Depth through thought

OUCC News 16th March 2005

Volume 15, Number 6

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Editor: Pod:

Return to Sender

Peter "I defy gravity" Devlin  (Web-ed - "I fought the law and - the law won"?)
[Club weekend 2005-03-12, staying at WSG]

In the WSG hut on Saturday morning, faced with the immanent confluence of 3 Peters, (Peter E, Peter D and Peter T) a discussion took place as to how to differentiate between a plurality of Peters. By common consent Peter E will henceforth be known as Thin Pete, Peter T as Tall Pete and I will be known as Fat Pete.

Having planned a 1 to Top trip in OFD, I had been warned by Martin Hicks to lay off the pizzas so I could get through the Letterbox. When we got to the Letterbox Martin sent me up first as it was clear that I was going to have the most problems. After a couple of failed attempts to insert myself, we thought a combination of me jamming myself in together with Thin Pete helping guide my foot into the upper loop of the rope would allow me to push harder into the gap.

My standard technique for squeezes is to insert myself and push and wriggle. In this case I couldn't get a decent hand hold in the gap and had pushed out of the foot hold on the rope, with the consequence that at a certain point I "popped" out of the hole and with immaculate poise slid down the 3 or 4 metres of the 60 or 70 degree wall, quickly gathering momentum. The fall/slide went on long enough for me to be able to articulate two distinct thoughts, the first being "fuck I'm falling", an intensely existential statement, though not particularly profound. The second was something along the lines of "I wonder will I hurt myself very badly or just badly?".

I was pleasantly surprised on landing that I was able to stand, but I thought it best to sit down and monitor my state for a few minutes. Martin, still raring to do the full trip was up at the Letterbox figuring out that with a second shorter sling I could get better purchase for my left leg. At least we have an idea to try the next time I give it a go. Whilst I wanted to go on and felt guilty about denying Andy, Pete, Tom and Martin the joys of the OFD2 streamway, the prudent course was to make our way out the way we had come. Lest I get bored dragging a sprained knee and a suspected broken finger out Martin made me route find out. Tom suggested that Martin did so in order to distract me from my injuries.

Martin gently suggested that there was a lesson to be learnt from my cock up, something around the advisability of having a hand and/or foothold. In retrospect, thinking of the physics of a 14stone caver held by nothing more than the top half of his chest in a gap, not even wedged in particularly tight, my calamity seems almost inevitable. While I will continue to have difficulty with squeezes, I shall have more respect for squeezes at height combined with paucity of foot and handholds. Given that I was able to make my way out of the cave I consider this lesson well learnt without too high a cost. I can only speculate that if this incident had happened before rather than after the club annual dinner I would now be the proud owner of a Lemming award.

My apologies to Martin, Andy, Thin Pete and Tom for denying them a OFD2 streamway trip on Saturday.

The next day I was faced with two unappealing options: either go caving with a gammy knee, or tell Catherine her second caving trip (and first trip in her new gear) was off. Needless to say I picked the option involving the least pain and went caving. Catherine found the slippery boulders in Top Entrance hard going, but she was still faster than I. As John Pybus pointed out, most parents who introduce their children to caving at some point find that they have been surpassed by their children. We agreed that for me this point had come earlier rather than later. Hey ho!

Plummeting Pete and other tales of Wales

Andy Morgan
[Club weekend 2005-03-12, staying at WSG]

Being originally from the Mendips and doing about 95% of my caving there, going somewhere different last weekend was quite exciting for me! After a relatively booze free Friday night we were all up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning. John, pod and Andi went off to do a hardcore trip to Daren Cilau. The rest of us decided to do OFD and headed to the SWCC hut to get changed. Lou, Fleur, Emily and Paul decided to do the round trip in OFD I, while Pete D, Pete E, Tom, Martin and myself decided to do the through trip from OFD I to Top Entrance. Martin drove us from the hut to the lay-by near the entrance to OFD I, kindly allowing us into his clean shiny car all kitted up. We met Lou's group and all walked to the entrance together. To walk to the entrance you have walk through somebody's back garden: they must be cavers to allow brightly clothed people to walk right past their house at all times of the day!

Lou's group had headed off by the time all our group had descended the fixed ladders into the cave. The first part of the cave was show cave- like with its fairly flat sandy floor and at one part has a little wire fence at the end of the ledge. Indeed in the past they did try and make it into a show cave according to Martin. We headed on towards the streamway, going up and down some rather nice gour pools that you feel guilty walking over, but there is no alternative to doing so. We splashed down into the streamway where Martin pointed out that the water level was about 6 inches below the step, if it was 6 inches above he said it would be considered 'sporting', so it was reassuring that the water levels were fine. The streamway itself is very impressive consisting of large passage formed in very black limestone with large veins of quartz within it, giving it a marble-like appearance. In some cases the stream appears to follow the quartz vein, which makes it look like a grounds man has painted a big white line down the middle of the streamway! The going was quite easy apart from the odd deep pot that that catches you out by surprise. Most of the larger pots were bridged by scaffolding poles which we traversed along which was nice as it kept my jacobs dry! We headed off into OFD 1.5 which isn't as pleasant as the stream way, the route wound its way through slightly muddied narrow passages and through a boulder ruckle. I remarked that it was "similar to Mendip caves" - "Wash your mouth out!" remarked Martin.

We came to the Letter Box - a narrow slot about 3 metres at the top of a steep and smooth slope, but with an easy climb to it at the right. Pete D climbed up to it, putting his foot in a sling that someone had left at the mouth of the slot. On this first attempt Pete couldn't grab anything with which to haul himself in and his other leg, not in the sling, was flailing around trying to get some purchase on the slippery slope. Pete extricated himself from the Letter Box and had another attempt to get in, unfortunately he couldn't get in and started sliding out. Since he had removed his foot from the sling as he moved higher up the slope he had nothing to stop himself with and slid at great speed to the bottom of the slope. Was this a late bid to get the un-awarded Lemming award I thought? Pete E and Tom wisely moved out the way as they would have been knocked over like skittles! Pete hit the ground with a small cry of pain. He was okayish, much to the disappointment of Martin and Pete E who wanted Pete's Nova headlamp and Audi respectively if anything happened to him. However he did have a sore knee and thought he had broken his thumb, and so understandably he wasn't too keen on going on, so we turned back. Going back through the boulders and low passages of 1.5 was quite tiring on the way back. We headed out, somewhat usually for an OUCC trip, into bright sunshine. The whole trip took about 4.5 hours. By the time we got back to the WSG hut Pete was hobbling around like a zombie from a B-movie, so we definitely made the correct decision in turning back.

Those of us who were caving on Sunday all headed off to the SWCC hut. Still unsure about what trips we were doing, we all headed off to the Top Entrance. On this trip we were joined by Pete D's daughter who came along to make sure her daddy didn't get into any trouble again. We all had a little bimble around Big Chamber Near The Entrance then headed to Gnome Passage where John took a few photos. Pete D needed to head off quite early, leaving with Catherine, Pete E and Tom. John led Rosa, Andi, Chris and myself on to the streamway via maypole inlet, which was a fairly uneventful journey apart from myself mucking up a climb down and ending up sat astride a small boulder wedged in a rift about 2 metres from the floor! I chickened out of the final climb down to the stream and looked at fossils in the walls until everyone else returned from the trip up stream. I found the way out quite a struggle; having not caved for 2 months I was a little out of practice.

So in summary a great weekend and many thanks to everyone, particularly to Martin and John for guiding us around the complex passages of OFD.

Return to Daren

John Pybus
[Club weekend 2005-03-12, staying at WSG]

It had started earlier in the week. In a discussion on welsh caves I tried to remember the last time I'd visited Daren Cilau. I couldn't, but it wasn't in the last five years; it wasn't this Century! That settled it, a return was long overdue, a Wales weekend was approaching, all I needed were more willing souls.

Friday night at the WSG hut: another evening with the welcoming WSG members, though I was rather worried to hear talk of installing underfloor heating to go with their refitted kitchen. I hope they don't turn into another hut building club. Their plans for a Draenen trip the next day offer some hope.

With Pete's car, a new face turned up: Andi, another Hungarian caver living in London. Since coming to Britain she'd managed Aygill Hole and a trip to the Mendips, but needed an introduction to OUCC, and to the classic welsh caves. After reading the guidebook (without being put off by the description) and some studying of the survey, I had a recruit. I didn't find out until afterward it was ten years to the day since I'd last introduced Hungarian cavers to the joys of Daren. [see DTT 5.7]

So, the next day, along with pod who's always up for a trip, we found ourselves changing in the Llangattock car park on a lovely spring afternoon and, after a typical struggle to get an OUCC helmet to produce light, we dived into the entrance. It's not the most welcoming of starts, a flat out crawl through a puddle setting the tone for the next 50 minutes, and 650m. At the end of the entrance series the others did agree that it wasn't as bad in real life as it'd had been held up to be.

As we climbed out into the old rift passage, we bumped into a wandering caver who recognised pod, presumably by his beard. Steve (ex-CUCC now Sheffield USS) had managed to lose not one, but two other parties who were in the cave on a trip to see the Time Machine. That seemed rather careless, but we were going in that direction so decided to take him under our wing.

Apart from the rather awkward fixed ladder, the rest of the trip was the fantastic welsh cave I remembered. White Passage was impressive, and entering the vast space of the Time Machine even more so. The recently installed reflective markers give a sense of scale as they recede into the distance and make it easier to pick a route through the boulders.

We met both of the other Sheffield parties on their way out, but Steve decided to continue with us down to the Bonsai Streamway. Here the weird crystals and tree helictites provide another view to wonder at on a totally different scale. By the time we reached the Hard Rock cafe we were beginning to think of a turn around, we had the return journey to think of, and our callout to consider.

The camp was all unpacked, and there was even a pan of yesterday's curry sitting around (Charles Bailey and others were signed in on the logbook). Here Steve decided to sit it out and save battery on his SUSS club lamp for the way out, while pod decided to sit it out and save puff for the way out, so Andi and I had a quick nip down the Kings Road to admire St David's sump and the rather dire warnings to cave divers.

The way out passed speedily enough, and I left the others at the start of the entrance for a quick blast through the crawl to contact the others before our callout loomed too close. As a reminder that spring isn't fully here, the change was bitterly cold, and I won't even mention what I had to do with my mobile phone to warm the battery before I could get through to the other cavers waiting in the pub. Soon enough the others were back at the car too, and we took up Steve's invite of a warming cuppa at Whitewalls before the drive back.

A great trip. It won't be another five years before I'm back.