The 165m long link was christened The Dancing Girls' Connection and joined together two only recently established cave systems: The Marble Arch – Prod's Pot/Cascades connected by Kozlowski in November 2009 and The Monastir Sink – Upper Cradle connected by Chris Jewell and Kozlowski earlier this year.
The joined Monastir Sink -Upper Cradle – Marble Arch – Prod's Pot – Cascade System constitutes second the longest cave in Ireland with over 11km of passages
Pavel Cesnak, Artur Kozlowski
The plan of the Sunday trip was to reinvestigate the downstream sections of Upper Cradle Hole, including a sump and a boulder choke to find the connection with John Thomas' Cave and consequently, as it was hoped to be achieved later this year, to the Lower Cradle Hole in Marble Arch System. The sump, called Mike's Bath was investigated by Martyn Farr in 70's and found to be completely blocked by boulders at depth of -2.4m.
I dived the sump first, secretly hoping that he had missed something but I surfaced after few minutes embarrassed that I had doubted him. He hadn't missed anything. The Mike's Bath was blocked as a f***. I swam across the pool and climbed a muddy slope with a boulder and clay choke at the end. Hanging over my head were some car size boulders – there might be the way towards John Thomas through that choke but any attempt to dig it would be an act of pure lunacy. We were done here. A bitter and slow retreat from the cave began. Nothing significant was forthcoming. Not wishing to occupy my mind with that section of the cave in the future we were checking every square meter on our way out. Just for a peace of mind that we hadn't missed anything.
And then, somewhere 15m from the exit and on the left side of the streamway I spotted a space among the boulders leading 1.5m down to some possibly deeper water. It was tight so I removed all my diving gear including harness and squeezed through, still with some difficulty. At the bottom the water was only a meter deep but to my left a small passage continued eastwards as a canal (Dio's Way, in memory of Ronnie James Dio who lost his battle with a cancer on that day, RIP) of unknown depth. It proved to be disappointingly shallow but through the crack in rock to my left some larger chamber was visible. I free dived under the rock and emerged in 3x3m and 2m high pool chamber with one potential lead underwater. I found a different way out from the chamber through another bit of canal and another chamber, both with some possible phreas underneath.
With total three potential spots to investigate underwater I called Pavel to pass the diving gear to me and I watched the loose gravel falling into the water from the boulder-composed roof as he walked somewhere over my head. Eerie.
He passed my set up - a full 3l cylinder and a 7l with 120B in it - and I chose the spot in the bottom of the canal, only because it had a convenient primary tie off point just above.
Mask seal check, breathing apparatus check, all fine , off I go, feet first down through a diver size shaft. Walls feel solid - solid enough, I try not to over think things – just continue. There's almost no squeezing, it's an incredibly easy going descent and after few metres I have to slow down as the walls move away and I enter some bigger submerged chamber. With no walls to cling to and no fins I recheck my buoyancy: I'm nicely weighted ( 1.5kg for my 7mm wetsuit) and I can almost control it solely by breathing so I drop down to the bottom at -8m without any hesitation. Visibility's around 60cm. Must do.
Here's another surprise: the bottom is a flat solid rock, only some smaller boulders here and there. I belay to one of them. Almost an obvious , water worn passage gradually lures me deeper and further. I 'feel' I'm moving north.
At 20m mark on my line I check my air reserves - 80B in 7l. I decide to play it safe and not to touch the 3l – things around look pretty solid but I keep reminding myself that I'm diving directly underneath the biggest rock collapse in Fermanagh, the Cradle Hole. That makes you want to play safe...
I find some fist size piece of rock, make a quick belay and cut off the line. I look at my depth gauge: -12.5m! This is also the initial depth in John Thomas' Cave sump and I know straight away it can hardly be a coincidence... yes, this is the right spot; this is it. One of these days when after months of disappointments all the loose ends suddenly meet up in the most unexpected fashion... I know where I'll be this time tomorrow – back to Upper Cradle. I'm back to the surface after whole 8 minutes.
At night I can't sleep. I'm slagging myself for not pushing it hard enough... Have I really stopped in an open passage or I stopped just because the way on became less obvious or even closed down? Suddenly I can't remember...then I try to excuse my self that I had to be cautious and conservative with air management in case of some obstructions on the way out etc. etc. Of course there's always a danger that you become excessively prudent (can you? ) and paranoid about all that little voices inside of your head and that in consequence you lose the edge that you need for finding new stuff...
But from all the voices in my head I usually go for fear. The fear is good. The fear will keep you alive.
And why is it going north? Just right underneath the Cradle Hole? That can't be good, actually it worries me the most.
To get to Dio's Way on Monday we used an alternative, slightly more convenient route that Pavel located a day before. Once under the water I dropped to the bottom of the shaft and instead of pushing my northern lead I made a junction on the line and tried to find some westward branch that I hoped would lead towards John Thomas'. After much fumbling around that revealed only some blind alcoves I ended up in the same spot as yesterday.
I must stop here for a moment as what I did in a first place on Monday was actually very significant and perhaps explains why for last 30+ years the cave divers including myself couldn't find the way from Lower Cradle. I think it's simply because we never believed there was a direct passable connection with Upper Cradle; we all assumed that it must be all collapsed and the only route would be via John Thomas'... And here I am with a passage wide open and going straight to Lower Cradle but I'm still denying its existence and trying to find the way to John Thomas instead!
Run out of other options I attach 160m reel to the end of my yesterday's line and venture into a black space ahead. Thrilling. The width of the passage must be in excess of 5m, so I just cling to the floor that gradually moves away: soon I'm at -16m! Same depth as at the end of Lower Cradle Sump! I turn slightly north west navigating more by intuition than anything else.
If I have any doubts left about the direction I'm going, by the time I pass through the narrow section of the passage where the scallop-covered walls were only a 1.5m away from each other, all the doubts disappear. I recognise the spot, it IS the Lower Cradle sump! Still, the view of my own line from Lower Cradle comes as a surprise. I laid that line in February this year and made that belay hastily while holding my breath with all three cylinders valves closed (they all free-flown in 2deg fresh water). I connect the lines and return to the Upper Cradle after 29 minutes. Total length of line laid: 85m.