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slaughter_stream_cave [01 May 2013 20:19] (current)
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 +====== Slaughter Stream Cave  ======
 +----
 +{{ :chcclogoblk.png?nolink&200|Cheddar Caving Club}}
 +TRIP  REPORT: "EXTREME CAVEOLOGY"
  
 +Saturday  21st August 04. Cavers: Andy Sparrow, Andy Hebden, Andy Pollard, Sharon Doran,  Glynn Rowland, Melanie Lloyd, Neil Rigiani, Chris Binding.
 +
 +"Can I  bring my girlfriend along, she's done some caving already and might want to join the club?".  "Of course. No problem". Andy Pollard and Sharon would make the group up to  8 - the phone call a couple of nights previously was relayed to us by Andy  Sparrow.
 +
 +Unfortunately Ken Passant had rung to say he  couldn't come due to other commitments and Chris Castle was also unable to make the trip. But we still had a  good turn out.
 +
 +As had  become usual - in fact, almost a mini-tradition - we met at the Lillypool Cafeteria for a leisurely breakfast and to plan our route; an uneventful drive in  brilliant sunshine brought us to Chepstow where we met up with Andy P and Sharon  who then followed us as we got lost in the Forest of Dean; after a quick "directions" stop we found the layby next to the field where  the cave was located (the middle of nowhere, apparently - GPS would be useful for  other groups planning to visit this gem of a cave).
 +
 +Sorting  out the kit and getting fitted up with the SRT tackle took a moment or two  and we set off. It was only six days since the execrable Channel 4 TV programme  "Extreme Archaeology" featured some ponced up lightweights noncing  around in the same cave so we had a mission...
 +
 + In  the programme it had taken the four "Extreme Archaeologists who specialise in getting to  places other scientists cannot reach" three and a half hours to get to Cross  Stream Junction (involving a "squeeze of five inches"!). The gloves were off...
 +
 +L to R:  Andy P, Mel, Andy S, Andy H, Neil, Sharon & Glynn at the entrance to Slaughter Stream Cave.
 +
 +The  descent into the cave involves four fixed ladders followed by a short rift crawl to the top of  another fixed ladder (35 foot) to the bottom of Mouse Aven from where a  scaffolded dig/crawl leads to the short pitch which was rigged so that everyone  could either be lowered or abseil. This is Balcony Chamber and a 40 foot pitch  leads to a climb down followed by a pebbly crawl. Before attempting the crawl  we all dump our harnesses since we don't need them again until we return.  That's the hard work over and done with (well, mostly)....
 +
 +The crawl  was much longer than I remembered but very pleasant nonetheless.
 +
 +Glynn in  the crawl which led to Cross Stream Junction. Andy Hebden in the  approach to the first roped pitch (nice clean oversuit... that won't last!). 
 +
 +Prior to  the trip to this cave, Chris Castle had sent out an email reminding anyone who had  watched the Channel 4 programme that it was misleading and over-egged the  difficulties ahead; we were approaching the "five inch wide squeeze" and it wasn't  anything like the hype - no surprise there - you just avoid the narrow bit and  follow the large bit... simple when you know how.
 +
 +Cross  Stream Junction: Brainy Sharon avoids the five inch squeeze by climbing over the top  (like any non-stupid person would, Channel 4 executives please note!).
 +
 +Once we  regrouped we checked our watches; it had taken the "Extreme Archaeologists" three and  a half hours to reach Cross Stream Junction; our group of eight cavers had  achieved the same feat in thirty five minutes. Unlike the EAs, we had more than  thirty minutes left before we had to turn round and exit. We had plenty of time  to explore this long and interesting cave. They'd had enough time to talk  tripe to camera, find an old pebble and a discarded pantyliner before  whingeing their way out again.
 +
 +The plan  was to maybe do the "round trip" and perhaps have a little look-see at some other bits  but first of all we needed to head upstream "in a well decorated section of  streamway" (according to my "Caves of the Forest of Dean" guide: didn't see what  they were on about, though!). We turn right and follow a narrow crawl for a fair  way until we pop out into Zurree Aven - an impressive 50 foot high chamber with a  stream cascading down the back wall... up which we have to climb; the climbing  is a piece of cake. In fact I'd go so far as to say, "What climb? - Oh!, you  mean the slopes".
 +
 +Mel and  the others approaching the top of the "climb" up the side of Zurree Aven. 
 +
 +Thankfully the water cascade was  not a torrent to battle against!
 +Two major  accidents have occurred here in the past, apparently. One involved the loss of a  brain and the other involved someone wetting their knickers. We were OK since we  had plenty of brains and loads of spare knickers. But would we need them?.....
 +
 +We then go through a short(ish) crawl to the right and find ourselves in the  graveyard - so-called due to the bones strewn around. Having now climbed up and away  from the streamway the going became extremely hot work and many of us began  to glisten with moistness; others just started to sweat like pigs. I  am of the pig-variety.
 +
 +Skull: it  was obvious we were in the "Graveyard" judging by all the bones around the place....
 +
 +We  followed a taped path to the left of the bones in the graveyard and the chamber opened up  sufficiently for everyone to regroup and have a much needed breather and  to take off our helmets and cool down a bit. This is a hot cave once you get  into the dry sections. My pig sweat coursed like a tributary of the Ganges. 
 +
 +Neil Rigiani has a moment of joy while ... Andy Sparrow consults the instructions...
 +
 +some of the  "fabulous" stalactites found in the area known as the Gnome Garden.
 +
 +From here  Mel led us past the Gnome Garden (another taped off area but this is because of the  phantasmagorical stalagmites which look precisely like gnomes if you've  taken enough mind-altering substances, so the story goes) while Andy  interrogates her about limestone geology, formations and the magic word, "Dip". 
 +
 +We shortly  find ourselves in the Chunnel - a tunnel which is also a chamber. Hence "Chunnel". A  genius must surely have thought of this!
 +
 +The  Chunnel increases in size until it becomes some 35ft wide x 25ft high. A group decision  was made - mostly by Andy Sparrow. Not mostly. Entirely.
 +
 +It was  this.... should we (a) go and do the shortest trip possible, i.e the round trip or (b) go  and visit the old dog's grave a long, long way away in a different universe? The  obvious answer was (a) but we ended up being convinced that (b) would be better.  Andy kindly put the  gun away after we had agreed with him.
 +
 +So, (b) it  was....2b or not 2b, that was a stupid question.
 +
 +To get to  the old dead dog we needed to continue to the bitter end of the Chunnel (a long way) and  then begin a nice sequence of crawls called "The Three Deserts" separated by  boulder breakdown. There is twelve hundred feet of crawling here. Thankfully  Neil very kindly offered to drag my bag after a while (what a nice chap!). To get  a breather I decided it would be wise to hold things up a bit by the  simple expedient of taking a photograph. Here's Neil.....
 +
 +Neil  crawling along behind me about half way through the 1,0 foot long Three Deserts.... Neil  drags his bag under his right arm and my bag under his left. In the  background is a caver. In the foreground is sand. Up above is the roof. In between is  the gap.
 +
 +Bliss! We  reach the end of the Three Deserts (knowing, all along, that we've got to crawl back this  way sometime later on!) and find respite at the Vittals Stop - a large(er)  chamber which is also a major junction with Flow Choke Passage and Dog's Grave  Passage. We turn left from here and follow a rocky passageway for about five  hundred feet until we meet a choke - some of the going involves hands and knees  crawling and a couple of flat out crawls over smooth rocks; we pass the choke to the  right and Dog's Grave Passage continues until we see signs saying "Beware of  the Dog" and others next to taped off sections of smooth sand where it is  possible to see the footprints of the doomed animal still imprinted.
 +
 +Eventually  we find the poor mutt - the  skeleton is surrounded by a bizarre array of objects; a plastic water bowl, silver  chain, rubber toy etc.. The grave itself is dry stone walled for protection  with some clear polythene sheeting to keep the dust off the bones which are so old  they have crystallised after collapsing; the best guess is that the animal  found a way into the cave which has long since collapsed and it wandered around  in the dark until it succombed to dehydration; the bones are believed to date  back into the tens of thousands of years! They certainly look exceedingly old.
 +
 +One  extremely old, and dead, dog. The bones have quite distinctly crumbled into dust. In the  lower left foreground you can see a gloved hand for scale.
 +
 +The  covering was gently put back into place and we turned back to regain the Vittals Stop area  where a welcome break for lunch/drink was had (note: next time we visit this  cave we need to bring at least a litre of water per person ... the going is very  hot and sweaty and we needed more to drink than was available) - P.S. Thanks to  Neil for sharing out his water. Hero! We had now been underground for two hours.  The Extreme Archaeologists had barely got halfway into the entrance series  of this cave in the same time!
 +
 +Suitably  prepared, we begin the return journey crawling back along the Three Deserts and have  another break. Photograph below shows some rather weary cavers having a nice lie  down after their efforts....
 +
 +Tired  expert crawlers after completing the Three Deserts for the second time. 2,400ft of  crawling gets you hot and bothered.
 +
 +Left to  right: Kneeling - Andy Pollard. Lying in background - Andy Hebden. Lying in foreground -  Neil Rigiani. Laying back on right - Sharon Doran.
 +
 +Once we  regained the Chunnel it was a simple walk (with some awkward stooping in places) 0  feet along until we met the bouldery tube leading us into Coal Seam Passage  (only discovered in 1991). Coal Seam Passage would once have been a superb  section of cave passage, sadly now dry; originally it would have been a lovely  river passage containing whirlpools, slides and damp scalloped walls  meandering its 1,300 foot way down towards the modern day stream passage. Sadly for us  it was yet more dry and hot passage but the shapes and the way the light  created shadows on the walls meant it was another change of character. This cave  has what is known as "a changing array of  passage morphology".  When we reached the junction between Coal Seam Passage and Dry Slade we have  another break to cool off.
 +
 +Sharon,  Andy P and Andy H (foreground) rest up half way along the dry Coal Seam Passage. 
 +
 +Having  regrouped we then continue (right) along Dry Slade until we meet the main streamway which  comes in from the left (from sump 2); the water here is cloudy, scummy and  not for drinking! - it's polluted by raw sewerage. We have a short traverse  and then can climb down into the stream; the limestone here is extremely  sharp and caution is required; it's even possible to cut your wellington boots on  the edges!
 +
 +Glynn  traversing over the stream just down from sump 2 and at the beginning of the sharp stuff!  Right: Andy Pollard in the scummy sh*tty streamway.
 +
 +Again we  have another change to the passage shape, as well as the water, for we are heading  down into an ever-deepening gorge which soars up over fifty feet high; the sharp  limestone has been etched into amazing shapes and hence the name of this section  of cave - Sculpture Trail. This is much cooler but requires more concentration.  After following this passage for a fair distance we realise that it does not  tally with our recollection of the route from a previous visit and turn about  and head back upstream to regain the junction with Coal Seam Passage; "arduous"  was an over-used word on this trip.
 +
 +Ignoring  the left turn back up into Coal Seam Passage, we head straight on into Dry Slade  through large walking sized passages turning left and right and right and left with  some stooping; we pass a dry fossil sump on the way back to the Main Stream.  Andy S had carried on with Andy P and Sharon towards the entrance while Mel had  a flat battery changed; Neil, Andy H and Glynn had continued exploring the  downstream route past sump 2 so we were now effectively split into three groups.  Probably not very wise.
 +
 +Battery  changed, Mel and I continue along Dry Slade until we meet the gurgling stream and ... the  smell hits us; not very wholesome. We gingerly edge our way upstream trying to  avoid getting poohy-water inside our wellingtons but it wasn't possible and  the inevitable happened; our progress was slow but steady and we carried on  with a couple of diversions (checking the way) until we reached Cross Stream  Junction.
 +
 +Mel dips  her toes in and checks the water for floaters. You wouldn't want to swim in this bit of  cave stream, boyo!
 +You can  tell by the tide mark on the oversuit just how deep you need to wade in this filthy  cloaca of stinking mire and excreta. Repulsive? Yep!
 +
 +We find  the way into Cross Stream Junction passage and no sooner said than done than Glynn, Andy H  and Neil catch up with us. We crawl back along the pebbly tube and open out into  the lower section of Balcony Chamber where Andy P and Sharon are donning  their harnesses while Andy S rigs up the ladders for the 40ft ascent up the  pitch. I SRT up the parallel pitch and meet Sharon at the top and then I continue  with SRT up the shorter pitch and hang the third ladder from the P-hanger so  that Andy P and Sharon can climb up while I lifetline them - they continue  out of the cave while I await the others; my battery finally runs out and I find  myself clipped in and hanging safely in my harness in the dark while trying to lifetline Andy Hebden followed by Mel up this awkward overhanging climb  and narrow rift. All gets sorted in the end and I follow Mel & Andy into  the next chamber by now having swapped over to my Tikka backup. A simple  climb up the five fixed ladders brings us out to daylight; Andy S, Glynn and Neil  bring up the rear. Another breather, this time outdoors.
 +
 +Time spent  underground: 4hrs 50mins - near as dammit, 5 hrs. Andy P & Sharon had already  gone back to their car and changed by the time the rest of us lumbered our way  back up the steep field for an overdue bit of refreshment. What a fine trip. 
 +
 +Extreme  Archaeology? - Extreme Hyperbole, more like!
 +
 +Slaughter  Stream Cave (AKA Wet Sink). NGR: SO 5815 1372. Vertical Range: 330 feet. Length: 14,000m+
 +Should be  renamed "Hot and Sweaty Cave, not suited to TV ponces who talk b*ll*cks".