Depth through thought

OUCC News 22nd January 2003

Volume 13, Number 2

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Anette Becher,

Editor's bit

Another bumper issue. Keep the copy coming. 'nuff said.


New World Depth Record: Following exploration in the Gouffre Mirolda from 9 to 12 January 2003, the depth of the Mirolda system in Haute Savoie, France, was brought to minus 1733 metres. Michel Philips broke through the previously terminal siphon and explored about 600 metres of flooded passage, 250 metres downstream, and 300 metres upstream. The new terminus is now another siphon. The team members were: Daniel COLLIARD (Cavernicoles) Pascal BOURDARIE (CAF Aix en Provence) Michil PHILIPS (CRPS) Carlos PLACIDO (URSUS et Dolomites).

Oxlow Cavern, Peak District : (This seems a bit trivial after the news above, but might be of interest to those off to the Peak this term) Work to stabilise the slope below the entrance pitch is now complete. This has resulted in a short vertical section which is best rigged as a short pitch using an extension of the entrance pitch rope.

Cave Conservation: Here's something for those of you who are interested in cave conservation (and possibly especially for those that are not...) The link below contains some general information (in English) on how cavers can help protect cave environments and a very comprehensive 60+ slide PowerPoint presentation, written by Paul De Bie of the Belgian Avalon cave club. The pictures and slide show are qualitatively excellent. A gem!

Library Acquisition

Steve Roberts

"Caving - the essential guide to equipment and techniques", by Peter Swart.

This is a colourful slimline book about the basics of caving. It's written by an South African, but the version we have is the "international" one, which covers European style SRT, caving clothing, etc. It's pretty up-to-date on equipment and thinking, though doesn't discuss very well rigging from naturals or P-bolts, and hasn't caught up with LED light systems. Slight annoyances are inadequate picture captions (I like to know where pictures were taken), and a somewhat prescriptive approach which isn't my own child-of the 70's (alright, 50's) free-wheeling style. Good, overall. Available for loan as usual.

A First and Last Trip

Martin Laverty (one of the cast of 'merely casual heroes')

Rebecca's vicissitudes at the Double Pots reminded me of an another episode in OUCC's history. In 1973 Radio Oxford asked if we could arrange a caving trip to be recorded for a 15 minute broadcast by their roving reporter.

Libby Purves has gone on to broadcast to the nation for many years, sail a lot, write many books and get an OBE; I don't get the impression that she has caved again though. Two books recount her "most horrifying programme ever" largely made unscripted one Sunday in what she is convinced was Wiltshire. Her latest book, Radio: a true love story, devotes just over two pages to the story revealing that her preparations involved concentrating on mining regulations to ensure that sparks from the expensive tape recorder she carried would not cause the cave gases to explode, but did not include much consideration of caves or caving techniques; I doubt if our advice went far beyond advising her to wear old woolies. She rather rued that when her doctor alledgedly said he hadn't seen such extensive bruising except on professional boxers. In an earlier book, Britain at Play, a whole chapter is devoted to the trip with some naming of names: 'hairy' Martin (Buckland); enthusiastic Ann (Morrison) and 'jolly' Robin (Willis) and a fresher called Doug. Robin's pre-trip suggestion that we just went home without caving perhaps contributed to his later being given the inaugural club tankard award as 'Armchair caver' for 1975 - or maybe it was the pipe he smoked.

I remember listening to the programme in the old 'Combined Outdoor Sports Clubs' bar in 4 Keble Road - especially enjoying Martin's justification of his leaping the Double Pots: "It's alright, I've got a light". The club used to have a tape which also featured Tommy Steele's "Cave Man Rock" and Paul Robeson's "Down in the Mine" (two more for the songbook, Harvey) and it would be worth hearing it again perhaps to see if it merits the accolade by one Radio Oxford listener who wrote in to say it was the funniest programme he had heard! Alternatively, why not search out these accounts when you get bored in the Bod?

More on Showerbath Inlet (part I)

Rich Gerrish

We returned to Showerbath Inlet the following Sunday to continue our work. We were both quite apprehensive about our next move having come to the decision that rebuilding the scaffolding again, this time in front of the new blockage, was the best course of action. When we arrived at the dig we began preparing the bars and clamps. We made sure that all the clamps would do up easily and that the bars were laid out within easy reach and in order of size so that when it came to being in an exposed position in front of the choke at least we could be quick about it. Pete's greater experience with fixing scaff, having been significantly involved in the monumental scaff job that comprises the Committee entrance shafts, saw him in front of the wall of boulders whilst I acted as his gopher and assistant hurriedly bobbing up and down through our previous cage in order to keep him well stocked with bars and clamps. Soon enough the cage began to take shape and the whole place began to look and feel a great deal safer. Unfortunately, we had a distinct lack of clamps and some of the bars were too thin to fit some of the clamps that we did have. The Boy Scouts motto must have slipped our minds that day. Luckily this didn't cause too much of a problem, but it did mean that we had to keep altering the bars, replacing shorter ones with longer ones and in the end there were a couple of spots that had gaps that were probably too large for comfort. As we ran short of bars, we began dismantling the cage below to use bits from there. I then set about trying to build another dry stonewall in its place. Supported by a couple of well-placed scaffold bars, we managed to create an excellent walling system, but we opted to keep half of our original cage intact as it appeared to be holding up stuff that was holding up other stuff that was holding up our new cage. It really does piss all over Pub Jenga as far as complexity and seriousness is concerned!

It was getting late when we finally had the cage finished but we couldn't leave without doing what we had been gagging for from the beginning of the day. I crawled back down to the safety of our first barricade and passed Pete up our proddling bar. The only give away of what Pete was up to was the staccato ringing of Aluminium pole on Limestone rock; I waited for the inevitable crash and was not disappointed. A couple of fair sized chunks of rock even fell passed by me but Pete position of attack was quite sheltered and he was only hit by smaller bits of rock and mud. After causing a second fall I joined him to have a closer look at what effect he had had. We pulled a couple of the fallen rocks out from beyond and discussed whether we should go to the pub. There was still a large space around the top of the scaffolding and it looked that despite the two falls Pete had caused, the complete collapse had still failed to come. We picked out the likely keystones in the roof and decided to have another go at them. Pete seized upon my offer and left me standing by the cage with bar in my hand as he shot off to take cover. I forced my arse into the safest corner of the chamber and half looking half averting my face from the field of fire began jabbing away at the rocks above. They were jammed fast though and refused to budge. I gradually became braver convinced of their rigid stability but after actually looking at my target I could see that it was moving imperceptibly slowly to free itself with each poke I gave it. In a flash I was recoiling into the wall as the bar jerked violently in my hands as it was struck by the falling boulders. I pulled the bar out as fast as I could and held it up in front of myself as psychological protection. Large globules of mud and bits of rock spat out from the bars pattered off my lid and suit and rattled down onto our dry stonewall and further. When the rumblings stopped Pete came up to join me. All the space behind the cage was now completely full of rocks and as we considered the possibility of beginning to Hilti cap some of the larger ones the choke rumbled again with further collapse above. We thought for a bit and it rumbled again. Best leave it for another day was the final conclusion and we left in great haste for the pub.

Draenen Round Trip

JC (John Cooper)

Rumours had abounded for a week or two of an extra trip to South Wales to co-incide with the Morganid [sic] dinner a week after the end of term or December 14th/15th real time. And so it came to pass that a mixed bag of youth and experience filled Blackwalls to bursting point and poured down Draenen. On Saturday, the Draenen round trip was undertaken; an ambitious plan given the size of team and the time since the supposed navigators, Tim and myself had last been to this part of the cave. Ambition began to look like folly as we set off underground late in the afternoon with the need to get back to the pub before all the scoff had been scoffed. The team consisted of me and Tim (The Lags), Paul and Al (The Undergraduate Hardcore of the Club) and Sara, Eleanor, Pod and Gareth (The Emerging Talent).

We took the traditional clockwise route thereby having to climb down all the tricky climbs and getting wet towards the end rather than the beginning. The start was familiar territory, through the scrofulous entrance into big passage then what seemed hours of bolder hopping to the uninitiated who had not learnt how to spring from one unstable greasy boulder to the next like a wounded gazelle. This gave us a chance to share some tales of Draenen (The Discovery, The Second Entrance, Fossilised Bat-poo etc. etc.) until Squirrel Rifts where things got a bit quieter as we picked our way through the myriad junctions and crept past a remarkable poorly placed bat. No major route-finding cock-ups ensued and soon we were squeezing through the break-through to Agent Blorenge Streamway. And what a fine place this turned out to be, starting with fine walking sized passage, before a fine cascading streamway. We took a detour into what I believed was Mushroom Passage to check out some amazing mud-crystal formations bursting up from the cracks in the mud floor, before tackling the cascades. Those new to the area were a bit underawed by this but Tim thankfully recognised their flawed wondrousness. On my first trip around here we had hovered on several sections picking out the best route through the rifts and climbs, but this time no such problem and apart from the occasional but unpopular dunkings in The Sewer and the odious but avoidable Duck a l'Orange (sorry about that!) it was plain sailing. Beyond a Choke streamway managed to crock Al and light failure was beginning to creep in as we exited the cave, but we made it in time for the pub and a fine evening at The Lamb and Fox, albeit one where I spent a significant proportion asleep over/in my pint.

Draenen Digging/Grockelling Trip

JC (John Cooper)

Sunday saw an early start (noonish) for a trip with Chris Densham and Paul Mackrill to the far ends of the world aka Luck of the Draw. Chris wanted to break out westwards from this long finger of passage that sticks out (shamelessly) into blank hillside. He had a few digs in mind and needed helpers. All I wanted was a tourist trip and to find out if I was still up for long hauls. Five (5!) hours later we were at the dig site but this had involved a couple of touristy detours and much marvelling at fantastic formations.

It had been about 5 years since I had been so far down Luck of the Draw and that time had been too interested in checking side passages to wonder at the splendour on show. This time we dallied where appropriate (many places) and I was astounded. I knew to look out for Medusa's Children (which takes the headlines) but I had forgotten the beautiful creations to be spied in nooks and crannies along the way. These alone would be worth a visit in their own right in any other cave. Having been awe-struck by what was to be seen in Luck of the Draw a detour to visit the Geryon's Lair beggared belief. Absolutely amazing set of formations that defy accurate description. Well worth all the effort and a surprise to find in the visitors-book had only eleven people had been there since 2000. Surprising if it were not for the devilish route-finding and the kneeing destroying passage to get there. The digs looked promising but did not go on this trip, though we leave the cave approximately 4m longer. Getting out was marginally quicker than getting in (thank God) but still past midnight. At the time I swore never to go back, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe an easy trip to the Blue Greenies in Daren as a warm up beforehand.

Dabbling with Dynamite

Geoff O'Dell

Well, if nothing else, that heading was sure to attract your attention. No, afraid not, no tales of derring-do with bang wire and explosives, or of new caverns measureless to man. Just a short write-up of a trip into (yawn!) Carlswark Cavern in Derbyshire.

Unfortunately it was just another Sunday evening rush trip to keep my hand in, as I couldn't be with those lucky beggars spending the weekend down in Wales. 5.30pm, a mad dash up the motorway, nearly 3 hours underground, and back home for half-one in the morning. It's almost like living with caves on your doorstep!

Anyway, when you've had as many mad dashes to the Peaks as I have, things to do in under 3 hours start to get a bit thin on the ground (perhaps that should be under the ground?). This is more especially so when it's cold, dark, wet and you don't want to be waking farmers up at midnight. Thus selected trips begin to take on a more esoteric nature, which for Derbyshire more often than not means grim & muddy.

Thus a trip into Carlswark, that popular destination of the younger adventure holiday set, can be viewed in a whole new light. For instance, what is a kids cave doing with a Grade V rating? Answer the Dynamite Series, 300 metres of squalid crawls and climbs, liberally, nay caringly, sprinkled with a generous helping of the glutinous brown stuff. Add in a few desperate tight squeezes and, hey presto, a sporting Sunday night caving trip!

Well, maybe it wasn't all that good, but a bit of new passage is always more enjoyable. The squeezes weren't too desperate, and a few sparse decorations in the intervening chambers were almost worth the effort.

The lure to push onwards was the thought that our exit could be made through the Flower Pot entrance if only we could find it, that is. The draught proved elusive and the squeezes became rather more committing, with no guarantee that onwards was indeed upwards.

So with the number of options diminishing, and last orders long since called, we reluctantly about-faced and came out the same way.

Having a good look at the survey is always a good idea, so next time, and there will be a next time, I will know that that tight looking rift is the way on. So if anyone fancies an obscure trip in the not too distant future, just let me know.