RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 46 Number 1 Article 6

February 2009

Beardy loses his Bottle

Peter Devlin

Dec 6 2008

Beardy had long talked about a foray to the passage above the airbell in downstream Bull Pot of the Witches. Having taken up diving it was decided that Steve Robinson, Beardy and I would have a go, the aim being to attempt the voice connection with Gale Garth. CDG NL 109 told of Paul Monaco and et al’s exploration of this passage, but no voice connection had been attempted, so Johnny B, Helen Blyth and Toby Speight went down Gale Garth, with one team making noise every ten minutes from the hour, the other team making noise every ten minutes from five minutes past the hour. Ian and Liz Lawton joined the diving team on their jaunt and we were off.

A misspent summer and autumn of infrequent visits to the gym due to pressure of work soon had me panting for lack of fitness, but we eventually got to the sump where the three divers kitted up. With directions for the mud formations Liz and Ian left us and soon we were ready to dive. In our infinite wisdom we had all decided to dive on single gear (ie a single bottle each), as the airbell is only 20m from the sump.

Steve went through through in nil vis. The caffuffle in the airbell then began. The line is belayed to a flake just above water level, so as I clung to the flake getting cold, Beardy put a sling on the flake and clipped his harness, bottle and regs to the sling. Steve in the meantime was taking off his gear and clipping it to the rusting ladder hanging down from the climb. Beardy then climbed up the in-situ ladder left behind by Monaco et al (in 1993) and started to belay a line and a Red Rose ladder at the top of the climb. In the process of doing this some rock fall came down. Steve, who was right below the climb reacted sharply and managed to swing himself out of the fall line. I was glad I had stayed out of harms way on the other side of the airbell.

As Beardy fettled with a belay for the handline, I got colder and colder in the water. Eventually, Steve having got to the top of the climb, it was my turn. Then climb is abit vicious: a lethal combination of mud at a rakish angle on one side and an unstable wall of boulders on the left. As I got to the top of the climb I noticed the boulders on my left moving. I tried unsuccessfully not to dislodge them and two respectable sized boulders crashed down into the water, narrowly missing the rusty ladder holding Steve’s and my harness, bottle and regs: a little too close for comfort.

The passage above the climb is glorious: spacious, scenic, decorated. Not. A grotty muddy body crawl leads to a vadose passage the shape of which makes it very difficult for the dimensionally challenged caver such as myself to progress: trying to free one wellie from it’s incarceration on mud can only be achieved by sacrificing the other wellie to the mud god. On the return I found that a bit of body jamming at the appropriate juncture enabled me to keep my wellies away from the wellie consuming mud. The three intrepid amigos pushed on a further meter or two. Here Beardy found a way on that promised to submit to his will with just a bit of digging. We each took turns, digging with Johnny’s crowbar, and eventually Beardy got through.

I tried following him, but finding the gap snug, decided that I was not prepared to commit myself. It was at this point that we discovered that we had all managed to overlook the obvious way on that we had all helped Beardy dig his way into known passage: we were clearly on a roll. Messrs Stanton and Mallinson watch out! All of the above was slowed down by the need to make noise and listen on alternating five minutes: sadly with no indication of the Gale Garth team. Beardy continued on and found a junction which mirrored the configuration of the passage in Gale Garth. One of the passages looked promising, but Steve and I had opted not to follow him and the squeeze looked a bit committing on his own, caving beyond a sump.

Soon Beardy rejoined us and we made our way back, Beardy going first followed by Steve then I. In the airbell Beardy had managed to find a ledge to stand on, Steve was on the flake (with the dive line attached) and I was hanging onto the line coming down from the climb. At this point Steve informed us that something heavy (possibly bottlicious) had fallen past his leg. A hasty fact finding session and conference concluded that the falling item had in fact been Beardy’s bottle. Three divers in an airbell, two sets of dive kit: this team was going from strength to strength. I had managed to drop a couple of kilos of lead putting my harness back on and broken a fin strap, Steve had lost a fin, and Beardy’s gear was at the bottom of the sump. Steve tried unsuccessfully to retrieve Beardy’s bottle, so we agreed Steve and I would dive out allowing Steve to return with my bottle, using one of my fins (I promptly lost the other one).

When Steve got through again it became clear that Beardy couldn’t dive out on my bottle because he had lost his lead. Now diving on two bottles, Steve dropped a plumb line from the flake and followed it down to find Beardy’s gear. Struggling without buoyancy control to bring the gear up, Steve eventually managed to reunite Beardy with his gear. Sitting on my own at the sump with no bottle or fins I had a nervous wait for the other two. Given my expectation that they were going to dive straight out the fifteen minute wait was definitely one of the longest waits in my life. Packing our gear at the sump, all of us pretty hypothermic, but I noticed that Johnny’s crowbar which I had carefully put in the tacklesack had been swallowed by the gear eating sump.

The trip out was fairly uneventful on the way out: at least we warmed up. My lack of fitness soon had me struggling, but as Beardy keeps telling me: it’s good for the soul. Hey ho!

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