Depth through thought

OUCC News 15th October 2003

Volume 13, Number 16

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Anette Becher,

Editor's waffle

Welcome back to the new academic year - yes it is 1st Week of Michaelmas term, for those of you who struggle with the Oxford academic calendar (as I invariably do).

Hopefully, you have all had a summer full of adventure - in particular full of exciting caving. Well done to this year's OUCC expedition to the Picos de Europa for achieving their aim of connecting the OUCC-discovered Pozo la Tormenta to the existing Spanish-explored La Texa, thus possibly putting a new -1000m deep system on the map. (The jury regarding the precise depth of this new system appears to be still out). Read all about it on the OUCC website.

Exploration in the Spain was one of two OUCC expeditions abroad this summer, the other being to Yunnan in China, aiming to find the deepest cave in the world. Read all about Yunnan 2003 on the OUCC website.

If you follow the links, you'll get to Rich Gerrish's excellent field reports, written during the expedition in China, and conveying all the excitement of prospecting for caves in unknown foreign territory.

A big thank you to everyone who has sent in articles during the summer to keep me in copy. I promise I will publish them in good time. Please feel free to send more - I can never have enough.

Old News

For anyone who has not heard yet (yes, I know it is not exactly fresh meat), Tony 'J-Rat' Jarrett's dig behind the Hunter's Lodge Inn has experienced another break through of ca. 350m, a huge find for Mendip. Not only that, he also discovered a number of fossil animal bones (hyaena-chewed reindeer and bison), rumoured to be the oldest found in Britain to date (28,000-80,000 years old).

Have a look at the fossils at: <dead link>; Estelle Sandford's BEC web pages also have plenty of pictures of the dig: <dead link>

Finally, there is more information in the most recent Descent (but you'll have to pay for that...)



Not sure if it is just my impression, but is the club currently experiencing an unusual amount of caver drain to foreign countries? I know being a student club invariably means there is high turnover, but have they always gone this far away? (Anyone in OUCC outposts further than 'somewhere else in the UK' is very welcome to remind us of their whereabouts and prove me wrong.)

We lost Lev to the delights of New England (Yale), Hilary has left for New Jersey (Rutgers) and Rich Gerrish has departed for the sunnier and close-to-China climes of Hong Kong. Then there is Rob Garrett, of course, still resolutely without any fixed abode, possibly enjoying la vida latinoamericana somewhere with an unfeasibly high altitude... Chris Vernon and Pivo now reside in Switzerland, as does Chris Densham, although I believe the latter has every intention of returning to Oxford after an extended ice-climbing season this winter. The very latest is your trusty DTT editor. I am thrilled to announce Snablet's and mine not-quite-imminent, but likely very permanent, departure to New Zealand in March 2004. Applications for post of continuing DTT editor are welcome. (I guess I could run it from NZ, but it would be short on any current UK digging/breakthrough reports).

Cave Clan

Steve Roberts

Heard on the Australian Broadcasting Corp, Saturday 2 August 2003

"Street Stories disappears into the tunnels under suburban Melbourne to explore the amazing world of the Cave Clan - Australia's most active drain exploring group. Since 1986 the group has discovered and explored a huge network of tunnels with underground chambers, waterfalls, sidepipes and rooms. Producer Andrew Dodd joins the Clan's founder, "Doug" as well as "Edgar" and "Dirge" on a trip into "the maze", located under the genteel suburb of Hawthorn, where they describe the tunnel's extraordinary features and tell tales of their underground adventures. Bizarre sounds echo up and down the pipes as they descend towards an underground waterfall, while Doug tells the tale of almost being swept away in a flash flood."

I recorded it by the way - if anyone wants the MP3 file (it's 21MB), you can ftp it from; email me for username and password.

Gear Discounts at Turl Street Outdoors

Outdoors on Turl Street in Oxford holds twice a year a 'members day', where holders of the store discount card are entitled to 20% off up to £150, 25% off over £150. The next day is October 30th. I can post you a small poster for a notice board if you wish.

We stock brands such as Berghaus, Sprayway, soon Columbia, Petzl, Vango, Coleman, Campingaz, Salomon, Scarpa as well as more budget own brands, Outdoors and Escape, similar to the Peter Storm or Eurohike own brands, for the entry level user.

We already have 'arrangements' with some of of your clubs hopefully this will show we are still here and willing to help. We can also do discount on bulk orders of pooled equipment.

Due to a recent change in management at Outdoors, and recent committee changes in your clubs, it may be worthwhile sticking you head in to say hello and make sure we are still on a similar train of thought regarding discount arrangements with you clubs (usually higher than 10% off as with NUS card).

Please get in touch.

Stuart McCarroll & Joanne Linley,
17 Turl Street Oxford
Tel/Fax  01865 247110

Quaking in my shoes. [Or skirt]

Paul Mackrill

Or how a "simple" day's caving ends up with me wearing a skirt
21st to 22nd June, 2003

It'd had been on my list for years, well mostly off my list, a sort of avoidance that I'd never consciously realised I was making. Then Paul Garver asked would I be interested in doing Quaking? Well, time to do it! Saturday at 1pm, up onto the fell and I confidently walked us straight to the shake hole - the wrong shake hole. I found another, but it was missing the entrance half way down (I'm told now it is pretty well hidden in the grass at this time of year!).

We changed with a rather low level of confidence as to where we were. We entered our cave and it was immediately awkward. Promising. The tackle kept jamming up at the bottom of little drops blocking my way on. I had to crawl onto the tackle then extract it from beneath me. Oh, this is going to be real fun. We found a pitch, which had to be the first pitch, didn't it? We laddered it. Are we even in the right cave? Below was big with an aven. We found a wiggly Oxbow to the left. So we crawled in. On a bit, and some bends. With my arms out straight to push the gear forward and on an awkward bend, I realised it was getting distinctly brighter. There was a lot of flickering too. Finally came the smell of burning plastic. My head was on fire!! My carbide tube was burning at the joint to the lamp and the plastic had ignited. AND I couldn't put it out.

I imagined the headlines. "Caver found headless in cave" " The torso of the body ending in a burnt stump at the neck..." Time to panic "help I'm on fire!" Amazingly, Paul had got to a point he could turn round and came and put me out. This led me to dumping my "trusty" carbide light, which in the light [Ohhhh] of what was to follow deeper wasn't a bad thing...

Beyond we found a drop which I clambered down. I found a spike and bolt only and nowhere to belay a lead in rope. "Bit limited for gear this cave", I thought. So I dropped the rope down a biggish looking 11m pitch, which went a full 22m. Ah, this is the 3rd pitch! We'd brought in 13 hangers 4 ropes and a ladder. We'd put the ladder on the 2nd pitch thinking it was the 1st and roped a 26m pitch with a 22m rope. We only used 2 hangers. A 'T' shaped passage with a nice deep trench and well muddied sides led to the 4th pitch. Having heard all about the bypass I opted for the easy abseil down. Up is more interesting. Advice for stop users: lock it open. I was now pretty confident we were in the right cave and even approximately where we were, but we didn't identify all the antics of the Coitus corner and crux until we'd passed them. That gave a lot of added flavour to the route finding!

We found a squeeze, which looked committing. I reversed and went up to the roof, over the squeeze and down [which turned out to be the sky dive]. Then some good bends, first left then right [which turned out to be coitus corner]. Paul was ahead now. I couldn't get through at stream level, although it seemed so nearly possible. Paul carried on in the rift, slowly rising until he was upright trying to get to the roof. Could this be the crux? Paul, after a good push let me have a look. I went up and through, then all the way down the other side until I reached the stream. "Hmm", I thought, " If that's not the crux I ain't going to get down this cave!"

Paul still wasn't through and he still wanted to have a go [Rats! and I was ready to head out], so I went half way back, all the way up to the roof to collect the bags Paul was carrying up the squeeze. With the bag, and getting cocky with this place, I dropped down by expelling all the air from my lungs to drop through. Then I'd let my self drop into the slot a little off the easiest line. Now the human body normally expects a steady flow of air, so I made the major error of breathing in on the tightest bit when I was half way through. As I took in my air all my ribs moved out except for ONE rib that was restrained by a shallow ridge of rock and couldn't move to follow it's companions. The intercostals stretched, a bit too far. "Oh, Ouch". And I felt that mistake for the rest of the trip.

Paul was through. We had all our stuff, so I felt committed to go on and have a look to at least see if that was the crux. We noticed a lot fewer people had been here. But the cave never gives in. I made a neat slip down into the lower bit of the passage at one point and found myself alone. I returned to find the roof of the passage filled with Paul, laid out, jammed, above the squeeze! I prodded him at the point where he could insert himself into the lower passage. The fifth pitched was a roped climb down to a rather steep meander with squeezes that sucked me down. "This will be fun to reverse". And oh, wasn't it just.

Space at last on the 6th and 7th pitches passing a nice shattered, loose, chock stone. And now the Ws. It looked awfully tight. I slid in head first, risking a really awkward return. At the water it widened. Joy! Just a wetting beautifully designed to get you on both sides as you rotate on each corner. A rope indicated a climb up to fly crawl. Another little wonder of the cave! Always low, catchy and interspersed with wonder wetting pools until it arrived at an amazing window looking out into the side of a vast aven. Everything was now loose. A Texalex helmet greeted me. Bye that took me back. But where were the owners?

The looseness gave way to gluttonous (Editor: or perhaps even glutinous?) mud [this cave has everything!]. A more pleasant section of almost normal streamway led to a false sump. A sump which was a dig!! Not content with the eccentricities of this cave, Dave Lacey and friends had set up to dig out the sump by bailing it out then extracting the glutinous slime it contains. Someone wants to find more of this cave? Finally, via a surprise streamway leading off from the sump, we dropped the last pitch to the rather uninspiring bouldery end, Gormenghast. We'd taken just under 6 hours figuring out how to get here. We now had to figure out if we could get back. Above the 6th pitch I hit a low. The upward squeezes were hard. The second one briefly defeated me. I turned around and inched up jamming my painful chest all the way. For me this was the crux. The crux itself went uneventfully, but I'd already done it a couple of times. The T passage above the 4th really had me gasping as I bridged over the meander. Bridged is a loose term as in fact you're crawling without a floor. This meant I had to tense my whole body to avoid plummeting down into the meander below. My chest complained bitterly to the abuse I was giving it. We were both showing signs of fatigue. My plentiful supply of food had now dried up. Back at the second pitch, our first, I saw the route in from the other entrance I'd never found [and have still yet to find!]. A final struggle up the last passage and we were out after just under 11.5 hours in the cave. But it wasn't over.....


We made good time to Ingleton. Soon we would be back at the farm. It was 3:00 am and I felt a bit guilty about waking everyone in the hut up as Paul phoned Bull Pot Farm, but no one answered [the rotters]. We left Simon a message on his answer phone. Now what? We went off and changed in the car park loo. We tried to sleep in the dull glow of a midsummer night's dawn. I was being eaten by midges. This wouldn't do. Sleep in the loo? No better. I need to cover up. Hmm. I began to skulk round the bins only finding bottles and paper. Then the Salvation Army came to the rescue. They had a clothes bin and, angling the lid just right, I could see in. Bags of clothes. Hmm. And there was something loose on top.

With a stick I slowly drew the object out, having as much difficulty as you do with one of those grab machines at the fairground. I got it out. I'd got the booby prize. Well, lower down really. I had a size 20 skirt!!! It made a wonderful bivvi bag. I pulled the skirt down to my shoulders and pulled the liner over my face as a midge screen. AND IT WORKED. I was out like a light. For a while. We returned to Ingleton centre. Paul kept up a barrage of calls, frustrated at being diverted to an answering machine after 5 rings. I crept off and slept on a bench in my skirt.

At 7:30, the newsagents opened. I went in to buy a bag of crisps. A nice little lady served me. Now imagine being confronted early Sunday morning by a 6 foot guy with two day's worht of mud-encrusted stubble, grey hair sticking up vertically all tinged with brown streaks. AND he's wearing a skirt round his neck! The shop lady didn't bat an eyelid. Incredible. I slept on in the doorway to a vacant shop. I received a friendly good morning from a couple of middle-aged churchgoers. Maybe it was a case of "humour him dear", "just smile and keep moving". 8:30 Paul finally got through to Bull Pot Farm. He found he was using the wrong number all night. EPIC finishes.

Statistics In 2:23 pm - 445m [28.6]
Bottom 8:18 pm - 330m [20.3]
Out 1:45 am - 500m [22.6]
Paul out 2:03 am - 500m [22.5]
Ingleton 3:06 am - 200m [23.6]