Depth through thought

OUCC News 21st May 2003

Volume 13, Number 11

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Anette Becher,


Thanks to everyone who sent me this:

On the 11th May, the first through trip down the new Hensler's Pot and out on the GG winch was made by the BALLS digging team of the BPC. This is the first new entrance to GG for 50 years. It has taken 4 years of hard work , some incredible exploits and the odd "near do", including time out for F&M. The pot consists of 6 pitches the last one being the descent of Hensler's High Aven. The pitches are all P hangered. More on BPC website.

And, from James Hooper,  a proud brother announces a further 15 mins of fame: <"sun" newspaper - dead link>

(p.s. It's good to see Hugh Penney's really only 26 - it's wot it say in the paper so it must be true :-))

Competence revealed

Guide to "12 Pulled out - Major Rescue" (DTT 13.10). Paul Mackrill

The ropes came from a failed attempt to do a Swinsto / Simpson's exchange. It's quite a story in itself, where two parties A and B went to do caves C and D, respectively. Party A sets off for cave C. Party B sets off and finds cave D rigged, but the ropes are on the wrong pitches [i.e. the climbs]. Party B then find party A further on, who are in the wrong cave. So party B go to cave C instead. At this point I'm not sure who has ropes for what cave, which I think is why party B had to re-rig many of their pitches in cave C. On the long [lanky] pitch in cave C, the rope is too short and the only way to hang it is in the water. Party A manage a further rigging first by not rigging a real pitch in cave D. They all managed to meet at the junction of caves C and D. Retreat via cave E to pub G was the most attractive option, leaving a party of 12 ropes behind to be rescued... For cave C read Swinsto for cave D read Simpson's. Parties A and B need to be fully owned up to.... Paul Mackrill

Dreamweaver and batting for both sides!

Rich Gerrish

Having failed to find virgin territory in Draenen and close the gap between it and Easegill, I returned to the promised land (the Yorkshire Dales for the Philistines out there) to seek revenge on the Welsh cave's stubborn refusal to yield new passage. As luck would have it, Hugh St-Lawrence was at Bull Pot Farm short of a caving partner and with a guaranteed breakthrough trip in the offing. Despite obvious reservations, I duly carried the capping gear over the fell and down Wretched Rabbit to a point just before where the water sinks and the traverses begin. Here, a small and quite obscure passage enters high on the left. After climbing up and wriggling through into a small chamber, Hugh sat down, rolled up a ciggy and urged me on to inspect the narrow draughting rift barring progress. A couple more climbs and some more wriggling past a few loose looking boulders and I was at the limit.

Sure enough the rift was blowing quite a gale and a small but respectable chamber with a way on was clearly visible through the slot. Dumping Mars bar and survival blanket from my pocket, penknife from round my neck and belt from my waist, I pushed into the narrows. The black spaces beckoned me on, relaxing as much as possible; I breathed out and sunk deeper into the squeeze. After exhaling totally and forcing myself to the absolute limit of the constriction where I was expecting to pop through at any moment, I ground to a halt, pinned in the vice. At this point my body began the natural process of refilling my lungs only this was accompanied by intense chest pain and a complete inability to breathe. I pulled back so that I could relax and grab a breath. Again I concentrated on slowing my breathing and relaxing into what must be similar to a trance. After achieving my desired state of higher consciousness, I moved back into the squeeze sensing all the slight nuances of rock with each rib. By pushing a few rocks out of the way and raising my knees up into the bottom of the rift, I was able to force my chest higher until I felt sure I would slide through, then I was thwarted again by shooting pains in my sternum and panicked quarter gasps for air as I hurriedly reversed to comfort.

Dejected at my failure, I was about to return to Hugh for the capping gear when it dawned on me that the space that I had been clearing for my knees looked easier than the more obvious route above. I manoeuvred back into the squeeze again and with my free right hand began pushing at the rocks, levering them up and back into the chamber. After a few had yielded in this way I dropped down into the slot below and knew at once that I had cracked it. I couldn't thrutch fast enough and I kicked furiously until I had my chest clearly through where I let out a howl of success.

Hugh joined me quickly and we weighed up the leads. One at floor level and going down was partially choked but seemed to carry the full force of the draught. Another, 4m up in the roof looked bigger and we opted for that one first. Hugh was off before I could push into the lead and I chased his ankles up into a narrow twisting passage that became increasingly well decked out with straws. Our speed slowed to an unbearable creep. The passage was small but not tight, yet the presence of the delicate and awkwardly positioned formations meant pressing ourselves against the floor or one or the other of the walls. Despite this care, the crunch of already broken straws on the floor was accompanied by the tinkle of more joining them from the ceiling. After about 30 metres of this agonising progress we reached a chamber where we could stand up. The roof was still high above us and an obvious inverted canyon was carved into the flat roof heading off at right angles to the direction we had already come. We both knew we could well be in for a hell of a lot more passage, and I hastily bounced up the walls and into the lead.

A splendid Stalagmite standing 2 to 3 feet high and set apart from the drab brown of the rest of the passage by its white crystalline purity greeted my ascent. Shinning over the top of it I headed into the passage beyond. I had gone no further than a couple more metres before the mud floor rose up leaving a tiny half body sized tube between floor and ceiling guarded by a grill of more straws. Hugh about-turned, and headed in the opposite direction to be met with a similar fate. Neither end seemed to draught convincingly and, having grown sick of breaking formations, we opted to return to our other lead.

Back at the first chamber and chewing manically on fizzy sweets, I attacked the choke with a large crowbar until it revealed the required dimensions. Feet first and arms up, I dropped through the slot and waited in the space below for Hugh to follow. Whilst he struggled through the gap, I hooted into the black space beyond and revelled in the echoes singing back at us. Once Hugh was through, I dropped down into the next chamber where my heart promptly sank straight into my wellies. The draught blew strongly out of a long and impenetrable rift on the right and a large discoloured calcite floor mocked us for thinking its reverberations were an echo.

We both felt cheated having been convinced we deserved more. Whether we did or not is a matter for debate, after all, the passage we did find hadn't been hard won by hours of digging. Whether it was feeling cheated or feeling like we hadn't been digging yet I don't know, but we returned to the main passage to look for other leads and spent the next couple of hours shifting rocks out of other fossil inlets. After burning ourselves out and finding a large space full of loose choss, we called it a day. Dreamweaver, the name we have all but settled on seemed to sum up our find. It is always the same, no matter how great or small the find, it only sates the appetite temporarily. By the following afternoon, I was already turning my attention to other digging projects.

President underground in Slovakia

Steve Roberts

I went to a conference in Slovakia last week. Yes, the beer is very good. On the afternoon off, bloated by sitting listening to descriptions of grain-boundary oxynitride glasses in silicon nitride, the UK party went for a walk in the woods to a cave "about 3km away". Less-stout (read that how you will) conferees went by bus.

It would have helped a little in finding the cave if we had a map, any recollection of what the cave was called, or knowledge of the Slovakian for "Cave". Real Men don't ask directions. Up the hill, through that pass, turn left after a bit was what I remembered from the road atlas (1:500,000). An hour later, we'd rationalised our situation with "it's a nice day for a walk anyway" and I had a plan as to which previously ignored turnings would most likely be the way. We added to our party four Germans and an Indian, also lost. None of these had a map, any recollection of the cave's name, or predictably, even basic speleological Slovak.

A wild boar ran past in the woods; I started eyeing up big sticks for wildlife-repellent properties. We found a small choked cave. I went in; honour saved. Eventually (two and a half hours' walking now) we found a bill-board map in a small holiday village. It showed many caves, none anywhere near us. We plotted the route home. Next obvious thing - a large sign to a, no, THE show cave, Driny Cave ( Up we went, cave was (just) still open.

In we went. It looked... odd. Lots of cross rifts and formations. "This cave", I said, "doesn't look like a stream cave; it looks like lots of enlarged faults". Slovak guide bit. German guide bit. One German translates, sotto voce "He says this is a most unusual cave, it is not made by a river but from joins in the rock after tectonic action". Score 10 for Oxford, thinks I. Nice tour, usual daft naming of formations, some deep looking bits off to the side, a jolly good 40 mins for 70 Crowns (about a quid). Survey at

The cave's other unusual feature, I found out from the leaflet, is that it is formed in Jurassic limestone, rather than the usual Carboniferous stuff. One of my colleagues asked "is that usual?" and after I'd explained at some length, said "A simple 'no' would have sufficed...". It took us 30 minutes to walk back.

The cave was discovered in 1929 by a party which included Stefan Banic, the inventor of the parachute and BASE jumping. How about that?

A Yorkshire pot in South Wales

Anette Becher

Some of you may know that I have a not-too-serious ambition to tick the caves in 'Selected Caves of Britain and Ireland' (aka 'Top of the Pots'). I know, I know ... it is rather nerdy of me, but it stops me from doing caves like Alum Pot and Lost John's over and over again.

In any case, I seem to have ticked most of the better known caves - with a huge gap being Ireland, where I have only 2 ticks. (Anyone fancy a trip to Cty. Clare, Ireland?? Contact me, and I'll organise one if there is sufficient interest).

Moving on to the not-so-well-known-selected-caves, Snablet and I recently visited a Yorkshire pot in South Wales, Pwll Dfn. It lies pretty much directly above Dan-Yr-Ogof and presumably feeds into Dany, but does not connect directly (it might do if someone dug out the rather uninspiring sum pool). The cave is a respectable 93m deep and has 5 pitches; these are now P-hangered and the original bolts have been drilled out or filled in. Rigging is not difficult and is hence highly recommend for advanced beginners' rigging practice. Nevertheless, I managed to miss a re-belay on the longest pitch, thus causing a nasty rope rub.... All things considered this was just as well, as the rope ended at the top of a boulder pile 5m above floor level and would have dangled in space if I had rigged it properly. Light relief is provided by a pendule into an eyehole about 4m off the bottom of the following pitch. This is even more fun when de-rigging on the way out (I likess sswinging on the ropess...).

There is a small stream which may increase significantly in size in the wet seasons (I assume this from the odd places the P-hangers have been put) and it all ends in a small puddle. This, I have been reliably informed, can form a lake when it's wet, surprising unsuspecting cavers that abseil fast to the bottom. Well worth it for a change of style from Welsh caving.