Saturday 2nd March 2019, P8

Present: me, Tommy

After failing to get to Christmas Aven as an evening trip, we resolved to go on Saturday morning. Tommy picked me up from home at 10 am and we made good time on the way out. Briefly stopping at the Chapel to modify a dig tray. In the hut we met a group of clearly student-age cavers and didn’t recognize a single one of them from any student caving events, this was confusing until they revealed they were York Uni CPC which solved the mystery.

It was hot and the skies were clear and it would have been much nicer to go for a walk or climbing as indeed the farmer commented when collecting his precious trespass fee. Going underground away from the burning winter sun at least temporarily removed the ever-present reminder that soon enough Bangladesh will be underwater and then we will know the meaning of refugee crisis.

Water levels were surprisingly low for winter. I could tell I’ve not caved regularly lately, not feeling fit. I’ve done in my ankle recently and Tommy had a dodgy knee so I’ll blame that for the relatively gentle pace. Glad to see toilet paper gone below first pitch.

I’d never been into the new bit found during the 2018 breakthrough so I was quite excited to see it. Tommy had neglected to mention the ear-in-muddy-water grim duck when recruiting for the trip, but I enjoy ducks which made up for the wetting. Crawl with a squeeze up next doesn’t look tight but knob on the floor makes for a genuine obstacle. Tried both arms ahead and didn’t fit, so I withdrew to regroup. Tommy pointed out that you’re narrower with an arm behind you, but I thought he meant both arms so I went for it squirming along with both arms behind worm-like with my helmet off and in front of me. This attracted derisive laughter from Tommy who came to lend a hand once I started trying to push my helmet along with my face.

Got to the pushing front, very impressed by Botch’s Golden Dreams or whatever the calcite flow is called. Sad that the tiny gours at the bottom won’t survive future digging without care. Had a look at a fairly uninspiring dig face, but there was a bit of an opening visible a couple of meters ahead and Tommy was excited so we got going. Dig face was a deep muddy puddle with a way on visible past some sediment with a calcite layer, much of the calcite already removed by Tommy and Helen. Tommy sat in this puddle scraping out a trench in the thick clay at the bottom, plopping it into the dig tray, then I pulled it up out of the dig poured it into a woven plastic sack and piled it up in a little inlet to one side.

After one hour of this I was firmly informed that it was my turn to go at the face. I smashed through some calcite and brought a lot of sand back in to the puddle causing it to get a great deal thicker while I was in it which was an odd feeling. A lot of the slop came out with the clay and it became clear we were going to able to remove the liquid from the pool of filth with the spoil. This committed us to finishing this session because the woven sacks are not truly waterproof and were already starting to leak back into the dig.

Part way through my hour or so of digging I had a dip in morale looking at the tiny, draughtless opening ahead of us and getting rather cold sat in this disgusting pool of slop and scrapping at hard clay with my fingertips and a small spade then emptying it behind me in an awkward maneuver. I worried that Tommy had spent so long digging in P8 that he’d been blinded by a kind of fever, or had forgotten that other caves are available and some digs have a draught and don’t involve utter squalor. I did not share my misgivings.

We swapped over again, and Tommy got the last of the slop out and finished opening the way on before calling for me to come through. It opened out into a wee chamber with a nice calcite flow on the right, and three or four ribbons radiating out from the same point above it each with a little mite below. A short steep sandly slope leads down until the passage is blocked with silt. Still diggable, but no draught.

We quickly dug a trench through the sand in the new bit so hopefully the pool will now drain out that way and not fill up again. Cold but satisfied we now began our exit. I took two tries at the squeeze again because on my first go I started to feel some rising panic and then knocked my light out of wack so it was pitch dark too, I retreated and Tommy helped sort my light. Second attempt was easy now I wasn’t all tense. I pointed out to Tommy that their dig is the shitest bit of P8 as we negotiated the sequence of squeezes, crawl and muddy puddles that leads back to Owld Man’s Rift. We waded the canal to clean off a bit as we were properly filthy. Had a worthwhile little look up a side passage (opposite the bold step between calcite flows) on the way back, then got cold and slowly made our way back towards the wind and big space and nice sweet smells. Took us over an hour due to tiredness, cold and sightseeing.

Surprisingly we emerged into daylight, just about, and headed back to Sheffield dreaming outloud about kebabs. Three hours digging for 10 (my guess) or 15 (Tommy’s guess) meters of new passage with a pretty formation so not a bad day in all. Still aching and sore two days later.

Time underground: 5.5 hours