Depth through thought
OUCC News 21st November 2001
Volume 11, Number 6
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Although nobody broke their own legs drunkenly trying the ladder squeeze, this was a Wales Weekend in the old style. Good weather allowed classic streamway trips, OFD on Saturday and the wonderful DYO on Sunday, and there was plenty of party spirit at the WSG hut. Thanks to all who organised us out of too major a clusterfuck.
Most caves in Wales are now open, but not Ogof Draenen I have to report. Apparently, the footpath accessing the land is still closed, the only one in the area? Mysterious, but with luck it will be sorted out soon.
It would be nice to have a write up of one of the DYO trips if anyone fancies penning it (or whatever is the equivalent nowadays). This week's DTT has a story from Lou Maurice instead, about her first breakthrough in cave exploration...
Tim, Sorry, I don't have time to write anything for DTT this week, but here is a link to the pictures I took which you can include:
Your esteemed President is giving a talk on caving to the massed worthies of
St Cross College at 5.30pm on Thursday of 8th week (Nov 29th). If he manages to
get his act together in time, this will be a super duper multi media extravaganza
- that is, he will show a bit of "Cave of the Witch's Eye" as well as
lots of pictures. Some of the material - Spain, Draenen - may be familiar; some
of it - Mexico, cave diving in Cork* - has never been shown before (Wooooo!).
All are welcome; no farting noises at the back please.
(* The place in Ireland, not an archaic sort of wetsuit.)
Starring: Claire, Chris D, Martin L, Ian W J, Pippa C, Simon G,
Ian drove us all down from the SWCC with Pippa lying on top of three of us in the back seat and her feet out of the window. We entered OFD1 and headed for the main streamway and followed it past the first two pots and along the bottom of the bolt traverse and on to the 3rd and 4th pots. We continued in the main stream until we headed off to boulder chamber and the connection and into OFD1 and a half.
Continuing in dry passage we went to Collapse Chamber and the Letterbox, past Diver's Pitch and into Flood Bypass. Back into the streamway and to First River Chamber, and H Junction. After expressing to Chris and Claire that I was still nearly dry, I proceed to immediately fall into a pot and completely submerge myself. We continued up to Marble Showers and through Marble Showers series, into Great Oxbow Series and up the fixed ladder. Heading back into Mainstream Passage. We went up Maypole inlet, passed the Maze and up to the Crossroads.
Here, Chris, Claire and Ian left us to do Edward's Shortcut while Pippa,
Martin and myself headed out to Top Entrance. We went up Salubrious Passage and
entered into the top end of Gnome Passage. I managed somehow to lead out from
here. Amazing considering I haven't been in OFD for about 10 years. A
brilliant trip and great thanks to our leaders, Ian and Martin...and Chris,
Claire and Pippa.
(Gwynt-yr-Eira, Autumn 1997)
A truly uninspiring name for the piece of passage that transformed my life. And whilst the bend was irreversibly enlarged, the name, and the memories it conjures up, remain.
Struggling to turn my head around I could see the boulders blocking the passage ahead, but then lay still unsure what do next. I had never been digging before. At least, I had pulled buckets back in a long team of people with no real understanding of what we were doing, but being at the front was very different. Pat Hall had pulled a huge rock along the crawl and then Pete Francis sent me ahead, encouraging me to dig. To me the tight passage filled with rocks looked permanently impassable and I had no idea what to do about it.
I tried awkwardly grasping a few pebbles between my fingers and with a monumental effort managed to bend my arm back down the passage over my body and drop them amongst my legs, getting a strong feeling that I must be doing something wrong. This did not fit with the speed at which buckets flowed down passages during digging. All that effort and the passage ahead looked exactly the same as it had been before.
I was ready to give up, but Pete wasn't having any of it and spurred on by his faith I began to learn how to dig in awkward places. Dig dig, scrabble scrabble. Twist around, turn over, wriggle back. Success! Sort of. An almost respectable handful of rocks lay behind me for a few seconds before they disappeared back along the crawl as I contorted myself back in for more.
The effort, involvement and concentration was so intense I hardly noticed the small, yet significant forward progress I had made, and it was quite a surprise to find myself far enough around the tight corner to see that the passage appeared larger beyond. I don't think Pete or Pat believed me as I excitedly shouted back that I thought it was really promising. Small spaces and tricks of the light are easily mistaken for immanent breakthroughs by inexperienced diggers, and besides Gwynt-Yr-Eira rarely rewarded the dedicated diggers who had spent years of their lives searching for the elusive Black Mountain system.
I dug faster and faster, inspired by what I had seen, and by now becoming more practised at the awkward manoeuvre back around the corner. But then I saw a new problem as I realised there were no more rocks to pull out. The floor and the walls were solid; it was as big as it was going to get.
No one had passed this squeeze before, so how could I know if it was possible? I'd like to say that I approached it with caution, trying it slowly and reversing each move. But I remember the decision being sudden, almost out of control, as the conviction that something big lay beyond pushed me instinctively forwards, the sound of my heart beat amplified by the rock around me.
As I stood up making the first footprint in mud that had lain untouched for
thousands of years, shining my light on walls that had never seen light before I
had the biggest buzz of my life. I hadn't known that it was possible to feel
like this. It was completely indescribable. Waiting for Pete and Pat to squeeze
around the zed bend I stared down the walking sized passage naively believing it
was the way into the system draining all the way to Llgad Llwchwr, over 7 km
away. Of course we hadn't found the way to Llgad Llwchwr, the series ended
several trips later after about 200 m. But although I have been lucky enough to
be the first to explore other cave passages, even nicer caves, nothing compares
to that first astonishing experience.