the sump (March 31) was planned as a dry suit dive to extend the dive time and hopefully allow some progress to be made. It promised to be an easy carry. Originally Beardy, Sam, Ray and Steve (Robinson) had signed up, but Pete Eastoe volunteered late. This provided me with a back up should someone drop out. The day before everyone looked set to show up so I repacked from 4 to 5 bags and was looking forward to an easy carry. As it happens we had Carmel, Sam (Lieberman), two visiting BPC cavers (Roger Saxton and Steve Smyth), as well as Sam Alshorn and Mike Cooper along. We rigged two ropes down Lancs and agreed rope logistics with George, Tom and James who were off digging in Woodhouse Way. I made sure I grabbed one of the bottles and off we went.
Kitting up at the sump Steve took a few snaps and then I was off. The previous dive but one had been a good dive from the WTP end, but I had been laying line and belaying the old and new line with weights, so that time it took me about 10 minutes to get to the restriction. This time I got there so fast that I was into it before I realised I should really check my air levels before committing myself. On that basis I came back out and had to go a good 5 to 10m back to get enough viz to read my gauges. As I expected I had plenty, but I went back into the restriction with more peace of mind (hence lower breathing rate). The restriction remains snug, but I had at least a cm clearance which allowed me to thrutch my way through. Within 5 minutes I was out the other side and back into familiar territory. I tied clipped my new line to the airbell junction and was soon back at the BPW sump.
Having returned to it a number of times with sherpas waiting it was very dark, but it felt good to be back: seeing my other reel and drop weights made the place less daunting. I tied off my line, stashed my reel and stopped to catch my breath.
Back in the water I added another drop weight to belay the line just at the start of the restriction and started to survey back out. Having been primarily focused on the line and reel on the way in the viz around the restriction was now close to nil, so this survey was never going to be anything more than a first pass. The restriction was less intimidating knowing I had been through it without too much difficultly. On the way back I checked out the side passage on the right hand wall. Sadly this shuts down in about 3m.
Soon I was back at the sump (the dive in took 14 minutes, the return 18) and got started dekitting before folks got back from their jaunt. I was already on abit of a high, having got through, but I found that as I put on the last of my caving gear Beardy grabbed the last of the bags, so I sauntered back to Lancs without anything to schlep. It felt like Christmas Day (without the CRO callout that is) .
Many thanks to all the sherpas.
* Photos © Toby Speight