Oxford University Cave Club

Extremero Expedition, 1991

Final Report


An Epic Day's Caving

In order to better give some of the flavour of the expedition, we include here an extract from the Ario log book. De-rigging had started; Gavin had started down 53/5 early to start de-rigging and was to be joined by Dirk, while Paul, Dave Lacey and Pauline were planning to start surveying and de-rigging 66/5. Unfortunately, the tape measure was in 53/5, so Paul agreed to go and fetch it, with Dirk to guide him. Paul takes up the story.

I changed more rapidly than Dirk, so headed into 53/5 first. No problem until the Coffin Lid. I had a look, thought ummmmm, shoved my head into the slot and gave it a go. Swing feet round, then where? - no not there - S * * t stuck! Okay keep calm, wriggle back up and then try again. Head up, wellies round, gently does it, that's better. Left arm in slot, slide down, force it a little, that's it, past the slab. F * * *! I think this is wrong, my legs well jammed, and half my body weight supported by my neck. Helmet jammed, can't push head forwards, tubo de plastico caught. Generator wedged in narrow rift below. Let's move my weight a little - damn! - now I've waged my prussik bag in there too.

Wriggle like buggery - well that's one leg un- jammed, a start. I don't like this, I'm feeling very restricted, maybe, well stuck. Panic! Claustrophobia! Wriggle more frantically - drop another inch. Now I can't even breathe. B * * * * * * s! I want to Jack right now.

But that's not possible yet.

Calm down. Right, it's not that tight in here, gently push up - yes that's better, I can breathe now. OK - take a few deep breaths, cool off, move slowly. OK so I can't, what's stopping me? Best remove it, get me out of here, gently, then worries about wrestling gear.

Brilliant plan of action. Two minutes later I dropped out of the slot, into cave one would describe as merely tight. Now to rescue my helmet, tubo de plastico, generator, belay belt, prussik bag, rack, and my other welly, which were scattered in various parts of the squeeze.

I dressed to the thought of jacking, but then I heard Dirk behind me - "yes I had an epic, that's why I'm still here". Well, give it another go, gently, I've nothing to lose other than several hundred pounds worth of caving gear, and me. And I won't fit past Dirk in the entrance passage anyway. Have a good look, take a deep breath, here goes, and remember, stay high. The odd useful piece of advice from Dirk and I was through to the pitch head.

Descending, I was glad of my helmet, protecting me somewhat from the torrent of Tasmanian curses that was pouring from the rift above me. My "rope free" did nothing to interrupt this flow, so I had a quick potter around Pterodactyl. Then all of a sudden it went quiet. Being familiar with the ways of the Vertigan school of speleo-martial arts, where every move is accompanied by its own great vocal outburst in the run of normal caving, I immediately knew that there was something amiss - silence being reserved for those most important and sacred of moments when great energies must be channelled. Indeed, I used the same method myself but a week earlier, in Paradise squeeze. Becoming jammed, I fell silent, channelling my energies into one momentous outburst. When it came, four letters rolled into one, the explosive outburst shocking many people, but the desired effect was had, the squeeze was forced open a whole extra inch and a half.

And so I waited, fingers in ears, anticipating. A shock wave resounded, and as the dust settled, I ventured to ask about the state of play. "I'm still stuck". A cyclic battle ensued, but the Coffin Lid section was clearly made of sterner stuff than Paradise, and after many attempts, the eighth of an inch proved not to be enough. Dirk, who'd helped me so well, admitted defeat this time, and honourably went outside that I might have a chance to complete my quest. "I may be some time".

In the event, Paul managed to retrieve the tape measure without any serious difficulties. He continued to 66/5.

I was kitted up first - probably because I had a head start, only wearing underpants at the time - so I headed in. 66/5 sounded like a nice cave, except maybe this Conershop rift double bend. Maybe I was misled. Three double bends, tight and frightening. I detackled at the start of the rift - no bastard sit harness was going to snag on me! It was an unpleasant rift without prior knowledge, you never knew how severe the next bit might be - but having been through it you realise there is a fair deal of space, and the intimidation factor decreases markedly.

Paul continued down to the bottom, and started surveying and de-rigging out with Dave, Pauline having turned back in Cornershop rift.

I took off my gear between each pitch; even so Yorkshire pudding became Toad-in-the-Hole for a few minutes as I jammed myself again. I did better here than in the Coffin Lid squeeze earlier - this time I managed to retain both wellies on my person. Going out, not in, proved to be a big incentive to not get caught and have to reverse here, but the biggest drive I had was from the rigging. I'd arrived at the top of the pitch, and looked up to see the Y-hang belay from a chockstone - so this was Chockstone pot - "Dave, did you notice how this pitch was rigged" - "yes, they're good aren't they".

"They?" - I looked at the other side of the Y-hang, "they!" - and then the bolt, below the knot - I decided to look no further, nor think about it.

In the end, we derigged Los Miserables, having surveyed to its head, and being soft, hauled the rope through Cornershop in stages.

PS, I had a really good satisfying day's caving.

Paul Mann