Depth through thought
OUCC News 18th May 2005
Volume 15, Number 9
|DTT volume 15 Index
Editor: Pod: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter "Still here to tell the tale" Devlin
Following on from the recent spate of Lemming entries I had a bit of a scare recently when cave diving. Time will tell how this contends with Ursula's entry or my previous one.
I had been talking to Duncan Price about joining the Welsh section of the CDG and he mentioned that he was going to be diving in Linley Cavern, a disused mine north of Birmingham. Duncan pointed out that in CDG tradition he planned to dive solo, so I had psyched myself up to do a cautious first solo cave dive. When I got there Duncan and I had a chat and Duncan suggested I do a loop. I was somewhat nervous of this as the lines laid were not trivial and the depth went down to 20 metres while I was diving on my 7's (smaller than my backmounted 15's). Duncan persuaded me that with his bail-out gas (he was on a rebreather) I would be fine.
I followed Duncan in, Duncan swimming quite high above the line, and while he pointed out the first junction I didn't see the second junction. About 20 minutes into the dive I reached my 1/3s air limit and turned the dive, expecting Duncan to follow me out (based on his comments on bail-out). I realised quite soon that Duncan wasn't behind me so my stress levels rose somewhat. When I got the the first junction on the return, the "out" label wasn't there as expected and since I hadn't seen this junction on the way in, I took the wrong turn, going into the cave instead of going out. I swam for a few minutes with mounting levels of anxiety, realising the stupidity of my situation, when luckily I saw the lights of another pair of divers coming against me who had gone in at the same time. They showed me the way out.
As it happens I came out with about 1/4 of my air still left rather than the 1/3 reserve I should have come out with. Had I not bumped into the two other divers I think I would have turned and found the way out, but the alternatives aren't particularly appealing.
This had been my 19th cave dive and I recently came across a write-up by Sheck Exley in which he described a very scary near miss on his 19th cave dive.
It may be a bit late for the gear order - but anyone who wants to buy a new all-round expedition and UK caving light could do a lot worse than to get a Petzl Duo with 14 LEDs. It is currently my total lighting system. With 3 settings, it runs off 4 AA batteries and it lasts long enough for a decent length camping trip. Petzl seem to have fixed most of the original design flaws - and with the LEDs you should never have to undo the oval bezel.
Oh - Petzl also make a very good fleece. I have had one for several years and it works well over a range of cave temperatures e.g. from Mendips to the Picos. Body hugging and quick draining too.
I wouldn't recommend Petzl ascenders though as they seem to make them out of a special soft-as-butter alloy these days, which the Picos grit munches through.
I attended Wlodek Szymanowski's funeral on Saturday, 14 May in his home town of Wroclaw, in Poland. Although he had died on 6 April, the usual bureaucratic machinations together with a large helping of gross incompetence accounted for this unfortunate delay and no doubt caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering to his wife and children.
A requiem mass in a Catholic church about 2 miles from Wlodek's home was followed by a 15-minute procession on foot to the church's own cemetery where Wlodek was buried. The funeral was well attended and I would estimate that well over 200 people were there, some obviously cavers with helmets and carbide generators in their hands. The cemetery is a very pleasant wooded area with the River Oder running along one of its edges, so people joked that Wlodek could always go for a swim if ever he felt the urge.
After the funeral, people who could went to a simple meal that was accompanied by a slide presentation showing pictures of Wlodek in various caving, climbing and diving situations. I have been given a copy of the images on CD and anyone who would like a copy is welcome to have one.
After the burial I spoke to the diver who was paired up with Wlodek when he died, a guy called Rafal, and he said that (a) the rebreather kit was still functioning correctly after it was retrieved and (b) the gases were of the correct mixture. Wlodek's diving computer indicated that he had reached a maximum depth of -107m and his body was found at -105m but he was found pointing towards the exit, giving the strong impression that he had just turned around. He was found with the gag out of his mouth and there was no sign that he had attempted to make use of his backup system. Beyond these known facts it is just speculation but the most favoured theory seemed to be that he suffered a blackout and drowned as a result. It was also his first dive for some time, so he might have overdone it by going too deep, too soon.
It was clear that we have suffered a great loss with the death of Wlodek Szymanowski.
The trip to Yorkshire Dales for the rescue practice was only my second caving trip. I thoroughly enjoyed the caving bits. Taking an 'unplanned detour' before joining the rescue late was actually great for me, because it gave me a chance to see more of the cave and to move around more. So, going into and coming out of the cave was great but I have to say that the rescue practice was quite miserable.
My part in the rescue consisted of lying on my back on a rock next to a rope for an hour getting cold, waiting for the 'casualty' to be hooked up to the ropes, and then spending the next hour pulling on previously mentioned rope - well pulling, giving slack, pulling, giving slack, holding, pulling, giving slack, changing ropes, pulling, holding, giving slack, pulling, giving slack, pulling - all the while getting colder and colder. The rock that I was lying on just sucked the heat right out of me. In hindsight a suppose placing a tackle bag under me could have helped, but no one thought of that at the time.
In addition to being cold, the frustration of the hauling process added to the misery. Because of the confined space where we, the hauling party, were located, only three of us could actually contribute to pulling at any given time, and lying on your back is not exactly the best position to pull with maximum force. One might think that the effort pulling would help generate some body heat, but no such luck. To add to the frustration, we at the back had very little idea of what was going on at the pitch head. We had some concept that the 'casualty' had reached the top, after half an hour, and that there was some trouble getting him 'off of the pitch head' but that was the extent of our knowledge. I have to say that being a novice, and never having seen this pitch head, I really had no clue what was going on. I felt like I was going though meaningless motions trying to pull this rope which kept getting stuck against rocks and other ropes, just to let it out again, all the while trying, rather unsuccessfully, not to think about how cold I was - I'm not sure if I've ever felt so cold and miserable before.
On a more positive note, once the rescue was abandoned and we got moving again I started to feel fine. I wouldn't have minded going down some more passages and spending more time in the cave, just as long as no one asked me to pull on another rope.
It all looked very improbable at 11:00 on Saturday morning after a lovely evening at the pub and the inevitable midnight barbecue. The Lamb and Fox car park was covered in random caving gear as 11 cavers tried to co-ordinate a drilling project in Dollimore's, a digging and draught testing project in Big Country and the logistics necessary for everyone to eat cake and party at underground camp. Bags full of stuff was carted into the cave as the adventure began.
Team Fluff (two old cavers and two ex-cripples) slowly creaked into action several hours after everyone else and sauntered pleasantly into the cave to join Pete and Fleur on a sniffing mission in Midwinter chambers. Dead on time wafts of citronella joss-sticks emanated from the exact site predicted from the survey, proving beyond doubt the need for up to date survey data to (1) prevent Team Hard (Pete, Fleur, Martin, Rich) needlessly risking life and limb in hideous loose boulder choke beyond ridiculously tight squeeze; and (2) prevent the unnecessary destruction of cave passages, sediments and crystals.
Meantime Team Super Hard (Chris, John and Gareth) discovered the drawbacks of hiring drills not intended for use a long way from a power point, as half a hole later, the battery died....
A distinct chill at camp led to much singing of 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes', but spirits rose (and were drunk) as all assembled at the designated cake eating spot where Fleur had miraculously delivered the cake in perfect condition.
Colin the caterpillar was duly munched and the shivering visitors (Pete, Fleur and Rich) headed out at 10 pm fuelled by the yummy cake and rhubarb and custard vodka shots. The rest of us rose to the challenge of the over stocked drinks cabinet. The caviar turned out to be marginally less unpopular than the smoked oysters; but the Champagne was definitely a triumph (for those who didn't have to carry the glass bottle in or out!).
All was quiet soon after midnight, and as I rested my head on the silliest birthday treat to arrive at underground camp (a very fluffy pillow), I watched the rock lit by flickering candle light and listened to the sounds of the cave, remembering how nice underground camping can be.
The next day eight of us packed up our ridiculously heavy weight camp and trundled out of the cave to once again fill the Lamb and Fox car park with piles of muddy tackle bags and eat yet more cake... A delicious Little Simon special chocolate surprise. Thanks everyone for a great trip.