Depth through thought
OUCC News 16th November 2011
Volume 21, Number 10
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Editor: Andrew Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
Every since I met Steph up at Ario this summer I knew that I need to introduce her to my friends Imo and Lou. The opportunity arose at the President's Invite in October. Any discussion on what trip to do was resolved by Lou admitting to never having been to see Gaping Gill main chamber! So we left for Stream Passage Pot on the Saturday morning; the four of us plus Pete. We soon sent Pete underground to get on with the rigging which left a rather nice gossiping session in the sunshine in the shakehole. Eventually we thought we'd better head after the sound of maillons clinking and headed underground to catch up with Pete. He later reported significant amounts of cackling ringing down to him from the traverse lines over his head as he descended.
The cave was a little wetter than we had anticipated. It had been raining all week, but the surface indicators were that things had dropped a bit more than they actually had. But Pete did an excellent job on the multiple deviations and we were soon staring down the last pitch.
'I'm not sure if the rope reaches.' says Pete.
'What do you mean, you're not sure, you've got a Scurion!', I helpfully replied.
Well, it certainly was a long way from reaching, so whatever you do, don't believe the rope lengths in 'Selected Caves' at take at least another 15m on top of what they recommend. Luckily I had packed a rope about 5m longer than we needed. We gained some more length by removing most of the traverse line and being rather 'efficient' with the pitch head rigging (read one bolt back up, one bolt hang, deviation), but still the rope didn't reach. However, Pete managed to swing round the corner and find somewhere we he could get of the rope and climb down the last five metres of so. It was not ideal and we had to tie large amounts of our SRT kits to the end of the rope so that when it swung back under the main pitch we could still reach it.
And then on to the main chamber. Given the water conditions, there were three impressive waterfalls descending from the fell and Lou was suitably awestruck. It's so nice to be there with someone who hasn't seen it all before. I also entertained myself by trying to spot the dihedral route behind all the spray and being grateful I wasn't on it.
Soon we were back at the bodged final pitch. I have to admit we hadn't thought too hard about getting back up it. It proved easy enough for the first people. Climb up 5m. Get on the rope on a ledge. Teeter round the ledge and then swing our carefully to avoid catching the rope on the sharp rock flakes. But as more of us went up the pitch, we had to keep reducing the length of the extra attachments tied to the rope, as rather unreasonably everyone wanted to put their SRT kits back on again.
Imo and I were to derig, and given her chest tape was the final rope extension, she needed to get on the rope last. But we figured that if I was to swing out, she would never be able to reach the rope again. The only answer was to tandem up the pitch, something I have never done before, but needs must. So I climb to the ledge, got on the rope and pulled as much of it through my croll as possible to leave some rope for Imo. She climbed up, removed her chest tape and put it on and then got on the rope underneath.
Now what? We were precariously poised, part way up a pitch on small ledges tied to the same length of rope. It was hard to coordinate our climbing back towards the pitch so I asked Imo to load the rope beneath me so that I could then control now we loaded the rope above me. Immediately lots more rope went through my croll and I struggled to stay on the ledge. It was like having an exceptionally heavy tackle bag handing beneath me. I tried to teeter around the ledge some more, but it was too difficult. So in the end I had to just jump off, take the swing and hope we didn't catch to many flakes on the way back across.
Somehow it all worked out and the only remaining difficulty was the deviation just below the pitch head as it was impossible to unload this with Imo underneath me. I hadn't really considered this in advance, but luckily the pitch was quite narrow and Imo managed to bridge across to take her weight off the rope, while I unhooked the deviation. We then just left it off for the final section. The remaining de-rigging was a breeze and I discovered to my delight that if you are removing all the deviations you don't have to take you pantin off to pass them.
We emerged to a beautiful, cold, crisp and clear October evening. It was by far the most fun trip I've done in ages and there was yet more gossiping all the way back down the hill to Clapham. Then back to the Old School House for dinner and red wine. Superb.
With only 3 days of active caving remaining on the expedition we decided to have an easy day and save ourselves for a glorious connection trip on the morrow. This provided the perfect excuse to go in search of Windy 'Opposite of Square' Cave (something got lost in translation - ???). According to the team which logged it, it was a short cave with a strong draught coming out of a low wet crawl with a stream just inside the entrance. The crawl was not pushed!
When we found the cave we were initially confused as there was a stream coming out of the main cave. And a draught. This was left at a short climb which was probably passable if you weren't worried about getting wet. Or getting back down in one piece (remember kids - always carry a hand line!). Nevertheless, there was a stronger draught coming out of a small crawl over breakdown just inside the entrance. Had the water flow shifted? Were we going to be able to just crawl straight into a whole new cave system? Of course not.
It's one of those funny coincidences of life that just a day before Duncan and I had been commenting on the lack of good old British style ducks in Chinese caves, particularly in this little region. Well, there's a reason people say be careful what you wish for. Apparently it was my turn to take the lead on this particular foray, I forget why. However, a few metres into the crawl the source of the original report was located. A low wet crawl disappeared upstream, the wind roaring through and sending ripples, erm... rippling across the surface. I didn't want to get all my gear wet but nor did I want a roasting for appearing chicken of chasing a wild goose up a duck even if it did turn out to be a turkey so I took the practical option and left my clothes behind.
Beyond the low wet crawl the roaring sound got louder until I was confronted by a partly open portcullis of tiny stalactites blocking the way on. Sweeping some mud away from the base of the passage I took off my helmet and wedged it into a space between a sand bank and the roof. I then carefully negotiated my way under the portcullis and into the opening beyond the waves lapping at my face as I did so while the wind roared in my dry ear.
From here on the passage was wide open, in a 5m high 40cm wide kind of way. The walls had an unusual texture, like sandpaper, and occasional protuberances and other obstacles deterred me from sprinting off into the unknown. Duncan had told me I could scoop as much as I wished once through the duck so I carried on for some way with no end in sight.
The journey back was only marked (or rather I was only marked) by a rather pointed scrape from the portcullis, the bend in the passage being less forgiving on the return. The rest of the day was spent lazing in the sun and swimming in the surprisingly cold main resurgence, celebrating the surety of the connection that would finally be ours on the morrow. [part 4]