Depth through thought

OUCC News 23rd June 1993

Volume 3, number l6

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A mixture of democratic decision making and acrimonious air-clearing is how I'd describe last week's EGM on finance issues. So, thanks to the accountants for the impetus to get things sorted, and to everyone who turned up for doing so (especially Joan for her painstaking minute taking: a cracking read). We even had someone new turn up: well, that will be a test. Basically, membership goes up to £25, but is included in every novice's first hip (which costs £15). Country membership is £10. Trips go up a little (except Yorks), and the "honesty box fee" has returned to just that - give the club something (via the box or the treasurer) when you see fit.

Expedition leaves for Spain soon, with the prospect of at least one Kilometre deep cave in the offing (bullshit, bullshit, bullshit...). Still time to make last minute changes to your plans to spend the summer gardening or making jam, and come caving.

Little Neath River Cave

It's nice to be surprised. I don't know when OUCC last went down LNRC, but it must be many years ago since I can't remember a trip (Old Fart speaks). This is a gem of a cave - superb streamway, big big chambers, lots of interesting little side trips, and only two minutes walk from the car park. You also have the opportunity for interaction with the local community (50p) and catching trout (breathing apparatus required). The sump is warm and the canals are splooshy, so just dive right in and have a good time.

Bonus points - keep your wetsuit on and float through Porth-yr-Ogof afterwards.
Steve Roberts

Blenheim Underground?

Well not underground really. It's just that there is an ungated culvert at the top end of the lake. It's large enough for a punt to slide through. Really. and then there's no gate on the bridge ("Seven Arches") at the top end of the lake. So if you have a friend with a land rover and a punt and 3 other people who are not adverse to sitting in the middle of Blenheim lake trying to explain to the nasty man in the Estate motor boat just what it is that you an doing there (there aren't any signs up saying "Private Water: No bringing punts in here") it's definitely worth giving it a go. And if you do it early enough, there won't BE any nasty man in a motor boat to tell you not to do it.

There's a good place to put in up river on the Glyme on the lane that runs past the cemetery. Easy carry across a field, punt in the water (we had two poles with us). The Glyme is narrow and choked here, but puntable. The first real obstacle is the concrete hoarding that supports the bank where the side stream to the open culvert to Blenheim is split off: that's about a 15 foot carry down a steep slope full of nettles; long trousers are desirable). Then it's just a matter of pushing the punt along through the tangle of undergrowth (too low for proper punting) until you reach the culvert. The traverse across Queen Pool has magnificent views of the Palace and the Column of Victory. There are two keeper's cottages in view of the lake here so quiet punting is desirable. The "Lake" (the lower part of the lake as a whole below the Grand Bridge) isn't really in view of any inhabited buildings, so it's safer, though it has the feel of being more exposed.

The only really nasty bit is the carry down from the Lake to the continuation of the river below. The outflow of the river is over a substantial cascade. Though there is a path that bypasses the cascade, it is steep and muddy. We managed to drop the punt on one of the people at the front as we were struggling our way down it. It's about 150 meters of portaging and while you're doing it you can't help but think how awkward it would be for someone to come across you as you're at it.

The bottom Lake is much less exposed and generally more wild and serene and peaceful. If someone were to catch you there all they could do was halloo from the shore and you could pretend not to hear. No motorboat so that they could rage up onto your tail and tell you what's what. A second bridge in the style of the Grand Bridge adds atmosphere. A last keeper's cottage hoving into view on the North bank is a sting in the tail, but soon out of sight behind a row of pines. Then a last bridge with low arches--just enough height to fit a punt under if everyone lies down. Then a 15' cascade down out of the estate into the River Evenlode. Easy carry down a steep bank on the North East bank.

Definitely a trip worth doing, though with Fishing season starting on the 16th June (Blenheim rents 15 boats out to the public 6:00am to dusk) perhaps better to wait until next year for another go. We did it 4:30-6:00 Sunday last (lucky 13th!) and had no problems. A light fibreglass punt is definitely the way to go.
Katya Reimann

L'lnfernet: a canyon too far

Canyoning is great fun, all the thrills of caving plus the excitement of frequent freefall and complete body immersion (jumping into deep pools) in water which is not too cold! - all without the necessity of going up again (impossible anyway). Nice Sunday afternoon pursuit you might think.

It is a sport in a similar way to caving that can be pursued for its excitement, but if this pursuit is pushed a little too far it can very quickly turn to terror. This limit is poorly defined and varies from person to person. There is another Limit (usually beyond the above! ) which is very real and is when you drown. This week-end I got as close to this limit as I ever want to get

Saturday I had been climbing with the CAF and had arranged to meet with them again on the Sunday if the weather was OK. It rained all Saturday night and was still raining Sunday morning. Paul rang "so guess you're not climbing how about going canyoning?" "OK" I said "I'lI throw the ropes in the car and I'll be round in a sec. - how about doing the l'infernet?". So off we went into the Chartreuse up the side of the Neron in search of excitement. I had psyched myself up to it being quite a torrent, so was not too perturbed to see the flow at the starting point (about like the Ingleton waterfalls walk). Paul, on the other hand, was quite taken aback

The river started with two short rapids followed by the 30m pitch. I calmly leaped into the first one, only to disappear below the surface, reappearing just in time to grab a boulder in the middle of the river to avoid the fastest part of the second drop. Paul joined me at the pitch head, a little more nervous after seeing my disappearance. We clipped into the belay to stop being washed over the edge. The water shot out horizontally about 7-8m before curving slowly down into the void. It seemed avoiding the water was out of the question (apparently standards are somewhat different from caving!). There was a line of bolts joined with a length of tat. A piece of chain linked two bolts in the middle, seeming the logical choice for a pull through belay. The idea would be to abseil through the top of the waterfall so that the water would be going over our heads as we went down. I set off through the water, with my feet swept away horizontally as soon as they hit the water. Once through I realised I had made a mistake as it was rock under the water not air. I was therefore trapped between the thundering water and the smooth rock. The only way I could move was with the water - downwards. The water physically forced me down with its incredible power. I couldn't see a thing and could hardly breathe.

At the bottom there was a couple of feet air space between the rock and water. I locked off the descender up to my waist in the pool. The waterfall was like a curtain extending from wall to wall with no way out! A veritable prison lit by the pearlish white glow from the wall of water. The map case with the survey in whipped around my ears with the wind in that air space. I tried penduling through the wall of water falling 30m but was thrown brutally back out again like a ping pong ball from a fountain. I tried several times in a desperate bid to escape only to be hurled back against the rock was it better to drown, to die of exposure or be battered to death? The only possibility was to dive in. Remaining attached to the rope would be extremely dangerous with such strong currents; the eddies and the "stoppers" behind the waterfall were phenomenal. Treading water wildly I managed to detach the descender. I prepared myself to make an all or nothing lunge and kicked off the rock into the wall of water. As soon as I hit the waterfall I was thrown down into the depths of the pool. My hope was to get enough momentum to get through to the other side and take my chances with the stoppers on the other side otherwise I would be stuck in the eddy behind the waterfall until the water went down. After some time I rose to the surface long enough to grab a gasp of air. I was sucked down again for a second round. I made it to the surface again coughing and spluttering to find myself well downstream. Success: still alive!

Unfortunately with the roar of the waterfall there was no chance of warning Paul about the fate that awaited him. I swam back into the torrent and made repeated attempts to get back to the waterfall. If only I could get the end of the rope I could pull him clear. I could not even get close to the base before being swept away, even clutching onto the walls to pull myself along. I was starting to get extremely cold (my wetsuit had no zip or tenax and was held together by a boot lace). I returned to the pebble bank - all I could do was wait. It looked as well as though we wouldn't be able to get the rope back.

Eventually I saw Paul's body being washed down towards me. I waded in to help him out - like me he staggered out and collapsed on the pebble bank (some 30m downstream from the waterfall) "Jesus Christ" he gasped. Fortunately he had managed to abseil on the outside of the waterfall, not wanting to have to descend through the water. Even so he had some difficulty at the bottom getting his descender off in the whirlpool. The two of us, quivering wrecks, shaking with the cold and fright took count of the situation:- 1) We were still alive; 2) We had no rope as we had used both the ropes on the waterfall; 3) There were two more pitches with no escape.

The situation had improved to merely desperate, with everything to play for - after all the next pitches were only 8m! So with no choice but to continue we scrambled through the trees lying horizontally in the river after being washed down in flood, to arrive at the next pitch. Another piece of tat connected the belays with a length hanging down the pitch. Descending hand over hand we were able to get to ledge half way down from which we could jump and keep clear of the stopper. The river was now a canal and swept us smartly on. At the third pitch we found another piece of tat hanging over the edge. This time the rope hung in mid air and where the rope went over the lip the sheath was stripped off for a length of about a metre with only 5 or 6 strands remaining. With no choice but to use it I descended it hand over hand again, expecting it to snap at any moment. At the end of the rope I dangled contemplating the situation. The eddy at the bottom of the waterfall looked pretty furious so I would have to try and get out a bit, I let go and pushed away from the wall and belly-flopped only to be unceremoniously sucked down again. Downstream I was washed up again and I sat and watched Paul's effort. He disappeared into the water. Sometime later I saw his helmet appear drift swiftly downstream and crash into the wall opposite. The helmet surfaced and there was Paul.

The rest was relatively easy: a jump, a toboggan and a climb. The climb was prudent to avoid the stopper. The toboggan was imprudent as the current swept me straight to the bottom of the pool and after surfacing the current dragged me back again into the plunge area. But we had made it through and everything was OK. The trip is about 300m long with a vertical drop of about 50m, yet in this space it packed one hell of a punch - in fact we felt as if we had stood a few rounds with Mike Tyson after the rape trial. That evening I returned with my climbing ropes to abseil down the side of the canyon to the pitch head and get my ropes back, before the pounding of the waterfall stripped their sheaths off.

So - if you want to come canyoning, bring a long rope as there is a 120m waterfall on the Dent de Crolles just behind the flat I wouldn't mind doing! (Provided the water isn't too high!).
Graham Naylor
(Grenoble correspondent)

From the Lamp Post

I've put some forms in the hut for reporting buggered cells. Sorry about the extra bureaucracy, but this will make it easier for me to track down faults. If you find a fault with a cell, please fill out a form tie a figure-8 knot in the cable, and put it on the shelf marked "These cells are buggered", Please do not tie figure-8 knots in cells if they're not buggered as it only confuses me.

If you use a cell, please put it back on charge after use. We currently have more cells than charging points, so you may have to take charged cell off to do this: you can tell which cells are charged by looking at the ammeters. If you remove a cell from the charger to use it, please put another one on charge, to make sure they're all topped up. I will try to get to the hut once a week to swap cells round, but can't guarantee this. Love:

Just a gloom like twilight,
When my lamp burns low.
And the flickering blackness
Softly comes and goes.
Every time this happens,
With an electric light
Is the lamp post doing things right?
The lazy bloody shite.

Top Tips for avoiding Carno #3

Lie back in a warm summer meadow.
It's Midsummer.
You're soaking up the Glastonbury Vibe.
Carno can't reach out and taint you here.
Jim Ramsden