Depth through thought

OUCC News 10th October 2012

Volume 22, Number 12

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Editor: Andrew Morgan

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How to Cause Two Rescues in One Day

Olaf Kähler

To be fair, we failed at causing even a single rescue, but given how close we were, you might still draw some good inspirations and ideas for your next try.

As Tonya claimed that she needed yet more training for an expedition to Uzbekistan, she was very keen on doing even a single day trip of more caving. And as she had never been to the Mendips, we spontaneously decided to go there. We picked a glorious British summer day with rain all over and flood warnings coming in by the minute. The slightly damp conditions convinced us not to go to Singing River Mine, but rather to a dry spot instead.

Our first stop was at the Wessex hut, where we picked up a key for G.B., probably one of the best options in the area anyway. We filled in the forms, left a deposit and all that, before we drove off into the rain, passing a sorry folk festival and some impressive puddles on the road. Shortly later we got changed at Charterhouse Farm. We also took a ladder and rope along, just in case.

There was an impressive amount of water in G.B., even in the small passage leading to The Gorge. The main stream itself brought quite a lot of water and warm air from the surface, but we could still hop across it from one dry boulder to the next. Further downstream we met another party at the waterfall pitch, and they were struggling hard to climb up through the masses of water. We therefore rather went on an extensive excursion into the dry Upper Galleries, exploring all the nooks and crannies we could spot. We eventually emerged back in the main passage underneath the waterfall, and we encountered the sump lake just at this exit from the Upper Galleries. No chance of getting anywhere near the Ladder Dig and the really nice parts of the cave. Instead we had a look at the sunken car and explored parts of the route to Devils Elbow, but there too was an unpleasantly impressive amount of water.

We were back at the car park at around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. And as the quick tour of G.B. was not nearly enough for us, we got another callout for 8pm for a trip down Tyning's Barrow Swallet. Neither of us had ever been there, but Tonya remembered reading about a ladder at the entrance and I remembered about getting a key from the landowner at the "side door to the main farm house" of Tyning's Farm, and as we both had even printed out surveys, we were perfectly well prepared for the cave.

After a short walk, we got to the entrance and rigged our ladder off the odd bar, that usually holds the lid in place. Our one, single "normal length ladder" (these stupid things are measured in feet, aren't they?) was just about long enough to reach the bottom of the two entrance pitches. Having had a look at the survey we decided to first try the main stream passage as far we got, and then explore the side passages on our way out. So we followed the steeply inclined passage further and further down, and along the way, the air got worse and worse. At the next short pitch, Pyramid Pot, we decided to turn around, as it didn't look very free-climbable and we hadn't brought a second ladder, and besides, we couldn't see anything to rig a ladder off. Also the air was now so bad, that our breathing rates were only calming down very, very slowly.

On the way back, we ignored the uninviting Velcro Passage, almost missed a little climb, and eventually got back to the enjoyably fresh air in Paton Place. We decided to do a short round trip up White Dog Passage, which had an easy squeeze, then into Dragon Chamber, through another downwards squeeze, that looked rather tricky to reverse, and then got back to the entrance via Sheep Jaw Passage. I made a horribly messy coil out of the ladder, while Tonya moved the lid back in place and locked the entrance to this rather uninspiring collectors piece of a cave.

I promised some rescues in the beginning, and this was indeed the final act in our Mendip daytrip. We had about half an hour of our callout left when leaving Tyning's Barrow Swallet. That's still quite reasonable, but we had to hurry on our way back to the car and to the phone. While walking back on the farm track to Charterhouse we spotted another lonely caver apparently heading to G.B. on his own, which we thought was rather odd. Once he noticed us he turned around and started waving, which was even more odd. It turned out that he was from the Wessex Club, and as they were getting a bit worried about their G.B. key, they had just sent someone over to have a look. Luckily the whole rescue could be cancelled before it had even started, but we still felt a bit embarrassed, although the Wessex members were all really friendly and mostly glad, that we were safely out of the cave. Also Thomas, our callout in Oxford, was very relieved to hear back from us 15 minutes before the set time. So while it was close, it would only have been really embarrassing, if two full scale rescues would have been looking for two pairs of cavers in two different caves right next to each other.