Depth through thought

OUCC News 9th January 2008

Volume 18, Number 1

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Welcome to DTT's coming of age ... does this mean DTT can now legally buy alcohol? ... no more slurping cider down the bike shed for DTT. But seriously folks, please keep the write-ups coming in.

Here are the weekends for next term

Library Acquisitions

Steve Roberts

I've spent club money on 3 books:

Images Below by Chris Howes. This is Chris's manual of underground photography. Published in 1997, it's a reminder of how things have moved on in some ways, since it of course dates from pre-digital days. Most of the book, though, is about how to set up and light pictures for best effect, which is core stuff, well explained and exemplified with lots of diagrams and of course some fine pictures.

It's Only a Game & The Game Goes On by Jim Eyre. Those familiar with Jim's writing will know what to expect. For those who haven't, it's the literary equivalent of one of the rougher kind of novice trips - the sort where you're whisked from a warm room into a phantasmagoria of mud, farts, sudden danger, pre-PC humour, disintegrating transport, kit and clothing, mad larger-than-life characters, and bizarre happenings. I'd already read It's Only a Game, but having "just dipped into" The Game Goes On before going to bed, I found I was still reading it at 1.30... Many of the stories will be familiar from Jim's earlier book The Cave Explorers, for one can only pack so much caving into a lifetime, even one as bulging at the seams as Jim's is, but in these two books the old tales are given new life and length, and there is much new stuff as well, including Jim's illustrious naval career. Read and learn how it was when all that stood between a caver and the cave was a tattered wetsuit, a knackered old NiFe cell and half of a boot. Lots of photos as well and of course Jim's cartoons.

Baker's Pit

Keith Hyams

We met after work in a dark car park. It had been a long day and the crack called. No one was about but the partners in crime. Our shared addiction. Going on a trip.

The great thing about living in Devon is that you can go caving after work (that is, if you're not in the mood for climbing, or surfing, or kayaking, or sea-cave swimming, or hiking, or kite-boarding). The last time I'd been down a Devonshire pot was a splendid but quite ridiculous trip with Jo Whistler, Paul Mann and Alison Waterfall about ten years ago, down Afton Red Rift and Pridhamsleigh Cavern. This time I was returning with the Devon Speleological Society to a cave called Baker's Pit.

The entrance was a rather amusing drainpipe type protrusion sticking up in the middle of a field next to a church. The drainpipe, a good 20 or 30m climb down, was fully encased in concrete. I was impressed... no dodgy scaffolding bars in this neck of the woods. The speleos assured me that this wasn't down to any particular effort on their part: the local council had done it.

Devon caves are like Swiss cheeses, and Baker's Pit is no exception. I gave up trying to learn the route of the round trip after the first six junctions, a mere hundred metres or so into the cave. With about 4km worth of this there was plenty of potential for getting lost! A great cave though, very warm and welcoming with some great formations and plenty of mud to go around. Where the mud wasn't, the limestone had a unique sparkle about it.

The twelve of us divided up into three groups and my group headed up an interesting squeezy climb into the upper series. We did a big circuit around the upper series through fun chutes, climbs and boulevards before heading out through a different part of the system. We barely saw the lower series, so plenty more to go back for. Digging seems to be a fairly easy affair here, there's so much left to find that its pretty easy to find something new on any trip. I'm assured that there are several large areas of limestone hillside with caves inside them just waiting to be opened up.

A fine trip in a fun cave, topped off by a creamy Devon pint in the Abbey Inn. If I've succeeded in whetting your appetite, then watch out for the OUCC Devon trip next term!

It's Draenen time again

Simon Headford [Sat 15th Dec]...

... sees a small and somewhat mature group of moles front up at Blackwalls for some pre-Christmas fun. Tim G and I had promised a paragliding friend, John Terry, his first caving trip and John to his credit, once given the 'pass out' by his nearest and dearest, supplied enthusiasm infectious and undeniable enough for all of us. Late out from Oxford as usual, and a sniff of a chance (quickly dismissed) at flying on the Pandy ridge, meant that we didn't get underground until about 1pm.

I hadn't been down Draenen for some time and was really looking forward to the trip, not least on the promise of a look at what's going on in Tractor Tracks and a break from the hordes in the Mendips. The Entrance Series was reasonably dry, Cairn Junction still where it ought to be, Wonderbra B/P whipped through in no time, and so on. We chatted enthusiastically all the while about not much at all.

Curiously, of all the unfamiliar kit he was sporting, John was most at odds with his wellies - every cavers' best friend! With a background in climbing and extreme alpinism maybe this could be expected. And we did have to cajole him into some less than formal climbing techniques - e.g. use of knees, elbows, backside etc. But his experience was also a positive factor in that he was careful to moderate his pace in an unfamiliar environment.

On we meandered, White Arch, Lamb & Fox, Indiana Highway (all so familiar), and then departing into the unknown, the Canyon. Being a road somewhat less travelled we were trod carefully, threading our way along the abundant conservation tape and enjoying the relatively pristine passage. We passed a three-way junction half way down the Canyon with an enormous rock buttress on the left, looking for all the world like the prow of a ship, and promptly named it the Titanic.

John had been doing extremely well but as Tractor Tracks reduced in girth and height he became more hesitant. I have to confess a certain amount of enjoyment at someone half my size baulking at a couple of the low crawls we came to. But it was all very good-natured. When we got near the dig John said he would wait at the penultimate squeeze (something I've done myself in the past) while Tim and I went and had a look. But when he was reminded of our obvious difference in size he rightly decided he wasn't going to be left behind. And so we emerged into a section of passage that very few people have ever been in before. Exciting or what!

Compared to other coalfaces I've visited (e.g. in and around Blorens Inlet) this was positively palatial, with room enough for 3 side-by-side if needed, sitting room for half the passage and 'up-on-one-elbow' for the rest. We had a jolly time - Tim dig-hogging, me acting as the conduit between him and John who was happily redistributing the spoil but complaining all the while that we were moving it much farther back than it needed to be! I took my turn at digging despite being a bit concerned about the roof, which showered us regularly with detritus. Asking Tim if he was OK after one particularly loud thud he replied "It was a controlled fall". "Yeah, controlled by your head" I said.

We made 1.5m progress around and above a large boulder in the floor. Signs are still extremely positive with strong evidence of water erosion in the left hand wall continuing into the blockage and (I think) faint draughts. Anyway the air was still fresh after 3 cavers x 4 hours of breathing. As everyone knows Tim, bless him, has a reputation for squeezing everything out of any adventure, and for making an adventure out of anything (and we love him for it). So mindful of callout and tiring first-(and old-) timers John and I almost had to drag him away.

Off we set for the return, noticeably slower after 6 or so hours, half a Mars bar and a few sweets. The pub beckoned. And at our less than blistering pace it was still beckoning 2.5 hours later. But we were getting there. Beer Challenge seemed to require 3 times the effort and take 3 times as long. BTW is this the only UK cave with passages that change name depending on which way you go though them or, as in the case of Persistence is Pointless / Resistance is Futile, which side of bed you got out of that morning?

Thanks to my two companions for a great trip and for a weekend nicely rounded off with a couple of pints in the Lamb and Fox, a good nights sleep in the hut and a stunning afternoons flying at Pandy on the Sunday. John said he felt stretched, happy but stretched.

An Interlude at Bull Pot Farm

Peter Devlin [late December '07]

Karen and Catherine were jetting off on Boxing Day to spend a number number of days in Dubai, so I took the opportunity to join Gavin et al at Bull Pot Farm. Arriving up in the Dales around 2 o'clock I thought I'd nip in to Hurtle for a quick dive. With my 2 12 ltr bottles on my harness I started the trek down to the water. Hurtle has a reputation for being slippery, so I was cautious going down, anxiously gripping the handline. As I started the descent it felt slippier than usual and about a third of the way down I decided that what was difficult in dry walking boots would be treacherous in my wet drysuit whose boots provide very little grip. Getting back out of the climb was harder, needless to say, than going in, but I eventually escaped and was able to sit down and catch my breath. The backup plan was to dive Joint, a good safe bet as long as it isn't resurging. When I got there the water was high (ie the line was underwater), but I got in. A mediocre dive in the worst visibility I have had in Joint followed, but finding Fiona Crozier and Hilary kitting up to go in provided a bit of craic.

The next day I took Fumie down Bull Pot of the Witches as I wanted to bring some lead out from the downstream sump. Going in the water levels seemed fine, the waterfall in the main chamber not particularly high. I had decided to rig the first two pitches as Fumie's reach is not as long as mine. I hadn't brought a rope for the third pitch and Fumie found the climb a bit exposed, but rigging the rope from the second pitch as a traverse line she was fine. Getting into the Canal in the bottom of the cave the water levels looked a little high, but I had seen it higher so wasn't overly concerned. We stopped off to admire the mud formations (see Toby Speight's photos from last year ) and then stopped off in the sump. When we got to the second pitch there was a lot of water coming down and Fumie struggled to get up and stay out of the water. Fortunately it's a short pitch, and she was able to climb/prusik out of the water to avoid a total drenching. As I was derigging it seemed clear to me that the water was now about as high as I had ever seen it in the cave. When we got to the main chamber the waterfall was really scary. Fumie and I were both glad to be almost out of the cave.

The next day it was decided that water levels would allow us to exercise our permit for Notts. Given water levels we would avoid the bottom two pitches. Lorna was going to rig under Hilary's watchful eye, and Jenny, Nick, Earl (Cambridge) and I would follow two hours later. This allowed Team Faff to malinger in Ingleton and do some rebelay/deviation at the Inglesport Wall. When we got to the entrance, water gushing in my first thoughts were of a tactical retreat to the comfort of Ingleton, but peer pressure soon had me in the cave. Before I knew it we were at the bottom of the planned outing and Hilary and Lorna seemed keen to work up some body heat by prussiking out. At the bottom of the cave the water was well scary, so I was glad Hilary had chosen the dry route. In these conditions it was almost impossible to escape the spray, so I was much relieved when it was my turn to start on the way up leaving Nick to derig. Being a tad out of shape I made quite a hash of the climb with the handline at the exit. In the end Nick went up and put a rope down which I prussiked up. I was very impressed with Lorna and Nick's rigging and de-rigging, moreover, Jenny did fabulously well on her first SRT trip.

The next day water levels were still high, but we managed to split up into three teams and get underground. Gareth, Lorna, Jenny and I had a bimble down Lancs. Half a dozen failed attempts to find the Colonnades eventually resulted in success. My abiding memory was Lorna's gasp when she saw a column or two of stal in an antechamber. The plan was to check out Wilf Taylor Passage and go down as far towards the streamway as was safe, but when we got there the sump was resurging and WTP looked abit too sporting. On the way back we bumped into the UBSS folk and stopped for a chat. Hilary had asked us to try and bring back her wetsuit from Stake Pot, so it was decided to go and look for it. Gareth soon tracked it down and we were soon back at an overcrowded Lancs: a dozen cavers milling round (or so it felt), three ropes rigged ... various schemes for optimising caver extraction were discussed, then half implemented, but what did I care: I had managed to jump the queue.

That evening the Cambridge lot introduced me to Edvin, who turned out to be an avid DTT reader. Cross examination established that his recall of recent DTT write-ups was encyclopedic. A suggestion was made that if he read DTT he should contribute a write-up ... time will tell.

The following day I had to get back to Oxford and I felt like doing something easy above ground. A quick jaunt up Ingleborough was just the ticket, the day being the best we had had all week, so I enjoyed the views of Chapel-le-dale. Just to make the point that it hadn't been a particularly arduous exercise, on the way down I stepped to once side on the steep bit to allow a family to pass. They were being led by their 4 year old daughter. By way of explanation the mother pointed out she was nearly 5.