Depth through thought

OUCC News 11th October 2006

Volume 16, Number 8

DTT Volume 16 Index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Peter Devlin:

A note from the editor

Please, please, please send me material to include in DTT .... the more frequently material gets sent to me, the more often I can put DTT out.

Here are the trips for Michaelmas Term '06.

Week 2, 20-22 Oct, Mendip staying at SMCC, no permit, coordinator: Tom Evans
Week 3: 28-29 Oct, Wales staying at SWCC, coordinator: Lou Maurice
Week 4, 3-5 Nov, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Sunday Rumbling, coordinator: TBD
Week 6, 17-19 Nov, Derbyshire staying at TSG, permits: Titan/JH Saturday, Peak Cavern Sunday, coordinator: Jonathan Cooper, but needs an Oxford based coordinator
Week 8, 1-3 Dec, Wales staying at SWCC, no permit, coordinator: TBD
22 Dec - 1 Jan 07, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Deaths Head/Big Meanie, Penyghent

A note to Freshers

Peter Devlin

Once you have whetted your appetite for caving, whether by getting underground with us, watching Tim's video or just meeting us, you may consider subscribing to Depth Through Thought, OUCC's occasional Newsletter. Back issues of DTT can be found on the website ( Hidden in there are various gems of write-ups of novice trips. To receive DTT electronically, go to and follow the directions (also useful are the OUCC local stuff and OUCC all members email distributions). The frequency of publication of DTT depends on members submitting material, so if you have enjoyed you first trip underground, why not write up your impressions? You might even shame the old lags into writing a contribution. ..... in the meantime and more importantly ... come caving ;-)

Downtown in Chicago: Expedition July 2006

Chris Densham

As I arrived in Oviedo bus station and bumped into El Jefe Chris Sinadinos en route to Barcelona for a few days break from the Picos, I knew the portents were good. I wasn't to be disappointed. The small team at Ario reported that the Chicago entrance pitch-ramp series appeared to have come to an end with the descent of a good 50 m pitch, 'the Boys are Back'. I was keen to get down as soon as possible. Not for the first time Dave Legg did the decent thing and offered to take the expedition newcomer down to the bottom. In spite of his and Jill's post-midnight return the night before, we set off down at the classic Picos start time of 4 pm on Monday. I was impressed with how rapidly the pitches opened out, but the ramp at the bottom of many meant for a slow gain in depth. However at the bottom of the final pitch, a hop over a hole in the floor lead along a short meander to a climb and short pitch down to another sizeable drop. The head of the 40 m deep 'Crystal Ship' shone with pockets of quartz-like crystals. At the bottom the rift continued with another short pitch which we left for the next team. Gavin and Gareth descended this the next day to a ramp up, and dropped a further 45 m pitch before a defective bolting hammer curtailed their trip at the head of another pitch.

Jill and Peter departed, and Mike Hopley and Chris S. arrived. Once more Dave took the newbie, Mike, down on his third deep trip in 4 days. He was repaid for this generosity of spirit by aggravating an incipient shoulder injury which put him out of action for the rest of his expedition.

For me, the crowning trip of the expedition was with Chris and Mike. I had a good feeling about the trip as we set off down shortly after midday with plenty of gear and a 10 am call-out. At the limit of exploration, 2 wires and a couple of deviations saw us down to a ledge; a bit of faffing changing to a longer rope saw us down to the bottom of the 40 m pitch. The rift was now doubling back from the direction at the head of the previous 2 pitches. Exploration fever carried Chris down a 4 m climb; while I rigged it, he simultaneously rigged the next short drop for maximum efficiency. The next 10 m pitch needed a couple of bolts. Neither Mike nor Chris had put in a bolt underground before, so it was the ideal opportunity for them to learn. Mike was first down the pitch on this his first ever pushing trip. Chris rapidly joined him and they were soon hurling rocks down the rift beyond. " .... three, four, CRASH!" They suggested it was my turn to rig.

A spike, 2 bolts, and the Y-hang slid gently into an enormous, smooth-walled shaft quite unlike the rough walls up to this point. Just as I was worrying about what to do when I reached the knot at the end of the rope, at -55 m I landed on a small balcony. Chris and Mike brought the rest of the rope down, and 2 wires saw us safely down to a large ledge. The pitch continued for some 20-30 m down a steep ramp. A large projection from the wall offered an excellent deviation. I traversed out as far as I could, and after a few attempts lassoed the spike with a long sling and sat on the rope. Chris passed me a bag, and as I leant over to take it the entire chunk of wall peeled away, shrugged off the sling and crashed loudly down to the bottom of the pitch, leaving a 2 m high scar where it had parted from the wall. I think Mike got the biggest surprise as he was looking directly at the rock just as it leapt into space. An alternative deviation took me some 15 m down the pitch, where it looked as though this our last rope would run out, or at least more rigging would be required to reach the bottom. It was time to call it a day and survey out. By the time we had surveyed to the top of Gavin & Gareth's last pitch, 170 m surveyed depth had been added to the cave.

Just before I left, Gavin & Gareth reached the bottom of the last pitch, walked along a boulder floored rift for some 10 m, descended a further 50 m pitch and had reached the head of another pitch which they estimated at 80 m. This brings the estimated depth of Chicago to around -600m. If this is to be extended any further this year it will need more cavers to turn up very soon; trip lengths are getting to the level where a camp appears inevitable. The drips have by now collected into a small trickle; not a master cave yet but surely a major collector cannot be far away. An enticing prospect for next year's expedition - I can't recall a better one!

A Wasted Carry

Peter Devlin: 18 Aug

My third trip into Bull Pot of the Witches was a slight departure from the previous two. Having previously used Red Rose sherpas (Beardy, Sam and Toby), I thought I would try and rustle up some of my own sherpas. Philipp Jokisch I seduced with promises of SRT training, Pete Eastoe was really hard work (I asked would he carry for me, he said yes ;-) ), Matt Smith was a Derbyshire caver who expressed an interest in joining the Welsh Section of the CDG, so being secretary of the section I cynically exploited my position.

The weather had been wet the previous week, so I was a little concerned about water levels. Philipp needed an SRT bag to put his camera in, so we toddled off to Inglesport where I enquired about conditions in Inglesport. The general consensus was that while it was wet, there was only one way of finding out how wet the cave was and that was by having a look at it.

All the way in I was concerned to hear rushing water all around. On my first trip with Beardy and Toby, Beardy had been concerned about water levels and this was much wetter. At the bottom of the cave, there is a climb down into a wet crawl which leads on to the sump. At this point the water was higher than I had seen it before and where the water had previously been static it was not flowing. I felt that I had to discuss the conditions with the rest of the team so we left the tacklesacks where they were, climbed down and proceeded to somewhere where we could discuss the conditions. Philipp and Pete were up for continuing as planned, which was my preference, but Matt was all for the lot of us turning round and coming out. The compromise we struck was that Matt would go back up a level in the cave and wait for us while we checked out the sump and the mud formations in The Long Gallery. At the sump the water levels were unaffected, so I was frustrated at not getting my dive in, having done the lion's share of the work, particularly as the optimist in me was convinced that this time I would make it through my grotty little dig and I would be in open passage.

When 3/4 hour later we got back to where Matt was, he was complaining that he was getting cold. It was on the tip of my tongue to point out that he could have kept warm by moving the other 3 tacklesacks he had ignored when he crawled past them.

On a positive note, I learned a lot about conditions in the cave. Probably the best lessons learnt, however, concerned the selection of sherpas.

Do Cave Explorers Feel Immortal?

Rob Garrett

I found an interesting reference to caving in an unexpected place. Virginia McKenna (of Born Free) was writing an article (here) following the death of Steve Irwin (Crocodile Hunter). The relevant paragraph is:

"I suspect that it's a little like participating in extreme sports of one kind or another. Each successful high-speed race, each free-fall leap from a plane, each mountain scaled or remote cave explored begins to convince the participant of their invincibility. He is, at least for the moment, immortal."

It may be useful for generating some discussion regards the public face of caving. Does it belong in this company or is the essence more about not taking risk and avoiding adrenalin situations unless they involve breaking into stonking new passage?

[I can't speak for Steve Irwin, but I have to say that on the morning before any of my cave dives, immortality is the last thing on my mind .... in fact, if I don't have the "Am I too scared to dive? Let's do coffee in Bernies instead!" debate in my head I don't consider my pre-dive checks to be complete. Comments welcomed for subsequent DTTs - Peter]

Website searchphrases

Steve "OUCC's oldest active caver" Roberts

Yes, once again, it's silly searchphrases time. All of these were used in August by people who were directed to somewhere in Let us, as always, hope that they found what they were looking for.

"bearded beast", "colin the caterpillar cake", "has anyone lost money with oxford club?", "phrases for going to bed", "hard core clubs cardiff swinging", "testicles hanging in toilet", "parrot hut or cave to hide in", "weird feeling when climbing ropes", "fun cock-up decision tree", "twenty feet of muddy muddy water", "duck wind sock", "skunk symbiosis", "tiberius sexual practices", "bubble bitts galore", "only dead", "gavin worm", "my matterhorn boots squeak", and last, but by no means least, "streamway sex".