Depth through thought

OUCC News 23rd October 1996

Volume 6, Number 21

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The fun's begun....


For the students amongst you, I have been sent details of a special offer on at the YHA shop (on The Plain, just over Magdalen Bridge). You can receive 25% discount on all fleeces, coats, rucsacs, tents etc., if you spend over £100, and 20% discount if you spend less. However the catch is that it is only available for one day and that is tomorrow. If you think you can make use of this, I have half a dozen of the vouchers (you'll need one of these & student ID), so first come, first served...
John "Bargains Galore" Pybus

Adventure In Swildon's Hole

With a fairly dull, if warm day forecast for the Sunday I was quite surprised to find myself driving into torrential rain as we reached the Mendips. After a short stop to pick up lamps from Tony Jarrett and a quick lunch at the Hunters Lodge we set of for Priddy. Changing in the barn was comparative luxury compared to the heavy rain outside, but then things took a turn for the ominous. Chatting to a couple of cavers who had just come out of Swildon's they assured us that is was very wet, and that various parties still down there were struggling a bit. So a quick leader conference and we decided to go look for ourselves and make up our own minds. On the way to the entrance we passed a couple of scout groups, since they weren't carrying any exhausted colleagues it couldn't be too bad down there. The entrance was pretty wet with water finding several ways into the entrance, we followed various routes to the Wet Way which was indeed wet. When Will got to 10 foot drop it was pretty much impassable and he didn't fancy leading novices over the top to climb down the rift. So we went back up Jacob's Ladder and had a look see at the Dry Ways. The Short Dry Way had only a small stream in it so we pushed on down to the Water Chamber to be met by much much more water. The Water Rift was great fun, involving either a comprehensive soaking or a traverse over the top. Having checked that I could safely get back up the rift in the water everyone on my team opted for the dry traversing option. Having avoided a soaking there, everyone was obliged to get in the water at the next cascade, and then on to the pitch.

As we waited for a party to come up, Rob's team arrived, so I sent him down first to see what it was like. A bit splashy, but the ladder now hangs a few inches further out to the right and if you stay close to the ladder you stay out of the worst of the water. As we were all feeling fit and healthy, excited rather than scared, we followed Rob down. The lower part of the cave was tremendous. Water crashing down the cascades made communication over anything more than a few feet impossible. Everyone got a thorough soaking on the Double Pots; not much difficulty with the first, everyone in on the second. Then down to Sump One which had backed up about a foot and looked about 10 feet long. A quick stop for chocolate and a team photo, then we started on our way out.

Although I was expecting a fairly tiring struggle against the water, it was considerably easier on the way out as you could see much more clearly where you were going and spent less time in the water (apart from a few minutes wading looking for lost wellies). When we got to the pitch someone threw me a lifeline, I climbed up, and came face to face with Tony Jarrett. He had just come down the cave to see if anyone needed rescuing. Well we didn't, we were having too much fun to be rescued, so he headed on out. As we tidied up the pitch-head Rob and Alison's party came up. We carried on out of the cave and reached the surface to find that the rain had stopped and the water levels had begun to recede. Swildon's was certainly the wettest that I had ever seen it and probably the most fun.

As some people will know there has been some changes in the entrance series in the last couple of years. It is now possible to follow the water through the entrance chamber into the blocks, thus missing out the seven foot climb. Alternatively the rift round and down to the right brings you in below the start of the Dry Ways. The route off into the Oxbows is partially blocked by a fallen block. It is possible to squeeze round this by going partway down the rift and up underneath it. The P hanger on the pitch gives a better hang than the Rawl bolt, a little further out and with a little less finger nipping against the wall. However there is a groove further out that the ladder scan swing round into of you don't watch for it.
Jim Ramsden

Le Weekend Au Vercors

"Allo, It's Wilfred, from the caving conference," - I vaguely remembered speaking French over a bland pint of bottled beer - "I'm in Vercors next weekend, want to come?" "Alright," I replied, "Pourquoi pas?" One call to Eurostar and it was done. Indeed why not, I thought with a wry smile as I remembered 50 mile bike rides to Swildon's Hole. It even surprised Bryan Ellis when I arranged BCRA insurance half-an-hour before packing and leaving.

I crashed out in Paris before travelling 6 hours south to the Vercors on Friday afternoon. There I rendez-vous'ed with a dozen French cavers, a few of whom were so stereotypical - twirly moustache, beret, gesticulating mannerisms - I almost had to look twice to convince myself they were real. Fiesta! The language wasn't a problem, the stories, humour and drinking habits are the same - though I added some malt whiskey to lubricate things further. Speleo, Vin rouge, Fiesta, Caving,...., Splesta, Vineo, 'esta, Ohhhh, my head hurts....

The next morning saw us admiring an unexplored cave entrance, several metres wide, with huge potential. The catch was its situation. Half-way down a sheer 2500 ft. cliff just along from the inspiring Grotte de Bournillon resurgence. Two reassuring hours of dithering later, three of us stood armed with a drill, hundreds of metres of rope, bolts, spits, etc. It was foggy and raining and, far below, toy-sized cars toured the classic karst of the Gorges de la Bourne. I rubbed my hands together in anticipation. Discovering that the mission: impossible theme tune is international, we set off down. Admittedly cliff-hanging isn't quite as exciting as cliff jumping, or bolting a 250 ft. pitch underground, but the views made up for it - a full-arced rainbow, dramatic weather fronts, a river and trees in full autumn flourish 2000 ft. down.

My heart rate increased when at last we approached the gaping hole. Two pitons rebelays were hammered in with iron force. We edged closer. To excitement and disappointment. It looked so hopeful, but we had run out off spits, there were no cracks for pitons and a pendule was impossible. But the mission? Possible, another time. Resigned we slowly prussiked up the vertical face.

We returned to Hugh Penney's Gite at 10pm to discover Graham Naylor (an OUCC caver living in Grenoble) digging a dry sink in the back field - a bizarre coincidence. A second night of a la carte cuisine, vin rouge and fascinating tales of exploits and exploration naturally followed.

I woke up to a glorious dawn. inspecting Graham's dew covered dig I decided that I'd really like to revisit Grotte de Gournier, especially as the French cavers hadn't been there. However keeping up tradition... "nous avons oublie le bateau." Hugh kindly lent us his though and a trip was soon arranged. We carried the inflated boat up to the deep green entrance lake. To save time we dispensed with the line and I ferried excited French men and women back and forth to the applause of tourists. On the far side, a climb and short traverse around the sump pool leads to a fantastic high level passage. Huge stalagmites, stalagmites, gour pools, cascades, curtains and calcite drapery are everywhere. My memory was correct - pleasure overload. After a walk and a perfect sunset we packed up, kissed our goodbyes and returned to Paris. Many thanks to the Speleo club de Paris, Wilfred and Hugh Penney for a quality, crazy weekend - well recommended.
James Hooper.

ps. Does anyone have a Gustuteru '96 T-shirt for sale? I promised I'd try to send one to Paris.

Dambuster Dig

Everyone's going to the South East these days, in Draenen that is. So it was last weekend that Pauline Rigby, Ben Lovett, Ali Garman and me set off with two drills, four batteries and a fist full of hilti cartridges to try and blow our way through the North choke in War of the Worlds. Foolishly, I had listened to Snablet's advice on how to employ this novel technique for digging, and had spent a day making a beautifully crafted but completely lethal handheld detonating rod. At least it made Ali laugh. When we finally reached the dig, the learning started. Big boulders blocked the way on, some 10 metres into the choke. Drill a hole, place a cartridge, push it in with a "pushing rod", then follow in with a detonating rod. Hit very hard with lump hammer, and make sure rod isn't pointing at anything you value. Now, this is tougher than it sounds I thought. Better put on ear defenders, and a eye protectors, because I am lying with my face just two feet from an about-to-explode boulder (deep in a pile of other not-about-to-explode-but perhaps-about-to-move boulders). Hmmm. Tap tap tap. The pushing rod bends. The cartridge has stuck halfway down. "Never mind" came Ali's advice amidst chuckles from the safety of the passage behind. "Hit it in with the det rod". Tension mounts. My mask steams up. "I can't see anything". More laughter. Eventually I pluck up courage an whack the rod. Nothing happens. Then again, and again. Then finally, "boom", and the boulder is in pieces in front of me.

"It works" I shout, and in fact it does even when you think it isn't going to. Later we end up bending a rod hopelessly and dragging a large boulder into a chamber where Ali taps away at it nonchalantly for twenty minutes not really expecting anything to happen, with Pauline sitting blithely beside it. "Boom" and everyone wishes they had been somewhere else.

Twenty boulders later we are 15 metres into the choke and mining our way to imminent glory. That is to say, it didn't go. Not yet anyway. Perhaps on the next trip....
Tim Guilford