Depth through thought

OUCC News 24th January 2007

Volume 17, Number 4

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Please keep the reports coming in. Many thanks to Lou for a cracking write-up.

Here are the trips planned for Hilary Term (2007)

Steve Roberts writes: All Southern based cavers need to be aware of this incredible new system (and I choose my words carefully).

Too many sandwiches and a birthday breakthrough by team incompetence (Tim, Ben, Big Si and Lou)

Lou Maurice

The plan was to aid climb up into a big passage at the end of Into the Black and then retire for a pleasant evening of birthday celebrations and attempt to reduce the size of the overstocked drinks cabinet at camp fluff (Big Beauty) in Ogof Draenen. Unfortunately, in Wales at 1:00 am on Saturday morning I remembered that Tim and I had left our giant Daren drum full of caving gear in Oxford.

As ever cavers pull together in an emergency, and my hope of a bomb proof excuse for not going caving evaporated as offers of spare oversuits and kneepads came from all directions. We were slightly stumped by wellies, so rushed down to Rockfields in Abergavenny where we found that the shop only sold single wellies as all the pairs had been stolen! Luckily they let us buy 4 single wellies, so Tim ended up with two different colours, and I ended up with two different sizes, but they all seemed to be about the right fit!

A remarkable feat of organisation meant that despite the fiasco, bags of camping stuff, and aid climbing gear were packed and we were underground by 12:30. Tim and I remarking, that due to all the borrowed gear, we were much better kitted out than usual! The entrance was very damp due to recent unremitting rain, but I soon found that a brand new smart yellow waterproof oversuit was a bit too hot to cave in, so ended up taking most of my caving gear off. We all cheered up in megadrive where we counted a record 28 bats - amazing!

Dumping our stuff at camp, it was not long before we were at the dreaded last sandwich. This was a bit of a barrier for Simon who had surveyed the last sandwich on a previous trip, but not seen what lies beyond the final squeeze. He has very broad shoulders, had a nasty cold, and hasn't done enough caving recently because he has been too busy breaking paragliding records, but he persisted and soon we were all admiring the magnificence of M S and D.

Having carried the heavy bag with the climbing gear all the way in, after careful consideration we realised that the massive passage we had come all the way to climb up to was full of sediment. We decided time would be better spent looking at the stuff somewhere near Mouldy Bat passage that had been found but not completely explored 7 years ago. Great plan, but I couldn't find it. Instead we ended up thrutching our way to the end of Mouldy Bat Passage where Ben heroically pushed one squeeze and promptly found another which he dug with his thumb whilst still in the first squeeze. Being smaller, Ben thought I could probably get through the second one, but unfortunately I got stuck in the first! It was not a good pelvis squeeze as you have to twist around a shallow corner in a narrow v shaped rift passage whilst not getting stuck in the v bit (and with a totally jammed helmet). It was getting rather late by now, so assessing it as a very promising lead, with apparently bigger passage beyond the squeezes, we headed back from what we are considering naming "The Next Sandwich".

On the way back to camp we dug one thing off Into the Black, looked at some other stuff, and at about midnight identified a passage off the Last Sandwich which had a howling draught. Due to the late arrival at camp, we didn't make much impact on the drinks cabinet.

On Sunday morning after taking some photos someone came up with the crazy plan of going back along the last sandwich to check out the draughting passage near the end. Simon decided to stay at camp and catch up on some sleep, and going through the 8 grovels of midwinter I wished I'd done the same. We did lots of checking out in the surprisingly large draughting passage, and I got some confidence back in my squeezing ability as I managed to reach the rather tight end of the main passage. Tim also squeezed into several things that looked smaller than him, inventing a new technique of crawling with no arms or legs, as he suspended himself by his chest.

Then the inevitable happened - just as it was well past time to leave, things got exciting. Simon was expecting us back at camp at 2 pm, but luckily he didn't have a watch and was sound asleep. In fact, I had put ETO 2 pm in the book, and our callout had been rather vague. "Thank goodness for the E bit of ETO", said Tim, and of course nobody would be looking in the book, so at 4 pm we achieved the much sought after "birthday breakthrough".

Actually I went in first as the smallest, and it briefly reminded me why digging is worth all the effort. I crawled steeply down and round a corner to a squeeze, which I couldn't get my shoulders through, but I could peer far enough around the corner to see a distinct and enticing improvement in the size of the passage. The squeeze was easily enlarged by digging mud out of the floor and there was a convenient window back into another passage where I could pass the mud through to the others. I rabbit holed, digging until it was just big enough to fit, and soon my shoulders were through and I could clearly see what lay beyond. There was a slightly awkward manoeuvre involving a sharp right turn immediately followed by a sharp left turn, but it wasn't tight. I had the usual mental argument with myself about how big or small it was, and whether it might be smaller than it looked, but then the excitement of what I could see became too much and I wriggled through rather rapidly and stood up in virgin passage. It went about 10 m to what looked like an easy dig, but I felt the need to reverse all the crawls to make sure it was all OK before the others came in. Instinctively I went feet first backwards round the corners which meant a rather unpleasant backwards uphill thrutch to reach the others, but it was all easily possible. Later Ben tried the head first return, which turned out to be rather more problematic, so I was glad I hadn't attempted it. The squeeze was dug out a bit more and then the birthday boy (Tim) very easily passed the next dig to enter a chamber with three ways on. Well, actually they all require digging, so perhaps way on is a bit of an exaggeration, but one at least has bigger passage visible beyond, and the draught beckons.......

Will it lead to an impenetrable rift or choke, known cave in Dollimore's, or the dream of a bypass beyond the Into the Black choke? The answer will have to wait because we really did have to leave the lead untouched and make our way out. So in the end team incompetence have come away with two promising leads to return to, and a sense of a trip where lots of fun was had, and where against all the odds, much was achieved.

A Sporting Swildons Trip

Peter Devlin [21/1/07]

Simon G and Chris S were planning a Mendip weekend this past weekend and I had got the weekend free as Karen and Catherine were going to Dublin for the weekend. On Saturday I had to get my bottles filled as my compressor is still being mended, so I planned a Sunday jaunt with Chris and Simon. Steve expressed an interest but cried off in the end. The arrangement was to get down to the SMCC hut early as Chris had a 5 o'clock train to catch and we needed to be efficient. Driving down the motorway in lashing rain, I seriously considered turning back and having a slothful day at home instead.

When I got to the hut I found Chris, Simon, Dave, Antony (Chris' brother), Rik and Mike. There was talk about doing the Roundtrip, but the consensus was it would take too long and be too wet, so we all decided for a bounce trip to Sump 2 and back. When we got to the entrance, the stream looked higher than I had ever seen it. Inside the water was definitely high. Some of us went in the wet way which turned out to be well sporting. The pleasure of caving in an active streamway was somewhat tempered by respect for the water.

When we got to Sump 1, all but Mike decided to go through. The water at the ducks approaching Sump 2 was higher than I remember it: at a couple of places I was able to keep my eyes above water but not my mouth. At Sump 2 we discussed it's length. It is too long for me to be comfortable free diving. At some point I plan to come down with a small bottle and dive it. Chris and Rik were up for having a go at free diving it, until Simon came along and being the only one in the party to have gone through, told us it was tight in places and warned Chris off. On the way back we had a furtle where the Roundtrip joins the streamway. Soon we were all back through Sump 1 and on our way back out.

At the ladder, the waterfall was a respectable torrent. Simon used his jammer to self lifeline, then lifelined Chris up. As Chris got a solid drenching, we encouraged him with a round of laughter and sarcastic comments, such that once out of the water he stopped and point out that we would soon be enjoying the pleasure .... I think he might have used the "eff" word. Mike wanted a go at free climbing the pitch, so it was decided that Simon would lifeline him and I would hung back to provide an element of protection from below. After an aborted attempt, it was decided to abandon the climb as there was a party wanting to come down the pitch. Once at the top Mike and I stayed behind to coil the ladder, and the others went on out. When Mike and I got to the place where you can choose the wet or the dry way out, we thought we would be clever and got out the dry way, with the result that we got well and truly lost. In the end we came out the wet way and got back to find folks waiting to get their gear out of my car (they key for which was in my pocket).

Many thanks to all for a cracking trip. I must learn the different ways out of Swildons
[WebEd: I was awarded the "Golden boot" by CUCC in 1981 for losing my way coming out of the Swildon's entrance series and having to escorted out by a party of Boy Scouts...].