MONASTIR SINK - UPPER CRADLE CONNECTED
I'm very pleased to announce that another important connection in Great Marble Arch System has been made, ending an exploration saga that started in 1958 when M. Boon free dived short 0.5m long sumped section at the upstream end of Upper Cradle Hole to a bigger sump chamber (look here Discovery of Northern Way for some historical background and our previous exploration)
Divers: Chris Jewell, Artur Kozlowski
After an epic previous day trip to Shannon Cave we needed a solid rest so we didn’t arrive to the Monastir Cliff untill the early evening. The weather was dry but the Aghinrawn River was still above its average level. We reached the second sump in no time and then Chris went off.
He returned after over 40 min reporting a lot of flood debris blockage in the passage, mostly tree branches and twigs (in many places the passage is near body size so even 20cm twig could prevent a further progress or endanger a return). He spent most of the time clearing the route and by the time he reached the end of his line from 2009 in a tight ascending rift he hit the thirds and had to come back. The way on seemed to be tight but possible, up the ascending rift.
From my last dive in 2009 I remembered the possible way on as some awkward horizontal slot at the chest level so I was relieved that Chris apparently found something less committing.
( Here's last year report: Monastir Cliff Sink )
However, when I got to the end of the line and tried to ascend further along the rift, the way on closed down and it was impossible to move any further. It was one of the possibilities we took into a consideration that at some stage the way on might be too small for a diver to pass although we hoped it would never happen.
I descended 20-30cm and noticed that all the flow was disappearing in a horizontal, diver size opening at my chest level, the same I spotted last year. It wasn’t as desperate as I had remembered it and actually seemed to be an obvious way on (as it turned out later Chris couldn’t spot it because he entered the rift with his face turned south, and there was no room up there to turn around). Nevertheless it was still very awkward as the following passage was turning at very sharp 150 degree angle and with two big cylinders (7l and 5l) it required some body flexibility. A following section was quite spacious, 50x50cm but after 2m ended in another vertical rift. Once in it I thought I could hear the sound of my bubbles surfacing and adrenaline kicked in my bloodstream. This time I managed to ascend 2-3m to a depth of -5m before the rift became too tight again. At the same time the flow in this rift increased alarmingly, it was obvious some major tributary joined in and I started having second thoughts as I was moving downstream. I was still in control so decision to continue was taken. Following the flow the way on was located half way the rift: a short horizontal section followed by yet another short vertical ascending rift brought my to the mouth of well defined 1x1m tube at the depth of -3m. It was all very exciting and I swear I could almost feel a taste of the breakthrough on my tongue. The only problem now was the flow, which despite the fact that I entered the biggest passage in the sump so far now became freakishly strong and literally was sucking me into the cave. Not knowing what was laying ahead and not wanting to repeat Martyn Farr’s infamous adventure in Cong when he was pulled downstream by sheer force of water and only 6mm line and a sober , trimix powered mind saved his life, I used my both legs and one hand to lock my self in the passage and then I belayed and cut off the line at 10m mark (yes that’s exactly how much line I laid during that epic dive) The temptation to continue was huge but the risk seemed even higher. The return was uneventful except the fact that a cam band on my 7l came off leaving the cylinder dangling annoyingly. After minute or so of struggling one of the Steve Bogaert’s Mexican video went through my mind – the one on which the sidemounted diver pushed two alu80s in front of him having them clipped only by the chest D-rings. I instantly swung my 7l in front of me and with that self-contentment of a little boy who just discovered how to ride a bike on two wheels only I reached the dive base in no time. Shivering with cold and excitement, through my chattering teeth I told Chris a tale of gigantic passage and the monstrous flow I fought down there. And even though he must have known I was half confabulating he also got carried away by the enthusiasm and by the time we reached a car park at the top of the cliff the decision was already made: we were not going to the Aghinrawn the next day as we previously planned; we were going back to Monastir Cliff.
Divers: Chris Jewell, Artur Kozlowski
By Friday afternoon a flow in the Cladagh Rivere was much reduced and we knew that God gave us everything to finally forge that connection. There was no more excuses.
Chris dived first. Anticipating his long absence I embarked on digging in a promising NW trending rift choked with flood debris. After half an hour I got bored and looked around for something else to kil the time. There is an unreported aven in the second sump chamber which I climbed for about 6m and spotted a horizontal passage heading off another 2m above me. I was just preparing myself for some suicidal combination of acrobatic moves to reach it when I heard Chris’s bubbles and then his triumphant shouting when he surfaced back in the sump chamber. The lines have been joined... F*** the aven - I thought and made what was probably one of the fastest free climbing ascents in the history of Fermanagh caving...
From the end of my line from the previous day Chris enjoyed the spacious tunnel for no more than 1m until it finished in yet another ascending rift partially blocked with loose rocks. After moving them aside Chris squeezed through an awkward bending part to emerge in a little bit more roomy horizontal passage. There he came across a loose bit of blue polypropylene line. The excitement must have been unbearable at that point but he continued laying his own line – the old one was quite loose and battered and it wasn’t clear if that was the main Sump 3a line or just some odd bit washed in by the current. In fact at that point but without knowing it, he has already established the connection, reaching the furthest point (65m) I got in 2009 from Upper Cradle 3. Ahead there was a limestone pillar dividing the passage in two (the left route being in fact a blind alcove and the way on leading to the right, through a diver size rock window. Once through the window the flow was reduced substantially and the visibility dropped. Chris entered a large shallow rift with a bit of an airspace (compare my report from 15.04.2009, Towards Monastir Cliff) where a proper belay on the old line confirmed that it WAS the 3a sump main line. He joined his line in, tied a connection knot and removed a surplus of the old line on his return to the dive base.
Having almost full cylinders I decided to attempt a through trip to confirm a continuous line connection with Upper Cradle 3. First 50m is an obvious no fins job however further on the width and the hight of of the submerged passage increases substantially and movement without them can be tricky. The most dangerous part is a squeeze 15m before Upper Cradle 3, at the bottom of a very steep and unstable cobble slope. It seems like it can go down any time which would trap a diver in a very tight spot. It needs some work before another go.
For various, rather complicated reasons the 110m long link has been christened The Lovely Girl Connection and linked together Monastir Sink, Pollbwee, Compass Pot, Bruce’s Pot, Upper Cradle 1-3, Northern Way, Mastodon and Pollsillagh in a single cave system of the estimated length of 2.5km.