Depth through thought

OUCC News 26th April 2006

Volume 16, Number 5

DTT Volume 16 Index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Peter Devlin:

A note from the editor

We are never short of space to squeeze in a little write-up of a caving trip, so please contribute to DTT.

Here are the trips planned for Trinity Term:
Week 2, 5-7 May, Dales staying at BPF, NB: rescue practice, coordinator: Peter Devlin
Week 3, 14 May, Otter Hole
Week 4, 19-21 May, Wales staying at WSG, permit: Craig a Ffynnon, coordinator: Tom -I'll try not to be sick this time -Evans
Week 6, 2-4 June, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Hammer Pot and Mongo Gill, coordinator: TBD
Week 8, 16-18 June, Wales staying at WSG, no permit, coordinator: TBD

Please note that the week 2 trip is rescue practice ... we need as many able bodied cavers as possible (if such things exist ;-) ) on this weekend so please, please, please come along.

As you can see we need people to coordinate weekends. Organising a weekend is not that much work and if we share it around it spreads the load.

On a different note, I have recently discovered that my employer has introduced software that prevents outgoing mail (attachments also) containing certain "rude" words. Sadly, I shall henceforth have to exercise a degree of unwilling editorial duty to ensure DTT goes out. Please accept my humble apology for this undesirable intrusion into the caver's freedom of speech ;-(. On balance I do not feel Mike's piece has been irredeemably vandalised by this example of corporate injustice .... a spot of Vogon poetry anyone?

Note from an irate reader

[Dr James Ramsden]

Dear Sir I can only concur with Colonel Robert's tirade against the proliferation of P-bolts, pitons and bolts in so called British caving (DTT16.4). Way back when as D. Elliot started his bolting adventure myself and like minded subjects of her Britannic Majesty happily set about many Dales classics on SRT with nothing more than a set of wire slings, tapes and rope protectors. We indeed descended Lost John's Caverns via the same route as Sir Steven describes without the aid of bolts. Our descent was aided by the use of a section of venerable railway sleeper hammered across the rift and held in place with dainty pieces of angle iron (Meccano?). This was the same team who a few weeks earlier bumbled down Cathedral route thinking it was Battleaxe and managed to get down and back up despite not having any ladder for the last five feet of the pitch. In wet suits!

ladder n. An often portable structure consisting of two long sides crossed by parallel rungs, used to climb up and down.


Three ways to Gnome Passage

Peter Devlin 18 March '06

Back in the summer Chris S and I did a trip in Top Entrance of OFD. To our shame it took us about an hour to find our way to Gnome Passage, which provided some amusement to SWCC members on our return. Since then I have been able to find my way to Salubrious, but I have never been to sure I actually knew the way.

On Saturday Jeremy and I dived Llygad Llwchwr prior to going to a CDG meeting. I found myself at Penwyllt with a couple of hours to spare so decided to go into Top Entrance and get to know the route better.

After a bit of furtling I managed to find two of the routes to Gnome that I had stumbled down before and more importantly where they link up. The One route goes up into the Brickyard, while the other goes down and misses out the Brickyard. I also found a tight little route (more Catherine sized than Peter sized ;-) ) which links up with the latter route.

It had been the first time I had gone caving on my own so it felt a bit strange, but I enjoyed my little trip and felt I had achieved something.

A wet weekend in Yorkshire

Peter Devlin 1/2 April '06

At short notice Gavin and I decided to go to Yorkshire for the weekend. The week had been very wet in the Dales and I had been warned that the usual dive sites might be inadvisable. On the Saturday Gavin and I planned a trip into County, then up to Mancunian Way, this time (see DTT 16.2) hoping to find our way through to Easegill Aven and on to Dismal Junction before heading out Wretched Rabbit. On checking Dismal Junction it was too wet so we had to abandon our original plan and did the Trident route. This was a new variation for me. I particularly enjoyed the waterfall in White Line Chamber. The streamway here was sporting in the extreme. I felt I was only just within my comfort zone in terms of water levels, but I found it quite a beautiful streamway.

When we got to the main Easegill streamway we thought we would go upstream so I could hone my route-finding skills. We found the streamway hard going in the high water so abandoned that after about 10m. We came out Wretched Rabbit which I had not done before. We had only been underground for 2 hours but what with high water felt we had done quite a respectable trip.

The early exit on Saturday allowed me to check out Joint Hole and Hurtle conditions for a possible Sunday dive. The usually dry streamway in Chapel-le-Dale was at least 3 or 4m deep in rushing water. I found the spot where Joint comes out and there was evidence of a fast resurgence into the already full streamway, so Joint was out. When I looked into Hurtle, the water was so high that I couldn't see the dive line (at least 3m higher than normal. The high water levels meant that there was now no safe way of getting in or out so my diving was off.

On Sunday I managed to persuade Gavin to come caving instead of attending the Red Rose AGM. The plan was for me to learn the route to the upstream sump for a diving project to re-survey the Lancs to Bull Pot Witches connection. Having made it to the sump in Wilf Taylor's Passage in about half an hour we decided to check out the streamway. The sump passage was impressive: although there was a fair amount of water there was froth 2 or 3m above our heads. The plan was to go upstream to Fall Pot to get out. As we went upstream the stream gets narrower so the water became more and more scary. We managed to go past the Fall Pot exit to the streamway and it all became a little more scary. Eventually we decided we had gone too far and decided to go back. We both felt the water level was rising. I nearly lost my footing once or twice and took an unplanned dip at one point. Wellies definitely aren't conducive to swimming. Once we made it back to Fall Pot we had an uneventful trip out.

Lost John's and Crashed Cars

Mike Hopley, [club weekend 10-12 Mar '06]

Underground: Steve Roberts, Pete Devlin, Jill Drury, Richard Siddans, Roman Novokshanov, Johnny Braindead of Red Rose, Phil Leichauer, Chris Sinadinos, and your writer, Mike Hopley.
Drinking tea instead: Simon Goddard, Pete Eastoe (okay, so I lie: they went walking too).

I hadn't been caving since expedition. I'm not quite sure why: perhaps ending expedition with an injury destroyed my enthusiasm; perhaps the extra travel to Oxford, before the main journey even started, was too much effort. In any case, it's all about habit and self-image: that's why most people do most things. Oh, sure, they come up with plausible reasons to justify the outcome of habits and the influence of self-image. We all like to feel in control.

Too much time had passed, and I was no longer in the habit of even irregular caving. I'd stopped identifying myself as a caver - that was a dangerous sign, because it meant I was adjusting my self-image to be consistent with my change in habits. It's a bit like the way politicians adjust their promises so that they end up keeping them. Clearly what I needed was a lively, challenging weekend to renew my enthusiasm - borderline insanity would be ideal. I was not disappointed: we had a sporting trip down Lost John's, enjoyed amusing and occasionally dangerous cross-club drunkenness on Saturday night, and narrowly avoided creating a multi-car pileup on the way home. All in all, it made a pretty good corrective for my ennui.

Steve, Pete, Jill, Richard, and Roman were first underground, aided greatly by Steve's inability to sit still and drink cups of tea by the fire; at least he wasn't bashing pans together that Saturday morning. Pete was rigging, and did a good job of it too, especially considering that they had mislaid a large portion of their maillons: thinking that they had miscalculated and brought too few - though they later found the deficit at the bottom of a pitch, where it had been dropped unnoticed - Pete had to perform some creative rigging by removing intermediary belays on Battleaxe traverse.

Chris and I came down next, and ahead of schedule. We knew we would get stuck behind the rigging team, but preferred to be doing nothing in a cave than doing nothing at the farm. Thus we were, in attitude, poised somewhere between Steve's evangelical zeal and the remaining group, who had settled around the fire to fester away the morning.

Relative newcomers Roman, Jill, and Richard dealt well with the demands of battleaxe traverse. I was just ahead of Jill and saw her overcome initial consternation at the hardest point. It was not an easy traverse to negotiate: without careful thought, you could easily move too low in the rift and expend a lot of energy getting nowhere. Perhaps it would have been easier with a full complement of maillons.

From the bottom of the last pitch, which ends in a waterfall chamber, the cave becomes wetter. I did not, however, realise just how much wetter it was going to be. The rigging group all elected, sensibly, to turn around and head back, rather than follow the downstream route to its bitter end. But somehow Chris talked me into it. He wanted to go, and he couldn't go on his own; at the time, I didn't see why not, but I soon realised that the last section of Lost John's is not a place to visit without company.

The water got deeper, and deeper, and deeper again, each time eliciting moans as we surrendered another part of our dry, delicate bodies to the icy pools. We had to surrender our lower legs early on, when the water first rose above welly height; but Lost John's then toyed with us for a while, threatening several times to immerse our gonads before, at last, it actually did. And then the floor dissolved into indistinct muddy mush, and the ceiling lowered until you started wondering how much extra water flow would be required to close that air gap, and we were half treading, half swimming on a dark, lonely voyage, away from warmth and light and safety and companionship, and towards the cold and pitiless places where water and rock meet beneath the earth.

Or so it felt at the time; and I then understood why Chris had refused to go there alone. As Steve commented later, that section of cave feels about three times longer on the way in than it feels on the return journey. I think it's the psychological effect of not knowing how far there is to go; you ask yourself how long your limbs will continue to function effectively. How far is it to go? Is there a dry place at the end? Have you already passed the point where you should have turned back? By the time you realise you have become too cold, will it be too late?

The sound effects were certainly interesting. I think I now know what Chris sounds like when he's in the throes of a particularly violent orgasm. Pity me, for I shall have to live with that knowledge and still look him in the eye. God knows (and so does Chris) what kind of sounds I was making.

Anyway, there was a dry place to rest at the end, where we could contemplate the foamy finality of the sump. "You've made it this far, boys," I imagined it to say, "but now you'd better run along home and stop playing around. This is my world down here." We left.

The remaining group, Johnny and Phil, met us at the junction when we came out. They were going to make the downstream odyssey too, but changed their minds part way through. Some people have sense. So out we all went, with Chris and I derigging (Battleaxe traverse was fun) and subsequently exiting the cave later than the others. We had been 9.5 hours underground; we'd both wanted a sporting trip and we'd got it.

The surface weather was grim. Leck Fell, I later learned, is just about the worst place in the area to be when the weather gets bad. It started out okay, but soon the wind became vicious and the temperature dropped. Yet I insisted that we get changed out of our caving gear before we got into the car: no-one was sitting in my Mini with a wet, muddy oversuit.

Our SRT kits were freezing shut and our oversuits were becoming iced into rigid lumps. Chris was quicker than I, and overcame hysteria to get in the car first (yes, actual hysteria; it's not so hard to believe when you know how cold he was). I pulled my remaining stuff out the boot and shut him in there with the engine on. My underpants and socks nearly blew away in the wind (lost johns, anyone?), but fortunately became lodged under a car wheel instead. By the time I was ready to come inside, I couldn't open the door because my hands were white, swollen, and the fingers immovable from cold; I needed Chris to open the door for me. We sat in the car for about ten or fifteen minutes, until I was warm enough to return outside, finish changing, and collect our remaining gear.

Definitely a grade five change (and bollocks to anyone who says otherwise). It's a tribute to Chris that, when I asked him to get changed outside to preserve my car interior, he didn't just tell me to f*&k off.

Back at the farm, we enjoyed a seemingly inexhaustible supply of magnificently dirty songs courtesy of Manchester and Red Rose caving clubs. OUCC should take note. I found myself squeezing through a hacksaw; it was technically easy, but would have been hard to explain at Accident & Emergency if I had got stuck. Drunkenness soon escalated: Simon and Johnny destroyed part of the dining table with a hammer and hacksaw (the debris, of course, ended up on the fire); Simon threw a (full) bottle of beer at me, with unnerving accuracy despite his addled state, so that the bottle smashed at my feet; broccoli fights erupted; Simon variously and separately fell over, slumped to the floor, and slid down a wall; and soon the fire was piled high with wood and quite probably furniture, and we began to asphyxiate. I went to bed.

Sunday morning's weather was severe. Steve made an early and accurate assessment of the situation: we should leave while we still could. Several others announced their intention to go caving nonetheless, to which Steve replied: "Have you actually been outside yet?" They soon changed their minds. A mild but persistent blizzard had laid down a layer of snow already; but worse, the roads were covered with a fine layer of tiny ice crystals, which swirled and eddied with the slightest gust. They were captivating to watch as they danced over the ground, but their presence suggested there might already be ice beneath the snow. We sorted our gear and left.

As I drove, quite cautiously, down the hill, I lost traction. There was no warning, and gentle cadence braking had no effect (although, since I have ABS, this was probably a bit dumb). As we slid down the hill I saw one car (it was Richard's) embedded in the stone wall on the left, and another car (it was Pete Eastoe's) stopped further ahead on the right. I swerved to avoid the wall, swerved farther to avoid Richard's car, and came to rest with a gentle flump on the right side of the road with my right front wheel in a ditch.

It would have been nice to sit there moping, but we had another car to come down, and the crashing area was becoming crowded: now there were three cars to dodge. Chris and I walked to the top of the hill in time to warn Steve, who successfully drove down the slope, albeit with great difficulty.

I had no hope of reversing out of the ditch, because my front right wheel was off the ground. This meant that all of the drive went to that one wheel, while the others didn't rotate at all. Those of you who have attended the Landrover course will be familiar with this: it's a consequence of the differential mechanism that, when a car turns a bend, makes the outer wheels spin faster than the inner wheels (if they didn't, you'd have a problem, because the outer wheels need to travel farther than the inner wheels). Landrovers can lock this differential between the front and rear axles, so at least half the drive is usable, but my Mini lacks a differential lock. And four wheel drive. And bull bars. And general indestructibility Perhaps BMW are missing an opportunity to extend their range.

I phoned the RAC, but before they arrived we were rescued by a Yorkshire bloke in a tractor (I assume he was a farmer). He looked at my Mini with disdain - his tyres were wider than my car - and then dropped straight to the ground to examine the undercarriage for a tow point. It wasn't long before, with an effortless pull, the tractor dragged my car out. In the meantime we had been gritting the road ahead, so we were able, with great caution, to escape the farm track.

My car was undamaged except for the loss of its left mirror glass; Richard's, which was a hire car, was crumpled on the front left corner; Pete's looked okay. I left Yorkshire with a renewed enthusiasm for caving. Although it may have been a costly weekend (£30 for the mirror) it was certainly a lively one.