Depth through thought

OUCC News 17th November 1999

Volume 9, Number 22

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Draenen (PDCMG) meeting

After a slightly disturbed night dreaming about being buried alive by rocks, I went to represent the club at the Pwll Du Cave Management Group Meeting on Sunday. It was a remarkably productive and amicable meeting this time (which is unusual). I won't bore you with the details, but I will give a response to Tim's editorial in last weeks DTT about the second entrance policy. This has NOT changed, at least not significantly. The policy is that all cavers must use the single original entrance to enter the cave. This policy can only be changed by a vote at one of the meetings of the group. The last meeting voted to seal the second entrance again, which had been broken open for a self rescue. This work was done and has not been visibly tampered with since then (about six months ago).

Also, a reminder that there is a biological recorder on the group, Rhian Hicks, who should be sent any bones or fossils recovered from Ogof Draenen together with their location, and informed of any unusual beasties that you might come across.
Chris Densham

Expedition Report

This is just a reminder for those who still owe me stuff for the expedition report. Let me know if you there's any problem with getting your articles/surveys/descriptions in by the end of next week (26 Nov) (I know I need to send survey notes to JC, Tim, Hilary).

10/9 Description and rigging guide (LB & LM)
10/9 Survey (LB)
Upstream 2/7 Description and rigging guide
Coral Corner - TG
Upstream of Viagra - HG
Upstream 2/7 Survey
Last year's finds - JC
Coral Corner - TG
Viagra Story (TG & LMa)
GSP Description & rigging guide (GL)
Dye detection report (AK)
Radon experiment report (JW)
Radio report (LB)
Medical report (JA)

Jo "mobile again" Whistler

Roaring (and Whimpering)

This Saturday I went digging with Martin Laverty in Roaring Hole. This is a fantastic little cave on top of Black Mountain, probably a feeder for Dan-yr-Ogof, that Martin and Martin Hicks have been digging for, oh, ten years or so, with occasional help from other people such as me, with the hope of making the elusive breakthrough. It is a proper cave with a streamway, some phreas, and... lots of boulders. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the current end. I was last there about a year ago and you could hear the sound of the streamway just below as you cowered at the bottom of a scary boulder heap. Since then, they had dug down to the streamway, with much reassuring scaffolding on the way, only to discover that the stream disappeared into an un-impressive slot in the floor. So, they had dug out a peat filled tube to reach the current limit, a jumble of boulders and a hole in the roof .

Except, you couldn't reach this part because a large boulder that hadn't been there before blocked the way, leaning against a lintel 'archway' that was presumably better supported than it appeared. This was eventually rolled back into a space, and I could tentatively start pulling rocks out from around the corner. It was easy work, the rocks just rolled towards me, and I could roll them back to Martin. Time to prod with a crowbar. Time to prod with a six foot pole. The rocks rumbled down and stopped six inches from my nose. Every time it looked like a big boulder was coming, I would let out a manly whimper and worm back underneath the dodgy lintel, trying not to touch anything. Problem was, there were bits of wall and there were bits of roof, it was just they were all connected to different rocks. The walls collapsed on me twice, in a friendly way, as I kicked back boulders towards Martin. More manly whimpers, more stone walling. I could see why Martin Hicks had advised me to take some toilet paper! Eventually I could stand and peer at the hole in the roof. It was rubbish - chunks of sandstone, probably meaning we were underneath another shake hole. But there was a tiny straw - I followed the trickle of calcite down the wall, and suddenly could see into a decorated passage! Okay, the floor was only a few inches away from from the roof, but at least there was a roof unlike most of the rest of this part of the cave. As we shovelled away the loose spoil, was it our imagination or did the draught pick up? Martin took over at the sharp end, and I took over from his job of packing boulders into a small chamber, trying to leave as much space for the tonnes of spoil that would no doubt be winging their way here in the weeks and months to come.

It was a terrific digging trip, starting hopeless and ending hopeful, and with the certain knowledge of tens of kilometres of un-discovered passage hiding in the Black Mountain. If either the hairy Martin, or the well coiffured Martin, offers you a chance to join them on one of their trips in Roaring, then it comes highly recommended (that OK Martins?).
Chris (I didn't want to go to Draenen anyway, so there) Densham

Paragliders in Draenen

On Sunday morning we were shivering in the car park of the lamb and fox in a howling gale wondering how to entertain four disappointed paraglider pilots who had come all the way to Wales to go flying. The obvious answer was to take them down Draenen although there were drawbacks as their caving experience varied from none to 3 previous trips, and naturally they had no kit whatsoever. It turned out that Natalie (a small Belgian girl) had fleece pyjamas that fitted Simon (6 foot tall with broad shoulders) perfectly. Tristan, a South African pilot with no caving experience was determined to wear his leather flying suit under a too small oversuit, but we finally managed to extract him from his caving strait jacket after we had persuaded him that actually he would be warmer and more comfortable in thermals and buffalo jackets. 2 hours later Tim and I had given away our last pieces of warm clothing and were desperately cobbling together petzl batteries and builders helmets, and thanks to the addition of Bens kit we had 6 remarkably well kitted out cavers.

Our worries that Draenen was not a beginners cave forgotten, it was decided to go to St Giles as the duck would be "challenging" for them. So off we went. I think Tristan got a bit of a shock in the first few metres and nearly turned back, but 5 minutes later there were enthusiastic cries of "this is SO WILD" and he was getting his camera out to take a picture as I lay in the stream wishing he had picked any other part of the cave. Everyone seemed to enjoy the entrance series and stories of exploration and we took a detour to big bang pitch. There was much excitement about the calcite and gypsum formations in Gilwern, and Tristan even found a new passage although he was disappointed to be shown that it was just a lower level section of the main passage. Simon and Abigail were having fun too, and everyone was being very rude about the "flaps" on the bum of Abigails oversuit.

We headed through the choke and into Forever Changed, and now it was new for me too. The passage shapes and straws were BRILLIANT, and Simon thought it should be called Drunkards passage as we all kept staggering and nearly falling over in the mud! We reached the stream and turned right - new for Tim too. Even BETTER passage shapes and straws -lots of photos and singing. And then it was time to go back for the duck. Tim went first and there was much cursing and swearing about the cold followed by complaints of being stuck which didn't really encourage our intrepid new cavers. Simon the largest in the group was not deterred and it was actually at Tims suggestion that he turned back, as Tim had had to breath out to get his chest through. The others weren't keen but Natalie thought they might follow if I went first and it went OK. I was determined to make it look fun but then it all went wrong as I lay in the tightest bit with Tim in front trying to have a sensible conversation about getting the others through. He decided to turn around to carry on and as the wave of water subsided from my eyes, nose, and mouth, my comments were enough to put off even Natalie.

We told them we would be 15 minutes at the most and hurried through the rest of the duck. We got to St Giles after nearly getting lost in the choke, but couldn't see much as we both had dim Petzls! We had brought my tiny maglite in case our lights went out, but even so the others had had the experience of having to decide what to do if we didn't return! We were pleased to discover that their ideas were very sensible. We headed out for a pint in the Lamb and Fox happy to know that Abigail had really enjoyed her first trip in Draenen, and Simon had had a great day in Natalies pyjamas. Tristan, new to caving thought it was brilliant, and Natalie had experienced her first trip in Britain. I had been seen new places and have enormous respect for Chris Densham who pushed the duck into St Giles, and even Tim saw a bit of Draenen he had never seen before.
Lou Maurice

Langstroth Pot and Cave

A classic Yorkshire trip.

Rob: A ridiculously early start saw a party of 10 gathering in thepicturesque valley that is home to so many of the great Wharfdale caves. The planned trip was to Langstroth Pot to visit its spectacular straws up to 4.5m in length. There was supposed to be 11 of us but, it later transpired, one had got no further than drinking tea in Bernie's.

Once down the entrance climb a small chamber offers a chance to listen to those in front negotiating the duck. It was a party of 9 that continued along the ensuing crawls. The second pitch proved to be an awkard obstacle. We waited in a chamber someway back trying to decifer what the problem was. Occasional we'd look round the corner but could see no evidence of progress. Eventually, two cavers returned to inform us it was too tight and they were heading out.

By the time we reached the 6th pitch and the inlet that houses the infamous straws we numbered only 5. Of these only four attempted the free climb which leads to a tortuous wriggle. It's surprisingly far to get to the chamber with the straws but its worth the effort. Heading back downstream our numbers swelled back to 5. At the last pitch Lev and I began to prepare ourselves for the sumps ahead. I changed to my back-up battery to ensure good light while we discussed possible excuses for heading back out. Such an excuse was presented when the final rope turned out to be 3m too short. However, it was soon swapped with the previous pitch rope and the sump was reached.

My preparations here were somewhat protracted. My backup battery had already failed and I had to switch to my second backup. I cleaned my mask compulsively for several minutes and meticulously adjusted my helmet to fit over my neoprene hood but eventually I was ready. We'd agreed to meet up in the first air bell and I was to signal my arrival by three sharp tugs on the line. Entering the sump pool I hesitated again to move my prussik bag to the other hip - away from the rope. There was a brief flash as the trip photographer captured the moment for posterity, then I'd gone.

The first sump was only 2m long and trivial. On surfacing two things struck me about the first airbell: one was its size, bigger than I was expecting; the second was the staleness of the air... not a good sign. I knew that a party had dived the sumps two weeks earlier using some of the air they had with them to replenish the airbells - obviously they hadn't bothered with this one. I signalled for Lev to follow and waited edging nervoulsy towards the second sump and hoping he would follow soon.

I'd been warned that one of the three sumps was best approached with the rope on one side but my source couldn't remember which side that was. If you have the rope on the wrong side you are forced under a low shelf of rock. With the rope on my right I cleared the scum from the surface and as soon as I'd checked that Lev was happy to continue I submerged myself again. This sump required a steep descent. The visibility was approaching 2m and I could see the shelf of rock which I wanted to avoid - I was on the wrong side of the rope. A barrel roll solved the problem and that together with my positive buoyancy meant that I dived the sump by crawling along the roof of the passage! From the lowest point of the dive I could see the next airbell shimmering like a silver mirror and aimed for the light. The second airbell was a total contrast to the first. Less than 2 cubic metres in volume but with good air. We'd agreed that we'd only stop here for two breaths and then carry straight on with no signalling. However, I couldn't see the next rope. As I turned round it became obvious that it was, in fact, wrapping around my neck. This was easily rectified and off I went for the final 4.5m. I was starting to enjoy the diving by now - surprisingly effortless, especially compared with the alternative of derigging the cave.

I surfaced in a low wet tunnel. There was a plastic bat hanging above the sump line. I waited, watching the line for any sign of movement. We didn't have much of a contingency plan in the event of a no-show but this didn't matter because the line soon went taut. Moments later a light loomed from the gloomy depths before Lev finally surfaced. We had expected the exit from here to be easy - we were now in a grade 2 cave after all. As we crawled along still wearing face masks and neoprene hoods I half expected to meet a group of boy scouts in tracksuit trousers and t-shirts. Had we read the cave description we would have known to take the upstream branch. However, we went downstream and crawled for about 10 minutes before reaching the further entrance. From here it was off to the pub for a fine dinner before returning just in time to meet the deriggers.

Lev: As I waited at the top of the last pitch for Roger to fetch the rope from the previous pitch my mind filled with excuses for not diving the sumps. There were plenty to choose from, but none of them seemed quite good enough. I looked at Rob - he seemed to be as nervous as I was. We discussed the possiblilities, hoping that someone would try to talk us out of it. We asked whether the 3 remaining cavers (down from an original 11 - a remarkable rate of attrition) would be able to cope with derigging the cave alone. They smiled and said they'd manage. Too soon the rope arrived and we were at the bottom of the pitch staring into the sump pool. We faffed as long as we could, putting our masks and hoods on, adjusting helmets and lights, but finally we had to make a decision. We decided to defer the decision and to meet in the first (larger) airbell before committing ourselves. We gave the others instructions to wait 5 minutes before starting the derig in case we returned and then Rob was gone. I checked that nothing I was wearing could catch round the line, took a deep breath and went for it...

When I emerged in the surprisingly spacious first airbell after no time at all I instantly knew that I would continue. A neoprene hood completely takes away that initial cold water shock you normally get when you stick your head under and the mask meant I could easily see what was going on. Even though I was following Rob through the sump, with my very bright and pinpoint focussed (hired) light visibility well over a metre - I can certainly see why divers like to have so much light. We exchanged no more than, "I'm going to continue", "See you on the other side", and Rob had gone again. As I waited for the line to go slack, I started to wonder if I could detect a staleness in the air, but I put the thought to the back of my mind. We had insider knowledge that a group of 5 had been through a fortnight ago with bottles and had replenished the air in the second airbell - they'd probably spent a while chatting and farting in this one since it was so big.

The second sump is 3m long and you have to go quite deep to start with. I found myself waving my legs in the air and hauling on the line to get underwater - I'd intended to buy a wetsuit in ingleton that morning but they had none my size, and my TSA, with Neoprene cuffs, elbow pads, kneepads and harness, was trapping a lot of air. By far the easiest thing to do was to crawl along the ceiling on my back - this meant that I could see the silvery goal of the airbell quite easily. Two deep breaths (so as not so use too much oxygen), <huff-puff>, and onwards - suprisingly easy and good fun this freediving lark - crawl along the ceiling once more, and what's this? The surface already? I thought this was supposed to be a 4.5m sump - it feels hardly longer than Swildon's One.

We hadn't bothered with reading the guidebook description of Langstroth Cave and had been imagining something along the lines of the fairly nearby Dow Cave, another resurgence cave fairly nearby, with large shingle-floored passage and easy going, so it was a bit annoying to find ourselves doing 10minutes of easy but wet crawling before emerging into the darkness on the hillside with no idea of where we were. We soon got our bearings and set off for the cars and pub food, buzzing with the excitement of what we'd just done. A truly fantastic trip - sporting caving, amazing formations, brilliant through trip connection, and in a beautiful part of the Dales which OUCC rarely seems to visit. Deserves its reputation as a Dales classic. Highly recommended!
Rob Garrett and Lev Bishop

Surveyors' Dog Inlet

After Saturday's excitement and a particularily wild night's partying (even for BPF) I didn't really fancy doing much of anything on Sunday, but Rob managed to persuade me that a trip to the end of Surveyors' Dog would be a good plan as there was a low bedding plane at the end which could possibly be pushed. A late start so we hurried across the fell and bombed it through the easy passages in Mistral. Easy crawling up Ratbag Inlet and then more tedious wet crawling up Surveyors' Dog. An interesting technical squeeze which Rob preferred to do feet first as a 3-point turn, but I just forced my way through headfirst and then we were at this bedding. I took my helmet off and got myself about half way in. I dug a bit of the gravel out and forced myself through.

"What's the squeeze like?", asked Rob. "Fairly tight - you don't have your pelvis grating against ceiling and floor, but it's not too far off that..." "Why don't you go explore and I'll wait here?"

I set off into the unknown. As I went, there were a couple of signs that someone (a maximum of one person, I'd say) may have been this way before - a couple of broken straws in places where you have to squeeze past them, and a mark in the mud. I went on for about 50m, in some wet tightish crawling and past 2 fairly easy squeezes and two technical squeezes, which I was not at all convinced Rob would be able to pass. Having reached the first place to turn around for some distance, and faced with yet another technical-looking squeeze, I was feeling a bit exposed and returned to fetch Rob. He was disappointed that I hadn't pushed to a conclusion and complained about having to do this bedding plane. He dug some more gravel out and managed to fit through. We proceeded to the end, Rob finding the squeezes somewhat harder than I had, until we reached the final squeeze before the place I'd turned around. Rob tried various different approaches to this squeeze, but none of them seemed quite right after a little while he asked me if I could find a rock. I managed to find one and to hammer off a small projection which was limiting a vital bit of shoulder movement and Rob was through to join me. The next squeeze was followed by, you guessed it, another tricky squeeze. I might have been able to get through with a backbreaking twist upwards, but I could see that the stream came from under a calcite blockage with insufficient room to squeeze past, so we left it for another day and a small lumphammer. On the way out Rob's light started to fade, and was soon slightly less use than your average digital watch. I offered to go fetch my zoom, which I'd left at the bedding, but he insisted he was OK.

"There can't be many places where this level of light could be called adequate illumination, but this is one of them. The only other which springs to mind is BHR."

We sorted out the lighting situation at the bottom of Pippikin and met two people doing Top-Pip. We wished them luck and raced back through Mistral and over the fell. So much for an easy Sunday trip....
Lev Bishop

Music Quiz

Since nobody's answered the music quiz from last week's DTT I'm going to change it so that the person with the most correct answers by next Wednesday wins. So far I think only one of the songs has been identified, so it shouldn't be too difficult. Give it a go...
Lev Bishop