Patchy cloud below the Inky water

Over the last couple of months work has continued at the Ink sump dig with Jim. Boulders have been removed and scaffolding has been added. Progress is steady and undramatic which is a good thing because we are digging in the roof. No great excitement means that there hasn’t been much to report about our activities in the boulder choke. There is however one other area that we have been considering as a possibility.

At the foot of the aven which we climb to get to the dig in Dooms Retreat the flooded passage ends in a rift filled with small boulders and gravel. Jim has been looking at this rift on and off over the time he has been digging above and has noted that as the water levels rise gravel is blown out of the rift and when the levels drop the gravel builds up. This indicates that there is flow coming out of the rift in high water and that there is a good possibility of passage beyond. In very high water Jim has even got into the rift with a camera on the end of a stick (very technical this cave diving lark) to film what happens beyond the gravel. The results show a passage that almost immediately turns a corner. At the start of the winter we planned to give the gravel choke a good hammering. We hoped to open up enough of a hole at the top of the gravel choke to allow the seasonal high water levels too wash out the rest. We have just had a very dry winter. Plan A has not worked. Plan B is to just get in there and dig the lot out so on Saturday and Sunday that is what I started doing. A very picturesque dive through Ink sump on Saturday was followed by about twenty minutes of digging until air margins forced a return through a now slightly cloudy sump. Diving in on Sunday most of the cloudiness had gone, but some patches still remained, and it was possible to inspect the previous days efforts before starting afresh. This time only about fifteen minutes were available for digging because of a lower fill pressure in the cylinder but despite that it felt like good progress was made. The journey out was a bit cloudier than the journey in.

Thinking about last years weather we did get a very dry spring followed by a wet summer so there is still hope for a return to plan A. Until then we will continue with plan B which if we are both diving on the same day means we can mix work at the top boulder choke with work in the bottom gravel choke. The only real down side to this project is that it will be very difficult to get pictures of the end of the dig. The passage is only a little bigger than a kitted diver and the visibility deteriorates very rapidly when it is visited. But don’t worry, Pete seems to be on a one man mission to provide us all with plenty of pictures and very few words so I am looking on my lack of pictures as a sort of karmic balance for the blog.

Doom’s Retreat, Ink Sump

After the post on the recent trip to Doom’s Retreat Pete asked if any of the photographs Clive took would be available. Clive has kindly agreed to this.

Working mainly in black and white Clive is one of the most widely known and accomplished cave photographers in the UK. His pictures can be found in magazines, calendars, books and several websites. Clive holds a large collection of slides covering caving, mountaineering and other outdoor adventures taken on his travels around the world. Some of the pictures he takes are by request from authors, editors and fellow explorers but most of his collection are his own choices of shot. These pictures are shared (with informal commentary) to the pleasure of those lucky enough to attend a slide show in club huts and meeting rooms.

Chris in the boulder choke dig at the end of the rift in Doom’s Retreat. The scaffold poles in the picture will be replaced by the steelwork mentioned in the blog to make a more robust protection cage for the diggers.

Chris at the base of the rift, surrounded by deads which have been shored up with scaffolding poles. The dig in the previous picture is off to the left at the bottom and is reached by crawling under a low arch.

Chris on the fixed ladder up the second half of the aven in Doom’s Retreat. The ladder was swam through the sump in sections, bolted together and fixed to the wall. At the top of the ladder a rift passage leads to the climbers left for a few metres to the head of the rift seen in the previous picture.

Chris on the platform that marks the halfway point up the aven above the sump. This has been constructed to provide a camping point so that digging time can be extended. Digging work will no longer be limited to a few hours between the journeys in and out. Instead divers can now dig for a full afternoon and morning with an overnight stop in-between.

Chris on the traverse that leads to the foot of the second fixed ladder pitch up the aven. The pitch is permanently rigged with safety lines and hauling ropes. The barrels on the platform are dry storage for provisions, kit and emergency equipment.

Chris at the head of the first pitch fixed ladder next to the platform. Again hauling ropes are in place for lifting equipment up to the dig.

Chris setting up his kit for the dive out. The ladder to his right is the start of the first pitch, the platform is above him. In the water a scaffold platform can be seen, this is in place to make kitting up easier in the deep water of the sump pool. The only other place to stand for kitting up is under a waterfall that flows in wet weather. On the other wall a length of rope hangs from a couple of bolts. This is a clothes line used for securing the dive gear once the sump has been passed, loosing dive gear at the other end of a sump is a bad idea!

Colin at the Doom’s Retreat end of Ink Sump before the dive out. The route out is behind the diver but Clive wanted a shot from the front. It is always best to follow Clive’s instructions on a photographic trip, the reward is pictures of this standard.

Thank you Clive.

Doom’s Retreat


In the back end of the Devils Arse show cave (formally known as Peak Cavern) lies Doom’s Retreat. Reached by diving through Ink Sump it has been the site of a great deal of digging effort by several teams of diggers over many years. Each group has been drawn into the project by the loud rumble of water from the base of a boulder choke only to be beaten by the engineering needed to secure the massive boulders in place whilst digging underneath them. The latest team to attempt the project is led by Jim and supported by many members of the local caving community, both divers and non-divers. The aim of Sundays trip was to go in and photograph the passages and works beyond the sump.

The original plan was for me to join Jim and Clive on the trip through but Jim had been put out of action with a cold and couldn’t dive. Clive rescued the trip by organising a last minute stand in, Chris. I arrived at the TSG hut in Castleton and was relieved to find that Clive had also organised some cavers to help carry gear to the sump with us. With their help the trip to Ink sump seemed to pass at a steady slog rather than a long grind. After we started kitting up they departed to visit other parts of the system.

Ink sump offered us reasonable visibility for an uneventful passage by all three divers. Surfacing at the base of the 21m aven of Doom’s Retreat we all admired the grandeur of the place and the various bits of engineering works that Jim and his team have installed for the project. Climbing the fixed ladder to the halfway point of the aven where a platform has been built (for overnight camping to extend digging time) Clive started to plan his photographs. The second stage of fixed ladder took us to the top of the aven from where we clambered down a rift stacked with deads to the digging face. We started photographing and moved back down to the sump pool in stages, Clive meticulously giving instructions and taking pictures as we went.

Shortly after surfacing from the dive out, distant voices announced the return of our helpers from their touristing. When they arrived at dive base we discovered that one of their number had called it a day and headed out with bad knees. Fortunately the loss had been replaced by a straggler who (it was claimed) had been expertly separated from his party at a point at which he didn’t know the way out. The trip out seemed shorter than the way in and we made it out in daylight.

The helpers were: – Will Stewart, David Viita (on his 6th trip!) who helped us on the way in and out; Chris Mathieson helped on the way in and Adam Sharlpes on the way out.