Depth through thought

OUCC News 7th May 1997

Volume 7, Number 7

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Susanne Ellen Krabbendam. Blimey!

Swinsto is out of bounds for Eco-hanger maintenance on 25th May.

Sprog's corner

On Saturday 3rd May Susanne Ellen Krabbendam made the squeeze of her life. Susanne weighs 3.8 kg and both Susanne and Kitti are fine. If any of you wants to come and see Susanne. that's great, but please give a ring beforehand.

Maarten & Kitti
116 Hurst Street, tel 209011

Annual Dinner

The dinner is this Saturday and the post-dinner party will be at my flat (15 Stevens Close, just before Farndon Road on Woodstock Road). The flat has a chair squeeze, a window traverse and a shower squeeze. What more could you ask for? Please bring alcohol and any CDs or tapes you fancy partying to. Bring a sleeping bag if you're planning to be too pissed to make it back home.
Jo "pineapple - that's a word" Whistler

'Nathaniel's' corner

El Regallon 97 preparations continue apace. On the heels of our vodka sponsorship comes the news that JC is elected 'T-shirt officer' (probationary) as part of our bid to get the whole club onto the committee. Any ideas for a design will be more than welcome.

Meanwhile, if you're planning to come out to Spain and haven't paid that deposit, go and speak to Will. If you're that rare person who is still unsure, there will be an expedition briefing in 4th week, setting out all our targets along with their depth potential and other exciting things to tempt you to the Picos.

Finally, the termcard tells you that there will be a rescue weekend later in term. This is a LIE - the weekend will be in 3RD WEEK, i.e. the weekend after this one, and will be most excellent. Its not only almost obligatory for anyone who might be going on expedition, but extremely useful for anyone who isn't and is even the slightest bit interested in safety underground in any circumstance. Saturday will see Richard Ward doing a first aid course which is particularly pertinent to cave safety, and Sunday will see your new-found knowledge put to good use rescuing a mystery casualty from the usual location somewhere on Mendip. Plus, of course, a good party on the Saturday night in the MNRC.
Nobby (maximum coherence...)

Two weekends of flying peat

Our first weekend in Scotland augured well for weekends to come. Having lived here for all of four days, we drove up to the limestone of Sutherland, where the BEC and Wessex CC congregate annually for a spot of cave creation.

Even though we now live in Scotland, Sutherland is far and we nearly doubled Snablet's optimistic estimate of 2.5 hrs to get there. Luckily the pub shuts at 1:00a.m. or else we would have had to climb into our pits without a drink (perish the thought). The Mendip contingent had to drive up through Wales in order to avoid queues and police checks just after the IRA had blown up the M6. Their car was filled with enough bang and detonators to blow up a pylon or two, and a police check might have proved embarrassing.

Saturday morning saw us set off in true BEC style: First a trip into Ullapool, to buy food, jumpers, eat at the chippy (delicious fish up here) and finally to have a swift half in the 'Ferryboat Inn'. We pack our digging tools and leave for the Claionnaite valley. "Let's say hello to the landlord of the Alt". Between 4 and 6 pints later, depending on capacity, we fall up the path to the dig. It is just gone 5:00 p.m., and I begin to come round to the Mendip way of caving.

Sutherland consists mainly of lochs, mountains and peatbog. Not a soul visiting the Bone Caves, one of the prime tourist spots in Sutherland. The Claionnaite valley seems dead except for a pair of Golden Eagles soaring overhead and the odd stag and his harem grazing the flanks of the hills. 'Molehole' is our destination for today. This tiny depression was radio located and is believed to connect with Belh Aven, just downstream of Sump 6 in Uamh an Claionnaite.

There are a lot of depressions on the surface... The dig is all of 6 ft deep, so neither light nor any other caving gear is required. Lumphammers, drills and crowbars are, however, essential. A dig in true Mendip style. We drill, hammer and lift spoil out. Only another 30 or so feet to connect with Belh Aven, that is if the radio location is accurate. Otherwise we may be digging our way through several hundred feet of solid rock. J-Rat places the drill holes for next day's event. The day's work done, we go to renew our acquaintance with Eric from the 'Alt'.

Sunday we pack our caving kit. For Claionnaite this means a wet suit. However, first back to Molehole past the Bone Caves. Still not a tourist in sight, despite the nice paths laid by the little busy men from Scottish Nature. The Bone Caves are ex-phreatic passages, razed by the glacier and now forming gaping holes in the steep sides of the valley. They used to contain bones of prehistoric bears and reindeer. Snablet rolls out the bang wire, J-Rat places the dets and, finally, "Stand back". Tav finds the best position for a photo of the action. J-Rat counts. "1-2-3" The click of Tav's shutter, then nothing. Everyone laughs. J-Rat mumbles something and fiddles with the wires. Again. Boom. The boggy ground wobbles like jelly, the valley reverberates with echo. Peat shoots out of Molehole together with fist-sized bits of gravel. The people hit by shrapnel are J-Rat by the bang wire and Tav taking his photo. Sod's law. We have a quick look. The inside of the dig has been pulverized. Good. On to Claionnaite to make some more noise.

Claionnaite is excellent fun and well worth a visit should you ever find yourself near this remote place. Walk up the valley along the river bed to an obvious rocky depression. Squeeze through a loose-ish boulder ruckle to drop straight into a roaring streamway. Bypass sump 1 through an obvious wet crawl and back into the streamway. Watershutes, cascades, deep pools, the lot. Haven't had so much fun for a long time. Draenen seems a bit pedestrian (although when it comes to length, Claionnaite's 3 or so kilometres don't really impress). Bypass sump 2, and turn off into the fossil stuff upstream of sump 3. From here first a lot of crawling, then big passage. The dig is at the end of Infinite Improbability Inlet, which Tav reckons is the main passage. A boulder blocks the way on. Same thing again. The bang wire is not very long and the noise is deafening. On the way out, we meet Pete Glanville and friends on a phototrip. Bad timing. Likely there is a fair amount of fumes and dust in the air. More time at the Alt, and then into the plush GSG hut (hot showers!). Snablet and I have to get back on the road, for some stag-dodging on the way home.

The second weekend is somewhat marred by the absence of sunshine. Molehole is considerably deeper, and Rana Hole next door is being shored up. Infinite Improbability Inlet has sadly reached its finite limit. So much for Tav's "main passage". Digging has progressed into the adjacent Traligill Valley, and the pub has switched from the Alt to the Inch. Other than that everything seems the same.

Cnoc nan Uamh (known as Knockers) and several other caves are the goal for the day. Pete Glanville, Simon Brooks and Fraser are diving the sump downstream of the watershoot and require some sherpa-ing. The Cave entrance is a gaping hole in the peatbog with a large streamway thundering along the bottom. The limestone beds here tend to be at a steep angle, hence the number of watershutes. The shoot in Knockers is particularly fierce and long and has got to be the best I have seen.

Divers and gear are safely delivered to their sump, where they begin what is going to be almost an hour of faff. Fins on, fins off. Mask on, mask off. Into the sump and back out again, and so on. We get bored and start exploring. There are three entrances, making Knockers a small system. Most of it is dry and only some of it requires crawling. There is even a small chamber with a number of ancient-looking stalactites. After about an hour, we have done all of it. I haven't said that about a cave in some time. We watch the divers go under and leave to find the next cave. There is one nearby, written up in the guide book as being an exciting through-trip.

We reach the rock arch at the head of the gorge. After some incredulous re-reading of the guide book we finally decide this really is the cave. Enter on one side of the rock arch, down a precarious climb through a hole that bells out at the bottom. No way to get back up. This must be the exciting bit? Luckily, the other entrance is a mere 20m away at the other end of the arch. In wet weather the cave takes a stream. Perhaps more of a promising dig than a cave.

Next cave. Treehole. This is actually part of a two-mile system that over the years has been pieced together bit by bit by the BEC and friends. On the way there we hear the familiar sound of Gadget and J-Rat at work. We arrive just in time: the much talked-about breakthrough has happened. Yet another piece of the Traligill system has been forced to reveal itself. A total of 34m of flat-out crawl in water and gravel are surveyed. A final visit to the Inch and the Alt and it is time to go home again.
Anette Becher