Depth through thought

OUCC News 15th January 2003

Volume 13, Number 1

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Editor: Anette Becher,

Editor's bit

Welcome back and hopefully your Xmas and New Year holidays were packed with adventure. Did you go caving? Found new passage? Let us know about it...

I, for my sins, spent the hols canyoning (Sa Fosca, a fun day out in Mallorca - ask Chris), climbing and caving. Before this, I had been a canyoning virgin. It is a lovely sport, much like caving, except rather than being brown, the water is a deep turquoise blue, there is the occasional glimpse of the sun, and instead of abseiling into a pool you jump in or abseil off the end of the rope. A strange feeling, that. There was plenty of proper abseiling, too, and a tedious, Draenen-style, boulder hop walk out to the sea in the dark (the trip took that long...) I really enjoyed myself. If you are heading out to Mallorca, think about doing it, but take a light and don't do it in Tevas.

More recently, Snablet, Chris and I were involved in a large-scale NCC operation to take Dave the Chef, a former caver and advanced stage MND sufferer, down Longchurn and Dolly Tubs into Alum and back out again. Dave was incredibly cheerful despite being dragged through the cave by the NCC and, rather amazingly, everybody, including Dave, enjoyed themselves.

Enough about me - read on to find out what Rebecca experienced during her first trip down Swildon's (I think this article is instructive for everyone, especially trip leaders), decide whether you want to go caving in Russia, and follow Rob, James and Erin in the final instalment of Rob's China Chronicles. Next week, read about Draenen, Derbyshire and more on the infamous Showerbath dig.

My First But Not Last Trip

Rebecca Grapevine 

After the massive operation of sorting out gear, driving to the Mendips, eating, and getting changed, the Fresher's Trip arrived at the top of Swildon's Hole. After a short safety briefing by Tim and a practice climb on a ladder hanging from a tree, our group (JC, Hilary, three other novices and me) set off. When we got to the top of the ladder pitch, I was feeling very nervous but I got down the ladder fine--more on getting up in a moment. My troubles began at "double pots," not far from the bottom of the ladder. I got through the first room all right, just sort of edging around the wall. At the second room, JC told me that you could just jump into the pool and wade through, or edge around and avoid the water. I decided to take the sensible route and edge around the wall--that is, until I got about halfway around. I'm not sure what happened--if I was more tired than I thought, if I just lost my grip, or if I gave up--but I let go of the wall and fell backwards into some quite deep water. I was completely submerged for a moment, bobbed to the top, and made my way over to the exit from the room and crawled up into a drier area. I think at this point I experienced some shock, I was shivering and on the verge of tears and not really sure what had just happened to me.

I started to go on with the group and went a little ways further before getting to an area where there was a large drop on the side and it felt really scary and high to me. Rob Garrett was standing there and said something to the effect of "Don't fall or you'll die." I decided that it might be a good idea to turn around at this point, given my recent experience of falling. JC said he would take me back out-little did he know what that would involve! To get out, I first had to get up through the double pots again, which I think involved me standing under the waterfalls for several minutes trying to climb up it. Then, I had the pleasure of trying to get up the ladder. JC nimbly climbed up it and attached me to the lifeline. With great, great difficulty I made it to the top of the ladder. I had to get up just a few more rungs and I would have been at the top. However, I just could not get my foot to the next rung. Part of the problem was that the ladder was close on top of the rock so it was hard to get my hands and feet around it, and also my wellies were too big and heavy with water and half falling off, but mainly I was extremely fatigued and freaking out. So, JC lowered me back down, and some other people went up, while I stood at the bottom shivering and scared. Everyone was extremely supportive and helpful--people stood around me for warmth, fed me mars bars, gave me coffee, put a hat on my head. (Really good service, actually!) I was finally sort of hoisted up to the top in a harness, which wasn't particularly pleasant, but I was just happy to get up the ladder.

That achieved, I still had to get out of the cave. Various experienced cavers-Snablet, Rob, Tim-accompanied JC and me and there were several times when I was again attached to a rope for a smaller climb and sort of half pulled myself up and was half pulled up. Everyone (except me) was incredibly calm, patient, and reassuring. Getting out of the cave involved me stepping all over my entourage and being pushed and pulled by them. I was so tired and my legs felt so heavy and difficult to move. At first after falling in the water and trying to get up the ladder, I was incredibly miserable and frustrated. But, after getting up the ladder, I felt a bit better, and realized my plan of sitting down in the cave and never moving again wasn't really feasible. I was also terribly shaken about my ability to climb anything, so that made the trip all the more difficult. After much coaxing and pulling and pushing, I smelled fresh air and felt an enormous wave of relief. I was quite thrilled to get out of the cave, get back to the barn, changed into dry clothes, and back to the hut. I wrote in the logbook that Swildon's was my first and last caving trip ever.

On Saturday night, everyone kept telling me how much they hoped I would try caving again and that at some point everyone experiences something terrible in a cave and so on. I had no interest in ever setting foot near a cave again. However, I woke up on Sunday morning after a late night, feeling the effects of a sustained propaganda campaign and thinking maybe I ought to give it another go. I was also very possibly still drunk from Saturday night. Lou, Rob, JC, and Neal from Southampton took Eleanor, Ember, Pod, and me to Goat's Church, which was wholly uneventful but good fun, especially in comparison to Saturday. I'm glad I decided to go caving again on Sunday, and I think my experience in Swildon's was very valuable. Despite all of my invectives about what a stupid sport caving is on Saturday, I might be starting to enjoy it just a little bit, as evidenced by the fact that I did not miss a club trip this term and have dreams (not nightmares!) about caving. Stay tuned for an account of what will hopefully be a triumphal return to Swildon's sometime next term.

Wilderness Lectures

22/01/2003    Katie Moore    'Canoeing the Waters of Death'
05/02/2003    Don Cameron    'Hot-air ballooning... I put it down to drink !'
19/02/2003    Robin Knox-Johnson    'Around Alone'
05/03/2003    Richard McCallum    'Chelsea to China'
19/03/2003    Josie Dew    A Ride in the Neon Sun

£6 on the door, Chemistry Lecture Theatre, University of Bristol. More info and abstracts of the talks can be found at

Caving in Russia? -

Here's an offer you can't refuse:

Piligrim caving club ( is in the process of making plans for next spring and summer. We hope to do some caving trips on March 1 - May 18, making use of infrastructure and hospitality of local villages, and then in summer operate 11-day rafting tours for groups of 8 people plus 4 guides on Sisim river, which flows westbound from about half-way point on newly built easternmost road Minusinsk-Krasnoyarsk down to hydro-electric station reservoir on Enisey river. Unfortunately we don't have very deep caves, but we can offer a 43km + conglomerate cave, "Bolshaya Oreshnaya", where no SRT equipment is necessary and the potential for new discoveries is very high. Or alternatively we may visit vertical Torgashinskaya cave close to Krasnoyarsk, which is 3A difficulty level according to Russian scale (176m deep and 2965m long, quite technical). Or we can travel to forested areas of complete wilderness and see the known caves, maybe running into something new there.

I just wanted to emphasize that our activities are not entirely commercial. We provide funding for our club's non-profit initiatives aimed at taking youths away from drugs, alcohol and crime in Minusinsk - our headquarters city south of Krasnoyarsk.

Beginning March 1 we can host groups of up to 6 people and take them arround known caves in Krasnoyarsk region and republic of Khakassiya. Duration may vary to fit your preferences, but in the past we've done 10 and 14 days projects. We have a 4wd van and a driver to accompany us all the time, plus guides, a cook and an interpreter (me). In summer we live in tents, but if it is too cold for that, we'll arrange lodging at local villages in typical wooden houses, heated by firewood stoves. Please be aware there is no centralized water supply, toilet is outside and electricity may be unstable. However, we do believe Russian hospitality and proximity to virgin nature will compensate for this. As to hygiene we ask locals to heat up their saunas as needed.

We charge $665 per person for a 10 day trip, out of which $150 is actual expense for food, housing, petrol and accidentials. $250 is split between personnel and $250 is club fee. $15 is visa support government charge.

In order to issue an official invitation that helps you get a Russian visa, we should have information about each visitor:

Full name, Date and place of birth, Citizenship, Gender, Passport number and validity dates, Employer's name, address and fax, Position held at work, City where you apply for visa, Emergency contact name and details:

The arrival points are airports or railroad stations of Abakan (Khakassiya) or Krasnoyarsk (Krasnoyarsk region). We prefer the last option, because flights from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk are made every day on a safe airplane and with convenient timetable.

Our last expedition with foreign participants was held in August 2002 with 2 cavers from Great Britain. They sent us a disc with digitized pictures and we'll put it online as soon as it arrives. For your reference e-mail addresses of those cavers as well as other people we've previously hosted are on our website in the "PAST EXPEDITIONS" section. Please feel free to ask them or me for any other information. Most respectfully, Dmitri PERLIEV

Chronicles of China - part 4 (Visa Extensions)

Rob Garrett

With just a few days left before we had to move camp we had a whole cave to explore. The entrance was a spectacular doline 150m across and 100m deep where a devious route down lunged from tree to tree with only the occasional bamboo ladder or dodgy hand line for assistance. At the bottom half, a kilometre of huge day-lit passage led to an underground river, which we had already followed for half a kilometre upstream to a possible sump, where we had turned back. The source of the river was over 8km away as the crow flies, and we had come prepared for a long trip. Unfortunately, the Chinese idea of cave food consisted of hard boiled eggs and steamed buns in a poly bag - fine for large dry caves but not so good for what we had in mind. They had also found some dehydrated army biscuits, helpfully named Omnipotence bars, in wonderful flavours like orange, onion and algae. However, our most important piece of equipment was a large tyre inner tube, which we planned to use to avoid the need to swim an unknown distance into the low air space which may or may not sump. The tricky part was actually getting the tyre to the cave intact. The doline was overgrown by vicious vegetation with thorns up to an inch long. There was a real danger of reaching out for a tree trunk to steady yourself and avoid tumbling 70m to a scree slope and finding that you've just skewered your hand. Needless to say, manhandling an even more vulnerable tyre didn't help.

With a lot of care we eventually arrived at the scree slope which funnelled comfortably down and down into a 60m wide low arch. The roof stayed more or less level, as we dropped another 100m to a dried mud floor, from where we had to climb 150m to a scree ridge. More than 200m above the peak of the scree ridge, light flooded in from a tiny window . The whole effect was like a giant cathedral, only far, far bigger than any ever built. A single golden shaft picked out a spot high on the wall like a novelty sundial. There was no time to sit back and admire, however, as we pressed on down 150m of abseiling to where the dark waters awaited us.

30m above the water we hit the mud banks, treacherous slopes offering little friction unless you kicked your heals in repeatedly, and at their base was a fast flowing, deep channel. On our previous visit, we had just had a quick look upstream, but this time we followed it briefly downstream. The original watercourse was blocked by the scree slope we had just climbed over, and now the water disappeared into a scary narrow fissure. James was our resident white water canoeist, so we sent him off on the tyre inner tube holding an end of rope to investigate. When the passage got too narrow for the inner tube he traversed a short way till he reached a point where he would have to jump in and hope for the best with no easy way back out. He sensibly decided to come back and join us instead.

Turning our attention to upstream, we soon reached our previous limit. A high level route did go overhead, but ended at a pitch back down to the water, so we preferred to follow the low route, which was a still black lake heading into a 1m arch. We didn't have any idea how the cave might respond to rain but given the mud banks were 30m high, we supposed it wouldn't take much to flood this particular section. It was Erin's turn to paddle off in the inner tube (affectionately known as Bob), while we held on to an end of rope to assist us in following. To our relief, she soon beached on a new mud bank just beyond the low point we could see.

From here on in, we surveyed as we went, scampering along mud banks, fording across the river and occasionally resorting to Bobbing. For about 2km we mapped passages up to 100m wide until we hit a sump. Not to be defeated, we scrambled up mud, then scree, to find a high-level bypass through a well-decorated, old grotto. A climb down was now all that stopped us from continuing upstream. It was now about 2am and time to head out, but the lure of big black space ahead was too much. All we had with us was a short handline and tackle bag of food. By tying the two together, it was just long enough to assist the top part of the climb until an undercut gave access to a narrow rift and easier descent. By now Erin was falling asleep, and it really was time to head out so, certain the passage was still going, we headed out.

In an attempt to find an easier route out of the pretty grotto, I inadvertently ducked under a small archway to find myself in a chamber the size of an aircraft hanger. It was just the sort of legendary virgin passage you can run down... so we did, for nearly 500m, until it more or less ended at a very muddy squeeze with a trickle of grim water. We were now very late and in our haste to survey the Visa Extensions, as they became known, we broke the tape.

Four hurried hours later, we paused to watch dawn through the tiny window far overhead and to eat our hard boiled eggs and steamed buns. An hour later, we were finally in bed having got out just in time to prevent the Chinese from worrying about where we'd got to.