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Category: Digging

27-05-2008

27-05-2008

Updates updates updates!

– The surveying trip went ahead as planned on 3rd May — two survey groups consisting of Shannon Group members alongside Chris Jewell, Simon Cornhill and (Mad) Phil Rowsell, completed the centre line survey from the start of 18-30 (the new connection) down to within 40 or so metres of the terminal sump, Sump 5 (“Long Way From Home”). 1.1+ km of passage has been added to the cave, and work is ongoing to produce detailed drawings of the route.

– A second survey group (myself and Madphil) returned on 5th May to survey the Mayfly Extension and George’s Choke — so within the space of 3 days we now have over 1.8 km of new survey data, leaving only the remaining stretch from the Sandy Chamber in JCP passage down to George’s Choke (around 1 km) to be completed for a full resurvey of the main passage, so that we can conclusively pinpoint how deep the cave is and where it has reached in relation to the surface.

– The last Shannon trip of the month was on Saturday 24th, with a mammoth group of eight people in the extension (including 6 QUBCC cavers — how about that??), tasked to investigate a lead at the very end of the cave (see 28/4/2008), survey the final short stretch of passage to the sump and check out some high-level anomalies on the way down. I’ve written a report that can be viewed on the Trip Reports page, and uploaded some photos from the trip courtesy of Damien…

– The June issue of Descent will be hitting cavers’ doormats and gear shops soon, so look out for our article on the new findings. To keep you occupied, here is Steve Bus’ and Aileen’s account of the breakthrough trips:

On the first trip a group of five cavers consisting of Aileen Connor, Chris Jewell, Simon Cornhill, Stephen (Jock) Read and Stephen McCullagh (Steve Bus) carried a capping kit, several dive bottles and a lot of food to the terminal dig. After an uneventful journey in, (George’s Choke was still standing after the big floods of January/February) the party split into two; Chris and Simon were to start the exploratory dive and Aileen and Steve Bus were to continue digging (Jock having retreated at an earlier stage due to work commitments the next day). To the surprise of the diggers, Chris came back a bit sooner than expected with news of dry passage on the other side of the sump! Within ten minutes Simon was in his dive gear and he and Chris returned through with instructions to investigate possibilities of a dry connection via the Balcony dig.

Fifteen minutes later, and with Aileen and Bus rooted in the dig, a few faint voices were heard. Then silence…. At this stage a bit of crowbar fever overcame the diggers and, after a few (read: many) interesting rounds of Kerplunk, a large hole in the roof was uncovered. However, after a few near misses and the death of the capping kit, both cavers decided that retreat was the better part of valour and concentrated on clearing the remaining rubble from the dig passage.

Eventually the diggers heard more muffled shouts from Chris and Simon. In the confusion of English and Irish accents filtered through several feet of boulders, Bus’ shouts of ‘Look up high’ required an answer of ‘18 30‘. After a puzzled conversation with Aileen, the decision was reached to put some food on and wait for Chris and Simon to return. A half an hour later, a bit out of breath and with huge smiles on their faces, they both emerged from the sump. The passage on the other side was big and went for a long distance. The 18 30 comment was also solved – Chris was confused as to why Bus was asking for the time. However the mix-up meant that possibilities higher up in the choke were left unexplored.

With the dry cavers keen to remain so, the decision was made to push through the dig rather than continue with exploration via the sump. Needless to say, the logistics of carrying more dive bottles through George’s Choke also contributed strongly to this decision. Unfortunately the newly formed boulder pile at the end of the dig was looking rather precarious, which meant that shoring was required. So we were back to Plan A – more scaf bars. With the Irish cavers busy with weekly work commitments, it fell on Chris, Simon and the newly arrived Hilary Greaves to perform the necessary duties during the week. They sourced scaffold bars and undertook a Sherpa and scaffolding trip down to the dig in preparation for a fresh assault on the dig face the next weekend.

So, on the second weekend a team of six – Aileen, Chris, Hilary, Steve Bus, Simon and Gaelan Elliffe – journeyed into Shannon to lay siege to the dig. The group didn’t expect it to ‘go’ on this trip, but it was felt that good progress could be made. A double assault on the dig-face was planned; Simon and Chris would dive through the sump and dig from the far side, while the rest of the cavers would lay scaf bars and, with the aid of a new capping kit, clear away the larger rocks brought down the previous week.

The dive team didn’t take long to go back through the newly named ‘Young, Free and Desperate’ sump (‘Young, Free and Single’ was Chris’ choice but we felt the altered name was bit more apt!) and digging progressed from both sides. With a bit of climbing and squeezing, Chris and Simon made progress up into a small chamber. From there it was quickly deduced that the two ends were a lot closer than originally thought: Simon’s and Chris’ lights could be spotted looking down through the large hole that Aileen and Bus had created the preceding weekend. After a few well-placed bars and a bit of gardening, a safe route through was engineered and the 18:30 connection was complete.

– Steve Bus, Aileen Connor

 

I don’t ‘arf treat you lot!

Fat Tony

02-05-2008

02-05-2008

Well we’ve submitted all the materials required to Descent Magazine now, so I’ll update this section with snippets of the breakthrough article whenever it’s published (next month I think). In the meantime work is still ongoing in the Shannon Cave, and this weekend will see a humungous effort towards surveying the new extension (hopefully to Grade 5 level). We’ve gathered some additional workhands from England and hope to get the majority of it surveyed on a LONG trip tomorrow. Unfortunately I’m gigging, so can’t make it! Otherwise I would definitely have been well keen to spend 16 hours down a cave taking readings and noting down measurements. Oh yeah.

Meantime I’ve uploaded Damien’s photos of last weekend’s trip here.

Fat Tony

28-04-2008

28-04-2008

Righto, so an all-QUBCC trip went well yesterday; myself, Damien Datry (new in the club) and Conál McCartan (new in the club, down as captain for next year). We got down to the end of the cave and I pushed the 10 Years’ Hard Labour area, with a view to getting a definite “yes there’s big cave” or “no it just stops”…. unfortunately (!) it was still going quite similarly (tight, muddy, and a little scary) when we left, but there’s also a chance that it just loops back on itself thus just being an oxbow… I need to discuss further with Stevo to get a better idea.

There’s much intriguing cave passage in the new extension! I think there’s a whole lot of investigation to be done in the high-level stuff most of the way along — even just by looking from floor level; the height of the ceiling at any given point changes dramatically all along, and where the changes occur you can often see additional passage emerging c. 25 m up… and/or some very strange changes in direction of the main passage.

– Damien took a couple of photos while we were there, I don’t know how they’ve turned out but I’ve asked him to email them to me ASAP just in case any are worth submitting last-minute to Descent.

– A hand line has been left rigged at the climb down into the dry oxbow, the other side of the big (second) boulder choke in the main stream passage.

– I definitely think the new bypass needs a tad more shoring too, if not some gardening!

NOTE: We took an extra couple of cans of rice pud down to the dining room beyond the balcony choke — but used up one of the old rusty/mouldy cans instead of the new ones. Anyone that’s down next could you also use up the most rusty-looking can first as it looks like it’ll disintegrate before too long! Make sure you take a penknife/tin opener though as the oldest ones don’t have ringpulls. If someone has a spare old tin opener it’d be good to leave one in the daren drum.

Fat Tony

29-03-2008

29-03-2008

Well, much has been happening since last I wrote, and I guess it’s time for a round-up before any, ahem, BIG NEWS is released here… Efforts have continued over the last 12 months to get past the terminal sump at the end of the Mayfly extension of Shannon, but for a long time these efforts were making slow progress. Plenty has been going on in the meantime:

Steve Bus, Aileen and myself provided a talk on the Shannon Story So Far (featuring interpretative dance by Rónán O’Ceallacháin) at the SUI/ICRO Symposium in October. The presentation included a whirlwind 3D tour of the overground layout of the Shannon area, survey data of the last couple of years’ progress and photos of the current cave passage and dig areas.

Next, the one thing we thought would never happen — Steve Bus lost heart. Almost broken by the impenetrable barrier of Sump 3 (*sob!*), he travelled off to Germany, the USA and Australia just to get away from the shame. In the meantime, the rest of us just rolled up our sleeves and got on with business, starting work on a complete resurvey of Shannon Cave from Polltullyard entrance (a necessary evil, as there are no marked survey points in the cave from the previous survey for us to take reference from, nor to add further passage to). So by the time Steve was back from his travels and had stopped being so silly, we had the route through Polltullyard and the connection with Shannon already surveyed.

The next discovery came in February 2008 while surveying beyond the Border Climb in JCP passage. While surveying the first (of probably 100 still to come) boulder choke of Shannon Cave, Les Brown noticed an anomaly in the water flow — a new, previously unnoticed inlet had been found! And with a very large water flow coming through it too. A few theories are floating around (hee hee) as to its source, but until we can get the survey data properly laid out (and maybe a little dye tracing done?) we won’t know for sure. Steve Bus’ original description of the passage is as follows:

Four of us (Les, Ronan, Aileen and me) went surveying down Shannon yesterday and it went really well especially after Les noticed that there is a mysterious second streamway which seemed to appear from nowhere! Half an hour of digging and a George’s choke like squeeze lead into a narrow rift-like inlet which contributes more water than the Polltullyard streamway. How we missed it I don’t know – though it does appear in a middle of a boulder choke (which one I hear you say).

We can’t figure out where the water comes from, but due to the dodginess of the entrance  (we didn’t have any digging/shoring tools which made an interesting time moving boulders), only the first 10m were explored. However, it looks like it keeps going.

– Steve Bus

Later reports are that it is still going, but it’s increasingly tight, dodgy and wet. That’s never stopped us before of course, but with so much work to do in Shannon it’s just been added to the list for the time being. In the meantime, more Important Stuff of Note has been discovered in the past week… Here’s the official word from the Shannon Group, 25th March 2008:

A brief update.

Over the last week we had Chris Jewell and Simon Cornhill over here diving. On St. Paddy’s weekend they managed to pass the terminal sump in Shannon to find the continuation on the other side. At the same time a voice connection was made from our dig to the new extension.

On Easter Saturday after a brief digging session from both sides (Simon and Chris gracefully volunteered to dive through again to help) we made a dry connection for us landlovers.

The new extension is big – maybe a kilometre – and of impressive dimensions. More to follow in due course.

– Stevo, Shannon Group

So that pretty much brings us up to the present day. Survey data has been recorded up to a point shortly before the decorated sandy chamber in JCP (please leave the tape marker and measuring reel in place!), although we may now be inclined to skip to the end and get the new passage surveyed. A proper report of the breakthrough and ensuing discoveries will be forthcoming, but in the meantime I’ve written a report on the first QUBCC reccie trip into the extension last week (see the trip reports page). Enjoy!

Fat Tony

01-05-2007

01-05-2007

Big news! This taken from Descent magazine:

George’s Choke Yields to Saintly Power

by Stephen Macnamara

Photos:
George’s Choke, photographer Chris Jewell, subject Stephen Macnamara
Canyon passage in the Mayfly Extension, photographer Chris Jewell, subject Stephen McCullagh
The downstream terminal sump, photographer Chris Jewell, subject Stephen McCullagh
New digsite at terminal sump, photographer Chris Jewell, subjects Stephen McCullagh (L) and Stephen Macnamara (R)

The Shannon Group has been busy over the past couple of months, and the hours of toil have paid off. On Saint Patrick’s Day (17th of March for the heathens among you), George’s Choke finally relented, to admit a group of three cavers into the downstream Mayfly Extension. The extension, named by the first explorers in the eighties, became inaccessible after the repeated collapses of George’s Choke. The nails were put in the coffin when the original cave entrance series collapsed about fifteen years ago.

The 2005 breakthrough from Polltullyard into Shannon allowed a new assault on George’s Choke to begin in earnest at the start of 2006. Some fifteen trips of gear transporting, digging, scaffolding, cementing, photography, surveying and lead pushing have been made, the average trip length being nine hours.

In September 2006, the group made a significant push through the worst of the choke into apparently stable, large boulders beyond. This trip was curtailed by light failure. Undeterred, we returned in the next month. Unfortunately, the choke now decided to reassert itself, almost incarcerating one of our key members … and another retreat was necessary. The subsequent trips were spent redoubling the scaffolding effort and applying lashings of quick-setting cement (mixed in a few saucepans which were retired from culinary duties for the purpose).

Saint Patrick’s Day was bound to be a lucky one, and we decided to retry the push. Back in the large stable boulders, an interesting right angle squeeze at floor level was immediately followed by a tight slot under a boulder into water. One further squeeze up through boulders found us looking into a sizeable chamber with the stream emerging in front of us. A short stroll led us out of the boulder choke and into the clean-washed streamway of the Mayfly Extension!

In comparison to the boulder-strewn passage upstream of George’s, the downstream extension is a luxury. Three hundred metres of stomping passage is only interrupted once by a minor choke. Much of this length is beautiful canyon streamway.

We quickly reached the downstream terminal sump, where the water disappears to resurface three kilometres later at Shannon Pot, the source of the Shannon River. An old dive weight was still lying on the ledge beside the sump. We did not spend too long here because the water level had risen by half a foot. The squeezes in George’s Choke were decidedly wetter on our return, and somewhat alarmingly, the normal crawl out of the choke had sumped off! Fortunately, we found a high level route before making a sprint for the surface.

On the latest trip, we checked the terminal sump for diving possibilities with the help of Chris Jewell and his diving mask, and concluded that there was indeed potential. A climb up into the boulder choke above the sump leads about ten metres further downstream, and then drops back to stream level, with a voice connection back to the sump chamber.

However, non-divers need not despair yet. About fifteen metres back from the sump chamber, before the boulder choke starts, Steve McCullagh spotted a sculpted ledge running along the left wall just below ceiling level. With a boost from Steve, I climbed up and crawled twelve metres into this sheltered tube, which seems to skirt around the edge of the passage and hence bypass much of the boulder choke. I rigged a handline and we soon made five metres’ progress through easily removed rocks. This is the most pleasant digsite we have encountered in Shannon yet, with a solid floor, wall and ceiling. Some minor shoring will be necessary, but the site seems very promising.

Work on the survey is continuing in parallel with digging. In addition, George’s Choke needs a bit more shoring work to make it safe for the level of traffic we expect over the coming months. We need more members please!