The Downstream Sump by Ian Cummins

Fossil Pot: Ian Cummins, Denis Bushell, Jane Kulkova, Simon Beck, Duncan Smith (CDG/BPC) and Steve Warren, Maud, Steve Woods, Chris Camm, Joe Parsons (18 Oct 2014).
This dive had been on my mind for several years, with my imagination fired by the sketchy details of an intersection with collapsed mine deads at the lower end of the sump, described by Brian Judd about 15 years ago – fascinating stuff- and I decided to see what the digging potential would be. Looking at the WRPC survey, the sump was described as only 30m, although information from various sources including Richard Bendall suggested that Brian had not found the dive to be particularly pleasant. Simon also found some info describing a tight bedding adding his own thoughts that due to the large mud banks we had seen above the sump on previous visits, the dive would be a silty struggle.
The Fossil Pot team setting off over the hill (Photo – Steve Warren)
The horizontal distance from entrance to sump is not far at all, but none of the progress is easy, being up and down through various obstacles, including the ‘Pie Muncher’ squeeze/bend that saw off Duncan unfortunately, although the remaining team ferried the 2 bottles and 3 bags to the sump very efficiently.  I had only brought 1 bit of rope to haul/lifeline and 2x 10m and 2x 5m ladders, forgetting any hangers, although fortunately we found the latter to be in-situ. Steve Warren also gave us a bit of tat from his van for emergencies – you’ll get it back soon Steve – thanks.
Fossil Pot got its name from the numerous fossils in the walls of the entrance shaft (Photo – Jane Kulkova).

The entrance needs 1x 10m ladder, the boulder climb (which can be free-climbed and has a fixed rope to ascend) was rigged by Denis using another 10m ladder that was pulled up for the final 15m pitch down to the Master Cave.

Another old fossil in Fossil Pot (Photo – Jane Kulkova).

In the Master Cave near the sump there was not much of a flow of water, although the sticky mud banks were much in evidence, with great lumps of the stuff clinging to ones boots on the approach.  I had brought fins, but one look at the apparent dimension of the sump led me to decide to dive without them or gloves – a good decision.

Simon kitted me up very efficiently and I dropped down the 2m or so to where the dive line was re-belayed in the floor, surprisingly finding no further line in evidence and returned back to the surface.  Simon had brought a line reel, but on his and Denis’ advice I returned and dug deep in the mud to find the line to be buried about 6’’ deep in solid, clogging mud.  With this achieved I tried to enter the low bedding and found that I couldn’t get my head in due to the muck.  Reversing, I pushed my feet in and felt for a bit of space, hoping it would improve, managing to enter for a few metres, flat-out, all the time digging up a few more feet of line, kicking at the mud, cradling my bottles back and feeling with my feet for any space at the sides to turn around to make more conventional progress.

Simon and Denis help Ian get ready for a rather fruitless dive in the downstream sump (Photo – Steve Warren)

With zero visibility, my helmet up against the roof and my face flat in the muck, feet up against big banks of the stuff, it was time to get out, with my emergence from the murk prompting ‘the man formerly known as dangerous, now a bit more sensible Denis’ to advise me not to go back in.  Good call – and I began to de-kit, aided by Simon.

We had a good chain going to pass the gear through the obstacles and I dropped the ladder down the boulder climb to free-climb down as the last man out, finding it took me a few minutes to remember where to descend, where one has to bridge out above the void upon sliding down a wedged boulder.

Arriving at the bottom of the entrance pitch I could hear Simon complaining about being unable to open the entrance lid. I didn’t find out whether Cammy was stood on it, or had decided to replace the blocks on it, thinking we were out and had neglected to do so.  Thankfully, Joe saved us a lot of work by allowing us to pile into the back of his pick-up, dangling off the tailgate for the ride back to Yarnbury.

Analysing the situation, it is possible that further falls of deads at the downstream end of the sump have made the silting worse and a return in high water levels may allow murky, although less-congested going.  Whatever the case, it won’t be easy.
Thanks to all for helping to carry the gear and making it a fine day out.
This Article Was Published Originally in The White Rose Pothole Club Newsletter, Vol 33(4), December 2014, and titled ‘Fossil Pot Downstream Sump by Ian Cummins’