Depth through thought

OUCC News 11th November 1998

Volume 8, Number 20

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Well, many thanks for the excellent support DTT has been getting lately, especially from out-of-town members of OUCC. With trip reports from Yorkshire (Fleur), Derbyshire (JC) and two on exploration Wales (Lev; me) we have another bumper issue this week, and much of the country covered in OUCC activity in a single week.

Caving Diary Update

Tonight's talk means that the TGM is rescheduled for next Wednesday, (18/11/98, 6th week). Please be prompt (i.e. 9.00pm) so that we can wrap it up swiftly, and concentrate on more important business in the bar.

Outside Oxford, doing real caving, we can confirm details of our remaining meets. 13-15/11/98 (end of 5th week) we will be in the Dales, staying at the YSS Schoolhouse at Helwith Bridge. As we are restricted to 20 bunk spaces at present, please let Joanne know if you are coming, (else you might find yourself camping!). Southerscales is being redecorated this month, we will be returning there again next term.

4-6/11/98 (end of 8th week) we will be staying at the WSG hut, near Hirwaun. WSG are much less fussy about bums to bunks ratios, but it would be nice to know if you are coming in advance, so that we can chill the appropriate amount of vodka.

New Year will be spent as usual at Bull Pot Farm, we shall be staying on until the 3rd of January, to take advantage of the weekend, (and give the drivers longer to sober up).

There are likely to be trips happening over the weekends of 21st and 28th November, Mendip and Draenen maybe, so keep your ears to the ground, and let the usual crowd know if you are interested.
Paul Mann


You are most cordially invited to Keith's 22nd birthday BEACH PARTY BONANZA on FRIDAY 20th NOVEMBER. Please come in appropriate attire and bring beach-balls, rubber rings, flippers, snorkels, beach towels, plastic spades, sun-tan lotion, lilos, coconuts and whatever else takes your fancy! And lots of alcohol (of course). 8pm till 11.30pm: New College, Long Room 11.30pm till late (or early, in the morning, depending on how you look at it): New College Rm 9/5

T-shirts and videos

I have had a few requests for more "OUCC 40" T-shirts. 12 is a minimum order; I don't have 12 yet. If anyone else would like a T-shirt, cost £9.50 (pricey but a good quality shirt, feel mine at the next meeting), please let me know asap. All the usual colours and sizes.

Videos. As promised on the PresInvInv, I will be getting copies of the "Cave of the witches eye" video done. Super stuff - exploration of 2/7 in 1989. Even has me in it (briefly). And the Yellow Van of fame and fantasy. Don't know the price yet - I'd guess £10-12. Any more takers for a copy, let me know soon.

I also have a few surplus copies of OUCC Proc 11 (FU56 exploration, 1982-83). Rare & Exotic! Has picture of crashed El Sod Van in it ! £2.50, to go to the Proc 14 fund.

ps - Rob Garrett. You sent me a nice letter on puce paper saying the cheque for your T-shirt was enclosed, but, predictably, forgot to put it in.... twit.
Steve Roberts

Wet Weekends in the Dales

This report has been getting increasing overdue for some time now, but the crux of it is - it rains in Yorkshire. An awful lot. However I have still managed to get quite a bit of caving done and some good trips at that.

Three weekends ago (or possibly four by the time you all read this) I went to help Beardie take photos in Cape Kennedy and Straw Chamber. The weather was shite, and water was flowing over the BPF lane with no consideration for the cavers below. It was a truly multi-club trip, with Dom (ULSA), Anthony (Shepton Mallet) and Mike and Frog (Kiwi cavers with RRCPC). Lancs was definitely drippy on the way in and we speedily made our way to Ireby series. Not having been up there this was a delight with some excellent little rift inlet passage. We paused briefly to note the entrance to Dave and Neil's squalid subway connection before pushing on to Straw Chamber. It was lovely, really nice. Beardie was very quick taking his pictures (I got to be a model for the first time) so we had a little jaunt up Maple Leaf passage too. The trip out was slower (pausing whilst Beardie and I took turns at rescuing Dom from rebelays), but we exited to a clear, cold starry night.

It rained all the next week too. Nobby and I went up to BPF for the weekend, but the outlook appeared grim for caving prospects. But pints in the Barbon and vodka in The Farm gave a more hopeful perspective. Through Saturday morning hangovers we left for GG with Neil, Frog and Paul. Neil had his eye on a potential dig the other side of the font, but the volume of water crashing through Clapham, made it look likely for it to be sumped.

Before descending Bar Pot we tramped up to the main entrance to see a swirling muddy torrent descending into the main chamber - certainly the most water I've ever seen going down there. And from beneath it was even more spectacular. The draught going through the crawls and stoops along the way was huge. The whole main chamber was full of spray, no daylight entered, just water, wind buffeted you everywhere, tell tale foam lines indicated how much of the chamber had previously been a lake. Pretty impressive stuff. As expected though, the font was sumped, so we had to entertain ourselves by dam construction in a nearby streamway (normally a trickle). The nearby mud was of the perfect consistency and the stream was soon diverted.

Sunday saw a trip down Notts Pot. It was an exchange and as the bags were sorted out I had visions of the OUCC clusterfuck trip during my second year. It was all efficiency this time though. Nobby and I teamed up with Pete Hall and Neil and went down the left hand route. The waterfall entering on the last pitch was spectacular. We visited all three sumps before heading out the Adamson's route. Amazingly it wasn't raining on Leck fell when we exited, and the sun even managed to shine for five minutes - that's a first as far as I'm concerned.

It rained all last week too, and I feared another washed out weekend. But Saturday dawned clear and for a moment I forgot that the previous night I had agreed to go down Quaking. I was at BPF and the Don Simon(!) - we'd run out of beer - must have clouded my judgement. Over breakfast in the fountains Dave, Rob and I were warned that a team digging a nearby shakehole had diverted the stream INTO Quaking. So for a second weekend running damming exercises were required.

Then we had to go caving. The entrance was a little awkward up to the first pitch. Fun traversing followed the 3rd pitch and lead (unsurprisingly) to the 4th pitch. The in situ rope (?) was interestingly belayed, but lots of sweet-talking ensured it stayed put. The following rift was entertaining, especially when Rob kicked me in the face whilst I helped him to find foot holds in a squeeze.

After Coitus Corner I had trouble finding the place to stand up and turn around. Then I just had trouble. I struggled to be in the right place in the rift and was going nowhere fast. Dave returned to direct me, but much thrutching made no progress. I wasn't happy. Eventually I backed out and took the easy option of jacking. Dave said his unbroken record of bottoming Quaking was worth more than his life, so he continued whilst Rob and I headed out.

It was then that I learned that I'd actually been in the crux move of the crux, and it hadn't been just round the corner as I'd though. Well, at least that made me feel slightly better. At the time I'd though the worst bit was still to come. We were out without incident, and a walk saw us safely installed in the Marton drinking beer and eating pizza. Dave still made it before last order too, having made a record time of under 8 hours to the bottom. In the mean time Nobby had also arrived (after his long walk) and we were planing nicer things for Sunday.
Fleur Loveridge

Yellow Van

It wasn't Steve's day on Saturday. First he discovered he'd brought 2 left wellies with him to the Draenen car park. After scrounging an acceptable alternative welly off Tim and Lou (who'd spent the night in the car park) and getting underground, he found that his light was acting up before the roped climb near the entrance. After a certain amount of agonising, he decided that it wouldn't be sensible to embark on a serious trip with a dodgy light and after handing me a trowel, his zoom, and a bottle of irn-bru he turned back for the surface looking highly miserable. This left me, who'd only been drafted in at the last minute as a ferret, and Gavin, to have a go at a dig at the end of Yellow Van. It was the first time I'd been to the Dollimore Series and it was nice to see some of the places that were being discussed in DTT at the time I joined the club. The Last Sandwich was as impressive a piece of engineering as I'd been lead to believe and MS&D was indeed quite spacious in comparison.

Before we got down to digging, we went and had a look at the Into the Black choke, to see if the recent floods had washed it away (as if). It was still there, and more interestingly, there was foam right near the top of it, suggesting the water backs up a very long way here. In Yellow Van itself there were was more evidence of flooding - a number of peaty coloured puddles, including one particularly unpleasant one you had to crawl through and get a soaking just a couple of minutes before the dig. Also in the chamber before the dig, there was a recent looking high-water mark about 2 inches below the ceiling, meaning that most of Yellow Van was probably sumped!

I had a go at digging in the most obvious place, which was quite constricting around the shoulders and consequently pretty hard work. Gavin then spotted a hole to the left, which seemed to have some draught so we turned our attention to that instead, where the digging was much easier. We dug for a total of about 3.5 hours before dashing off at high speed, making the surface in less than 2.5 hours, where it was blowing a real gale. Getting changed was made more entertaining by the fact that the only thing I trusted not to blow away was my cell, so we had to stand on all our gear as we dressed. Back in Oxford in time for a coffee at Steve's before heading over to John and Anita's for bonfires and Wodka.
Lev Bishop

The Lost Aven

Meanwhile (Saturday), Lou Maurice and I decided on a Draenen day-trip to Life on Mars to look at an aven I'd spotted on my last trip a year ago. Not my last caving trip, that is. I've managed to go caving every weekend in the last six or so. No, the last trip to Life on Mars where we had finally given up believing that our draughtless, tight mud digs in the Uranus extensions would provide access to the Mystery Streamway. Anyway, I detour (and not for the last time, you'll see).

It was a fast trip: new FX5; no gear. 90 minutes in and we reached what I thought was the aven, just before the squeeze/climb up into Life on Mars proper. Draught indicators everywhere. Looks good, I thought, and crawled in. Yes, crawled. This wasn't an aven at all. Just a mud choked rift closing down at the end. Bollocks. Where was my aven then? "It looks just like this", I sheepishly muttered to a disbelieving Lou. "Sorry, I've lost it."

We carried on into Life on Mars. Must be here somewhere. But it wasn't. Still, to make good use of ending up in what can only be described as the wrong part of the cave we started to explore the "South branch" as it has become known, even though its actually the Eastern branch. It looked pretty cursorily touched, and soon we were exploring bits of new passage. Access to a tight tube was engineered with a hammer, and 3m in a squeeze which needs a small amount of persuasion blocked access to continuing larger passage. Next time. Then we muscled our way south through a fun but strenuous series of constricted traverses eventually to arrive in a spacious cross passage, with the typical eerie Life on Mars rock formations and red colouring, and quiet bobbly mud floor. It felt a bit like a set from Start Trek; half expected to see a large amorphous wobbly blancmange creature wibble down the passage aggressively. No chance of getting beamed up here though. Digressing again....

We looked at most things, including the strongly draughting terminal gritstone choke. Hmmm. Diggable yes, but up through the grit and towards the surface. Better options for digging abounded further back on the southern edge of the main passage (and one on the other side). We started one, but decided that the whole place would better reward a visit from a properly equipped team of four diggers armed with bottles of lucozade.

Back at the entrance to Life on Mars I crawled once more into the choked rift I'd mistaken for the lost aven. At the end, I turned my head over (just) and peered into the roof. A hole up filled with boulders, and beyond.... a black space. Yes, this was it after all. How I could mis-remember a mud-filled crawl with vertical boulder-filled squeeze as an aven, I don't know. Ten minutes of crowbarring, and one crushed thumb later, we were in. Above, a tall aven, narrow enough to chimney. At the top another passage appeared to enter from the side, but it was choked and unfortunately we could find no ways on. Still, we were rewarded by the discovery of a beautifully decorated little grotto above the aven, a mixture of old broken stal, active erratics, and purply crystalline walls.

We found about 25m in all on the trip, located several good digging spots, and we were out in good time for the pub. Excellent trip. Anyone fancy a return?.
Tim Guilford

A Trench Too Far

Sunday, and team riflemans turned up in the Lamb and Fox car park with a false air of hard-caver enthusiasm. Within minutes they had wavered then jacked, and settled for day of surface engineering. Yes, we were going to fill in the entrance trench (for the third time...). Whilst Ali Garman and Huw Jones drove to B&Q to buy cement (sorry Ali, I just had to tell. Oh, and happy birthday!), Me, Ben Lovett, Lou and Adrian (wot? a CSS member with cement on his hands? Blimey!) were dispatched to Dewi Sir to retrieve scaffolding bars. Dewi Sir may be spelt wrong, but its interesting nonetheless because its located on the Northern edge of Gilwern Hill, and looks exactly Indiana Highway. Good place for a rescue practice too, methinks. Anyway, I digress...

By nightfall, the trench had been filled in and looked, well, not bad at all. I suppose one thing about repeated vandalism is you get a lot of practice at fixing the problem. In a year or so it should have blended back into the hillside quite well. Unless some beardy digs it up again.
Tim Guilford

Discovering Derbyshire

Derbyshire is not a traditional caving haunt for OUCC. A sad loss. I've had a fantastic weekend sampling what the place has to offer and I want more. The plan had been to do a JH Overmine-Peak Cavern trip with a diverse Bristol (SBCC, SMCC)-South Wales (BCC)-local (JCC) team put together by Alec Hartley's mum, Faye. JH is supposed to be a tremendous trip, but the dreadful weather put a stop to that kind of mullarky by flooding the connection. Instead we spent Saturday down P8 (Jackpot), the Swildon's of the north, described in wet weather as a sporting trip for the experienced, but that the first pitch may prove an insurmountable, psychological and physical barrier between novices and the surface. Sounded ace. Sporting it turned out to be with a decent sized stream greeting me, Ian Wilton-Marmoset-Jones, Steve King and his mate Chris. The cave is very much like Swillies; wet entrance, easy going passage thereafter, a few cascades, a ladder pitch, some squalid low stuff, but high high level bypasses and a sump, though not, I hasten to add, free-divable. We were expecting the worst of the weather so did the whole thing on SRT, which together with a little route finding shenanigans at the bottom helped stretch the trip out. Added bonus on the way out was assisting a novice (not one of ours) who was finding the first pitch insurmountable, so we felt suitably heroic.

Sunday dawned bright, but with the threat of more rain, we went for the bomb-proof Oxlow-Maskill exchange. These are two mines which repeatedly intercept cave passage and which used to connect to Giant's via the suitably gruesome Chamber of Horrors. They make a pretty good exchange in their own right with Oxlow, a superb vertical trip and Maskill only marred by a couple of loose muddy pitches, though nothing to compare with the horrors of Ore's Close Folly. Don't know if there are plans for a club visit, but I'd strongly recommend it. It felt like the Mendips but more organised. Could be because there is less cider and better beer to be had. If you go then, stay in Castleton which is like Priddy with facilities, drop in at the Peak Hotel (a cavers pub), drink Pedigree. (And go caving).

Puzzle corner

Test your guidebook cred. All items are quotes from British caving guides; name the cave and fill in the blanks...

  1. The main streamway continues through some sections of chest-deep wading for a further 1.3km, to the present limit of exploration at ____.
  2. Even large people can pass this obstacle by going through upright (on a line). This fine ladder climb lands in _____ just above the last pitch.
  3. An awe-inspiring gloom pervades the whole cave to add an oppressive element to the fun. However, the ____ series should be attempted only by very experienced cavers...
  4. In this cave, in 1938, friends of ____ were alarmed to find a sheep dressed in a boiler suit leaning against the wall, dead.
  5. A fascinating cave system with a complex hydrology (there are more than twenty known sumps at present), and a character that sets it apart from the other caves on _____.
  6. The Great Stalactite, known to a small group of cynics as the "Soggy Dishcloth", is quoted in the ______....
  7. Take care not to let the ladder swing out of reach, and do not fall down _____, which requires more tackle for a controlled descent.
  8. ... who brought their finds to the notice of the geologist, Dean _____. The latter made a more careful examination of the cave, and among his discoveries was the famous skeleton of the misnamed "Red Lady of ________".

Answers in two weeks. If any OUCC member gets 15 or 16 points out of the possible 16 before then, I'll buy them a pint! (the answer to the last puzzle corner: the quote was from "Challenge Underground", by Bruce Bedford, 1975)
Steve Roberts