Depth through thought

OUCC News 17th May 2000

Volume 10, Number 7

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I Wish

Dear Editor, I read with interest the account of "Phra Nang Beach to Thaiwand Wall", in DTT 10.6, credited to my hand. I appear to have submitted an entirely fictitious report here. I admit that because I come from Gower, I habitually exaggerate the scale of small and squalid discoveries. Indeed, I once named a 6m high rift "The Cathedral" and a tiny cave that ran dead-straight for 30m (with no side passages) "The Labyrinth" - but this time I have clearly gone too far and concocted an improbable work of pure fiction. I have never even visited Thailand, let alone gone caving there with "Natalie from Australia and Sally from New Zealand". Although I am currently living in NZ, the only Sally I know from here is a Maori, and so it seems unlikely that, "Sally's grandfather had been involved in a lot of early Yorkshire exploration".
Regards, Rob Davies

The article was in fact by Rob Garrett - sorry, Ed.

Rescue practice & SRT skills

This term will be packed with opportunities to brush up on various SRT, rescue and first aid skills, so if you're going on expedition (or even if you're not) do come along to as many events as possible. Here's the line up:

26-28 May: Wales weekend with rescue practice on the Sunday. Simulated rescue in a cave. Victim required - volunteer now!
3rd or 4th June: SRT rescue skills in Mendip with Andy Sparrow. If you wish to attend, please let Gavin Lowe know. Above ground training - make sure you are SRT competent before going on this course.
June 7th/14th (Wednesdays): A two part first aid training course with Tariq Qureshi. More details nearer the time.
Basic SRT training should be happening at the ring road bridge throughout term.
Jo "safe (!?) caver" Whistler

Discount Evening On thursday 25th May (4th Week) I have organized a discount evening at the Scout Shop on Turl Street. They will be open for us from 5.30 'til 7. If you can't make it, but would like me to get something for you just let me know exactly what it is you would like and I will do my best to get it for you.
Lynn Mulelly

Saturday 11am (this Saturday) at 16 Peel Place. We need to go through the surface camping gear, putting up tents, checking stoves etc. Please come and help - the more the merrier.
Lynn Mulelly

Caving in Mexico, Easter 2000

I've just returned from a month in sunny (but occasionally stormy) Mexico, doing as much caving as possible but eating lots of mangoes as well. Joel Corrigan and myself were invited out there by Chris Lloyd, a Canadian caver now living in Mexico who as some of you will remember visited Oxford last year. His tales of beautiful river passage in Xalltegoxtli cave and the potential to make an "easy" connection with another cave upstream had me hooked. Well, needless to say, the connection was not easy, we did not make it 1000 m deep, but at least we did end up with the second deepest through-trip in Mexico.

It was a multinational group - five Mexican, two Canadian, three Quebecoise and us 2 Brits. Numbers were limited by the fact that we were living inside the cave entrance halfway up a cliff face, and that was about as many as the cave would fit. It was ten days in Cueva del Hilton - natural air-conditioning gently turning off at night, and a plentiful water supply just inside the entrance. Carrying our mountain of gear up the hill was made more bearable than it is in the Picos by hiring some beasts of burden to do the donkey work for us - well recommended. There are in fact two entrances to Xalltegoxtli 50 m apart; one has a flock of swifts living in it and goes upstream with all the water. The entrance we lived in goes downstream but without the water, because the hillside has intercepted the cave at this point. The water resurges just below the twin entrances, making an ideal spot for skinny dipping (and polluting the locals water supply).

The cave downstream starts as a continuous string of beautiful gour pools, many probably deep enough to drown in. After two pitches - Pathetic Sharks and Topless Caving Nuns (those are the names you end up with if you invite a couple of Brits along to your expedition) - the cave changes completely. A large mud slope leads up 30 m to a complex of passages. Depressingly, this fills up to the roof with water every year, but at least that means all the mud formations are renewable! Snakes and ladders rift ended in a climb up, the previous years limit of exploration. First push downstream hit a dead end. Vicente politely held the rope while I climbed as high as I fancied, then without any rope he tiptoed delicately up to the roof on crumbling footholds while Jesus (that is his name!) and I cowered beneath. This man has been known to solo 5.10, so I wondered what cowardly Brits could contribute to this expedition... (I won't describe Joel's liquid mud sump, Non-stop Homo-erotic Fantasy).

Another passage downstream lead to the Canyon Tenebroso, where the walls are lined with ghostly sculptures of chert which (1) make distinctly unreliable hand and footholds, and (2) mysteriously change shape thereby getting you lost on the way out. Alas, this passage sumped at the Reservoir of Pleasure, marking the downstream limit of the cave.

Upstream is different again. A difficult jungle traverse reaches the other entrance, and for half an hour you are swimming in a sombre series of deep canals (neofleeces are ace!). Then, Brutal Cascade leads up rather like some of the climbs in Swildon's, except you gain a hundred metres in height. The upstream limit was in a complex boulder choke. At this point exploration took on a distinctly British character - tight, sharp and nasty of course! A good job we had bought an immense crowbar, called Agent Orange, back in Mexico City. Bed of Nails was followed by Night of the Long Knives, which broke out into passage the size of the London Underground! We all assumed we had connected with Ehecatl, our target cave explored by the Quebecoise 10 years previously. But where were their survey points? After another 15 hour trip, and immeasurable quantities of hypothesis had failed to shed any convincing light on the situation, it was time to bring in the big guns - Chris Lloyd and Ramon Espinasa. Ramon and Ruth were generous hosts to me and Joel for the duration of our stay, looking after us in their huge flat in Mexico City, driving us around everywhere and taking us caving. Here was the ideal opportunity for us to say thank you... So, after a couple of hours hammering and boulder engineering, (the rock is sharp, but a lot easier to break that it is in the Picos) the half dozen squeezes were annihilated and the old generals could drive their jeeps through. After some time spent climbing around on boulders the size of houses, at around midnight Joel managed to find an old survey tag at the top of a particularly hairy climb. It turned out that somehow the original explorers had followed the water down into the bottom of their huge passage, and managed to miss the other huge passage that we had entered by. At last, we could go home!

Back in Mexico City, multiple e-mails with Canada and Quebec confirmed the connection and the depth of the system at around 750 m. And there is almost another 2,000 m of mountain above this point! Watch this space for the next instalment of my holiday in Mexico...
Chris "to eat a mango properly you must be a true eroticist" Densham