Depth through thought

OUCC News 17th January 2007

Volume 17, Number 3

DTT volume 17 Index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Three weeks into January and we're already onto DTT 17.3! The more folks send me write-ups the more often I can send DTT out (with the added benefits that you have to read fewer dive reports from me ;-) ). This week we have a write-up from Tim, DTT's first editor and Lou. Please keep the reports coming in.

Here are the trips planned for Hilary Term (2007) ... please note the corrections to the permits on weeks 2 and 6

Week 2, 26-28 Jan, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Washfold, 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: Lost Johns, 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

"50 years of OUCC":

Steve Roberts

I have booked dinner at St Edmund Hall on Saturday 29th September. I hope that lots of new, old and ancient lags will be able to make that date. Guest rooms will be available.

I will book President's invite soon, and we can mail out the whole list again, I hope to get as many of the old members showing up as for the 40th (or more).

I suggest that there is a 50th anniversary trip to Mendip on 1st December, including a trip down GB. If we can get some of the founder members on the trip, that would be great.

Il Selvaggio blu: how hard can it be?

Tim Guilford & Lou Maurice

While Gavin was throwing himself off boulders in Easegill and lazier cavers were keeping themselves warm burning furniture back at the farm, Tim and Lou were sunning on a beach in Sardinia. A series of beaches, in fact. A series of beaches separated by some of the wildest limestone scenery we've ever wandered around in. We were attempting an enigmatic "route" known as "Il selvaggio blu". "How hard can it be?", Lou had impressed on me as we had sat in the Half Moon, some days before, reading the scant information she had garnered from the internet, the only consistent description being that it was "Italy's hardest hike". How hard indeed.

Il selvaggio blu, "the wild blue", turns out to be a seven day traverse of the uninhabited, roadless, and, lets admit it, virtually route-less coastal mountains between Santa Maria Navarese and Cala Gonone on the East coast of Sardinia. Put up by two Italian adventurers ten years ago, with a philosophy of retaining as much of the original exploration experience as possible, it is almost all unmarked, and there is often no path at all. It was this philosophy that attracted us to the route, and long may it remain different from the paint-blobbed, over-cairned motorways so common in the mountains of Europe (despite what follows). Deep, heavily forested ravines, gouge through 600m mountains in a series of passages down to an emerald sea. Between the ravines, ridges and cliffs provide a chaos of karstic landscape. Il selvaggio blu weaves an improbable, and vertiginous route between the ravines, demanding seven days of steep ascents, descents, scrambles, wobbly traverses, rock climbs to grade 4+, and free-hanging abseils of up to 45 metres. Oh, and there's virtually no water.

Imagine the packs. Seven days food, at least 6 litres of water each, climbing gear and enough rope to survive a 45 metres abseil, winter clothes, and tent. As it turned out, we were attempting the route a wet spell, and were able to find small water supplements in cave drip-water at many points along the way. And there was no shortage of caves to bivvy in either, so the tent was unnecessary. Nevertheless, not sure how we might cope with rock climbing under such a load, we decided on a shortened five day version. There is a guide book, apparently, but its out of print. So we relied on a council pamphlet with a map and a page-long description of the route. It wasn't enough.

Day1. Bussed, hitched, and walked to Cala Goloritze, "the most beautiful beach in Italy" (not far off, actually). Bivvied under the stars.

Day 2. Climbed and scrambled our way up to a ridge, and then promptly got lost. Ended up taking a mad route back down to the sea via a series of shepherd's log bridges and climbs down a precipitous ravine. Error. Made it back to the ridge by dark, just, and bivvied on the path (sort of path). Cooked on a fire, and watched the sun rise over the sea in the morning.

Day 3. We've lost a day, so resolve to make no more errors. Slow progress leads us eventually to the first abseil and then a vertiginous traverse via caves and a half moon ledge perched high above the sea. We reach a charcoal burner's platform in a spectacular ravine (Bacu Mudalero) and build a huge fire. It's new year's eve. You guys were partying long into 2007. We fell asleep with exhaustion before 9pm. Its taken 2 days to do 1 day of the route.

Day 4. This next day is decision point. We must finish in time or we cannot risk going in to the following two days (inescapable) with our reserves of food and water. We cannot afford to get lost this time. We set off up 400m of scree, and get lost. Not, of course, until we have climbed an ever steepening series of bluffs, which we then have to reverse precariously. We missed the route, which takes a preposterous line above and below soaring limestone cliffs. We have just enough time left in the day to reach our destination as long as we don't get lost again. One hour later we are scrambling about high above the sea looking for a way on. We fail. But what we do find is an old charcoal burner's path (again, more of a moderate rock climb than a path) up onto the ridge, and so we make our escape and find a supposedly easier route down a gorge to Cala Sisine, cutting out three days of il selvaggio blu. It turns out to be a very long way. We arrive at another beautiful beach three hours after dark. Those three days, which no doubt would have taken us six, are the toughest and most technical of the route. They linger now as an enticement to return and finish the route properly another time.

Day 5. So, we have managed to complete one and a half days of the route in four days. Tails somewhat between our legs, we decide to avoid the rest of il selvaggio blu and finish the route the easy way and take a better marked path inland on to Cala Gonone, our ultimate destination. Half an hour in, we take a wrong turn, but only realise it three hours later when its clear that we have, yet again, got lost. We are, in fact, back on il selvaggio blu (at least we think so), and a simple three hour walk turns into another epic series of vertiginous scrambles. But the scenery is astounding. The ambience one of peace and wilderness. Narcissi are just flowering, and the scents of Mediterranean herbs burst from every step through the vegetation. It is truly beautiful. Having completed an extra day of the route by mistake, we arrive at Cala Luna, "the most beautiful beach in Italy", and wade across a small estuary. We bivvy in a huge old phreatic cave opening onto the beach, with the full moon visible through the entrance. A mouse eats the last of our food reserves.

Day 6. Sun rises through the cave entrance, and we walk out onto clean sand and the sight of crag martins chasing each other across the front of the cliffs. There's an easy path back to Cala Fuili from here, but we insist on a shortuct to avoid wading the river again. We get lost, and end up, after a few scratches in the bushes, wading the river again. This time we reach our destination before nightfall, and spend a relaxing afternoon sport climbing at Cala Fuili, possibly the most beautiful beach in Italy. From here it is just a short walk along a road to the end, Cala Gonone. How hard can it be?

Bent Juel-Jensen

Our club archivist [Steve Roberts] writes:

1970s and 1980s expedition old hands may like to know that Bent Juel-Jensen, the university medical officer who injected us all so comprehensively against everything from yellow fever to beri-beri, died on 20th December. There are good obituaries in the Times and Independent. I knew vaguely that he was famous for more than just his medical work, but reading these, I clearly knew far less than the half of it.

[editor: a speedy browse on a particularly busy day made me wish I had more time to read these obits properly .... hey ho]

Gavin's Influence on the Caving World?

Peter Devlin [13 Jan 07]

Wishing to continue to foster links between the Welsh Section and WBCRT I turned up for another rescue practice with the West Brecon lot, this time in OFD.

Come 9 o'clock it was looking to be a fairly small rescue team based on the quiet state of Penwyllt. As 9.30 approached a substantial group (15 ish) arrived. This transpired to be a strong team from WSG. A reference to "getting drugged up and walking out of the cave", led me to ask if either Phil Mack or Martin McGowan were in the party. Phil being otherwise engaged (something about a birthday perhaps), Martin was in attendance. Clearly something had inspired WSG to come along to a rescue practice!

The plan for the day was to do an exercise in Salubrious for the folks newer to rescue practices and another in Swamp Creek for the more experienced lot. Seeing has how I had never been the casualty in any of the rescues I have taken part in I thought I should volunteer, partly because someone has to do it, partly to see what it feels like. I was assigned to the Salubrious team which turned out to consist for the WSG team plus a few more.

Having gone just beyond the Trident junction Jules stopped us and gave a briefing to the team. Prone on the floor, simulating a back injury, Jules pointed out that being an OUCC caver I had just fallen from a climb, which got a laugh. Within the first few minutes a number of comments were made about how much I weighed and what I'd had for breakfast. I comforted myself that overweight cavers have accidents too, so if they wanted to practice rescues I was really doing them a favour. There were after all 18 of them and a much smaller group of us had managed Jeremy (17 stone to my 13 1/2) in County (DTT 15.9). We were using the new WBCRT stretcher and found that I was sufficiently tall that the team struggled to get the groin straps on me. Once into the stretcher we were off.

I realised almost immediately what an unpleasant feeling it is to be in the stretcher. Being safely cocooned to prevent movement to the spine also means almost all freedom of movement is denied the casualty: had I been more insightful I would have concluded that in advance, but some people have to experience something to know it. Being tilted on my side by as little as 30 degrees was initially a very unpleasant feeling. I had kept my arms out from the blanket and stretcher which meant kept me less warm, but the perceived freedom this gave me was inestimable. I could barely move, couldn't really see where I was and what the cave was doing. The only degree of freedom I had was to adjust the protection spectacles I had been given (which, in my opinion, are vastly superior to the diving goggles we use BTW in terms of casualty comfort). I spent the first five minutes wondering how quickly I could beg to escape from the stretcher, but soon found that by adopting a defensive "this too shall pass" attitude it was much more bearable. I also found that a degree of banter between myself and the team helped enormously, particularly given the amount of pain experienced on both sides of the divide. I also found that some of the team in particular were very good at the casualty care side of things, asking how I was, making light of the situation etc. This made a big difference to how I felt and I can now see how important it is in the case of a real casualty, suffering pain, shock and anxiety.

Another thing that struck me was how different a cave looks from that position. Not having my helmet on, I couldn't see much beyond my immediate area. The cave was reduced simply to a sequence of wall right in front of my nose, in spite of being a passage I know fairly well. I found it hard to relate the landmarks as known by a walking caver to the cave I was experiencing which all added to the dislocation of the experience.

I spent 2 hours in the stretcher and through this period I found myself getting steadily colder. In a real scenario there would have been hot packs and pocket dragons etc to prevent this. At a certain point I could feel a general coldness in my back, so I knew I had taken in some water. In the debrief Gareth Evenson mentioned a flood of water coming out of the stretcher at one point.

When we got to the climb out of Salubrious it had been agreed that I would get out and give someone else a chance, partly because I wanted to have a go at being underground controller for the Corkscrew. It took me a little while to get the use of my muscles back having been constricted for two hours.

I was glad I had done my stint as the casualty, partly because it means I don't have to do it again for a long time with the West Brecon team, but more importantly because of what it had taught me. Helping out in rescue practices had taught me to avoid accidents underground because rescues are difficult. This taught me to avoid accidents underground because being the casualty is a thoroughly unpleasant experience. I feel every caver should do a stint as a casualty just to experience how unpleasant it is. Finally I'm glad I've done it so that I will know what to expect if I ever have to be the casualty in a real life scenario (heaven forbid).

The debrief, needless to say, dwelt as least as much on how heavy I was as anything else (or so it felt to me). Afterwards, sitting round the fire at Penwyllt, Jules announced "Well I've learnt one thing today!". This produced the desired attention. "I've learnt what a fat bastard Pete Devlin is!". I pointed out that there were easier ways to learn this than dragging me around Salubrious for two hours.

Afterwards I declined a kind offer from Fleur, Pete and Rob to go to the pub, and instead dragged my dive gear down to Gothic Sump in OFD1. Here the water level was about a meter higher than the usual dive base. Only by kitting up above the climb down to the usual dive base and walking neck deep in the sump was I able to establish that about 10cm of the dive line was visible from the ceiling belay. I dived, finding the vis to be well crap (25cm perhaps). I also found that there was a not insubstantial current away from the sump, so I decided to turn the dive well before thirds. In the end I did a 15 minute dive, not particularly pleasant, but I found it a useful exercise in assessing borderline conditions.