Depth through thought

OUCC News 14th May 2003

Volume 13, Number 10

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Editor: Anette Becher,

Editor's bit

Many thanks to the contributors for their excellent write-ups! Keep the copy coming...

Announcement: Hidden Earth 2003 - change of date and venue

David Gibson

The UK's national caving conference was planning to go north this year, and a date and venue had been arranged in the Dales. However, due to some unfortunate circumstances a late change has had to be made. Fortunately we were able to secure an excellent venue in the Midlands at very short notice - but we have had to change the date, which is now

3rd - 5th October, Upton upon Severn, near Worcester

The venue is Hanley Castle High School, situated just a short distance to the north of the small town of Upton upon Severn. It is close to the River Severn on the western side, and only a few miles south of the City of Worcester. It is easy to reach by road, being only a short distance from the M5 (j7) and the M50 (j1).  The decision to change the venue was not made lightly - everyone was looking forward to a conference based in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. Unfortunately, this has proved not to be possible this year. However, we would like to try to find a suitable Dales venue for next year and if anyone can help in this regard, please get in touch.

<Massively abbreviated by Editor>

12 Pulled out - Major Rescue

Paul Mackrill

A major cave rescue was undertaken this Sunday after a "party" of 12 was reported overdue in two major cave systems in the Yorkshire Dales.

LATE CALL OUT. The drama began to unfold after the leaders owned up to leaving a large proportion of their "team" down the cave. The sacrifice of certain "members" to sit it out in the cave came when the option of retiring to the pub became too strong.

A chief rescuer said, "We were not too concerned for the victims' safety so we chose to let "them" sit it out overnight".

SURPRISED. The team leader expressed some surprise at the small turn out for the call early on Sunday morning. Only 4 rescuers where available for the gruelling climb up Gragareth. The rescue team entered Simpson's Pot, which is thought to have been named after the television series, at 12:40. One rescuer commented on the water levels, "I was very concerned about the water level in the caves, as it went over my wellies occasionally". Another had difficulty filling his carbide light due to the extreme conditions.

CONTACT. First contact was made surprisingly early in the cave. The first two victims where found in unexpected parts of the cave and led the team to be cautious as to the whereabouts of the other members. One likely place where the rescuers had expected to find the victim hanging out was found to be unoccupied, leading to further concerns as to the whereabouts and state of the rest of the party.

SPLIT. The team decided to split into a more manageable size to accelerate the removal of the victims. The second team pushed ahead to the second cave, Swinestow.

THE SIMPSONS. The comedy series continued when the extraction of one of the party, who had hung out over night, proved difficult. They had got into a twist and showed great reluctance to descend from their airy perch.

SPRAY LASHED LEDGE. One lanky member of the party had spent the whole night on a spray lashed wall and required immediate treatment. The victim was rapidly hauled to the surface and transported back to the awaiting relatives.

DISTRESSED. The victim's relatives had been under some stress whilst the rescue was underway. This was relieved by a shopping expedition to Ingleton.

PRAISE. Praise was heaped on the rescuers by themselves, who then retired to the pub for a well earned pint and smugness.

COMMENT. All the victims gave no comment after their overnight ordeal. They are now chained and hung in a darkened room.

Rescuers present: Chris [Vlad], Dave [Legg], JC, Paul [Mackrill]

[ Mystified? Explanation in next week's DTT, or perhaps one of the public house retirees would like to write about their harrowing experience... Editor ]

In a Hole in Vietnam

Chris Densham

We stood at the base of an enormous cliff and peered into the unexplored stream sink directly ahead of us. As I stripped down to my underpants in preparation to enter the cave, I mused that we were not supposed to be here at all.

We had planned to visit Quang Ninh District, Quang Binh Province, Central Vietnam, a large blank area of jungle where the American military maps indicated enormous resurgences separated from the nearest sinks by distances of up to 10 km. Over the months preceding the trip, culminating in several days of touring various local offices in Vietnam, permission to visit this new area had been granted by the Quang Ninh Regional Council, by the local district Council, by the regional army, by the district police and finally by the forestry officials. We had been about to set off when it was discovered that the close proximity to the Laos border meant that we also had to seek permission from the Border Police. Not only did the new border police chief tell us that caving in Quang Ninh was out of the question, but that we could not cave anywhere in neighbouring Quang Binh where the previous ten years of UK expeditions to Vietnam had explored. This was a pity, not least because the main part of the expedition had already started exploring new caves in that area! Only visits to the Show Cave were now permitted, which was not our idea of an expedition at all. In what became a familiar pattern for the expedition, plans were hurriedly remade and teams reformed, in consultation with our friendly Vietnamese helpers from Hanoi and the local district, including a local policeman. We would still explore caves in the Quang Binh region, but only in places where encounters with the local army were deemed unlikely!

We loaded ourselves and our gear into a large truck and set off. The development of the show cave from the first UK expedition had transformed the local economy and we soon discovered some unexpected results. The remoteness of the jungle was receding with the development of the Ho Chi Minh trail network into a well engineered road system. The discovery of the Show Cave had in fact made the discovery of other caves considerably easier! After an hour or so we stopped at a shine placed in memory of eight young girls killed there in the '70s by an American bomb. Paying your respects at the shine was said to ensure a safe journey. This was immediately proven when the truck was found to have a broken fan belt. A passing motorbike was enlisted in search of a replacement. To pass the time, some of our porters began to play a game of cards with great gusto, the rules of which I found totally unfathomable. Since I was obviously never going to catch on, they made me welcome by pouring out a bowl of cloudy rice wine from a large plastic container. I politely downed it in one as instructed. The card players clearly needed to maintain their concentration, and passed further bowls onto me, taking only the tiniest of sips themselves. Three bowls later, a new fan belt had appeared and we set off. In spite of the bone jarring nature of the journey, I found myself miraculously able to sleep soundly in the cramped back of the truck. Team A, including Anette and Snablet, were set down and set off into the jungle for the exploits that Anette described in DTT last week. The truck took the rest of us down a side road, which ended directly above our target river valley, saving us many hours of sweating through the jungle. A large deer-like animal bounded ahead of us before crashing off into the jungle. Inside the road-builders' shacks we were surprised to find a platoon of soldiers. Embarrassment regarding our permit status was avoided by some swift thinking by Mr Tach, our translator from Hanoi. He showed the permits we had, and discreetly left out the banning order from the border police.

The next morning we set off from the roadbuilders' shacks, and a gentle walk through the jungle and along a dry river bed led us to the cave at the stream sink, called Nuoc Nit (the Water Sinks). After a short stoop, we stood up and looked on into enormous passage - hooray, this was just as advertised in the glossy Limbert Tours brochure! Paul Ibbersen took notes, Martin Colledge instruments, and Woody reeled out the tape. I took out my new toy, a laser disto, and started pointing it around. The only problem was that when the walls and roof were further than 40 metres away, it would not give any readings! After 800m or so, we met the main streamway entering on the left - it seemed we had followed the minor inlet into the cave! Deb Limbert, who had been scouting in the high levels, selflessly headed out to arrange moving the camp down to the entrance. After another 500 m and a short well decorated oxbow, the stream suddenly sank into pebbles beneath a small head wall. Bugger. I scouted off in the low wide passage to the left, while the others surveyed off to the right. My way seemed to end in a wide chamber, but closer inspection of one of the walls revealed a short crawl over shingle and - Hooray!, the river appeared out of the shingle and flowed straight into - Oh Bugger - a deep lake. I returned to the others, who had stopped at a wade. We swapped places and while they surveyed to the lake, I waded across and followed 150 m of passage ending in - a static sump. Great. Swapping places with the others again, I found myself back contemplating the first lake, which was a good 50 m across. I had forgotten to bring my wetsuit, but fortunately was well-equipped in my thermal underpants and a lifejacket. Nevertheless, it felt somewhat unnerving to swim among all the logs bobbing around in the lake, with that distinctive glooping noise all around that told me that this lake was also a sump. This only left the few holes directly above where the stream first disappeared. As the scrawniest person present, I elected to be posted up in their general direction by the others, but ultimately decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we headed out. Paul took some photos and we checked for any leads on the way out to meet a slightly disappointed Deb and a lovely jungle camp just outside the entrance.

Our porters were stars (OK, we had porters, this was a few-star expedition!) and made us a delicious stew from wild banana flowers. Later, they dropped a net in the streamway and made another dish from fish and frogs. Any sympathy we might have felt for the frogs rapidly disappeared as they kept up a terrific din all night. In the morning I discovered a leech had gatecrashed my bivvy bag, and helped itself to free drinks from my toes.

Next day we set off to explore the main inlet, which Deb had discovered via a high level, and which appeared to come from huge blank hillside.....[to be continued ...]