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Thursday, 11 July 2013 21:22


This years expedition was to be a much smaller team with just 2 exploration divers heading for the end, supported by a small but efficient team of divers.

Initially the expedition concentrated on transporting all the equipment  necessary for 1 diver to pass to Tipperary. Jason Mallinson (JM) planned to pass Sump2, transporting the radio location device and spend a single night in Tipperary. After a few days of equipment preparation and a 2km stage dive, all was ready for this initial phase to commence.

With help from the support team up to Sump 2, JM set off for Tipperary, with much less equipment than in previous years. This made for a quicker dive through, and all went well, apart from the constant buffeting on the high speed lithium Zepp. A quicker than usual transit time saw JM in Tipperary and quickly preparing the radio location device. Once ready it was switched on and correct operation was confirmed with an small device.

After some food from the tins of curry brought through JM decided to investigate the small muddy tunnel leading off from Tipperary. This had been looked at by Rene Houben some years ago, but not fully pushed due to the mud, and his reaching a serious climb. Having brought a light set of neoprene shorts and top for the sump 4 push, Jason was able to fully cave with little concern for the mud. A climb at the base of a chamber with large loose boulders was reached. This being the obvious stopping point for Rene. A tricky climb was made up the rocks and once past a huge boulder at the top, a large tunnel could be seen heading off. This was followed to a split in the passage, and the left hand route quickly petered out after a couple of further climbs. This point was later found to be some 55m above the level of the sumps in Tipperary.  Following the right hand, route a muddy crawl quickly emerged into a larger passage, which again led to another climb. This was a more serious proposition, but again the 8m climb was made to a continuing tunnel above. This passage, looked to be a very old fossil route with a layer of frost-like crystals all over the floor. Much like on a very frost day in the winter. This large tunnel was followed for several hundred metres, after which a reduction in the passage size was caused by the mud filled floor rising. A crawl led through to  a junction, from which only 50m of passage were explored to the left. Another route to the right at the junction was not explored. Approximately 1km of passage was found. There is much more work to be done in this area, from surveying the current finds, to searching for potential entrances, and a possible bypass to sump 3.

After a comfortable nights sleep in Tipperary, JM arose at 5am and after a very rapid transit through Sump 2 was out of the water just before 10am.

Unfortunately the radio location signal had not been received on the surface, despite Brian 'Scoff' Schofield and helpers, spending several hours searching for it. The batteries had been brought out of the cave and so there would be another chance for this.

All was now in place for Phase 2 of the expedition to commence, with the addition of John Volanthen, who had arrived the night before.


Jason - Heading off for Tipperary - Phase 1

Phase 2

Several days after Phase 1, when John Volanthen (JV) had staged his equipment at 2km, both divers were ready to make the traverse through to Tipperary and hopefully continue to the end of the cave. As JM had already much of his equipment in place at Tipperary, his was a relatively fast transit through the 5160m long Sump 2. Whereas JV, having more equipment to tow, made a slightly slower dive through.

With both divers re-grouping in Tipperary, some time was spent repairing the side-mount rebreather of JV, which had been damaged on the dive in, and partially flooded. Without this essential item of equipment it would be unlikely that JV would be able to continue into S3 the next day. Once the problem was located and a simple repair made both divers were good for the dive to the end and S4.

With some spare time after a warm meal, JM and JV began surveying the new passage found a few days previously and over a couple of hours managed to survey, 300m of passage. With a long, hard day expected the following day, the surveying was curtailed for another time.



Expecting a long day ahead the duo rose early, and following a warm breakfast, prepared to make the dive through Sump 3. This 3.2km dive was expected to take around 2 hours. The initial (static) 400m of passage in Sump 3 is quite small and silty, until the active flow is met, and so JM and JV set off slightly apart. As scooters were exchanged throughout the dive, the two divers kept leap-frogging each other through the sump, until an ascent with around 30mins decompression led to Razor Passage.

Here all the heavier equipment was left and slow progress was made up to Sump 4 to remove the drysuits. Lightweight wetsuits were donned to make the transport of all the necessary equipment to Sump 4, easier. This transportation lasted 2 hours and was a significant effort, with handholds breaking off and climbs to negotiate. Eventually after 3 trips back and forth (from S3 to S4), each, the rebreathers and cylinders to make a reasonably long dive in Sump 4, were in place at the sump pool. Then began the process of redressing in the drysuits and the attachment of the diving equipment.

Once all was prepared, JM started to reel out the line in Sump 4, whilst JV scouted ahead to pick out the best route forward. In the event a large clear tunnel led after only 140m to surface, and a continuing river passage. The dive equipment was removed and the pair waded up the narrow canyon against a strong flow of water often chest deep. Progress was difficult against the current, and with sharp rocks everywhere, hence the naming of the passage Razor II. After 160m JV headed back surveying the newly discovered passage, whilst JM continued for a short distance to 300m, but the risk of puncturing a drysuit became too great and so the continuing passage had to be left for another time.

(The risk of puncturing a drysuit at this location could lead to serious consequences. At this point there is over 9000m of diving to exit the cave in 10deg celsius water. Even a small hole in a drysuit would lead to problems with hypothermia on the 2 hour dive back toTipperary. If it were possible to do this, the diver would still then have water drenched underclothes and be unable to make the 5km traverse back through Sump 2. In reality either a suit repair would have to be undertaken, or more likely the 2nd diver would have to exit the cave for spare clothes and drysuit. Leading to an enforced stay of several days within the cave.)

Once the two had regrouped back at Sump 4, the dive out was made, carrying out a survey of the sump. Then began the transportation phase of the day again, with the drysuits removed and the, by now, tedious and strenuous carries up and down Razor passage. 3 hours later after all the equipment was back at Sump 3, and both divers were ready, the return dive back through sump 3 was made in 2 hours. A chilly dive back was had, with the underclothes by now, quite damp with perspiration. The return to Tipperary after a trip to the end of the cave almost feels like arriving back home, with just a 5160m sump between you and the surface. Following a hot meal and some time resting all the equipment was carried back over to Sump2 ready for the dive out in the morning.

Strange noises were heard in the night !!!!!!!!

Despite an early start the next day, much time is needed to repack the dry-tubes and everything else, and so it's often a few hours after waking before all is ready for the dive out. Like two over-burdened tug-boats, JM and JV headed off back through Sump 2, enduring the long deep sump, hoping the fast scooters being ridden had the battery power to get them back to base, without having to resort to the slower back-up scooters. JV did in fact have to drop onto his back up scooter, but this was in the shallower regions of the sump, during the decompression phase and so was no great concern.

The support team welcomed the divers back at Sump 2 advanced dive base and after some hot noodle soup, an exit was made to a pleasant, sunny, afternoon.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 October 2013 12:45