Depth through thought

OUCC News 26th January 2000

Volume 10, Number 1

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Welcome to the first real issue of Volume 10, and thanks for Hil for introducing a DTT 10.0 last week just to confuse the archivists in years to come. Don't forget to send in stories, reports, news and gossip, otherwise Lev and I will bore you stupid each week talking about our new lamps.

Letter from Will

Dear OUCC, I'm back in Holland at the moment, and it looks likely that I'll be here or Paris for the rest of the year before being shipped off to Nigeria. If any of the cavers are passing through Holland on the way to somewhere more interesting they're welcome to stay at my place, or just to stop over for a biertje or 2. My new address is Balistraat 27i, 2585 XK, The Hague. Tel: +31 (0)70 345 9618 (home number, but won't be connected for another couple of weeks) or +31 (0)70 373 2227 (wk).
Will Jeremy

Easter Plans

A Rival Bid for your Attention. Having just checked my email, I see that James has beaten me to it on the Easter suggestions, but...... how does anyone fancy going to the Vercors at Easter? I've never yet made it on to a club Easter trip yet, and I've been wanting to go there for ages. So what do you think? I'd be willing to do the organisation if enough people would be enthusiastic about coming along. Yet me know, by email or phone (01772 760 872). See you all soon,
Fleur Loveridge

Mendip weekend

A weekend away with OUCC always promises to bring surprises. If nothing else, the transport is normally good for an adventure or two, and this weekend was no exception. The newly repaired van blanc looks pretty much the same as it always did, and it is only when you start it up that you realise that within the meek exterior throbs the still-pounding heart of the van rouge. Unfortunately, this Frankenstein's monster of a vehicle (van rose?) still has the white van's 4-speed gearbox, and the overdrive isn't working, so the mighty power of the van rouge engine is somewhat wasted, like a caged beast. The acceleration from stationary is impressive, but you really have to thrash it to get any speed on the motorway.

The weekend's first moment of excitement occurred on the drive down to Mendip - while stopped at Bath to make a phone call, a pair of workmen kindly pointed out that we were pissing fuel out of our tank at a worrying rate, and already there was a sizeable pool of petrol under the van. Turns out some kind soul back in oxford had punched a hole in the tank in order to steal some fuel, probably the same culprit who stole the radio. Studying the reactions of the various members of the party to this situation could form the basis of an interesting psychological report. Zac and I split into different directions looking for shops selling useful items; Pip started rummaging in her rucksack to find her 1st aid kit, which contained some gaffer tape; I didn't see what Brita did; Seedy started whittling a potato - not what I'd have done, but a good bit of lateral thinking. Soon we had kludged to together a twig-and-gaffer-tape repair, which seemed to do the job, and went on our way, cursing the thieves who'd caused us to spill 40 quid's' worth of petrol along the M4.

Leaving the others in the Hunters', Seedy and I went off in search of a more permanent repair, ending up eventually in Wells, where we purchased a two part resin filler paste. This needed the area to be clean and dry, so we drove aimlessly around Wells for a few minutes, not really knowing what we were looking for, but eventually finding the perfect spot - a 45 degree concrete slope. We got the van onto this (I wish I had a photo) and found that the slope was enough to tip the petrol away from the hole and we could make the repair. Whilst the resin hardened, we went round the corner to Bat Products where I wanted to buy some gear and we got top tips on how to do Priddy Green Sink from J-Rat.

By the time Chris and I had lunch at the Hunters' and had got to Priddy it was 3pm, so time was a little short. I managed to persuade Chris that I had seen Rob freeclimb the 20' and it looked easy, so we needn't waste time going down Swildon's to rig it. The first thing that hits you on opening the Priddy Green Sink manhole cover is a wave of stench. It was almost enough to make both Chris and me physically sick. With the cowshed only a few yards away you are in no doubt as to the source of the offending excrement. Taking a deep breath we went for it, discovering that the human olfactory system soon shuts down in self-defence when faced with such a situation and its not so bad after a few minutes. Priddy Green Sink, apart from the excrement, was not as bad as we'd been fearing. It's tight, but not that bad. Even the rift they call clitoris ("it's a bit of a c**t"), supposedly the crux of it, wasn't anything too scary. Soon we found ourselves at the first of the Cowsh Avens pitches, pleasantly surprised to find it had been P-bolted. The in-situ rigging leaves a lot to be desired, however, Mendip practise seeming to dictate that one bolt and no backup is plenty safe enough, even if there's a second bolt right next to it. The rigging on the big pitch was an almost textbook example of how not to rig a pitch (see our topo in the logbook). (When we later asked in the Hunters', everyone was surprisingly quick to deny all knowledge of who was responsible for the rigging...). The ropes, being covered in cow shit, were also incredibly fast. On the first pitch I very nearly lost control, and so I offered Chris a bottom belay, which he accepted. I could tell, as he descended, that he thought I was making a fuss over nothing, so it was very satisfying that when I unclipped from the rope, with Chris about a foot off the floor, the moment he continued abseiling he immediately free-fell straight onto his arse on the floor. I wish I had a photo of the expression on his face. You can never be alone down PGS - we had a whole menagerie of cute little creatures wanting to be our friends. Nasty little red worms, green stringy things hanging from the ceiling, small flying things, some pale slug-things, and earwig-like creatures. Made you wonder what every little itch on your body might be...

As we made our way down Cowsh Avens, nerves wearing as thin as some of the rub-points on the rigging, we passed an amusing rising sump of cow shit. Some joker had placed a roll of bang wire and a crowbar just inside it. At least, I sincerely hope it was a joke. No-one could have been mad enough to be pushing it, surely...

It was with great pleasure that we reached the Swildon's 4 streamway. Neither of us had been there before and it is really a very nice piece of passage. We went and had a quick look at sump 4 before heading upstream and looking for Blue Pencil (making sure not to had up Watergate by accident). I don't know how we managed to miss a huge great piece of chain hanging down the side of the passage, but we did, ending up at sump 3 instead. We found the chain on the next attempt and managed to blunder our way up Blue Pencil (which was a fun bit of passage) and into the Trouble series. We spent about half an hour bailing and siphoning the first trouble until there was good airspace. The second trouble and the other ducks were already open and didn't require bailing. From there it was a short stumble down Vicarage passage down to the familiar territory of Swildon's 2.

The route-finding difficulties were now over, but there still remained the nagging worry about whether we'd be able to freeclimb the 20' pot. We swiftly negotiated sump 1 and dashed up to the bottom of the 20 to find out. I had seen Rob bridge up the passage and make it look easy. I tried to do the same and found that Rob has much longer legs than I do. I was doing the splits quite painfully about 20' above the ground and there was no way I could negotiate the wider section just ahead. I retreated and let Chris try. He had similar difficulties but managed somehow to get to the top. I tried a different tactic - climbing up the left wall I got myself level with the pitch head, but with an airy fingery traverse to get to it. Chris came to my rescue by taking off his harness and clipping it to the bolt for me to pull myself over on it. This worked, so we made our exit to a beautiful clear evening. It was 9pm - 6hours for the trip. Steve showed up at Priddy just as we finished changing, come to see if we were ok (he's so thoughtful), and we had time for a quick pint at the Hunters before dinner at the MCG.

Caving on LEDs

I expect many of you are bored to death with me rabbitting on about Lithium cells and white LEDs and other technodweebery, but I'm going to carry on anyway, because some of you will not know that due to the generosity of HDS Systems ( Tim and I are the proud owners of brand new state-of-the-art helmet-mounted cave-illumination subsystems. Go to the website for all the technical details, but the short information is that it all fits on your head, in a relatively compact package with a standard blade mount. There are 3 brightness settings: High - lasts for 12 hours; Medium - lasts for 50 hours; and Low - lasts for 300 hours (that's almost a fortnight of continuous use!). Spare batteries are the size of a D cell and weigh 85g!

I took mine underground for the first time this weekend, and found it very good indeed. The low setting would probably have been bright enough for most caving, but both Seedy on Sat. and Steve on Sun. had FX5s and kept dazzling me and making me lose the dark adaptation. In the end I used the medium setting for most of the caving, only resorting to high setting for short bursts, for things like spotting a line to climb up the 20. The beam is very much like that from a carbide set-up, hence it is much more pleasant than caving on electric usually is. The colour of the light is very white, and seems to pick out detail much more nicely than the yellow of an standard electric. Calcite formations look especially nice with this light. The big advantages for me were not having to worry about running out of light (I get paranoid about these things), and not having a waist-pack and cable to catch in the tight bits. Tim and I will keep you up-to-date with reports on how well this high technology works in practise. The light is supposedly waterproof to 100m, so...

Mendip story continues next week. Lev Bishop