Ben and myself met in a layby near Eldon Quarry on a cold and wet Wednesday morning. The plan for today? A digging trip into Sidetrack Cave to expand his current dig and see what progress we can make.
The walk to the quarry edge was not very strenuous yet the descend into the quarry did involve some technical balancing from slippy cracked rocks which seemed to disintegrate as soon as you step on them.
We ventured along the terrace overlooking the misty quarry floor walking past Alsop Cave (currently blocked) towards the entrance of Sidetrack Cave… this is where Bens eyes lit up… I knew straight away this will be fun!
The first 62m were a flat out crawl in a passage which did not allow for any stops or short breaks to stretch the back. The first area to rest were the “Little and Large’s Airbells” both of which are around 89m into the cave.
We followed for a further 82m and reached “Litton Stroll” which was the first point I could actually stand up and stretch my back and have a breather. Ben shot straight off to the right hand side of the cave to show me what was there constantly reminding me “it’ll get much better!”.
I’ve seen fantastic arrangements of stalactites and stalagmites, incredible curtains which you could see the individual layers of and little pools which looked like forests. I was absolutely gobsmacked on how pristine these formations were and Ben said it’s because the initial crawl is very off putting.
Close to “Litton Stroll” we set up our base camp and started to head down towards Ben’s dig. Initially we had to shift a keg sized boulder which blocked the entrance into the little tube he is planning to excavate. After several attempts trying to spin it in several ways in order to loosen it and get it out we managed it and had our first break – mince pies included.
We spent a got three hours below ground swapping over and trying to clear as much sludge, boulders and clay like mud as possible. Whenever Ben went into the tube I was widening the entrance of the tube making entry and exit easier.
We continued our crawl out back into the open before ascending up the rope onto the quarry edge and walked back to our vehicles. Both of us caked in mud but obviously happy of what we managed to dig out. The initial tube only being enough to stick your feet into we managed to excavate approximately 3 meters which means you can now get your whole body into the passage.
This was my first experience in digging and certainly won’t be my last. The fact that you are entering passages no one has ever been before you is just breathtaking. This cave certainly will be on my favourite list as it’s pristine and so untouched. The formations are incredible and definitely worth a visit.