Depth through thought
OUCC News 16th February 1994
Volume 4, Number 14
|DTT Volume 4 index|
I was scared of getting caught, and may have bottled out, if it wasn't for Ben, egging me on. It took us about three quarters of an hour to hide our bikes, don our caving gear - tracksuit bottoms, rugby shirt (lights, helmets, and chocolate in a plastic bag). Suddenly I was feeling the urge to do it, and making sure no-one was about, I climbed over the fence, ran to the entrance of the drain. I put on my light and helmet, and waited for Ben. Two minutes later he joined me. Stage one complete. We started crawling into the two foot high drain, marking every 25 pipe sections. There was an inch high trickle of water flowing through, just below the only watermark, no fear of getting trapped.
Ben: I hadn't been underground in a month, It was practically fourth week, and I hadn't made a single trip, so the idea of a quick foray into the town drains seemed like a good one. "It shouldn't be too wet, and we don't want to be seen looking to much like cavers", said Bill so I came along with just an old jumper, and tracksuit bottoms. (I did have the sense to remember my knee pads though). Bill had a paranoia, about being caught, and spent some time imagining nasty things that would happen to us when we got caught, but eventually the park warden had locked the gates, and we headed in.
The equally lengthed concrete tubes made judging distance relatively easy, and there were manholes placed every 60 or so sections. I crawled from one to the next, marking every 25, so I didn't lose count, and updating my map at each corner. I was making good progress, as it was a uniform tube, just about the right height for me to crawl in. It seemed a relatively short time when we stopped for a mars bar, and a chance to stand up, at the 4th manhole cover.
Bill: Ben moved much quicker than I did so I suggested he went on ahead to the next manhole. We had been gone almost an hour and a half, and I was anxious to get back as Flabalubalub (our callout) might start worrying. The source ot the water still hadn't been found, however and a muffled sound drew us on. Turning my light out, I watched Ben's light disappear deeper and deeper into the drain. After five or so minutes the water seemed to be pushing harder against my foot. I turned my light on, and studied the side of the pipe. Surely not. No. The water was rising. "John, John, Come Back, Come Back". I could see he was already making his way towards me. Panic, like the water was rising fast, and headlines actually flashed in front of me. By the time John returned the volume of water had increased by over tenfold. "Lets get out of here."
Ben: Bill, was feeling rather cold in his rugby top, and decided to let me go on ahead, while he waited above the cold flow of water, (which although I didn't notice at the time, was actually more than when we had entered). I said that I'd see if there was anything interesting in the next few sections before we turned out, since it was getting fairly late. I went upstream as quickly as I comfortably could, so that I could map another couple of manhole covers, and was soon at the end of that section. As was getting back down into the water, after I had adjusted the map, I noticed that the water was flowing faster, than when I had stood up, and that it was now many times higher than when we had entered. This made up my mind, and I turned back towards Bill. As I crawled back, the water continued to rise, and by the time I was back where I had left Bill, I was rather worried about the rate of rise. There was plenty of room, above water at the next manhole cover (which incidentally where locked from the surface) so we quickly decide to make for that. It wasn't too full yet, but if it continued to rise, how long would it be before the tube became impassable?
Bill: We headed out frantically, the pipe was over a third full. What was happening? Was the water still rising? I was using my elbows to move along, but in reality the water was forcing us out. A clear trickle, had become a brown, mud filled torrent. For about fifty meters, I was washed along on my back. It took an eternity to get from manhole to manhole. Should we sit it out? NO, let's get out, let's get out, out ,out. Again the echo. Where's the end? How far had I gone? I had lost count. We spent less than 17 minutes getting out, but I forget the details, only the struggle to escape. A joke had become a death risk. Our story, an epic. Bill had got his woosh. The water had never half filled the pipe, but the difference between a thirty and sixty fold increase, is only a factor of 2.
Ben: Back on the surface it wasn't even raining,
but it was a January night, and the cold was out
with a vengeance. we were both very wet, and very
cold, but still had to get back to bikes, and change.
Bill wasn't so worried about being seen, as we
jogged back along the cycle track, and for once
was almost as slow, as me to get changed. The
next morning our scouts, where heard to complain,
about all these rugby players leaving the showers
dirty, and we were informed of the short sharp
storm, of the night before. Meanwhile I was
wondering how much water the drain takes in
persistent rain. We plan to return - In the summer.
Bill and Ben, The Flower pot men.
Thursday night in Sheffield means drinkies in The York with SUSS, this went very well (loads of people), so Friday afternoon I was in a pretty good mood slumped on the sofa playing the nintendo. Guy rang. 'Fancy a trip to the White River series? Slimey and Paul Deakin are looking for a couple of helpers for a photo trip?' 'Sure, when?' 'Nine thirty tomorrow' 'OK, beer and curries tonight?' 'yep' It was only later in the pub that Guy suggested that the route up into the White River might be a 300 foot pitch. Oh no, pooh factor 9 panic stations, I needed to drink some more beer. felt less scarred after that.
We pulled up at the Speedwell Cavern car park, closely followed by Slimey and Rob Wallis, and Paul Deakin a few minutes later, and waited for the tour guides to arrive and let us in to a nice warm shed to get changed in. Paul had the survey, It was a 110m climb, but split into three pitches. The White River series represents one of the high level routes between Speedwell Mine and Peak Cavern, the other route (at a lower level) is Colostomy Crawl. a third much much lower route is through Treasury Sump. Since we were doing a job of work on behalf of the owners and English Nature we got to go in the easy way, through Speedwell. We hastily got changed (some kind soul lent me an immersion suit) and got into the first tourist boat for the trip along Speedwell canal. At the end of the show cave we jumped into the continuation of the canal (grabbed a breeze block, part of another building project) and splashed off up the adit (this was just like Carno but half full of water). It was getting very noisy up ahead, the Bung Hole, this was a ten foot iron ladder down a very, very wet drop. A bit like being the baby in the bathwater. Good idea these survival suits. We splashed down stream to Block Hall then got kitted up for climbing. Scrambled up a calcite slope, then up. The route is essentially three shafts on top of each other with spacious ledges, or steep boulder-free slopes between.
The rigging is of an interesting standard, perfectly safe but with flying rebelays (with short loops) its not the place to bumble about. Up we went with large ammo cans full of expensive cameras, and a large tackle bag full of useless rope. At the top, in a large bouldery chamber we headed of into a low tight crawl, This had been the point reached 12 years earlier, that wasn't connected until the White River was discovered from Peak Cavern. Rob bottled on the squeezes, opting to go back down the pitches and get very cold waiting for us. The low crawl, interspersed with muddy hands and knees sections suddenly broke in to large canyon passage, chock a block with incredibly white formations. Paul took advantage of his large flash guns to demonstrate the fluorescence of calcite, this is a very neat trick, I'll show you sometime. Paul was his usual photo-whirlwind, being the least attractive of the group I carried the ammo cans, we fair sprinted along the canyon taking lots of pics.
While traversing a few feet above the bottom of a trenchy bit of passage. I looked down to see a beautiful blue calcite pool, then to my left I noticed that the hole floor was covered in a river of pure white calcite. the trench widened to cover most of the passage floor, and the White River debouched into an incredible pool, large slabs of calcite ice lay sunk at the bottom, while at the edges, smaller far more delicate pieces of calcite still floated on the surface. Paul finished off taking pics, and we set off back, we needed to be out and back at the show cave by 4.30 when they shut. Well this was fun, at the end of a trip, with 300 feet of pitches between you and the exit, you clip on your descender, and head out. A fairly easy task, hampered by the large amounts of mud I had picked up in the crawl, made even trickier by the poor state of my rack, The wear was such that by the time I was half way down, I could no longer lock off my rack properly, this made the subsequent hanging rebelay a bit fun, so much fun in fact, that as I was phafing around I knocked my glasses of, fubbling desperately after them as they tumbled down my leg I just managed to catch hold of the end of the stem between muddy thumb and forefinger, PHEW!. Thus sorted I blobbed down the last free hang mightily relieved, WHEEEEE. Once back into the base of Block Hall, I washed off the mud (they don't want muddy cavers sat in the tourist boats) and got the survival suit back on, washed of the ammo cans and scrubbed each other down. We gave Rob some tomato soup and headed off upstream and back up the Bung Hole. Out along the adit, we were greeted by a very large group of tourists. A very large group indeed, well we managed to negotiate space for a very cold Rob, and Paul and his cameras. but Jim, Slimey and Guy had to walk out. We waded for several hundred feet in waist deep water. I had a survival suit underneath my over suit, Slimey had a Russian submarine escape suit (which almost worked, so be wary about Russian submarine holidays) Guy had neither, but he's hard.
Bonzer trip, Pmax, and a great privilege. The
current access agreement is for one party of four
only, on Sundays through the winter, via Peak
Cavern (an extra 3 hours onto the trip) no access in
summer, so maybe 60 people a year will get in, but
if you can make it onto a trip, Jump at the chance.
A hectic and increasingly vodka influenced curry cooking session ensued at the MNRC. Then - just add alcohol and furniture to cavers and watch. Steve amused us by levitating, neck on a razor blade chair back, to pass his usual impressive number of chairs around himself. More chair and table oriented activities, and then bed. Some dickhead dried out his socks by putting them on the MNRC fire...
The next day, one of the more perceptive of us
was rudely awoken to be told that both St
Cuthbert's trips were to be at 10.30. Hangovers
were rapidly doused as far as was possible; mine
never appeared until late on in the trip, since I was
still drunk on heading in! Team asthmatic and me
set off to view the pretties, and very fine they are
too. A good job we had a guide, otherwise we'd
probably still be in, or have been flattened by, one
of the chokes. A good hangover cure. Then, it
was out to play count the bruises on Sarah's
Recently was a fatal accident in Lost Johns. Three cavers were caught in a rock slide below the climbs up to Lyle Caverns. Two escaped unhurt, the third (Paul Pot) received multiple injuries to his legs and was trapped for some time under boulders. Rescuers were alerted and large quantities of heavy lifting gear etc. despatched down the cave. He was freed, but died about halfway out of the cave (several hours after the accident happened), at the base of Centipede Pitch. At this time there were about 75 rescuers in the cave. Cause of death is not known, but shock/hypothermia would almost certainly have been major factors.
My condolences to Pauls' family and friends. We
have lost a promising young caver (he was about
23) in one of those unpredictable moments which
could hit any of us at any time.
I have observed bats swimming on several occasions in the water caves of Texas, Honey Creek and Spring Creek. The bats usually end up in the water from colliding with something, but they recover fairly readily. The most spectacular incident occurred when a group of three or four of us were wading in wall-to-wall water about waist deep. Someone shined their electric light up into a dome that was filled with bats, who at that moment decided to exit en masse. There were hundreds of them, and they ran into each other, us, the walls, etc. Many landed in the water and began swimming to the nearest dry spot, which in many cases was a caver. Soon we had bats crawling up our legs, into unzipped wetsuits, under the backs of helmets, etc. It was a crazy scene with us flailing away as wildly as the bats were. No one was bitten, and we learned that the best approach was to lie down with only our heads out of the water.
This not the only time I have seen bats collide with people. In fact I remember someone once saying that bats memorize their routes and do not always use their echo location system when flying in known terrain. Thus when a caver suddenly appears where the bat is not expecting an obstacle, the bat crashes.