Swildon 9 – Long Round
Saturday, 17 October 2015
Sump 9 is the furthest you can get in Swildons without proper cave diving, so a trip here has been on my hit list for as long as I can remember. Now with people willing and able to join me it was finally a go-er.
Being familiar with most of near-Swildons (Short round, Swildons 4, etc), there were only a few locations I was concerned about: finding our way along Damp Link and out Shatter series, and finding the bi-passes to sumps 6, 7 & 8.
Only a couple of months ago on a bored afternoon in Priddy I remember doing a solo trip down Shatter Series to reccy the route. Although I couldnt remember it too vividly (being hungover both then and now) I was pretty sure it would come back to me once I was there, hence a copy of the survey and description were not deemed necessary.
Sump wise the initial intention was to free dive as many of the sumps as possible, doing an in-out along the main streamway as far as possible. Having chatted to Dany Bradshaw and Tom Chapman on the Wednesday night in the Hunters about free diving the sumps: sump 2 didnt sound too bad (they suggested sticking extra weights into the chest of the wet suite to ensure youre not buoyant so as to get under the lip); sump 3 sounded a reasonable undertaking being long and V shaped; sump 4 was straight forward; sump 5 was more a series of ducks than a sump; sump 6 was a pleasant dive with a bottle but not recommended as a free dive (although apparently Mike Waterworth has free dived it); sump 7 and 8 were easy bi-passes and rarely dived; finally sump 9 is a proper cave dive and cannot be bi-passed.
Rowan and BJ didnt seem too keen on the sumps, so we decided bi-passes were the way to go. The plan was adjusted to omit sumps 2 & 3, instead to go via the start of the short round and blue pencil to Swildons 4, this allowed Shatter Pot (10m ladder) to be rigged en-route enabling an exit from Swildons 6 along Damp Link and out Shatter Series.
Despite planning to do the longest trip out that day (with other ULSA trips being a fresher group down GB, 2 fresher groups to Swildons 2, and a Stoke Lane group), we were still the last to leave the hut having faffing the most. Rowan had to be stopped from cooking a second breakfast.
On walking to the cave BJ noticed he was the only one in a furry rather than a wetsuit, realising hed be likely to get cold, in our generosity we gave him the ladder to carry to keep himself warm.
We bumped into the 2nd fresher group at the entrance of Swildons, here they were waiting for the 1st group to get head-start. I guided them along the Wet Way to Water Chamber where we bumped into the 1st group. Here we waited again for them to go ahead and rig. Me Rowan and BJ started to regret our earlier faff, as it would have been slicker if wed gone down first and rigged for the others.
We left the 2nd group at the 20 pitch and caught up with the 1st group about the Double Pots. Katey was stationed in the lower pool to spot fresher, as she was looking a bit cold I did the gentlemanly thing and kindly relieved myself in the higher pool so as to warm up the water she was standing in. This gesture was not appreciated.
Subsequently we were allowed to pass the 1st group and were free to speed off. Throwing a ladder down shatter we then got the syphon running on the first of the double troubles in case we wanted to complete a fig-8 trip (Damp link long round + Short round out sump 1) after completing the Long Round.
Lacking the lungs to suck the syphon hose, Rowan suggested a technique I was unfamiliar with:
1) hold a thumb over the lower end of the hose;
2) someone else fill up the higher end with water from the sump/duck until hose is full;
3) once full place upper end into the sump/duck;
4) Remove thumb and syphon should initiate.
This actually worked surprisingly well, but pouring could be made easier if a funnel was put on the higher end of the hose.
Slipping down Blue Pencil and running down Swildons 4 (probably my favourite bit of passage in the cave) we were soon at Sump 4. BJ and myself donned neoprene hoods, while Rowan started to get nervous over his wetsuit zip which was broken and half hanging off, which he was convinced would snag on the roof halfway through the sump impeding his progress. To put his mind at ease I tore it off completely, giving him a nice backless wetsuit fit for the red carpet. Stuffing the surplus zip back inside his wetsuit he now had no excuse but to continue [note: the zip might have later fallen out, apologies for the unintentional litter].
Sump 5 was one of the most fun sections of the cave, bobbing along from air pocket to air pocket, it reminded somewhat of Bogg Hall Rising in the North York Moors. Once in Swildons 6 the side passage to Damp Link was very obvious, pushing ourselves along this we got the syphons (about 5 hoses) running, here it was too cramped for our pouring technique so they had to be sucked.
With siphons running back into Swildons 6 we continued, working our way down stream.
The 6 bi-pass was an obvious climb up on the left just before the sump. This is a bit squalid, gritty, and uninspiring. Not helped by not knowing where we were going, with me climbing down the exposed rift (Enima Rift) which turned out to drop back in half way along the sump requiring a reclimb (easier on the way up). Crawling our way along the bi-pass tube, BJ got the fear on the final gritty duck, which we dumbed The Constriction. From the far side I was able to dig a channel in the grit to drain most of the water, and after some words of encouragement “dont be wet, he was through.
The rest of the downstream was nice and stompy with the other bi-passes being very short. So short in fact was the sump 8 bi-pass that we werent really sure if it counted as a sump. Where we in Swildons 8 or Swildons 9? Was the big glistening clear sump pool before us was sump 8 or sump 9? Why didnt we bring a survey or description?
Not wanting to turn back a sump early we pushed the two muddy side passages the left of the passage to see if they bi-passed the sump. The first one, up a gentle muddy slope, just kept ascending as a crawl in the opposite direction of the sump. After a fair distance we realised this wasnt a bi-pass, and made our slippery return like poos out of a colon. The other passage was a c.10 climb using a propped up scaff bar as a foot hold, once at the top it closed down immediately, and before my muddy perch crumbled beneath me I decided to jump (fall) down.
Still no sure if we were at sump 9 or not, BJ suggested that if it turned we werent at sump 9 we could just pretend we made it there anyway.
So we turned and headed back to Damp Link. With the first sump/duck cleared we crawled on and syphoned the next as BJ slept (being a bit hypothermic by this stage). The air between the two sumps/ducks was fine. The notorious bend immediately after the 2nd sump/duck was not an issue, although all in our group were under 6 tall. After a relentless crawl which reminded me of Petersons Pot in the Dales, we finally emerged into Shatter Series.
Contrary to my expectations, I didnt recognised the place at all. About 40mins followed of me pretending I half recognised the place whilst secretly thinking we were doomed till rescue. Knowing all too well that Damp Link can only be done in one direction as the 2nd sump/duck bails into the 1st, and the 1st can only be cleared on the Swildons 6 side.
“Why didnt I take a bloody survey!? I thought to myself as I retreated from loose boulders [later realised to be the route to Passchendaele].
Doubling back we happened upon a gour pool with a hose coming from it. Lacking an alternative we siphoned the pool and as airspace opened I slipped through.
Only then did I remember the reccy trip 2 months earlier, standing alone at a duck requiring bailing before thinking, “fuck it, time to go home. Hence not actually reccying where Damp Link joined in.
From here we sacked off the idea of doing a fig-8, and made our way out via Tratmans Temple and back to the hut. Only to find the others waiting to come rescue us, they of little faith!
– Worth taking a copy of the survey and/or description.
– When doing a reccy trip (especially when hungover), write up the trip afterwards before you forget it.
– 6 bi-pass is crappy, and a bottle dive would be much more fun. Especially if it means you can then continue through the beautiful sump 9 and beyond.
Excellent trip report! A most entertaining read.
Friday, 12 February 2016