Depth through thought

OUCC News 23rd April 2008

Volume 18, Number 7

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Digging in The Gerbil Run / Submission Passage

Keith Hyams

Back in the day, when I was - so to speak - going through caving puberty, if you weren't going past the Last Sandwich [Ogof Draenen] then you were going on An Easy Trip. In fact, if you weren't going past the Last Sandwich then you weren't really going on A Trip at all. And there was certainly no point in digging there.

So it was with a certain sense of perplexion that I participated in the morning's 'who's going where' discussion in which the Gerbil Run trip - a dig I'd been working on off Hexamine Highways, this side of the Last Sandwich (DTT 14.5)- was being referred to as 'The Hard Trip'. Huh? Scooby? How did that happen? Fleur explained that whilst I'd been away for the last couple of years, cavers had got older, softer and lazier. I could certainly sympathise with that.

Off we set, Fleur, Pete, John and Martin to Tractor Tracks, and myself, Seedy, Imogen and Eszter to the Gerbil Run. It was over two years since I'd last been down Draenen, and it felt good to be back. We arrived at the breakthrough squeeze in good time, despite being encumbered by digging kit consisting of a full length shovel, a metal bucket, several pasties and an immense mountain of Flapjacks, Chocolate, Fizzy Arseholes and Cherry Bollocks. With the advent of web-publication of DTT, I hasten to add for outsiders reading this, that I am talking about fizzy Haribo sweets rather than diseases hosted by members of the digging party.

Small bits of caves have an uncanny ability to get smaller over the years, and the squeeze we now faced provided a prime example of such tempospeleoconstriction. Despite Chris's having spent around 6 hours inside the squeeze, and my having spent around 12 hours, pulling out mud trowelful by trowelful, we both now surveyed it with a sense of unease. I talked myself through and Eszter followed enthusiastically. The metal bucket was next, but proved to be somewhat larger than the squeeze. After much bending of the bucket and a certain amount of heaving and hoing, we eventually pulled it through, repeating the process again at the next squeeze.

Eszter and I headed on to look at the magical formations of Gerbil Heaven and on into Submission Passage, whilst Chris and Imogen stayed behind to widen the breakthrough squeeze. Eszter, who so far had seemed pretty unimpressed in the constriction of the Gerbil Run, suddenly let out a 'Wow!' as we entered the much much bigger Submission Passage. Fortunately her excitement meant that she took it really rather well when we decided that - rather than dig the hole in the floor for which she'd lugged in the metal bucket - we would actually work on the side passage for which a simple trowel and drag tray would have been much more suitable. It seemed to make sense to do that though, since the side passage (now named 'Metal Bucket') now looked very promising indeed, heading in exactly the right direction to hit The Mystery Streamway just downstream of the Big Country choke, and probably only about 60m away now.

After the time we'd spent widening the previous squeezes, grunting with the metal bucket, and getting paranoid about bad air, we had only a couple of hours left at the dig. We shifted enough mud (easy digging, though would have been easier still with a trowel and a drag tray!) to establish that the passage did continue, and encouragingly so, but that progress for at least the next couple of metres would be have to be earned trowelful by trowelful. Nevertheless, the position and direction of the dig certainly warrants the work that it demands - I just wish I had more energy to supply it!

The long plod out seemed have been made even longer by the intervening years, but we emerged to a wonderfully starry night, a couple of pints in the Lamb and a takeaway curry. Draenen is a funny cave. On the way in it's Britain's most boring cave. At the dig it's Britain's most exciting cave. On the way out it is Never Ever to be returned to. And by the time your in the pub you can't wait for the next trip!

A Silly Caving Trip

Peter Devlin [4 April 08]

Friday night saw me back at the Farm for the Red Rose AGM weekend. I was meeting John Kendall, a GUE cave diver (ie Florida style) whom Rick Stanton had put me in touch with. The plan was to take John caving on Saturday and diving in Joint Hole on Sunday. Jude and Sophie had come back from the Barbon slightly under the influence, so suddenly it seemed a good idea to do a quick caving trip down Bull Pot of the Witches. This was going to be John's first trip, and it was 1 in the morning, so we weren't going to be going far. Sophie expressed the hope that there was no SRT as she was too drunk.

Climbing down the first pitch Sophie wobbled somewhat, making me question the prudence of the trip.

I could see the headline: "Red Rose training officer takes drunken girl on midnight caving trip: major cave rescue follows". Prudence dictated only going as far as the top of the second pitch. Keeping an eye on both John on his first caving trip and Sophie added a frisson to the trip, but I was relieved when everybody got back up the first pitch.

A quick bimble in the upstream section of the cave followed by the entrance rift and we were soon out, having spent about an hour underground.