Depth through thought

OUCC News 2nd February 2000

Volume 10, Number 2

DTT Volume 10 index

DTT Main Index

OUCC Home Page



Please note that, thanks to John Pybus, the OUCC Website has a new temporary home ( link removed) whilst Norbert is sick.

Lev on Mendip

Continued from last week... On Sunday, Steve and I took on the President's Challenge - the mission, should you choose to accept it, being to free-dive your way to sump 9 and back. We ploughed our way through the Sunday-trip-to-sump-1-ers, getting a few comments about my light. The water levels were fairly high and sump 1 was a decent length. On towards sump 2 and time to put on some lead. Steve went for 4 weights. I went for 5, since I didn't have a battery, and I'd been warned about going through underweighted. Sump 2 is about 8m long and fairly straightforward - you just have to make sure you get low enough to avoid the ceiling pendants. Emerged into the first airbell - nice and large. Duck through into the second bell and psyche up for sump 3. Sump 3 is 10m long and several metres deep, with a silted-up tightish archway to negotiate at the lowest point. Again it is necessary to try and get quite deep to avoid the corners on the ceiling. Steve advises that if I have problems before this arch to try to turn back - problems after it I should carry on. He also warns that as I pass the silted arch to expect complete blackout - the water has been quite silty already, but with my light on high setting and a bright diving light I have been able to at least see a brownish glow. Then Steve is gone and I am alone. After about 30 seconds Steve gives 3 tugs on the line for me to follow. I take some deep breaths and go for it. Down, down and more down. Then, finally, the elbow - I have to rearrange myself slightly to fit through but it's by no means constricted. No problem with a blackout - just slightly dimmer brown glow. Then the line starts heading upwards very gradually. The ceiling punishes any too-eager attempts to head upwards early with a solid bash on the helmet from a projection, so, chastised, you push yourself back down and carry on at depth. Just as I'm wondering how much more of this there is going to be (not worrying, yet, just wondering), I can see the surface. Swildon's 4 is now a familiar piece of passage, but is made a bit more of a slog today by a tight-fitting wetsuit and 10kg of lead.

Sump 4 is, as Steve describes it, "more of a divers' sump" - only 4m long, but slightly constricted and you have to feel around to see what is going on, not just blindly pull through on the line. You can feel the ceiling and floor simultaneously at times. Once through we can finally ditch the lead and carry on unladen to sump 5, the most intimidating part of the trip for me. Sump 5 is not actually passed as a sump, rather a series of extremely low airspace (too low to attempt breathing in them) ducks between small airbells. The difficulty is that the passage is rather wide, the airbells well-separated, and the route non-obvious and zigzagging - I was glad to have Steve there, who knew the route well. To add to the fun in sump 5, it is downstream of Cowsh Avens so you never actually touch rock on the bottom of the passage, instead sinking into gradually increasing density of cow shite.

Sump 6 is bypassed by a series of grovelly crawls, including one ducky squeeze which Steve found tight around the chest and had to negotiate by exhaling completely. I knew he was alright once he was through and started shouting. Sumps 7 and 8 are easily bypassed and we soon reached the pleasant 9th sump pool. We waded around in the pool for a little while, had a look at the line going into it, considered our situation and pondered just how much of a bad idea it would be to fall off one of the climbs and break a leg at this point. The trip out was quite uneventful. I spent a few minutes digging out the floor in the sump 6 bypass duck/squeeze and Steve undid his wetsuit top. With this combination of tactics he got through easily. Steve inhaled a fly just as he was taking a final deep breath before attempting sump 3, so that broke his concentration. On the way out we overtook a party which we had seen on the way in sitting by the sump 1 pool.

Them: "Where have you been?"
Us (modestly): "To the end"
Them: "What do you mean?"
Us: "Sump 9"
Them: "We're not worthy" "wow" etc
Us (disappearing into the distance): "Mind if we overtake you?"

One has to allow oneself occasional moments of smugness...

We emerged, after only 4 hours underground, to a spectacular sunset making Mendip look as beautiful as anyone could remember it looking. A really great Sunday trip!

My light also worked extremely nicely on this trip, medium setting again being the usual choice - high reserved for when I had a diving mask on. I did, however, manage to cause slight (mainly cosmetic) damage to the switching mechanism at some point on Sunday. I've been in correspondence with the inventor of the light, who cannot imagine how I managed to do this but is going to modify the switch design so it shouldn't happen in future. This light fared rather better than Chris Vernon's Technicolor creation, which started strobing merrily while I was still rigging the entrance pitch to car pot last year. Chris's light is built with a rather different philosophy than the ActionLight that Tim and I have got, but I think this kind of technology is definitely the future of cave lighting. Now I just need to get one of those single white LED and lithium battery torches they reviewed in Descent recently, as a backup source...
Lev Bishop

Crushing Victory in Draenen

There was a definite air of excitement as we had breakfast in the new hut at the Lamb and Fox. Ben's description of the dig he had visited the previous weekend following several sessions in the pub looking at the survey was very enticing. However it was not until 12 O'Clock that we set out for the entrance after preparing everything we needed for the trip. The journey in was livened up by the strong draught and the large numbers of bats we saw in Megadrive. We took a short detour up Siambre Ddu before continuing into the cave. Eventually we reached the dig and I crawled in. As I saw the large passage continuing to the corner and felt the strong, cold draught in my face I laughed excitedly realising that this was it; our first significant find in 18 months of digging.

Tim set to work, equally excited by the dig, and Ben and I pulled rocks back grinning at each other in anticipation of what we were about to do. Tim and Ben spent quite a while hammering and debating whether to try and use hilti caps in the confined space, but then Ben took the plunge and squeezed through. But we were not going to stride off down kilometres of walking sized passage containing beautiful formations as we had hoped. The passage turned into a smaller, strongly draughting rift blocked by two very large boulders. Digging was complicated by a very unusual formation below the boulders and would be damaged if we just rolled them down out of control. The solution was to lift the smaller one and then hilti cap the larger whilst protecting the formation and then bring the pieces down in a controlled way. I think. At this point I decided that big boulders, hilti capping and formations was far too technical for me and besides I was desperate for a wee which meant going back through the squeeze.

I returned to find the hilti capping had left Ben, Tim and the formation in tact and the passage wide open. At least, you could just about squeeze through flat out which Tim did, before excitedly suggesting that we follow. A flat out crawl on mud to the left lead to several possibilities and first we tried straight ahead, coming up out of the breakdown into a phreatic passage going left and right. One way it broke down but the other was an attractive dark coloured clean washed nicely shaped passage that led to an aven with pristine mud and a strongly draughting dig. Back at the bedding we crawled through an area of wide breakdown and then had to pass through boulders along an unstable slope. Ben went through and knocked rocks down to stabilise it but I have to admit that at this point it was hard to convince myself that I was excited to be exploring new cave passage. We crawled on and came out in a larger chamber with no immediately obvious way on. I felt more relaxed in the larger space and as I looked at the proper passage that emerged from beneath the boulders we had crawled over I now felt excited about what we were doing.

It turned out that there was a hole down through boulders at the back of the chamber, which took some care and thought as it didn't seem very stable. I was definitely scared of going on but after a small amount of digging Ben squeezed through and called back that there was a Perseverance sized draughting passage. He came up to see if the squeeze was any worse going the other way, but decided it wasn't and disappeared out of sight down the hole. I took a deep breath, concentrated on touching as little as possible and carefully squeezed down through the boulders. Looking ahead we all smiled at each other. It was still going!

Sadly it didn't go far before reaching a breakdown chamber with no open passage beyond. There was a strongly draughting dig that we took turns at for a while. The draught was very exciting but it looked as though there was going to be more digging beyond. We didn't find out because before Tim left to collect the surveying gear there was a boulder accident that crushed his finger. We managed to find enough plasters in the first aid kit to cover it up and luckily there wasn't much blood, but we thought we should go out and get it looked at since there appeared to be something looking a bit like a tendon sticking out of the wound. A&E in Abergavenny hospital were very quick and a short operation later had Tim sewn up again.

All in all it had been a very exciting trip. There is no long term damage to Tim's finger and none of us can wait to return next weekend to survey what we found and dig the two draughting digs.
Lou Maurice

Simon Goddard

.... now lives at 18 Stile Road, Headington, Oxon. OX3 8AQ