Depth through thought

OUCC News 4th November 1998

Volume 8, Number 19

DTT Volume 8 index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page



Thanks to Paul and Jo for organising an excellent novice weekend in the Mendips, and to new member Ian Ross for his trip write up of the whole thing. Great! Ian has also suggested that we have an OUCC major-domo e-mail bulletin board thingy, so we can pass round questions and local announcements without boring our French Correspondent on the DTT list. What do you think? Views please.

Beneath the Mountains

Paul has a couple of copies of this greatest of books about cave exploration, available at the knock down price of £5.00. Beneath the Mountains is the light-hearted account of the OUCC expeditions to Spain in the early eighties, a time when the club was exploring Xitu, the first British explored cave to exceed 1000m in depth. An essential part of the club's heritage, see how many of the characters are still caving with us!

Extremero '99

The planning for next summer's expedition is underway. Tomorrow we meet the Expedition Advisory Committee, that is, if we can make any contact with them!

Jultayu '98

T-shirts Another piece of club heritage, our expedition T-shirts. The last few remaining shirts from this summer's expedition are still available at £10.00, with proceeds going towards trailer repair or replacement. See Paul Mann

Pictures of Expedition

I am making good progress with the scanning of photographs from this year's expedition. If anyone has any photos that they would like to see included in the report/archive/picture disk, then please could you let me have them asap, (I can work from either slide or negative). This is an easy way to let everyone get a copy of your best expedition photos. I am also starting to work backwards through previous expeditions, so I will be keen to see older photos from Spain too.
Paul Mann

Nobby's Dirty Weekend

Anyone know how far it is to walk from Clapham station to the Marton? Do I hear a couple of miles from the knowledgeable type in the corner? 3 miles? Try 5, with a bag full of gear, in the dark, carrying the worst hangover since finals finished, with no guarantee that there would be anyone friendly to meet me when I got there... In fact,the probable scenario would be a wrathful Urs waiting to tear me limb from limb for standing her up in Darlington that morning.

Not only that, but it was Halloween and a full moon, and I couldn't get An American werewolf in London out of my head. 'Keep to the path...' I muttered darkly as I wandered past the Slaughtered Lamb, (oh alright, it was the Flying Horse near the station) and staggered off in the general direction of Ingleton. An inauspicious start, but some time later saw me in the pub talking to Rob and Fleur, who had had a bit of a blighted day in Quaking of all places, and were now waiting for Dave to arrive from the bottom. This he duly did, complete with thousand yard stare, and it was back to BPF for the usual revelry for everyone, including the suffering OUCC contingent.

Last time I'd been in the direction of County was to fish Kev out of a ditch one New Year, but Sunday saw us en route to Easter Grotto, somewhere only Rob had been before. Into County, down to Platypus Junction, inadvertently, and back up through Spout Hall to the Manchester Bypass, where Rob set the tone for the afternoon by taking us the 'interesting' way into the flood escape route. Characterised by a lot of muddy crawls, this is a very useful route to know, or so we kept telling ourselves. It isn't supposed to come out 20 feet above the floor of Monster cavern, though, so a bit more retracing of steps saw us to Stop Pot, down the ladder, upstream in the Main drain and to Easter Grotto, which is as good a reason as any for this generation of cavers to protect zealously any recently-discovered formations. It must have been stunning once, but the sheer number of passing cavers has ruined it forever. Back through Perfection passage and Gypsum caverns (twice - whoops), I fancied cleaning my gear in the stream, but Rob,in yet another feat of psychospeleogenesis of the highest order, managed to find... a low muddy bedding which avoided it. Out through WR, another first for me, stopping only briefly to admire a particularly nice piece of bacon in the parallel rift stuff near the entrance. The day was spoilt only by a rescue of a member of LUSS from Bull Pot as we returned. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Our friends in the North...

Mendip Novice Weekend

It rained in the Mendips this weekend. Quite a lot. And it was cold. We went caving anyway. Whether that means we're all hard as nails, or just bone stupid is probably something best left uninvestigated....

We gathered at Bevington Road on Saturday morning (in the rain -- anywhere meteorological conditions aren't explicitly mentioned, assume it was raining), and opened up the Aladdin's cave that is the OUCC gear hut. After jamming nine cavers, three tons of muddy toys and a couple of tubs of food (vodka is food, isn't it?) into the van, we set off for the rolling hills of Zumerzet. After a brief refuelling stop at Swindon for chocolate and petrol, it seemed only a twinkling of a lamb's tail until we arrived at our palatial accommodation. The MNRC hut is actually very nice, and we had it almost to ourselves, which meant the kitchen didn't smell too much like a bonfire in an abattoir in the morning, which was a bonus.

We unloaded the van, then loaded it again with slightly less stuff, and trundled off to find a cave or two. The roads around Priddy and the surrounding area were impressively wet -- the shit-infested red-brown water pouring off the pig fields was particularly notable for the connoisseur of such matters. Nearly everything was flooded or in danger of flooding. We heard later that water had been going over the floor of the blockhouse into Swildon's, making getting into the cave uncomfortably like being flushed down a toilet (insert scrotum-tightening visions of blue OUCC helmet spiralling round and round fine porcelain with gold fittings, caver attached below).

The bombproof options chosen in the end were G.B. and Tyning's (Twining's Teabag), both being close to Tyning's Farm, which offers a fine range of changing facilities for cavers. A muddy car park and two friendly dogs, to be precise. Keys and permits were picked up from the Wessex hut: an altogether less salubrious establishment than the MNRC, in my opinion -- more beards, less stuffing in sofas, less room for drunken frolics in the evening (ahem, I get ahead of myself here, there's some caving to be done first). After everyone had put their name in the book that says "May I suffer eternal torment at the hands of all of Beelzebub's minions if I should take carbide or novices into any of CCC's caves" we rolled on down to Tyning's Farm.

What followed was a mildly unpleasant changing experience -- the consensus seemed to be about a Grade 3 (Richard thought it was a Grade 4, and Bill just complained continuously, but you can't please some people). Then we all went down some caves. Most people went off to scrot around in Tyning's first, but Tim, Lou, Hilary and Ian (that's me) went off to stomp along in G.B. This turned out to be a very sensible choice, as a van full of cavers on their way home stopped and gave us a lift, so that we avoided fully five minutes of walking. That's a result by anyone's reckoning!

It was my first time down G.B., so I didn't have anything to compare it to, but according to Tim and Lou, what we saw was a raging torrent of biblical proportions, almost certainly signalling the approaching day of judgement for us all -- OK, OK, but you get idea, there was a bit of water. We went and had a butcher's at the top of the Devil's Elbow, which was sumped, then went stonking off down to the streamway. G.B. is loaded with pretties more or less all the way through, with loads of flowstone, loads of stals, and curly-wurly calcite growths that look like fungus on a lot of the walls (just let me get my non-geologist credentials right out in the open from the start).

The streamway was definitely exciting, and we bounded nimble as mountain goats ever deeper into the earth (though goats aren't stupid enough to go down caves). Shortly after crossing the Bridge, we came into the Main Chamber proper, and could look across at monster size stals hanging from the roof. This really is a very big cave. The main chamber has some really pretty helictites on the wall, and rows and rows of stals dyed red (presumably by the same iron-rich water that flows off the pig fields above). More calcite than you can shake a very big stick at.

Before heading on to the bottom, we had an extremely sporting excursion up the bottom bit of the Devil's Elbow -- this was one of the most enjoyable bits of the trip, involving climbing up some pretty hectic little waterfalls in a twisty rifty thing. We got about as far as was practicable with that before turning round and heading down to the sump.

The sump and the cascades going down into it were truly amazing. The sump had backed up about thirty metres, and was about fifteen feet above its normal level, and the far end was just a huge pit of froth. The Ladder Extensions were completely blocked. We climbed up the cascades to have a look at the top -- loads'o'water! Back at the bottom of the sump, I fell in, but it wasn't my fault. Tim went ahead and cunningly and carefully stepped around the fifteen foot hole full of water, accidentally failing to mention that it might be a tad on the deep side. He claimed he would have told me if I hadn't been in a wetsuit, but I know that the true sadist has no conscience....

After that, we made a quick exit into the dark, and the end of a really excellent trip.

We then decided to go down Tyning's as well, as everyone else was probably still down there. Tyning's felt a bit on the constricted side after G.B., especially one upward squeeze where I managed to end up with my legs pointing up in the direction I really wanted to go, and my head pointing, with the very helpful assistance of gravity, in entirely the opposite direction.

There was some streamway a little further down that we trundled along -- there's one really good bit called the Aardvark Trap, where the passage has a bold step over a big hole where all the water goes. By my reckoning, you could fit a good brace of aardvarks in there, and still have space for a spiny anteater or two. We got to a climb down a waterfall near the bottom, Tim had a look and declared it doable, but that it would be desperate on the way up if any more water came down. Just to settle the question, he then dropped the rope down the pitch so that we wouldn't be able to climb it anyway.

All that was left then was to exit and head back to the MNRC for some well-deserved scoff. Unfortunately, a small convoy of caver types near the entrance had other ideas, and we all had to lie in a stream for forty minutes, about twenty of which were taken up by Whinging Bill Ford-Smith testing a new micro-miniaturised prussiking device in the micro-miniaturised entrance rift. The squalid goings on that that little stream witnessed should probably not be reporting to an unsuspecting public, but my selfless devotion to historical veracity forces me to at least mention mudfights (Tim and Hilary), dambuilding and subsequent destruction (Tim), farting (Lou), threatening to piss on the person below (Tim to Hilary, Lou to me). Not nice.

Even less nice was what greeted us at the top of the entrance pipe. It wasn't just raining, but it was bloody freezing and windy too. Who ordered that? After capping the pipe (I don't think we left anyone down there), having a little mud wrestle (I fell over, Tim laughed, he deserved what he got), we ran (yes, RAN, it were that cold) back to the car park.

Changing this time made earlier look like the caving equivalent of nestling into a fluffy dressing gown with a steaming hot cup of cocoa, five eager young Swedes of your preferred gender, and the latest copy of Cave and Karst Science. Rumours that I may have been heard to whimper are of course entirely untrue. I most emphatically do not whimper, never have done, never will. I might have cried for my mummy once or twice, but what man hasn't?

Things didn't get any better once we were all dressed and loaded into Tim's van. He seems to have replaced the starter motor with a small device that goes "Click. Whirr. Click." when he turns the key. Must have bought it in a joke shop somewhere (the whirring device, not the van, although now I think about it...). By this point, we were all inured to any pain that the world might throw at us, and driven to extremes of physical exertion by visions of creamy pints waiting for us in the Hunter's, we pushed the van uphill, then downhill, and miraculously it started.

Three pints later, toasting away in the pub, it all seemed like a bad dream. We spent just long enough in the pub to get quite anaesthetically drunk, then pushed the van back towards the MNRC hut. We managed to miss the hive of activity which resulted in dinner, for which ten thousand apologies to all concerned. We did make up for it though, by eating lots.

Some time shortly after dinner, everything started to go horribly wrong. People got out frozen frosted bottles marked with the international sign of extreme inebriation -- ABSOLUT. I hazily remember something called "International Rules", which involved pointing at Tim and saying "Oi Tim you bastard, pour us a drink" if you wanted a quadruple vodka. Understandably, after a couple of those, all became hazier still. Then we did table traverses. Ow. There were some truly impressive gymnastic performances, and some that might be charitably described as "less gymnastic". I think Bill or Richard might have pictures, so get your money in now if you want the negatives destroyed. I think after that everyone went to bed.

On Sunday, IT WASN'T RAINING. What a miracle. The day dawned bright and breezy, and everyone leapt up full of enthusiasm for a good day's caving ahead. In your dreams! It was a beautiful morning, but there was a lumberjack's convention in the dormitory until way past first rum rations. People were eventually bribed out of bed by cups of tea and the promise of the excellent breakfast organised (and largely cooked) by Paul. Jo made a particularly impressive showing in the early morning "Oh. Where am I? Uh. Who am I? Arrgghh! What am I?" stakes. I do like vodka hangovers though. Nice clean pain, none of that fuzzy-headedness that too often mars a red wine or beer hangover. Just the pure unadulterated feeling of twenty gnomes with pneumatic tools trying to escape from your head.

Over breakfast, conversation turned, as it often does in these circumstances, to sado-masochism. While the rest of us were engaging in a rather civilised discussion on this common breakfast time subject, Richard interjected (am I allowed to use that word in a family publication?) with the observation that if someone came on him, he would hit them. We all heartily agreed with this, and edged a little way down the benches away from Richard, who staunchly denied that this is what he meant. (It's there in black and white, in the logbook, if anyone needs evidence.)

After the inevitable hour-long faff, we decided that we might do a bit more caving. Tim, Lou, Hilary and Jo went to look at Swildon's, in the hope that they might be able to get into it without having to dive headfirst into a swirling vortex of muddy water, and the rest of us went to G.B., as most people hadn't had a chance to see it on Saturday.

The endless variation of caving was illustrated when we got to Tyning's Farm to get changed -- today we all had wet gear to put on, and there were lots of young German ladies in tight jodhpurs with horses watching us bare our arses. They asked us to bring them back some diamonds. We gallantly offered them the next best Mendip alternative, mud, but they declined, and what could have been a beautiful relationship was stillborn. (Actually, speaking of wet gear, some people made the very bad tactical decision to leave their gear in the van overnight, contenting themselves with ten minutes wringing it out in the morning. I reckon that learned 'em good and proper. They won't be doing that again in a hurry.)

Anyway, the caving. This time, Bill, Pippa, Matt and me were together, and Paul, Richard and Mike went to take photos. For some reason, Paul wanted someone photogenic for his pictures. They won't look like genuine caving pictures at all then, will they? Not a beard in sight. They'd never stand up to Descent's editorial scrutinising: "'Ere, where's 'is beard? 'E ain't no caver!" Tsk. Tsk.

G.B. was less sporting today, but still loads of fun. Having been in the cave exactly once more than anyone else in our party, I was supposed to be route finding. I found lots of routes, none of them the right one. It was well worth the extra effort to see Bill forcing himself through spaces far too small for his svelte athletic frame, and then having to turn round and do it again going in the other direction.

We eventually found the way on, and stomped all the way to the bottom, stopping en route to admire the pretties. The sump was back to its normal level when we got there, and there were some people going up into the Ladder Extensions, which were open again. We climbed up the cascades, and then everyone rather dimly followed my example of standing under the waterfall for a bit. I don't know why, it wasn't fun at all.

It was another really nice trip. In fact, it was so nice that Bill hardly complained at all, until we were getting near the entrance and he realised he'd have to get out of the cave soon. What better evidence could you possibly ask for that much fun was had by all?

A Grade 2 change was followed by a thorough clean of the MNRC hut -- it was cleaner when we left than when we arrived, which is the way it should be. Then we were off, back to Oxford.

A most successful weekend -- no fatalities, very little lost gear, only a dozen or so items of crockery destroyed, and a very memorable session of vodka fuelled antics to complement the caving.
Ian Ross