Josh Bratchley, Rob Middleton, Joe Daniels, Arwel Roberts
A late start saw us in the cave not long after 13:00 (much better via Land Rover) and good progress was made down the entrance series to the 1st Pitch in the downstream passages where we’d left our 3 bags of cylinders the day before. Here we met Bob and Dave who had kindly diverted from their aid climbing trip upstream to re-rig the damaged rope and check the other two streamway pitches. Fortunately, the other pitches were unscathed and good progress was made to Sump 1 having lugged 7 bags between the 4 divers. The trip in was warmer than last year as we’d chosen to wear wetsuits the whole way, compared to last year when we opted to get changed at Sump 1.
At the sump, kit was sorted (Josh & Rob taking 1 x 3L cylinder each, with Joe and Arwel taking 2 each) and Josh dived first and inspected last years line. All was well, so all divers soon passed the sump without issue. Kit was again sorted, with 2 cylinders, 1 x 30m rope, slings/tat and regulators in a drum packed into 3 bags to be taken to Sump 2 between the 4 divers. Good progress was made through the often-awkward stream passage, past the two pitches and to the start of the traverse/rifts where SRT kits were dropped.
Slow progress was made through, in and over the sharp traverses with only a few small navigation errors – Josh luckily managing to remember most of the route and way down from last year. Eventually the main rifts were reached where the team squeezed, thrutched, clambered and grunted through, passing bags between them regularly. The deep pool halfway was no warmer than last year! This section of cave felt much better than last year as a larger team allowed longer chains to be made for bag passing.
After the rifts and boulder choke marking the end of the hard stuff, the lovely roomy stream passages were enjoyed down to Sump 2. Josh and Rob kitted up and Josh dived first with a single 1.5 L cylinder, laying a 9mm rope as line and a tape to measure the sump length and survey. The old thin line from last year was still intact, but didn’t feel secure enough. A bag of rocks on the back ensured that Josh sank enough to complete all tasks. Rob unattached the tape afterwards and Josh reeled it in before Rob followed through with a single 3 L cylinder, a drum of survey kit and compulsory rocks.
On the other side, kit was dumped and surveying commenced into the passage explored last year to the limit of exploration. The two leads from last year (left hand rifty stream passage and right hand stal climb) were investigated. The left-hand route led to a loose choke which was bypassed via the right-hand climb (a rope would be useful here 8m), with a drop back down on the other side of the choke to ongoing streamway. This sadly ended in another choke, so a retreat was made to a side lead noted further back towards the first choke. This was large, and continued in impressive fashion to a few down climbs, ending in a 6.5m pitch. With no ropes or SRT kit a retreat had to be made. Diving back through Sump 2, Josh removed the old thin line and Rob followed both passing the sump without issue. Joe and Arwel who had been keeping themselves occupied in the chambers and climbs further upstream were found with their bothy feeling rather cold after 3.5 hours alone.
After Josh and Rob had gone through sump 2 Joe and Arwel waited and listened for the sound link but there was nothing to be heard. After waiting a few minutes to make sure Josh and Rob would not return imminently Joe and Arwel moved back up the stream way to look at a ramp on the stream right a few bends before sump two. Arwel climbed the muddy ramp to discover some old boot prints and decided it was too exposed to continue without a rope. Moving back to ‘Steve and Colin’s Aven’ a short free climb led to a moon milk flow of about 60m. There appeared to be evidence somebody had previously tried to ascend but we did not follow. There was a lot of surface debris in the area including worms, leaves and plant matter. Joe and Arwel then returned to the sump, collected the bothy and made for a sloping soft mud ledge around the bend from sump 2 to try and make home for a few hours.
A slow, tired return was made upstream, with Sump 1 being passed by all without issue, and back to the bottom of the entrance pitches. All divers struggled up these and through the between-pitch obstacles with all kit (two bags each, including cylinders) before giving in and having to leave the cylinder bags at the bottom of the 20m pitch near the entrance. A return was made to collect the remainder of these and get a few photos two days later. Surfacing after 15 very tiring hours of effort to the Land Rover was welcomed by all. Great trip!
P.S. Thanks to Dan and Sam for pulling 2 cylinders out from here to the entrance chamber the next day.