Depth through thought

OUCC News 5th February 2003

Volume 13, Number 4

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Editor: Anette Becher,


Let's play editor says... Editor says: "Please send me copy."

Yorkshire weekend

Hilary Greaves

There's a club Yorkshire trip the weekend after next (14-16 Feb), anyone and everyone is very welcome - email me ( to book your place! We are booked in at Greenclose, and we have a Notts Pot permit for Sat 15th. Let me know whether you want club transport/food.

PS Meet coordinators/helpers are still needed for 6th week (Derbyshire - Oxford person needed to organise club transport) and 8th week (Wales), raise your e-hands now!

All good things sunt divisae in partes tres, thus here is the last part of Rich's exciting showerbath report:

More on Showerbath Inlet (Part III)

Rich Gerrish

I am a firm believer in the adage that a recce trip is always useful no matter what the outcome, but after the events of that day I was particularly despondent. No draught, an impossible choke, no survey data. I thought it wouldn't get any worse but it did. Pete and Pete had killed Showerbath. It had done exactly as we had feared. It kept going up and was still full of boulders and had thus become too unsafe to dig. It was a strange feeling I experienced. I guess I had come attached to the Showerbath dig in a way. It had occupied a part of my life for a few months and now it wasn't there. I still had one trick up my sleeve though and that was the aven inlet.

So Sunday dawned and I was back on Leck Fell and back in Showerbath inlet with Hils. The huge and powerful Hilti drill is a little bit too heavy for bolt climbing but it made short work of the age-old limestone. I knew the principle of bolt climbing inside out and had even had a go in the past but this was different and I soon discovered why. On top of the normal SRT rig I had a hand bolting kit, spanner a set of étriers a bloody great battery and a bloody great drill. This was all very different from the posers prancing around in ballet shoes and skin tight Lycra that appear on the cover of glossy climbing mags, this was plain ridiculous. I sweated and struggled and faffed with the gear explosion that dangled from every gear loop I had until I finally mantleshelfed into a small crawlway eight metres or so above Hils. I removed the cumbersome gear and went off to have a quick look around to see where it went.

The crawlway entered a small chamber floored entirely by a shallow pool that was fed from above by an impossibly tight waterfall inlet. The outlet of the pool was on the far side and was obviously the source of the annoying water that splashed onto the climb in the main passage way. To the left a short climb led onto a ledge that looked back down towards Hils. I carefully hopped up onto it mindful of a load of perched boulders. From here an obvious eight-metre climb led up into a black space. Due to lack of time, however, we decided to call it a day. On my way back I put in a couple of bolts at the head of the first climb and rigged the rope on it for SRT. It had been a slow but successful start to the project and it felt good to be learning new skills.

Thursday night was fast in coming and a larger group of cavers gathered on the Fell in the drizzle and darkness. Paul Windle and myself returned to Showerbath Aven whilst the others continued with stabilizing work in the entrance shaft or checked or carried on with a number of other digs. Arriving at the ledge we had gained on the previous trip I busily started setting up the Bosch drill that was far better suited to climbing in that I could actually operate it with one hand, well I would have been able to operate it with one hand if the thing would actually operate at all. Paul, being more technically minded than most and certainly more technically minded than me began to try and resolve the lack of power. The battery was evidently fully charged as a large spark shot out when Paul jabbed his little penknife scissors into the contacts. Time however is very short on Thursday nights and I was anxious that I did something productive whilst Paul tried to mend the drill. I did have, after all, the hand bolting kit so I felt obliged to try and make a start on the climb.

I edged up onto a higher but smaller ledge round to the right of the large groove that constituted the main climb. From here, I looked at the options. Paul had me on a Petzl Stop belay which meant he could try and fix the drill whilst I put in a bolt but the thought of hand bolting the entire climb was very unappealing given that I could come back another time with a drill that worked and do it far more easily. After a little consideration it appeared that the first half at least could possibly be free climbable with a little aid. A sharp knife-edge ridge protruded from the middle of the groove and taking out my hammer I began to knock a rounded notch in the top of this. The notch was a lot less pronounced than I would have liked but the flake became too fat and resisted further blows from my puny home made bolting hammer. I took out my one and only long sling and hung it from the notch, this gave me a less than perfect runner being far too low and unsafe but it did give me the perfect foothold to stand in to get up the first and most difficult part of the climb. Gingerly I stood up into the loop keeping an eye on the sling running through the inadequate notch where it stayed firmly held by my weight. I took a breath and steadied myself. Looking up I could see that the whole thing now looked a possibility. A tall narrow spike shot up off the right hand wall of the groove pointing to my goal and this looked like a great place for another sling, Only I didn't have any more slings as I hadn't expected to need them with the power of Bosch on my side. I unclipped one of my étriers and looped this at full stretch around the spike. In went a crab and in went my climbing rope, which as an aside was the thick black ultra static Marlow rope the SAS must use to do speed abseiling on, it really wasn't the kind of rope you could survive a fall on without shattering your pelvis! Psychologically however it made me feel much better. The top was now within sight and the narrowing groove meant the climbing was rapidly becoming easier.

Thrutching and working I shuffled upwards until I got my hands on two really positive jugs just beyond the lip. I looked down. Paul was a long way off. Lots of reasons pushed me on such as the desire to find unexplored passage, but if I had been thinking rationally it would have occurred to me that getting down from this point would have been far more difficult than carrying on. I told Paul I was going for it and pulled up hard; switching my hands to higher holds I was able to drag my way off the climb and into horizontal passage. I untied my belay rope and set off to look around the virgin passageway.

Predictably it didn't go far, however, and after a few metres turned a sharp right bend where the stream entered from the top of a five metre climb, the bottom two metres was easily climbed to a ledge but the top section had non existent hand and foot holds and the top was so small it looked like it would be more than a little tricky to gain. It was obvious by now that it was going to close down but I felt compelled to push it to the bitter end. I returned to the previous climb and hand drilled a bolt for SRT over the pitch and used a boulder in the passage as a backup so that Paul could join me. On his way up he detackled my crap runners, managing to kick off my belay spike with a slight tap and send it crashing to the floor. Once he was up we began some combined tactics to reach the top of this final climb. Paul was concerned about his back that he had put out recently in a sailing incident and so we decided that I should stand on his shoulders. (Editor: Did his back improve after that?)

This however was no good as I was still too low and the confines of the top part together with the lack of things to push off meant I didn't have a hope. As we were musing and despairing about spending the time it would take to hand bolt it for what was obviously a dead cert dead end I was struck with an idea. The water coming down the climb flowed through a narrow notch in the lip. I tied a small knot in my long sling and inserted this knot behind the notch. It slid nicely into place and was just large enough to wedge behind it. With Paul holding the sling open I was able to chimney up and get my foot into it, winner! From then on though it was just plain hard work as I kicked, thrutched and scrabbled my way up inch by inch into the slot. I finally gained the crawlway beyond and pushed once again into unseen passages. Thankfully the torture didn't last long and I was soon staring into the jaws of a very small calcite choke. I backed down the passage confirming there were no other leads and reversed the climb with surprising ease. With all leads firmly concluded we gathered all the gear and headed out for the pub.

Pete and myself returned the following week to survey Showerbath Aven and detackle the climbs completely. The final tale in the Showerbath story was not without interest, but to save the parties concerned from Ray's ridicule and disdain it is best to leave that story for another time.

So our involvement with Showerbath Inlet now looks over. It still contains a lot of scaff that we have use for elsewhere and maybe winter floods could bring down more boulders at the far end so we will inevitably be keeping our eyes on it. Whatever happens though and despite our lack of obvious success it has been a fantastic project and a hell of a lot of fun.

NEWS JUST IN: Winter floods have brought about a collapse in Showerbath Inlet, looks like we are back to work.

The prize for the brass monkey question must go to Lev (for replying first) and to Bill for the most comprehensive reply:

Re: A Tale of Brass Monkeys

Bill Ford-Smith

I vaguely recalled the 'brass monkeys' expression being naval in origin: I thought the thing that canon balls were stored on was called a brass monkey; apparently not:

It has often been claimed that the "brass monkey" was a holder or storage rack in which cannon balls (or shot) were stacked on a ship. Supposedly when the "monkey" with its stack of cannon ball became cold, the contraction of iron cannon balls led to the balls falling through or off of the "monkey." This explanation appears to be a legend of the sea without historical justification. In actuality, ready service shot was kept on the gun or spar decks in shot racks (also known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy) which consisted of longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, into which round shot (cannon balls) were inserted for ready use by the gun crew. These shot racks or garlands are discussed in: Longridge, C. Nepean. The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships. (Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981): 64. A top view of shot garlands on the upper deck of a ship-of-the-line is depicted in The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1991): 17.

The above link has the full schmear, if anyone else is *that* sad!