Depth through thought

OUCC News 7th February 2007

Volume 17, Number 6

DTT volume 17 Index

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Please keep the reports coming in. This week we have the first contribution from a mysterious Oxford based caver. I have it on good authority that there will be more musings from this enigmatic contributer in future editions.

Here are the trips planned for Hilary Term (2007)

South Kerry: We have received : "Just a quick note to ask you a favour. We are setting up an Iveragh/ South Kerry website which will include information on hillwalking in the locality. I was wondering if any of your members have been hillwalking in this area. We would be very interested in their comments and feedback. Best Wishes, Breda Barry,"

A caver in Oxford: No. 1

The Oxford Speleo

On the way to a nine o'clock lecture you cycle over a man hole cover and catch the sound of flowing water below. Transported away from the High St. traffic your mind follows the underground stream, close but just out of reach, like the sound of a streamway heard through the gaps in a boulder choke.

Pissing in the Wind

Fleur "the roof is falling on my head" Loveridge

Being overmanned for capping at the end of Rainbow Canyon on Saturday, Pete Talling, Imogen Furlong and I decided to take a long overdue look at Piss Pot Passage. I'd never even heard of the place until a year or two ago, when discussing leads in Ogof Draenen with Ben Lovett. Piss Pot is a high level passage, off MS&D, that was pushed by Ben and Pete Bolt soon after the Dollimore's breakthrough. It is so called because whilst others were walking for kilometres down Luck of the Draw, Ben and Boltie were grovelling away on their knees in Piss Pot. Ben reckoned that no one had been back since that first push and survey trip and so it was about time someone had a second look.

So off we went. Piss Pot transpired to be much like a lot of the high level in Draenen: small rifts and mostly filled phreas, with lots of dry mud and sand and also loose rock in places. Imo and I scored two all for bits of the roof falling on us. There were a few side passages, of which the most interesting appeared to be an undescended pitch in a rift that was probably about 5m deep, but we mainly kept following the draught. Cos, boy, did it draught!! The best draught I've felt in the cave for ages. The draught took us through a number of tightish bits, a section where we needed to knock a lump off with the crowbar (being a team less thin than Ben and Boltie) and a number of flat out crawls in mostly filled passages. Then about 200m in, we arrived at a small breakdown chamber. The draught was as strong as ever, but there was no way on. What a pisser. And scratched on the left wall was a survey station"15/12/96 PISSPOT 40".

We ferreted briefly in the breakdown. The draught was coming out of straight ahead, likely the main passage continuation, but this was pretty much filled to the roof with blocks and then sand. It was easy digging, but didn't look like we could get through quickly. Would need a drag tray and a few trips. But that draught! It was sadly that we turned around, checking a few side leads on the way out. There was plenty of diggable stuff, but nothing that took the air like the breakdown at the end.

It was a long trip out. I wasn't feeling too fit and my knees were the most sore I've ever known. Back a Blackwalls in the small hours, Tim and Ben arrived from Rhys and Mandy's wedding and we enthused about the draught. Somehow, the surreal site of Ben in shoes, a suit and tie and head torch at 2am was a fitting finish to the day, before we all collapsed with our respective exhaustion. Meanwhile, team capping had made good progress with the boulders in Rainbow Canyon, despite a dodgy baterry. The trouble is, now we've got two good leads beyond the Last Sandwich. Will my knees ever forgive me?

Washfold Pot

Geoff O'Dell

[Yorkshire weekend Jan 27/28]     Washfold Pot had been described to me as the easiest Grade 5 in the dales, and all the information and previous OUCC write-ups had indicated that a competent party ought to be able to bottom it and be out in under 4 hours. Perhaps this contributed to an even later start than usual. I had driven up from Northampton that morning and had arrived in time for breakfast at 10.30am. I could have eaten lunch as well before we departed Bull Pot Farm. We weren't as late setting off as John Pybus' group though, as they didn't get underground until 4pm!

As none of our group of Dave L, Eliza, Richard S and myself had ever been to Washfold Pot before, a little bit of map reading was required before we arrived at a lonely farmhouse some way along the road past Horton & Alum Pot. Whilst I failed to get any response from the inhabitants, Dave noticed a Washfold Pot permit in the window of a vehicle close by - we were in the right place and not alone - CUCC had beaten us to the punch.

A pleasant stroll across the hillside (more of that later), following a dry stone wall brought us without deviation or mishap to the fenced enclosure surrounding the 'window' into the Washfold Cave/Washfold Pot system. A CUCC rope on the entrance climb confirmed their presence in the cave. Dave lead the way, no doubt relieved that he wouldn't have to rig the cave whilst hanging on his assortment of borrowed equipment, at least if he could persuade the CUCC chaps to let us use their ropes. Given the problems he seemed to have descending, and passing re-belays and deviations, utilising the stich plate and part time light he was using, rigging would I suspect have been considerably more inconvenient. I of course, could see none of this being right at the back, but his vocalisations lead me to believe he wasn't always a happy chappie.

After the initial climb down the cave started off as a meandering rift, requiring a few clambers up and down to negotiate various blockages and narrowings. Another climb up, followed by a squeeze through a short decorated bedding plane, and two more climb downs lead to the head of the first and biggest pitch, a fine free-hanging 40m, with a blustery shower of spray on the lower half. Unfortunately when we arrived at the pitch head the CUCC chaps & chappess had still not descended, which whilst it meant we could ask, and they were happy for us to use their rigging, meant we would be behind them for the remainder of the trip.

The 40m pitch, when I eventually got to see it (nearly 2.5hrs after entering the cave) had a slightly awkward take-off and two deviations to direct the rope away from the waterfall. Richard was just attempting to pass the first of these as I peered down the shaft. Suspended in the centre of the pretty much circular shaft, he was attempting to reach the deviation which hung tantalisingly about a metre away. Each time he pulled on the rope it 'helpfully' came up the pitch and through the krab, leaving him suspended no nearer the deviation cord. A sharp tug and it came through fast and ineffectual. Gentle 'softly softly pretend I'm not here whilst looking the other way' tugging brought him closer....... only to slip back when his fingers clutched at it only inches short! Several attempts later he hooked a fingernail over the krab and pulled himself in.

At the second deviation it looked likely he would have to repeat the frustrating procedure, only to have the tape pull off its chockstone and send him penduling across the shaft. We decided to abandon that deviation for want of a good belay, and he abseiled down the bottom of the pitch. I reached the initial deviation and considered my own tactics. Firstly I thought I would try the 'swift pull' technique. It failed, but did start me swinging slightly, and by accentuating this with small tugs on the rope I was able to increase its amplitude to the point I could grasp the krab and haul myself in.

At the bottom of the pitch the cave reverted to its rifty nature, but straighter and with the floor gradually falling away. A series of traverses on false floors were interspersed with the 'chockstone climbs', a series of free-climbs apparently devoid of any jammed boulders. Progression downwards was made either by bridging between the walls, or hanging onto flakes on the right hand wall. Part way along this rift we came across the Cambridge bunch once more, who were now commencing their outward journey having decided against the final short pitch series to the sump. Three of their five were fairly inexperienced and they were making slow progress towards the entrance. My sneaky plan of turning back before them was now well and truly quashed, and instead we picked up their unused tackle sacks to continue towards the bottom of the cave.

As a slightly strange interlude to our Yorkshire caving trip, Eliza got into a long conversation with a diminutive Italian caver(ess) from Bari. "I'm veerry short" says she, struggling on a climb. "That's because you're standing in a hole" says I. "No, I am very short!" says she. "No, you're definitely standing in a hole!" says I - I don't think she got the joke. Anyway, after some excited Italian chatter and celebratory photographs we proceeded on our way.

A couple of climbs further on we reached a cascade, and below that a split pitch of around 9m (the 2nd & 3rd pitches). The first section of this was straightforward but the proximity of the stream dictated a swing out to a re-belay off a prominent nose of rock, to ensure a drier descent on the second half of the pitch. I had just completed rigging this off a tape when the others shouted down that time was getting on, and that if we were to meet our ETO we would need to start moving back up the cave.

I just had time to drop the pitch into a spray lashed chamber, and peer around the next corner where the water fell another 8m in a welter of spray into the terminal sump. Well at least one of our party got to see it. The downside of the preceding wet pitch was that I was now soaked through, and whilst this was fine while we kept moving, it was to prove uncomfortable later on. Richard and I de-rigged and started back up the rift climbs, rather hoping that by the time we reached the big pitch all the others would be above it. No such luck! The last of the Cambridge team was on rope, and we therefore settled down to a long and draughty wait. Dave courageously offered to swap round and come up last, and whilst Eliza & Richard waited in ear shot of the pitch, Dave and myself retreated a good way down the passageway.

40 minutes later we were having a fair old shivering competition, sitting huddled together on a tackle sack of rope. I think I won! Starting to prussik up was, for once, a pleasant and eagerly anticipated chore, as at least it warmed me up. Dave followed utilising his selection of borrowed jamming equipment, a rather ineffectual 'pomp', and my old Petzl chest jammer, which settled back into 'Spanish mode' and slipped regularly - lucky it was only 40m and not 880m. My 15.5hr exit from La Texa is vindicated!?

Hauling up the ropes and tackle sacks was messy in the cramped confines of the traverse preceding the pitch, but given a little re-packing we were soon on our way out through the entrance series' rifts and squeezes. Combined tactics overcame these slowly but surely, as by now we were well past not only our ETO, but also our call-out time. 'Face saving' by now rested entirely in the hands of Eli & Rich who had hot-footed it for the exit and the mobile phones stashed in the car. Fortunately they were able to get a message through to John & Chris who themselves had only just beat their call out back at Bull Pot Farm.

Dave & myself reached the surface at 11pm, over 8hrs after slipping underground. The walk back to the car seemed three times as long, as wet through, the icy blasts and sleety rain penetrated to the skin. Fortunately we had the excuse now of having to race to the pub in Horton to meet up with CUCC and return their equipment, and make last orders of course!

The fire at Bull Pot Farm warmed up my exterior, but it took John's fiery chilli to warm up the inside, and glad of it I was too!