Depth through thought
OUCC News, 30th October 2002
Volume 12, Number 12
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Editor: Anette Becher, email@example.com
Hello, and welcome back if you have returned alive and well from our freshers' weekend in Mendip and STILL want to go caving... But seriously, I had an excellent time and I hope everyone else did, too. If anybody (especially our new members) feels like writing a paragraph or two about their impressions of this or any other OUCC caving trip, please feel free to send your write up to me by e-mail. This newsletter depends on your write-ups!
Did anybody reply to the chap from the Southampton Uni club who wanted to organise a Uni club weekend-cum-piss-up (DTT 12.9)? I thought it was rather a good idea to get some lobbying power, given the current uncertainty of how sports caving is going to be represented at the BCRA/NNB level...
Hi everyone: Some of you will already know that the Morgannwg annual dinner (read 'buffet') has been organised by Ben Lovett for Sat 14 December. Carol at the Lamb & Fox will be putting on her usual spread of trestle-laden food.
This message is initially going out to MCC members (and partners), after which the word will (continue to) spread to those from other clubs who traditionally join us - so please pass the word where appropriate, bearing in mind that MCC members have first shout in attending! Cost of the buffet is £6 per head - answering 'yes' that you wish to come commits you to paying (on the night).
Replies to me or Ben direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
I've finally heard some news out of China and it all sounds very exciting. It seems that they found extensive semi-active/fossil development at around -850m which gives good prospects for connecting lots of caves together. This might eventually permit a sump bypass and, having looked closely at the depth potential, it is very close to 1km if they manage to resurge in the nearby river. There are also prospects of tying in higher entrances although this would be a lot of work.
Get the latest news on China from the horse's (?) mouth tonight - CD will be making an appearance.
Editor's short re-cap of what happened in part 1.1: In terrible weather, Rob and Erin were on their way to a cave they knew nothing about other than that it contained very big white rats and didn't flood. Having crossed a very swollen river with the aid of a farmer's hemp rope, they (accompanied by a rather large party of locals) entered the cave to stop for lunch in a small chamber. Read on...
By the time lunch had finished we were beginning to feel the cold and were keen to get moving. For the first time we noticed that the way on was down a 20' drop. A local farmer tied their rope to an old thin stalagmite and clambered swiftly down hand over hand. "SRT, SRT!" shrilled the SRT girl, one of our recent trainees. When the fourth man was in place to climb down we could see he was shitting himself. "Err," Erin said to our translator, "You know he doesn't have to go down... we wouldn't." An awkward discussion followed which was very hard to follow even though we were the main part of it but it culminated in us producing our secret weapon, a 10m tape. We would get people down safely but only if they had been trained in SRT and were wearing helmets. This meant just three people besides ourselves, a nice manageable number, even if one of our older SRT students appeared to be wearing a kiddies replica WWII helmet.
The tape webbing was just long enough to set up a traverse line to the pitch head and still reach the floor. I had no choice but to use the same dodgy stal belay but at least I was backed up and the locals had probably been using it for years. I tied a small loop in the end of the tape to go around a person's middle (I didn't want to make this unnecessarily
comfortable) and set up an Italian hitch to lower people down, which, to my relief, worked. With Erin plus three at the bottom I was about to dismantle my rig when Mme Tan materialized from nowhere and forced herself into the loop of tape. Now I had a problem. Normally I let Erin deal with Chinese negotiations because she's good at it but this was definitely not what we had agreed only minutes earlier. Now, it was just me and Mme Tan.
If she lost face now that could have repercussions for all future cave exploration in the entire region. Of course, if she got injured the consequences would be even worse. Best make sure she doesn't get injured then... Getting people back up the drop was something I hadn't given much thought to yet but I was sure we would be able to work something out nearer the time. I lowered her down, following immediately before anyone else could engage my assistance. Predictably enough everyone followed hand over hand anyway.
From here Erin and I began to survey the cave trying to go slowly so that those hanging around us would get bored and those who were ignoring us would leave us behind and not get in the way. We even took a deliberate wrong turn to waste time but, soon realised that even surveying we could move faster than the rest of the party which kept stopping to look at formations.
On and on we pressed as our number of 'helpers' dwindled. The cave was thankfully not flood prone but did possess some static pools which had to be waded through. The passage was mostly easy going - 10m wide and high and with a flat floor. An occasional short climb or section of crawling were the only points of interest. Our only guide now was a young lad with a hand torch who obviously didn't know the way. However, he kept out of our way and unhooked our tape for us if it became caught. 2km in we came to an overhanging calcite climb on small brittle holds and decided to call it a day. The others must have headed out long ago. Our young guide soloed up the climb to show us how easy it was but we weren't interested. We headed out.
After 100m we reached a crawl and were surprised to hear others coming towards us so we waited. "Did you go to the end?" they asked. "well, sort of," we replied. "You must come to the end," they insisted, "it is not far." So we followed them back to the climb where, as expected, they baulked and decided it was time to head out.
To our surprise, three of them chose this moment to begin their own survey of the cave. "What are they doing?" we asked. "This chamber is very big and they want to measure it" came back the answer. In fact the chamber was the same dimensions as the entire cave except for the crawling sections and as the survey continued through the crawl we repeated our question. "This mineral deposit is very rare and they want to know how much of the cave it covers" came back the answer. It was the first time I'd ever heard gypsum crystals describes as rare and since they had been making a frequent appearance ever since we entered the cave we weren't impressed. "Well, we'll just go on and wait for you on the surface," we suggested. "Oh no, our lights are failing and we need your bright lights to help us get out!"
In protest we walked along at the back with our lights out singing loudly and very badly. As their lights dimmed they ceased to be able to spot the gypsum, or read their instruments, and abandoned the survey. Our exit from the cave actually went surprisingly well thereafter, under the circumstances, and I even donated Erin's belay belt to make the pitch haul more comfortable. The river outside had subsided a little and the jeeps were waiting to take us to a late evening meal at someone's restaurant. It generously consisted of 40 different types of fungus from humble mushrooms to cat's liver fungus all washed down with an excess of beer and numerous heartfelt toasts. Such was China.