Slaughter Stream Cave (to Three Deserts extensions)

17 July 2013

Posted by
Matt Ewles

We last visited Slaughter Stream (wet sink) in 2010, doing the classic main streamway trip to Kuwait Passage.

This time we were keen to explore the North Western branch of the cave, to The Three Deserts extensions and back via Coal Seam and the main streamway. The following trip report/description may be useful to anyone wanting a navigation guide for this trip (although I can't claim to have remembered every junction so take a second).

It was sweltering heat this weekend, and around 27 degrees when we parked up at the spot suggested in Selected Caves. This is easy to find. Head North East out of Berry Hill/Christchurch on Bicknor Street. The road descends to the bottom of a valley and then ascends up, passing houses on the left. The parking spot is a tiny grass verge, on the right only 20m past the last house on the left, by a gate into a field on a public footpath. Two small cars just fit here on somewhat of a camber. The cave is approached across the field past the telegraph pole and then over the stile into the woods. Heading right along a vague track through the trees reaches the depression of Wet Sink after only 20-30m.

The entrance to Wet Sink is a marvellous piece of engineering, involving several fixed ladders down the original choked shaft. From the bottom a brief thrutch reaches the final ladder. From the bottom of this ladder, a slope down reaches the head of the pitch, which is broken by a ledge 4m down and a chamber 10m down. This can be rigged with ladders, but we found rope to be much easier, and a 40m rope is ample for the entire pitch, with a standing-up rebelay at the chamber. There are several P-hangers to choose from throughout. From the bottom of the pitch the passage degenerated into a low cobbled crawl which thankfully doesn’t last too long before opening out into the impressive main streamway passage.

The classic trip is downstream, but we headed upstream, following the water. The passage soon gets smaller, and I vaguely remember taking a right hand branch into a crawl in a narrow low streamway, before opening out in dramatic style to the sound of crashing water coming down a huge aven. The water cascade can be easily climbed up for quite some height to eventually reach the dry passages above (our description detailed a completely different route, possibly going left at the fork back down in the streamway but our route was fun, but might be a little hazardous in wet weather). Going right and following the obvious passage (past bones) for some distance, ignoring turn-offs eventually reaches The Chunnel, which is obvious because it is a large mostly straight passage, several metres wide and high. Half way along The Chunnel is the low route going off under the left hand wall to Coal Seam passage (our return route for later) but for now we were planning to head straight on to the far north western extremes of the cave.

Near the end of The Chunnel, a right turn was easily recognisable as sloping down into the first of the Three Deserts. This is quite a monotonous, dry, sandy and very hot long passage (DO NOT wear PVC oversuit as YOU WILL MELT). The first several minutes were mostly hands and knees or easy flat out crawling, but it then opened up a bit and it was a mixture of stooping and crawling until we reached an obvious chamber with two very obvious divergent ways on. Our description said left to a dogs grave, which didn’t seem too appealing. Talking to the key warden later though apparently this is actually worth a look. Instead we went right into what seemed like a very long stretch of passage, mostly spacious and varying between walking, stooping and crawling, but generally good size. We were beginning to wonder if this was the mythical huge passages our description told us of (the biggest in the cave apparently) and we were wondering whether the units on our description were wrong and they meant feet instead of metres on their passage dimensions.

But sure enough, eventually we got to a section where a slope up blocks ahead led up into what seemed to be a new passage (following the existing one soon closed down). In the new passage, left closed down very soon, but right led into much bigger and extremely impressive passages, all walking over boulders and easy pleasant stomping. It was like being in Ogof Draenen!!!

This passage twisted and turned and remained of superb impressive proportions for about ten minutes before reaching the terminal dig and a huge calcite flow. Gary decided to have a nosey up the ladder as there was in in-situ belay line, but it went up to a tight tube and didn’t look too nice. The key warden tells us that this dig has been archived!

The return trip was magnificent and we were actually back at The Chunnel before we knew it, seeming much quicker than the inward journey.

We took the crawl (now on the right at floor level 100m back along The Chunnel, easy to miss). This leads for several metres into a medium size chamber full of boulders but with no immediately obvious way on. The route is a small slither down through boulders, to reach another boulder chamber, this time with an obvious passage leading off (which I don’t think goes far). The way on is not along this passage, but slither down through boulders again and into a lower passage which doesn’t initially look too promising but soon enlarges. This is Coal Seam Passage. This starts as crawling and stooping but soon enlarges to good walking proportions and takes a good 10-15 minutes of uneventful caving with no junctions. Eventually, the 1m drop out of Coal Seam into the sump 1 bypass is reached, with a right and left option. Right heads down to join the streamway downstream of sump 1. Left is the way out, and after a bit of easy stomping in dry passage the streamway is regained. We took great pleasure in throwing ourselves in up to our waists to cool off here, as this was the first hint of moisture we had seen for over two hours! Upstream, a junction is reached with two similar looking routes going off. I had no idea, so guessed (correctly) at left. Only another 5 minutes of walking mostly in the streamway and we were back at the start where the entrance series joined the streamway (don’t miss this or you might go round again).

Coming out was like exiting into some kind of tropical rainforest with a wall of heat and scorching sunshine waiting. A cold beer was very much needed. A superb trip!

For anyone wanting a longer trip, do the trip as we did, but go right after coal seam passage to follow the impressive downstream passage all the way to the terminal sump and Kuwait Passage which goes off from there. I’d guess this would make for a total trip time of around six hours. Our trip was just short of four hours at a gentle pace.