Thursday, November 11, 2010

THE CONNECTION Marble Arch - Prod's Pot/Cascades Connection Part III

Over a month ago some diver from the North who reads the technical diving forum, let's call him Mr Sneaky Peevalve, has written an official complaint to the county council (the owner of the cave) saying some quite uncomplimentary things about a post I put on the forum on 18th of November (which he also reprinted without consulting me nor forum administrators) and essentially stating that the cave management was at fault for letting someone as 'unqualified' as me to cave dive in their cave system.

In the wake of his action I presented all my relevant diving and cave diving qualifications (including Full cave taught by Martyn Farr in the sumps of South Wales) and insurances to the management of the cave. However, since an official complaint was issued to the district council, the management of the cave was forced to undertake some action and to refuse me, I hope temporarily, a further access to the cave.

I wonder what sort experience, when it comes to Irish or British sump diving, qualified that person to judge my actions but apparently he was trying to make a vague impression that he was involved in the past in ‘assessment’ of cave divers. Since he showed appalling lack of knowledge and utter ignorance on the conditions and the techniques used in Irish and British sumps I seriously doubt if he ever dived in any of them.
I'm always amazed by people who never take any mental effort to try to think outside of their ego, to understand that maybe that tiny universe they have created in their minds and that revolves around them is only one of the many, that the fact that they don’t understand something doesn’t automatically mean that it’s wrong. They stopped learning at some point of their life, and armoured with a portion of knowledge they acquired in the past, they walk proudly around and judge everyone else with that arrogant attitude of someone being in the known…If only they could see how pathetic they are...
Not brave enough to say what they think publicly on the forum, they are courageous just enough to plot behind your back and to feed third parties with lies and unqualified, biased opinions - and all of that out of the lowest of human motives, hidden behind the mask of benevolence and servitude to the society. Well, I guess there will be always individuals like him in every community and you just have to live with that.

Ok, I’m done. I could go on and on, my anger and bitterness was so huge at the time, but I won’t. I don’t want to lower myself to his level. I speak my mind openly and sign my words with my own name – I was never ashamed of it and if I ever had to remove my report from this forum it was only to protect other persons or institutions.
And most of all, if I have problem with something or someone, I direct my objections to them in a first place, before anyone else.

Operation ‘Grapes of Wrath’

So it was that the human envy won a battle, but not the war. I couldn’t go back to the Swann’s Way to continue the exploration, true. But nobody could stop me from trying to forge the connection from the Prod’s pot - Cascades system…
Some surveying work was in order first to see where the best spots for a potential link were. The surveying trip to the ‘secret passage’ in the Cascades showed that the low crawl below ‘Echo’ chamber that terminated in a sump had the biggest potential. Bringing cylinders to that point was something else. The smallest possible setup was chosen, 2l and 3l tanks, and a torturous carrying through the cave commenced, one cylinder at the time.
The first sump was passed on a third attempt with more ‘dry’ passage found behind. Shortly after another sumped section appeared but this could be bypassed through some higher level gallery. Very committing vertical squeeze dropped back to the stream level and it was there where the hopes for any further advance on that day have been shattered into the little pieces. Literally. I was in the middle of the squeeze when a tempered glass of the mask I carried on my neck broke against a rock. Being equipped to the minimum I didn’t bring the spare one – with only a short sump behind there was no need for that however I felt here was nothing I could do in terms of exploration if next sump should appear; which exactly happened after another 10m or so… Aaaaghh … I was done for the day. Surely I could try to tackle it without the mask, I expected the visibility to be none anyway, but with all that additional task loading with line laying, anchoring with the siltscrews and route finding I felt it would be only a waste of the precious gas which had been carried there with such an effort, unless I was extremely lucky. I opted for postponing the assault on the second sump, I secured one cylinder in a high level spot and retreated to the first sump. The dive out was uneventful tough my sinuses could have seen it differently

Operation ‘The Lion in Winter’

A week later, together with my friend Waldek Furmaniak from I was on the way to Blacklion when the sudden hit of winter stopped us around Navan. The trip was rescheduled and a few days later we were back again on the road to Fermanagh. The original plan was to reach a caving hut on the Marlbank Loop, set up all the gear – cylinders, cameras, lights etc., spend the night there and attack the cave early in the morning. But when we reached Florenscourt the major flaw of that plan became apparent: the untreated back roads were like a glass and we would need something more than luck to drive up to the hut situated high on the Marlbank plateau. Since giving up without at least trying, no matter how daft the adventure would be, is against our deeply rooted national traditions (With saber against tanks - Z szablą na czołgi ), we attacked the Marlbank Loop east route immediately . The car managed to climb merely a few hundred meters before its wheels started spinning around on the icy road and we started sliding backward down the hill. Not funny… In some crazy manoeuvre Waldek managed to turn the car around (which was even more impressive when you think that the road width matched the car’s length) and we drove safely down to the main road. The plan had to be changed. We drove to the scouts hut and decided to attack the cave on the same day. Cladagh Valley was beautiful, capped under 20cm of snow. Three hours later I reached my previous limit and started preparing myself to explore the second sump. This proved to be shallow but very awkward. The vis was gone immediately at my entry into the water. Few metres into the sump I tried to anchor the line with a siltscrew but the silt was too soft and shallow to let it stay firmly in. I couldn’t proceed without a belay point, not there.Giving up was very far on my list though; I returned to my dive base and removed all the line from the sump, which by that time turned into a dark coloured soup. The siltscrews were not working, I needed some better plan. Maybe some stones or pieces of rock to belay to? I looked around but all I could find were some small boulders. I grabbed one of them and threw it into the sump. I removed my helmet which anyway was too bulky for the job and dived again. Moving on by touch I located the boulder, pushed it further into the sump and belayed the line to it. Finally some decent belay point. I was in some nasty, soft silt filled bedding plane and there was only one thing I had to make sure – that the line I left behind was properly belayed. With the new wave of reassurance I pushed forward with my head tilled to one side – the clearance between the floor and the ceiling was no more than 30cm but the way on must have been somewhere there! After few meters the way on ‘felt’ to be opening but I desperately needed another belay point. There’s not much space for an error while diving with 2 and 3l cylinders, ‘the line job’ must be spot on. The Force was with me and after a short search ‘by touch’ a suitable flake was found. 4 metres further and much to my surprise I finally broke through the sump and surfaced in some, well it’s hard to call it chamber, let’s say an airspace, 2x1m. I crawled over the mudbank and from there a narrow, steeply ascending rift brought me to an astonishing, beautifully decorated 10x4m chamber from where a few leads headed off. I felt I was on a verge of the breakthrough. I tried the more promising one - a vertical drop among the boulders that soon developed in a tight rift heading North. Good draft and fresh air could be felt but I was stopped by constriction created by calcited boulder. Behind, a bigger passage could be seen. I wasn’t giving up yet, I planned to try to shatter the boulder with a lead block from my harness but I decided to check the other leads first.
I returned to the top chamber and followed SE lead, a flat out crawl that after only 10m and without any warning emerged at the top of the recently surveyed chamber, a known ground: the connection between Prod’s Pot – Cascades and Marble Arch system has been established.
Official sources stand that Marble Arch system is 4.5km long while the Prod’s Cascades 4.1km. Further surveying work will follow. Together with new discoveries and previously unsurveyed sections the total length of the new system is 9km, which constitutes the longest cave system in Ulster and the third on the island (afaik), however there’s much potential within the system to extend it even further. Exploration continues.

The video material from the exploration ( registered by HD GoPro Hero camera mounted on my helmet, many thanks to Marek Klonowski, ) is being edited by Waldek and I should post it in the next couple of days.

THE SWANN'S WAY Marble Arch - Prod's Pot/Cascades Connection Part II

I entered the system around round 12.30 pm. I expected to have some hard time with carrying all my gear (harness with weights, 3l and 2l cylinders, 80cm crowbar, 50m tape, fins and a dry box) through the chokes and squeezes of that section but actually it was grand, even better, I enjoyed it! I guess I was already running on the wings of anticipated discoveries… I passed the Madeleine’s sump in 3min which included some ridiculous entanglement when the tape snagged the main line. Oh well…

The first thing when I surfaced was opening the dry box and checking how badly it leaked (the sump is -8m deep). The Suunto tandem , extra secured in a condom (safety above all) was fine and so was my Stenlight and its battery pack. I mounted the light on my helmet, dropped the cylinders and headed off, quickly regaining my previous limit of exploration – The Muddy Towers. Those mud formations covering an area of two square metres looked like a miniature model of the volcanic landscape of Cappadocia with its conical shape fairy chimneys. I found another way to avoid damaging those unique formations and continued over a pile of shattered boulders. The stream was emerging from a tight rift which seemed to be closing further ahead but I’ve noticed a possible way on through some equally tight section, however with large cavern visible behind. Excited I crawled through this again delicate area, emerging in a breathtaking, 20m long and 6m wide chamber. The ceiling was heavy with calcite straws and stalactites while the walls and the sections of the floor were covered with flowstone and gour pools, all of them shining magically in the beam of my torch. And though I tried not to be distracted too much from my quest of reaching the Cascades I just couldn’t not to think at that moment about my favourite part (5:40) of Rick Wakeman’s suite Journey to the Centre of the Earth:

Crystals of opaque quartz, studded limpid tears,

Forming magic chandeliers, lighting blistered galleries…

I checked the north end of the chamber in search for the way on but there seemed to be none. Then, remembering a similar chamber that we found a week before while exploring from Cascades and into which we broke through the boulders from the stream level underneath, I thoroughly examined the floor of the cavern and there it was: a small gap among the boulders dropping to the water level 2m below. It was one of those holes you need to breathe out to squeeze through. Estimating my chances of managing to get back a solid 80% I wriggled through, landing noisily in the waist deep pool of water. Wading through those crystal clear water canals with a crowbar in one hand and a torch (Q40 on a Goodman handle) in the other I felt like a thief who just broke into some ancient tomb. But I was there to explore, not to plunder, and the ongoing passage was my only reward. I checked the compass: NE – good, each metre of progress was closing the gap between two systems.

I passed a low duck after which I became very vigilant of any sign of rising water – if entrapped in such confined space my chances would be slim. After 20m of clear water canal I arrived to a chamber occupied by a pool of muddy water. There seemed to be no way on above the surface level, but another investigation, with a diving gear and maybe during some less stressful weather conditions should hopefully yield a continuation of the passage. On the other hand the suitable, unsurveyed lead from Cascades that we visited on 17.11.2009 (marked at the map as a dotted red line ) could be only metres away - its final section that could be seen through a tight slot looked very alike the end of Swann’s Way.

Due to unstable weather I decided to leave surveying for another visit and I made only rough sketches on the way out. There must be at least 100m of a dry passage behind the sump. I packed my Stenlight back to the dry box, dived back through Madeleine’s Sump, packed all the gear and started my exit.

THE GREEN LAKE Marble Arch -Prod's Pot/Cascades connection Part I

Like all good things everything started in a pub. It was a Friday night in Frank Eddies in a border village of Blacklion filled the evening with usual potholing banter.
I went to take a leak and when I came back I heard someone talking about some mysterious green lake in Marble Arch System (4.5km ), possibly a sump, which could connect to another big , 4km long cave system, Prod’s Pot - Cascades. My eyes were getting bigger and bigger as he continued : the pool was attempted only once, by Tim Fogg, but the way on was lost in zero visibility. At that stage I already knew where I wanted to dive next. The next morning the jolly party of six proceeded to the Green Lake in Marble Arch Cave.


We entered the system through Lower Cradle Hole, negotiated the infamous Ducks and strolled along the impressive show cave for another few hundred meters until we reached the Skreen Hill sump. To reach the point of our destination, the Green Lake, we had to take a dry bypass route, which proved to be quite arduous with heavy gear. At the arrival we saw a large pool of water , radiating invitingly with a green glow. We arrived to The Green Lake.
I have a tendency to following the bottoms of sumps rather than their roofs and this time wasn’t different (without buoyancy I didn’t have much choice either). Over the first 10m the floor dropped gradually to -7m and lack of buoyancy started making this whole adventure somehow interesting. Nevertheless a visibility ahead was very good, around 2m, and to my surprise I realised I was in a big, couple of metres wide underwater passage. I continued for another 15m to the point where everything indicated that I was on the bottom of some vertically walled pot so I leaded the line and started ascending ( or rather underwater climbing up) At -2.5m my line ran out and at the same time the way up started getting tighter. With visibility quickly deteriorating I concluded that further ascent without a line would be daft so I cut it off from the reel and turned back.

Diver: Artur Kozlowski
Support: Ian Wilton-Jones

I have repositioned the line from my previous dive as I spotted some more promising place to ascend. It proved to be a good move and I surfaced in a surreal, 10m long canal filled with the long straws hanging from the roof which was only metre above the surface. I checked my compass: the canal was heading NNW. Good. Anything North was good. North meant Prod’s- Cascades….
The way on seemed to be situated somewhere under the water but I must admit, I wasn’t at my best on that day. A few hours earlier I had a close shave in Shepton Mallet Sump 2 and I must have been still a bit shaken. Not able to find any reliable belay point I called the dive.

Diver: Artur Kozlowski
Support: Ian Wilton-Jones

Unaware of the heavy storm that rolled over Blacklion on Friday night we pondered over swollen Sruh Croppa river flowing violently under the Bridge. The first duck had about 8 inches of airspace while the second only 5 inches and most of the route was out of depth (in normal weather I can tip toe all the way long). Some swimming was also necessary to reach the start of the bypass. Once there, usual bollocks with gear carrying followed, my big reel proving the most awkward. Big disappointment at the arrival to the Green Lake, which wasn’t green anymore – tea with milk would do it a better justice. Under water the vis was minimal, no more than 10cm but it didn’t really bother me – I quickly surface in my fairytale canal. Diving from its other end I surfaced in a smaller parallel canal but that was it, there seemed to be no other way on, or I couldn’t locate any in the limited visibility. I returned to my vertical line and dropped back to the bottom at -8m. I was ready to turn the dive. What else could I do? The vis was nil and my best bet – the canal - turned out to be a blind alley. I started to believe that the whole sump was only one big blind alcove.
I’ve lost my mojo but at the same time the other, familiar feeling kicked in: I knew that If I didn’t do something I would be regretting it forever. For my own peace of mind I deployed my 100m reel and attached it to the bottom belay point making a three way junction. Unable to read the compass I took the NE judging from the known direction of the previous leg and off I went. It was a desperate venture, against my own instinct.
Not surprisingly, after 10m or so I hit the wall finding myself in some tight alcove.
Out of alcove, slight modification of the course and slow, painstaking progress ahead, whatever direction it was. Despite my efforts to stay out of the soft, muddy bottom the vis was still non existent. The roof must have been quite low there, no more than 50cm, as I hit it a couple of times with my helmet. I belayed the line with a silt screw and continued, the fact that actually surprised me the most - the passage continued to somewhere!
A gradual change in my buoyancy indicated that I was ascending and at some point the noise of my bubbles breaking surface somewhere above suggested that I might be already in an open water. I allowed myself a brief moment of excitement but this was quickly dashed by realisation that most likely, in that whole confusion and non vis business I was back to the Green Lake. I managed to read my bottom timer, -2.5m, and continued up the gentle slope. Finally I broke the surface in a large, 5x7m sump pool. I was still too disorientated to tell if it was the Green Lake or not, so I said out loud: Ian? No answer. A muddy slope continued above the surface and I shone my torch there. IAN?! I asked again but much louder. Again nothing. Small ripples on the slope created continuous pattern, seemingly undisturbed by any previous human presence. IAN!!! I shouted checking the compass at the same time. And then I knew he wouldn’t answer. I was facing North which meant I’d just discovered a dry virgin passage 40m behind the Green Pool sump heading towards Cascades…
I explored the passage for about 30m and found small stream flowing from the North into the sump pool. Due to the lack of proper equipment to explore a dry passage and the fact that Ian was waiting at the Green Lake I didn't move any further. The passage continued.

If connected, the Marble Arch System (4.5km) and the Prod’s Pot – Cascade ( 4km) would constitute the longest cave system in Northern Ireland and the third in Republic and NI , after Pollnagollum and Doolin Cave, both in co. Clare.