Depth through thought

OUCC News 4th February 1998

Volume 8, Number 4

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No reports of caving trips this week I'm afraid, although I know a healthy bunch of you spent the weekend in the Dales, and, I presume, spent a few moments other than in the Hill Inn. So, a classic old tale from Charles Bailey instead. Thanks Charles!

Annual Dinner

Hopefully everyone will now have their invites for the OUCC Annual Dinner. If you haven't received an invite then please contact me. Please make my life easy and hand me your cheques and menu choices as soon as possible: only one person has done this so far! It should be an excellent evening and so long as no-one redecorates the restaurant toilets I think the Blue Palms will be a great place to go. I need a volunteer to offer their place for a knees-up after the dinner. I hope I don't get hurt in the rush.
Jo "violence to mashed potato is acceptable" Whistler

Input Please

I have received a letter from the Taff Bargoed Development Trust Ltd informing the club of a plan to build a caving complex and asking for input from cavers as to what this should include. If anyone has any ideas on the subject, contact me and I'll tell you how contact the Trust.
Jo Whistler

From Down Under

Here a little note from us in Sunny Australia, nicely hot at the moment, but we had the rain and the cold also for a few days, so its having fun out here.

We arrived safely in Melbourne and are settleing in slowly. Maarten started work already, Susanne is almost walking (not yet) and playing in the creche for two afternoons a week, and I am enyoing myself also.

Hope everything is fine in Oxford, and that life is still the same (more or less) as we knew it. We have also seen Will (jeremy) already, he's doing fine. More information about daily life will follow soon.

Hello to OUCC and happy caving!!! Love Kitti, Maarten and Susanne.

At The Sharp End

Location : Ogof Daren Cilau, Llangattwg, Wales
Team : Charles Bailey and Andy Tyler
Date : Late nineties !

"I see what Ivan meant" I muttered, squeezing upward into a chamber perhaps 4 metres across, with a cone of rubble at it's centre. On the last camp at the 'Restaurant at the end of the Universe' in Daren Cilau, the dig at Spade Runner had finally yielded - after 6 years of digging ! A massive amount of work had been carried out in the early years, although interest had waned over the last few. Until now.
Andy Tyler and I had left camp on the day of the breakthrough in August due to work commitments. The rest of the team had broke through into 30 metres of crawling / stooping passage beyond Spade Runner ending in the chamber. We were keen to get back - although it took us until late December.

Camping and pushing cave at the end of Daren with only two people is bound to add that element of spice to the ultimate remote digging experience. The 'Restaurant' is about 5 hours hard caving from daylight, with the joys of the entrance series, hard rock extension and ankle grinder to entertain you. However, trips can take much longer. On my first camp with Huw Durban, it took us over 8 hours. Some have been known to take 12 - including Mike Willett and Co. who left late one August afternoon, and arrived for breakfast the following morning ! The sharp end is another 2-3 hours from camp. 72 hour camps are the norm - in one evening after work, two days activity, then one day to exit.

So there sat Andy and I in the chamber - the most remote spot in U.K. caving - staring at the passage continuation opposite the entrance squeeze. There was only one problem ; it was beneath a pile of rubble. We suspected that Jake and Ivan had chemically persuaded the wall to become the floor before they had left in August. Why, we could only guess, although we had a strong suspicion that the way on was down there somewhere.

"Better start digging" I said with more enthusiasm than I felt. The route from camp was long and dry ; Andy welcomed a breather. Not for long though - I needed his dry stone wall building ability. Rubble was tossed aside. Andy took over at the sharp end, imagining draught.

After 3 hot dry hours, approximately 1.5 tonnes of spoil had been shifted, and the 'way on' was a narrow vertical slot, turning through 90 degrees to the horizontal under the chamber wall. Frustratingly, I couldn't reach the spoil blocking the way on, but the bend in the route was too severe to negotiate. I poked my head down first, but couldn't see much, so I elected to dig out the sand floor whilst virtually standing on my head ! Andy had to drag me free.

"I might be able to make it". Wellies first, I slipped under the wall, pushing a bow wave of rubble forward as I went. It was ridiculously tight - my helmet refused to pass through the slot, and had to follow. Andy disappeared from view as my nose scraped the roof. Gradually, 'Ground Hug Day' increased in dimensions. I called back for Andy to follow, and stood up in ongoing passage. We'd done it !

With Andy in front, we stooped then walked off for .... 30 metres. The floor rose to a 2 foot square window at roof level, blocked by a slab, also about two foot square. The beast was impossible to move without being chased down the slope - not advisable this far underground! Two small mineral veins formed a cross at the centre of the slab. With luck, this might form a weakness we could exploit, using bang, but due to the fumes produced, we wouldn't know the result for at least a few weeks, as we were due to leave the following day ! Andy retired to Spade Runnner, to pack up our gear, and have a welcome drink of water. 6 hours activity in dry passage had created a massive thirst.

Back at the slab, I was having problems with water too ; I needed some to make good tamp for the bang. Tamp is damp mud, placed over the bang to concentrate the charge. I had some dry mud, but no water. My usual source (no not that one), the accumulation in my wellies, was as dry as my throat, due to the parched trip from camp. There was only one source left ... hence the naming of Last Spit Choke! As I set the charge, and carefully reversed down the slope, I tried congratulating myself aloud to break the tension, but my dry voice sounded so bad, in only made matters worse. I carefully placed the insulating tape which had been sealingthe battery terminals on the ammo box, lowered myself below a block, and applied the ends of the bang wire to the battery .... nothing! I licked the wire ends clean, and tried again. The result was, well .... electric! The shock wave blew the ammo box off a shelf, scattering the neatly placed tapes.

Quickly, I packed the kit away, and ventured a brief look at the slab, but all I could see was bang fumes tumbling down the slope. A hasty retreat was in order - no problem until I reached the breakthrough point from Spade Runner ; this was a tight hole in a wall about 1 metre above floor level. An eternity was spent here, imagining bang fumes creeping towards me, until I finally managed to get into the crawl proper. Eventually, the dusty, dry, hot, knackered mess that was me landed on the floor next to Andy.

"I could murder a pint" I cracked " but I'll settle for the water". "There's a bit left ... but, er ... " said Andy. My reply was not printable.

We eventually arrived back at camp, just after midnight, with me enjoying a storming dehydration headache. Sanctuary ! I drank a couple of pints of water, then felt up to a couple of swigs of Archers peach Schnapps, which rendered me instantly euphorically drunk. Great. 30 metres of new passage after all this time, and what lay beyond the block?

Time to get some food going. Another pint of water ; instantly sober! Weird this dehydration! Into bed by 03:00, but I couldn't sleep, due to the mind being active, with thoughts of caverns measureless to ... mice, probably. Tomorrow (subjectively ) was another day - Christmas Eve ! The five hour exit from camp, despite the graft and after a hard camp, (or maybe because of it), was always a nicemellow experience. Bye bye camp, see you next time, whenever that may be! Whatever the cave does, time always seems measureless at the Restaurant at the end of the Universe.

Epilogue : Despite more camps over the next 2 years, the secrets of Last Spit Choke have yet to be revealed. The bang had done it's work, but removal of the slab only revealed more choke, with an intangible draught. A 5 cubic metre cavity has now been created, but with choke all around, it's not a healthy place to be. Is this the end of an era ? Or is Last Spit Choke yet to crack ?
Charles Bailey