Depth through thought

OUCC News 25th February 2009

Volume 19, Number 5

DTT volume 19 (2009)

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Andrew Morgan

Trips this term:

Gear Review: Wellies

Steve Roberts

I’ve searched for years (literally!) for a good replacement for my increasingly worn out Dunlop Suretreads. (Gavin tells me you can in fact still get Suretreads, but as far as I can tell, they don’t have the steel insole any more, which I especially like for prussiking and knobbly cave floor protection for my feet.)

I recently bought a pair of safety wellies from this lot: . (In fact their model 538: ) Steel footplates, steel toecaps, good rubber. £15.52 plus VAT and postage. It’s taken a few weeks for them to have had a field trial. I can now report that they are ace: the veritable cojones de cano. Grippy, comfortable, and the sharp bits of caves do not penetrate to the feet.

They go up to size 13 – good for Jamie “bigfoot” Jordan, and others of that ilk, and down to size 3, so even the most fairylike of female cavers should be catered for. They are red and black, as all proper caving wellies should be. The only downside is that they are a bit heavier than most wellies, but that is what you pay for solidity. Oh, and there’s a neat little step behind the heel for easier doffing after a good trip. Top stuff.

Er Wan Dong

Fleur Loveridge [Continued from last week's DTT (DTT 19.4) ]

Lucky Strike

The following day I was desperate to go caving back in Er Wan Dong. The thought of the 20m high Lucky Strike Passage just waiting to be walked into was eating into me, but it was a struggle to get other people's enthusiasm going. Finally we had assembled the first wave of me, Pete, Tim and Lou to explore Lucky Strike (north) and second wave of Rob, Hilary and Mark Smith to go for the open lead south. I was pleased that Pete and Lou were suitably impressed by the size of the junction chamber, despite the mud, and we moved quickly to survey onwards. The passage narrowed a little, but was still high, and with a beautiful mud cracked floor and mudbanks. After only a few survey legs we passed a junction, which itself led to four ways on. Strangely the main passage was going down, as north should have been upstream.

After a few hundred metres we arrived at a drop down into a pool, but there was also a pitch up and much more black space beckoning. But could we get there? Lou and I measured and sighted the survey leg and Tim scribbled in the book, whilst Pete went furtling. He found a side crawl, in cracked mud, obviously, that bypassed most of the up section except for a 3m climb at the end. Tim and I joined him, leaving Lou at the last station as we hoped to survey bypass the bypass. Pete was trying to cut steps in the mud climb to get up, but it didn't quite work. Then we tried lassooing some small stal, but couldn't get them. So we went for the human pyramid approach, and I climbed up Tim and Pete to belly flop magnificently on the top. I then made an entry for the belay of the year award by tying a sling to a mud cornice to allow the others to get up.

Again there was amazing cracked mud floor everywhere and I struggled to believe the whole place, vast as it was, really filled up with water. Sadly a few more survey legs brought us to some avens and the end of our explorations in this passage. I couldn't believe it was finally over. But there was still the side passages, and so we put the disappointment behind us and went to have a look.

In fact soon we were all excited again. Although much smaller than the main passage, the side lead was still mostly walking sized, occasionally stooping and a beautifully round phreatic shape. Covered in mud, of course. But we were off again and again moving north with the strike. In fact the passage just never stopped. We killed a couple of side leads, but left three open and unentered and just kept on surveying, moving north. Finally we had to turn around to make it out in time for tea, stopping conveniently just before a deeper looking muddy pool.

Back at the farmhouse we shovelled in lots of rice, fried potatoes and pig fat and drank beer as we told of our explorations to the rest of the expedition.

Then Rob, Hil and Mark came back with even better news. Although Lucky Strike South had sumped, a side lead connected them back to known cave downstream and when they went to push the known leads downstream they found themselves exploring a humongous 20m wide streamway. The cave was really going now.

After dinner we eagerly entered the data to survex and found that we had surveyed over 0.5km and the other team over 0.75km. Our side lead was also now far beyond the end of the “main passage”, heading off into blank space and looking much more pervasive.

That night, however, our celebrations were shorted lived, as the news reached us of the tragic loss of Kirsty Densham scrambling in the Lake District. With so many OUCC cavers and friends of the club staying at Er Wan Dong, the tears mixed with the whisky as we struggled to comprehend what we had just heard. The fragility of life and the unfairness of the world was brought sharply into focus and I struggled with the contrast to our earlier excitement which now seemed so trivial and unimportant.

The next morning was sombre. Waking up confirmed that it was an awful reality and not a bad dream. It was much harder to go caving, but for me at least, it seemed the right thing to do. For someone who loved life so much and lived it to the full, it didn’t seem right to stand still. Duncan Collis came with Pete and me as we aimed to finish off yesterdays lead. We surveyed another 300m of muddy crawling, stooping and traversing, and passed more junctions to still not reach a conclusion to the Lucky Strike series. Meanwhile team downstream finally found a sump, but also a high level overflow, which again left the southern limit of the caving heading on strongly towards the resurgence.

It was far too soon, but time to pack things up and head back to the normal world. Rucksacks were laden and the team walked off for hot beer, hot showers and a fine nosh up in the nearby town on Tongzi before gear washing and heading down the hill to Wulong. We'd certainly left more leads that we'd started with, and two significant breakthroughs had changed the shape of the southern end of the cave. More questions than answers as usual for this part of China then.