Depth through thought

OUCC News 5th February 1997

Volume 7, Number 2

DTT Volume 7  index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page



Tales of incidents, accidents, and another 360metres in Draenen: its all in a weekend's caving with OUCC....

Access problems are in danger of arising because someone left the Draenen gate open this weekend. We have now established that is was not one of us, but I've promised to remind everyone that the gate must never be left open unattended even for a short period.


Its the AGM in a fortnight, so that means electing a new committee. So its time to start thinking about who you would like to see in lampshade hats.... Any ideas let me know, so that it can go on the agenda.

Meets Sec Corner

Phheeeww. Eventful Yorks weekend all round, of which more below. Good fun was had by most, though. ( I think )

The bad news is Bradford have cancelled dales delirium, on the grounds that they didn't think, on reflection, that they could ever hold as storming an underground party as OUCC, and decided that discretion (secretion?) was the better part of valour. ( ie not enough interest ) So, we could go caving in Derbyshire that weekend anyway, if we can get accommodation, and if people want to. The other alternative to be mooted is a Mendip Madness at the end of term. Talk in a slurred voice to me, Jo, or the new meets sec.

The El Regalon 97 committee would like to start getting together some kind of list of who will be finding the deepest caves in Europe this summer. Provisional dates are 1st July - 19th August, so come and tell us when you're likely to be there, and you can even pay your deposit to Will as of now.

Incident Report

On Sunday in the Dales several members of the club conducted a very successful self-rescue of a hypothermic caver from Meregill. No-one suffered any lasting ill effects and there was no question of requiring the assistance of the CRO; this itself is adequate testimony to the effectiveness of our expedition first aid training courses and the emphasis laid upon safe and sensible practice in such situations by senior members of the club. However, there are always lessons to be learnt from such incidents, and if such situations may be resolved or avoided in the future it will have proved the worth of publicising this one.

A derigging team consisting of myself, Olly, Kev and Alison was on its way out from the bottom of the cave in conditions that were average for this particular system but which still meant the Mere was sumped and the three big pitches were wet. Alison spent some time in the spray negotiating a deviation on the last pitch, and the combination of tiredness and cold meant she couldn't pull herself off the rope on the rebelay above. She spent up to half an hour there in the water before I prussiked up the same rope to help her, and it was obvious that she ought to get out quickly to avoid getting any colder, so Olly went off with her whilst derigging continued. The deriggers soon caught up at the next big pitch, which was very wet, and which Alison probably spent another twenty minutes upon.

When Olly caught up with her at the top of the pitch, Alison was incoherent, struggling to walk and complaining that everything was 'wobbly'. Kev and I reached them at about 9pm, and Alison was put inside a survival bag with it wrapped around her head like a shawl, given a balaclava and sat on a tackle bag full of rope. She was fed an energy bar and boiled sweets, and given a candle to hold, whilst a carbide generator was put on the floor between her feet. By 9.30, when it seemed that she was warming up, Olly went out of the cave to arrange for the rescue party to bring warm clothes and hot drinks, as well as caving kit in case a full rescue were necessary. By about 9.45 the survival bag had completely steamed up so that we couldn't see Alison(!) but the fact that she had started to volunteer information about her condition suggested that she was by now no colder than the rest of us. At about 10pm we moved off again and got out of the cave slowly but without difficulty just as the rescuers (JC, Martin May, Fleur and Olly ) turned up. Alison was changed into dry things and given something to eat and drink, and everyone was back at the farm shortly after midnight.

A number of points: If you don't have your own SRT kit, you would do well to get one as soon as possible. This isn't perhaps an obvious safety point, but Alison was using Andy's rig, which was far too big for her, and may have contributed to her spending longer on wet pitches than was necessary.

If you ever feel you are in trouble in a similar situation, say so. Alison is noted for being 'hard as nails', but her ploughing on as long as possible without any complaint meant that we didn't realise how potentially dangerous the situation was until it was clear for all to see.

Come on the expedition rescue weekend, or at the very least, make sure you could recognise the symptoms of hypothermia. It's very frightening to see someone so disorientated that they can't stand up properly, and essential to pick up on the problem before it gets this bad if at all possible.

Make sure you carry the following in some way, shape or form: survival bag (in your helmet); candle and lighter (without which the survival bag would only have prevented further deterioration); emergency food, preferably something solid and sweet. Boots do an energy bar which fits nicely in Tim's first aid kits, and which Alison scoffed in no time.

Have a contingency plan and a good surface team. Olly was ready to go back down the cave if needed, and the others were brilliant and brought brews, biscuits and rice pudding (yum!). It's a long walk back to the farm from Meregill, and Alison would have had no fun at all walking back in wet and very cold caving gear. Rescue doesn't end when you're out of the cave, and help and cheerful talk in the shakehole (Martin - " Now bugger off, Nobby") does wonders for morale. Cheered me up, anyway...

Circus Maximus

Two Saturday's ago saw Chris, Fleur and I return with a mission to drop the pitch off Top Banana into the tall rift disappearing around a corner. It almost didn't happen, cos I'd almost crippled myself in losing a football match 2-1 to Jesus the previous day, and I almost jacked in Megadrive. Chris took my mind off my injuries by getting me to teach him about the sexual practices of the emperor Tiberius, and we got to the end of the Last Sandwich to meet Charles, Tim Barter and Bob Kynaston who were waiting for the choke to be dug out again - it had collapsed horribly and is now very unstable. (Its safe now - Ed.) Charles had to be out by 6 to go to dinner, so he joined our little team for a quick look in Dogleg. We'd almost rigged the pitch by the time he had to go, and Chris escorted him back to the choke for safety reasons whilst Fleur busied herself in finding unfeasibly large threads to tie a backup from. Yet again a pitch at this level failed to go to Pontypool - that's three in two weekends now - this one going back up a climb into an aven with three choked leads, so we rather glumly derigged and surveyed up into 'Top Spots', the decorated chamber found by Fleur the week before. The most obvious lead off here, however, did go. Not in very inspiring fashion at first, with several legs of low crawling, but once through a 'squitty bit' we broke into bigger passage with thirty metre legs being the order of the day. Past some wild formations reminiscent of Medusa's Children in LotD led to a huge arena-shaped chamber, which practically shouted its name. After 'Top Banana' and 'Top Spots', I figured 'Circus Maximus' was not only suitably classical and appropriate, but could also be translated (loosely) as 'Top Circus'...

A hole in the wall to the SW (?) leads onto a largeish rift passage running away into the hill, but it was late, lights were in short supply and my hamstrings were telling me we had to go. Fleur sensibly declined some Xmas pud at the brewsite, and endured Chris and I burping and grumbling through the scary choke and all the way back to the entrance.

But WHY do they DO it?

It was a novel experience for all of us. As about 2 cubic metres of rocks cascaded into the funnel-shaped exit from the Last Sandwich, completely blocking our only means of escape from the Dollimore Series in Draenen, I think we all felt a momentary surge of apprehension as to whether we really had done the right thing. Pauline and Tim hadn't been too keen on the idea to start with, but Charles had already convinced me, and Wookey had never been under any illusions about the purpose of the trip, having dragged in a useful plank of wood from the entrance. Now there was no time for doubt. Two and a half hours of 'very well motivated digging' later, a pair of sturdy dry stone walls held back a great mass of spoil, and our exit was secure. We had a right laugh, too.

Moving swiftly on, we taped most of the necessary bits of passage through Dogleg Complex to the open leads found last weekend by Fleur, Nobby and me in Circus Maximus. Tim & Pauline scooted off down the rift (named Rainbow Canyon) that had been spotted by Nobby, while Charles, Wookey and I took the lead furthest South. I peered over a large boulder and was instantly brought to a standstill. Straight ahead, a tremendous sweep of icing sugar calcite flowed down a broad ramp, decorated in places by some lovely helictites. We found a non-destructive way around the boulder, and were relieved to find that all ways ahead choked. We surveyed out, then went on to see what had happened to Pauline and Tim. Their passage was not so pretty, but being a draughting dried-out vadose canyon it was arguably more promising. We met them at a bend in the old river, and carried on at this junction heading South along a silted up crawl while they continued downstream. Along our route, 50 m of nondescript passage came to an end when Wookey, having been entrusted with the lead, found the passage filled up with silt.

We returned to chat with the others and suck a few sweets, then headed back to look at a few other leads. Most side passages didn'tcome to anything, until the last one. This passage also appeared to choke, but looking up the ramp of greenish shale, I could see a small black space. After a few seconds work with a crowbar, Wookey and I crawled up through the hole, and for the second time that day we were brought to a halt by what lay beyond. Peering under a helictite fringe we could see into a broad chamber, guarded by two pairs of stalagmite sentinels. The roof dripped with chandeliers of insane, outrageous helictites. We returned to coax Charles from a hole somewhere, and at that point Pauline and Tim arrived too. So all five of us surveyed into the chamber, watching each other like hawks as each person made the delicate moves required to pass the erratic barriers without damage. As with the first find of the day, the chamber was terminally choked. We walled off the entrance at the point where you get the best view across the chamber, and left a notice. Let us hope that this place remains undisturbed, so the magic of that view does not fade with time.
Chris Densham