Meander Cave
Saturday, 9 July 2011

Montenegro Expo July 2011.

The main objective of this expo was to dive in the terminal sump of PT4 at around 450m depth (discovered last year by Mike B and co). Sadly, after a few days rigging and taking dive gear to the sump, this lead died almost immediately in the form of a sand bank blockage at 4m depth.

And so it seemed incredibly lucky for us that we were asked to drop a large pitch in another nearby cave just discovered by some of the other expo members (John S, Mike R, Dave, Gary K), due to their not really liking large pitches.

So the next day, Holly, Timmsy and myself set off for “Meander Cave” with a drill and a few ropes. We quickly descended down some dodgy climbs full of teetering rock, down an 8m pitch to a large Y-hang at the top of a large void – the limit of exploration the previous day when the guys had realised that after abseiling about 10m down that they didn’t really like big pitches after all!. We strapped the rigging gear and drill to my harness, which was easier said than done owing to the monstrous nature of the drill – complete with separate tackle bag to house the ginormous lead-acid batteries in their ammo tin. I descended down into the void which opened up and became a huge shaft. The pitch was dropped by placing two deviations and a re-belay and turned out to be 60m.

From the bottom of the pitch, a boulder slope led down to the top of another pitch. Timmsy set off rigging this, which dropped 14m and entered a rift which sadly closed down with no passable way on. On the way back up however, Timmsy entered a tight rift between the pitches which I had previously urinated into, only to find a way on to another short shaft.

Excited, we quickly forgot about our expo dinner cooking duties we’d agreed to earlier and set off into the new rift with the remaining tackle. Upon reaching the short pit however, I spotted a continuation of the passage over the top and so rigged a short traverse off naturals whilst the others de-rigged the previous pitch. Beyond a short length of passage led to a window into another massive void, with a 4-5 second drop on a stone! Excited, but out of rope, we headed back to the surface.

On the surface our discoveries were greeted with a mix of jubilation (so far this was the only cave in the area other than PT4 to actually ”go”) and despair (even more large pitches). But happy with us continuing the exploration down the pitch, Timmsy and myself set off with a seemingly over-optimistic amount of rope and a freshly charged drill. On the way to the previous pushing front, I quickly descended the short pit in the floor that was previously traversed over, which led to a tight slot continuing downwards (I decided to leave this for for another day). So, back at the window to the large void, rigging off a natural and a bolt enabled me to descend a few meters into the shaft proper and gain an exciting airy bridge between two walls of the shaft. Here a Y-hang off the opposing walls gave me a fantastic free hang to near the bottom, where another rebelay was required. The shaft was interesting in that it was egg-timer shaped in cross-section, and retained it’s proportions and dimensions all the way down. Pitch 3 was 46m deep upon surveying.

At the bottom, we had a spot of lunch. Unfortunately the original explorers had braved the 60m 2nd pitch to survey the current extent of exploration and silently knocked a rock down our pitch which Timmsy and I know nothing about until it smashed into the floor nearby, after which we retreated into a safer spot (with a few ?agitated? words).
The bottom of the pitch was boulder floored, and a climb down through boulders gained entry into the bottom of another meandering rift. This seemed to get too tight, until a climb up gained a squeeze through the top of the rift onto another pitch. Timmsy rigged through this awkward slot, and round a corner to drop the 4th pitch (13m), landing in a round cobble floored chamber with another tight rift leading off.

This once again seemed like a rift that would close down immediately, but Timmsy managed to find a route through involving a low crawl followed by a squeezy climb into the roof. This roof tube ended at another drop down of around 9m. We eventually decided not to risk free climbing this (?Don’t do it Timmsy it looks to risky! Oh hang on, now I look at it I think I might be able to do it…?). Unfortunately we’d left the rope at the bottom of the last pitch, so we raced back for it, and rigged it as an exposed handline climb. At the bottom, the rift opened out almost immediately onto the top of another pitch. Unfortunately we’d not been too confident of continuing passage and left the drill at the top of the 4th pitch, DOH!! So back up the climb, another retreat up the rift and up and down the 4th pitch to get the monster drill and our final rope.

I dropped the 5th pitch easily with 2bolts and a deviation (9m), to land in the end of a large boulder floored chamber (50m x 35m). Confident that ?we’re real cavers now Timmsy?, we ran around excitedly looking for a way on .Unfortunately there was no obvious continuation, but a few draughting spots in the floor boulders, and 4 avens in the roof (one could possibly be fairly easily climbed into but was very chossy, and a climbing rope +aid/bolts would be required unless very brave). The best lead was a tight heavily draughting slot in solid rock at the far end of the chamber, which was an obvious flood-sink for water that must come down the aven above in times of flood. This would require a small amount of boulder/rock removal to gain access, and maybe enlargement of the rift itself (looked tight but couldn’t be sure). At the far end of the chamber, a mud-bank filled passage continued a short way dipping downwards, but choked completely after around 20m, though there was a bit of draught in here too.

So we headed out with the drill, feeling rather chuffed that we’d explored a fairly awkward cave to what would be a very decent depth in’t Dales, in only two trips :o)
Unfortunately, the rest of the expo was not so successful, with half the people coming down with a mystery illness and having to go to hospital where almost everyone got put on a drip – except the lucky Mike Reed who only got a mystery injection in his bottom. This effectively disabled them for the rest of expo (turned out afterwards to be Salmonella) and rendered the expo rather short on caving man power (especially as some of us had to take days off to enlarge the poo trench for the sick people who were unable to do anything).

So now lacking fit cavers, and with both caves still to be de-rigged, further pushing options were rather limited. On my next trip down Meander, I managed to persuade Gary K to accompany me to the pit in the floor between pitches 2 and 3 (pitch 3a). P3a was 8m, rigged off naturals, to reach the very tight slot encountered on my previous trip here. Armed with a hammer and chisel, I managed to enlarge the slot at the bottom of the initial pitch, giving a very tight Noel-sized slot directly onto P4a (7m) dropped with Y-hang between a very small natural made of ?cheese? and a bolt placed vertically upwards, also in ?cheese? (as rift the was too tight to turn drill side-ways to place a nice bolt in good rock). At this point Gary arrived just in time to pass more rope through the slot to me, and a further pitch (P5a ? 10m) was dropped directly from the bottom of P4a with a single rebelay bolt to land in a small chamber with a very immature stream-way leading off. SRT kit off and I managed to pass a very tight squeeze round a 90 degree bend back into the stream-way via a higher level slot bypassing the initial constriction. Once inside the stream-way it led for a few meters in a small rift, passing 3 gour barriers in the floor, each pool being dry but full to the top of small mammal bones, which was rather odd given the location, and the fact that they did not look like bat bones. The rift became too tight but with black space visible further ahead and a slight draught present. I then de-rigged and surveyed out back to the top of P4a where I regained Gary waiting on the other side of the slot.
Trips to look at other leads (good lead halfway down p60m requiring some swinging and bolting) had to be abandoned due to the circumstances, so the next trip was the de-rig. On this trip Timmsy and myself surveyed from the bottom back up to the top of P3 where the others had surveyed up to. The cave was de-rigged in one trip, pulling out far more rope than I remembered taking in – about 4.5 bags worth.

John Stevens drew up the survey afterwards

Length ? 486m
Depth – 201m

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