Depth through thought

OUCC News 27th February 2008

Volume 18, Number 6

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

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Tooth Cave

Hilary Greaves [16 February 2008]

Steve told me to go down Tooth Cave, on the Gower peninsula in South Wales.

"Going lead in the sump at the end," he said, "don't listen to the sump index, the bedding plane at the bottom of the tight vertical rift didn't feel 0.3m high at all, it felt big."

Inspired by this, I derailed a plan Pete and I had made to dive Porth Yr Ogof, and a replacement plan was made to visit Tooth on Saturday. Penwyllt not being on the way to the Gower, we crashed at my parents' place in Cardiff on Friday night. After a leisurely breakfast, during which my mother managed to break all the rules about mothers not having a clue what their offspring's activities are like ("it must be a rather small proportion of trip time that you actually get to spend underwater" and "it must be jolly heavy and awkward carrying all that gear through a cave" being two of our favourite remarks), we made a beeline to the west, arriving at the cave around 11.30. Pete whooped with joy at our having found the cave. At this point I remembered that Steve had told me that the cave was gated and that we'd need to get the key from Penwyllt. I cursed with irritation and self-disbelief. Pete laughed. A lot. We went to Penwyllt to get the key.

At 3.30 we were back at the cave again, kitted up and ready to go. We had decided just to take one 3l cylinder each, to get us both through the "almost free-diveable" intermediate "Big Sump", and to get one of us into the sump at the end for a recce, so the carry was relatively civilised. We dropped a ladder pitch that we were surprised to find just inside the entrance (fortunately we had taken a ladder and rope to the entrance just for the hell of it) and headed on down the cave. Pete unfortunately did not get much further than that, as he decreed a large space between boulders "tight" :) a few minutes further in.

Team This Cave Is Tight went to the pub; I was left alone with the darkness, the gear and my thoughts.

I generally dislike solo caving (at least I thought I did), but I quickly got into this trip. Beyond Pete's turning-back point, the passage layout got quite complex. Not wanting to lug the diving gear along with me when I anyway wasn't sure I was going the right way, I ditched it and crawled on, choosing what looked like the more obvious way on at 6 or 7 not-completely-obvious junctions, only occasionally finding passage tight enough to elicit the "f*ck this" reaction and a change of direction, and leaving a trail of cairns to find my way back.

Eventually I broke out into large walking passage. Dry (to my disappointment - I was trying to find "the main streamway"), but big. I turned left and explored for a few minutes; at this point the passage started looking less promising, so I retraced and tried the opposite direction. After a few more minutes this took me to a climb down and, just when I had been beginning to lose hope... a lined sump! Far too hot after crawling in a wetsuit for over an hour (WHY was I wearing 14mm of neoprene and carrying diving gear through small passages, AGAIN??), I jumped into the sump pool with great relief, sticking my head underwater, waiting five seconds for the water to evaporate from my face, doing it again.

I went back to the gear (which only took 20 minutes, now that I wasn't route-finding) and dragged everything except the second cylinder to the sump (30 mins). I kitted up and wasted a while trying to follow the line through a thought-provoking tight section - going three-quarters of a body length into the passage, reversing out again, one body length in, out again, one and one eighths body lengths in, out again. Almost free-diveable, my arse, I thought. Then I realised that there was a bloody great open passage below, and the (un-intermediate-belayed) line had just floated up into a silly place.

After that the dive went uneventfully, although it was a damn sight longer than *I* would ever consider free-diving... almost free-diveable, my arse... [What I think I said was "when it's really dry you can walk through it". Steve]

In the sump pool at the far side I found an old headset and battery, which was encouraging, since the Proc 13 writeup  had mentioned Chris dropping a light into a sump pool at some point. However, beyond this point things stopped making any sense. There was approximately 8m of passage, going away from the sump pool, round a 90 degree right-hand bend and up a slope, and then terminating in roof phreas. There was a cobbled-up slot at floor level, going back underwater, that would need digging. And there was an oxbow. That was it.

Puzzled, I headed out, getting out of the cave around 10pm to find a friendly (and slightly cold) Sherpa waiting at the entrance. Having looked at a survey of the main route (but without side-passages drawn on it) that we eventually found back at the SWCC hut, I still don't understand where the route I followed branched off from the route to "Big Sump". Irritatingly, I hadn't had my compass out for most of the trip, so I can't match passage directions to the survey.

This one needs a return trip, in lighter caving gear, and with a survey and compass, to figure out the lay of the land...

...Anyone for a Sunday trip sometime?