Depth through thought

OUCC News 26th May 2004

Volume 14, Number 4

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Editor: Pod:

Editor's bit

Oh dear.

Hidden Earth & China Caves

Steve Roberts

I've just been sent a load of flyers about these. Just to remind/inform you:

Hidden Earth (BCA annual caving conference); 1-3 October in Kendal. Mass trip by OUCC often organised by the preceding expedition leader. Paul ?

China Caves Symposium; 24 (6pm on) & 25 (all day) September, RGS, London. Big China Bunfight with presentations by Andy Eavis etc, AV extravaganza by Gavin Newman. Presentations invited for the Saturday. "Symposium" according to the OED, means "A drinking-party; a convivial meeting for drinking, conversation, and intellectual entertainment: properly among the ancient Greeks, hence generally"; so that's about right then.

Rescue Practice, Saturday 22nd May

Gavin Lowe

The pre-expedition rescue practice was held on Saturday. The practice was hindered by a lack of people -- only six rescuers and a casualty. This is barely enough to move a stretcher, and is certainly not enough to allow any rigging ahead. More seriously, it means that insufficient people obtained practice in advance of expedition. Black marks to all who failed to attend! I'm sure that if an accident were to happen on expedition, you would wish that you had more experience. I hope to organise another practice during the SRT week, in weeks 9 and 10.

We decided to run the practice in Longwood Swallet. Chris and Matt drew the short straws, and so became the two casualties: Chris for the first half, and Matt for the second. I headed down the cave with Chris, to check things out. At this point, we realised that our choice of cave was a mistake, as the cave was rather wet, so most parts of it would have been very miserable for the casualty; also, large parts were too narrow to make stretcher moving feasible. We headed back up the cave, as the rescuers arrived.

At this point, Chris had a go at causing a real rescue by going the wrong way, and getting stuck in a squeeze, under a trickle of water. However, Mike found him and talked him out. Chris was now very cold, so we decided to use Matt as the casualty for the whole practice. We found a short section of cave just below the first pitch that would be suitable, and I sent the rest away while I briefed Matt, before calling for help.

The initial first aid was pretty good, particularly from Mike. Matt feigned unconsciousness, and was checked for ABC (airway, breathing, circulation). He was then checked for injuries -- a fractured femur, and cracked ribs. The leg was splinted against the other leg, and using a Sam Splint; there's not much you can do about cracked ribs. A more thorough top-to-toe check might have been done at this point.

In the meantime, we used the storm shelter to help keep Matt warm and protect him from the drips of water -- this is a great piece of kit, and should be carried in by the first wave of rescuers on any incident.

We loaded Matt into the stretcher. This was a bit of a faff, as he was in a fairly narrow passage, with a very uneven floor. After a bit of jiggling, we had him fairly straight.

One problem we had throughout was that Matt's head had a tendency to tip to one side, pivoting on the battery box. In future, we should try to use a helmet without a battery box.

The first haul, up a climb of about 2m, didn't go too well. Once we'd got him to the top, we realised that the continuing passage at floor level was narrower than the stretcher, and we needed him higher. But the belay for the haul was too low to allow that. Reverse. Rerig. We also switched to hauling the stretcher in a horizontal position: this got the stretcher into a better position; it's also better for the casualty, as it helps to reduce shock, and is also more comfortable. On the second attempt, things went much better: with two haulers and a life-liner above, and three stretcher handlers below, we got him up to the level where the passage was wide enough, and then used a horizontal haul line, and some brute force, to move him through into the wider passage beyond.

Another similar climb followed beyond. A 4:1 hauling system (combining two 2:1 systems) allowed us to lift him to the height of the top of the climb, where we switched to a 2:1 horizontal hauling system to pull him off the top, again aided by three stretcher handlers.

The final climb, at the base of the first pitch, followed immediately. There was a lack of belays at the top of the climb, so I ran ropes down from the top of the pitch to provide attachment points. Again, a 4:1 advantage allowed us to haul him fairly easily. It was slightly awkward getting him off the top, as we had to move stretcher handlers from the bottom, where they were supporting the stretcher, up to the top, where they could haul the stretcher in.

At this point, we decided we'd done enough, and Matt made a miraculous recovery. We'd spent about three hours moving him along a section of passage that would normally take five minutes. However, we were certainly improving as we went.

A Lemming's Tale

Jonathon Cooper

In absence of DTT for a while here is an account of events that led up to my second Lemming award (jointly with pod). Return planned for next Wales weekend (or before). Any volunteers??

Rumour may be spreading of a dig in South Wales that attempted to swallow myself and pod up whole, then spit us out because it did not like the flavour. In fact all that happened was a gentle tap on the shoulder/helmet as a reminder of what digs can do, which encouraged a hasty but dignified retreat to let it settle down. After a period of three months and many false starts we returned to our dig-site, to see what had become of it. The main features of the dig are a self digging nature and a brilliant spoil removal mechanism. This lends itself to rapid and fairly exciting removal of material largely under its own steam, though there is a certain air of unpredictability that makes the heart beat faster.

Our first visit in November was largely as a recce and investigation of possibilities. As it was relatively dry we could check out various locations in the choke that might under normal conditions be miserable and wet. After digging in the least sensible location at the bottom of the choke, or in other words the furthest point from any likely route through, the main outcome was a water shoot that allowed any spoil from other dig-sites to be cleaned and removed. Having checked the various other possibilities, most of which were either very wet or full of wedged in boulders of TV size and above, we started on a clay and gravel filled rift to the edge of the main choke. Soon we had excavated a 3 foot square chamber, but with all ways on full of infill and a very nasty looking roof. Clay and pebbles spontaneously fell from this and the walls, dislodged by trickling water, which turned the floor into a quagmire. A little engineering, however, created a decent slope, so this muddy slop could sloop its way away with little additional persuasion. The end of digging was abrupt as a couple of taps of the roof, from the relative safety of behind well-wedged car sized boulder, brought the whole roof down in a series of at first terrifying, but subsequently (from the real safety of back in the main passage) very satisfying crashes and bangs. It was on its way. And it was time for us to leave.

On our return visit the scene looked very different. A first I thought the "safe" car sized boulder had moved. When we had left there had been about 2 feet of space between it and the floor of the chamber, and now it rested on the floor. What had happened? Had it really moved? In fact, the roof had become the floor and rubble from the settling had filled up the chamber. This gave us very easy digging to begin with and we removed several tonnes of spoil in a little under three hours, gradually opening up the space above. Rocks and mud still fell in a random manner, but we were able to extract material from well back and help it on its way. And so it went until we were left with 12 foot high small chamber. The walls have been cleared to a height of 6 feet, and it's possible to climb a little way up to inspect what comes next, but no way out is currently visible and climbing further is not too wise at present.

We are hoping that the choke will further stabilise over the past few weeks (another bucketful came down overnight) then a proper inspection might be carried out. However for a safe return we are planning on a long pokey stick and scaffolding. If anyone is interested in a tourist trip (exceptionally impressive cave to be seen) that involves escorting scaffold bars, then the more the merrier.