Depth through thought

OUCC News 18th December 1996

Volume 6, Number 26

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After a two week delay for which I humbly apologise DTT is back with a bumper Christmas issue. Inevitably its almost entirely about a little known cave in Wales, and, given the pace of things down there right now, many of you will have heard much of this already. But a recent e-mail from an old lag ("rumour has it the club has broken past the southern fault line: is this true?") suggests that its time you all knew what the club has been up to. So here it is.

Nobby's Corner

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and people are digging out their copies of Northern Caves 3 to decide what they are going to be doing immediately afterwards. That's because if you've any sense you'll be at Bull Pot Farm, hallowed caving hut of yore, for the annual OUCC extravaganza that is New Year In The Dales.

The van will leave Oxford on the 27th December, returning on the 2nd January, and people are welcome to come and go as they please. It will be crisp, clear, beautiful, we'll probably get snowed in on Easegill, and the caving will be fantastic as usual. Just bring your warmest woollies. Chris V has already procured 2 boxes of wine to be going on with, and is sending me a shopping list, so we'll eat and drink well, and the company is usually excellent with a good old lag turnout. Even Alex might turn up...

I fancy Top Sink - Pippikin, a Large Pot - New Rift exchange (!), a day on GG and a VERY gentle trip down Bull Pot of the Witches on New Year's Day, and I'm open to suggestions as to what to do on New Year's Eve. Underground/Overground? Pub/Farm? Fireworks? (Maarten?). At the very least, it will be drunken, debauched and very much THE place to be. You know it makes sense.

Out of the Blue

Having been champing at the bit somewhat over the last couple of weeks, it was a relief to be standing half naked in a gale at Pwll Du again. Steve, Dave L & I were possibly earlier into Draenen than we'd ever managed before, at 10-45. Of course everyone else in the world got their act together quicker still and the entrance series was full of people, but Steve managed to get us past them all with his customary charm.

We doffed our hats to the CSS surveyors at Fault Chambers and were soon at the Last Sandwich dig. I was most impressed by the U tube and inherent instabilities which had caused Steve such entertainment 2 weeks before. As for MS&D, well, even Dave started to enjoy himself after having muttered on about how boring the cave was right from the entrance. Out of the Blue was a knockout - a charming little stream meanders along between mudbanks, passing some gorgeous straws adorned with wacky helictites. We taped to the limit of JC, Tim & Pauline's survey, then surveyed the rest of their week old find.

At last, after 350 m, as promised we were into the new stuff. Of course we didn't find anything pretty but it was very nice streamway, except for the coal encrusted black crumbly slippery rocks which we kept stumbling over. It was going on for ever... but no, after 250 m it suddenly choked. The stream squirted out of a solid choke of large black cobbles, not a pretty sight. But a few metres further back there was a run in of loose sticky infill which makes easy digging.

After metaphorically cocking our leg on the choke, we headed back to MS&D and climbed up the side to look at the grotto beyond. The flat pool of pure white moonmilk is a surprise when you crawl up to it, but the helictite chandelier hanging above is an even lovelier treat. We briefly tried to make sense of the draught in the choke beyond, then headed back to meet Arthur Millet & Co. surveying MS&D. Not only did we make it to the Lamb & Fox before closing time, with a supreme effort of willpower we left before 11 & motored back to Oxford.
Chris Densham

Edges of the Known Universe

After Gavin & Charles Bailey's spectacular find on Sunday, OUCC can now claim to have been involved in all the points of the compass of Ogof Draenen. That is, we have found the furthest points North, East, West, and now finally South. Not too bad for a university club that isn't even allowed to set foot down the road in OFD in Michaelmas term!
Chris Densham

An Epic of Sorts

Thursday 12th saw a youth team (Nobby, Alison and Will) and token lag (JC) visit Draenen with the aim of tying up a few loose ends and the hope of digging through at the end of Yellow Van Passage. In the event the loose ends took some time and we had so much fun pushing a couple fruitless but proper caving leads (an awkward dig and a beast of a squeeze), that all thoughts of the second streamway were soon forgotten.

The trip in was steady and we arrived at MS&D within three hours of getting underground fuelled by just a little too much strong, sweet, milkless tea at the camp. Nobby had retrieved the two tapes that Olly " The Carrier of Tapes" had carried down to the Snowball, so the party split in two to tick off a couple of loose ends. Alison and I went up Out of the Blue to generate passage-widths for the survey as far as the Straw Curtain. The stream was completely different. Where the water had been chest deep when the passage was first pushed it was now ankle deep, and the foot-prints at shoulder height mocked us. The stream is still quite pretty with the odd greasy pot-hole to upset the unwary and the Straw Curtain was still truly strange.

Meanwhile Nobby and Will had gone up Luck of the Draw. We caught them up and joined in the intermittent taping of the passage. By the time the tape ran out we had made it down to station 32, only 10 short of a going side passage at st.42, and a long way away from Yellow Van. The going passage yielded another 70m before hitting a small chamber with two ways on. Ahead a draughting rift partially blocked first with boulders and then with sand. A days worth of digging would get through to probable passage beyond, but we did not have a day. The easiest boulders were removed, but so far the sandy bit remains untouched. Meanwhile, first Will, then Alison, then Nobby, then I had a go at a real sod of a squeeze that led off to the right. Its not impossible, and it looks to go into a larger cross rift, but none of us (except Alison, who was a bit too keen in my eyes) really fancied being on the other side of a double back-breaker. Maybe next time.

The epic begins here. We set off home at about 9pm and after a brew stop by Out of the Blue had reached part-way along the Last Sandwich by 11. This was bad. Not because we were tired, or slow, or due to have light failures. These were minor matters in comparison to an imminent call-out. Nobby was none too sure when we were expected out, but 12 midnight was odds on favourite, i.e. an hour away and about two hours worth of cave to do. I was despatched to at least give us a chance of not embarrassing ourselves, and despite falling asleep and getting a bit scared in the mega-drive (there are a lot of creepy shadows in there and the odd well weird noise) I was out by one. Outside there was thick freezing fog, which meant that route finding was a nightmare. I'd recommend once you have crossed the stream and lost the muddy footpath, to follow the stream along its right hand bank, until you hit the track to the Outdoor Centre, turn right, then after a short distance left to take the farm track up onto the main road. Otherwise you may end up most of the way down the farm track. Also for future reference the nearest public phone box is at the bottom of the hill on the road back to Abergavenny. Here I got through to Olly just as he was looking up the number for the local police, with a view to getting some poor local copper to see if the van was still in the Pwll Du car park. Phew.

The others were out by 3 and taking in a short detour along the farm track were back at the van by half past. We were on out way (things get really bad from this point) when the dear old van started playing up, first the radio died, then the windscreen wipers got slower and slower and slower, and finally the headlamps became dimmer and dimmer and dimmer. Either we could try to get back to Oxford with no lights what-so-ever or risk stopping to have a look-see at the dynamo. Common sense (and the prospect of a lift back to Oxford with National Breakdown) won out, and we pulled over somewhere beyond Monmouth and Ross (pretty it was for a lay-by). Nothing obviously wrong with the dynamo, so National Breakdown were despatched. Their operator said an hour (Yeah, right) and an hour later a tap on the window and it was an everso nice man who spotted the loose wire at the back of the dynamo, and we were again on our way. The only compensation for coming into Oxford with the rush-hour traffic at 7 was that we did not do so everyday. One last thing. The van needed a push start after dropping me off. All this for 70m of new passage.
Jonathon Cooper

Draenen Update

I returned to Dollimore Series on Sunday, with Charles Bailey and Ali Garman (I'd originally planned to go on Saturday, but Charles's wife, Lynne, was ill). Unfortunately, being Sunday, the trip was limited to about 11 hours, and what with a good 4 hours travelling in each direction, and a good half hour spent taping, we didn't have much pushing time.

Nevertheless, we finally reached the end of LotD, about 120m beyond the previous limit. The passage is small for a while, and then opens out, with various possible digs going off. The passage eventually chokes in a small chamber with a very buckled roof; basically, the passage takes a dive down, and is filled with mud and rocks; it is probably diggable, but there's not much point given its proximity to the hillside.

Charles and Ali checked out the side passage that comes in from the east about 60m before the previous limit (I was trying to fix my light at the time). It goes for about 50m to a too-tight eyehole, looking through into continuing passage; there is a route underneath which could be dug open.

We laid a lot of tape through LotD, but a lot more is still needed. We met Pauline down there, and she said she'd do some more taping, but I suspect there's still more to be done. There is some tape at the junction with LotD.

Trips to the further reaches are becoming increasingly unproductive because of the amount of travelling involved. I therefore propose that we aim to establish a camp as soon as possible. I would like to get the camping gear out of Carno for this purpose.

I'm going to be away over Christmas, and get back on Monday 30th. I'll be wanting to do a trip fairly soon after that; any takers? If you do a trip in the meantime, please let me know how you get on. If anybody fancies getting the camping gear out of Carno, I won't mind missing out on that trip :) .

James did a trip on Saturday with persons unknown, but didn't find the route. Pauline did a trip on Sunday; how did you get on? Peter Bolt, Ben Lovett and Ian Benson also went down on Sunday and pushed something nasty from Hall of the One for ~250m.

Quote of the day (from a caver we met at the entrance, to a team consisting of me, Charles, Ali, Peter, Ben and Ian): "Have you been down before?"
Gavin Lowe

5 get Slaughtered in the Forest

Whilst everyone went off to Wales again, the tiny minority in the club that still does sporting trips was off to the Forest of Dean (mysteriously unvisited caving area ) to finally have a look at Slaughter Stream cave. The original idea had been to carry bottles for a local diver who wanted to have a look at Static Sump 4, but he jacked late on Friday, too late for me to let the rest of my team (Mike, Olly, Mark and Alison ) know.

This meant, however, that we were at the hut around 8 on Saturday morning, and had left Oxford before 9. The sun shone, we were keen, we were due to be underground by 11ish, and all was well with the world. Until we got just the other side of Gloucester. " Did you pack my gear?", Olly asked as he woke up. Hmmm. Mark then witnessed his first Oxford clusterfuck, of epic proportions, as we realised that we had contrived to leave a rucksack full of caving kit on the kitchen floor of 53 Cranham St. Olly was all ready to go home to Cheltenham and spend the day watching tv with his cat, but we were made of sterner stuff. A quick phonecall to Andy Clark, Slaughter permit man, and I was back in the van with a smile on my face, having scrounged a helmet and belt.

We drove via Andy's house and then via a top chippy restaurant in Monmouth, near the old bridge, and only arrived at the cave some 2 hours later than planned. In the event, I caved in my normal clothes and normal laceup boots, with my oversuit on top, and you wouldn't have known the difference. Ol caved in my wellies and furry, with knee- and elbow-pads to stop it getting dirty, and an Inglesport bag with holes cut in it as an oversuit, and looked truly ridiculous. Mark was impressed.

A trudge across a very muddy field led to the entrance, where a series of fixed ladders leads to an aven. From here, a crawl to a short pitch leads to a bigger pitch of about 30' into the real cave. We went downstream along stompy streamway through what really is a very pleasant and large cave. We bypassed sumps 1 and 2 by a large dry series and got back into the streamway, which is one those which is long, but varied, and which knows exactly when to change character so that it never gets tedious, with plenty of deep pools to negotiate. Eventually the water runs into sumps 3, 4 and 5, and we followed another dry bypass on the right towards Kuwait passage. There are some nice helictites down here, and typically even the crawls are pleasant, with nice sandy floors. We got a substantial distance along here before it was taped off, apparently to protect formations, and headed back to the main junction a little more slowly: the soles were falling off my boots, so I was effectively caving a la Andy King, and Mike wanted to take some photos - we found a nice cascade and set up a picture of Alison under it like the one of Pauline which was on the cover of Descent. Well worth more visits.

A quick look upstream and we were out in just over 6 hours, in time for a nice meal on the way home, though I lost a boot in the cack in the field and had to dry my trousers out of the van window before I could get into the pub. An entertaining trip which everyone enjoyed, and in the end Ol's cat was the only loser.
Nobby (millions of pitches - pitches for me )