Depth through thought
OUCC News, 16th October 2002
Volume 12, Number 10
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Editor: Anette Becher, email@example.com
Hello again and a warm -or should it be cold, muddy and damp- welcome to all freshers. DTT is your (ir)regular club newsletter and is full of whatever you decide to put in it! Feel free to contribute any time you like.
This week's DTT sees Lev's report of his brief return to Britain from self-inflicted exile in the US. Much of his time in the UK was spent underground in an attempt to break through into more virgin cave passage in Wales' Ogof Draenen - the only (well, ONE) way to spend one's holidays!
To give you a taste of OUCC's involvement in original exploration in China, we have a hot-off-the press update on Chris Densham's OUCC expedition to Sichuan. More on China with a further instalment of Rob's Chinese Chronicles in next week's DTT.
Enjoy! - Anette
So whereas everyone else it seems was been having a superb time finding all sorts of wonderful stuff in the Picos, a hardcore team of cavers, flown in especially from all corners of the globe, set up camp for a week of derring-do and a death-or-glory assault on Ogof Draenen. Or something like that.
The planned taskforce included myself (why did I decide to fly all the way from America to spend one of my 3 weeks in the UK digging in squalor in Draenen, you might ask, and I don't really have an answer to that one), Rich Gerrish (until last year OUCC's African correspondent), Hilary, Rob Garrett (OUCC's roving reporter flown in specially from China or Australia or somewhere), Beardy (RRCPC) and Gavin. Our target was a squalid mud-filled dig at the end of Yellow Van passage. It was a place myself and Gavin had already devoted a number of trips to before I left the country. The story goes like this...
Steve Roberts and Gavin were intending to return to the end of Yellow Van back in November '98, and I was drafted in at the last minute as a ferret. In the end for various reasons Steve did not do the trip and Gavin and I had a dig (see DTT8.20). The next time Gavin went back there, this time with Rich G, they discovered that the string of the drag tray had been washed down a small hole in the floor near to where we'd been stacking spoil (we already knew that YV is a flood overflow). So they dug straight downwards for a few feet but failed to reach the end of the string. Over the next few trips Gavin and I dug straight down a few more feet to find a partly mud-filled passage heading off horizontally. The next trip was after heavy rains and we discovered that the water had washed out a lot of the mud, enlarging the dig in one sense, but the boulders which had been held in place by the mud now were blocking the way on at the bottom of the vertical section. Clearing this blockage proved tricky, with the boulders being deceptively heavy for their size. In fact everything at the dig is deceptively heavy. Did I mention that the dig takes water when it rains? It can be a pretty squalid place. Anyway, a couple of trips using comical 8:1 and higher pulley advantage systems cleared most of the boulders leaving just a couple that required hilti-capping to break them and leave the way on clear for more digging. Its a long way into the cave to be dragging drills, batteries, hilti gear (thanks to Seedy and Claire for helping with that), but once we got it all there it was a quick matter to despatch the remaining 2 boulders. Gavin and I put in a few more trips and by the time I left the country we had a shaft going down about 3m and the horizontal passage heading off sloping slightly downwards for about 5m, and we were reaching the limit of what could sensibly be dug with 2 people. There was no draught, but the digging was fairly easy in heavy sticky heavy mud, and the roof was not going to come falling on your head (a quality I value in a dig).
So this was the place to which I'd organised an expedition. On Saturday it was Lev, Rich, Gavin and JC who trudged their way to yellow van to start digging. I was lagging behind (as well as lagging at the front and lagging in the middle) due to being rather unfit from a year of almost no exercise and a mere 2 caving trips, but I still made it to the end, where we found things much as we'd left them (we'd taken to bagging up the spoil in binbags to stop it being washed into the dig by the rains). The digging was easy and we made a few feet of progress. Sunday was spent recuperating and hut-building (replacing the tin roof on the Blackwalls hut in time for winter) in the company of Tim and Lou. Hilary made a brief appearance before deciding she'd rather explore Tormenta to depths measureless than dig in squalor in Draenen (traitor!) and Tangent even put in a cameo. The plan had been to go in again on Monday, but with just 2 of us left, Rich and I decided to wait for Rob to arrive before the next trip. Rob didn't get in until Monday afternoon, thanks to British rail's tardiness, so Monday was spent drinking, smoking and lazing about in true Three Amigos style. Tuesday saw a long hard digging trip that was very productive in terms of distance gained and by this time we were sure that the draught we'd started to feel on Saturday wasn't a figment of our fevered imaginations. Wednesday was another rest day (More Of The Same) and Thursday was supposed to see Rob substituted for Beardy and Helen. Unfortunately the reinforcements proved to be in worse shape than the remaining frontliners, with Beardy having damaged himself on some sort of crazy walking escapade and not wanting to do anything too strenuous in order to recuperate for his upcoming expedition to china. Helen didn't fancy the trip either so we took advantage of having Beardy's car available for transport (we'd been "stranded" at the lamb and fox until that point) to go for jollies at Ystradfellte. Saturday saw Gavin return for the final push. We hit it hard and by the time we retreated we were over 10m into the horizontal passage, and at a seemingly critical point, where the passage broke almost vertically upwards with some sort of black space tantalizingly visible a few feet overhead. Unfortunately, just before this change in character, there is a constriction in the rock which will have to be enlarged before digging can continue with any degree of efficiency. I suspect Hilti-Caps will be necessary, though perhaps a spirited attempt with a lump hammer would do the job. We were also nearing the limit of what was sensibly diggable with a team of only 3 people, but we're on the brink of breaking through! Honest! (Breaking through to more digging, no doubt, but you can always dream).
See you all at Bull Pot Farm at New Year!
I'm sitting in a farmhouse in a village in rural China, having just finished dinner with the Chinese family looking after the 12 of us living here. Email and an earth closet toilet out the back makes a bizarre combination. Martin, Lenik and Andy Harp have just made it back from a surveying and shopping trip at the bottom of the valley. Harvey and myself have just finished packing gear for a camping trip down Qikeng Dong tomorrow, and Erin and Duncan (CUCC) are going down the next day. Qikeng was just a shade under 900m deep a few days ago, and hopefully Taco and Matt will at this moment I write be making it just that bit deeper.
Qikeng Dong is in many ways reminiscent of 2/7. A vertical entrance series drops to a camp at -700m, comfortably equipped with hammocks and the club Sistem Nicola radio which has at least managed to work in one direction if not yet in the other. A few hundred metres beyond camp is a sump and a several hundred metres long sump bypass which opens out at the top of a fantastic streamway. It sumps upstream but cascades along downstream with a swimming canal to the head of a 60m waterfall pitch. this drops into a deep lake which fills the chamber - descending this is the closest thing to Just Awesome I've ever done. It was rigged by James Alker and Taco van Iperen the day the rest of us arrived in the village. So far I've done one 4 day camp down the cave, and Erin Lynch and myself went exploring from the edge of the lake onwards along the streamway continuation. Like 2/7 there is a high level fossil passage which avoids the boulder chokes in the streamway below. Really nice passage, and rummaging around in the chokes let us reach back to the streamway without having to rig any pitches.
Qikeng is now the deepest proper cave in China and there is still about 5km and possibly another 100m depth to go to a possible resurgence. We went to the camp on China time, and came out on UK time - we got up at 4pm from camp to reach the surface at 4am. Now I need to crash out -I'm falling victim to the towers of beer crates that together with accommodation is on free supply courtesy of the local tourist cave company.
What a shame our cave is heading away from their showcave, but towards a potential 1km deep. More news as the cave and others in the area progress, if the internet connection from the farmhouse holds out. Now I must go and visit the pigs...