26 July 2013

Breaking rocks

The weather forecast showed rain. Rain and digging in a cave don't always go together.You don't want to be at the far end of a crawl when you suddenly notice the water is rising around you. Would I get my second chance at digging this week? The answer turned out to be yes.

We gathered at the usual place, pottered around a bit, extensively discussed the weather, ate a sandwich, and in the end managed to make a decision; two extra watery chaps would use the drought that was expected to end that evening to check out a well that led to a cavern. There were some cave divers interested in exploring this, but first it needed to be assessed if they would reasonably expected to be able to get in. And the water levels now would be at their lowest! The rest, which was then only three of us,would go in, see what the explosion last week had done, clear out the mess, and try a bit of rock-breaking elsewhere. I had been lured in by talk of demolition! And those who came later would join Matt.

Matt scurried off to check the effect of last week's detonation, and I followed Sparky, who was as good as his word, and took me to some hole that gave passage to a rift that so far didn't go anywhere. The idea was to enlarge the rift and dig the mud out of the silted-up bit further on. And I know what digging mud looks like, but now I would get to see rock breaking in action. And do it myself!

It turns out to go like this: you drill a hole in the rock, in such a way that you think you might profit from natural weaknesses. Then you push in two pea-sized cartridges. When they are in, you cover that part of the rock with some rubber mat or something of that kind, and stick a long pin through that, into the hole. If you then try to stand back, and whack the pin with a mallet, the cartridges detonate and you have created some more weakness in the rock. The rubber mat should protect you from flying bits of rock. Getting a chisel out then finishes the job.

Sparky demonstrated once. Then it was my turn! I wasn't much of a talent; the drill hole was so narrow I struggled to push the cartridges all the way in. But with Sparky's help they ended up in the right place. Time for whacking! Not easy, as we were in a confined space, and maneuvering your body in such a way that you are out of the way (in case the metal pin flies out!), can swing the mallet, and can see what you do is not easy. The last aspect was a challenge anyway; there were goggles present, but by the time I got to wear them, we had smeared them with mud so much I could barely see though. And ear muffs would have been nice, but there were none.

After the BANG I managed to chisel off a piece of rock I think was approximately 7x40x40 cm big. Not bad for a first try! Then it was Sparky's turn again, and then the drill was needed elsewhere. I got quite some climbing and crawling practice ferrying equipment around.

With the drill gone, Sparky proceeded to dig sticky mud from the far end of the rift. I tried to dump it all in the hole below us, but given that my only tool was a crowbar, that was a modest success. After having become one big lump of mud with the surroundings, the spade included, I chickened out. I had the feeling it was beer o'clock, anyway. Sparky willingly took my place, and suggested I'd check how the others were getting on. So I did! They were making progress on the other side. But were about done. I had been right, it was beer o'clock! So I called to Sparky and clambered out. When I reached the top of the rift I suddenly heard an unexpected voice; "careful with the ladder!". I looked at the ladder, which wasn't the same anymore as it had been when I clambered down, and looked up, where I saw an unexpectedly clean Gary. He must have come late, and replaced the ladder! I reflected for a bit on the difference between us, and was strengthened in my resolution to go and have a wash in the river. I was only infinitesimally less muddy than the previous time!

I had had a spiffing time. In a world where health and safety rule supreme, it is great to crawl down dodgy, filthy, narrow holes, and wield power tools, whack things, and blow things up in a dark and confined space. Next week again please?

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