Depth through thought
OUCC News 7th October 1992
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Next day we went down Brown Hill. Lots of water in the beck. Kitting up a relative pleasure with my new wetsuit. Once in the sump my troubles started. Just in the entrance bit, my nice new "we're pleased you bought that Steve, now you won't die" Poseidon D.V. flooded suddenly. I tipped my head over and blew it out, and it filled up again. I changed to the other valve and "recovered my composure". At this point I realised the visibility hadn't cleared - in fact it was totally shit. I lost the line before getting to the well, and found myself following the string attached to my pencil (oh all right, the van logbook pencil).
At the bottom of the Well, the vis had not improved (about 4-6 inches at best), and my Poseidon flooded again when I changed back to it experimentally. A sensible decision was made, and I blundered back to base - was not going to get to the end of the line without running to thirds under those conditions.
Bottles left in place, a slow trip out in which I find how unfit I am
after No Expedition, and an agricultural / botanic walk down in one of
the most splendid Kingsdale evenings I've seen. Thanks Mark, Urs, Sherry,
"It ain't got that swing if you can't see a thing" Steve
Postscript - servicing the DV. Michelle listened patiently as I explained how to clean out all the grit in the exhaust valve that was causing it to flood, and then pointed out the massive tear in the mouthpiece... "is it meant to be like that ?".
Since we arrived at Egless first, we thought we'd start by having a look there. You know the bit of Egless, just before you pop out into Valentines chamber, you go headfirst down a hole in the right-hand floor of the passage? Well, just before that, if you take the main route, straight ahead along the big passageway, you go on along way, and then come to the upper reaches of Egless. So, if you go through Egless en route to the time machine, you only get about half of the total Egless experience.
The upper reaches of Egless end in a terminal dig site, and there are several other little digs off the left side of the passage before the actual 'end'. Tony and I spent as long as we could bear digging at the 'end', while Gavin persevered solo at one of the more promising little holes off to the left. Tony and I did make some noticeable progress. We dug out several wheelbarrow loads of sand and dirt (small wheelbarrows) with the aid of the 'backscratcher' tool and a dead useful metal tray. We also shifted several largish rocks, and just before calling it a day, Tony moved a HUGE boulder. Then Gavin came to say he was fed up with lying in his little hole all by himself, and he had a look at our dig and managed to move another HUGE boulder.
I'm pretty pessimistic when it comes to digging, but I must say that the Egless terminal dig site wasn't too bad. First, the hole that you have to lie in is dry. Second, it's relatively comfortable, lying stretched out in the sand. Third, it's totally safe. There are no dodgy boulders waiting to pounce on you from the roof. Fourth, there is room to manoeuvre and place to put the spoil, and fifth, the air is fresh and cold, so it is just possible to imagine that the dig might conceivably GO.
All-in-all an enjoyable trip. I hadn't been caving since June, so it
felt good to remind my body of what caving is all about, and where better
place to do that than down Daren?
Part of what's been happening is that the actual number of overseas delegates turns out to be 23, plus 47 from the UK, more than half of which are SWCC anyway. A mega club event, but not enough to drain all those beer barrels waiting in the next quarry...
Sunday, guided OFD 2 trip for Ilka and a north German caver, c/o Gerhard. Most people are only just arriving. There's rather more water in Swamp Creek than I've ever seen there, almost as much as Salubrious carries on wet days (like today). I'm not going to tell what Malcolm Herbert did in Gnome Passage as I'm still expecting a bribe from him.
Sunday evening, opening ceremony with buffet and speeches. In a warm and dry spot --Cathedral Cave. (NB The nature reserve regulations don't allow food to be taken into the DYO caves.) It's been raining on and off the whole weekend and it's dripping into the wine, onto the tables, onto the chairs, onto the delegates; at least when the chilly draught doesn't blow the spray elsewhere. Apparently the Italians are the only ones who don't readily understand English, so the speeches are interpreted especially for them. You can't understand a word in either tongue; the acoustics here is a match to any cathedral's. From what I'm picking up, though, I think I ought to congratulate Elsie Little for her excellent Spanish. Anyway, we dutifully clap our hands and, speeches over, the music and light effects are turned on at full volume.
Monday morning: Practice. "Floating stretcher" in OFD 1. Great fun, with the main stream in full spate. There are four different workshops in various parts of the cave, simultaneously, today and tomorrow, so that everybody can get to see everything. Just before we're out, somebody comes walking in and calls our leader away on a real call-out: The boy who was to play the victim for the "stretcher pitch hauling" group seems to have fallen down the pitch. When we return to HQ, however --- after having watched two Welsh ambulances trying to reverse on the narrow OFD 1 lane --- they've already brought him out of Top Entrance to (drizzly) daylight, alive and well.
Monday p.m., "crawls" in Cwm Dwr, very near the entrance. Something I've been looking forward to; dragging a rigid or semi-rigid stretcher through narrow twisting passage is any cave rescuer's nightmare, and I'm eager to learn how they go about it here. Not long after we've started moving the thing, I find myself giving advice, then instructions. The learning business cuts both ways. One of the less obvious truths about crawl rescue is that as long as a stretcher fits through at all, a completely rigid one is easier to manoeuvre --- it will rest readily on little ledges and projections where a flexible one would bend painfully.
Tuesday am, "pitch hauling". Suffice to say I opened my mouth when we'd lifted Stevie West to the top of Arete Chamber, and dared to ask someone how they'd manage with fewer than 30 helpers per pitch and a less spacious pitch-head. "Well then you'd have to improvise a bit of course..." It's all very well if you have numbers of "Chinese" available that will allow you to relieve every shift after 20 minutes toiling, and can call on 200 or 300 cavers during a major rescue. Back home, I'll be glad if we can get a stretcher out in 7 hours with just one team of 20, which is likely to be all we've got in Upper Bavaria. Fortunately, the infrequency of incidents tends to reflect the infrequency of cavers. Tuesday p.m., "Stemple Rift" somewhere in the upper Labyrinth. Malcolm is in his element now, hurting abuse at me as I gleefully shoot stereo piccies of him from below. This is physiospeleogenesis at its best. No floor? Rough floor? Make your own then. The stretcher and all helpers travel at any desired level, on a couple dozen massive iron stemples, carried in by another dozen helpers and mounted with arm-sized spanners.
Wednesday, Excursions. It's been raining of course. By now, OFD 1 is getting dubious, the lakes are going up in DYO, no-one would even get into LNRC, and at Porth yr Ogof, the divers are holding a demo sump rescue. And there's a callout; someone's reported a caver's car parked at DYO since yesterday afternoon. Eventually it transpires that the car is not the same as the yesterday afternoon one, and belongs to a perfectly sane caver who hadn't dreamt of going down DYO in these conditions. Stand-down, and off we go East to an International Guided Tour of that absolute rescuer's bane, Ogof Daren Cilau: 2 Swedes, 2 Irish, 2 Germans, and Andy Dawson of SWCC. At the end of the crawls, Sven unfortunately finds out he doesn't fit through the 'slot', and Andy takes him back out. Fine trip to the Antlers and back for the rest of us. BtW there's a world novelty being tested --- only a couple of times Ilka turns the first FX5 ever sold from pilot bulb to dazzling 6W main beam... (I'd taken out the 10W bulb. Use it when you take your MP caving one day. Or your grandma. (I took my 5 year old goddaughter down Goatchurch with one on Sunday, and rather phased an Andy Sparrow cave training group as we "burned" through the scout ruckles: is this OUCC's youngest caver? ed.)
Wednesday night, BBQ, Ceilidh and Fireworks. Miraculously, it has stopped
raining (barely) so you can actually see the fireworks (and, illuminated
in strange colours, the mud puddles you're standing in). We leave on Thursday,
missing the International Practice Cave Rescue, which (I was told later)
was a resounding success. It's raining on the A40, it's raining in Oxford,
it's raining on the M25, there's a cold drizzle in Harwich. Next day, all
our fresh Belgian Nougat will melt to funny shapes while we visit the great
white dish of the Effelsberg radio telescope in the scorching afternoon
sun... Joking and slanting aside, however, it has been a great experience
- meeting cave rescuers from all corners of the world, and meeting them
at the (practice) sharp end, next to the stretcher, people who're haunted
by the same worries, driven by the same urge to help comrades in need.
Weather apart, the organisation had been running flawlessly throughout
the event, and many SWCC members and further helpers behind the scenes
had been putting in a tremendous effort. Thank you all. Sadly, one of RESCON's
initiators, and a driving force of SWCRO, had not lived to see it.
In honour of Bruce Foster, who died last year, little cuddly purple dragon
Bruce will now watch over West Brecon Cave Rescue Team..
Without wishing to appear "we never did it like this in my day"ish, I might mention that until a few years ago, we managed quite well with just one secretary and one tackle / hut person. I don't think we need yet another "secretary". It is the job of the sees to make sure that the club and trips run smoothly. If the trip happens to be a novice trip, fine, that's the job for this week. As I see it, the main "job" of the club as a whole in the first part at least of M,T., and really up to and including the new year trip, is to induct, sort and do basic training on novices. This is the responsibility of the whole club, officers or not, but especially of the Pres., Chair, sec(m), sec("n"), and the rest. We don't need another post for this; it would just be pointless proliferation of "chiefs".
On the subject of "Hunter's or not Hunter's": when I go on a Sunday,
I arrive a few minutes before midday, and we are first at the bar and first
to get served. There is very little delay. If one leaves Oxford before
ten o'clock, this is not a problem. Personally I regard sitting at the
MNRC eating packed lunches as very un-OUCC and hopelessly twee. I know
there are several who would disagree, but I don't think that doing things
in a non-"normal" way to attract novices is good for the club in the long
run. Caving IS sordid, uncomfortable, cold, wet and miserable, as well
as being great, exhilarating, daring, wonderful, exciting, etc. and we
conceal this from newcomers only at the expense of keeping people around
who are going to leave for a dry-cleaners' sport sooner or later anyway,