Volume 45 Number 4 Article 3
1st June 2008
There were a few outstanding areas that needed to be surveyed for Sheet 4 of the new survey and as getting to Top Sink is a ball-ache after you’ve done it as many times as Sam and I have, it was time to call in the cavalry. Unlike many club trips, this one was very well attended (well done folks!), which makes one begin to wonder about the mental states of the participating team members. The esoteric gems were offered up to the waiting masses with my usual panache, so there was fighting between the groups that formed to grab the plum assignment. When the dust settled there was a team of Hugh, Richard and Carmel heading for Cobweb Chamber in the nether regions of the CRG extensions. Beardy and Helen had bagged Danish Passage, off Molar Passage and approached via Skywalker Passage, requiring carefully passing some of the best helictites in Ease Gill. Andy Whitney, Jane and Duncan had gone for the challenging re-rig of the ascent into The Grapes of Wrath off Limerick Passage with some photography to boot. However, that left one parcel unopened, yes it was the one Sam and I were left with… Neutron Cavern, oh shit!
By the time we’d had a brew and sorted out survey gear that people could see through, it was getting on for 11 o’clock. Nevertheless, the teams set off apace across the fell fired up with a stirring Churchillian speech from their leader. Sam and I (once more unto the breach dear friends) took a much more leisurely approach and ambled off down Wretched Rabbit and through Spiral Staircase towards our goal.
The others all entered through Top Sink, and there the first team faltered. Having not been there before, Jane tried to fight the cave instead of flowing through it and was soon in trouble, so Andy rushed to try and catch the others who in true Red Rose fashion had all f..ked off down the pitch and away. Duncan was nowhere to be seen (although was rumoured to have been spotted later we think) so he returned to meet Jane and they wandered disconsolately back to the farm. Top Sink 1 - Red Rose Nil.
Meanwile, Beardy and Helen thrutched their way along Molar Passage, a tight traverse along a rift where your elbows are guaranteed a good scuffing. This enters a small complex chamber from where their prize began. They surveyed to the end of Danish Passage where Beardy then proceeded to frighten Helen with his arboreal antics in the roof attempting to reach two small passages high up the wall of the final chamber. Helen, no doubt wondering how she was going to find her way out when he crippled himself, instilled some sense in the situation and they retired unscathed. Top Sink 1 Red Rose 1.
The other team sped to their starting point, an awkward 3m climb up and undercut wall and up a death-defying slope of boulders to the Duffy survey station. I have to admit at this point to having failed on two occasions to find the way into Cobweb Chamber. This time I’d read the Transactions and copied them out (in very small writing) for the team, they couldn’t read them and so had rewritten them before setting out on their quest. Off they went and surveyed through the crawl to the Chamber without any problem. They were suitably impressed with what they found, reporting back of black holes in the floor, the sound of water and plans for a return with capping gear. Happy cavers. Top Sink 1 - Red Rose 2.
(Note. On entering their data in to the computer the holes would appear to drop back towards the northern branches of Limerick passage)
Sam describes our Neutron cavern trip:
As Ray & I plodded down Spiral Stairs on our weekly commute to Nagasaki and beyond, we were mulling over the things that might go wrong. Would it be too wet? Would it get too wet later? Would Ray fit through the squeeze up to Neutron caverns that had thwarted him many moons ago?
We arrived in good time at the inlet to Northwest Passage that leads to Neutron Cavern and the lower end of Booth Eyre Crawl (allegedly) and there Ray dumped what he thought to be unnecessary gear (camera). Setting off up the inlet, our first job was to find the way on as our last foray to this area had found a horribly unstable climb up through cobbles leading to a chamber and beddings with no way on. Avoiding this and carrying on in the flat out wet crawl led almost immediately to a sloping squeeze up through limestone flakes where Ray had been repulsed on his previous attempt a number of years ago. Thrutching about a bit, Ray found to his surprise that he fitted through, the game was on!
We entered a sizable boulder floored passage with razor edged flakes lining the walls. At the end, was a heart stopping climb up through delicately poised blocks (NOT for the feint hearted!) appearing in a chamber reminiscent of the aftermath of an earthquake. The floor comprised of loosely stacked blocks and a suicidal climb down appeared to rejoin a large upstream continuation of the Booth Eyre stream. The ceiling appeared to be levitating as if the shattered rock was just too lazy to fall at that moment.
Moving quickly on through a short section of passage Ray headed down a slot past a wobbly boulder to find a descending route that turned out to terminate fairly quickly. It needed surveying so we got the kit out at this point and began our laborious task. A few legs later we were back at the wobbly boulder and, looking up, there was another squeeze that I’d spotted earlier (most probably the reason that Ray had initially gone down!) Ray, in a fit of enthusiasm went first, and with a grunt or two forced himself through. I passed the gear up and after surveying the next leg, I wriggled up to join him.
All was quiet for a moment as we stood mesmerised by the scene. The passage was covered, from top to bottom with formations, straws festooned the roof and, save a few vintage footprints and scuff marks marring the mud and calcite floor, all was pristine. At this juncture I pointed out to Ray that he should have brought that ‘unnecessary’ equipment, but there was no way we were going back for the camera at this stage.
Eventually we snapped out of our revelry and got back to work, surveying carefully up the passage which continued fabulously decorated for 20 metres or so. Ray groaned as yet another squeeze presented itself, this one proved awkward with a thrutch up over a wedged boulder topping out with a tricky knee breaker and head first dive off the top.
All too soon we reached what looked like a dead end, though once again a glance up a few metres back revealed yet another climb up and a tight squeeze. This one proved a stopper for Ray, who in the absence of metal implements of destruction had no option but to feed the sharp pointy end of the Easegill project on into the unknown, alone, AGAIN!
On squeezing through, the sandy floored bedding continued on past stal columns and sparkling crystal calcite flow to emerge in the lower section of a great chamber – this must surely be the fabled Neutron Cavern. The calcite theme continued with straws and stal everywhere I looked as I carefully followed in the old footprints over a sandy slope and up a gully into the chamber proper. A fantastic stal boss stood in splendid isolation off to the left whilst to the right the dull calcite encrusted mudbanks looked like some strange alien landscape. The backdrop to all this was a dark forbidding cobble slope across the full width of the chamber rising from floor to ceiling. I spotted a continuation off to the right over a slipped block but this closed down after only a few metres.
I headed back to report, and Ray passed up the surveying kit for me to finish the job. Nowadays with laser guided measuring equipment the task of solo surveying is much easier than with the old methods of tape and compass. Though with choosing stations, taking measurements and writing down all the notes and pictures it is still a time consuming chore.
By the time I returned, notes in hand, Ray had found his way back through the previous squeeze and was beginning to get cold, so we headed back down the passage in the knowledge that our task was still not complete… we still had to survey out, back through the chamber of doom to join the Booth Eyre water! Starting from the wobbly rock, we took our last measurements through the chaos of boulders eventually tying in to the tag in the streamway.
Not wishing to waste the effort of carrying the ‘unnecessary’ equipment, Ray was determined to photograph some fine needle like crystals covering a shale band further up North West Passage. So, tired and hungry and dreaming of cups of tea I waited for the happy snapper to finish his art before we headed wearily back on well trodden paths to the surface. Top Sink 1.5 Red Rose 2.5
All the data has been added to the survey and looks really good. My thanks to all who turned up and made it a really successful day and I hope to do justice to their efforts with the final survey.