Trip members: Aileen Connor, Nigel Jackson, Aisling Mathews, Eoghan Mullan, Stephen McCullagh (Bus) and Stephen Macnamara (Muh)
Duration: 9 hours
By: Nigel Jackson
"Paraphrased" from a post on ukcaving.com forums
Considering the "Last Great Problems" topic in the Idle Talk section I thought I'd write up a recent trip to Shannon Cave in Fermanagh.
I was over there just before New Year and a group of friends from QUBCC were talking about a trip down into Shannon to place scaff bars for the eventual assault on George's Choke (which seems to have collapsed since the cave was last opened). Having heard about their breakthrough from Poltullyard the previous May, I was very interested, so the deal was struck - entrance to the cave if I helped carry the scaff bars.
So a quick jaunt over the moor to the 'Tullyard entance with a four foot long scaff bar (hey this aint so bad) saw us enter the cave and make our way quickly to the entrance pitch. At the pitch we found a 35m ladder in place that had obviously been used by Brian and John, who'd gone ahead of us with the express purpose of "climbing down a hundred foot ladder coz we've never done that before." We decided on the sensible option of abseiling down and proceeded to crawl around the edge of surface collapses to the Tullyard-Shannon connection.
Having been at the dig face just under a year before, I was mightily impressed with the work accomplished. The dig had gone into a tube that doglegged back on itself. The tightness of the tube means this isn't a place for the large of girth, especially as the dogleg requires some very interesting tests of flexibility. I was also impressed by the determination of the first guy through, as you can't see where the crawl goes (or even if it goes at all) while the tightness of the crawl prevents you from raising your head enough to see what's in front. While the crawl isn't devastatingly long, the prospect of going out of it backwards fills me with fear.
The crawl emerges into a loose boulder choke that has the air of place that is destined to collapse on the unwary or clumsy. Past this choke you emerge in the upstream end of the Shannon streamway, a fairly lofty passage after the enclosure of the previous ones.
While waiting for others to negotiate the crawl and boulder choke I decided to have a quick look up stream, where I was shown in no uncertain terms that THIS WAS A CAVE WHERE NOT MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN.
The passage seemingly climbed over the streamway past some rather interesting straws. However, I could hear a streamway ahead and decided to have a look. Going to the left of the passage I emerged at the head of a rift with boulders wedged in. Thinking nothing of it, I jumped on the boulders, intent on heading up the rift to see what lay there. At this point the floor gave way as all the boulders headed straight for the bottom (incidentally, I found the source of the sound of the streamway - I could see it 20ft below me where the floor had been!) Wedging myself in the passage using my elbows, I was a little disconcerted to see several large boulders trapping one of my feet and trying to pull me into the abyss with them. A little persuasion eventually consigned them to the depths and me back into the passage I'd come from. I decided to rejoin the others who were all wondering why I was cackling like a maniac.
A quick stop to pick up previouly stashed gear, where I was loaded up with a big heavy bag full of scaff joints (this is starting to get heavy now) and we proceeded down some nice traverses above the main streamway . After these (scaff bar v. useful when wedged above you as you can swing along like a monkey) there was an extremely pretty passage full of formations, straws and helictites. Following the streamway we proceed through several extremely loose and large boulder chokes. As well as encountering the odd side passage, this all adds to the sporting and athletic nature of this cave (as well as making your arsehole pucker when you hear the boulders whizzing past you).
We left all the gear at the junction with a massive passage called mistake passage and started to head out as we were concerned about the state of water levels (well, I was concerned and earnt some dark looks from the Irish who muttered something about English balls). Along the way, Stevey Bus took me up a free climb he'd been wanting to do for a while. As we climbed up, I remember all the hand and foot holds come flying off and hoped we'd find another way down. After poking around in a high level passage series, it became obvious that we'd broken into new cave. New cave by just going up a short climb! This point was further reinforced when we found a single set of footprints when we descended into a side passage, which just stopped and turned around.
Jumping back down to the streamway, we headed out and after a brisk change in the bracing night air of the Fermanagh Winter, headed back to base for Tea and Medals. Time underground - A refreshing nine hours (althought the trip is considerably shorter than the time suggests, we did have 10 scaff bars between 6 which added considerably to the flavour of the trip).
This is an excellent cave with awesome prospects (we just climbed into new cave! No digging, nothing!) although I've never been anywhere like it that quite blatantly shows how dangerous it is.
Stunning trip, and hats off to the guys who re-entered it.