The Big Kahuna

Eastern Massif caving expeditions

The Big Kahuna

So the day dawned where we had to put our money where our mouth was and actually dive this sump and get back in one piece. madPhil, Matt, Martin T and Dave set off early with the plan to go the Death Race 2000 aven to ready things for climbing. MadPhil and Dave to set up a camp in the aven and Martin and Matt to help out before returning to the Consort Hall camp to meet up with the rest.

Our days starts quite leisurely, myself, Martin G and Al having numerous cups of tea and a big lunch before a 12pm start down the hill. A couple more bags of diving equipment loaded up, somehow I end up with the bag of £3000 of electronics. Given in the past 6 months I have lost one ipod and broken another, I’m probably not the best person for the job.

Easy going through the entrance series and then just beyond the “Black Hole” we bump into Dave, returning back through the cave. He only got as far as the “Hole in the Wall” and beat a retreat, suffering from a cold and weeks of carrying equipment.

Alan seems to be cursing the cave, me or both, for talking him into coming back to Spain. But like all good miserable trips we form a plan for heading back to the tropics next year for far less misery out in the jungle.

Some discussion ensures about Andy Kirkpatrick’s article about extreme sports….. “In the end we decided that caving – perhaps also fell running – where one of the last bastions of true hardcore sport because they are so unsexy, and could never be made so.”

We summarised it as being due to it generally involves “rolling around in sh!t”

The usual landmarks are passed, the climbs muddy, the hole howling and the sump wet. We arrive at Consort Hall around 5ish after a four hour trip in. Camp is a grateful respite, dinner being a MOD Corned Beef Hash mix with some Tresviso blue cheese to accompany it. More tea drunk.

Message left by Martin suggests he went onto the Death Race aven with Matt’s camping kit, in order to replace Dave. All confusing. Around 9pm he returns, after nearly 12 hours caving on his own). We are all in bed, so only half aware of what was going on.

Day Two

Morning comes, bad nights sleep once more. Too hot, too many toilet breaks, too much snoring.

MOD Sausage and Beans for breakfast and some cups of tea, all very quaint and British. Next challenge involved getting out of nice dry and warm camp clothes and back into the wet, gritty and smelly caving clothes. My undersuit sticks to me instantly, sending a nice cold feeling right through my body. Wet socks even worse. SRT equipment back on, mud everywhere and grit rubbing into all the cuts, bruise and insect bites. A low point. Another cup of tea.

Team of 4 of us now make our way to the sump, somehow we have ended up with an extra bag of 100m rope destined for the climbs.

Most of the cave is pleasant from here on and we make good progress to the sump. While I help Martin kit up, Martin T and Al go off for a bit of an explore.

It takes a good hour and a half of setting up and checking equipment before Martin is ready to dive. At one point we have a large fright when a rock the size of beach ball lands in the sump 2 yards from me. We think it might be Alan and Martin high up in the roof, some shouting is unreturned so the next 10 minutes are rather cautiously spent checking for further projectiles.

At 14:20 Martin is all kitted up and he sets off. I film him setting off, and it’s a good 2 minutes before he is out of sight. The sump descending down a large ramp almost immediately.

It all suddenly becomes quite dark and eerie and I notice how cold I’ve become. I dig out the survival bag and crawl inside. I slowly doze off for about 30 minutes, before Martin and Alan return. Another cup of tea made and then all 3 of us climb into the bag.

At around 15:40 Martin returns after an 80 minute dive.


Another hour and a half is spent de-kitting and then we start ferrying equipment, in stages, back to the “Hall of the Green Domino”. We have 9 bags, including the 2x12litre dive cylinders, between the 4 of us and at one point my maths fails and I end up carrying 3 bags at the same time as trying to climb the muddiest part of the cave

It takes nearly two hours for us to get the 9 bags back to Green Domino, a trip that would normally take 20 minutes. We get all but one of the 12 litre cylinders back to the foot of the pitches out of the chamber. We are all pretty tired and just after 7PM we start back start back for Consort Hall.

It’s pretty slow going and I instantly get caught up 1/3 of the way up “Dan’s Big Pitch”, just where you have to lie on your side through squeeze at top of pitch, the cord on my tackle bag catches in my pantin (for the non-cavers a cam device attached to my foot) Unfortunately, working as designed each time I move my foot the cam moved further up the rope, until I was paralysed in a z position, unable to move forward or reach the pantin. As I had already removed my chest and hand jammers from the rope, it was just my safety cords stopping me from dropping back down the pitch (all while in this stupid contorted z position). Eventually, I was able to unclip the bag, which promptly seemed to weigh like a block of lead and nearly sent me plummeting down the shaft, and remove the rope. I was probably only stuck about 15 minutes but it seemed far longer and it had sapped what little energy I had left.

From here it was a struggle, slow and painful as my body starts shutting down, and I was consciously having to check and double check my equipment before abseiling or ascending the rope. The time for stupid mistakes was right about now, elegant climbs now just involved throwing myself up them and splaying myself out, like a spider being washed down the plug hole. The bag weighs a ton and cursing everyone and anyone. In particular the person who came up with the idea of diving this sump, so a few choice words with myself….

Eventually crashed back into around 9PM, Beef Ravioli in Mushroom Sauce then a horrible custard sponge pudding, the custard being solid yellow gelatine substance. Cup of tea, bed.

Day 3

Awoke 8ish after a rather cold nights sleep. Plan was for Alan and Martin T to go to “Death Race 2000”. Although we had not seen anyone from the climbing party, they would surely be aware that Dave had not turned up. Martin G and I to start for the entrance carrying out some of the more delicate and expensive dive stuff.

I ended up with a the most stupidly shaped bag, 2 fins creating a comic shape that wedged into every boulder. The first hour and a half of caving was a nightmare. My body is still screaming at me, every other step seems to be a slip or the bag catches, it still weighs a ton and each time I drop it or place it over a climb, the pull almost drags me down after it.

Its only at the 22m pitch that I seem to regain some sense of what I’m doing. Probably as I know we are nearly out. Energy seems to return to me and we get out through the entrance series very efficiently, and out for 3pm, back up the hill by 4.

The Upstream Sump

So the bit everyone is interested in, what happened in the sump?

The knowledge of the sump was limited to published journals and word of mouth as the original divers are no longer around.

Log extracts “Dived 3.15am, reached the limit and laid a further 42m to a maximum depth of -27m. (Rob Parker)

From Caves and Caving “Rob’s dive followed, and a further 47m of line was added at -27m until the diver turned around because he was scared (he is human after all)”

The survey shows the tantalising words “continues…

Martin reached the limit of Rob Parker’s line and found what had scared the divers away! It does continue but straight down! The line is tied off at the head of a 20m shaft. Martin descended the shaft to a depth of -46m. It then levels out. He followed for another 100m or so in a large canyon (on a similar size to Consort Hall) before returning due to gas mixture restrictions.

Martin’s words “have you seen that film Sanctum? It’s was just like that sh!t