Depth through thought

OUCC News 6th February 2002

Volume 12, Number 1

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I keep looking anxiously over my shoulder, but I think last year really is finally over, a year of no access to the fells, a year of avalanching university bureaucracy concerned with health and safety, consitiutions, and other nanny state nonesense to help feed the hungers of lawyers and insurance companies, and, for one caver close to the editor, a year of crippling health problems. But people seem to have started going caving again, at last. And even me. So it seems like the time to restart DTT again, with issue 1 of volume 12. What ever will happen next? Digging? Exploration? Discovery? Well, whatever it is let me know about it so I can fill the columns of the club's now infamous organ with your news and stories.

Nous Avons La Systeme Nicola

It had seemed such a simple plan. Graham Naylor, veteran OUCC member now resident in Grenoble and inventor of the famous system Nicola Cave radio, had generously managed to procure a radio set to donate to the club. I was going ice climbing in La Grave, so it made sense for us to to meet up for Graham to give me the kit and show me how it worked. Since the skiing was also good in that area, Graham was going to visit me in La Grave and we would have a combined radio/skiing day. Tres simple, n'est ce pas? Unfortunately nature got in the way and sent down an avalanche, blocking the road to La Grave. Tres malheureusement. This was even more unfortunate for the occupants of a car who were killed by the avalanche in question. I had wondered what the sirens were about, sitting in a bar only an hour after having driven up the road from the Valley.

The only sensible/legal route out of La Grave was now by a telepherique gondola car built to take skiers up to the Meije glacier. This was only round the mountain from Les 2 Alpes ski resort, which Graham could reach from Grenoble. So, Plan A + 1/2 was hatched and I hired some skis and bought a lift pass. Up I went in the James Bond style Gondola car, followed by another gondola car, a short walk to a drag lift, then a ski down to ride up on another drag lift, and about 15 minutes walk took me to the top of Les 2 Alpes at 3550 m. After just less than two hours I skied in to our Alpine restaurant rendezvous, just in time to catch Graham who was about to give up waiting for me.

We skied around a bit, then headed down for lunch where Graham showed me how the radios work, and what work is needed to sort the aerials etc. Then, it was back up to the top of the resort for me to begin my journey back to La Grave. I was a bit worried, because the only skiable route back down towards La Grave was an off piste black run. And there was a chill wind howling up from that direction. I was almost relieved when we came to a rope across the way over. So, we had to spend the rest of the afternoon skiing around Les 2 Alpes with radios on our backs, and hope that the road would be open again so Graham could drive me back in the evening. Unfortunately, the barrier was still there when we reached it. While we were debating what to do, a French car came through and beckoned us on. We were a bit worried when after a few miles we reached another barrier with a gendarme next to it. But he beckoned us on as well. It seems that "Route Barree" roughly translates as "route closed, unless that is inconvenient, in which case it is route open". My French never was that good.

Now, back in Oxford, we have one complete radio set, one for above and the other for below ground. If anyone is electronically literate, then some minor work is required to sort out aerials, battery connections and a radio beacon. Please contact me if you have some skills in this department, otherwise I will have to do it. The radios are high-value items, and so I propose to keep them at my house for safe keeping unless anyone else has any better ideas. The only proposed use for them is for training purposes in the UK, and for taking on expedition.

Many thanks to Graham Naylor and the Nicola Dollimore fund for making future expeditions potentially safer in the event of a rescue than they would have been in the past.
Chris Densham

A Return to Yorkshire

I hadn't even been in the Dales since 1997, and not on a club weekend to Bull Pot Farm since early in 96. Since then a whole generation of OUCC cavers had learnt to cave with club, and gone their separate ways. On the drive up it was clear not much had changed. The Fierce Ladies of Cannock were still fierce. The minibus was still a pain (and needed a quick push to get it up the lane to BPF).

Saturday morning though, I was in for more of a shock - 9.30 and I was the first of OUCC up. What was happening? Being the early starter was not a position I was used to! It wasn't for nothing that I'd been Tankard holder you know (or rather that's exactly what it WAS for - nothing, or at least pretty close to it: 'Laid Back caver 1996').

While the rest were still planning their doomed Gavel-Short Drop exchange. JC, Anita & I launched an escape pod with a plan do something on GG. Joined by Simon and Anatael we headed for Bernie's. One mug of tea, slice of flapjack, new climbing harness, and new SRT bag later, I was ready to go caving. By this time we'd decided to take Anatael to Bar Pot for his first SRT trip. (See Anatael 'learning the ropes' <>)

The walk up from Clapham was very pleasant - the forecast rain stayed away - and it was great to be back amongst the Limestone scenery. <> We made a small detour to see the water disappearing into Gaping Ghyll, before heading down. We had to wait for a party of two coming up the second pitch. ("Is this your first trip today?" - "We were hoping to get to the main chamber in daylight." - "Well you'd better hurry"...)

We made it to the main chamber just as the light was fading. Even lit only by our lamps, the 100m waterfall coming into the largest chamber in the country, is very impressive. We went as far as the start of Mud Hall before turning back due to lack of cows-tails to do the traverses. An enjoyable trip, and a nice introduction to SRT for Anatael (although don't ask him about the top of the first pitch, and his chest jammer...).

Sunday, with my ankle still hurting from a sprain on the walk back from Bar Pot, the most I could manage was an amble round the Waterfalls walk, and a stop in the Martin Arms. This time I hope It won't be 2007 before I'm there next.
John "not an old lag anymore" Pybus

Touching the Void, etc.

Joe Simpson is talking about his new book, The Beckoning Silence, at 7.00 pm on Wednesday 13 February in Borders bookshop here in Oxford.

And on a related note, there is an event called the Llanberis Mountain Film Festival taking place in Snowdonia on the weekend of 22-24th Feb. Should be interesting, though there's only one caving film as far as I know, and you've probably already seen it...

Weather Watch

For those who want to see just how awful the weather is in the caving areas, try It's oriented towards cave diving (naturally), but gives up-to-date rainfall and resurgence conditions useful for general trip planning. There is a picture of me I think, in one of the "picture galleries". Small prize for first to spot?
Steve Roberts

Kit For Sale

I have lots of kit that I'm trying to get rid of as I no longer have time to cave.

full s.r.t kit (petzl harness and hardwear)
tsa suit,
large 2x daleswear oversuit,
medium and extra large warmbac furry suit,
medium wet socks - knee length
elbow and knee pads
fizma carbide generator and petzl headset
petzl ecrin roc helmet
dragon caving tacklebag.

All the kit is in excellent condition apart from the elbow pads. I'd like £240 for the lot. I live in Bristol and my number is 07789 316203, ask for Andy West