Depth through thought
OUCC News 7th May 2003
Volume 13, Number 9
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Editor: Anette Becher, email@example.com
Now, I don't know what we have done to this nice young lady for her to never want to hear from OUCC again, but PLEASE check your address books and remove her name from any group lists, so you stop spamming her inbox...She has already unsubscribed herself from the dtt, oucc-all-members and oucc-local-stuff lists.
On Thu, 1 May 2003, Lucy Fauveau wrote:
>To whom it may concern, >I have already unsubscribed my address from the list server but some >people from the group still have my email in their group lists. Please >be so kind to inform them to remove it, as I will not be ale to attend >any events, unfortunately. Many thanks, Best regards, Lucy ..
We stood on the sandy beach, listening to the frogs calling and watched the three lights slowly disappear in the dark. Our slightly miffed guide still insisted this was Hang Dai Cao, despite Howard.s attempts at explanation. About an hour later Martin was able to report that we were encamped at the upstream entrance of Hang Ho. Delighted with the good news, we thanked our bemused guide. By insisting on taking us to the entrance he knew as Hang Dai Cao, he had saved us several hours of caving through Hang Duat, Hang Pitch and Hang Ho, and had taken us precisely to the one spot from where the remaining lead could be accessed by a mere 20 minute stroll up a river bed.
Next morning, we split into two teams. Howard, Martin, Sweeny and Snablet caved back through Hang Ho into Pitch Cave to follow a lead there. Duncan, John, Dan and I went up the river bed to hopefully find a way into the Hang Vom system. The walk up the river bed was more of a scramble, as it had rained overnight and the large, algae covered boulders were treacherous and slippery. In between climbing boulders we waded through fetid, green, swampy puddles, left over from the last floods and now reduced to slime and sediment towards the end of this dry season. After about 30 mins, the riverbed just stopped at a high limestone cliff. To the left of the cliff we saw a gravelly ramp that looked very much as if it might carry a stream in the wet season. To the right, behind several bus-sized boulders, we could just glimpse a tantalising black hole. We had found the entrance.
Dan and John climbed into the entrance to check out whether the cave was a going concern. I got the GPS out to get a fix on the entrance, and Duncan had a look for our beautiful interpreter, Miss Hoan. Even though she was very much underequipped for the cave, having just a pair of canvas trainers for footwear and no wetsuit to speak of, and even though she had not really enjoyed our nocturnal walk to the cave, she had insisted on joining us (accompanied by the guide), but had been left behind after the first few metres. We thought it wise to have a last attempt at dissuading her from coming along. By now Dan and John were hooting loudly with delight as they established that there was passage to survey. I could no longer wait for the GPS satellites to appear and climbed over the boulders to join them. And then the three of us waited for Duncan. And waited. And outside, behind the huge boulders, Duncan waited for Miss Hoan. And waited. And then Duncan went back to the camp to make sure Hoan hadn't drowned in one of the puddles, or broken her legs on the slippery boulders. After what seemed like hours, Duncan finally re-appeared, having found Hoan safely snuggled up in her hammock, reading her Vietnamese-English dictionary. We were finally done hanging about and ready to reel out survey tape.
The passage started off with boulders and sand in the entrance, then lead into an imperceptibly slowly flowing stream. To begin with, we walked and waded. The cave was very bare in character, like other active parts of the caves I had seen in this area. The walls were completely smooth and grey, not a decoration in sight; obviously it would be blasted in the wet season.
Soon the stream became deeper, and before long we had to survey while treading water - at least that made the clinometer readings easy. After two hundred meters of bleak, clean washed, dripping passage, we reached a second entrance with a steep green ramp. Beyond this, the river continued at swimming depth. Looking behind her towards the alternative entrance, Dan noticed the water had an eerie, greenish phosphorescent glow. On closer inspection, this turned out to be due to a hanging wall, just low enough in the water to appear solid when nearby, but letting the sunlight filter through underneath. One of the few pretty features of this no-nonsense cave. Further along, we reached a boulder collapse. Climbing down the other side, we found a third entrance. This was preceded by an ornamental elliptic eyehole into the green rainforest outside our cave. John named this the 'Jade Splinter'. Here, the river stopped, allowing us to briefly leave the cold, deep water to find the way on at the other side. Back into the water to swim into the black distance. As the passage dimensions increased, we stuck to the left hand wall. After the second survey station, we entered a large, very misty chamber with a magnificent echo that I timed at 14 seconds. This made understanding the survey readings quite difficult, especially as we were reeling out 50 meter lengths. We reached a small rock island. Blackness all around, and even our best spot search lights could not see an end to the swim. Was this a lake, a terminal sump or just very large passage?
We fettled our lights and had a snack to decide on how to progress. We had been going for a few hours, but had only surveyed about 650m so far, what with all the waiting for Hoan. Duncan was feeling very cold and got his survival bag out. He was in a semi-furry suit, not at all appropriate for a full on swimming cave. John had been feeling unwell and was keen to call it a day. Dan was happy to go on, but was without a life jacket. Although a very confident swimmer, she understandably did not fancy a long swim on her own without buoyancy aid. And so all eyes turned to me, in my full wetsuit and bright yellow life jacket.
I lowered myself into the water and swam towards what we thought was most likely the passage continuation. I started off with a survey tape and reeled out 36m to the nearest wall. I then let go of the tape and carried on swimming, always along the left hand wall. The passage was actually much less wide than we had believed, and I could see the other wall quite easily, about 20m away. As I progressed, I turned round every once in a while to see the three lights on Duncan's island grow dimmer and dimmer. Every movement I made created waves that filled large scallops and air pockets in the walls near the surface of the stream, producing unnervingly loud booms with full 14 second echoes.
Was this lake not likely the perfect habitat for large, predatory catfish - and just how big would these catfish get... Best to keep swimming vigorously, to discourage any wildlife from being too inquisitive and to stave off the cold.
After what seemed like several hundred meters, I began to feel a draught. The draught steadily increased, and I saw the roof lowered right down in the distance. The air whistled around my head, causing my carbide light to hiss alarmingly. I sure hoped it would not blow out, as I was not at all confident that my LED backup would still work in these conditions. As soon as I popped out behind the low arch, the draught stopped as if someone had turned it off. A few more meters round a rocky protrusion and - I had found the fourth entrance.
With this reported to the maroons on Duncan's Island, they agreed to survey to this last entrance and to return the next day. We had about 800m in the bag.
The next day, the entire team came to Hang About. We were meant to leapfrog survey, and there was also a photography team - all expecting to find a way into the giant Hang Vom system. In the end, our team was caught up by the keen second team in the last entrance, where we were still busy trying to find the way on. Ironically, given that there were now eight of us rearing to go, there was no way on. Not only were we not going to break into the Hang Vom system, we hadn't even managed to realise the cave's full 2 km potential. Just to make sure there was not a way on at the other end of the last entrance doline, Martin, Dan and Sweeny thrashed through the leech infested jungle, but found nothing. We took a few photos of the rather unassuming passage and then we went out the second, rather than the original entrance to connect this with the gravelly slope at the end of the river bed and get a GPS fix. Back to camp for a last day in the rainforest, to prepare for the return to Son Trach's committee politics.
After watching an excellent Ballboy gig at the Zodiac on Thursday night, I spent Friday afternoon with Chris sorting out the tackle that we would need for camping and digging in the Dollimores Series of Draenen. Later, we met Gavin and drove over to the Lamb and Fox for a few pints of Theakstons, meeting Simon, Gareth, Tim Guilford, Lou Maurice, Ben Lovett, Claire McEllwain, and Pete Talling and a couple of his friends. The following morning we lazily began packing tacklebags, desperately trying to keep the amount of kit we were going to take to a minimum to ensure that it would actually be a feasible carry into the cave.
Organising the trip had been an exercise in trying to please too many people at once and after holding things together in a ramshackle fashion they finally fell apart that morning when Gavin could not shake the demon of work any longer and resigned himself to the fact that he would have to return to Oxford! After a very quick rethink, Gareth and Chris headed underground with two tacklebags each, and I remained at Blackwalls to wait for the arrival of Pete Jurd who was due to be turning up later that evening.
At ten the following morning, Pete and I were in the entrance series and getting to grips with a couple of tacklebags each. Moving kit to the camp had been the most significant worry of mine. Drill, Battery, Hilti Capping kit, Food, Sleeping Bags, Stoves etc, etc... In the event it turned out to be pretty easy. One bag contained my pit and was so super light that it really didn't pose too much trouble. The other with Battery and Capping gear was damn heavy but spent most of it's time either on my back or being dragged behind. It took just over 4 and a half hours to get to camp which is about 50% longer than without tackle but as far as trips go it was actually a lot easier than I was anticipating.
We met Gareth and Chris finishing off some camp chores and, after a mug of hot soup, we all relocated to Yellow Van with the Bang. With Chris, as my beautiful assistant, passing me the required pieces of kit in the confines of the dig, I set about drilling the first few shot holes. Great waves of relief washed over me when the drill fired into life, it would have been beyond unfunny to have carted it all the way for it not to work. Soon the boulders that had blocked progress were filling up the drag tray and the semi drafting dig clouded with plumes of heady cordite (or whatever nasty gas it is that Hilti Caps give off???).
After 5 hours digging, Pete and I were starting to show the signs of a long trip, and determined to remain in sync with the Earths rotation we headed back to camp. After gorging ourselves on Cous Cous and Refried Beans (brought all the way back from Mexico 12 months previously), we snuggled into our Pits and let our eyes try vainly to adjust to the dark, as I struggled to find a comfortable sleeping position on the lumpy floor.
Chris' alarm woke us up at an inhumanly early hour of the morning, but seeing as he and Gareth were destined for the surface that day and wanted to squeeze in a digging trip first, it seemed unjustified to complain; justice went out the proverbial window, though, and I complained anyway. After a disgusting breakfast of Pasta 'n' Sauce, we set off up ''Luck of the Draw' to visit one of Chris' digs. Luck of the Draw is a fantastic passage of reasonable size and continuity although it still retains that annoying Draenen feature of a bouldery floor that ensures you can't look around too much without tripping up. Gradually the passage became prettier and soon we were stooping past crystal covered walls. The annoyance of having to get down onto our hands and knees was soon compensated for by the sight of Medusa's Children and I don't think that I have ever been in a passage that has been so utterly covered in dazzling crystalline arrays. After a brief pause to examine the tangled helictites in total amazement we crawled on. A short distance on we climbed up into Geryon's Lair for another spot of formation spotting. This pair of frozen plasma balls is quite staggering and provided us with a great opportunity to snack and gaze at the same time. The Geryon Visitors book is an interesting idea and makes for an odd and reassuringly short read. Despite this part of Draenen containing what must arguably be the finest formations in the British Isles they have still only been visited by a handful of cavers. The 8 hour (without navigational error) round trip from the surface has obviously been enough to put off your average tourist. Long may these formations hang in splendid isolation and remain unsullied by the masses that would see there slow and painful deterioration into the league of Easter Grotto and the Collonades.
Chris' dig looked less than fantastic and my own hopes slid rapidly when the battery gave clear indication that its cookies were spent. This was a double-edged sword, however, and Pete and myself failed to hide our personal glee that with the battery dead it might as well leave for the surface straight away with Chris and Gareth. After making 30cm of progress, we turned and headed back through the wonderland. At camp, Pete and I palmed off as much kit as we could on our departing comrades and after watching them disappear into the gloom we headed out for one last tourist trip of the day. Over the other side of M, S & D are passages that must relate to Luck of the Draw and these are similarly adorned in splendour. The formations in Circus Maximus however only just compensated for the scarily steep and chossy slope of death guarding access.
The following day we returned to Yellow Van and set to on the fractured rocks with a lump hammer and the pent up frustration only possible from teachers who have just endured a very long and extremely demanding Spring Term. The dig was actually extremely easy to work with just two people and still provided the second with enough time between hauling to improve their landscape gardening skills. After almost 6 hours of digging I was getting bored of gardening and crawled off to have a look at the body sized tube above the dig. This had previously been rejected in favour of the dig in the floor on account of the digging kit being washed in it's entirety into the lower dig. I can't explain why I had such a bad feeling about my action but for some reason I knew I wouldn't like what I was going to find. As I thrutched forwards I found it difficult to determine which direction the sound of Pete digging was coming from and shouted out for him to hit the lump hammer against some rocks.
'Hang on!' Pete chimed. 'I can hear you from beyond the dig!'
After more thrutching and shouting and banging the truth was painfully obvious. I was in the 'miles of virgin passage' beyond the dig. The only trouble was that despite there being miles of passage it wasn't actually virgin in the slightest. 'Buggerations!!'
Feeling cheated in the extreme we headed back to camp to drink the remaining rum and wonder at the lost hours spent in dead end squalor.
The trip out was pretty quick with just one tackle bag each and we managed to do it in a shade over 3 hours. Admittedly the thoughts of sitting in the sun drinking cold beer and smoking fat bifters spurred us on. Fortunately for us, the reality was better than we could have imagined and we indulged in the finer points of surface life including an unhealthy portion of dog and beans, Theakstons, Chronic Skunk, Pork Scratchings and glorious sunshine. The following morning dawned with a hangover, pissing it down with rain and the prospect of lugging an impossibly heavy bag to the station and getting my ass to Glasgow. Will the joys of life never end?
Speaking of the joys of life, anyone fancy digging in Dollimore's? There is a nice camp established there and plenty of other possibly pointless, possibly fame making digs to go at. Hope to see you there!