Depth through thought

OUCC News 9th May 2007

Volume 17, Number 13

DTT volume 17 Index

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Please keep the reports coming in. Rick's write-up of the Wales weekend brought back happy memories of my attempted 1 to Top trip (DTT15.6) and my Cwm Dwr to Top trip. Maybe we need to enrich our risk assessment to include glove entanglement.

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

Weekend in Wales

Rick Padfield [28/29 April 07]

After a good team effort preparing the weekend from Human Resources Manager Lorna, Hospitality Services Officer Tim, and myself, the Speleological Exploration Equipment Quartermaster, we had a remarkably quick turn around at the hut, kitting out nine students, mostly novices. A painless journey to Wales, to end up in the gorgeous little WSG (or some similar assortment of letters) caving hut, where we quickly launched the novices into the deep end of the caver's idea of a good time, with the table being rapidly cleared after supper for table traversing, and the bench for a squeeze. Soon after declaring the table impossibly thick, Tim proved us wrong by succeeding, and Tash soon after restored some of the pride of the younger generation by managing too. The novices were beginning to understand how cavers manage to injure themselves more often above than below ground...

The next day, we split into various groups, all exploring various sections of OFD. Myself, Harry, and Lorna (all of whom have been caving a few times before), with Tim and Keith (old lags), did the through trip from OFD1 to top. What a brilliant trip - it's got bits of everything! Tight and wiggly through the choke past Hush sump [editor: try lugging dive gear through it ;-)], some little climbs here and there, and the awesomely cool main streamway, with its series of plunge pools. On the one pool that has no easy way of traversing round, I made a valiant though unsuccessful attempt to jump for and swing off the little overhanging rock handle:

I made it, but got tangled in my own gloves, couldn't let go, and fell straight in... Tim next, who took a different method - running the wall of death, relying on centripetal force to stop him from falling in. Success! Lorna and Keith took the safe option of an aided jump, while Harry attempted Tim's method, with slightly less success. Harry was unfortunately doomed to get wetter still, as a slightly over-enthusiastic helping hand from me over one pool later on launched him straight into the next - sorry, Harry!

Up the streamway past the stunningly spectacular marble showers, and out through Maypole inlet. Unfortunately, Tim, demonstrating to the group how to get up one particular climb, twisted in slightly the wrong angle slightly too far, and partially crippled himself. Cue worried thoughts from the rest of us - none of us knew how to get out without him! Thankfully, after a few minutes rest, Tim decided he could walk himself out, treating his left leg rather like a marionette's, lifting it up after himself every step. Everyone (especially Tim!) coped very well, and we made it up Salubrious and out in good time. Commiserations to Tim, but he didn't change what was for us a brilliant trip - for me personally, my best yet.

After another evening's entertainment (including the inexplicably stupid dent-the-beer-can-on-your-head-before-it-dents-you game), and a good lie-in the next morning, we again divided up. Those who were too bruised/exhausted/aching opted for an above surface walk, while the rest went either down Little Neith (?) River cave, or Daren Cilau. I was in the group with Lou, Ben, Simon and Nick (the latter two novices) going down Daren. Oh, what a silly sport! After strategically placing a couple of cans of beer at the entrance for our return, down we went. First through the vice, a rifty bit that gets skinner towards the bottom, so you have to support you body up above using your hands on the floor, then through the canals (ooooh, water down the back!), and through the tight spots of playschool (four windows in the shapes of a square, circle, triangle, and something else). The circle was especially tight, and the only place I got properly stuck on the trip.

We emerged from the crawl (I can stand up!) after an hour, went through the boulderchoke and headed off towards the antlers through Jigsaw passage. Ben's notion of time here showed itself somewhat lacking - "forty minutes crawl, followed by an hour to the antlers".

Several hours after entering the cave, we were beginning to suspect the antlers may have been a figment of Ben's imagination. Things became more alarming when we entered a large chamber with an inflatable doll hanging from the ceiling in a, shall we say, inappropriate manner - is this some voodoo cult that Ben's leading us to?!

However, after a while in Apocalypse Way, we began to see that this was worth the entrance series crawl - amazing white stuff (Anthodite?) on the walls, in the most improbable shapes, culminating in the ridiculous antlers, which stick up at jaunty angles - as though saying "Ha ha, now you've got to get all the way out again!"

And indeed we did, though significantly faster than on the way in - perhaps with the knowledge that every squeeze took us closer to the holy grail of those two cans of beer. This trip has to embody the best and worst of caving. The worst, because frankly, it's just silly. What sort of a person, I asked myself repeatedly while contorting my body into shapes it definitely wasn't designed to go into, does this by choice?! And the best, because you truly do feel so remote down by those antlers - that you've just achieved something truly great, and that you have the privilege to see what not many other people ever get to see, as a result. An awesome trip!

Generally, a brilliant weekend - as far as I can tell, everyone enjoyed themselves massively, and for me it was definitely my best weekend so far. Thanks a million to all those who lent kit, led trips, drove, and most importantly, everyone who went for being so easy-going and up for a good time!

Sunday Fun in Little Neath

John Pybus [28/29 April 07]

It was 4am and Ben was sleeping uncomfortably in his hotel room somewhere in Staffordshire. Meanwhile, in a stone cottage on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, Rick was tiptoeing through a hut full of cavers, heading back to his pit after a trip to the toilet. In the hotel bed Ben felt movement in his room. Half awake he sensed the burglars making off with his kit. No doubt they had his wallet, his credit cards and more. This was no time for sleepy thought - this was time for action!

I was woken by a scream and a crash. Sleeping on the downstairs benches had seemed like a good idea a couple of hours before: No need to disturb those in the bunkroom upstairs, a place right in front of the fire, and closer to breakfast when morning came. In the dark I could make out Ben, still screaming in his best burglar-scaring voice, having fallen off of the other bench onto the flagstone floor. A figure was heading for the bunkroom stairs and Ben was up and after it. Intruders!

Delinquents from nearby towns?? I joined in the shouting. The question of exactly what type of attack we were confronted with was passing through my mind when, somewhere, a light was switched on. Ben saw just enough to alert his mind to the fact that he was now in a caving hut - his Stafford conference had finished the day before. As the shouting died down, Rick's calm voice of explanation could now be heard. Ben nursed his foot, whacked against the stone stairway in the chase. The whole hut was wide awake.

It was not an early start the next morning. Once the occupants of the bunkroom had plucked up the courage to venture downstairs, Ben and Rick made up and (foot neatly taped up) Ben volunteered to lead a trip to the Antlers in Daren Cilau, taking along Simon and Nick - two keen novices. After the previous day's trips in OFD, many of the remaining group were tempted by a day in the sunshine. I fancied a shorter trip, but something I hadn't done recently, and settled on Little Neath River Cave. There followed a protracted process of trying to put a team together. People were on the trip list, then on for walking.

Neofleeces were promised; lent out; returned in favour of a walk; then reclaimed - perhaps a walk is too pedestrian. Kit was laid out and packed. Minds wavered and changed again - almost everyone had been both definitely not coming and up for the trip. People were enticed with Mars bars. Minds changed again. Two cars pulled away from the WSG hut.

By the time we left for the Nedd Fechan valley we were a team of nine.

Simon and I the "experienced leaders": I'd done the start of the cave once on a school trip many years ago. Simon doing even better: when he'd last visited the cave as a kid with his parents, half of our team were yet to be born. We were joined by pod and Keith, Lorna, Mike, Tash, Tish and Nina. There was no water in the riverbed as we changed by the bridge and we were beginning to wonder if our trip would be rather too dry, but the water sinks just round the corner (on its way into Bridge Cave) and we wandered up the gentle Nech Fechan river as it meandered in the afternoon sun.

The entrance to Little Neath is a hole less than two feet high at floor level in the bank. Several inches of water pour in straight from the river. Anxious not to give anyone time to wonder about their commitment to the trip, I brushed away the cobwebs from the passage and dived in.

Inside, the entrance series is not any bigger than from the outside. It follows round several tight corners with plenty of opportunity to get friendly with the river water. There is a lot of material washed in from the surface and I had to remove a stick wedged across the middle of the passage, not to mention a number more spiders webs.

Rounding one more small corner, the way on looked too tight to pass. A rift about 2 feet or so high, but less than a foot wide and with plenty of jagged edges sticking out - that couldn't be right? Feeling under the waterline the passage belled out. It was possible to slot my feet in and move forward passing my whole body slowly underneath the constriction with just my head and helmet fitting between the walls.

Watching people's faces as they rounded the corner to the duck was fun, but once they knew how to approach it, it was easy enough. Any part that you'd managed to not to get wet on the way in was in danger though; the only bits that remained dry being above the chin.

Beyond the duck the passage widened and continued for a bit as easy crawling and stooping passage. Soon we could stand up and follow the small stream into the open space of Sand Caverns. From here we took a detour up into Mud Hall. Seeing this on the survey in the hut that morning, I'd imagined this as a chamber full with gloopy pools of sticky mud, so it was rather a disappointment to find a dry sandy cavern. It was pretty though, with gour pools on the floor and some lovely stal in places on roof.

Back in sand caverns we joined junction with the main streamway, and followed it up to see the sump. The water coming in from Bridge Cave was much colder than the Little Neath inlet, and flowing more quickly too. Heading back downstream again we came to the start of the canal. This was a 150m long passage, about four or five metres wide but only two or three feet high. Half full of water, this was partly a matter of crawling along with head held above water, but the easiest method was to float downstream paddling off of the rocks below with hand and feet. Flippers would have been pretty effective.

Once the Canal had opened out into a large boulder-floored junction we stopped for some food: Mars bars and sweets to stave off the cold of wet cavers. Continuing downstream the cave changed character, the passage was high and wide, often 8-10m, with the river flowing much as it did in the surface above. We climbed over large blocks, ducking into streamway in places where the roof dipped to form a low crawl. We didn't quite follow the passage to the sump. I'd promised people a short trip and, mindful of the time and people getting cold, we turned round in the chamber shortly before.

Although I'd not been so far in on my previous trip, I knew from the survey that there was a bypass to the Canal on the way out. The thought of the long crawl going against the stream didn't appeal to anyone so at the junction we headed up a dry passage in what seemed to be the right direction. To quote the guide book: "The North East Inlets are an extensive series of both wet and dry passages and involves a lot of crawling." We can attest to all of this being true. Not knowing which turning led back towards the entrance we were reduced to working it out by a process of trial and error: Lorna making a choice at each junction, and then following the passage until we could get no further or it became obvious that it wasn't the route out, before back tracking to try again.

It was pod who spotted the way through, just as we were beginning to wonder if we'd missed something obvious. It was soon clear that it was right. Worn and getting bigger the passage started to dip downwards back towards the entrance passage. As we climbed down a series of gour pools into the entrance water it was immediately noticeable how warm it was. We were now used to the standard cave water in the rest system, and with the river water at its warmest in the late afternoon, it felt almost like bath water as we ducked into the stream on the way to the surface.

While the water in the duck held no fear, by now some limbs were tired from two days of caving, and we made steady progress round the sharp corners and constricted climbs of the entrance. Crawling out of the cave into the warm river and unseasonal sun, there was no point walking to bank. As wet through as we could get, we sat in the river eating the remaining chocolates, and pouring helmets full of water over Simon's head. We thought of a quick pop into the Bridge Cave before heading back, but decided against it in favour of stopping for ice-cream at the side of the road en route to the Cottage.

It's hard to imagine why it's been so long since the club visited Little Neath River Cave. A system over 7km long (8th longest in Wales), there's plenty to see and while you can imagine it being off-putting on a November's night it makes an almost perfect Sunday trip on a summer's day.