Pushing Beyond Madusa's Maze
Fri Jul 21 Starting down Balkan at mid-morning, we steadily made our way down the entrance series, Honeycomb, Hangmans and Mongol Rally. I arrived at Pitstop to find a very cold Nat, who had gone ahead, but had left his warm things with Harry. After refuelling on flapjack, we started through pitstop, along lots of very pleasant walking passage to Northern Powerhouse. Here, a small pitch was ascended up a loose slope, rigged during previous trips by an (assumingly?) scared Aileen and Nat. Further away, Nat pointed out all the A and B leads that he and Becka had found on their previous trip here, but hadn't explored or surveyed. At the start of Becka and Nat's last survey station, we layered up, refuelled some more on peanut M&M's and began surveying. Nat was Disto-X-ing, Harry was on nail polish and LRUDs and I (rather rustily after 4 years of no surveying) was on book. After ~20m of passage, we met a 5 way junction, where the 2 right passages met, and choked up with mud and silt ~20m on. Nat popped up a loose climb back at the junction, assuming that it wouldn't go anywhere exciting, but after feeling the draft and seeing the ongoing passage, declared that we were going that way. The passage opened up into a large, impressive rift, ~30m high, slanted walls and filled with big boulders - tentative name: Hades rift (following the mythological theme of Medusa's Maze). Unfortunately, the rift choked (it would require a very scary climb), and following passage under the choke didn't seem promising. Following passage at the beginning of the rift, we found lots of phreatic passage, heading roughly N, and down bedding. After hours of enthusiastic surveying, and ~300m of passage surveyed, and several A and B leads found and left, we decided we had to head out (it was 8:30 and we had lots of prussiking to do) At pitstop, we found ~150m of rope pulled from Camp and the last 50m of Mongol Rally, left by Becka and Dickon. Harry and Nat took the end of the paella to a roomy ledge ~80m up. I pulled the rope up. I stayed at Pitstop to make sure no rope snagged, then began derigging. Unfortunately, I couldn't undo George Breley's iron tight bolts with my little spanner, and eventually had to give up. A slippery prussik out of Balkon, where our jammers kept slipping on the muddy rope, saw us get out of the cave by 6am, with an 18h underground trip completed. Overall very exciting leads were left left, right and centre, going off into empty space!