Depth through thought

OUCC News 25th October 2006

Volume 16, Number 9

DTT Volume 16 Index

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

A note from the editor

Please, please, please send me material to include in DTT .... the more frequently material gets sent to me, the more often I can put DTT out.  Rumour has it a visit was paid to Swildons. Why not follow Helen's excellent example and write up your impressions for posterity?

Here are the trips for the remainder of Michaelmas Term '06.

Week 3: 28-29 Oct, Wales staying at SWCC, coordinator: Lou Maurice
Week 4, 3-5 Nov, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Sunday Rumbling, coordinator: TBD
Week 6, 17-19 Nov, Derbyshire staying at TSG, permits: Titan/JH Saturday, Peak Cavern Sunday, coordinator: Jonathan Cooper, but needs an Oxford based coordinator
Week 8, 1-3 Dec, Wales staying at SWCC, permits: Craig A Ffynnon Sunday, coordinator: TBD
22 Dec - 1 Jan 07, Dales staying at BPF, permits: Deaths Head/Big Meanie, Penyghent .

My GB Adventure

(Mendip weekend, 22/10/06)

Helen Wilkinson

GB was AMAZING - JUST my sort of cave. Sadly no bats, but this was more than made up for with the wriggley squeezes opening into VAST caverns with beautiful rocks and formations. A steep drop straight down, and we were off, threading our way through little passageways under the leadership of Pod. I really enjoyed those little passageways - always moving - and made 1000 times LESS intimidating by having Big Si in front - his self-assured manner about getting through, given his frame size, gave me all the confidence I needed! I had a great time. We finally popped out of the Z-shaped crawl; which nicely filled my suit with water a-fresh, onto a ladder Pod rigged off a stalagmite (Bringing back echoes of the songs of the night before), which he belayed from below. Then the guy who's name I've forgotten, but who kindly lent me kneepads before we began the adventure, abseiled down, rescuing our ladder. Then was the time of the big caverns, and massively tall rifts, going so high you couldn't see the top! Like a night sky with no stars - it really is a world of darkness. Here, all the water became clear, and flowed prettily down the black sharp edged rock; I was surprised how mud-free it became. Those big caverns are amazing - so huge; and nothing living! So strange! Lots of slidey-scrambley down hill to the Bridge; where, oh dear, I have forgotten ANOTHER name - the Italian lady - took a photo of us all on the bridge. More slidey-scrambley, and climby-scrambley into another cavern. This was when I started to get a bit tired - but a quick Mars-bar break, and some rousing encouragement we were back on down, vertical climbs, one kinda bridging bit which Big Si and Pod talked me through, and we looped round into a chamber with an AMAZING huge stalactite, and a massive drop down to ??? where? I don't know - too far to see. I felt SOOOooooooo small; and the cave was SOoooooooo huge; and yet, before I started caving, I couldn't have imagined that there really were holes in the ground! We pressed on a little further, and came to a point where some folks said something about pitches and ladders again, but the most exciting bit was that Pod said he'd been there, and the place we were standing was submerged. I could see why. To the right, a really narrow channel, and going back into the cave, silt was built up just as snow drifts, but, well, grey. They'd completely filled the back of the cavern, and it really was GREY, impressively grey. Almost as if you turned the lights out it would still be grey (Though I'm sure it would really have looked black; as would my hand in front of my face).

So we began the ascent; having had a 'splore in the back of the cave. We passed straight under the bridge on the way up - something I didn't think possible looking at it from the bridge itself. It was a steep climb, but fun, following the water up; though watching the floor took a lot of time, and I rarely looked up. Saw some beautiful rocks on the way though - one black one veined with white and red was amazing, with a thin sheet of water that'd been flowing over it for who knows how long, polishing it flat. Big Si and Pod often helped out at various points with the climbing, finding footholds. This was all in the main cavern I think, but as we went up, past the waterfalls we must have moved into what I suppose was "The rock proper", with such an even transition I barely noticed it as I had on the way down. Things became a bit more climby, and there was one really exciting moment; maybe that's the wrong word, but frightening is wrong too; anyway, I lost my footing climbing up some thing, and, well, you can never really fall that far in a cave - as there's all sorts of walls around you - but it sure did get my heart going. Held my nerve perfectly 'till I was back in a flat-ish tunnel way and then had to stop to catch my breath and slow my racing heart. I don't think I was quite so scared as awed - strange experience; but a good one for bringing the core of your being to the very surface! Big Si stuck with me, and we very soon got climbing again with renewed confidence and vigour. Walking back into the tall thin passageways, and slipping through surprisingly easily given the apparent restrictions - like fish in water more than man through solid rock - I got my first taste of fresh air for several hours. We climbed up out through the entrance and we'd done it! Amazing!

Tourist Trip in Mammoth

Jonathan Cooper

As part of this summer's research related junket, we (me, Leticia and Sam (aged 13 months)) visited Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky. For those that know not of this cave it's the longest in the world, and the main entrance has been a tourist cave for nearly 200 years. Its also been a National park for nearly 70 years and much of the area has been replanted with native hardwoods, so is well worth a visit even if you do not wish to venture underground. We stayed at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, which is built pretty much on top of the main "historic" entrance, though our chalet was a little further along the ridge on the way to the Old Guides Cemetery, where some of the slaves who originally acted as guides are supposed to be buried. The current guides are all Park Rangers and they offered a number of tours of varying difficulty.

We went on the "family friendly" Frozen Niagara tour. This was to be Sam's second caving trip having visited the lava caves of Lanzerote when he was 3 months old. This involved a through trip from the "New" entrance (300 odd steps down a series of avens) to Grand Central Station (a biggish chamber). The entrance series was the trickiest part for us as Sam was trussed up in a front mounted baby carrier we had purchased from the local Walmart specifically for the trip as no back-pacs were allowed. We carefully placed ourselves towards the back, but with a couple of larger members of the party in front of us to act as narrow passage warnings. Most of the trip was thereafter walking up and down breakdown passages, which were the size and boulderyness of South Wales trunk passages. As with the lava caves of Lanzarote, Sam fell asleep for this section, but did wake up in time to see the Frozen Niagara itself which was not unsurprisingly a big flowstone formation, with a passing similarity to Tratman's Temple in Swildon's but slightly grimier. The park rangers were pretty good, and included the classic "put all the lights out" thing during the trip, which was pretty scary in a passage of overly large people in danger of stampeding. They even suggested it was probably 8 million years old, which is dangerous talk in a state where literal acceptance of scripture is the norm. Both entrances had been dug from the inside, and there is a much longer (4-6 hours at show cave pace) trip from the old entrance which sounded almost challenging. All the known entrances in the park are gated, so naughty cave pirates seem to be excluded, though it may be possible to arrange trips with the "Cave Research Foundation" who co-ordinate exploration of the system.

Elsewhere in the park, I also visited Sand Cave to pay my respects to Floyd Collins who was trapped there in the 1930's. The cave is just inside the park boundaries on the road from Cave City, which is the local honey-pot, and they have set up a relatively sensitive interpretation trail to the cave entrance from the road, with boards covering the main events (man trapped, rescue attempts, media circus, body recovered). We also did some tramping though the midge/tick infested woodland. We also did some dirt track driving down to rickety old style ferries over the Green River, as well as visiting the main entrance at dusk to watch the bats emerging. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the way the park has been developed, and would recommend a visit if you happen to be in the area. I was even OK with paying for the trip as it appears to support conservation of quite a nice area.