Inside the Frozen Deep: Mail on Sunday man is first to be pictured in Britain's biggest cave recently discovered below Cheddar Gorge
Journalist David Rose descends hundreds of feet below ground into the Frozen Deep at Cheddar Gorge, SomersetExplorers smash through boulders to find previously undiscovered chamberIt features country's longest stalactite column which stands at 20ft tall
22:43 GMT, 29 December 2012
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Spot me if you can: David Rose's silhouette can be seen at the back of the recently discovered Frozen Deep chamber beneath Somerset's Cheddar Gorge. The white 20ft stalactite on the left is the largest in Britain
Quite a feat: David Rose in the breakthrough dig in Reservoir Hole Cave, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset.
Beyond this tight section of passage, explorers found the Frozen Deep Chamber
The Frozen Deep is at the far end of a cave system known as Reservoir Hole. It has been explored by cavers since 1951, but no one had ventured beyond an apparently impenetrable rockfall at the end of its main tunnel, which is called the Grand Gallery.
However, a strong draught blowing from the cracks between the boulders suggested that if a way through could somehow be found, there must be more open cavern.
In early 2008, Dr Pete Glanvill, 61, a retired GP and a doyen of the local caving scene, put a team together to take up the challenge.
Armed with hammers, crowbars, drills, explosives and a large quantity of scaffolding, the team probed various blind alleys in search of the elusive chamber.
Finally they began to push at the right spot. With a series of successive breakthroughs starting earlier this year, they reached the end of a squirm they dubbed Hard Times to became the first humans to enter Resurrection, a massive open rift.
Seen from the side: A graphic shows the journey taken to the Frozen Deep
The Frozen Deep – which could be accessed from a passage 30ft above the floor – was by now just around the corner.
week Glanvill happened to be on holiday. ‘They waited for me to get
back before they went down into the chamber,’ he said. ‘I thought that
was pretty decent of them.’
It takes a little time to appreciate just how big this chamber is.
get from one end to the other takes close to ten minutes, in part
because one has to follow a circuitous route laid between strips of
fluorescent tape in order to avoid damaging the unique crystals and
cracked mud floors.
floor area is almost 32,291 square feet – big enough to fit in about six
of the naves of nearby Wells Cathedral. Measured by volume, The
Frozen Deep is almost 1,412 million cubic feet, against the cathedral’s
388,000 cubic feet.
discovery may not be the end of Reservoir Hole’s secrets. At the lowest
part of the chamber, a small stream flows down a muddy passage that the
team called Dingley Dell and into a pit, where the roof dips beneath
the water’s surface.
Vast: Explorers believe the cave could turn out to be even bigger as they think it is linked to other known underground chambers
Preliminary dives have established that the passage continues underwater, and appears to join a much bigger tunnel. At this point, Reservoir Hole is very close to Cheddar’s ‘lost river’ – the massive borehole bearing the River Yeo, a major underground watercourse that emerges at the bottom of the gorge.
In the Nineties, cave divers explored it for more than half a mile, but eventually reached a blockage. ‘The hope now is to get back to the river upstream of that point via Reservoir Hole,’ said team member Martin Grass, 57.
If that happens, perhaps in the next few weeks, it may well be possible to find links with some of the other already-known underground chambers and caves on top of the Mendip Hills, some of them miles away.
Potentially, The Frozen Deep may turn out to be just a part of one of the greatest cave systems in Europe.