Depth through thought

OUCC News 18th May 1994

Volume 4, Number 22

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Many thanks to everyone who joined in OUCC's first practice rescue last weekend: Steve, Alex, John, James, Chris, Chris, Urs, Will, especially Jim and Gavin for doing most of the organising, Brian Prewer of the MRO for the stretcher, and extra especially Sara for being such a good body.

Expedition News

"Get in the Back of the Van"
As many will realise there are lots of people who want to go to Spain, and want to do it cheaply, i.e. share transport costs. So we'll try and use DTT as a clearing house for people wanting lifts and those offering lifts.

Pete Gardner (27 driver) would like transport out to Spain on or about the 23rd July if anyone is contemplating driving out and would like or need a co-driver, Pete could be your man.

Sharon Curtis would like a travelling companion, or a lift around the 16th July.

If anyone else wants adding to the list, let me know.
Jim (thebusconductoresque)

Gear Order

Stuff from the Scout Shop and Bat Products is now in. If you want your stuff then get in touch with Gavin. 0865 59716 or 283603. The good news is that Bat Prods has given us a full %20 discount this time, so thanks JRat. Of course, you wont see the money - it'll come off your insurance bill.

Jabs So, have any of you gone to get your tetanus jabs yet? I have... Smug the MO

May 8th on Mendip

Goatchurch and Manor Farm

After making sure it was O.K. with the owner I clambered in. Once again I could feel that overpowering rush of excitement. As my heartbeat quickened, I rubbed my hands together anticipating a good trip. In no time at all Sara joined me and we set of down. Down to the Mendips. I was sitting in Sara's yellow convertible Triumph Spitfire. The sun was in the sky, summer was in the air, the caving gear was in the boot.

We pulled into the Hunter's for a leisurely lunch. "It's ALMOST too nice a day to go caving," I said. "Perhaps we could go for a WALK." Sara agreed so we cruised over to Burrington and strolled down the Coombe, looking ay cave entrances as we went. Peering into Goatchurch I could see a group of cavers had just gone down. "Come on, lets catch up with them." Crouching down, we slipped and stumbled as our eyes adjusted. I eventually made out several men with a video camera. "Whatever happens don't say we're O.U.C.C. " I whispered, with horror. To my right was Andy Sparrow. The video, "Cave Safe." We quietly made our way out and continued our walk.

Easing myself once again into the passenger seat, the car purred over to Charterhouse. "Whoa, stop, I'm sure that was Tim that just drove past." It was. Tim and Tony had decided to join us so we (grade one) changed and laddered down the entrance pitch. Singing and joking as we went, we squeezed down the short September Rift, bypassed the pitch by taking a route round to the left and continued down the roomy, sloping stream passage. The cave is well decorated with calcite deposits all the way down to the large NHASA Gallery. At the bottom of "Nasha" we pottered about in dug passages before ending up a-seated in the darkness. We talked for over half-an-hour in the toal blackness, passing chocolate bars, constructing new and innovative poetry and marvelling at Tony's ability to -without fail- locate my privates by sonar. Sara then led us out to the pitch where we again turned our lights out. Tony and I succeeded in scrapping our way out of the cave without light, (up September Rift) leaving Tim to say to a much confused Sara "do you want to go out?"

The cave is definitely worth a visit, especially in wettish weather. Shame about the odd bits of sewage still down there but Tim thinks he's located the source. Thanks a lot Sara, a totally excellent car (sorry, day). And the Best was Yet to Come. Read on.

Swildon's Hole

I can but offer three quotes.
1) "before starting for a walk in the cave it is necessary to consider the temperature in the cave is constant ie. 10{C indepentently of the seasons. The visitors have to be aware of this in respect of dressing". from Guide book to Palvolgy-cave (Budapest)
2)"Bonding" Captain Flash-heart
3)"......who dare Look down into the Chasme, and keep his Hair From lifting off his Hat, either has none, Or for more Modish curls, casheers his own..." C.Cotton 17thC

Perhaps you had to be there.
The Only Over The Top Caver (Tootsie)

Mendip 13th-15th May A Grand Day Out

What finer way to spend a Friday afternoon, load up the car with caving goodies, pick up Sara and stop of at Sainsbury's for food. Fish in a spicy tomato sauce? Red or white wine?? Pink! We tootled down the motorway, stopped of at Pinelea for the key to Tynning's Barrow, unloaded the car at the MNRC then headed to Twinnings Teabag.

We had very pleasant trip to the bottom of the cave, turning back at the very uninviting dig at the bottom (this was not due to any lack of persistence on our part, but at a depth of 430 feet, the need for Chablis and pasta becomes more prevalent than any desire to grovel around in a very wet dig). So we headed out via White Dog, Dragon Chamber and Sheep's Jaw. I had fun with the belay at the top of Sheep's Jaw; place a rock across the rift, wrap the wire around it, and sit on it. As I couldn't find anyone to sit on the rock for my descent, I just stuffed all my courage into my ears and slid down the double rope very gingerly.

As we exited the sun was setting over Wavering Down. Arriving back at the MNRC we cooked up the tortellini, served it up with artichokes and washed it down with Chablis, then Mount Hurtle. Et In Arcadia.

So once again it falls to me to sing the praises of Twinnings Teabag, one of the nicest of the Mendip caves, some fine dip and joint controlled passage, and undoubtedly the best passage names going. go and do it, you'll have fun.
Jim Ramsden

Body in Cuckoo Cleeves

As far as I know, OUCC has never done a practice rescue before. Having been involved in a real one recently myself (the Daren entrance crawl) it seemed to me that a bit more experience of the cock-ups and challenges might be prudent before we found ourselves hauling a stretcher out of the bottom of the deepest cave in the world this summer. So I dumped Sara at the bottom of Cuckoo Cleeves on Saturday 14th May, and waited.

Jim and James arrived in the first wave carrying first aid kits, and attempted to diagnose the body's (soryy, Sara's) injury. They tolerated my stream of unhelpful abuse and advice well, and diagnosed broken arm and knee. I was sensibly escorted from the cave as soon as the second wave (with stabilising gear) and third wave (stretcher) arrived. It took about an hour to splint the body (sorry, Sara), and secure it (sorry, her) into first the dragsheet for an awkward squeeze, and then the stretcher for the long haul out. Ropes arrived, and complicated rigs were fashioned for hauling up the first steep section. Haul on the stretcher, always lifeline to the harness in addition. Through the rifts, and insufficient room to carry either side. So, much over-the-back tortoising.

All the while, the body (Sara) groaned each time we twisted its (oh sod it) legs or bashed it elbow. God its hard work. Up the main canyon was a toigh decision, and Chris sensibly decided to take a safe (if awkward) route. Jim spent much time underneath the stretcher. There were several difficulties ahead by the time we had been going four hours (and the body was allowed, nay, demanded, a brief walkabout). Several organisational problems had emerged, and solutions were adapting themselves. Not enough planning of each section. Sections were best tackled when one person took charge of solving the logistics (where to belay from, haul from, deviate the drag; how to get the right number of people in the right place, and how to get them past the body). All the time, the poor body was being treated a bit just like that. Boots piling past the face, rock walls looming at frightening pace, flurries of contrary commands, and anonymous "you all right then?"s. And this body wasn't even really injured. The entrance pitch was a bit of a shambles, and rescuers were themselves being put at risk by some of the hauls, but in the end we basically did it. Five and half hours for 15 minutes of cave. Next time it might paradise, God forbid.

Later at the Nutters and Ravers excellent food appeared and wine, Vodka, beer and meths (for all I know) were consumed copiously. Walls were climbed, ludicrous ladder squeezes were pushed, and bones were bruised. Somewhere along the line I went to sleep I think, before more food arrived, and tea. Tea and plans. Plans to go caving. I wasn't really feeling up to plans. Just tea. But I went down Eastwater nonetheless.

Team Eastwater Clusterfuck (Tim, Alex, John, Phil, Chris D) eventually bounced into hootsome form as tacklebags won several rounds between Soho and the Blackwall tunnel. I rigged Lolly Pot in the stream, Alex stood on my head in the rift above Gladman's Pitch (good one on the ladders Alex), and John's light didn't. But we scooted out. Scooted, that is, until the entrance ruckle, where, just 8 metres from daylight, Phil and John got lost. Strange how such an excellent trip is so rarely on the club agenda.... Route finding perhaps.
Tim Guilford

Mexico 1994

The Full Story...

I went on a caving expedition to Mexico. Whereabouts? you might ask. A place called Cuetzalan. This is difficult enough to find even on a road map of Mexico; suffice it to say it's about a five hour bus trip from Mexico City, more or less due East. The first half of the bus trip crosses a high dusty plain - the last section is through mountainous greenery as one drops to the coast. Cuetzalan is in these hills. It's a village about the size of Kidlington, though with rather more picturesque natives..

The cave systems near Cuetzalan ("near" meaning less than an hour's walk from the middle of the village) have been described as "One of the finest and most going systems in the world". What this means is that though the caves have been explored to some extent, the maps made of them so far (covering about 35km of passage), all have question marks at the far ends - in three of the cave systems at least, this means that the exploration was left, due to shortage of time on the last expedition, in passages you could drive a bus through. That is assuming you could get a bus down the entrances. The caves have very large streams running through them. The situation when we went out this year was that four caves were obviously converging - like the fingers of a spread hand with the entrances at the tips - with the water next seen, all in one big river, roughly at your wrist. (Your hand is about 15km long for this purpose). All the area corresponding to the palm of your hand was unknown territory. Our aim was to make the links - working either downstream or upstream.

Even though the caves are warm - warm enough to raise quite a lot of sweat if you are wearing "standard Mexico gear" of thin Helly Hansen top and running trousers, the water is in places deep enough to force swimming. You can get cold in the water too - surveying takes time if you have to tread water while doing it. Buoyancy is needed; hence a wetsuit was worn for some trips. You get really seriously hot. I got seriously hot anyway. I'm not as fit as most NCC cavers. They really race through caves; I was puffing and panting quite a lot (nothing new here, you may say).

My last trip on the expedition (for reasons that will become obvious), was down the San Andres system. The "going" end of this cave was about 10km in. The previous trip had found 2km of superb passage in one push - the best result to date on the expedition. The end was now only about 1.5 - 2km from the "wrist", and already one big stream had joined from a side passage. This was probably water from San Miguel (a cave, not a beer) and "ChiChi" - a cave I had down three trips down; a very pretty cave indeed (apart from the shit floating down some bits of the streamway)

We had a reasonable chance of making the connection on our trip, if the cave continued in the same style - long swims in canal passage (walls about 3m apart, roof anything from 3m up to totally invisible), with walking passage and short climbs and scrambles in between. The end of the cave was in a big chamber where you had to scramble up a big heap of boulders to a high region where we planned to camp. We would spend one day getting to camp, one day pushing and surveying, and the third day coming out.

It took us about nine very tiring hours to get to the camp - though the end of the cave is easy, the first five hours are very hard work. About an hour is spent making slow progress through a boulder choke - fishing line marks the way through the holes between the rocks, along, up down and wriggling through the gaps (with a big tacklebag). This is followed by a long section where you are at least on top of the rocks, but boulder hopping when the boulders are the size of mini-metros, loosely stacked, with the more than occasional view down to the stream 60 or 70 feet below, can be hard work. In the wetsuit, I was fairly steaming. I nearly collapsed at one point; so did Chas. Drinking water is scarce as the main stream is a sewer.

The new bit was superb- some of the best cave I've been in. I wish I has photos of the line of five bright lights swimming down the dead straight canal, but I won't forget it. The boulder climb up to the camp area was nasty, covered in slippery mud. The campsite was a bit squalid, but many cave camps are. I piled up some sand (well, dry mud) to make a sleeping platform, we heated up some of the stew we'd carried down, and went to sleep. Well, went to shiver, toss and turn in a rather damp sleeping bag. The cave stopped feeling warm, and I started feeling cold.

We set off the next "day" to the end, and beyond. Only two hundred metres further on, the cave ended in a massive and impenetrable wall of boulders, with the stream flowing into its base. We tried crawling through it, up and over it, beneath it - no go at all. We went back a bit, to see if climbs might lead to a route over the top. No way. So much for our hopes of walking out of the other end...

At this time, on the surface, black clouds had given way to a colossal thunderstorm. The streets of the village were under a foot of water in a few minutes (since most on them are on a 1 in 5 slope, this is rather impressive). The storm lasted an hour. While we were mucking about in the stream at the boulder choke, a tidal wave of water was sweeping down the cave, filling it completely.

We knew nothing of this. Feeling disappointed, we unknowingly walked away from the experience of being forced through the boulder choke like meat through a mincer, and went to have a look at the big inlet passage, to see if that would go. We swam up it for a maybe a hundred metres, till we were stopped by an unclimbable water fall. We decided to go back to camp. make a cup of tea and decide what to do.

About ten minutes after we left the inlet, I was at camp. I went to fetch some water, and found myself wandering down an un-noticed and unexplored passage. I was drawn on by the roar of water at the end. The route ended after 250m at a drop of about six feet down into a river passage. The stream in it was deep, brown, and so powerful that anyone getting into it would have been immediately swept away. "Hmm", I thought, "a new stream! I must tell the others!". It didn't occur to me that the cave was flooding. We all came back to look at the stream. It had risen six or eight feet in about twenty minutes. We realised this was probably the stream that fed the big inlet. If we had been there ten minutes longer we would have had a brief but exciting chance to learn to surf.

We went back to camp. There wasn't much else we could do. The stream near camp had come up twenty feet and was rising. Every half hour or so Pete would go down and report the new levels. After about two hours, it stopped coming up, and we realised the flood pulse had passed. We weren't going to die. We cooked the rest of the stew and I produced a Sigg bottle full of Bacardi. We sat around eating happily as the noise of the stream got quieter.

Suddenly the noise of the stream stopped altogether. Pete went to have a look again. We were surrounded by a huge deep lake. The storm had passed, but the water was still coming in. Our stream had responded quickly to the rain - up and then down in a couple of hours. The much bigger stream in the big inlet was still coming up, and the water was backing up from the boulder choke. Our lives depended on how long the flood pulse in the inlet stream would last. The lake was about 30 feet below camp, and coming up at a foot every five minutes.

I have never seen a camp packed away so fast. I grabbed my sleeping bag, wetsuit and the food, and scrabbled my way up a climb that I would normally regard as impossible. Four of us were perched astride a rock 20 feet above camp. Pete stayed by the water. The water kept coming up at the same pace. All I could think was "I don't want to die", while I kept blacking out and jerking myself back awake. Mud fell off our perch to land with a plop in the water now only a short distance below. We all did the same calculation - at this rate we had about an hour before we were swimming, and then maybe an hour before we hit the roof.

Pete was now sitting on the edge of the campsite. The water was a few feet below. "I think it's slowing down"....."Yes it's definitely slowing down"..."It's stopped". The water stopped about six inches below camp level. Not only did we get away with our lives, but we had a dry place to sleep while the cave emptied itself around us with loud gloops and gurglings.

We got up at 4.30 the next morning, to get out before another afternoon thunderstorm might hit. All of the cave, apart from the very entrance, two high level sections of a few tens of metres, and the camp, had flooded to the roof. The swimming passage was only just passable - the current was strong and the water level was about 3 feet higher. Stalactite curtains that had been admired on the way in were now barriers in the stream that had to be ducked around. Climbs in the streamway were very hard work. A ladder pitch in the stream way had to be swum to, and the first few rungs done by arm-strength alone swinging into a colossal waterfall. Once we were out of the swims, after about 3 hours, we were pretty sure we were going to get out.

At two in the afternoon, we emerged into daylight to a warm sunny day. Hands were shaken and photographs taken of "the survivors". We cut a happy, but fairly bedraggled picture, as we walked back past the afternoon market crowds in Cuetzalan. The streets were dry and hot. There was no trace of the flood at all.
Steve Roberts 14/5/94

Library Notes

Now the library has a home again, I am trying to chase up gaps left since it was boxed up back in 1991. I have gone through the OUCC and Expedition log books in the library.

The following are, or may be, missing. Can you help ? Dec. 83 - Sept. 84 OUCC log; March 90 - Nov. 91 OUCC log. Both of these are long gone, but you never know.... 1990 Exp. - Ario Log, Underground camp log (if there was one); 1991 Exp. - Underground camp log (if there was one); 1992 Exp. - Base Camp log 1993 Exp. - all log books

I haven't yet checked expedition prospectuses and reports, but please check around if you have any "spare" copies. If expedition leaders or secretaries have any organisational ephemera, I have a box for it! Any original survey notes, and the graph paper surveys - please also let me have them.
Steve Roberts