Depth through thought
OUCC News 9th February 2005
Volume 15, Number 3: Draenen Special
|DTT volume 15 Index|
Editor: Pod: email@example.com
It's the middle of Saturday afternoon and I'm sitting with pod in the car park of the Lamb and Fox, in the pouring rain, swearing ineffectually at a dripping mobile phone. But for my stupidity, we shouldn't even be here.
More than a year earlier, on a camping trip in Draenen with Tim G, Lou, Big Simon and Keith, we'd started a project to augment the freely available survey data with some grade 5 centreline giving accurate height fixes for many important parts of the cave. In a slow Sunday trip from camp we surveyed out as far as Nunnery passage. Forward many months and at the Draenen 10th anniversary weekend many volunteers helped to fill in with surveys linking back to the entrance, or so we thought.
When the survey data were entered into computer, our section was missing. Even worse, when I went to look for the original data, which everyone agreed I'd held onto, it was nowhere to be seen. Some weeks of searching and tidying later it still hadn't surfaced and I had to admit that I'd managed to lose it. Needless to say, finding volunteers to survey a section of cave that had already been surveyed three times in its first decade of discovery wasn't easy. Fortunately, pod hadn't done any surveying before and was, in his ignorance, enthusiastic to learn the technique.
So it was that we found ourselves at Pwll Du on a typically damp January day. Our early start was already scuppered by the combined effects of a late night in Blackwalls, and playing host to some morning visitors stopping off for tea on route to their dig. It was set back even further when we found that the combination we had for the Draenen lock wasn't working. This was when my phone decided that it'd had enough of being waved around in the rain, and demonstrated this by going into an obstinate cycle of resets.
I was beginning to wonder if we'd get underground in time to complete the trip, indeed whether we'd get underground at all. Luckily the careful drying on my furry suit started to pay off, and it switched on just long enough to pick up a voicemail from Steve with the magic 4 digits. A few minutes later the lock popped open, and with considerable relief pod and I swung the door open.
The entrance series was as damp as I'd seen it, but none the less it felt good to be out of the rain and even better to be finally moving. We started making up for our overground inefficiency with some speedy caving through White Arch and Megadrive. A pause in Nunnery passage to locate our goal for later on - the final station of the previous survey - and we dived into Perseverance passage.
I don't know if pod was thinking the same as me as we crawled over the cobbles, but I couldn't help noticing every corner and low section that would slow our trip back; the number of legs ahead of us clocking up in my head. Before we knew it we were out the other of Lucky 13. It was five o'clock, but we were too far behind time to stop at camp for afternoon tea. We weren't alone though. A bat hung sleeping on the wall just a metre from where I myself had slept on my previous survey trip. I lowered my voice as we unpacked the gear, explaining the techniques and preparing to start.
An hour later, and still in the Lucky 13 crawls, pod's enthusiasm for surveying was beginning to wither. "Just a couple more legs and we'll be out of the crawl. It'll be easier then, honest." And happily it was; once in Elliptic passage we were back into high efficiency mode. Now the passage had changed to easy walking passage, and pod had got the hang of the instruments. Like so many things, it's much harder in the confines of a crawl with no natural light to help, than it is on the surface. The laser rangefinder was making easy work of the long legs and we finally felt we were moving.
The rest of our 67 legs passed at pretty good pace, and later in the evening we were sitting back in Nunnery passage congratulating ourselves on having just threaded a 19m shot through the final section of crawl, achieving a direct hit in Tim's station. We were done.
We were back to the surface in time to celebrate a good day's effort with the locals in the pub before a very poor attempt to get the stove going back at the hut gave us a night with much more smoke than heat.
The Grade 5 survey data (safely entered and backed up - thank you) does now extend from the entrance to the furthest reaches of the Dollimore series, and a map should be out for the next issue of DTT. Many thanks to all who have helped get this valuable aid for explorers of Draenen back up and running, and to pod for keeping me company on my penance trip - it'd have been hard work on my own...
This was the second time that Pete T, Martin H, Rich Bayfield, John Pybus and myself had teamed up for some further reaches of Ogof Draenen furtling. But this time we had selected the "easy option" of Big Country rather than a return to Rainbow Canyon. This was partly because I'd not been there before and partly because Pete and Martin had some things they wanted to look at left over from their last visit.
We had a leisurely trip in, as Pete was trying out filming with his new prototype light, and we stopped a few times to shoot footage. It's amazing how as soon as the camera comes out everyone stops talking and then proceeds to lose all ability to boulder hop, not to mention Martin hanging himself up by his prussic bag on the Indiana Highway traverse.
Once past Big Beauty, it was new cave to me and I was impressed by some of the big passages through to Three Amigos. Then we got to Slaughter. I'd heard a lot about this bit of passage, mostly not good. It started off hands and knees and I thought, "this is not so bad." The awkward section soon announced itself by Pete requesting help with the camera tackle bag. Then just as I was about to launch into it, it became apparent I was to be the subject of some cinema. Cursing followed (at the camera man), but the not so large bit proved fine; the difficult bit was the real squeeze generated by having to crawl across the lighting boy in a not much more than body sized passage.
It was spectacular to pop out of Slaughter into Big Country. As we walked along the slippery boulders John and myself, and Pete and Rich independently mused about how "Resistance is Futile" had crossed the watershed and would surely lead to Pontypool. But this was not enough to divert us on this occasion (this being the easy option) and we turned our attention to the section, about level with (but below) Midwinter, where the main passage turns right, and we went straight on.
First I poked myself into an obvious rift. People had clearly been in it before but soon it came to a hole in the floor. I said to John, who was following, "don't fancy traversing across that when there are no footholds and the walls are covered in mud". John's tactic was to get as high as possible and then hope he didn't slide down so far as to miss the other side, which was slightly lower. I did wonder how he would get back. At the end he found a small slot that belled out above a sandy floor - and an absence of footprints. Later John and Martin took a selection of bits of tat to descend the holes - the results of which I am hoping John will have described. [Indeed he has; see following item - pod]
Back in the main passage, we discovered that Pete had inserted Rich in a tight rift with a sharp right hand bend. Just then shouts of "I'm through - new stuff" came out and Rich had disappeared. So, whilst John and Martin stormed along new passage beneath the first rift, Pete had a go at the right hand bend in the tight rift, but sensibly didn't go for it. So I had a look too, whilst Pete furtled elsewhere. I tried to follow Rich's instructions "just insert your body as far round the corner as possible, then use your right arm to pull your legs up into the cross rift and you'll be through." Hmmmm. This sounded like Dallimore's type instructions to me. Rich was understandably quite keen for some company on the other side, as he was digging mud out of a crawl with more space beyond. And it certainly draughted.
So I tried to follow the instructions, but it all felt very committing. I could barely get my shoulders into the rift around to corner. I elected to stay put, but try and dig out the mud floor to make some more room vertically. This I did at arms length with a large rock, which was exhausting and not very efficient. Eventually I got a rock out of the floor so I could now get my bottom round the corner. With my feet pushing off a small alcove I thought if I gave a good push I would pop through. But the lingering thought was - how to get back again without anything to push off. In the end I was very pleased to have bottled it.
Eventually, with time ticking towards to pub, we convinced Rich to stop digging and come out. We had just sent Martin in to have a look at the corner and with his verdict and words of wisdom "I've done corners like these before and they're a bitch to reverse", I was starting to feel like maybe I hadn't been so crap after all. There then followed a tense ten minutes whilst Martin tried to help Rich back out of the corner. Martin kept providing encouragement along the lines of "If you keep going like that you're just not going to make it" and "Well - you'll just have to break your back then". With a little more excavation of the floor and a new tactic - reversing on his other side, using the curvature of his back - Rich finally emerged to much whooping of relief.
Some hours later it was 10.59pm and we were installed in the Lamb and Fox with Theakstons all round. Brian and Carole were away and Baz had "Can you dig it" by the Mock Turtles playing on the stereo. But the last words have to go to Rich, who after eventually emerging from the rift had said "I know why know no one had been there before", but only a few minutes later reflected "It's still going, and I know that I can fit both ways now".
Last weekend Martin Hicks and I found another 75m or so of passage heading South East of off Big Country, on a trip with Fleur, Pete Talling and Rich Bayfield.
The passage was found below a 4 metre climb down in southward trending rift, and consisted of a big zigzag of sandy floored rift, requiring boulders removing in a few places. [A sketch is available in the logbook] A very short section of streamway was intersected at the end, unfortunately providing no way on: upstream being a large choke, and downstream far too immature to follow. Straight ahead is blocked roof to floor with mud. At least Rich's dig, on the other side of the passage, is still going, if rather committing to get to the sharp end.