Depth through thought

OUCC News 29th May 2013

Volume 23, Number 4

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Editor: Andrew Morgan

Upcoming trips/events:

White River Series, Peak Cavern (OUCC/OUMC caving/climbing weekend), 18th May 2013

Thomas Leung

Also present: Éabha Grainne Lankford

On Friday the 17th of May, some cavers and climbers met in Oxford for this joint OUCC/OUMC caving/climbing weekend. Some of us met at the hut to pick up gear and camping stuff, while others were being picked up by our minibus driver, Olaf, at Keble road, and then we headed north together. On the way North, although our minibus had a speed limit and could only do 62 miles per hour (Olaf managed to speed it up a bit, he claimed it could do 65.5 miles per hour for a maximum), we not only managed to overtake one cyclist, forty lorries, one campervan, five vans (which we shouldn't be proud of), but also fourteen common cars, one mini, one Jeep, and five canon (which was pretty good), until we arrived our camp site at Hope. The weather was light showers when we got to the campsite. All of us started setting up tents, and while others went for drinks in the pub (the traveller's rest) right next to the camp site, I decided to go to bed, as I was planning a serious trip next day.

On Saturday the 18th of May, we woke up at around 0730 in the morning, made porridge as breakfast, and started thinking what trips we were going to do. Éabha managed to take a shower before caving and was coming with me as I had already planned to do the Peak Cavern - White River Round Trip, and she wanted to do some long trip. Olaf, Frances, and two climbers went to Peak cavern as well, but doing a relative much shorter and enjoyable tourist trip. Thomas S., Rosa, and Andrew with another climber decided to do a Giant's trip. So, the Peak Cavern team left the gear for the Giant's team at the camp site, and drove to the TSG. We arrived at around 0910 at the TSG, filled in the forms, got changed, and walked to Peak Cavern. The water level of the river in front of the show cave was very low and the resurgence was almost bone dry. I am going to describe the trip Éabha and I did in Peak Cavern below.

The first trip I did in White Rivers Series was in November, 2010. I still remembered how impressive it was when I first looked at the unique formations. The second unforgettable trip was in November, 2011, with Olaf. Two men carried five bags of rope and went down James Hall Over Engine Mine (JH), a proper expedition training trip. Then, in February 2012, and March 2013. No proper photography has been done in any of these trips for various reasons, i.e. call-out and party size. So, this time, I was planning to do the photography once for all, and very likely will not go there in the next couple of years, as the formation is starting to suffer.

After walked through the first part of the show cave (Lumbago Walk, The Great Cave, Roger Rains House, etc), the two teams split at the junction near Buxton Water Sump. Éabha and I headed towards the Fawlty Tower through the Mucky Ducks, Upper Gallery, Treasury, etc. We climbed the ladder at the Fawlty Tower and started the very muddy and long crawl - the Trenches, Liam's way and Colostomy, especially when we were carrying our SRT bags, a 40 meters rope, and with my personal photographic equipment. It took us 45 minutes to go through the whole crawl and we were making good progress. Then we climbed down the extremely long ladder at the Egnaro Aven, took the short by-pass, and eventually got to the bottom of Block Hall. Block Hall is about 100 metres high which breaks down into three sections, with two slopes in between. We spent another hour climbing Block Hall (watch out for the first deviation and the last re-belay, they are not very nice), it was half twelve. Everything was as planned so far. I spent 30 minutes taking pictures at the top of Block Hall while Éabha played with her new camera. Then, it was the last restriction before White River Series - the Watt Passage. It is a relative tight and awkward crawl, about 50 meters in length. Éabha went in first and I followed. I recognized there was a small collapse recently, as there was a medium size boulder slightly in my way, which was not there in my past four trips. Around 1300, we were in the White Rivers Series. I was planning to visit four different sections of this series, and spend 5 hours for photography.

We first went up-stream, after a 5 metre climb over a huge flowstone, and the Pearly Gate (a tight squeeze, no way you can fit through with SRT kit on), we were at the Heaven. It is the upper end of the White River Series, with a big chamber full of stalactite, stalagmite, and a stream slowly flowing on the floor. We could felt the draft in this chamber, and it was relatively colder than the rest of the series. I finished the picture and turned round, headed down-stream through the Kingdom. The passage was well-decorated. The next section of the series I wanted to look at was the Pearl Harbour. It is located at a different level and access was via the 20 m nameless pitch. Since we had the 40 meters rope, the only problem was the rigging. We traversed across the pitch and rigged the pitch using the only existed bolt, with two back-up points and one rope protector (the tackle bag used to carry the rope). The rocks at the pitch head were very loose, but it was a nice pitch to do. This lower level is seldom visited by many cavers. We first went to the terraced chamber (a chamber with mud floor and drip holes), then the Pearl Harbour. It got its name from the little ball shaped formation on the ceiling. It is worth to take a short detour if you have time; it also warmed you up by doing SRT. We then went back to the upper level and carried on to the lower kingdom (the third section of my plan). The lower kingdom contains a 30 meters long pure white calcite formation that looked like a river. It has started to suffer from damage since the mud from the side goes into it when cavers walk along the river bank. Also, it is the unavoidable path for the Peak Cavern - White River Round trip. I spent nearly two hours to finish the picture, and then decided to visit the last section of my plan. After the lower Kingdom, we kept going down stream and soon reached the Monday the Thirteenth Passage, then the 4th pitch of the pull through.

The last section is located right opposite to this 4th pitch called the White River Passage. To access this section, we traversed across the pitch following the traverse line on the right and then free climbed the flowstone slope until we reached the top of it. It would be better to have the flowstone rigged, but it was still ok to free climb. The white river passage split into two opposite directions. To the left was the less impressive 100 metres of "white river" which was already spoilt by mud as cavers visiting this passage walk right on top of the formation. It was the first time I wondered how lucky the first person who discovered and walked on this was. The passage on the right was way more impressive. We first came across a small aven, called the "Source of Perfection". Although it was only about 15 metres high, we were surrounded by coloured flowstones and curtains, that weren't spoilt by mud. Further into the passage was a 15 metre long pool, with razor shaped crystals ran along its bank and fully covered the bottom. As we saw that there was already thin mud settled in it (which means somebody walked in it already), we walked carefully into it and carried on. Just round the corner ahead of us, we saw three lotus shaped calcite formation under the shallow water. We carefully avoided them, left the pool, and walked on the dry, muddy passage ahead. The passage continued with formations and eventually ended at a low, muddy crawl. This passage is something that I will only visit once, in order not to further damage the formations.

It was 1900 at the moment when we left the White River Passage. I rigged the pull-through as fast as I could through the 4th pitch, the Fever Pitch, Terminator and Ventilator. We went through the trenches and the show cave, washed our gear near the Buxton Water Sump, and then finally made our way towards the show cave entrance. It was 2050. We missed our call-out by an hour. We met Thomas S., Rosa, and another TSG caver at the entrance, and found out that if we came out the cave 30 minutes later, there might be cave rescue rather than the three of them. We all walked back to the TSG, and the two of us had a shower and packed our stuff. Since we hadn't had any dinner yet, Olaf dropped us at Hope. Éabha and I bought a superb curry from an Indian take-away and walked our way to the camp site (nearly got lost half way). Then, we finished our meal in the minibus and went straight to bed.

Sunday the 19th of May, was the climbing day. We had an early start as on Saturday, woke up at 0730, made porridge and packed our tent (literally everything) and left the camp site. Éabha, again, managed to take a shower (three showers in a caving weekend?) and missed breakfast, so we stopped at Hope again when driving to the Lawrencefield climbing site. I joined the climbing day as a camera man and walked between different climbing walls and took pictures, while others did the climbing. Frances, on the other hand, wanted to do some SRT so together we rigged one rock face. It took a long time (about two hours) to find rigging points as there were no bolts, but only giant boulders scattered randomly at the top of the wall. There was a tree as a bonus. However, we gave up the tree and rigged the rock face as a direct abseil with tackle bags as rope protector. Frances did SRT a few times and adjusted the rope of her hand jammer, as well as the foot loop, as she just brought it the day before. All the cavers and climbers stayed till 1700. After packing the ropes, etc., we went to the nearby Millstone Country Inn for drinks and food. Then, we left the pub and start driving to Oxford at around 1900. We got back to Oxford at around 2230, since the A34 South was closed that day.