Depth through thought
OUCC News 12th February 2003
Volume 13, Number 5
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Editor: Anette Becher, email@example.com
One more week to try and get some articles off you, before I disappear to find caverns measureless in far more pleasant surroundings than described in this week's offering by our regular correspondent from Yorkshire.
Please write up your experiences in Wales, or any other stuff to do with caving. Otherwise there will be no DTT next week!
"Speleology", issue 1. This is the BCRA's new journal, replacing Caves and Caving. It says it aims to the the New Scientist to Cave Science's Nature. I hope not, because I terminated my subscription to New Scientist because it was so crap. BCRA have sensibly gone this route because, with volunteer labour, they haven't got the resources to compete with Descent as a super-glossy magazine; also, BCRA is refocusing itself somewhat as a cave science body rather than as a substitute for a national body. Politics over, what's it like? Basically, not bad. Articles on the re-survey of the Trident series in Easegill, Lou's dye tracing in Ogof Draenen, A new entrance to Daren Cilau (just what the world needs), a report on the BCRA conference, and expedition reports including Dani's cave diving in Asturias. Not flashy, but good solid information. Cover photo of the celebrated "elephants' wang" formation in the Berger.
"Descent" 170. Various news items, but nothing major. A report on the SUICRO conference. Apparently this is an annual event; a mystery to me as every issue of Descent seems to have a report on some vast Irish cave rescue piss-up. Major articles from a "Vietnam Virgin" (featuring Snablet), Radon in the Forest of Dean, Measuring Ingleborough's stal (by John Cordingley - is there no end to this man's talents?), Hypothermia, and Ged Campion in China.
Spotted this unlikely Mercury Music Prize-nominated tribute to expedition caving the other day....
"Salt in my eyes, stinging the brain It's been forty-odd days since we've
Crawl in the cave, looking for light But the ceiling descends, and still it's dark...
Hey, there, don't despair, get in the cave!"
Usual pint for a correct answer, available next time I go caving! Sad indie trainspotters only need apply..... Rich???
Another morning at 4000m above sea level, cold and wet. I eat my sloppy, foul tasting noodles reluctantly. The day before we explored Beardy's Dong to its conclusion, pushed Gavin's Dong to a choke, and found a couple more entrances on the plateau. Gavin was off back to his Dong before I even cast aside the rest of my breakfast and resigned myself to feeling hungry. Beardy and I were to drop these two new entrances and see where they got to, Hils was off to do another recce and hopefully find some more entrances.
On the walk up to the Plateau, we battled with the now familiar hardship of working at altitude. Ten paces, stop and rest, ten paces, stop and rest. The weather today seemed to be an improvement on the recent unending rain by actually taking breaks of remaining overcast and dry. As we neared the top of the hill, Gavin surprised us all by coming back in the other direction.
"It's gone!" He said matter of factly.
"What, your dig?" We chimed in disbelief.
"Of course, don't look so surprised."
So we all stood around and tried to reorganise ourselves as we now had a cave that was open, draughting like a good 'un and needing people and tackle to go and push it. As my caving kit was already up the hill, and having spent yesterday doing a surface recce, I was first in line for a trip underground. Behind Gavin, of course, who, having broken through deserved the right to go and explore the caverns measureless to man that must lie beyond. Hils and Beardy therefore would go drop these entrances that I had found the previous day, I was needed to put some bolts in at Gavin's dig, and Gavin would join me later after he had been back to camp to pick up his SRT gear. Sorted.
I dropped into the entrance of Gavin's Dong and immediately noticed the draught. "Very interesting", I thought before starting to shiver, "Bloody cold mind". Down the entrance came the first squeeze and climb that turned out to be a little exciting to the uninitiated. Belling out below the narrow section it was a bit of a shock to slip through and find myself a considerable distance from the floor with no easy way down. I sketched it together and was soon on the floor straightening my gear.
I crawled forwards and soon found Gavin's dig that was now a slot with the cold air blasting out from below. Picking out a good chunk of rock, I began hammering the bolt hole. The way on itself was pretty small, and whilst I hammered I wasn't totally sure if I could get through with my vertical gear on. After tightening the bolt and clipping the rope in, I had nothing left to do than test my theory. After a couple of attempts and the removal of some gear, I finally slid through the slot and climbed down to the floor. Following the loose rocks down to the lip of a very loose pitch, it looked like the cave had finally broken into much bigger stuff. Whilst I sorted out some belays, Gavin arrived and soon I was putting in another bolt over the new drop whilst Gavin shivered on the ledge.
After the first bolt was in, I was knackered from the exertion of bolting at altitude and Gavin looked hypothermic, so I suggested we switch roles for the second bolt. When that was in and the rope secured, we were down the pitch with excitement rising. At the bottom, a tall rift dropped away from the far side of a small chamber and we dived into it at different levels to find the way on. The rift itself was pretty drippy and we were soon quite wet as we thrutched up and down and looked at several impenetrable calcite slots that blocked the way on. "Knackers" I thought, the slots all looked like they needed a drill and some bang, neither of which we had. Whilst Gavin bashed ineffectively at the most promising slot with a bolting hammer, I decided to go and move some rocks in order to keep warm. Back along the rift a fair way and down at floor level, I found the perfect place and began my digging. It soon occurred to me though that this dig looked far better than all the others and despite being further back than all the rest still took part of the draught. After a short time I had an opening that looked passable. A bloody great icy drip kept plopping in totally the wrong place though. I imagined myself laying in the rift, stuck and struggling to get through with icy water trickling down my neck, "No thanks". I kept digging for a while longer until Gavin got fed up with his dig and came to look at mine. He was soon inserting himself into the gap and, once through, helped to clear out more rocks from the far side "Perfect".
"Does it go Gavin?"
"Well, I haven't been here before."
"Wait for meeeee!!!!"
Gavin had waited for me on the far side and let me take the lead into the new stuff. The rift continued meandering and the character seemed to change again into a much more fractured rock. Splitting up at one point where the way on was not obvious, I soon found myself behind Gavin as he excavated yet another blockage. It didn't take long though and we were soon climbing down more rifts into what appeared to be a chamber.
We stood side by side in the chamber, it appeared to close in at the mid point and widen out beyond whilst simultaneously appearing to drop over a lip as well. Some water tricked down the far wall and we both thought, "Pitch?"
Gavin had already picked up a rock and said, "Listen to this." The rock sailed out into the dark and over the lip. We waited anticipating the sweet sound of silence as the rock fell into the deep chasm followed eventually by the deep rumble as it impacted onto the boulder pile 200m below! Not so unfortunately, no sooner had it dropped over the lip than we heard the sound of it landing on the floor. "Bollox!"
Sure enough the chamber was just that, the far end of it was choked with sharp rocks and had no way on. Back at the rift we could see the continuation of it along the wall of the chamber and we reluctantly inserted ourselves back into the tight confines of rock. Shortly I was at yet another dig but seeing that it wasn't a significant blockage, I began tearing at the rocks and letting them drop to the floor. I pushed through, dropped down from the ceiling, which was filled with nasty boulders to the floor and came across yet another blockage! I looked at Gavin. We were both shivering; this cave really was quite unpleasantly cold. We decided to jack at this point and headed out quickly trying to warm up. It didn't work though. The altitude meant that exertion had to be followed by rest and rest was inevitably followed by hypothermia - nice. Back at the pitch we surveyed through to the breakthrough point that Gavin had dug out that morning and then made our exit. Below the entrance squeeze I had picked up some dried fruit and rice cakes to take out of the cave, but having no place to put them I just stuffed them inside my oversuit. This was a big mistake, as I climbed up to and inserted myself into the narrowest part all the food bunched up around my waist belt causing me to become stuck. After much swearing, cursing and thrutching, I finally battered my way through the constriction and out of the cave, exhausted.
Gavin was on the surface and already stripping off and getting into his walking gear. I decided to get changed in the relatively comfortable surrounds of the entrance chamber of Beardy's Dong and -bidding him farewell- told him to push off and head back to camp as soon as he was ready.
I changed quickly, but my lightweight approach to the expedition meant that the underclothing I wore for the cave was also my warm clothes for the surface, only now they were wet! Just as I was about to head off, Hils returned from her recce looking thoroughly cold and miserable, too. Together we pushed off back to camp and with the exercise I soon began to feel more human. I swore I would never return to Gavin's Dong, far too cold, far too tight, bloody miserable in almost every way, if that was the deepest cave in the world someone else can go explore it.
Of course, time dulls the memories of hardship and leaves you only with rose tinted spectacles. Yep, Gavin's Dong has to be one of the hardest short caves I have ever done on the grounds of altitude and temperature alone. If it does go deep, it will become a very serious proposition for whoever that team may be and I, for one, am desperate to be on that team. Looking at the area, it is easy to believe that the deepest cave in the world could be found there. One thing is for sure, the deepest cave in the world is never going to be easy and jacking because the going is tough just isn't an option. I'll be back to push this cave as hard as I can, but I may pack some extra thermals next time.