Depth through thought

OUCC News 11th March 2009

Volume 19, Number 7

DTT volume 19 (2009)

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Editor: Andrew Morgan

Keng Dang Dang

or .... Life is Brutal... (aka. The English are (still) shite)

Rob Garrett

Today, from the land of Communism I bring a Marxist tale of the kind that once made Chico and Harpo household names.

Now, perhaps you are wondering why the title of this piece is a partially translated Polish proverb, or perhaps you are not. But this particular caving trip has its roots in a Polish expedition to bottom a 500m deep shaft, which we previously explored. Duncan (of CUCC) was helping as their local coordinator and with a spare week or so I took the opportunity to join him on a 2 person splinter expedition. An old logbook reference to a 200m deep cave which ended in a rift that had been "pushed for 30 minutes but not surveyed because it was so unlikely anyone would ever return" and was "much harder than" other caves in the area sounded particularly promising - mostly because it had a huge draught and was in a prime location.

In Poland they walk for 5 hours into the mountains just to reach the entrance. We only walk about 5 minutes before we start complaining. Nevertheless we got off to the better start, rigging to the known limit in 1 trip whilst the Poles got delayed following a misleading line of decoy bolts that leaves one dangling in the full force of the water (not advisable on any pitch never mind one of 500m). However, on day 2 as myself and Duncan surveyed through the nefarious rift (one of those tricksy fellows, about 20m high and more, or less, passable at several levels but always looking wider at the level immediately above or below the one you happen to find yourself in) to cries of "to me", "to you", the Poles primed themselves for a 30 hour assault which saw the 500m shaft rigged, photographed, filmed, fully bottomed and derigged with a bit of extra pushing for luck, while myself and Duncan merely continued our labours in the rift with the added cajun* of me watching in slow motion as my back-up torch rolled slowly off a ledge and into the casing-shattering depths.

Day 3 and we battled on while the Poles recovered; reaching what we both felt was the end of the rift or, rather, a change in character. And then, day 4, when it finally occurred to us that teaching the Poles the translation "for my friends are lost in the cave and we are worried" as "we'd like two more crates of beer please" might not have been wisest course...

But ah, the comedy. Do you remember when Laurel and Hardy joined the Foreign Legion? To whit, we'd battled through the rift, best described as biscuit. The sort of rift where, in the battle between age-old hardened rock and the human body, the human body always wins, regardless of how gently you move. Down a pitch to a pool where the rope was barely long enough; tying a rope protector to the end lest it shrink comically out of reach when we took our weight off (ha - not falling for that bear trap!) and then on into chocolate biscuit - as before but now coated in slimy, clingy chocolate - the sort of passage which looks much cleaner after you go through but where you now weight 10 times as much. Then more pitches as we ventured into the unknown, but where the spray of a pitiful streamway somehow managed to soak us no matter where we hung ourselves (surely the only correct usage regarding living humans, as opposed to hanged ourselves?). Perhaps a minor miscalculation in the late, late callout as we'd planned an assault to show what the Brits are made of by taming the cave into submission. And then our reward as we dropped down the last pitch - 50m into beautiful hard grey limestone. The sort of limestone you can really rely on; and ahead beautiful rift, cascades, glory.

So there we were. Abandon the survey and take a sneaky peak at what lies beyond the torchlight... And so I followed Duncan to the head of a cascade, traversing the pitch head, legs spread like a latter day Charlie Chaplin, hands instinctively seeking holds as years of innate mistrust bore fruit. I paused to survey the climb, planning my descent, choosing my holds, secure. And then, my descent carefully planned, I twisted my hips, shifted my hands and there! There was the zasadska - not so much Buster Keaton as busta keystone: somebody call the cops! My foothold, the one I'd nicknamed Peter and built my stance upon had blown... 0.8 seconds of 'Ooh Betty!' later and the key question was will it be me who hits the ground at 30Km/h or the ground that hits me?

Definitely the latter.

At this point I imagine Waldorf and Statler commentating "what's that one doing in the streamway?" - "I don't know but it looks like backstroke..." Cue pained groaning, as I struggled gamely to my feet.

"I suppose you'll be wanting to head out then?" said Duncan in an old school supportive first aid kind of way. "Well, let's just check out what's round the corner" I suggested, meaning him, as I was busy trying to do a head to toe first aid check on parts of me, some of which neither I, nor cheap Dutch beer could reach - the exit would be more in the mould of Harold Lloyd...

To add insult to injury the cave closed down around the corner so with little else for it we (meaning he) had to start the derig... But as we prussiked back out, it became apparent that we are but dangly things to the cave gods - they play with us for their pleasure; why else could it be that this was the trip when my footloops finally shuffled off their mortal coil...

Nevertheless with a stonking draught at the head of the last pitch and a big black space opposite (not too mention two new steaming entrances located by the Poles) a return visit to Tian Xing and Keng Dang Dang (Pit 'ole 'ole) is inevitable.

*I just used this word in a forlorn attempt to add spice to my tale...