The Grand Circle

 

A couple of months ago Emma Wilson and Tom Clayton, plumbing new depths of squalour, found over 100m of new cave in a slightly obscure part of Link Pot known as 'The Grind'. Their discovery, named 'Pickle Passage', connected with Easy Street, below the Serendipity pitches. Thus a new round trip was born: down Serendipity and back out through the Grind. Kathryn Hopkins and I joined them to help with the surveying and to complete the first ever 'Grind Circle', no doubt destined to become a modern classic for the perverse caver.

 

The first part of the trip was familiar ground, as we made our way down Link Pot, through various crawls and down the Serendipity pitches to the start of Easy Street. A few bends down the streamway, Emma and Tom located the point where their new passage connected, several metres up the wall, completely out of view from the stream. It was easy to see how nobody had ever seen this passage. It wasn't until Tom's head and torso started magically disappearing into the wall a few metres above me that I believed they'd found the right spot! It makes you wonder how many other open passages exist so close to the beaten track...

 

The obscure climb led into a crawling sized passage. We followed this past a couple of short side passages until it degenerated into unremitting awkwardness. We were supposed to be helping Emma and Tom survey this section, but it was at this point that Tom noticed the glass in his clinometer had cracked and the fluid had leaked out. As the clinometer seemed to be constantly oscillating between plus and minus 90 degrees, surveying was abandoned. The passage was now a narrow sinuous rift, a bit over a metre high but narrow enough to necessitate facing sideways, with a little bedding plane section on top that was sometimes big enough to fit through. To get round the tight corners, various back-breaking and femur-snapping contortions were needed and careful thought was required as to how high in the rift your body should be, because it wouldn't fit through at all levels. My lamp cable kept trying to escape by snagging on the cave, plunging me into darkness at the most inopportune moments.

 

Towards the end of this section was a particularly snug double bend that made me feel very fat indeed. This was the crux which Emma and Tom had originally struggled through to make their discovery (very gutsy!). I couldn't quite make out what was happening from the back, but after some rearranging of limbs they both seemed to have managed to squeeze through feet first. Kathryn then waltzed through with infuriating ease, not even touching the sides. For me, the limiting factor was my height, rather than my (not particularly notable) girth. Somewhat flustered, I took my helmet off and pressed my scalp into the ceiling with my feet scraping along the floor in front. At which point my lamp decided to make a final bid for freedom and fell off my helmet completely. This didn't help my state of mind. Eventually, by scraping my head along the roof (which probably wouldn't have been necessary if I was a bit calmer), I seemed to pop through the worst of it and could put my helmet back on.

The strap on my helmet was now too muddy to shut properly. Realising this, my helmet decided that it wanted to join my lamp and began to jump off my head every time I tilted it to one side. Luckily there were plenty of puddles to crawl through so I could clean the strap. Eventually we joined the Grind, which was initially a flat out crawl through muddy gravel, and therefore very pleasant in comparison with what we'd just done. Slowly the passage increased in size until, for the first time in an hour or two, we could stand up briefly. Pickle Passage probably isn't as bad as I've made out, but having not done much caving in the past few months, I'd tackled it with all the grace of a hippopotamus. I was totally knackered and my arms were cramping from all the crawling. So I was quite relieved when we finally arrived at the Wormway, and soon after at Echo Aven.


We prussiked up the pitch and were soon within tantalising sight of daylight. After popping back to Serendipity to de-rig, we emerged from Link Pot after seven hours underground.

 

The Grind Circle is now an established tourist trip!

 

Edvin Deadman

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