Depth through thought

OUCC News 12th January 2005

Volume 15, Number 1

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Editor: Pod:

This issue brought sponsored by the Petzl Chicken-Tikka - all the benefits of the popular curry dish with the obvious convenience of a handy head-mounted unit and retractable strap.

Library News

Steve Roberts

OUCC members are reminded that the club has a library, with all your favourite caving magazines and books. Just in is Descent 181, with the tale of continuing exploration in Wookey Hole, SUSS's battle for survival, news of that misogynist old bastard Jim Eyre's new book (copy ordered for the library!), and a photo-opportunity for Tim Guilford and Steve Roberts at the Draenen 10th anniversary bash.

Why Stalactites Are All Similar

"Physicists often go underground to shield their experiments from cosmic rays but a group of researchers in the US has recently been underground for another reason -- to study the growth of stalactites in caves. Raymond Goldstein and colleagues of the University of Arizona have developed a model which predicts that all stalactites basically have the same shape. Observations at the nearby Kartchner Caverns State Park confirmed that real stalactites do indeed have this shape" (M B Short et al. 2005 Phys. Rev. Lett. 94 018501).

See <> for the full article.

An Intense Introduction to Florida's Caves

Peter Devlin

Although I've been dabbling in cave diving in this country for a little while I found myself totally unprepared for Florida style cave diving. Up until this point my exposure had been to either no flow or relatively low flow caves or mines, furthermore the penetrations I have been doing are distinctly of the kindergarten variety (50 to 100m at a depth of 5 or 6m). My first dive, in Devil's Ear with a local cave diver was a 300m penetration against strong current at a depth of 30m. On the way in I think I was suffering from stimulus overload and over-breathing from pushing hard against the current in a complex cave. It wasn't until we went beyond the 500' marker and I turned the dive that I realised how far we were in and how unprepared I felt for diving in that environment. It was at that point that a respectable burst of narcosis set in. Fortunately coming out with the current was a lot easier than the way in. I came out as emotionally exhausted as after my first caving trip to Swinsto.

The next day I started 4 days of classes that I hoped would earn me the apprentice cave diver and full cave diver qualifications. It very quickly became clear that from a number of perspectives (trim or how you position yourself in the water, reel handling using thin line instead of the thick line used in the UK, tolerance for kicking up silt) my skills weren't as good as they needed to be. The format of the dives followed a simple pattern: dive the agreed plan on the way in, then do drills on the way out. Drills on the way out involved the instructor simulating failures of virtually everything except an actual failure of air supply. These ranged from my main light failing and using a backup light to the instructor swimming off down a side passage leaving me to tie off and start to execute a lost buddy drill. Beyond any shadow of doubt the most intense was the lights out/air sharing exercise. This was executed about 200m into the cave: using touch contact as the only method of communication in pitch black my buddy and I (whom I had only met 1/2 an hour before) did this for what seemed like an eternity (probably only 10 minutes). The section of the cave we were in was such that the depth range was between 30 and 15m, through constrictions and of course in high flow (current). At one point the current was so strong that it flipped me around from being head first to fin first and pulled my buddy off the line. I grabbed him and put his hand back on the line: as I had his regulator in my mouth my motivation was not altruistic. As a bonding experience this is certainly one of the most intense I have experienced.

The lost line skill was another fun one. This involved a blacked out mask, a reel and being taken off the line and disoriented. I had done this drill before, but not in high current. Just to add a frisson, during this exercise my computer started beeping at me. In retrospect it was telling me that I was going into deco (ie I would now be required to do a decompression stop), but I was convinced that I was getting a warning that I was about to run out of gas: the thought of running out of air while blindfolded in a high flow cave didn't help me execute the required search pattern.

My disappointment at not getting the full cave diver qualification was offset by the fact that I learnt more from a skills perspective in those four days than I had in four years of diving. The caves I dived were spectacularly beautiful and the visibility was amazing (20 to 30m), and I'm now very clear what skills I need to work on. All in all it was a great trip and I very much intend to return to Florida to dive some more high flow caves sometime in the future. In the meantime I'll just have to lug my dive gear up the hill to Silica Mine and practice my skills there.

Marble Steps

Steve Roberts

I like Marble Steps.

One of the most evocative entrances in the Dales, especially on a misty morning such as when, unnaturally early for OUCC, Peter, Gabriella and I approached for a quick and nimble Sunday trip. On my way down the entrance pitch, I reflected that I've known the cave for longer than I've known most of my friends. I can't remember when my first trip was, but I do remember teetering uncertainly on the traverse to Stink Pot. Looking down the 90 after what seemed like an eternity of downclimbing, I saw my light reflected in a pool at the bottom, and realised with relief that it couldn't be that far... then realised it was really someone else's light at the bottom, and twice as far away. It's a nice prusik up - how could I ever have had the energy to stroll up it as a one-shot ladder climb? (Not to mention free-climbing the entrance pitch. now when was that?).

The bottom of the 90 was bone-dry this time, but once I had to wait for what seemed like hours as one newbie after another was dragged up the ladder, shaking and swaying into the walls to keep myself sane as the spray and wind sucked the heat away through my wetsuit. And that sump - surely one of the most evil looking around. You wouldn't want to fall into that. How on earth do you get in or out of it with bottles on? Thank goodness I never tried to find that out - I'll leave it for Peter maybe. Sqodging back into the top of the 90 - old old memories of vast ladder-coiling sessions, everyone buried in wire and rungs as four people simultaneously try to coil (hopefully different) ladders. We cleaned all the old spent carbide from there on one trip, sometime. The intestines route - was it on ladder or SRT I did it just that once? That rift is nice; I've always liked the shape of it. That clean-up trip, squeezy bottles and mops, removing graffiti from the North Rift. The sight of daylight, bouncing down the entrance - like that bit in the "Sword in the Stone". Magic.

I like Marble Steps.