Depth through thought

OUCC News 4th June 2003

Volume 13, Number 13

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Editor: Anette Becher,


Titan gone: The Titan surface dig has finally connected. Yes, after a mere three and a half years, they have finally managed to shove a yellow tube from the surface to the top of the aven. To my knowledge, efforts are currently underway to stabilise the rather loose affair, before the first exchange trip can be safely attempted.

Swildon's loose: Both P-hangers at top of the Swildon's 20 are loose. They are not falling out just yet, but DO CHECK if you are planning to go down, and use a back up instead of just slinging the ladder down one of them. (Yes, Mum...) They are not being replaced until Les 'UZI 9MM' Williams has sat this year's re-training course.

Petzl dead:  Fernand Petzl, inventor of the famous Petzl gear that is so well known to cavers and climbers, died Saturday May 31 after a lengthy illness, at the age of 91. In 1942, Fernand Petzl began testing the first nylon ropes. He also started manufacturing cable ladders for caving. A passionate caver himself, he participated in much exploration, namely in the Gouffre Berger (France) which became the world's deepest cave in 1956, with a depth of 1122 metres (3680 feet). He continued inventing prototypes of caving equipment in his small workshop in France, and fine-tuning the gear by taking advice from his caving friends. He founded the Petzl company in the mid-70s. (Yvonne Droms)

Impure Self-Abuse

Hilary Greaves

We walked across the field to Dallimore's. Having only a theoretical idea of what I was getting myself in for, I was quite happy. Gavin looked nervous.

Soon we reached the start of the Oxford Extensions. The guidebook had said: "An extremely serious undertaking, from which rescue of an injured person would be impossible"; I recalled also J-Rat's legendary comment, "Speaking as a rescue warden, if you got hurt down there, we just wouldn't bother." Gavin said, "That's the end of the nice bit."

I followed Gavin through a rift to the Turning Chamber. One half of the name was accurate - you could, just, I was told, turn in it. The other half was presumably ironic. Gavin wriggled forwards, performed some contortions and disappeared. I followed and tried to copy what he said he'd done, and what I thought I'd sort of seen him do. "You lift your bum up into the widest part, at about midriff height, facing the left wall, then walk your feet backwards, and kind of pivot your hips and drop your upper body down."

Hmm. Eating rock, I asked whether I was supposed to have my face jammed in a triangular alcove. Gavin couldn't remember. The "walk your feet backwards" part in particular was baffling me; my heels were jammed against the bottom of a vertical wall. After a few minutes of contortion and incomprehension I quizzed Gavin on whether I was supposed to have my legs tucked up. Not really, just a bit bent. Okay, I'm not doing it right then. I removed my knees from my mouth, righted myself and puzzled some more.

Sod this. It must be easier to turn round further back in the rift than it was here. I wriggled back, turned round (just) in a muddy puddle, returned forwards to the 'turning chamber' and asked Gavin whether diving head first through the thing (which looked dead easy) without having figured out how to do the turning move would be really stupid. Unsurprisingly, he said yes. Arse. Back to Plan A.

This continued in increasingly tedious vein until Gavin suggested that maybe I hadn't come far enough. It didn't take long to ascertain verbally that I hadn't. Er, why didn't I think of that... dropping down to the next 'chamber', the instructions started making a lot more sense... soon I was through, feeling rather stupid but somewhat relieved.

Then the Broken Nose. "You have to push your head into that alcove in a fairly ridiculous manner." I did as instructed. I was squeezing my chest as well as my head into the alcove, and trying to squeeze my right leg, just above the knee, through a narrow gap between the Nose and the wall. My knee got through, but now my ankle was caught on something, my leg unable to bend the wrong way; I was in no position to see what the best move or indeed the problem was. At this point I was glad to have a pair of eyes six feet beneath my body, plus an assurance that what I was trying to do was not only physically and ergonomically possible, but reversible as well. Bonus. "Who the **** pushed this?!?" I wondered out loud, with some mixture of derision and profound respect. Gavin just laughed. I might have known.

We carried on down the cave. Tim's Testicle Tug was tight, and not made any easier by the fact that as I tried to pull my way through, I couldn't avoid staring at a doorhandle-sized sign on the opposite wall that instructed, 'Pull', and kept making me laugh, or would have if my chest had had enough room to vibrate. The Antlion was tight. Then we reached Curious Love, which was tight and smelt. Neither of us fancied digging it today. In a statement of brave or stupid intent, we deposited the crowbar we'd brought, or rather, the crowbar that Gavin had brought and that I had nobly passed through the odd squeeze to him. I've just remembered I'm leaving the country soon.

As we started to head out, I tried to compare my adrenaline level to that of about 24 hours previously, when I'd been walking into an exam in Oxford. The return was uphill; so far so good, but this was where one might expect problems to start. We had a thoroughly English conversation just below the Antlion. "After you." "No, after you." The squeeze was vertical, and whoever went first had a significant foothold advantage. My calculation was something like: Gavin probably had a bigger or less squashable chest, but then, maybe he should get penalty points for being nails. I was perfectly happy to lose that argument, and standing on Gavin's shoulders? arms? head? all of the above?? I battered my way through the squeeze, registering a debt of several pints. Gavin levitated through behind me. We got that one the right way round then.

On the way out, I found the easy bits hardest, because I was trying to do them without expending any energy, saving my struggle power for the Dallimore's Specials. I reluctantly expended a bit on the approach to the Broken Nose, an uphill rift. I passed the Nose with a bit of assist from below, and wriggled back uphill into the Turning Chamber, hooking my feet on the ceiling and pulling with my legs, dragging my helmet and pushing with my hands. Optimistically, I tried an improbable bum-raising, hip-flicking manoeuvre, and it worked! Phew.

Gavin followed and we crawled out, covered head to toe in mud. There was only one way to wash kit in this state. We plastered the car interior with Inglesport bags and Gavin drove us across to Priddy Green with his fingertips. As we walked across the field towards Swildon's, we passed a couple of very clean-looking returning cavers. I was picking matted dreadlocks from my field of vision, cracked mud from my lips and gravel from an eyebrow. "Going for a bath?" they asked.

Short round trip, wet, clean, nice!

Ed: Reminds me of my one and only trip down Dallimore's, struggling tiredly and very unwomanfully to thrutch back up the uphill rift before Broken Nose, with Chris D settling in for the night above me in Turning Chamber (well, he turned his light off to save on battery power - no question of 'settling in' there). I had it easy, though, as I didn't bother with a helmet...