Depth through thought

OUCC News 28th February 2007

Volume 17, Number 8

DTT volume 17 Index

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Please keep the reports coming in. Other write-ups of the Wales weekend are more than welcome. First time impressions of caving are particularly fun to read. This week we also have a guest piece from Tarquin.

I am reminded that there are subscribers far and wide who read DTT, but may not have submitted a write-up or caved with us for some time. One of you I keep bumping into in various caving huts, another of you has published a number of articles by OUCC cavers. I'm sure there are more of you out there. It would be great to publish pieces from the wider DTT subscription list ;-).

Here are the trips planned for Hilary Term (2007)

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

A caver in Oxford: No. 3

The Oxford Speleo

Walking past the railings at the side of college one evening, as you have a hundred times before, you consider how widely spaced they are... almost wide enough to fit. No one is in sight. You check against outstretched hand; enough; just. Slowly you slide your head into the space...

The gerbils ran away

Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

(author of, addressed to Keith, referencing

When we originally discovered Hexamine Highways, we had seen that roof tube, and from the way the draught always sucked the smells of our camp up the roof tube, we knew it was the way on. However, where it sunk into the dig, we had decided it really was too awkward a space to dig in, so I congratulate (or commend) you on the hard work you put into turning it into The Gerbil Run.

As part of my ongoing Draenen description writing <>, my brother and I decided to visit the Gerbil Run in Hexamine Highways, to get some pictures and see the passage. At a thin 5 foot 4 inches, my brother is what I would deem a "small" caver, and I am what I consider average (6 foot, not overweight). My brother had already been into the passage, but had stopped at the second squeeze. Armed with knowledge of what lay on the other side, we decided to give it a go.

I regret it. That first squeeze was one of the hardest I have ever managed to get through, mainly caused by having to rotate from my side onto my front, half way through it, in a space that was narrower than my shoulders. I managed to pull a muscle in my arm on the way through. Even my brother found it very difficult. In the end, I got past it only by being helped through with the aid of a tape sling held by my brother.

My brother had found the low passage after the corner to be ok, though a bit tight, but the second squeeze worryingly small, and not really the place to get stuck. I am certainly not capable of getting through with it in its current state.

So we retreated, again with the rotation in the squeeze being almost impossible for my hips, and my arm now not working properly. Not fun at all. This is easily the hardest I have encountered in Draenen, and if your hard work gets you into Big Country's continuation (best of luck - we are counting on you to keep up the discovery tradition!), it is going to become an important route.

So now to the purpose of this mail;

I am not small enough to dig in that squeeze, but it seems you or your digging team are. The first squeeze could be make 100 times easier by the removal of another 2 metres of infill, after it changes from a vertical slot into a horizontal triangular shape, allowing you to remain on your side. In its current state it is dangerously difficult, so I am hoping that you or your team would be willing to enlarge it to make it safer. As for the second squeeze, would a similar enlargement be possible by opening it out from the gerbil-heaven side?

As an entirely separate point, on the description page, I also have a gallery <>. Since I am currently incapable of getting into Gerbil Heaven, I was wondering if any of you had got photos of it (and the helictites beyond it), that I could include in the gallery. I would credit you as the photographer and link to your club site.

A triumph of a Wales weekend.

Lou Maurice [10th-11th Feb ]

As Dave Legg, John Pybus and Pod rushed around in Oxford sorting out food, gear and transport for 17 new cavers and an assortment of old lags; Tim and I were driving passed abandoned cars and admiring snowmen in the central reservation of the dual carriageway on the way to SWCC. We were the advance party, encouraging the Oxford contingent to bring the cars and bus to the bottom of the hill at Penwyllt and walk up through the snow. "Its only about a 20 minute walk" said Tim, liberally applying the word "about". Ignoring our own advice we got the van stuck half way and had to do some emergency road salting in order to find somewhere to pull off and abandon it. Meanwhile Ben dug his car out of the foot of snow in Blaenavon and headed over to join the fun. I hope most people enjoyed the walk up the hill as much as I did - it felt wild and beautiful heading up the mountain with rucksacks of stuff. When the Oxford contingent arrived I believe there was added entertainment value as people walking up the hill got to watch the antics of cavers cars stuck at various points. After a bit of beer and sitting around the fire at SWCC, most people joined the late night sledging session down ever steeper slopes which apparently ended in a snowball fight, started by a small group of people at the bottom of the steepest bit attacking a large group of people above them! I wonder who won?

Despite the nights' frivolities, breakfast was quite efficient and by 12:00 most people were in their caving gear. 5 large groups headed into OFD, and I think everyone had a good trip. The new cavers all did really well, quickly learning the climbing and traversing techniques needed in OFD. Many thanks to Rick on my trip for being a great foothold! The new cavers with me (Natasha, Harry and Mel) began learning the route from the start of the trip, and much to my surprise succeeded in finding the way out from the top of Edwards shortcut with only the help of a survey.

Saturday night was party night and there were squeezing competitions for all sizes (or was it small sizes?). Well done to Lorna, Mardi and Natasha who achieved the first three people simultaneously through the squeeze machine, and to Harry and Julia who beat everyone else at the squeeze machine with Julia ultimately setting a record squeezing through a remarkable six and three sixteenths of an inch (smaller than the width of a page in the log book). Commiserations to the old lags who can no longer fit through the bench or traverse the table. And congratulations to Natasha for doing the lengthways table traverse - I haven't seen any other women manage that. Some old lags (Ali, Tim, Fleur and I) succeeded in standing on a tin and pulling a small loop of string over the whole group from the floor without falling off the tin, beating the students record of three people on the tin.

Despite all the fun of Saturday night, Sunday morning (not very early) saw a surprisingly large number of keen cavers, so three large groups headed back down OFD for more adventures. Well done Dave for organising such a triumph of a weekend, and John for managing to find/borrow enough caving kit for everyone, and well done to all the new OUCC cavers - who proved themselves very competent cavers and partiers. After so much good caving, it would be great to hear accounts of the OFD trips from some of the newcomers in future DTTs.

For those interested in water, the OFD streamway changed rather dramatically during the weekend. On the Saturday morning the 6 inches of snow had started to melt, but during the day it started raining and by the evening the rain was heavy, so by Sunday morning all the snow was gone. When Tim's group went into OFD1 on Saturday the stream was 4 inches below the step - very low (the normal limit for going into the stream is 6 inches above the step), and it remained low throughout this trip. In top entrance of OFD there was a noticeable change during Saturday. By late afternoon there was a lot of water in the inlets and lots of large drips from the ceiling in places that had been dry at the start of the trip. On Sunday morning Paul Quill (of SWCC) went into OFD1 and found the stream was 2 foot above the step; and he said anyone standing in it would have been washed into the sump. On Sunday early afternoon Bens group found the main streamway in Cwm Dwr was just possible to enter (briefly for 100 m between two exit points), but foam marks on the wall showed that it had been one and a half metres higher. A good demonstration of how quickly conditions in the OFD stream can change.

Ogof Draenen: Return to birthday breakthrough with an extra not bonus sandwich

Lou Maurice [17th Feb: Lou, Tim and Ben ]

An uncharacteristic flurry of efficiency and a bit of sweat on the way into the cave saw us back at the breakthrough point off the last sandwich before 2pm. We were immediately excited by the three enticing draughting leads. Lead number 1 was heading in an excellent direction, and 15 minutes of digging left it ready for a spectacular headfirst downwards entry by Ben which was soon followed by a hilarious caver ruckle as Tim attempted to pull him back out by his feet! Lead number 1 had ended in a dig that was relegated to priority number 3.

Spirits still high, I headed into lead number 2 which required no digging. I was soon in a narrow thrutchy rift passage which ended at a constricted corner which looked promising beyond but did need digging. Ben and I dug it while Tim opened up lead number 3. About half an hour later Ben thrutched his way around the corner of Lead number 2 to find a section where it was possible to stand up and look into an enticing tall open rift passage which continued ahead for several metres. Sadly it was too small for a human (even a Julia sized human) and was relegated to dead lead status.

Tim entered Lead number 3, but the promising looking chamber had no open routes on. Swift digging lead into a muddy crawl, but that soon ended at a dig as well. Much despondency. We almost left the area to look at something else, but the draughts were good and we needed to be sure it was all over as we knew we would not be coming back here in a hurry. I dug the passage at the end of lead 3 and Tim and Ben dug the passage in Lead 1. Several hours later we had shifted enormous quantities of mud and rocks but found nothing to suggest a big improvement. Small breakthroughs at both leads enabled us to peer into more passages where the draught disappeared into the distance but which were too small to enter. At both sites the only possibility is a very long term mud dig. Much despondency. At least we would be out in plenty of time for the pub.

However, we looked at some passages off the last sandwich (and lost Tim for a while), and then just as I thought that the crawling was all over Tim disappeared into upper sandwich. I followed rather slowly. Upper sandwich passage is smaller than the last sandwich, and it goes on for almost as long. But the crystals are nice. And there is a potential lead. Then Ben and I lost Tim again. We waited for him at a junction before giving up and heading all the way back along the flat out crawl to find he had gone a different route that avoided the crawl and had been waiting for us. It was definitely time to head out, which was hard work, but we emerged at 10:30 pm just in time to go to the pub where one of the locals asked me "are you going down again tomorrow". "No" I replied, smiling perhaps from satisfaction after a long and productive caving trip but probably because I knew that there would be no more crawling for at least a week.