Mistletoe Pot, 27/12/21
Cavers: Chris Scaife, Diane Arthurs, Simon Cornhill
I think this rates as the discovery of the 2020s so far for Matienzo. Si and Di had spent part of Boxing Day digging out the entrance and were through to the head of a pitch, which they estimated as 30m deep. We went along with bolting kit and a few bags of rope to see what it did.
The entrance is still quite loose, but the pitch that follows is all down solid rock. Via two rebelays, it’s probably about 30m or so. That landed in quite a big rift, so we took our SRT kits off ready to survey the walking passage. Not far along this rift we found another big drop, so had to descend that. Straight ahead in the rift closed down. Si rigged a traverse around a corner, allowing a fairly open descent of 30m ish again. There were a few loose bits on the traverse, but we all survived intact.
At the bottom of the second pitch, we found some subfossils – snail shells, a few fragments of a long bone from something quite big, and what I think was a shrew’s mandible. The cave completely changed in character at this point. Between the surface and this chamber there had been one or two small stalactites, but otherwise bare walls. From this point the walls were covered in popcorn and there were big stals all over the place.
The passage quickly closed down in both directions and the only possible lead was an uninspiring hole in the floor, with a weak draught heading in. I thought it would be a surprise if the cave continued. Well, sometimes caves surprise us.
Down this hole led into a few metres that felt like it would just end at a choke, but then there was a narrow rift down and Si said he was at the top of a tight pitch, which he thought was probably too tight, but seemed to open out lower down. With an effort he descended the pitch and after a quick look around at the bottom, he shouted to us to join him. Ah, now we have to go through the tight pitch.
It was the sort of squeeze that, had it been horizontal, I would definitely have taken off my SRT kit for. With a little manoeuvring I made it through, then had the horrible realisation I would soon have to do that again without the aid of gravity. Di popped through with ease. Boy, was it worth it.
We hadn’t brought enough bolts to descend the big, open pitch below us (it felt like the top of the big pitch in Bar Pot) so we traversed across popcorn into a passage on the opposite side. This was glorious walking passage, with a sandy floor and big formations. There is a good lead in here that will need bolting upwards. With 176m of brand new stuff surveyed, the sands of time were slipping away and I was due to eat in Pablo’s at 9pm.
The return journey was quicker than I expected – the tight pitch probably easier on the way up, because there’s a good foothold just below the squeeze – until a big boulder moved in the entrance whilst Di was at the bottom of the first pitch. Stabilising things took a while and then Di was able to experience the exhilaration of ascending a pitch when both people above her were telling her to be as fast as possible and she’d probably be fine.
Cavers: Chris Scaife, Carolina Smith de la Fuente, Oscar Scaife
We walked over the old bridge, past the Bakers Bar and up the TV mast road to this easy, child-friendly cave. It’s a few hundred metres of walking passage with the typical big stals you find in Matienzo caves. A lovely day out, and Oscar’s first proper caving trip.
Mistletoe Pot, 29/12/21
Cavers: Chris Scaife, Diane Arthurs, Simon Cornhill
Si and Di had spent the previous day looking at other nearby holes and had then put some scaffolding inside the entrance to stabilise things, so the first pitch felt safe this time. We shot down and went straight to the good lead that needed bolting upwards. Nada.
Next we returned to the big open pitch we had left undescended. This one was wide all the way down, but not as deep as it had looked – only about 12m. We found another pitch immediately below it though, which was fairly narrow at the top, then had a good ledge for a rebelay and dropped into spacious walking passage. This really felt like something special, but soon choked.
On the way out, we looked at a squeeze directly under the tight pitch. Di had already looked in and said it went for a few metres, so needed surveying. I went in front through the squeeze, soon entering a standing height rift. The rock was totally different in here, more like Weardale limestone than typical Matienzo stuff. There were some rocks at the end that were easy enough to move, and this opened up a letterbox squeeze into big walking passage, which led to a well-decorated chamber and another pitch. It was quite loose at the top, so we descended one at a time. There was no way on at the bottom – we had explored the whole cave. A total length of 275m – much more new stuff than I was expecting from my two days of caving.
As if to emphasise that mobile network providers are evil and don’t care if we live or die, on exiting I sent Carol a text to say we were still alive. That message didn’t go through for ages, but while I was waiting for it to send, I received one from Don saying that a few years ago I had spoken to him about the episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee in which Jerry Seinfeld speaks to Michael Richards, and Don wanted to know what I had particularly enjoyed about it. Priorities innit.
Good stuff, very jealous of course!