Depth through thought

OUCC News 29th January 2003

Volume 13, Number 3

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Anette Becher,


Haven't heard any news (that I am allowed to print before a certain cave diver is back from holiday, anyway) so this is it for news at the moment:

As of the Thursday just gone, the entrance to Lefel Fawr at Cwmystwyth Mine in South Wales is reported as being collapsed. The collapse is just beyond the overturned minecart and from the description I heard consists mostly of scree and rocks, possibly meaning that the roof has broken through to the spoil dumps above the entrance again (the original collapse being passed through via the overturned mine cart). Andrew Barnes (Aberystwhyth Uni Caving CLub)

A Tale of Brass Monkeys

Geoff O'Dell

Whilst Tim and Lou were off having a great time in South Africa, four hardy souls thought they would make the most of Blackwalls and a touristy trip into Ogof Draenen.

Thus Pip, Chris Rogers, Dan Peach & myself headed down on Saturday evening (11th Jan), and met up in the bar of the Lamb & Fox. Outside was a very picturesque scene of twinkling stars and fluffy white stuff.

Problem number one was that they key to The Grovel could not be found anywhere.

The pub was shutting and not having brought any tents a very very cold night indeed lay in store. Out came the trusty Swiss Army knife, and with a whispered apology to Tim, off came the door at its hinges. Time for a nice warming brew then - well, perhaps not- first of all everything liquid was frozen solid, and that even included the cooking oil. No worries, we'll melt snow - well no actually, the cooker has blown up during a previous visit and is US. OK, well we can drink beer & sherry, and warm up in front of the fire! No maybe not - Try as we might, all the burnables are damp, and all we produce, even with the aid of paraffin, is a noxious smoke that fills the hut and our lungs without any noticeable warming benefits.

At this point Pip & Chris gave up and elected to both sleep in a Toyota Yaris, this on the basis that it was warmer than the hut. That was probably true, as a small bottle of water I had brought down with me froze by my side overnight. Look, lets be frank, it was effing freezing! Even with all my available clothes on and a thick sleeping bag, it was a job to stay asleep whilst simultaneously shivering. I'd have written something in the hut logbook if all the pens hadn't frozen!

Morning loomed through the cloud of condensation that welled up out of Dan's sleeping bag, a breathing cave if ever there was one. Pip & Chris eventually roused themselves when they perceived that the cost/benefit analysis of being cold over enduring a bad back had swung sufficiently. Pip, be praised, even found an old single burner stove in the recesses of her rucksack, and we managed a breakfast of sorts, soup and noodles as I fondly recall. Whilst three of us decided that the confines of the cave would be immeasurably more congenial than further freezing, Dan lit up another rolley and hunkered still further into his personal grotty grotto.

Draenen was significantly warmer and friendlier than the surface, and with a low stream, the energetic thrutches of the entrance stream soon had us nice and toastie. Our mission for today was a sightseeing jolly up into the Waterfall Series, with the formations of 6th Heaven our ultimate aim.

It turned out all in all to be an excellent five and a half hour trip, with a good bit of variety - boulder bouncing, big passage, scrotty crawls, squeezes, rope climbs and thrutches, a couple of bats, superb aragonite formations, and a dozen hot gypsy's for good measure - ok, that last bit was a lie, but it would have been nice wouldn't it? At least if they were in the cave they couldn't have been nicking the wheels off me motor!

Anyway, route finding with the aim of the description off the internet, and a bit of advice from Ben Lovett, proved easy enough. I would certainly be interested in going back up that way again to take a few photographs, and explore Padlock Passage that goes off in the other direction from the junction with Knees Up Mother Brown.

The trip out was uneventful, the temperature outside hadn't noticably increased, and the pile of fag butts by Dan's still occupied sleeping bag testified to a freezing day well spent! A quick tidy up, some remedial carpentry work to the door (sorry again Tim!) and it was away home in time for tea and medals - at least for me it was, I think Chris was still shivering on a station platform in Swindon at some ungodly hour.

PS. Quiz Question: Anybody know where the saying "freeze the balls off a brass monkey" comes from?

Of Boundary Pot and Gimli's Glee

John Pybus

It was Saturday morning at Bull Pot Farm (well perhaps Saturday afternoon). Hilary and I had ropes packed for a trip down Stream Passage Pot, and a relaxed wander round Gaping Ghyll. We were waiting for Rich Gerrish to decide whether he was coming, or in fact to show any signs of life, when Ray Duffy came in to ruin our plans. "You can go down GG any day you know. You can only go down Boundary when it's dead dry. You wanna go down Boundary, that's what you wanna do."

Boundary Pot, an entrance between Pool Sink and Top Sink in the Ease Gill beck, is but one huge boulder collapse away from connecting into the Ease Gill system. Beardy had climbed half way up an aven back in 1994, but with it rarely being dry enough, hadn't been back since. With nothing more decided, Hil and I headed into Ingleton hoping Rich would sort himself out for a trip in the meantime. By the time we got back Rich had mustered the enthusiasm to charge a battery, and put together a drill and some aven climbing gear, but couldn't quite persuade himself to leave the warmth of the kitchen.

So it was with Paul Windle (a Red Rose member with a remarkable resemblance to a certain character from The Lord of the Rings), that we set off across the fell. On the way we met three more Red Rose on their way back from Boundary with photography gear (they must also have talked to Ray that morning). They were not quite as positive as we'd have liked: "Wet... cold... tight... miserable... can't find the way on... nothing worth photographing... won't be going back there again!" Parting with, "well enjoy your trip, we must exchange notes when you get back!" Now Paul began to lose enthusiasm too, imagining tight passages half filled with meltwater from the icy moor.

Despite Paul's best efforts to lead us down other, drier, holes we found the entrance fairly easily and the time had eventually come to get underground. After our conversation on the fell it actually much easier going than we were expecting. The wet crawls weren't very long, route finding wasn't such of a problem and we were soon at the first pitch, a point the others' hadn't reached. The pitch opens out into Fusion Chamber and the cave changes character completely. A big chamber, wide passage, and a sizable stream in the floor. It feels very little travelled compared to most of Ease-gill. Especially considering it was found more than 50 years ago.

The aven came in about half way along the streamway. While Hilary headed up Beardy's rope to check it out while I went to the end of the cave. Hiroshima chamber of as loose and scary as the name suggests, there were a couple of places that might have been worth digging, but I didn't fancy it and headed back. Beardy had got 10m up to a ledge, and there was a similar amount still to be bolted, but first Hilary wanted to check an alcove off to the left accessible by an exposed traverse across calcite. When Hilary got to the alcove it was chocked with boulders, but seemed to draught from the floor of boulders above. Trying again a higher route lead into the upper half of the alcove the false floor of boulders glued together by calcite. Beyond some exquisite, and difficult to pass, straws there was a way through to another grotto. New passage!

By now spirits were very much improved. In fact Paul was now dancing around with delight at the fact that Beardy had left such an easy lead, after doing all the hard work. The grotto itself was decorated with more straws, and gour pools. The end was blocked by a massive block with a calcited up squeeze above. Almost but not quite wide enough to pass, Paul set to it with more enthusiasm than equipment. We'd a tiny hammer for setting stud bolts, a drill and massive battery brought in with considerable effort, and a set of etriers. What we wanted was a lump hammer and a chisel. Still with the help of the drill, a handy lump of rock and two hours bashing, a lip of the squeeze had been removed. Paul tried again to get through. He could insert himself into it, but wasn't quite sure enough to force himself out the other side. Hilary tried, and this time made it through. Spurred on by the knowledge it was possible Paul managed at the second attempt, and I followed him through.

We found ourselves in a rift which headed off in two directions. Both soon choked. We'd found 15-20m in total, but a little poking around found good leads in both directions. Still, we'd left our digging gear (such as it was) the other side of the squeeze, and it was getting late, so we headed for the surface. The trip out passed quickly, and as we walked back across the moor we kept our thought from cold imagining Beardy's face when he heard our news. We were not disappointed! Thanks to the RRCPC for sharing their excellent curry.

More on Showerbath Inlet (part II)

Rich Gerrish

The following Tuesday saw us at Showerbath yet again, both of us now being caught firmly in its grip. I was starting to come down with the flu and so was not much more than a porter on this occasion. After assessing the situation again it became obvious that removing any of the scaffold bars was going to be too dangerous. Due to our previous lack of clamps we had had to use longer bars, now removing those bars created far too many large gaps and gave us the task of catching three large rocks instead of one. Well, if we couldn't make the gaps larger without it becoming unsafe then we would just have to make the rocks smaller. Pete drilled and blasted at all the big ones he could reach safely and then we set about tearing out all the stuff that would fit between our bars. By the time we had finished doing what we could it had reached 10:15pm, we 'Gavined' the exit trip by doing it in 15 and a half minutes with gear, changed rapidly and were in the pub by 10:50pm!

The dig was still progressing nicely in terms of how much spoil we were shifting, but I was concerned that it would soon become too dangerous to dig unless it stopped going straight up, stopped being full of loose rocks or both. With putting so much effort into it I thought it was about time we obtained some hard evidence for our suspected connection to Lyle Caverns in Lost Johns. The strong (into the choke) draught at Showerbath gave us the perfect opportunity to smoke test the passage. Smoke pellets were bought from a plumber's merchant, the date was set for Saturday December 7th and people were contacted and given the hard sell on the two trips required.

The intervening Thursday however was business as usual. This time, accompanied by Andy Walsh, we returned to Showerbath with the Capping gear. As I set up the tools, Pete gave Andy the low down on the dig's current status and chatted about the next move. Having decided that removing the bars was too dangerous, we carried on with Pete capping rocks until they were small enough to move out from between the bars. Pete worked away at this whilst Andy and me wandered off to have a look at a waterfall inlet back down the passage. About halfway back to the main stream way, water splashes in from an inlet directly above a small and consequentially unpleasant little climb. We tried climbing up to this inlet from three different places. The first gained plenty of height but was too far away and would have required a bolt traverse to get nearer. The second terminated at the small boulder-filled gap from which the water issued, and the third just proved too hard to free climb but looked by far the best possibility out of the three. This, I decided, would be a good place to try some aid climbing and resolved that I would return with a drill.

Pete had almost finished capping by the time we returned and I was eager to have a go at the sharp end. I hurried up into the cage and we pulled out the loose, broken rocks until we were left with a large black space crowned with an unsupported ceiling of sticky boulders. Pete pointed out what he thought was the keystone, handed me the prodding bar, smiled and left for somewhere more sheltered. I backed into the corner and tried blindly to knock the keystone out. Even when I became bolder and stepped out from my hiding place in order to see what I was doing it proved impossible to move. The angle I had on it was just not working. I ducked beneath the scaffold brace running between the cage and the back wall and repositioned myself where I could get a better angle of attack, I was consciously aware that this place was also a great deal more exposed and my sphincter involuntarily closed accordingly. My improved angle made short work of the keystone and I was soon desperately shouting expletives above the now familiar sound of falling rocks. After the collapse, I hastily bowed out and retired for a mug of hot, milky, sugary coffee. My thirst for action at the dig face had been repaid with an almighty overdose. Pete resumed his capping whilst Andy and I hid, but it was not long before we packed up and made our way out to the pub.

Saturday dawned with a hangover and furry mouth. It was nine o'clock and time for me to get my arse in gear. Downstairs I hindered those that were cooking breakfast and struggled to organize the two teams that I needed for the day. Team Boxhead was set, myself, Beardy, Helen, Dangerous Denis and Pod. With a team this size we would also be able to do some surveying and have a really good look around the area. Team Committee consisted of Pete Hall and Pete O'Neil who would carry on the digging and also set off the smoke bombs for us.

Leck Fell was bitterly cold and I found myself huddling over the plastic pipe of Boxhead Pot warming, my hands on the steamy 5-8 degree Celsius draught rising out. Pod was a little nervous about the trip and with good reason, He had not been caving all that long and Boxhead has one of the deepest pitches in the country, not everybody's choice of an introductory trip. Having coped with the descent we entered the Tate Galleries, a long and complicated series of crawls, awkward traverses, hideous climbs and wet grovels (and a small chamber containing a lunch box with very old and apparently unstable Bang inside - DO NOT TOUCH!) that eventually popped up in the floor of the extremely large and impressive passages of Lyle Caverns. The pace was understandably quick, as we wanted to get on with the job we were going to do and the generally unimpressive passages of the Tate galleries gave us little excuse to pause for breath. Despite this Pod kept up very well with a strong team bent on glory, no mean feat for somebody with only a few trips under his belt, respect!

Arriving at the large fossil passage that splits off from Lyle Caverns and heads off in the direction of Notts 2, I was buzzing with anticipation. I walked slowly, taking time to observe the passage's nature very carefully. We passed several holes in the floor that led down to the "5 Pitches Route", which we intended to survey later, and eventually arrived at the Boulder Choke. Given the cold temperature that day, I figured the draught would be greater than usual and thus help our cause. I was mortified when we arrived and found the air still as anything. Not a sausage. Dennis and Beardy both crawled off into the choke and I went back down the passage to check if a draught was coming from anywhere else at all, but nothing. Sometimes we felt draughts but they were very small and confusing and probably just localized. By the time we had finished rooting around and waited around some more in the vain hope that the smoke would appear in a draught-less passage we split into two groups. Beardy, Helen and Pod headed out keeping their eyes peeled for smoke along the way and Dennis and I went down the slot in the floor to survey through rarely visited passages back to the main drain, and also to look for possible leads on the way. No bolts had been placed anywhere along the route so we rigged it all on sketchy natural anchors in the wrong places with no backups until we ran out of rope. The previous pitch looked just about free climbable but even removing the rope off that would not have helped, the final pitch was totally unriggable in a safe manner with no belays anywhere near the pitch. By this point we were both pretty fed up, it just wasn't going to be our day. We justified jacking to each other and ourselves until we were convinced it was the only reasonable course of action and, relieved that we were now finished, headed after the others.