Depth through thought

OUCC News 3rd January 2007

Volume 17, Number 1

DTT volume 17 Index

DTT Main Index

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Earlier in 2006 we seemed to be struggling somewhat in terms of DTT submissions. Last term we did much better with a couple of fabulous novice trip write ups, together with some great contributions from some of our stalwarts. Doing a short write-up need not take any longer than 15 minutes, but it is nice to have a few different impressions of trips from various individuals. Please keep the reports coming in.

This edition of DTT has a strong rescue theme: at the tail end of '06 Vrinda and I took part in a rescue practice with the West Brecon lot. On Christmas Day Gavin had his accident in Easegill. The rescue involved 931 man hours from CRO ( Coincidentally, as the current holder of the Lemming Award I had recently asked Steve whether I should return the lemming to him. Any thoughts?

Here are the trips planned for Hilary Term (2007):

Week 2, 26-28 Jan, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Washfold and Penyghent, coordinator: TBD
Week 4, 9-11 Feb, Wales staying at SWCC, no permits, coordinator: TBD
Week 6, 23-25 Feb, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Rumbling, coordinator: TBD
Week 8, 9-11 Mar, Wales staying at SWCC, no permits, coordinator: TBD
5-9 April (Easter), Dales staying at BPF, no permits

Gavin's Rescue

James Hooper

On Christmas Day(!) Gavin Lowe, together with Martin McGowan and Phil Mack (WSG) set off at 11am for a Lancaster Hole to Top Sink through trip. They made good time and by 3:15 pm were just beyond the Bridge of Sighs heading towards Limerick Junction. Here, Gavin fell about 6 feet off a small climb and landed on his left hip. He was unable to move without experiencing a lot of pain. He was wrapped in a survival bag and put on a balaclava etc. Phil Mack stayed with him while Martin went out to call the rescue. Martin arrived at Bull Pot Farm at 6:30 pm and the CRO were called soon afterwards. In total about 70 people were called out, with preparations made for a long stretcher carry out through County Pot. By Midnight, three doctors and a group of ten or so cavers, including myself, had arrived at the scene of the accident (several teams arrived before me and radio communications were established with relay stations on the fell and underground, meanwhile rigging of the pitches in County Pot, plus Poetic Justice and the climb at the Assembly Hall was taking place). Gavin was given several shots of Morphine and enjoyed inhaling the Enternox (Nitrous Oxide) gas. The Doctors all agreed that it would be best if Gavin tried to make his own way own (with assistance) through County Pot, a full stretcher carry could take up to 18 or so hours, it was thought. Initially in a lot of pain, and still taking regular doses of Enternox, Gavin proceeded to make his way out assisted by cavers pulling on the 'Baby Bouncer' that he was wearing. His left leg was strapped up in a splint. To the relief of everyone he made remarkably quick time and was out of the cave by around 5:15pm. A helicopter had been called but there were some problems with it arriving so Gavin was stretched across the fell towards Bull Pot Farm. At about 7am, a RAF helicopter landed near the farm and flew Gavin to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. A phone call later in the day informed us that Gavin was bored in hospital, wanted to leave, and that he had fractured the pubis bone of his pelvis. He was in Ward 35 yesterday (27th December) and I don't know when he will be discharged.

[webeditor's note - this incident got Gavin Lowe the coveted Lemming award for 2006-07]

Story - A Christmas Cracker

James Hooper

Christmas morning at Bullpot Farm, no tacky tree, no pile of wrapped presents, no heating other than the log fire. What better way to spend Christmas than a fun caving trip followed by fine food, beer and Cuarenta y Tres (or 'nectar of the Gods' as I consider this fine Spanish liqueur). Gavin, who like Martin McGowan and Phil Mack from the WSG had driven up the night before, was in a "come on I want to go caving NOW" mood, while I needed a few more cups of tea before I was prepared to don my wet and muddy caving kit that lay in a sad cold heap from the day before. So Martin and Phil joined Gavin for a Lancs to Top Trip (with a planned deviation to look at the Borehole) while I decided to go with a Mendip caver called Anne on a rigging practice trip down Cow Hole. I'd also never been to Lancaster Hole before so thought this would be a fun mission. Both teams planned to be back by around four in the afternoon, with callouts at 7pm; parsnips had to be peeled and the Christmas pudding needed steaming afterall.

It was good to head out across the fell. It was misty and cold but I love the feeling of finally heading off to a cave with packed tacklebags on shoulders. Anne did a good job rigging Cow Pot and we were soon at Fall Pot sharing a cigarette or two. The traverse to the pitch head took Anne a while to rig, understandable if you've never done an wide exposed traverse over a 45 metre drop before. I then took over, again loving the thrill of rigging a proper pitch. Once down, the race was on to find our way to Lancaster Hole. I'd studied the survey and had a compass with me but somehow failed to realise that you had to go up a rope. Time was marching on - at the back of my mind I was worried about Gavin's reaction if I came close to my callout, especially has he'd been saying, only the night before, how this had happened too often on expedition last summer. Eventually, after a romp in the main stream, I decided that the way on had to be up the black Marlow rope that we'd seen earlier. "Rope free" I shouted to Anne, "Lets go... we have to find Lancaster Hole...." we scurried and crawled and then, there it was, the cold draught of the surface and a rope to the entrance. We were back at the farm for 5:30, pleased with our trip.

I'm not sure how or when I started to associate stilton and crumpets with Christmas at Bullpot Farm, but its become a tradition that I was maintaining when Beardy (aka Paul Swire) and Ben Lovett turned up. "Ah, good to see you're here in time to rescue Gavin" I joked as it was now 6:30. When Martin arrived a minute later, they must have thought a wind-up had been planned as he casually informed us that a rescue was in fact needed. Gavin had fallen on his way out Top Sink and was unable to move without a lot of pain. "Oh God, not again", I thought, as it was only two years ago than I'd dialled 999 when an Imperial fresher became hypothermic. The call to the Police was made and we busied ourselves packing a rescue kit while we waited for the CRO. Ben and Beardy set off to find Gavin carrying a thermos, warm clothes, food, a Carry mat and a sleeping bag while I waited at the farm. Christmas dinner would have to wait.

Cavers began arriving at the farm, first a few and then more and more. Some arrived with a "Bloody Hell, it's Christmas Day...." while others seemed pleased to be able to escape their in-laws. Gavin was known to many of them, either personally or via reputation, and the universal reaction to hearing that Gavin was in trouble was one of "If it happened to Gavin, it must be one of those rare falls that can happen to anyone". The odd moan and grumbling belied the fact that everyone was keen to help a fellow caver, though the thoughts of a 18 hour stretcher carry, which was what was being prepared, was not a thought that was being relished, as you'd expect. Radio communication were established, flashing lights were set up along the path to County, teams were dispatched to rig pitches, carry a stretcher to Gavin etc. Surprisingly, few of the cavers were sure of the route finding so I was given the job of guiding John Burton, a doctor, and an experienced CRO member called Dave to the Bridge of Sighs. This rescue was going to take a long time.

Once again, it was good to be heading out across the fell. We laughed and joked, chatted with the guys in bivvy bags that were manning the radio relay stations, and had a jolly trip down County, moving at a steady pace. "There's no point in getting exhausted or getting sweaty - you'll only suffer for it later on" I was told. It was rare to be singing Christmas Carols with people who were more out of tune than I was! At the Assembly Hall, we caught up with Pete Hall and others and I helped rig a ladder on the climb before heading off to find Gavin, collecting two more doctors en route. Gavin was well looked after, but Phil was glad to see a face that he knew - sitting for 9 hours with Gavin was not how he'd plan to spend Christmas Day. Once the Morphine was injected and Gavin was on the Enternox, we realised that Gavin probably wouldn't need stretchering - partly due to his own determination to help out as much as he could. I was given, at my request, the mission of escorting Phil of the cave, leaving Gavin in capable hands. We each took a tacklebag and made our way slowly out. Earlier in the day, we'd planned to get back to the Farm at 4 o'clock. And back at 4 o'clock we were, for Phil it was just twelve hours later. By this stage, there were more than enough cavers to help out, in addition to the CRO, cavers from Kendal and Wharfdale had been roused, a total of about seventy in all, with more on standby. So Beardy, Ben Lovett and I decided to revert to Plan A. Beer, lots of beer was drunk, Cuarenta y Tres was savoured. As we got pissed news of Gavin drifted into our consciousness, he was at Eureka Junction, he was at Poetic Justice, he was out the cave, a helicopter was on its way, he was being carried across the fell. At seven in the morning as it was getting light on a misty fell, the sound of the Chopper was heard. It was a surreal sight, like the last scene in E.T. as the helicopter landed while being watched by several dozen headlights, while Gavin was carried on board. "Merry Christmas everyone" I said, before heading back to the Farm for more booze, a full fried Breakfast and then bed.

WBCRT practice in Llygad Llwchwr [2 Dec '06] .... aka the boring version

Peter Devlin

The Welsh Section has been talking for a little while of doing a joint practice with WBCRT with a view to fostering closer ties between the two organisations. I decided that since Llygad Llwchwr is a caver and a diver's cave the practice there on Dec 2 would be a good one to join. I failed to allow for the fact that winter can be wet in Wales so as we approached the weekend it turned out that the diving part of the exercise was cancelled. I decided to go along in any case.

This weekend was also the week 8 club trip to Penwyllt, so I got involved in the club transportation caffuffle. At one point as Friday approached I was giving a lift to four others which was going to be unworkable, but sometime late afternoon an email came through that it was jst Vrinda and I. As we got close to Penwyllt we got caught in really heavy rain, so my expectations of slipping in a little dive were well and truly quashed. We checked with the lot at Penwyllt that it was OK for Vrinda to join the practice, knowing full well that a rescue practice isn't a bundle of laughs for a novice, but at least she would be getting underground.

When we got to the cave on Saturday morning, there were between 30 and 40 people there. We were divided into two teams to carry out two separate rescues, one involving a pitch, the other focusing on the entrance series which is non trivial from a rescue point of view. The organisation was impressive: there were comms experts with heyphones and back-up hardline technology. There were riggers, advanced first aiders and underground controllers. Since no-body volunteered for the latter role in our team I stepped forward on the grounds that I would learn from the exercise. When we got to the casualty it transpired that some of the gear was new and some of the items presented logistical challenges. The CO2 cannister for the pocket dragon failed to shut and hissed CO2 into the cave so that was run out of the cave. The heyphone was initially able to communicate only with the other team, only later with the outside world, so I had to send a runner with the situation report.

Once we got moving we had the standard problem in a narrow, rifty cave of circulating carriers so as not to end up with everybody at the back and one guy at the front lifting the casualty. At this point I was particularly impressed with the number of cavers in the team who were extremely competent at managing the situation. After a while we let the casualty out to give him a rest and agreed to reconvene in the entrance series. We got him back into the stretcher and I went to the entrance to get the brief from the outside team who were managing the rigging for the extraction. It was agreed he would come out feet first and I went back to relay this information to the team inside. They had, however, decided that it was time to get out and were just going for it rather than stopping and planning the exit. After a short period of very difficult hauling in very constricted rifty passage, it was pointed out that the casualty was coming out head first not feet first. At this point it was decided to abandon the exercise.

Overall I was very impressed with the organisational experience of the WBCRT team. They do more than half a dozen practices a year and it shows. Their preparedness is fabulous and there is a profound depth of rescue expertise throughout the group. I think I'll tag along to a few more of their practices.

Back at Penwyllt Andy Harp, Gary Jones, Bridget Hall and I had a chat about doing a proper joint diving/caving practice, maybe doing something in Little Neath River Cave. Doing something that involves getting a casualty through a sump would be great to have under our belts, but I think the Welsh Section has a little catching up to do.

On Saturday night Steve was planning to come up to do a Sunday trip. Chatting to him on the phone as I drove home I assuaged my guilt for dragging Vrinda along on a rescue practice by pointing out that she was owed a fun trip the next day.

Cave Rescue! The Musical

Vrinda Manglik, Llygad Llwchwr [2 Dec '06]

To the reader: I joined Pete Devlin for a SWCC rescue practice on December 2nd since no one else from Oxford was around yet. A bit of spare time on my hands, and too much time at the airport, has led me to produce an unusually corny write-up.

[In a dark chamber with lots of water. A dozen or so cavers hover around a fallen man. No light except the headlamps on the cavers' helmets.]

Rescue team: (Background. Singing softly, stacatto. Unison)
Hum! Hum! Hum! Hum!
Caver 1: (dramatically)
What can we dooooooo?? This man has broken his kneeeeee!!
Reporter: (to audience)
We are presently in the depths of the cave Llygad Llwchwr, where Bob, an elderly gentleman, has fallen and broken his knee.
Bob: (dreamy, as if dying)
Will I see the light of daaaaaaaaay? Damn my knee, damn these cavers.
The rescue team seems prepared, but this mission will likely take upwards of three and a half hours. I am Miriam Cueva, reporting.
Rescue team: (talking amongst themselves)
This will be a nasty operation.... Hmmmm, yes. How do you reckon we'll get around that corner? Too bad he's so tall. Do you remember that time they dropped the girl down the crevasse? Hmmm, yes.
There's a stalagmite in my back...
[Awkward silence]
Caver 2:
Yes. (pauses) Comrades! We must think! (Think!) We must act!
(Act!) We must mo-bil-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiize! Our biggest concern is Bob's comfort and safety.
Comfort! Safety!
Caver 1:
We'll start with the first aid. Alice, please hand me the painkillers and the Little Dragon respirator. (Alice does as told). Bob, how do you feel?
Not so good, and a bit cold. And like I said, there's a stalagmite in my b--
Caver 2: (interrupting)
Okay, now, let's put some heat packs under his oversuit and...Quick! Hand me that thermal blanket.
Bob is being slipped into a heating blanket--a difficult manoeuvre given his broken knee. His moans of pain are enough to chill the soul. [Pause, exaggerated display of sympathy]. Meanwhile, several members of the rescue team have begun to extend a cable from our chamber to the outside world. The eerie voices of walkie-talkie chatter fill the air. Will Bob survive? Will this crisis end in tragedy? Stay tuned to find out.

[20 minutes pass]

Random caver:
We'll have to use the other stretcher! Pass me the larger one, please.
Bob is now sufficiently insulated, and the team is attempting to place Bob on the stretcher. This will involve lifting Bob, sliding the stretcher beneath him, lifting him again, and strapping him in.
Ready? One, two, three....LIFT!!!
Bob! What is it mate?
Oh, nothing, just be careful of my KNEE please.
All: (muttering sheepishly)
Sorry Bob. Yeah, real sorry.
Caver 1:
Shall we try again? Ready? One, two, three...LIFT!!!
Caver 2: (instructing others)
Okay, now the straps of the stretcher should be color-coordinated. Orange connects to orange, blue to blue, black to black.
Cavers: (singing, kind of Oompa-Loompa-like)
Orange to orange, blue to blue, this is what the rescuers do.
Pass me the blue strap, please.
[a few moments later]
Okay, Bob, we're making progress. We're going to start moving you now. Are you warm?
Not really, but I'm okay.
Caver 2:
Okay, I need people on all sides of him. We're going to move him ten feet and set him down again. Are we ready?
We need some more help at the feet! We can't lift his weight down here.
Caver 2:
Right. Edward, could you move down to the other side? Good. Thank you.
Caver 1:
Okay then! Ready? One, two, three....LIFT!!!
And the rescue team is moving. They're wading in the water and moving very slowly and carefully. Bob seems slightly nervous, but the rescue team is attempting to assure him that he is in good hands.
Caver 2:
Okay, Bob, we're going to put you down for a moment. Okay? Bob? Bob? Are you there Bob?
Yes, fine.
Caver 1:
How will we manage this next bit? Hooooowwwwwww? (other cavers harmonize)
[An hour passes]
Well, the past hour has seen more challenges and steady progress. For every segment of the journey, a caver scouts out the next passage, and reports back to the team. The team then discusses how to quickly move the stretcher through the passage, taking into consideration tight turns, lack of space to move, and where it will be possible to set Bob down next. It's a slow game, but it's the only way to do it.
Up ahead we have a tight section! It's tall in one bit, but very narrow. We'll have to tilt Bob vertically, then lower him into the next bit.
Caver 1:
There's a ledge in the lower bit. Let's have three people sit on the ledge, and we can pass the weight over their knees. Then, the rest of the team can pass under the stretcher to meet him on the other side.
Brilliant! Yeah, yeah.
Caver 2:
Ready, Bob?
Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer....
Righty then. Here we go!
[The stretcher passes over the cavers' knees, they grimace in pain. The stretcher is moved along, and another hour passes.]
Everyone here is tired, especially Bob, and I could really use a coffee break. In case you were wondering, it has been two and a half hours since we entered the cave.
Caver 2:
Up ahead is a 90 degree angle! I don't know how we'll manage. I reckon we start by tilting him up to the start of the corner. We'll have people kneel throughout the corner, and his weight can be on their backs. Then, carefully, carefully, we'll pivot him around.
[The plan proceeds]
Cavers under the stretcher:
Dear God! My knees! My back! Hurry, would you? I'll never feel again.
[Another hour passes]
BREAKING NEWS from Llygad Llwchwr, where elderly caver Bob had fallen and broken his knee. It has now been four hours since the rescue operation began, and Bob appears to have suddenly regained full capacity in both legs. Like Lazarus, raised from the dead, Bob is miraculously hoisting himself towards the entrance of the cave.
[Bob is chuckling maliciously, and even appears to be dancing a bit as he climbs.]
Caver 1:
Bloody hell, Bob.
I feel a young lark in springtime!
Subduing their personal irritation, the rescue team appears to be relieved and glad of Bob's extraordinary condition. (To Caver 2) Sir, sir? Excuse me, would you mind sharing your views on the situation?
Caver 2:
Well, we're certainly glad that Bob is fine and safe and all. It was a good opportunity to practice our rescue techniques and see where we need to improve. In that sense, it was a great success. I'm just completely baffled by this recovery of his. It's simply bizarre!
Caver 1:
You can say that again. I have a faint suspicion that he was faking it all along. Hard to say though. I bloody wish he weren't so damn cheeky about it.
[With Bob leading the way, the entire rescue team exits the cave through a narrow hole eight feet off the ground, leading to the light of day and a steep vertical drop. Two helicopters hover above, and an ambulance waits with a few members of the rescue team.]
This concludes our four hour report on Bob, the fallen caver in Llygad Llwchwr. Thank you for staying with us through this gripping test of faith. I am Miriam Cueva.
Anyone up for a game of rummy?