Fishface Camp - Pushing Theophilus Goon
Tuesday was another wet day so a day of top camp fettling was had whilst plans were made for a fish face camp the following day. We had a (fairly) efficient morning, departing top camp shortly after 10 having received a debrief from the previous camp group, who had returned in the early hours, on the state of the latest leads.
Having been promised a dry day after the downpour of the previous day, Nadia and I were greatly unimpressed when it started raining as we kitted up at the fish face entrance. With several grumblings about the weather we got underground and had an uneventful and efficient descent to camp. We dropped off our camp things and enjoyed the luxury of an underground noodle lunch before heading off for leads beyond the traverse above clap my pitch up. Nadia and Kai had previously found a descent length of phreas beyond the traverse, named Theophlius boon, which we were hoping to continue.
At the pushing front, there was a walking height passage we could have started with but at Nadia’s reluctance I decided we should start with the crawling C lead to ‘close it out’, assuming it wouldn’t go very far. 40m later, after some rather awkward surveying, we had decided we had had enough despite the small passage continuing, and left it as a C lead, concluding that even if it did go somewhere no one would be willing to drag tackle sacks down it.
Returning to the much more sensible A lead, we prepared ourselves for our ‘proper’ surveying of the day assuming the walking phreatic passage would continue… we managed one survey leg and around the corner found a deep rift crossing our passage at a junction. After some deliberation it was decided the rift was free climbable and we continued left up the rift to a 3m free climb above which the passage ended. We retraced our steps to the junction and contemplated a climb over the opposite side of the rift. As all our other leads had dried up we decided this climb was manageable and I headed up to see if it went anywhere. There was another junction at the top, with the right hand branch quickly narrowing into what would be a very flat out crawl... not convinced a person would actually fit down. To the left was a crawling passage above the rift below which after 5m turned away from the rift and continued in a flat out muddy crawl. For some reason Nadia could not quite understand, I decided this muddy crawl went and proceeded to slither through in the interests of seeing whether there was anything beyond. After 10m it opened up into walking height phreas so I returned to Nadia, plastered in mud, to inform her of the good news.
Surprisingly Nadia was not keen to join me in the mud frollicking before our return to camp so we surveyed up to the muddy crawl and decided to return the next day to tackle the mud. On our way back to camp we closed out another previous c lead earlier in theophilus boon, which crapped out after 4 legs. We had a very pleasant evening at camp with Frank and Ruairidh, who had been exploring leads in another part of the cave.
None of us set an alarm so a late start was had the next morning and Nadia and I didnt leave camp till 12. We returned with reluctance to the mud fest and braced ourselves for the crawl. We took a rope and put a handline on the climb up out of the rift that we had done the day before (we removed this handline on our way out later). The passage was quite pleasant beyond but we were so plastered in mud by this point it was a challenge to keep survey notes clean. The passage continued approx 100m in walking height phreatic passage, with a rift in the floor joining in at intervals along the passage. We passed a junction with a small passage in the ceiling following the direction of the passage below. Further down we found a second similar junction and suspected that these two C leads connected in a subsection of the main passage; it looked small and unappealing enough that we decided not to confirm our suspicion. The main passage gradually became more rifty and ended once it became too small to pass. Along the passage we found 6 interesting helictites, the most impressive one measuring approx 40cm long with a diameter of 5-10cm (there was some debate between Nadia and I on this).
We returned to the traverse above clap my pitch up and due to some misunderstanding believed that all the other leads beyond this point had crapped out so Nadia derigged the traverse. This was a bold move requiring a pull through to derig the last section… shame it transpired to be not as helpful as we had thought. We had a frustratingly slow ascent of the red line pitches as our jammers were more mud than jammer by this point so once back at the tap we had an srt kit cleaning session before making our way out. Nadia found the rope near the bottom of tk maxx was core shot and tied this out. Our way out was otherwise uneventful, getting back to top camp for about 1:30.