Depth through thought
OUCC News 16th June 1993
Volume 3, number 15
|DTT volume 3 index
Following Sherry's call for songs (see below), Gavin dug out his Mendip songbook, and found the following verse, which seemed appropriate for us at the moment (from the Cerberus Speleological Society Hymn).
We hold committee meetings,
We talk and never cave,
We pass firm resolutions,
To show that we are brave.
We very often argue
But on one thing we agree:
If only they would have us,
We'd join the BEC.
Ok, Fancy a weekend basking in the sun in Derbyshire? The Cavers' Fair 93 is all set
for the weekend of 12 July. So If your not going to be in Spain that weekend and your not
going to any weddings (Graham's?) and you want to have a good time. Then come to the
Cavers' Fair. I'm going, if you're interested let me know ASAP.
The idea of a Yorks annual dinner is new to OUCC, but CUCC have had an alternative annual dinner in Yorks for many years. Our local Cambridge mole, Chris D, evidently thought we should try it too, and I'm very glad he did. Two things make this Dinner a really good thing: The first was the good food and hospitality of the Hill Inn, who did us an ace meal (all in with lots of wine and two starters for 15 quid), and the second was Southerscales cottage where we stayed.
Southerscales is within easy staggering distance of the Hill Inn, and is a great place. What it lacks in terms of drying rooms and other caving hut facilities it makes up for by being a bloody civilised place to stay. It has comfy rooms, a cosy kitchen (with coal burning stove) and a beautiful view. It was a great change from the increasingly soulless YSS. It does have its disadvantages; only one bathroom and loo, and no drying room. It costs 90 quid for a weekend so you need around 15 people to make it as cheap as the YSS, but for weekends in the summer, when plenty of people are coming to the Dales, I think it's one of the best places to stay.
As well as eating and drinking, we did some caving, and quite a bit of climbing and
walking as the weather was good enough to give us sunburn. In short, the dinner was
excellent, and so was the accommodation. Thanks to Chris for organising it all, we must do
After my heroic bubble through sumps 2 and 3 a few weeks ago, Tony persuaded me that to get a real taste of the cave diving experience I should really do sump 6. I suppose he turned out to be right, but what he didn't tell me about was sump 5. So, just in case he tries the same one on you, I thought it was my duty to tell you myself.
I had always imagined that diving would involve lugging ludicrous quantities of heavy, fragile, and above all awkward gear all the way to a scrofulous sump, a few panicky minutes grovelling in zero vis, then dragging it all out again (if you were lucky, that is). For "real" cave diving this is of course true, and worse. But a tourist trip into the nether reaches of Swildon's is not so tough. A single set of gear each can be carried not too awkwardly without porters at all: the bottle is simple attached to the belay belt. So, cheered up by the whole prospect, I set off to sump one. Actually, you feel a bit of a prat going through sump 1 wearing diving gear, and even sumps 2 and 3 are free-diveable. Sump 2 is a short series of pulls on the rope, and you pop up in a large double airbell, eerie and still. But there's nothing else to see, and you can't get out of the water, so, frankly, you'd have to be pretty mad to want to free-dive sump 2 even if it is easy.
You'd also have to be quite mad to want to free-dive sump 3. This is quite deep, and very silted up at the bottom. Horrible, but with 25 minutes of air I thought I could probably manage a technically free-diveable sump. Then you are into Swildon's 4, a truly classic piece of stream cave, and well worth a visit in its own right (via the entertaining blue pencil passage route which avoids all the sumps). Towards the end of 4 you pass under cowsh aven, strategically placed under the farm on Priddy Green, and dribbling shit. This all has to go somewhere of course, and as you flatten yourself into sump 4 and watch the myriad creepy crawlies flowing past your face it seems as if this is it. Again, sump 4 can be free-dived, and cannot really be bypassed. But if you plan on doing it, its best not to know of the existence of Wells disease.
Swildon's 5, and something is wrong. No storming stream passage. Ok. But something else. A vague smell. Take off your mask, and the vague smell has turned into a sordid pungence. In the vain hope of leaving all this shit behind at sump 4, you career down the passage in search of sump 5 and relief. But there, instead, is the quagmire from hell.
4 inches of airspace above 4 inches of water above two foot of cow shit. Not harmless, placid, dormant cow shit, but a whole understory of putrid, active, rotting putrescent fermentation. As Tony led into the passage (not really a sump at all), his pace slowed (rare, I know) limbs dragging in the mire. Vast emissions of methane bubbles heaved up around his ankles, giving the impression that he had blown an O ring, and filling the passage with unbreathability. The whole sluggish spectacle seemed to last for hours.
Then eventually, Swildon's 6, and some real cave again. We reached the sump, and Tony pointed out three lines. One, up into the dry(ish) bypass; the second into a small side sump that Tony has been pushing; the third, a thin diving line into sump 6. Psych up. Pester Tony with questions about passage shape, tangles in the line, is it likely to be silted up, can I turn round in the sump. Keep calm. Then, drop slowly into the cold sump, and dive keeping the line carefully away from the body. It didn't feel the same as the stout rope through the free-diveable sumps: fragile and tentative. Vis not too bad (a few inches, that is), then I reach the narrow bit at the bottom. I start to insert my body under an arch of rock, turning my head on one side. The light goes out. Ok. Switch to pilot. No amount of twiddling the switch manages to turn the light back on. Ok, I'm about to find out whether or not I can turn round. It works, slowly, cross the line over into the other hand, pass it under the body, then start heading back out. Soon I see Tony's light ahead, and feel his hand on the line. Of course, he can't see me, so assumes I must be backing out, and follows suit. It all goes smoothly, if in total darkness.
"What happened?" Light failure, I reply. So Tony twiddles the switch, and on comes the light. Oh dear. Tony diagnosed the problem immediately.
The light hadn't gone out at all: I had simply hit a silt bank. Of course, in trying to get the lamp back on I had turned it off, so that once the mud cleared off the front of the lens on the way back out the light was now off.
I dithered around the sump pool quite a lot, but Tony pointed out that the most important thing was that I hadn't panicked. I supposed that this was true, and tried again, but not until Tony had been through himself and checked that it wasn't too silted up. This time it went fine, and I paid far more attention to feeling the shape of the passage, and noticing things like silt banks. Quite exhilarating actually. Then into Swildon's 7 and 8, and some spectacular tall chambers and angular avens, big boulder piles, and a great feeling of relative remoteness. Then sump 9. Tony informed me that Sump 9 was a real sump. I see, I thought to myself, and cogitated the return journey through the...well whatever they were I had just come through.
5 or so hours after we entered we came out to a beautiful, tranquil evening, the smell
of fresh cut grass in the field, the lingering warm of sun in the dry stone wall where we
sat for a few minutes. An owl started in the wood.
There was a lot of singing going on in the minibus on the way back from Yorks this w/e, and several people expressed an interest in collecting together the lyrics from the songs we sing. So if you know any caving songs, or alternatively any other son that cavers like to sing, then please send me the lyrics, the name of the tune they are sung to (where appropriate), and if known, the origin of the song (e.g. Mendip, LUSS, mining song, etc).
If you would like a copy of the compiled song sheet, let me know and I'll send you one
when it's finished. Sending me stuff by email is fine (especially since it saves me typing
them in). If you're sending hardcopy, mail it to the Clarendon Lab, Parks Rd, Oxford, OX1
3PU, or bring it to me at a Weds meet. If you have the music for a song, send that too if
a) Plan to go down Carno with lots of gear, then b) Get completely drunk on Friday
night but don't worry, because c) It rained or something.