Depth through thought

OUCC News 2nd June 2004

Volume 14, Number 5

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Editor: Pod:

pod's knots

Not a practical guide to knots, but I thought it was fun:


The Gerbil Run

Keith Hyams

After carrying Martin all the way from T-junction on yesterday's rescue practice, we almost seemed to float unburdened down through first part of Draenen. Floating was quite a good plan, since after the heavy night the night before neither Chris nor I were up to walking down cave passage. We arrived at the dig in Hexamine Highways in good time, and it was rather a pleasant surprise to find that the black space beyond the dig was even bigger than I'd remembered it last time. Only 110 metres away from the Big Country choke and heading straight at it with a good draft, the dig was well positioned and looked quite promising. Over the last two trips, first with Al and then with Andy, the climb at Crunch Corner had been bolted and several tons of mud had been hauled out of the dig beyond. Chris's reputation for finding his way onto successful breakthrough trips meant that he was the ideal caving partner for this trip, as a potential breakthrough seemed imminent.

We got to work on the dig. The chocolate cake mud came away in chunks easy enough, but it was hard digging, in a tightish flat out squeeze with little room for arm manoeuvres, that meant the wrist muscles had to do most of the work. Twenty five drag trays later and I thought I might be able to squeeze through. After several minutes of grunting and groaning I'd managed to get myself thoroughly wedged and reluctantly had to admit that we'd need to pull out a few more drag trays worth of mud until we could get through. Chris took over the excavations and six trays later he declared the squeeze passable.

A brief period of more grunting and groaning and we were into virgin passage. Unfortunately the walking passage visible from before the dig only lasted for two metres, but the passage showed no sign of coming to an end, even it was a hands and knees job once again. We crawled onwards, passing a minisnowball formation which bore a striking resemblance to a frozen hamster. It quickly became the Frozen Gerbil though, to complement the Flaming Gerbils in Spain. Another metre onwards and we crawled over another frozen gerbil, though the second gerbil looked more like a gerbil that had just been through a car wash. Since the passage was gerbil burrow shaped (and not much larger) with gerbils in it, the new passage was called The Gerbil Run. Onwards for about twenty metres and passage took a sudden right angle turn southwards. Psycholspeleogenesis at its best - this was precisely what we'd hoped the passage would do, in order to head in the right direction to gain the Big Country streamway south of the choke.

Another ten metres of crawling and we hit another obstruction. A squeeze leading into considerably bigger passage blocked by two large flat boulders. Much experimentation later and it became clear that the only way to move the boulders out of the way was going to be to lug them all the way back down the passage backwards to the right angle bend. Mama boulder and Papa boulder were promptly lugged backwards down the passage, and a little mud excavation made the squeeze passable.

Excitement now as we had broken into larger passage which you could stand up in. Chris took over the lead and headed south over a boulder with a shining white roof. A few metres beyond and we came across a most amazing formation, Gerbil Heaven. Neither of us had ever seen the likes of anything like it before. Lots and lots of two dimensional white clouds seeming to float magically on thin air. Wafer thin formations which must have formed over and over on a now dried out gour pool, each time falling on top of previous layers. Quite amazing and beautiful. We carefully made our way around the side of Gerbil Heaven and just beyond found a small chamber covered in shining white helictites and all kind of weird stuff, once again extremely beautiful. Unfortunately though there was no way on. There might be a small hole beyond the formations but it would be unforgivable to trash them, and no human could fit through the hole anyway, so that was the end of the road it seemed. A strange feeling of disappointment at having reached the end mixed with pleasure at having found such beautiful formations.

We started out, but as we were about to squeeze back into the crawl I noticed that the northerly end of the passage, which earlier we'd thought was blocked with sand, actually had black space above it. A few minutes of sand scooping revealed that the large passage continued beyond, and lumps of rock could be heard rattling down the other side for enough time to indicate that standing up wasn't going to be a problem. Unfortunately the hole at the top was at an awkward bend and since the rock widens out lower down the mud would need digging down to become passable. The dig seemed to be heading north, which is the wrong way, but that's not too important since Hexamine is quite a maze anyway, and there's a good chance it could connect with the continuation of the first easterly heading part of the gerbil run, which doesn't stop at the right angle bend but is just full of mud. We decided that we'd done enough work for the day though and left the dig for another time, heading out satisfied and looking forward to pint or five back at Blackwalls.