Was reminiscing about the Crete Expedition last year so thought I’d post my report of the second deepest cave found during the expedition, Darwin Pot, quite possibly one of the dodgiest places I’ve ever been. The report doesn’t really capture quite how dodgy it really was but i can assure you, it was…
Introduction
Situated only 100 meters from base camp Darwin Pot was discovered in the unlikely location of the valley floor at the bottom of a sizeable scree slope. The cave entrance was a continuation of the scree slope underneath a number of large boulders, a small slot in the boulders gave way to more sizable development. The cave was characterised by large amounts of loose material (even by Cretan standards) and being predominantly vertical in nature meant anything knocked fell a considerable distance creating a very real and immediate hazard; this meant exploration was at times painstakingly slow and required a well coordinated team effort to ensure safety. The cave was fully explored to a final depth of 139m.

Code:             NC046
N:                    3514562
E:                     02405923
Alt:                  1738m
Depth:             139m
Length:            158m

Team members: Rosie Hadfield, Michael Soulby, Ian Peachey, Robert Middleton

Diary of Exploration by Michael Soulby

11/07/2010

Rosie Hadfield, Michael Soulby

It was getting late in the day and we were making our way back down the northern slope towards camp. We were finishing off prospecting the only remaining section of the ‘north camp’ area, nothing much was turning up finding only the odd 10-15m deep cave on our way down. As we approached camp Scott and I found and explored a cave that went to 35m deep. Meanwhile Rosie went off looking for any caves that might be left between us and camp. She reported back saying she had found something but wanted somebody else to be present whilst she had a look, so I decided to accompany her whilst Scott called it a day and headed back to camp.

rosie at the entrance to one of the most unspeakable caves unfourtunatly now known to man.

Upon reaching the cave all I could see was an amalgamation of large boulders at the foot of a scree slope with no obvious entrances. Rosie then pointed out that the entrance was beneath the boulders and contained lots of loose rock, so she proceeded to garden the entrance in order to remove as much loose rock as possible as well as enlarging the entrance so we could get in. This was proving to be more difficult than she first imagined as the area she cleared was quickly refilled with rock from the scree slope, I came to help and the two of us spent a good 15 minutes gardening the small entrance slope. We would have given up had it not been for the beckoning booms of rocks falling through the entrance into the cave beyond. We finally moved enough rock in order for Rosie to push forwards through a relatively tight slot between two large boulders. Rocks were still cascading down the slope so I made myself into a barrier in order to offer Rosie some protection. Once through the slot Rosie shouted back saying the cave went but that it would require bolting, so she headed back through the entrance to discuss our options, both of us decided a fresh head would be needed for pushing this cave as there was so much loose scree falling through the entrance slot, so we decided to call it a day. However before we did we spent another 20 minutes gardening the entrance slope in an effort to make it more stable.

12/07/2010

Rosie Hadfield, Michael Soulby, Ian Peachey, Robert Middleton

After breakfast Rosie and I headed back to the cave equipped with bolts, drills, rope and most importantly fresh heads. Upon arriving at the cave we decide that we would garden the entrance further as rocks still fell down the entrance as you made your way in. After another 15 minutes of gardening we decided it was as good as it was going to get so Rosie headed in; I followed her through the entrance slot.

Once through the entrance we landed in a fairly large sloping passage about 2-3m wide, this continued down for about 5m until we reached the first pitch head. The top of the pitch head required some extensive gardening to remove the large amounts of loose rock, most of which came from us clearing the entrance slope. Once cleared Rosie tried to find some suitable rock to place her first bolt, however this was proving difficult as most of the walls she tested proved to be loose and large chucks of rock came away from both walls, the most impressive of which was a 2×1 meter slab of rock that fell off the left hand wall. After some extensive rock testing a suitable location for the first bolt was found. Rosie headed out horizontally away from the pitch head in order to get away from any falling rocks, after about 2-3m she rigged a Y-hang on the main wall of the shaft and headed to the bottom of the first pitch, which was about 10 meters in depth. The bottom of the pitch consisted of a steeply descending slope and a number of large boulders, towards the bottom of the slope the top of a second pitch could be seen which is where most of the falling rocks went making promising echoes as they fell. Rosie headed down the slope gardening as she went, I waited at the top of the first pitch in order to not dislodge any rock from the walls or floor.

Rob on 'Taste the Rainbow' pitch

At the top of the second pitch Rosie shouted back up that it was a fairly large pitch, she rigged another Y-hang then shouted for me to join her. As I made my way towards her I was treading very carefully as there was still so much loose rock despite the amount of gardening we had done. Even though I was being very carful I unavoidably knocked a few small rocks towards Rosie, fortunately she had found a small recess to shelter in so most of the rocks just whistled by harmlessly. Once at the pitch head Rosie headed down whilst I waited at the top. The pitch was about 25m deep but the shaft opened out considerably to about 6m in diameter at the bottom. The floor was a mixture of rubble and boulders, Rosie had a look around and found a small passage through the boulders, I waited at the top of the pitch while she investigated. She seemed to take ages but she reappeared saying that the cave went to another pitch with a good echo beyond. At this point it was lunch time and we had used up what rope we had brought with us, so we decided to head back out for lunch. This took longer than we thought as we had to exit in stages as any loose rock if knocked found its way all the way to the bottom of the second pitch and we were in the firing line. Once out we headed back to camp for lunch.

Back at camp we met Peachey and Rob having lunch after they had done the water run, we said we had a going cave and asked if they wanted to help us with surveying while Rosie and I carried on pushing it. They agreed, however having two more people in a cave with this much loose material meant we were all going to have to be extra careful. We made our way back to the cave with an extra 110m of rope and more bolts. I went in first with the rope and rigging kit, I waited until I was at the small recess before I shouted to Rosie that it was safe for her to enter. Once she had reached me she shouted to the others that they could start surveying, whilst I headed to the bottom of the second pitch.

At the bottom of the pitch I found the way on Rosie had previously discovered; it was a short crawl through a suspended boulder choke. I felt a little uneasy in here at first but soon realised it was safer than being exposed at the bottom of the pitch where rocks knocked by Rob and Peachey coming through the entrance 40m above landed. I shuffled through the crawl which became known as the ‘Anderson Shelter’ after only a few meters I emerged out of the bottom of the boulder choke at the top of a third pitch, I could see a rock floor about 20m below me, but could clearly see a way on through this. I placed a back up bolt in the crawl and then rigged a Y-hang at the top of the pitch head. It was a straight drop down to the boulder floor which turned out to be another boulder blockage with the shaft continuing below it. I landed on the boulder floor, the shaft was now a roomy 6x15m in size. I dropped a few rocks through the gaps in the boulders and got a clear 3 second drop with a booming echo which meant to shaft was somewhere in the region of 45m deep. I excitedly shouted back up to Rosie saying the cave went, but I would wait here for her and the others to join me as the boulder blockage was the first place that was relatively safe from falling rocks due to a natural cave roof above part of it.

rob going into the bottom of the anderson shelter note that the floor of this "safe place" comprises of hanging deaths...

Once we were all safely at the rock bridge, now known as ‘Piss Poor Effort’ due to everyone taking some light relief there, I rigged a traverse line from the bottom of the pitch to the safe area to protect us from slipping down any of the holes between the boulders. After this I investigated the rock bridge to find the best way through, I continued with the rope from the third pitch and rigged a single bolt in the wall of the shaft in order to get underneath the rock bridge. From here I could see an ideal place for a re-belay to make a free hang into the blackness below. Once the Y-hang was rigged I started to descend into the blackness, the shaft opened out massively once under the rock bridge to give a fine free hang in the shaft which was roughly 10x15m in diameter. I was trying to look for possible ways off the shaft as I descended but none could be seen with my crappy Duo so I asked Rosie if she could have a better look with her Scurion when she came down. At the bottom of the shaft I landed on a fairly flat rubble floor, which was roughly circular and about 10m in diameter. Opposite the bottom of the pitch two large holes in the floor could be seen; both looked as if they went and after some enthusiastic stone throwing it was clear that they did in fact go. I shouted back up the pitch to Rosie to say that the cave goes and that we have probably broken the 100m deep mark.

I waited at the bottom of the pitch for the rest of the team to join me so we could discuss our options as it was getting fairly late in the day now. It was decided that Rob and Peachey would head out first in order to get started on cooking tea, whilst Rosie and I would have a quick look down the two leads. This meant that Rob and Peachey could head out slowly together without having to worry so much about knocking rocks on me and Rosie. Whilst Rob and Peachey headed out Rosie started making her way down the right of the two leads. She rigged down and saw that the passage went both straight down through the boulders and away to the right. She said she could also see a way off to her left but it looked as though it linked to the other hole at the bottom of the large shaft. After about 5m she landed on a boulder floor and decided to try the right hand lead first, however she wasn’t sure about the structural integrity of the floor so decided to play it safe and rig a traverse, unfortunately as Rosie is of short stature she couldn’t reach in order to get a good purchase on any rock to rig from, so she asked for my assistance. Once down with Rosie I could reach in order to climb across to an opening in the floor, from here I could see the cave continued below so I rigged a wire strop around a large flake above the hole and headed out over the pitch head to get a better look. I could just about see the floor about 25m below me, however I decided not to descend as we’d both been underground for a while and our mental stamina was starting to wane resulting in a number of clumsy mistakes. As a result we played it safe and headed out so we could get back to camp for some slop.

Peachey in the Anderson Shelter

Heading out was a slow process due the fact that we both had to wait at each pitch head in order to avoid knocking rocks onto each other. However after about 45minutes we were just about out of the entrance pitches feeling quite relieved but also quite exhausted as the caving required a lot of concentration. At this point I came to a large boulder that Rob had pointed out on his way in that was hanging very precariously in the entrance series, so as I was the last one out I gave it a good couple of kicks to knock it down to prevent it squashing us the next day. It made a quite satisfying boom but didn’t fall all the way so decided to leave it until tomorrow and headed out. We arrived back on the surface to some glorious evening sunshine, we both made our way back to camp feeling satisfied that we had probably found the dodgiest 100m deep cave in SUSS Crete expedition history, but at the same time feeling pretty zoned out knowing that we had to go back the next day in order to finish pushing the remaining leads.

13/07/2010

Rosie Hadfield, Michael Soulby, Ian Peachey, Robert Middleton

The next morning we all made a slow start knowing the cave was only meters away from camp, after a quiet breakfast we started to devise a plan of action. It was decided that Rosie and I would carry on pushing the leads at the bottom and Rob and Peachey would follow in about an hour later to complete the surveying and take some photos.

Once back at the cave Rosie and I started making our way down the pitches, at the top of the second pitch I found the large boulder that I had kicked down the previous day was now wedged at the top of the pitch head. I wasn’t happy with a rock of this size being so close to the edge of a large drop so I tried to kick it off the pitch before I headed down. Unfortunately the rock didn’t want to move and had become stuck there. I asked for some help from Rosie to try and move it with a couple of slings but to no avail. I wasn’t happy with the rock hanging there so shouted for Rob to come down early to see if he could help shift it. After both me and Rob had spent about 10 minutes jumping up and down on it, pulling on it and generally trying to shove it off the edge without it so much as budging we decided ironically that it was probably one of the safest rocks in the cave and decided to carry on past it, but keeping our distance as best we could. Once past the dodgy rock Rosie and I slowly made our way on through the Anderson Shelter, across the Piss Poor Effort rock bridge and down the impressive main shaft back to where we got to the previous day.

I asked if Rosie wanted to push the lead I had got to the previous day but she said I should carry on with it and said she would push the other remaining lead through the boulders. Back at the top of the pitch head I kept the strop in place and also rigged two bolts in order to make a nice free hanging Y-hang down the pitch. I could just about see the floor which was about 25m below me so I started to head down. As I headed down I could see a large boulder slope going off in front of me, but the pitch carried on below so I headed for the bottom. At the bottom of the pitch was a large boulder filled chamber, at first I thought I saw a small way on down a short climb but after climbing down I realised it stopped almost immediately. I had a good look around the rest of the chamber but couldn’t find a way on so shouted for Rosie to join me. Rosie also had a good look around but couldn’t find anything so we took a quick photo in case it was the bottom and headed back up to the other remaining lead. The other remaining lead was back the start of the traverse back over the loose floor through a 1x1m gap in the boulders. Rosie drilled a couple of bolts in some of the larger boulders as there were no walls to use and made her way down, the pitch was about 6-7m deep and could be seen to land on a boulder floor. From the bottom of this boulder floor Rosie headed down a boulder slope, however she quickly shouted back up that it is the same boulder slope we saw descended the other pitch as the two linked up. She couldn’t see any other leads whilst down there so she headed back up, at this point the other two were just about done surveying the other pitch so we stopped for lunch at the bottom of the large shaft.

The Last Supper

Once we had enjoyed the delights of ‘The Last Supper’ the four of us enjoyed some banter and some relief that the cave had come to an end. It was decided that Rosie and I would head out first whilst Rob and Peachey would de-rig and take some photos on the way out. Rosie and I helped hold some flashes for Peachey as we went up the large pitch, after he had got his shot we started to make to slow journey back out the cave. I was heading out first and we had made it all the way back up the entrance pitches without incident, so I started to push my way back out of the entrance slot only a few meters from daylight and never having to go back into this dodgy cave again. As I was posting myself through the slot suddenly a large boulder dislodged itself and landed square on my back, a moment of panic as I thought I was about to be crushed alive soon passed as I realised the boulder wasn’t too heavy and I could just about manoeuvre it off my back and place it safely out of the way, Rosie apparently caught the whole thing on film. Fortunately this was the last real drama the cave had in store for us and we all made it out in one piece. That evening we all enjoyed a few well earned sips of raki after finding out the final depth was 139m the second deepest of the expedition.

At the bottom and still alive!!