Depth through thought

OUCC News, 6th November 2002

Volume 12, Number 13

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OUCC Home Page

Editor: Anette Becher,


In the absence of any articles about the Mendip weekend from novices (or, indeed from old lags), more of Rob's entertaining China Chronicles in this issue.

Do send me articles, even if they are just a couple of paragraphs, otherwise DTT will become an irregular feature... Any novices keen to write anything? What about anyone from the intrepid China team that have just returned (Harvey??)?

I notice that the Imperial CC are also planning to visit the Dales this weekend (staying at the NPC hut 'Green Close'), so if you manage to make it to the pub this time, this is an excellent opportunity to make friends and find out about possible future expeditions to the deep caves of Slovenia (this summer they went to Siberia instead).


Hi: The Graduate Recruitment Bureau would like to hear about ways we can support your society. We would like to explore opportunities covering sponsorship, advertising, marketing or even offer some of our in-house design services for flyers, etc. I am open to your ideas so if you are interested please get in touch.

Kind Regards
Daniel Hawes
Graduate Recruitment Bureau
Cornelius House
178-210 Church Road
E: :

Any ideas as to what these people could 'do' for us... I thought may be we could get their 'in house design service' to make us a BCRA winning club stand? That would run under marketing, I suppose?... Anette

Chronicles from China - Part 3 (Of coffins and caves)

Rob Garrett

This story hails from the end of our (Erin, Rob and James) first 2 months of exploration around Leye County. We'd saved the trip to last for a variety of reasons, not least the volume of water which nearly fills the passage.

We commenced the trip with a brief foray into a side passage which we expected to be short-lived. We almost baulked at the dodgy exposed climb needed to reach it. However, with combined tactics and a trusty length of tape we were soon marching off down virgin passage. At least it was probably virgin because if the locals had known there were so many bats so easily accessible they would surely have long since eaten them. Or at the least they would have helped themselves to the knee deep bat poo which they seem to have gone to great lengths to collect in other caves. As it was, we were able to map several hundred metres of smelly walking passage which positively writhed to the music of a thousand snoring bats. I don't know, if they were really snoring but it was a very strange noise that seemed most out of place deep underground. The bats themselves were huge, the perfect grotesque adornment for the eery, gothic passage we were following.

To our surprise the passage formed a high, dry oxbow to the main streamway, which we were now ready to explore. The water for this river was the confluence of effluent from a giant goose farm (normal sized geese, giant farm) and the main river through the nearby town of Leye. It had a fine murkiness, an interesting aroma and a reputation for backing up about 20m or so in spectacular fashion during the wet season. We had fiery carbide lamps, trusty tyre inner tubes and a reputation to look after. Things were shaping up for a funky little trip.

We soon reached our previous limit of exploration where the 40m wide fossil trunk route is abandoned by the water which heads into a 10m wide canal with about 2m of airspace. We knew where the water was going because we'd previously found a rising sump about 1.5km away in a straight line (rather further as the bat flies). We paddled off into the unknown, propelling our hands through the water, two trailing a tape measure while one sketched (not easy while sat in a tyre inner tube). As the roof lowered we were half hopeful that an early sump would send us back to the world of cheep beer and banquets but there was no such luck. Around a corner the roof rose to 10m in a tunnel, which disappeared well beyond the range of our gloomy lights.

Our big concern now was of meeting a waterfall. We could hear a cascade ahead, but the noise was deceptive and we had no way to judge its height. Getting washed down an irreversible drop would be an embarrassing way to end our time in Leye County. As luck would have it, the cascade was only small, no more serious than a grade 2 rapid and actually rather good fun. Although reading a compass and making sketch notes are rather tricky while sitting on a tyre inner tube in a jolly little cascade, but that's what eddies are for. In fact there were plenty of rocks to stand on around the cascades and the water wasn't deep until it resumed its former lacustrine tranquillity.

Caving has seldom been so easy as we glided effortlessly downstream. Getting back out would be less easy but that was a problem to solve in the future. More concerning was the massive tree trunk wedged across the passage like a bridge 10m above our heads.

As the number of survey legs accumulated, there was still no end in sight. The water began to flow faster and shallower until finally, after nearly 60 legs (around 1.5km of river passage), we floated out onto a scum covered fetid lake. Mud banks rose up around the edge of the chamber - we had reached the inevitable sump.

Having come so far we were keen to check every recess in the hope of finding a sneaky sump bypass. However, our attention was quickly drawn by a large rectangular piece of wood around 6' long, 2' wide and 18" high. A long thin crack could be seen along the side, as if it had a lid that was not quite shut. James and I gave it a wide berth as we explored the chamber. Yet I kept a wary eye on it, too many hammer horror films and a cave's worth of accumulated paranoia had me speculating about whether or not vampire's featured in Chinese mythology. In my less wild moments I was still imagining strange funerary rites which involved floating a coffin down the dark water-filled tunnel to the underworld.

While I was distracted by a low muddy recess, which went nowhere, the stillness of the sump chamber was broken by a stifled scream. Erin had, rather foolishly I thought, wandered over to inspect the coffin. Expecting to see a withered hand reaching up from beyond the grave I nervously went to join her, as did James. Her fright had in fact been caused by a giant centipede which had startled her before she even reached the object of her interest. Before any of us had time to move closer, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, as it was now apparent that the wood was not a coffin but just an uncannily evocative block of wood.

It was time to go and the journey out proved uneventful with long sections of canal turning out to be only waist deep and the rest being sufficiently slow flowing that even a tyre inner tube had no difficulty making progress upstream. We arrived to a moonlit night happy in the knowledge that the cave was dead, it was time for a party.