Depth through thought

OUCC News, 4th December 2002

Volume 12, Number 15

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Anette Becher,


Starting off with apologies this time: due being registered for the dtt mailing list under a now defunct e-mail address and not realising this, I never received DTT12.13 myself when I sent it from Beijing. Consequently, I thought it had aborted itself while being sent from China (the machine crashed just after I sent it), and so you got it all again under a new issue number 12.14. Rest assured that I haven't got Alzheimer's (yet).

The amazing thing is, other than Tim nobody said anything. Did you not notice, or are you uncharacteristically polite? Do tell me if you have ideas for DTT, or if something appears to be odd...

The final bumper issue of this term contains completely unpublished articles only! We go out with a bang, as Rich Gerrish's and Pete Hall's boulder dig collapses round their ears. Somewhere halfway through, we also have a whimper, that of Chris Densham with a severe hangover in China. And finally, if you haven't yet received Keith Hyams' invitation to explore the caves of Roraima in Venezuela, please contact him a.s.a.p. at

Into the Red

Tim Guilford

For those of you so misled in life as to waste hours on a Friday evening driving to the Dales to spend your weekend getting stupidly wet, and that, after a sleepless night in a cold, beery, draughty, firework-ridden hut, I thought I'd post a reminder that some us went caving last weekend in Wales, a fine place for caves. Actually Wales, contains the longest cave in Britain. And the deepest. And, oh just ask Hilary and she'll explain.

So, customarily, I spent hours on Friday night driving to Blackwalls, our cold, draughty, beery hut near Ogof Draenen, to get little sleep (too much time spent turning the sky red and green with fireworks) in preparation for Saturday's big trip into the Dollimore Series. Now, diggers, your interest perks up. Where is he going, and why didn't he tell us first (after all, its our dig!). No, the aim was entirely different: to turn into the black red. Actually, turning into the black red was but part of a coordinated plan to turn big country green at the same time, and, assuming that big country doesn't somehow connect with out of the blue, leading to a surge of green out of the blue turning into the black purple instead, pinpoint the hydrological connections of Draenen's main stream passages to the resurgences at Tumble, the Afon llwdd, and, eventually, Pontypool. Oh fuck it, we were doing a dye tracing experiment, alright?

Lou had spent the previous week running control detectors in around ten resurgences, and now we were ready for the big day. Lou is Fat Controller here, and we were just grunts in her plan to determine the flow routes and times for Draenen's major streamways. Neither Big Country nor Dollimores have been conclusively traced. Anyway, what a grand plan. Me and Clare and John Pash and Pete Talling (UBSS) head in to Dollimores with the red stuff (rodamine), whilst Sue Mabbot and Spencer head in to Big Country with the green stuff (fluorescene). I was a little apprehensive, since this is by far the longest trip I have done in two years now. But we rattle on in after a super-wet entrance series. There are no bats. Clare drops a rock on her finger, and by 2 hours in its getting pretty sore, so we have a conference. She and Pete decide to exit, leaving me and John to carry on. John is apprehensive because he has done little caving, and doesn't like tight crawls. I wonder whether to describe Last Sandwich accurately, or simply lie.

But we get there, and with a little coaxing John takes the U-tube feet-first just to see if he can do the crux. He manages, and so decides to carry on up and through the squeezes, feet first. Mad, but triumphant, we carry on to Rock and Roll to turn the river red. In fact John does brilliantly, and we are back at White Arch in under two hours. Beer beckons. But with just 15 minutes to the pub, it all goes horribly wrong. We catch Sue and Spencer, limping home after a minor shoulder injury and having failed to reach Big Country. So here's the dilemma. Go back in now to Big Country, and keep the dye trace on track, solo. Or go back in tomorrow, Sunday, rest day, non-caving day, gear wet, hangover. The answer is obvious, but beer beckons and I go out instead.

Next morning Ben and I, buoyed up by a sense of heroism, trundle in to Big Country and turn the river green. It's a most impressive sight. We took a detour to look at Alpha Oxbow again, and dug a bit. I almost got through. This needs another visit. In fact so much of the cave does. Why is no one exploring it anymore? Perhaps, when the dyes come out at Pontypool with good speed people will be enthused to go in again and push towards all that open, dry(ish) passage. If the dyes come out at all. We watch and wait.

Stop press

9pm Tuesday 12th November, Snatchwood and Pontypool running bright green, just 52 hours after the injection.! This is faster than Bill Gasgoine's trace from the mainstream (96 hours), and proves the connection between Big Country and the main risings. No sign of the rodamine yet, but perhaps its in the charcoal detectors already!

Keeping up Appearances in China

Continuing on from where Rob left off in Youyang, China, May 2001:

Chris Densham

While Erin and Rob were off with one group of Chinese, Lev and myself went caving with another. We set off with our group, feeling perhaps a little like freshers going on a Swildon's trip with no idea what to expect. We were headed up towards a large resurgence cave in the cliff above the luxury chalets we were living in. "Is there a river?" we had asked. "Do we need any flotation?". After a lengthy period of our translator, Sarrie, just saying "I don't know" to every question, we had persuaded her to ask questions to our local guide, who it appeared had been in this cave before. "No", was the eventual answer, "No water. Just bring some rope and SRT for a drop down". Soon we were having our bare ankles in plimsolls battered by rocks as we waded against the strong outward flow of the river we had been told to not expect. We were still on the steep part of the learning curve when it comes to Chinese interactions. We left our huge rucksacks of rope + SRT kits on the side and carried on, to the bemusement of our companions. Soon we entered a fossil level and after a few hundred metres came to a pitch. We went back to fetch the kit. It turned out to be a reasonably straightforward freeclimb, so we carried on, leaving one of the group behind who did not fancy it. Soon we came to another slimy drop down back to the muddy river bank. "Time for some rigging" we thought. While we were putting in some bolts, our local guide jumped down, then climbed partially back up again to see what we were doing. He then continued along the wall ahead, and after about 50 m or so began traversing around an overhang. With one leap he was across the river and disappeared off, his torch in one hand and a plastic bag containing his lunch in the other.

Having rigged our first obstacle, we did not fancy emulating our guide on the next irreversible move, preferring to come back another day with some tyre inner tubes. So, we started to survey out. At which point two of our Chinese companions took out a large compass and began to survey out as well, shining their big carbide flames in our eyes to look at our notebook and instruments. As we progressed in a bizarre foursome, our guide reappeared on the other side of the river, and continued downstream as we returned along the fossil level. We heard a distant sound of splashing, then gurgling. Then silence. "You know," said Lev, "I think our guide may have just drowned". Our companions did not seem to worry, and soon got bored and headed out, leaving us to complete the survey in peace. It was with some relief that we arrived back at the chalets to discover our guide had re-appeared, and everybody was accounted for.

Pete and Rich dig Shower Bath Inlet II

Rich Gerrish

The dig in Shower Bath Inlet was rapidly consuming our attention, partly because it is in a pretty good location for a possible link to Lost Johns, but more important than that is the interest. No boring shovelling of bucket after bucket of mud, this dig moved fast with boulders easily being pulled out and tossed away. The uphill direction of the dig and its associated dangers also meant that we had to do a lot of thinking about what our moves would be at each stage and this kept our minds keen and on task rather than wandering to thoughts of tea and biscuits. Having been unable to find anyone stupid enough to volunteer to venture beyond the bars and into No Mans Land, we opted for a long proddling stick approach to test the boulders hanging high out of reach behind the cage. We were joined on this occasion by Andy Whittington and after removing a whole bunch of offending rocks that leaned against the bars, we were ready to prod at the big fellas stuck to the ceiling impersonating a life size version of kerplunk!

I offered Andy the task of helping Pete direct the enormous scaffold rod we had constructed and stood at the bottom of our wall and looked on expectantly. Steadily Pete directed the rod towards a small rock wedged in the middle of the morass. On cue Andy rammed the bar against the rock, bit-by-bit the target rolled, pivoted and finally fell from the pincer grip that held it. The bar fell loose in their hands as we listened to a gradually rising cacophony of destruction at the removal of the mother of all keystones! I high-tailed off down the passage, which had nothing to do with being terrified, honest, I was just making sure that Pete and Andy's escape route would be clear. As if they would have had chance! The cage sang with the ringing of boulders clattering against it, shrapnel pinged between the bars and we all shat ourselves.

"Jesus Christ! Fuckinell!" I exclaimed with an ear-to-ear grin spread across my face.

"Urgh" Pete mused "I recoiled so fast I got a crick in my neck."

Behind the bars was a solid wall of rocks that used to be the ceiling. An exceptionally good nights work that definitely deserved the pints we treated ourselves to on our way home.

I had to cry off at the next session due to quality time commitments but Pete was back with Hugh St-Lawrence and Neil Pacey. The trio worked a 7-hour night shift removing all the recently accumulated spoil. At the end of the session, with the clock almost at 3am they removed the bars and Pete ventured gingerly out into beyond.

The following Thursday Pete and me were back again, this time dragging 7 large scaffold bars down to the dig along with a bag of the usual digging paraphernalia. We arrived at the dig sweating our guts out; I forced my face against the bars to peer into the 10ft of virgin passage on the far side. We decided to have another go at removing more of the "widow makers" before having a closer look. We were starting to get a bit braver with the digging now, having learnt what we could get away with. As Pete put it "We've had a pretty good ratio of squashed fingers to tonnage of boulders moved!" Despite this, the dig still had a few surprises for us. The gaps in the bars weren't big enough for any killers to get through but on a couple of occasions the stacked rocks behind and the spaces between the bars provided the perfect "ski ramp" for a medium sized mauler to get through. Not the kind to put you on the slab but enough to make sure you spend the night on a trolley at LRI if you catch the drift, or one of those in the face! With the way on clear of present danger we removed the three little bars and I edged through.

Stepping out onto a large sloping slab that constituted the floor with one foot and stepping up onto the scaff cage with the other I was able to bridge out. I then braced my back against the steeply rising roof and walked up the rest of the mud-covered slab till I was standing on its peak. From my vantage point in virgin territory I was able to survey the scene.

Floor, good and solid.
Back wall, good and solid.
Left wall, hanging death.
Wall in front, hanging death but held in with clay.
Right Wall, hanging death with stream trickling through the gaps.

Roof, Daaaaaargh!!!

A mere inch or two from my face was a gullet widening, sphincter wobbling, Stuka Dive bomber torpedo of blackened limestone that looked only slightly more structurally sound than a Blue Peter Tracey Island model reject. I retired to the safety of the cage to collect my nerves.

We sat and discussed our next move. After much deliberation we decided that constructing a new cage beyond our current one and before the passage widens or goes vertical would be the best bet. From there we would then be able to start digging again. In which direction we will dig is the big question, current thoughts favour following the water, given that the boulders are more likely to be clean of clay and will therefore collapse more easily. Great philosophy eh! First things first though, manoeuvring scaff and building another cage in a place where 4 out of the 6 sides of the small chamber are of dubious stability.

P.S. If anybody is interested in joining us for a digging trip it is quite likely that we will be working there during the next OUCC Yorkshire meet and people are more than welcome to come along if you drop us a line:

It isn't a dig that requires many people, however, so if you just fancy having a look you could probably combine it with a tourist trip round the rest of the cave. Please do, however, bear in mind that the dig is not only ongoing but it is also extremely loose and apart from treading on our toes the potential for getting hurt here is quite significant. If you do visit, take care and do stay on the near side of the cage. Ta.