Depth through thought

OUCC News 24th February 1993

Volume 3, number 6

DTT volume 3 index

DTT main index

OUCC Home page


Wales was again the focus of OUCC caving activity this weekend, with surveying and further exploration in the Carno extensions, and a trip to Daren. Yet again, we failed to make it to Derbyshire. In this week's "special issue" of DTT, John Wilcock kicks off our own debate on Dowsing for Caves with an interesting article on how he does it, and how he thinks it might work. Particularly interesting is his idea that beer drinking can enhance the reaction...

This is probably the time to thank the outgoing committee for their efforts over the last year, since by this time tomorrow we'll have a new crop.


Fenella is leaving I'm leaving Oxford sometime after the 5th March, Probably the 11th, but maybe sooner. Please don't use my email address after the 4th March. I should have an email address in Bristol but I've no idea what it is. If anyone needs to contact me for anything my address will be:
15 Ravenswood Road,
tel: 0272 732452
This will almost definitely be a permanent address (for 6 months)
Fenella Brown

A lap full of granite: climbing the central Tower of Paine Noel Craine will be giving a slide show on his recent climbing exploits in Patagonia on Thursday 4th March, New College Lecture Room 6, 8pm. £3 on the door, includes tea and biscuits

Caving News

BCC finds in Carno Adit

Last week, members of the Brymawr Caving Club descended a 25ft pot at the end of the extension they recently broke into heading West of the first ladder pitch. First reports suggest they discovered between 500 and 1000m of new passage, bring the passage discovered in Carno in a week to well over a kilometre. So, congratulations to them. However, my prediction that this find would mean no-one bothering to head East anymore may be proved wrong. It sounds like the passage is an extremely muddy overflow, and so far really not very nice even by Carno standards.
Tim Guilford

Seven go silly in Carno Frenzy

This is the kind of cave that makes you want to give up caving. Until you see the new bits. I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone, however demented, would go down the "old" cave for anything resembling pleasure. It's muddy, grovelly, muddy, strenuous, muddy, squalid, muddy and nasty. Oh, and MUDDY. The contortions needed when trying to share a piece of Jelly should be left in the imagination. Also, although I got used to reading the survey tape by: "scrape off the thick mud; wipe off the thin mud; lick the tape clean to see the numbers; find you've licked the wrong side; yum yum" process, I do seem to remember that it isn't normal. Still, why be normal, eh? The new stuff is great, really pretty, and what a lovely river...

Superb welcome in the WSG hut, great curry, wine, beer, Leroy crashed out on the kitchen floor, much singing and setting fire to things. After grovelling for hours on the way out (did I mention the mud?) and walking in a dead straight line for a mile, this is what you need.
Steve Roberts

Carno exploration update

Steve forgot to mention that we did actually achieve a few things in the Carno Littoral Zone last week end. Paul, Mark, Gavin, Chris, Steve, Tony and I completed the survey started by Gavin and Urs the previous Sunday. A pretty heroic effort, considering that one set of instruments didn't work. Gavin partially re-rigged Thrutching the Void with a looped safety line. A pretty heroic effort, considering that we managed to break the bolt driver, and Gavin had to go all the way to his C sump dig and back to get another. Tony and I bolted across the wall traverse above Tumbling Bay, and scrambled up into 30 metres or so of muddy phreas. Unfortunately this closed down, but the end is a dig with a good draught. I attempted a climb up into a strongly draughting aven, but it was just too much thrutch. So Tony started bolting across to another way up into a chimney. There is black space above, and we hope to be up (somewhere at least) on the next trip. The others furtled in the choke in NoWays chamber, but it seems a crowbar is now required.
Tim Guilford

Touristing in Daren

Last Sunday, Ali (ex-Harley roader) and I rented a car and drove over to South Wales for a pure pleasure trip down Daren. Ali hadn't done much caving before, just a couple of short trips down Swillies and Longwood, but she is fit and strong and game for anything, even a long-haul trip to St. David's sump and back. I was sure we would cope.

We got underground by midday and crawled our way through the entrance bit, which was remarkably dry. The trip was relatively efficient, except for me taking half an hour or so to find the start of Eglwys passage from the vast, featureless boulder-scape of the Big Chamber. Ali was dead impressed with the cave. She positively enjoyed the entrance crawl (on the way in), and was wowed by the Time Machine and the formations in Bonsai streamway, but was not so enthusiastic about the ladder.

In the end we didn't bother going all the way to the sump, but stopped at Hard Rock camp instead, because we didn't want to be desperately late out. (Ali had to finish moving her stuff out of Harley road that night, and get up for work at 9 next morning). Ali was considerably less impressed with the entrance crawl the second time round. Winding our way through the first half of the crawl on the way out, she exclaimed "It's just like a fairy grotto". By the time we'd reached the second half, knackered and much wetter, she was muttering about it not being ".... a fucking fairy grotto....."

Personally I like all of Daren (except Eglwys passage) and especially the entrance crawl, but I would never go so far as to say it was a fairy grotto. Not that I have ever been to a fairy grotto how would I know.
Jenny Vernon.

John Wilcock on Dowsing

Dowsing for caves: a scientific approach

As some of you will know from my antics in the Picos, I have a sensitive dowsing ability which has definitely located new caves and underground water courses, but I remain an agnostic about the precise mechanism involved. I would dearly like to prove that there is a scientific explanation for the effect, and to generate an acceptable theory. I have offered myself as guinea pig to be strapped with electrodes, EGG, EEG, skin conductivity detectors etc. but as yet have been unable to persuade a group of scientists and medical personnel to take this seriously. The experiments need to be conducted by a definite sceptic, who DOES NOT KNOW THE CORRECT ANSWERS (which could be passed on unconsciously), and there must be double blind technique, followed by statistical analysis. If any of you can help in this, I would be most interested in co-operating.

I believe the movement of the dowsing rods to be caused by an involuntary muscular reaction initiated by an electric, magnetic or electromagnetic field effect which is detected in the human body as a gradient by two glands in line with the spinal column: the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) and the adrenal gland (in the kidney region). Adrian Fray has suggested in Descent 110 (Feb/Mar 1993) that the field detected by dowsing is electrostatic in nature, and can be detected by a gold-leaf electrometer; if there is a region beneath the surface which is of different electrical properties than the surrounding ground, the electrostatic field is distorted, and this can be detected by the human body.

My own experiments are confined to limestone regions, and to the detection of hydrological systems and caves beneath featureless terrain. I have "Master Maps for all the caving regions of the UK, and I have also employed the technique in the Picos. Latterly I have used dowsing with a team of cave diggers, to determine the site for mechanical digging using a caterpillar-tracked Hymac digger, and we have proved that it is possible to locate and open a new cave within one day. A notable success for the dowsing/digging technique has been White Pit, a well-decorated set of passages immediately over the active route of Swildon's Hole on Mendip, currently undergoing very active exploration. About 100m of passages to a depth of about 35m have currently been found, and the main trend is towards Sandpit Hole, as predicted by the dowsing. There are strong draughts all over the cave. There are now several other such artificially-opened sites on Mendip (I was astounded at the speed of success of this technique; some cavers somehow feel that it is "cheating" or immoral - apparently they would prefer to spend several years hand-digging the clay and mud!). Chris Anderson has also reported to me, via the cavers bulletin board, a similar dowsing-followed-by-mechanical-digging exercise at Scott Hollow in Southern West Virginia.

Dowsers, being essentially self-taught, exhibit a wide variety of methods of working, and so I can only report on my own methods and observed reactions. I always see a positive reaction (wires cross) over a cave or flowing water, and a negative reaction (wires open) when crossing the boundary of the reaction going outwards, i.e. away from the centre-line of the cave passage. The width of the positive reaction can be 100m or more. The rule of thumb used by many dowsers is that the cave passage lies below the centre-line of the reaction, at a depth equal to half the total width of the reaction (this would agree with the known behaviour of electric and magnetic lines of force above an anomaly). The intensity of the reaction in my experience seems to be caused by the amount or speed of flowing water, for example strongly pumped water in large pipes at a water supply depot caused very strong reactions. I have observed what I call the "wild water" effect over underground rivers, a quite different reaction to the quiet and steady effect observed over large dry passages.

Correlations of dowsing results with a variety of man-made and geological features have been made, the actual features being unknown to the dowsers before the exercise, and the anomalies proved by later excavation. A reversed (negative) reaction has been observed over faults, and positive reactions over buried foundations, and filled trenches containing pipes, cables, etc. Many builders indeed use dowsing to locate lost service pipes, sewers, etc, before commencing operations. Accumulated water at the junction of a saturated sand layer and underlying clay has given a positive reaction. Significantly for the location of caves, brick culverts carrying streams and rivers under the streets and buildings of a town give strong positive reactions. This was demonstrated at the BCRA Conference in Bradford last September (1992), when those cavers who attended the practical workshop following my lecture "On the possible scientific justification of dowsing for the location of caves" detected such a stream flowing in a brick culvert, and followed it for over 1km to a building site where the surface stream and entry to the culvert were plain for all to see - proof enough?

It is important to realise that the dowsing reaction is a three dimensional effect, not just the plotting of a ribbon on a two-dimensional map. Thus dowsing within caves can detect passages or underground streams which cross below or even above the passage in which the dowser is currently walking.

I will conclude with the following opinions: a) The dowser is endowed with a subconscious cognitive faculty which results in unconscious muscular reaction, accompanied by a nervous sensation (described by different dowsers as tingling "like an electric shock", a chilly sensation, shivering, trembling, or an unpleasant sensation in the stomach), b) The mechanism for detection is possibly electric or magnetic in nature, since good insulation from the ground (rubber boots), good conductivity in the region of the kidneys (drinking beer!), and high skin conductivity (sweaty palms) all lead to enhanced reactions. The effect seems to be enhanced by fast walking, and seems to be removed by blindfolding (could sight be part of the unconscious positive feedback loop?) c) The detector sites in the human body seem, from shielding experiments, to be in the regions of the adrenal glands (above the kidneys) and pituitary or pineal glands (below and associated with the brain). d) What is required is the development of a general theory which will permit scientists to incorporate the mechanism into scientific knowledge, e) Meanwhile, the method should continue to be employed: it will ultimately be validated by its accuracy and practical value, rather than by theories and opinions. After all, the lack of a theory to explain gravity does not prevent our use of hydroelectricity, generated from gravitational potential energy; nor does the lack of a proper theory of magnetism prevent the use of magnetic fields in electric motors.
John Wilcock.