Frakes Passage, on route to Aquamole, KMS - Ben Wright

Saturday, 8 December, 2012

Frakes Passage - Kingsdale Master System
Ben Wright (Supported by Kev Francis and Adam Spilliane)

I decided to visit Frakes Passage in KMS - which is upstream from Rowten Pot, about half way towards Aquamole and involves diving through 6 sumps of lengths ranging from 1.5m to 45m. I had the mad idea a while ago of trying the Aquamole to Valley Entrance throughtrip, so this was a recce to see what the first few sumps were like. I decided that to make things a little safer (and to allow me to head onto Aquamole if I decided to) I would take plenty of air - so the 3 of us headed into Valley Entrance with 4 cylinders (3 232bar 3ls and a 207bar 2l) and all the assorted gubbins divers like to take with them. The idea was to dive through the Rowten sumps with all 4 cylinders, then dump the 2l there for the return journey and continue with the 3 3l bottles.

We made quick progress to the roof tunnel pitch, which we lowered the gear down, and headed upstream in KMS to the master junction, and right into Rowten Passage. We then dropped into the water to follow the mostly chest deep wading passage to the Rowten Sumps, passing Mud River Passage (and the connecting crawl) on the right. Once there I kitted up, which took some time, considering how much kit I had with me, and told other others I'd be back within the hour.Last time I was at the bottom of Rowten I'd noticed that the first upstream sump was unlined, so I also brought 15m of 4mm line to sort this (coiled around an old water bottle as I didn't have a reel big enough :p). I dived through the familiar Rowten Sumps (1.5m, 5m and 9m, separated with fairly large airbells) in fairly good vis, saying hello to a few fish on the way.

Once I got to Rowten I removed the 2l bottle, then noticed I'd left the line with the others in Rowten Passage. Bugger. So back through the Rowten Sumps I went to retreave it (glad I'd brought plenty of air). Once sorted and back through, I tied the new line onto the obvious bolt and dived through the first 5m upstream sump, gathering in the old line (which I found floating half way through) as I went. I surfaced in a large airbell and tied the line onto the obvious bolt, bundling the old line up ready to be removed on my way out. I then followed the canal passage (with about a foot of airspace) under a few low arches to the next 15m sump. I dived through this sump (which I really dont remember, so must of been fairly trivial) to a small airbell with about 6 inches of airspace in deep water. I was a little nervous about the next sump, being 45m long, however I put this out of my mind and ploughed on.

The sump started as a low bedding plane, which pinched in at one point about 5m in, I backed out a little and tried again further to the right and managed to wriggle through, carefully keeping a hold of the line. I followed the fairly large sump for around 40m until it surfaced in Frakes passage. The sump had a horrible silty muddy floor, so although the visability was an exceptable 1m on the way in I knew it would probably be zero on the way out, which made me a little nervous. Frakes passage itself was awesome - a lovely large phreatic passage half filled with water, with many fine straws and curtains in the roof - all pristine white - showing that this was a place rarely visited. I followed the passage upstream for around 200m, dumping one of my 3l cylinders on a sandbank on route, passing a low inlet on the right hand side. Eventually the roof lowered and left about 10cm of airspace, so I followed this all the way to the Aquamole diveline. At this point I still had 2 3l cylinders with about 210bar in each, however I decided I was far enough away from home to call it a day and turn around, with the thoughts of the bad vis in the 45m sump and the fact I'd now been gone quite a while. Although I would of liked to of got further, I feel this was the correct decision at the time and dont regret it.

The way out was in the end fine, I swopped to one of the fuller bottles for the 45m sump, and luckily the vis had cleared somewhat so I could see where I was going and enjoy it. I did get a little worried at the pinch point though, but ended up getting through fine with only a little bit of underwater swearing. Back through the 15m sump, along the canal passage, picking up the waterbottle line reel and cutting off the old dive line and through to Rowten. Almost home now, I picked up the staged 2l bottle and dived through the almost pleasant and familiar Rowten Sumps, to emerge back in Rowten Passage to the others. I'd been gone for over 45 mins since I'd originally left them - a proper adventure.

The carry out was fairly hard work, as I'd been in the water for a long time and was very cold, but we quickly made it out into the mist of Kingsdale to head back to the BPC and get warm. Thanks to Kev and Adam for the help carrying and the debt will be paid in beer! 

Next time I plan on taking a couple of 7s (probably less of a clusterfuck than the 4 cylinder arrangement this time) and heading all the way through to Aquamole, before attempting the Throughtrip. I should probably join the CDG if I'm gonna continue with this sillyness!

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For those who are interested, here's a description of the original exploration from ULSA review 1:

The Rowten Streamway
Some years ago the passage upstream of the terminal sump in Rowten was forced fro 150 - 200'
through 3 ducks to a sump proper. In December, 1966, Bill Frakes and John Ogden dived the sump. A
large air-bell was found 60' in and after a total dive of 150 - 200' in a bedding plane 3 - 5' high and of
unknown width the divers reached an air-free stream passage. Initially this passage was only 3' high,
but at least 40' wide. The roof gradually lifted and after crawling for 200' the divers walked up a
passage 5 - 10' high and 15 - 20' wide. The stream flowed knee deep between banks of mud, and the
passage itself was extremely well decorated with stalactites and straws. The only 'obstacles' were the
frequent small cascades along the streamway.

One inlet passage was found, on the right. This carries a fairly substantial stream and began as a
comfortable hands and knees crawl through silt, degenerated into a flat-out crawl and ended after 100'.
The main passage continued as a 20' wide, chest deep canal for a further 300', then the airspace became
minimal. At this point the divers returned to base.

In January 1967 John Ogden, Bill Frakes and Pete Livesey paid a further visit to Rowten II. Pete
Livesey dived 230' beyond the previous limit of exploration, reaching a depth of 10 - 15'. The
underwater passage was very big throughout but no significant airspace was found. Rowten II was
surveyed on the way out and totalled some 600 - 800' of air-free passage.