For about two years I’ve been meaning to explore the far reaches of Ben’s Dig in P8 – going back to the arousal of my interest when I surveyed it with Jeff a couple of years ago (Link to trip report for those who are interested). We reached a point at which we weren’t comfortable carrying on and left it “for another day”. Now, that day has come.

I went in fully prepared; disto, phone for recording survey data, paper in case my phone packed in, coffee, and plenty of snacks. We zipped down to Mud Chamber where I pointed out a rope high up in the ceiling – not the way to Ben’s Dig but an interesting and clearly not very well visited bit of passage as you really need to know where the rope is to spot it. Tommy thought it was worth a go so he sent Botch – the crippled fresher – up first. Sadly he didn’t make it to the rope as the approach to it is a steep, nearly vertical mud slope above an exposed drop. We plan to return with rope to rig off.

Next we went to Ben’s Dig – there are two branches going off from the chamber (not including the knotted rope straight up but we’re not sure about trusting that – it’s made from three different types of rope, rubs against the lip of the ledge in the ceiling and the bolts it is on are out of sight). We took the right hand passage, up the mud slope, into a small stempled chamber with a handline (rigged off a natural that has since re-calcited over the rope) and into a pretty bit of high level fossil passage.

There is a small aven that Tommy thought was body-sized but alas he underestimated the size of his body, flailing his legs around in my face as I boosted him up to achieve nothing. Botch carried on through a rocky flat-out crawl, though he soon insisted that there was no way on. I had a vague memory of Mark describing the flat-out crawl as leading to a sizeable aven and was thus unconvinced by Botch’s claim. We negotiated getting past each other in the tight tube and I took a look at the way on. There was rubble in the way but it looked diggable, with a fist-sized hole at the top I could feel a draft and hear an echo through. I spent 15 or so minutes clearing the rubble out of the way before I realised the it was holding up a sizeable wall of rubble above it in the chamber. Through a process of carefully organised collapses I managed to clear the way and squeeze my body through into the aven.

The first thing I was up entering was a survey point from our previous explorations which, though disheartening, did mean we wouldn’t have to survey any further. There is no way on from this room but it is certainly a nice bit of rifty passage that has a going dig in it. I predict it goes on in a similar fashion for a good few metres and is worth taking a look at – Ben clearly had faith in it and the dig is easy removable stones; just be careful not to block up your way out!

We returned to the junction in Ben’s Dig – stopping briefly a couple of times so Tommy could take a look at come sketchy climbs up various calcited flows. Carrying on past the ladder we took a look into another one of the dig faces, I lamented the fact I hadn’t dug it yet. Tommy took a look up the climb I was most interested in exploring as in my previous trips we’d only made it this far before packing in. He made it halfway up before deciding the climb was too sketchy and coming down. I had a go myself and I could see what he meant by sketchy, I tried to put as little of my weight on the rope as I could but ultimately ended up hauling myself hand-over-hand straight up the aven. I regretted my decision as I reached the top and saw the bolt I had just been trusting. Some bolts rotate round, this bolt rotated round, forwards backwards and sideways, it is essentially just a peg in the rock at this point. There are two passages coming off from the top of this aven, both of which I wasn’t comfortable exploring – one is a calcite choke perched above the 7m drop in the aven, easy to get into but the return would involve a lot of trust in the rope as you would have to pop out of the choke onto the handline, face down. The other way on is rigged as a pitch and goes up at least another 7m diagonally before disappearing up a vertical corner, I didn’t have my SRT kit on to explore up it and you can’t see the bolt it’s on so I couldn’t go any further. Very carefully, I lowered myself back down the handline to return to the others.

Plans for further exploration:

  1. Bring rope/clipstick to reach the handline out of Mud Chamber.
  2. Bring belaying rope to assist on a couple of calcited climbs – probably not worth bolting as they won’t go very far.
  3. Bring drill, bolts and some retired rope to properly bolt a Y-hang in the aven, it’s definitely worth exploring and needs surveying – it’s certainly not safe do so with the current handline.
  4. Spend a day or two on each of the faces of Ben’s Dig just to get a feel for them – if they’re a pain to dig we won’t bother but they look like easy digs and Ben clearly thought they had potential.

Trip date: 24/5/16