Depth through thought
OUCC News 20th June 2007
Volume 17, Number 16
|DTT volume 17 Index|
Editor: Peter Devlin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please keep the reports coming in. This week we have great material from the Derbyshire weekend. Many thanks to all contributors. Tash's debut contribution makes great reading. Does doing Titan with an open central maillon position her for next year's lemming award? I note that Jo Whistler's lemming achievement cites persistently caving with her maillon open.
Natasha von Memerty
Approx. 186 metres of torment.
I think I like Oliver's remark on Titan, that it was kinda fun and simple in a slow and painful way. Going down was a bit more fun but the rope was quite thick so it was all still hard work! Going up was possibly sheer torture, in that it seemed to last forever and it almost felt that you weren't actually moving as you could not see the top getting closer, although when you reached the top it was a pleasant surprise. (Although when I reached the top and realized that my mallion had come undone I was a bit concerned.) Titan itself though is amazing. Its sheer size took me a little by surprise, and stepping into the void on the 2nd pitch (or 1st natural pitch) was seriously thrilling. I can understand now why they took the effort to dig all that way.
I really enjoyed the caving in-between the up and the down a lot more, Keith and I went to see the sump which was a very pretty picture and a beautiful shade of blue, and trekking through all the mud to get there was quite entertaining! (Especially seeing Keith attempting to get up a muddy slope! It took five attempts it did!) But I must admit though that I felt a bit of a Titan myself at the end, if a slightly small and grubby one! And everybody greeting you at the top with a smile and a sweet (and a beer!) was a really nice touch. Thanks guys!
(and remind me not to do it again...)
.. Now has a web page.
New issue of Descent. Seems to have in it a large number of obituaries, mostly of notable "golden age" cavers who've finally gone to that great dig in the sky (cue Pink Floyd): Dave Irwin, Ted Whinpenny, Roy Paulson, Jon Watt, Frank Croll, Michael Glanville and others. Not yet amongst these is Jim Eyre - there's an extract from the newly-published volume of his memoirs. I'll get a copy for the club library, if that's OK with the treasurer, and come to that volume one. Jim is of course an utterly unreconstructed sexist bastard of the old school, but none (or not much) the worse for that and VERY funny.
As always, there is a report of a piss-up at an Irish cave symposium; strangely, while in principle these happen only once a year, and Descent is bi-monthly, nearly every issue has a such a report. I think Guinness distorts time.
Gavin's rescue makes it into the year's rescue statistics; "Caver (m39)". Looks like we've another of those year-with-a-zero parties coming up, then.
The most mysterious rescue report? "MRO was requested to attend an incident at Swildon's hole... Following an email sent by a woman to a local MP stating that she was making a protest and would enter Swildon's Hole with minimum food and protective clothing...". Most clueless? "two females, plus three dogs, lost in Box mines... They had taken a pack of tea-lights to mark their return route, but these had extinguished".
Steve Roberts [Derbyshire weekend, 9-10 June 2007]
When I was caving with the Cambridge club, Derbyshire was the only place within a day's drive, so I got to know the easier caves pretty well. Trips down giants were very popular - pretty well every CUCC newsletter included a spoof write up, in epic "alpine Club" style, of a daring penetration as far as Garland's Pot and even beyond. But since those days, now more than 25 years ago, I've not been back many times.
So: eschewing Pybus' laminated route guides - could I find my way to the bottom and out again via the upper route? Would Dave, Vrinda and Yifan put up with me?
It must be said, the crabwalk is tiresome. The only saving grace was that I thought the dreaded "vice" was below the fixed ladder, so when we arrived at the first sump, I realised I must have passed it without really noticing (it's in the section before the ladder...). We backtracked and Yifan spotted the side passage leading on to the bottom. It still wasn't quite sure at this stage whether I'd simply forgotten some bit of the crabwalk, and that we might come back into it, but when we got to the traverse and "bad step" I knew where we were.
It was here that, on one of my earliest trips with OUCC, when 4 or 5 of us were perched on this traverse, that John Singleton emitted a fart so powerful as to hang about in an awful oxygen-excluding miasma along the whole traverse, removing any possibility of breathing.
This time a traverse line had been rigged by persons unknown (in fact the whole cave below Garlands pot was rigged for SRT on nice new rope), so I improvised cowstails from tape and krabs to safety-up the bad step. It's a very easy step - but it is a long way to fall.
Geology Pot laddered, we made our way downstream. Here, having read the description, I had made sure to bring two ladders - not just the first one I have often forgotten, but also another one for the drop beyond that that I have also often forgotten, thinking the first one accounted for all the things one often forgets, if you see what I mean. I fact a handline would be fine for the second drop (Spout Hall) for all conditions within the range for which you should be down there in the first place.
I had also forgotten about the duck - but screaming dealt with that. East Canal was in very low water. We turned back when the mud got to welly-sucking-off depth, where we could just see the gloomy terminal lake around the corner.
Back at the junction with the upper route, we found the climb up into Maginn's rift very strenuous (well I did). We then followed the precept "turn right, even if it looks unfeasible, unless of course it's really unfeasible". This reliably led us to Giant's windpipe, its usual cheery self, and then into what I thought might have been a mistaken wandering into the route to Oxlow (which is in fact well before Giant's windpipe, going this way). A bit of dithering back and forth led to my hearing the main stream along the "mistaken" route, and so then rapidly to the climb down.
Everyone cautiously made their way down, learning the art of friction sliding down a rift. Self-confidence is all! (Or you could trust me, which is probably less reliably sound).
Out to a lovely summer's evening, and a short drive to wine, food, beer, and in my case a zonk-out on the sofa: "poor old bugger, he looks right done in".
The team: Lou, Natasha, Oliver, Rick, Tom, Pete, Keith, Simon.
The journey to Titan was 'interesting', travelling from the TSG, the final track was punctuated by various sizes of pothole (of the road type!) and a slightly scary track, meters from the edge of a quarry pit. I'm not sure what Pete's car thought of the journey, it certainly made protesting noises! Then the entrance to the cave was also a little 'different', with signs for 'deep excavations in progress - keep out'. Looking more like a building site, with scaffolding and electrical wires!
The cave had already been rigged by Henry Rockliff from the TSG who had gone down that morning with a team of 4 - including one person on their first SRT trip! Simon was the brave member of our party who volunteered to go down first. Everyone got down the first entrance without incident.
This was a fairly straight forward (compared with what was to come) 45m pitch. It felt more like a well than a cave, for it is in fact a bore hole, made to access Titan main cavern from above. We all waited in the passage connecting the entrance shaft with the top of the main chamber.
When Simon got down to the Event Horizon around 65m below us, he demonstrated how not to pass a knot-pass, by letting go of the rope so that it was out of his reach. He then shouted rope free! Oliver then came down the rope. After a few complicated manoeuvres Simon and Oliver made it to the bottom of the main chamber having descended the second 55m pitch. After that everyone took it in turn to descend to the bouldery floor of Titan. A few got a bit hung up on the knot pass, but all made it in the end!
Once at the bottom people went off in various groups to explore some of the cave beyond the main chamber. I went off with Pete, and found the far sump, this was really pretty, having exceptionally clear water, the sort of water that seems to go down and down. Almost enough to make you want to be a cave diver (not quite enough, maybe for Pete)! We also found the connection to JH which starts with a few fixed ladders and rope traverse. I'd like to go back sometime and do the exchange trip between JH and Titan.
Finally it was time to head out of Titan. I ascended last. It was weird being on my own at the bottom of such a huge chamber; looking up I could still see Pete's and Keith's light's though, so didn't feel so isolated. Prusiking up wasn't as bad as I had been apprehending, which was a pleasant surprise, soon as only three weeks later I would be in Spain in an even bigger cave!
I was very impressed by Oliver, Natasha, and Rick, all had only recently taken up SRT, and yet they were not intimidated by the beast that is Titan. All in all it was great weekend. Thanks to all the drivers, trip leaders, and everyone who came.
I was nervous before going down the first shaft (40m). I'm an SRT novice, and it's a distinctly unpleasant thought that your life is dependent on 9 mm of rope - that moment of truth when you let go of the side and dangle on your stop for the first time is horrendous.
I was third down, after Simon and Oli. After the first little (!) shaft we waited in a puddle for a wee time while Simon went down the big one - 80 m of vertical terror. We'd heard that there had previously been a knot pass (a what?! Never done one of those before...) in the rope, but that it had been taken out that morning. However, Simon shouted up at us something pretty unintelligible due to the echo, but from which we surmised that the dreaded knot pass was in place - Tim that morning had warned us that if it was, it would be very unwise for us novices to go down. Nonetheless, Oli wasn't letting a little thing like getting stuck over an 80 m drop stop him from having a bit of fun, so down he went... A good half hour later, after much muffled shouting from down below, none of which we at the top could make out at all, there came the shout, 'rope free!'
What the hell's been going on down there, I thought. A lot of time and shouting had passed since Oli went down, and I wasn't at all sure it sounded promising. However, it was either back up or on down; down had gravity on its side, so down it was.
The moment of truth was nightmarish - on the scale of nightmares, even worse than being sleepattacked by Ben in a dark caving hut, and I should know. My voice rose several octaves and a number of words I wouldn't expect my grandmother to say came out as I looked down at...
Jesus, that's a long way down.
Sternly ignoring my mum who was whispering into my ear that 'discretion is the better part of valour', down into the abyss I went. And there, at the bottom of the pitch, was the knot pass.
What took those wimps so long, I thought?! You can stand on the ledge, take your weight off the rope, and whip it off - easy! So I did.
And here, my friends, take a lesson from me - never, ever let go of a rope half way down 140 m of vertical drop. I can reliably inform you that the feeling of watching your one and only link with life swinging off into the blackness leaving you alone on a steeply sloping rock ledge is something akin to having an elephant dancing the polka on your stomach. They say that smoking one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life; I'm pretty sure that watching your rope disappear half way down Titan takes off a good few months, if you have the good luck not to have a heart attack there and then.
As it turned out, I was lucky - by clambering down the ledge a bit, there was a place to clip on, from where I could reach out (for God's sake man, DON'T LOOK DOWN!) and reunite with that blessed piece of rope. A rope which had earlier seemed so thin and fragile now seemed more dear to me than my own bank overdraft facility. I have well and truly learned my lesson.
The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, really. Down to the bottom, went for a clamber down some holes, a bit of a wait filled by singing, and back up. And up. And up. And up, and up, up, up, up and up. And up. And up a bit more. Then up, up and up. And up.
And up. And up. And up. And up.
The most knackered, and exhilarated, I've been in a long time. What a silly sport.
This weekend (9-10 June) saw me in Wales doing the advanced first aid course with WBCRT. It was to be a full weekend, starting at 7pm on Friday, running 9am to 9pm on Saturday, finishing Sunday evening. Two written exams had to be passed on Saturday as would the underground assessment on Sunday.
What differentiates this course is the heavy emphasis of scenarios. On Friday these started out with doing simple primary and secondary surveys, building up to triage scenarios on Sunday morning in which a rescue team arrived at the scene with 2 or 3 casualties in various states of consciousness and panic.
Having barely passed the written exams I was led underground for the assessment. The pre-exams nerves made me feel uncertain and I gingerly picked my way to the entrance to the Brickyard in Top Entrance of OFD. Although I missed a key check for a head injury (checking eye for pupil dilation) I at least realised when asked what I had missed out. Soon the assessment was over and I was free to head down the hill. At Penwyllt we all waited for an hour or so (it felt like an eternity) to the verdict.
Fortunately I passed, with a good number of developmental take aways. All in all, it had been a hard weekend, but I had learnt a lot: plenty of material to practice in future rescue practices! Next practice is 7 July in lnrc: anybody fancy coming along?
The 7th Week trip to Derbyshire was fantastic! I think nearly 20 people came, many of whom were eager to try their hands at Titan - the largest pitch in the UK. I wasn't among the Titan-goers, but I still thought it would be fun to go caving once more before leaving the UK. Tom Evans coordinated the weekend, and cars left from the club hut on Iffley Road in two waves at 6 and 8 PM. It was a three hour drive to Derbyshire, past sheep and cows, and we eventually settled-in at the TSG (Technical Speleological Group) hut in Castleton. The hut is a converted chapel, and Castleton is a cute tourist town with lots of little shops, boutiques, and pubs. Our pub pick for the weekend was the Peaks Inn, just around the corner from our accommodation. We spent some time there on Friday night but most people turned-in fairly early, thinking of the challenges that lay ahead on Saturday.
Saturday morning, the kitchen stirred with the usual breakfast clamor. Mushrooms were chopped, bacon was fried, tea was hunted. Since at least a third of the group was still sleeping, Steve sent a wake-up troupe into the bunk room equipped with pots and pans. Sure enough, it did the trick and we soon had a group of nearly 20 people gathered around the breakfast table, ready(ish) to go caving. Tom, John, and Simon split the group into three trips. I think 8 people signed up for Titan (led by Simon), and 3-4 for trips to Giant's Hole and P8, led by Steve and John respectively. I was in Steve's group to Giant's Hole, along with Yifan and Dave Dale. After searching for some spare batteries, getting into our caving clothes, and gathering the appropriate ropes and ladders, we made a move and the four of us were out the door by 10.
The entrance to Giant's Hole is on a farm amidst sheep and sweet little lambs. According to a book on Peak District caves, Giant's Hole is 3,130m long and 128m deep. We entered with four ladders of varying lengths and some other kit as well, but we wouldn't be using SRT on this trip. The cave was quite wet, and we were (I think) following the streamway most of the way. There was a winding section that had a high ceiling but narrow walls, so we were brushing against the sides all the while. This went on for ages! Apparently we were gradually moving forward, but I wouldn't have been able to tell, since I was kind of disoriented from all the zigzagging. Anyway, being right up against the wall offered a nice view of all the fossils and the scalloped texture of the cave.
Gradually, we used the ladders one by one. The longest pitch was Geology Pit, where we used a 12m ladder (with a safety rope as well). A little duck got us kind of wet, but it was fun and refreshing anyway. Giant's Hole seemed more vertical than the other (few) caves I've been to, and we worked our way down to the terminal sump at the bottom of the cave. It was muddy down there, and the water seemed pretty deep. We could just peer around the corner to see the final pool of water. With our lights shining on it, it was delightfully blue and cast a spiraling reflection on the wall.
We made our way out of the cave via a different route. One notable section was the Giant's Windpipe, a long, narrow, crawling section with water in it. I can't remember ever having a claustrophobic reaction before in my life, but this section kind of freaked me out! There was a queue ahead of me, and I actually started hyperventilating and feeling pretty hysterical. I guess it was a mix of not knowing how long the passage would last, feeling kind of tired, and a newly-discovered fear of water in tight spaces. So anyway, obviously, there wasn't any threat, so I was able to calm down and lure my silly brain out of panic mode. The passage was over soon enough, but boy was I relieved to be out of there! There were some other exciting challenges ahead-traversing and climbing and such. In total, we were underground for 6 hours, and we left with the satisfaction of a really excellent trip.
Things back at the hut were easygoing: we climbed a maple tree, helped Steve cook dinner, and eventually headed to the Peaks Inn once again. It was a few hours before the Titan crew showed up, and when they did they seemed knackered, but really pleased with their adventure overall. We had some visitors at the pub that night: a few OUCC members who don't live in Oxford. JC, I think, and someone named Sarah with her husband.
Trips organized for Sunday included Giant's Hole, Oxlow Cavern, and some climbing, but - feeling kind of tired - I was tempted by the idea of just roaming around the hills with a book. Then Lou started chatting with some local cave divers who were getting supplies from the TSG hut where we were staying. They were planning to drop-off some gear at Peak Cavern (aka "The Devil's Arse"), and said they'd be happy to bring others along for a short, low-key trip. Usually, cavers aren't allowed through Peak Cavern at this time of year, as the front section is a tourist attraction and cavers/divers would distract from the guided tours. Luckily, the local divers had a working permit which gave them (and us) access. This sounded like a great offer, so I decided to join in, along with Lou, Tim, John, and Simon G.
Peak Cavern is very close to the TSG hut where we were staying, so we walked there through the quaint town of Castleton. The entrance to Peak Cavern is dramatic and beautiful, set beneath limestone cliffs, and is apparently the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles (20m wide, 30m high, and 100m long). It was surrounded by lush green trees, lots of moss and ferns, and nesting birds. According to the helpful tourist information, for hundreds of years the spacious entrance chamber housed a whole community that made ropes for local mines.
The cave divers leading the trip (Bob, Jim, and one other) presented the working permit at the ticket counter and we proceeded into the cave. We turned off our lights and ceased conversation, so as to not draw attention to ourselves while the tours were in session. Lights off wasn't a problem because the chamber had a pathway, handrail, and some lighting installed. Once past the entrance chamber, we went through a small gate to a downward passage. There was a metal slide in place as well, which was fun, but not sufficiently slippery or steep for much movement. Once down the slope, we walked for a bit, and came to a wallow. The water was around mid-thigh, and the passage was tall enough for us to stand-though hunched over. Many of the people in the group were carrying heavy diving supplies, which must have been quite awkward in this part.
Most of the cave was very spacious with a high ceiling. We went past a small waterfall and waded in shallow water quite a bit. Parts of the cave were sandy, and there was a lot of clambering over rocks and boulders. We reached the intersection where the cave divers would split off to go drop-off gear, and they said we could come along to see them off-as long as we weren't fussed by waist-high water. Since we weren't, we joined them, crawling through a smaller passage which led to a different part of the streamway. The divers equipped themselves with oxygen tanks and went off through the water. We turned around, and one of the divers, Bob, took us to see a different part of the cave. He had to pick up an empty dive canister from over there anyway. [Later, we learned that Bob was in the party of Neil Moss, a twenty-year old who-in 1959-lost his life in a section of Peak Cavern that has since been blocked off.]
We gradually made our way back out of the cave, clambering over rocks, back past the waterfall, and going through the wallow once again. When we reached the entrance chamber, we paused for a minute as a tour was in-session. They spotted us anyway, and the tour guide made a joke about monsters (we were muddy and hidden in the dark). In any case, the grand entrance was just as beautiful on the way out. It was a gorgeous day, and the trees pulsed vibrant green to our dark-adjusted eyes. We were all grateful to have had the locals show us this beautiful cave, and we headed back to the hut. Not long after, a few cars began returning to Oxford.
I'm not sure when I'll go caving again, but being introduced to caving in the UK was definitely one of the best parts of my year here. Exploring caves and stepping on rural soil helped me feel a little connected to this region, and let me sink my roots in a way that concrete just doesn't allow for. I like how caves reinvigorate our senses to the wonders of our world, and allow us to move in ways that we don't usually move. For me, they still maintain a certain mystique that is so powerfully distinct from the urban landscapes we navigate daily.