Depth through thought

OUCC News 16th December 1992

Volume 2, number 3

DTT Volumes 1 & 2  index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page


A visit to Belgium: Last week-end inspired me to think it might be feasible to do a short club trip to the caves of the Ardennes. Impressive resurgences issuing from wide, arching entrances. We (Jenny, Tim & brother Pete) furtled about in some muddy passages at a redirected sink, which also had an impressive overflow stream in it. It all looked quite exciting and this by chance with no guide book to make sensible choices with. Anyway, below read Jenny's report of the cave we did manage to visit, if a little unorthodoxly. Anyone fancy going there?

Letters and things

Sexist C & C: Sir, did you ever carefully look at the Book Reviews Column Header in recent issues of C & C ? Surely not. If you do, you'll find one of the books has "CAVERS' WIVES IN THE NUDE" on its back. This is terribly sexist and out of place. Firstly, as everybody knows, MOST cavers deserving to be called "cavers" can be spotted in the nude out on Leck Fell in a howling blizzard from time to time, be they male, female, married or not, girlfriend or boyfriend. Secondly, there are a great many female cavers who, caving-wise, outright outclass their husbands... So, let's ask for equal rights - even in C & C !!
Sincerely, The Anti-Sexist Raver. (actually Gerhard)

A poem

There once was a fellow called Dave
who kept a dead whore in a cave
He said "I'll admit
I'm a bit of a shit
but think of the money I save."

This is neither tasteful, or particularly witty, but I have found my book of Limericks again, and this is the only one with "cave" in it.

(The editor notes the strange juxtaposition of these two contributions, and puts it down to the Club's inherently rich cultural diversity, or something)

New Year

The Red Van (incidentally now famously mentioned in the latest C & C) will be driving to Yorkshire on Boxing Day afternoon. If you would like a lift up please let Gavin know. If you would like to send any gear up in the van please leave it in the hut clearly labelled.

Caving in the Ardennes

You can't spend three days in Belgium without having a quick poke around in the Ardennes, the caving region of this otherwise geographically uninspiring country. Our caving was pathetically unplanned. We had no guide books, no caving gear (except hand torches) and officially not even any caves. We started off going to the Grottes d'Han, a show cave that is famous for its size (big, unlike Dallimore's, also famous for its size) and underground water system. Unfortunately everything to do with the cave: shops, ticket office, museum, etc, was closed down, so we drove on another 10 miles to the Grotte de Rochforte. This was also firmly closed... although not so firmly as the tour guide company would have liked.

A search of likely surface features revealed a wooded shakehole with concrete steps leading down to the cave entrance. This was gated with a rusty iron grille, and there seemed to be no way through. The padlock was unpickable (we tried). The grille covered the whole entrance and there was no way of squeezing or digging our way around the edges. However, one of the iron bars of the grille was slightly wobbly. It had almost rusted through, and with a little gentle persuasion, broke off completely, leaving a gap just big enough for Tim and Jenny to squeeze through.

Snooping round the cave was really eerie, a bit like being in a ghost town. Everything was set up for tourists; steps, handrails, huge spotlights, and even litter bins and garden chairs in places. Following the footpath we came to a couple of massive chambers and several areas with big, dirty formations (nothing special if you've seen what Daren, or even Cuthberts has to offer). We also found the lower entrance, completely closed off by a metal door. The deepest areas of the cave were sumped, and seeing the steps and handrails disappearing under water was strange. Perhaps that's why guided tours weren't running.

After squeezing out and delicately balancing the iron bar back in place, we headed back to the Grotte d'Han to try out our new-found talent for breaking-and-entering. This time less successful. Tourists get taken to the cave entrance in a tram, wander through the cave, then come out in a boat where the river resurges. We walked along the tram lines in the darkness for half a mile, came to a locked gate which we slithered under and carried on to the entrance. Sadly it was unpenetrable: a metal door with a small flashing light next to it which we feared might have been a security system, so we didn't even try. We had to be content with looking at the resurgence in the dark. Next time I visit the Ardennes I will equip myself with guide books and caving gear and sod the show caves which are unpredictably closed, I'll go down a proper cave.

Swildon's Hole

North West Stream Passage

We (Jim, Tony and Sean) set of down to the Mendips with the idea of exploring some of the outliers of Swildon's Hole. Our initial plan had been to take a couple of sets of diving gear and explore Southeast Inlets beyond the Sidcot U tube. After various umming and arring we found we had a change of plan and we were heading of to look at North-West Stream Passage. The passage leads of from Vicarage Passage, a few feet before Vicarage Pot, low crawling lead through Wet Ears Squeeze, past a couple of holes in the floor to a pitch. We decided to ignore the obvious belay for a while and played about with the idea of trailing the ladder belay over various loose boulders in the floor. Having finally found a combination of boulders that didn't rock when I kicked or jumped on them, we deployed The Seddon down between the boulders in a tight rift.

As the rift widened Tony's full weight came on the ladder and the boulders started to roll. Up. All Tony had to do was climb back up the rift without loading the ladder. Having finally achieved this we decided to stop ignoring the nice chunky Rake and rigged the ladder down the pitch away from the bouldery rift. This dropped into a spacious chamber with a trickle coming down a groove in one wall, and a slippery route hack under the pitch into the down stream continuation. The passage was a wonderful scalloped streamway, reminiscent of Wilf Taylor's Passage finally ending in a sump/dig. Just back up from the sump/dig aside tube dropped into a pool which appeared to sit below the level of the streamway. Having inserted bits of Tony into the pool we found it to be a sump. We then used a much larger object to displace the water (Jim) and after a bit of baling it became clear that a judicious dig and siphoning operation would get us into what felt like open passage beyond.

Having abandoned all hope of getting Tony into the down stream sump we left the bottles back at the pitch and somewhat unnecessarily climbed up the groove and out above the upstream passage. This was a wide muddy ledge above the stream trench with a really nice inlet and aven on the left. At a sharp left hand bend in the streamway we dropped back into the water and continued up more really great scalloped streamway. The upstream end of the streamway is a couple of very steep tubes to static pools. The passage above the streamway passed under an aven complex, then quickly closed down to a tight muddy swim through gloopy mud full of sharp corroded calcite grit. After 200 feet of abrasion the crawl broke out into a sloping chamber with inlet passage; this was followed to an aven. All in all the North-West Stream Passage gives some very fine caving with some potentially very interesting sites. Expect a return visit soon.

Book Review

The Darkness Beckons

The second edition of Martyn Farr's book on the history and development of cave diving won the Tratman Award this year, a prize of £50, with which he could afford to buy two copies of the book and a small round of beers. I was a bit sceptical of it at first, thinking it would just make a rather colourful addition to my caving library (and it does have same lovely colour pictures, in addition to a good supply of black and whites) or something to leave lying around to impress visitors. But actually, I read virtually all of it. It's highly informative, often quite gripping, always sobering, and not badly written (though it seemed a bit hurried in the very final sections of international exploration). The section diagrams really bring the stories to life (if that isn't an oxymoron) and with the copious extracts from the diaries of those involved you sometimes almost feel you might have been there (though it's usually an enormous relief to know you weren't). The section on Britain and Eire is the strongest, not surprisingly, and there are good accounts of the US, France, and the Nullarbor plain in Australia. Of course there are tales of death, most shocking of which is the account of Peter Verhusel's tragedy in South Africa in 1984. But this isn't glorified, quite rightly, and the overriding impression is of the effort that has, particularly in the last 15 years, gone in to making the endeavour as safe as feasible despite its pioneering nature. Farr does go a little over the top at times with his rather macho "D-Day" language but essentially he has succeeded in writing an enticing yet responsible book: it really is worth reading.