Depth through thought

OUCC News 7th March 2007

Volume 17, Number 9

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 a cracking write-up from DTT's very own Indiana correspondent, Andy "don't empty your wellies on my head" Morgan aka Indiana Morgan (

Having won a lemming-hood for my own antics in OFD (, I confess I enjoyed Dave's write up ...... possibly a contender to take on the baton from Gavin?

Here are the trips planned for Hilary Term (2007)

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

Automatic for the People

A group of MIT students have designed a rope-climbing device that can carry 250 pounds at a top speed of 10 feet per second.

Looks good, but don't try passing a rebelay with it.... (thanks to Phil Sargent for the info.)

Oxford Speleo No. 4

You pause at the top of the stairwell after leaving a tutorial, observing the ancient wooden steps. With the right rigging though, you wouldn't need to use them at all. As you descend you pick out the points to rig from: a sling round a beam here, a deviation from the banister there. It's the series of knots, loops, Y-hangs, not the old worn woodwork, that carries you into the spring sunshine.

Cavin' USA

Andrew Morgan

Due to the meanderings of a scientific career I now find myself in Indiana, USA. I was excited to find out before I came here that there were caves near by (although I already knew that Mammoth Cave was just up the road)! Not long after arriving, after sorting out the mundane tasks of setting up electricity, gas, etc accounts, I contacted a local caving group. They were more than happy to introduce me to the local caves. On my actual first meeting with them I went digging, and we found probably around 30m of passage in a cave which was reopened that day.

My first proper trip though was to Buckner's Cave, Monroe County, Indiana: only about 5 miles from where I live. I was told not to expect too much, and from descriptions it sounded like a local Goatchurch or Long Churns: the local beginners cave. I was also told that Indiana caves are horizontal and involved a lot of crawling. The evening we went was rather cold, at least -5 C, if not lower; and there were a few centimetres of crisp snow on the ground. As it was cold it was decided to change in the cave. After a short walk down hill the cave entrance loomed

up: it was a rather impressive archway at least 5 metres across. Best of all were the ice formations just inside the entrance. Hanging from the roof were metre long ice stalactites (AKA icicles), and on the floor were ice stalagmites about 30cm high! We had to walk through them to get into the cave, which was ok as they weren't taped off... We walked on down into the cave which opened out to the very large entrance hall -maybe about 10m high and 10m wide, although I'm not very good at estimating! Once inside the toasty warm cave we got changed into our gear in comfort. We headed to the side of the entrance gallery headfirst into a low bedding plane that varied between flat out crawling to hands and knees crawling. This was more like the caving I expected. It then opened out into stooping passage that reminded me of parts of Draenen, but without the white crystals or boulders. The cave was very hot, dry and dusty, and I was a little overdressed wearing a furry suit and cordura oversuit. My co-cavers were simply wearing cotton boilersuits - well I'll know better for next time.

We came to a T-junction and turned right to start a circular route dropping down into a fairly large chamber called 'The Signature Room'. In the past, visitors who visited the cave signed their names on the wall. Some of the signatures dated back to the 1800's, so were 'historic'. Unfortunately in the last 30 years, local students used the cave as a 'party cave' and graffitied much of the cave with spray paint, left loads of rubbish, and broke stal; thus completely trashed the cave. In recent years access has been better controlled and local cavers have removed a lot of rubbish from the cave and sandblasted away a lot of the graffiti. Looking at some of the old pictures they have done a very good job, as they had a lot of paint to remove. Basically they have turned what looked like the side of a New York subway train back into a brown stone cave wall. The job hasn't been quite finished yet, and there was still a fair bit of graffiti in the Signature Room and around the cave. We met the streamway, although it was one of those ones where you think if you pee it would be a more impressive stream, and followed it for a short distance! After a short climb up through boulders (the only climb in the cave) we reached some very impressive size passage. This again reminded me of some of the great Welsh caves: both in terms of size and morphology, but again with a lack of boulders. We stomped through this passage, with me trying to take in its size. A small wriggle down and a crawl and we were back at the T-junction. We headed out through crawls into the entrance gallery, where it was noticeably colder. A swift change and we headed out into the very, very cold night. Many thanks to Dave and Bill for showing me around this interesting cave.

My second trip took place a few days later in the south of Indiana at Fredericksburg Cave. As the trip was at the weekend, and so during the day rather than the evening, it was much warmer getting from the car to the cave compared to my last trip. Again it was decided to change inside the cave again - I could get used to these type of 'changing rooms'. The cave was located at the bottom of a deep and wide depression, and it was quite a difficult climb down in some places. The cave entrance was much smaller than Buckner's Cave, but still had some ice formations just within the entrance. Once through the entrance, the cave opened into quite an impressive entrance chamber, with a stream flowing diagonally through it.

After changing, our large party snaked along the cave. The initial part of the cave was that annoying just below shoulder height which necessitated stooping. We mostly followed the slow flowing meandering stream, apart from taking the occasional dry oxbow. The streamway was like nothing I have encountered in Britain, due to its width and slowness, although when it narrowed and the floor became potted it reminded me of some parts of the main streamway in Draenen.

The survey of the cave was fairly simple: a main passage with one or two side passages then a fork into two branches. We took one of the side passages to see some formations. As we progressed further along the passage it became rather muddy. At some points we had to climb up then slide down some slopes. The climbing up the slopes was incredibly tricky: although they were only a couple of metres high, they were covered in a thin layer of liquid mud and there were no handholds. This resulted in many amusing antics as everyone tried several times to go up them, and were swiftly deposited back to the bottom. We carried on for a while but turned back, as it was quite hard going, and the reward at the end apparently wasn't worth it. Some of the climbs on the way back, which were fun slides earlier, were trickier than the climbs on the way into this passage. We arrived back at the main streamway quite tired and all completely covered in mud. We carried in up the streamway taking the branch to the lake. This passage was a nice walking height passage, with some very nice stalactites along most of its length; unfortunately in several parts of this passage the floor was thick glutinous mud. At the end of the passage was the lake which was very impressive at least 5m wide by 10m long. After a few snacks we headed out. I walked in the streamway trying to clean off my suit, thinking ahead that I didn't really have anywhere to dry off a muddy suit in my new apartment! The water seemed slightly warmer than that of British caves: I think the ambient temperature of the caves here in Indiana is a few degrees warmer. In the entrance chamber we got changed and I was able to wash all the mud off my kit in the stream in the chamber. This was a great trip, although maybe the muddiest cave I have ever been in!

If any OUCC members are ever around in my part of the USA and fancy meeting up for a trip, give me a shout through the club mailing list. The NSS convention (the American version of Hidden Earth) this year is in Indiana, a mere 70 miles away from me; so if anyone is planning on going to this I can offer some local knowledge.

Dry Land 1, Dave Legg 0

Dave Legg

[Cwm Dwr, 11/02/07: Ben Lovett, Rick Padfield, John Pybus, Natasha von Memerty, Oliver Kreitman, Johnny Smith-MacDonald, Dave Legg ]

Having spent the previous fortnight planning the weekend in South Wales it felt good when the Friday night and Saturday morning organisational vortices left me largely unscathed. Having been in OFD but once I didn't have to plan or lead any trips, just second, looking after myself and others in the group. Sunday's trip looked particularly good, with four other experienced cavers and two solid newcomers all I had to do was look after myself. Of course, it's not a novice weekend unless someone has an epic...

Into Cwm Dwr we went, Ben Lovett leading and declaring that we'd better keep our eyes open as he wasn't leading us out again. Through the crawls we went, and then into a maze of passages wherein junction followed junction. Despite lashing a gallon of water down my throat at breakfast I was tired and dehydrated. When we reached a climb down to the streamway, which would take us to Piccadilly, I decided a kip was in order. Ben went down first and decided that a handline was necessary. I lay on a rock and dozed. Natasha, Rick and Oliver went down, listening to Ben's advice, reaching the ground safely. I wondered if there would be something to drink down there.

My turn down, I arose and looked at the climb. A short traverse over greasy rock led to a climb down a crack onto a boulder pile. Nothing too hard, but upon reaching the start of the traverse I decided that if I held the handline taught I would lose my balance as I tried to make the first step out. I put some slack in the line. I put some more slack in. I took a frankly ridiculous loop, upon which Ben said 'Er', having told everyone else to do things quite differently and rather more sensibly. I lifted up a foot to take the first step out and promptly lost my balance. Arse over tit, line wrenched from my grasp, I plummeted head first down a four metre drop. I hit Ben on the way for good measure, sending him cartwheeling down the boulder pile, and judging from the bruises afterwards I must have rattled a bit. All I had time to be aware of was hitting my head and feeling my helmet come off, at which point I fervently hoped I was not going to stop myself with my skull. A split second later I landed upside down, shoulders on two boulders and my head in a conveniently-sized gap between them. Dodged a bullet, scared a few people shitless, and set a damn fine example to the 'novices'!

Epilogue - My only injury of note was to my right ankle, so after a ten minute wait and a pink smartie we were able to complete the planned trip, bar the extra-wide traverses on the way out (can't imagine why). Insult to injury: although I had made a complete arse of myself an X-ray later showed the ankle injury was soft-tissue only. However, in Oxford I fell over on the swollen ankle twice, causing me to tear a bunch of ligaments on a perfectly safe pavement! Dry Land 1, Dave Legg 0.