Depth through thought

OUCC News 8th March 2000

Volume 10, Number 5

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Contamination in Draenen 

Lou Maurice writes up the latest digging exploits in Nervous Breakdown series below, but I'm using this space to warn cavers of a diesel spill contamination in Ogof Draenen that we located last weekend. Although it has taken us two weeks to identify and locate the source of the contamination, believing it first to be a paraffin spillage caused by cavers, we now know that an inlet feeding the waterfall at Three Amigos has been contaminated by diesel from a vandalized truck that has been pushed off the road near Keeper's Pond and set alight. It rests in a shakehole which still contains the smell of diesel. Water in the inlet tastes of diesel, and a strong smell of diesel contaminates the passage between Lucky 13 and Big Country, which seems to be worse after rain. We have felt no ill effects, but cavers are warned that diesel fumes are potentially dangerous and may wish to avoid this area of the cave for the time being. The Environment Agency has been informed. 
Tim Guilford


This weekend the club will be staying in the luxury of Bull Pot Farm. I hope lots of you intend to come along, let me know as soon as possible. This is the last club weekend this term, so don't miss out! See you all there. 
Richard Doyle

Digging on Film 

We successfully negotiated the break down digs to reach the low breakdown chamber just before the Sword of Damocles broken finger dig we had passed the previous week. Tim wanted to begin filming before we reached the new dig so that we would relax into it so we sorted out the gear and headed in trying fairly unsuccessfully to pretend that the video was not there. Ben had barely moved forwards before a largish section of roof fell on his back worrying him considerably as he didn't know how big it was. "it's OK" I reassured him, carefully removing it, "it isn't that big".

We moved carefully forwards attempting to follow Tim's instructions to talk about the previous weeks trials as we passed the dig. It was quite hard to know what to say as we passed the mud banks and reached more breakdown passage. I was quite surprised how loose and unpleasant the roof was - I had obviously been so excited to have broken through the previous week that I hadn't thought very much about what we were crawling through! THUD! Another, this time smaller piece of roof fell on Ben, who removed it and then carefully replaced it, repeating what he had said as the camera had missed this small piece of action.

As I reached the second breakthrough of the previous week I made the mistake of looking too hard at the roof, but was soon spurred on by Ben shining his light into the enticing looking passage that we had left almost open. I wriggled cautiously under and then upwards to join Tim and Ben in a small chamber, to see what all the excitement was about. Scallops. The powerful video light picked out large scallops on the flat wall visible beyond the dig. But more importantly there was a solid roof, for the first time in a while. However it suddenly didn't look quite as easy to reach, and as Ben pointed out, the chamber we were crouching in was clearly Damocles' museum, with an assortment of variously shaped and sized swords waiting to drop.

Ben began pulling rocks out and then stopped, deciding to make space behind him for a hasty retreat in case he accidentally encouraged too many rocks to move. Tim leaned unexpectedly into me to get a better picture and I toppled into the wall behind. THUD. Tinkle Tinkle. A medium sized rock and several pieces of shrapnel parted from the wall. "I need to film from this angle" was Tim's response to my slightly distressed comment that the wall was collapsing. It was quite strange because although the place was clearly unstable the video and the digging occupied our minds as we concentrated on opening up a way through to the larger space beyond.

Finally it was time. This was the moment we had come here for. To enter new passage and for the first time catch the moment on film. Tim filmed Ben as he wriggled slowly and cautiously forwards describing the instability of the left hand wall and clearing more rocks ahead of him. CRUNCH. A piece of roof dropped on his legs. "there goes another rock", he called, ignoring it and continuing forwards. "There is a side passage, an inlet on the left, one for you Lou, and the main passage goes to the right and uphill" he called. "And it is all full of rocks". Tim followed and then filmed me going through. I looked to the right and saw the "inlet" which perhaps a small rabbit might fit along. I looked up and was reassured to see that I was about to stand up under a stable piece of roof.

As I dropped down and stood up I looked right and although it was full of rocks it looked exciting. "Can I go and have a look?" I asked. I clambered past them and immediately before the rocky floor sloped steeply upwards I saw a very small hole in the floor. I pulled out a rock and the hole got bigger. It was definitely passage. "Over here" I shouted excitedly, pulling out more rocks. Tinkle tinkle rumble. The slope above slumped down and I could see the rift passage below.

Soon it was clear and I wriggled down feet first. It was tighter than it looked. My helmet became wedged as I tried to turn it around to see what lay ahead. I suppressed my excitement and found a slight widening that allowed me to face forwards. I could see a large boulder on the floor ahead and a few metres of sandy floored rift beyond. It looked as though it might be getting bigger. I frantically tried to move forwards, eager to see more. I calmed myself down and positioned myself so that I was in the largest space before moving forwards. I managed to get my legs right over the boulder, leaving me almost upside down as it was steeply uphill. I tried unsuccessfully to push myself up and over into the passage beyond, but the rift was too constricted to find any sensible leverage. I tried moving backwards and couldn't. I was stuck. The boulder wobbled a bit and I wondered what would happen if it rolled towards me. Head first. That was the answer. I needed to wriggle back and start again going down head first. I concentrated on finding the correct position to move backwards - it is a bit like a 3D jigsaw, once you are in the right position you can move. I found it, wriggled back and twisted round to move up and out of the rift. It was quite a relief to be the right way up and in larger passage again, but I was very very excited and I desperately wanted to try again. I was sure that I could do it.

Ben and Tim seemed quite happy for me to try but I wanted reassurance that it was not completely foolhardy to attempt it head first and I told Tim to switch off the camera for a minute. It was very committing as it dropped down vertically, was very constricted and then went uphill over the boulder. I wanted to be sure I wasn't going to get stuck upside down. Five minutes later, and unaware that the camera had been running all the time or even that it was still on, Ben had convinced me that they could pull me up by my feet if I couldn't turn around. I was sure that there was something good beyond and now the decision was made there was no hesitation. I confidentially dived head first down the rift, focused on finding the largest part and fitting myself correctly into the jigsaw. It was easier than I expected and soon I was lying on my stomach on top of the boulder looking into "BLACK SPACE!". As the excited shouts behind me died down I described what I could see, knowing how frustrating it is to be behind and not know what is happening. "I think you had better hurry up" I called back. I could see about 4 metres of wider sandy floored rift passage with nice sediment formations, and beyond there was a black space between enormous rocks where it looked as though the passage was becoming larger.

I very carefully crawled over the sand leaving as much of it intact as possible and stood up. I was in a large passage filled with rocks, but with more space than in many places we had been through. We were back in the breakdown but I could see a lip a few metres ahead with more space beyond. It was a relief to be standing up again, but I turned back to talk Tim through with the camera, and Ben who soon followed. It was quickly decided that John should not attempt it head first and Ben dug the way down and along to make it possible for John to fit through feet first.

Finally we were all together and Tim went ahead into new passage with the camera. The lip turned out to be beneath three large slabs of split roof which Tim succeeded in making more unstable by loosening them with a crowbar before deciding that it was safer to leave them where they were. He disappeared in leaving the camera behind and started digging, but he didn't sound very happy about the stability of the choke he was in. He dug for a long time and made a small breakthrough. Ben followed and they carried on digging. CLONK. "what was that?" I asked John nervously. By now the excitement of earlier had worn of and I was feeling cold and stressed about the unstable nature of where we were and the places we had to go back through to leave "nervous breakdown series". John seemed to think that something large was moving and making the strange sound, almost like the noise a horses hoof makes on the road. He had been listening to similar sounds for a while and seemed to think the place was quite dangerous. I was not happy. And I didn't like the sound of where Ben and Tim were digging. I tried to follow them up but could not see how to turn the corner at the top without my legs pressing against the 3 large roof slabs that we all knew were loose. I changed my mind and John carefully directed me back underneath them. I felt that it was time to leave. We waited more patiently for Tim and Ben to assess the dig and 15 minutes later they carefully contorted themselves back along the route Tim had dug and under the scary roof. The verdict was that they weren't exactly sure where the main draught was coming from, but there was one definite way on with a large boulder that would need a hilti cap.

We had achieved our objective of filming the discovery of about 25 m of new passage, with all the ups and downs of cave exploration. I think we may need a week or two off before returning to try to find the way out of the nervous breakdown area and into real black space.
Lou Maurice