Depth through thought

OUCC News 1st February 2012

Volume 22, Number 3

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page

Editor: Andrew Morgan

Upcoming trips/events:

I caved, I saw, I conquered: OUCC Xitu 2011 Expedition

Part 2. [part 1]

Vicky Lim

I missed the next rigging trip because Climax Rift (so named for the sounds a particular caver used to make while journeying through it 30 years ago) had proved something of a challenge for Dave Rose on the way out. Unable to wedge himself sideways along the wider section of the rift without sliding down and getting stuck while traversing along, he had eventually had to resort to standing on Callum's head to get out. This being a less than ideal situation, Callum, George (another old lag of incredible age and fitness) and myself spent a few happy hours in the rift the next day hammering in stemples and inventing the game of rift-jousting.

The next trip I got back on the rigging front and we successfully cleared the Entrance Series, the Upper Streamway, and were just entering the Teresa Series when things went somewhat wrong. Climbing up to a ridge at about head-height, we had rested for a moment while others went ahead to rope the hole into the Teresa Series. Getting off that ridge, on hands and knees, onto a muddy ledge, my knee slipped, I had nothing to grip onto, and I fell. I hit a couple of walls on the way down, dislodged a boulder, and landed on my back in a gully in the floor, about three and a half metres below where I had been. I had been cursing and struggling with a tacklesack of rope the whole trip and this was on my back like a rucksack when I made my rapid descent. It probably saved me from what could have been a very serious injury. Two or three hours into the cave as we were, it would probably have taken a few hundred cavers at least a day or two, and likely some explosives for the entrance rift, to get me out if I had been immobilised. As it was, I felt fine, if shaken and winded, but my knee was aching and threatening to seize so Andrew and I left the rest of the group to go on and headed out. On the way, Andrew managed to get serious amounts of grit in his eye and was half-blind and crying for most of the trip. Nonetheless we escaped safely and went back to camp to await the others' return.

Unbeknownst to us, it had been raining severely on the surface the whole time we were down (although, given that this was an almost constant state of affairs, we could probably have guessed). The other four, Jamie, Chris, Callum and Dave, were rigging past the Teresa Series, on a pitch called Graham's Balls-up, when a sudden thundering noise alerted them to an incoming flood-pulse. They, in true British fashion, sat and had tea, then managed to alter rigging to make it safe in such circumstances. It was a scary experience for them however, and our first indication that the weather that summer was not what we had planned for.

Scuppered by my knee for all but the more gentle trips, I languished on the surface and bemoaned the fact that I was missing my chance to rig and get fit enough for longer trips. Meanwhile occasional sunshine peeked through enough to inflict sunburn on the more traditionally pasty Oxford students, only to be chased away by the irrepressible clagg or lingering rain. Many days were spent huddled in the old shepherd's hut which was our kitchen making odd combinations of sandwiches, playing with paraffin that had been accidentally brought up the mountain, and fixating on how to suspend our numerous plastic cups on a line strung from the beams.

After the week or two it took for my knee to be dependable enough for long trips, the rigging front had moved to over 500m down the cave, meaning any trip was likely to exceed ten or fifteen hours and might well have been beyond my capability. Frustrated at my lack of progress, sick of being the slowest and weakest of the expedition so far, and upset that I had still got no further down the cave than the beginning of the Teresa Series, I jumped on a chance to go to the top of Flat Iron with Rosa, bring back the drill left there and to survey the pitches rigged so far for the topo.

The trip went off really well: despite the fact that neither of us had never been through the Teresa Series before, or down the pitches beyond, we found our way with only a few mishaps, and I finally enjoyed "The Gap", an incredible pitch where a small hole in the floor opens into a massive chamber that was invisibly large with my relatively weak lamp. In a miracle which I still fail to understand, we both managed to miss the obviously placed drill at the top of Flat Iron, and we were on the third rebelay down before I decided that we had definitely gone too far, that the hundreds of metres deep pitch below me must be Flat Iron, and that we should probably go back. We duly pruissicked up, found the drill, exclaimed over how we had missed it, and muddled our way back to the surface, keeping ourselves occupied by my recount of the entire plot (plus some songs) of Les Mis to Rosa. I honestly don't know how she made it.