Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Mossdale Sessions 63 - 66

Mossdale Session 63

Wed 11th July 2018

(Simon Beck)

'Better late than never?'

See rough survey at foot of page for reference to land marks

Another late night with little sleep. My own fault!
Weather was still good so again there was no excusing myself.
Carrying the drill, an absolute necessity today, was well deserved punishment.
I'm at a critical stage and should at least be sticking with what I planned the day before.

Underground for just after 1pm.

I was absolutely steaming before getting underground, conditions topside were merciless. Even the swims failed to cool me down fully.

Kept a good pace, but could feel my exhaustion as I entered the awkward entry of Ouroborous.

Had a rethink about the scaffold I'd begun previously and came up with a far cleaner solution. No need for the base jack which I was hoping to keep in reserve for emergencies only.
A simple yet effective guard was formed out of three opposing poles, without losing any space for work.

It was rather fortuitous this chamber collapsed. I'd have wasted a lot of resources making this area safe if not.

Now the fun really began, using the drill amongst all that mud. Fortunately found a plastic bag in the daren drum for the drill, the one I thought I'd brought was back in my bag.
Would have struggled to keep the drill anywhere remotely close to clean and dry without something.

Used the Plugs/Feathers for the boulder splitting. Under the circumstance the alternative would have been awkward and un-necessary.
Made short work of the two largest boulders and even managed to shift a few without reducing them in size.
All the chunks were deposited in the cavity below the flutings (fluted cavity), entered previously. This was the easiest option and avoided the constricted exit to the Boulder Alley every time I removed a lump.
I would only end up undoing this laziness later down the line.

Didn't do much more after that, was buggered.
One must remain mindful of the exit, plus the hike back to the car. The latter of which can easily take 1 1/2 hours when tired.

Work definitely suffered today as a result of the late night!

The mud and overall working conditions at my present site are pretty horrendous. This area must be a frightening sight during times of flood, especially with the cascade like nature of this section. My excavations have definitely opened a clearer run for the flow than what existed before. Interested to see what results from the next big flood. Vigilance will be one thing exercised.

Trip duration: 3 hours 20mins

Mossdale Session 64

Sat 14th July

(Simon Beck)

'Tous les chats sont gris'

I should have been out in Manchester this weekend, but couldn't ignore the weather, which came good at the last minute. I missed a very rare event, but at the time felt I was too close to another possible breakthrough to be abandoning things for a crazy long weekend away.

The decision to alter my plans occurred after some deliberation and last minute, so didn't arrive at the Scar till early afternoon.
The late start mean't only a quick visit was planned, in preparation for the following day. I needed the drill to really make any headway, but lacked the drive to bring it that day. Plenty of little stuff to complete to speed things up for next time.

Continued clearing out what manageable boulders remained of the collapsed ceiling. Most were shifted well away back to the Boulder Alley. I was finally beginning to win back some space, though the working positions in the collapse chamber were pretty uncomfortable. Lying down was the most comfortable, but less optimal. Very sore compressed knee joints were the only alternative.

To the left of the letterbox now existed a vertical wall of boulders and mud, which extended back into the upper chamber (1.5m high). This would require shoring before any further work could be done. I'd heard this creaking a number of times and knew I couldn't risk cutting corners. There would definitely be some weight behind all that, under the right circumstances, plus the seepage to offer further flux.
A horizontal base jack was installed mid-way as a start.

Entry to the chamber beyond the letterbox looks doable without enlarging the gap. A lot more space in the floor will be gained with further excavation. The main culprit blocking access is a contorted flake of conglomerate which refuses to budge aside. Capping will be tricky but not impossible. The main difficulty will be drilling the holes at the angle it's in.
Hopefully I'll be through tomorrow.
This whole area appears to be a false floor (debris filled clefts between blocks) of unknown depth. Possibly a few metres, at least, from what I've exposed back in the Alley.

Tiring exit. Glad I pushed to get out.

Pity about Friends & Family and the wasted ticket. I've invested too much in this already to pass up exploiting each and every opportunity that comes my way, especially while I'm free and able.

Trip duration: 2 hrs 15 mins

Mossdale Session 65

Sun 15th July 2018

(Simon Beck)

'My best days do appear to come when I'm at my most unwilling'

Another late night, followed by another late start! My excuse? Trying to make up for not going out.

Still, I got up there and did what was intended!

This would be my 16th visit within a 24 day period.

Took some real motivating, during every step of the approach.
A constant battle with my alter ego, telling me, it was too late in the day, and the forecast was really bad in the west.

Underground sometime before 2pm.

There appeared little urgency once I'd left the surface. Took my time and relaxed into it. It would take as long as it took.

1st job, completed the basic retaining wall for the slope of fill to the left of the letterbox. Another simple yet effective solution was achieved, using only 3 poles, and tied in to the guard rail on the opposite side.

Split a few more boulders and excavated the floor of the letterbox some more. It no longer resembled a letterbox but more a portal. A portal to nowhere from the looks of it at that point.

The chamber beyond the portal was not as big as it had first appeared, and was looking more and more like a no go the closer I got that session.
No choice but to see it out. There is a possible way on at the opposite side and a good breeze.

Whichever way it goes in the present I can't really complain. I've made consistently efficient progress since opening up these extensions.

All that really stood in my way by that point was the contorted flake. Slightly more room and a better angle for leverage with the pinch bar and I managed to shift it round a little. Disaster followed when some of the ceiling in there then collapsed. Nothing I could do about it I reckoned. Better down now than later when I was in there.
Everything I've encountered so far in the 'Alley Cat Series' that's resided between the big blocks, has been teetering on the edge loose.

Tried repeatedly to cap the flake but had little success. Just couldn't get the right angle. I then ran out of the short supply of caps that remained.
The flake was having non of it that day!
Spent 10 minutes bashing the shit out of it with the lump hammer, which produced zilch!

Worked well past my limit that day. Kept discovering stuff I could do, so kept going.

Managed to clear out more loose which aided further lateral movement of the flake, but not enough to squeeze past, which I wouldn't have risked under the circumstances anyway. The flake would require another capping attempt next session. I'd aligned it so drilling the end was now easily feasible. Should be a piece of cake.
Looking ahead, it's a heavily fractured zone, could be a real battle proceeding in this direction. Chances are it will be written off next time.

After working well in to what felt like overtime, there eventually came a point when I knew I wouldn't be leaving with any further ground gained.

Packing away the drill is a messy bloody job.

Investigated another possibility while making my way out of the extensions. This was discovered during the initial breakthrough, to be saved as contingency should everything else fail. I doubt it's anything but will require work I can't justify presently to enter.

Slow plod out. Had a couple of power naps.

Dead calm prevailed throughout the active parts of the system.

Battered and bruised after that one! Good effort, keep it up!

Trip duration: 5 hours

Mossdale Session 66

Sun 22nd July 2018

(Simon Beck)

'There are times when you've gotta swallow your unease, be brave, and say fuck it!' 

A week since the previous session. The weather wasn't worth risking and I needed a break. Gave me a chance to write things up. Which never fails to drain the life out of me, leaving me wrecked!

In all I managed to write up 12 of the 20 session back log I'd acquired by that point. Just over 7200 words. But reached a point where I just couldn't face it any longer. Once momentum was lost I then failed repeatedly to restart till the day after this session. The essence tends to fade the longer you spend away from the place. Even detailed journal entries are powerless to help with this. But, sometimes it only takes one further visit to inspire me to continue with the writing side. Mostly I just want to get that side of things done with and out of the way, but not if it costs in quality, which is why I'm hesitant to rush it, and find it so fatiguing. 

Arrived at the scar 2pm. Underground for half past.

Dunlop welly's were almost falling off my feet so had to make do with a spare Arco safety pair for the day. What a huge mistake! Cursed em the entire trip! Not sure how I ever managed with steel toe cap wellies before I saw sense nearly a decade in to my caving.
Felt very clumsy. Slip sliding about all over the bloody place!

Certainly reaffirmed how amazing those Dunlop Acuforts are, best caving footwear I've ever used!

Water levels appeared to have risen a little at the Beach Head Marker.

Feels like more than a week since last here. It wasn't till writing this one up in the journal, I realised it actually hadn't been longer.

I was as prepared as I could be for the cold muddy conditions.
I'm slowly evolving to these. More in mind than body. Which I have little choice in, considering I'm still dressed the same.

Good start. Dealt with the flake quickly and reduced it to a few, still large, but manageable pieces. 

A further collection of boulders, of varying rock types, were then removed. Most, had been part of the collapse, caused by my moving the flake. These had appeared to come from the false floor below the upper boulder chamber. This area could now be seen to be partially hollow.
Another big flake was dealt with and quickly split. I suspected this was from the upper dirt pot grit bed, the one I'd presumably broken through. The rock was made up of very pale clasts and dense with quartz crystals(?).

I now had enough room to enter and inspect the chamber I'd dubbed 'Little Shop of Horrors'.
A base jack and rail were installed in the chamber reaching back to the shoring, and lightly pressed up against the boulder bridge above. Nothing bomb proof but enough to give me a fighting chance should the shit rain down on me.

The 'Little Shop of Horrors' was a definite end to that route. I'd concluded this several sessions ago really, but had to see it through to be sure.
A blind continuation existed on the far side and a gaping hole of fault breccia(?) in the floor.
Dozens of different rock types existed, all scrambled together, within this small area. The epicentre or main plain of the fracture zone maybe? At least one of the rock types was limestone, plus many others, I did not recognise from the beds above.

Looking to the left I couldn't help feel what I'd concluded was bedrock, to be just that, and not a part of the main fracture zone, which dips down steeply to where I'm presently situated.
I decided there and then to pursue the fluted cavity a little further before seeking an alternative..

The block which made up the right side of the letterbox looked similar to the pale clastic rock I'd handled earlier, but I then noticed how heavily adorned it was with beautiful fossils. So assume it's Limestone.
Will try get a picture of this next time I get the chance.

It's surprising what you miss when your eyes are mostly focused on the dangers. There will be so many clues I've missed.

I felt no disappointment at that, and removed the base jack and rail from the shop of horrors.

Shifted attention immediately back to the fluted section and began to decant what shit I'd dumped in there back to the Little Shop of Horrors, which was now prime landfill.

The fact is, I hadn't really given this feature (fluted cavity) that thorough an inspection the one time I did.
I also had far more room to work, now, and felt far safer, unlike that early tentative nosey.

Entering the cavity below the flutings was a real challenge before, and achieved from above, I could now come at it from lower down, below the level of the overhang.
At that point it was still too tight without a little work.
A boulder that bulged out from the shored wall had it's nose removed, and some was removed from the opposite block.
It now felt comfortably passable. Though, thinking back, it was actually bloody desperate!

Had to clear the route towards the pot as I squirmed my way along. I can't be certain about the depth of the pot from memory, so won't guess, with no obvious way on. I knew not to assume anything from this and deemed the floor to be false. A joint clogged with fill appeared to extend underneath me.

Backed out and put an end to any further work for the day. Will return to this first next time.

Digging a few trial holes downwards will probably be a wise move next as well.

Need to take my mind off what I'm presently doing and look at the big picture as well. Take notes, root about for clues and hope a bone is thrown my way, especially if all the other avenues fail to catch.

Slow packing up.

Even though little has been mentioned of them since the beginning, the Arco boots received continuous verbal abuse throughout the entire session. I almost ditched them in favour of wetsuit socks just to make a point.

Felt far longer than what the watch suggested when I reached the surface. The intensity of the work, and the isolation, do lend these sessions a far loftier duration.

Trip duration: 4 1/2 hours 

© Simon Beck, 2018. The copyright for this article and photographs, remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.


  1. Thanks for the sketches. Nick .

  2. Very much enjoying reading your blog and the photos and videos. I live in Hebden and have often walked or mountain biked up to Mossdale Scar and wondered about what lies behind it. Can't wait for the next instalment.