Depth through thought
OUCC News 31st January 2001
Volume 11, Number 2
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Jo "no facial hair in caving politics" Whistler
Seriously though, cave science is very varied and interesting. An event at which you can find out what links Skeletons, Sarawak, Supernovae and Speleothems (and indeed sediments) is about to happen on your very doorstep. OUCC is officially hosting the BCRA Science Symposium. No, no-one else knew that either. I just volunteered you all without your knowledge. Don't worry though, you don't have to do anything. It will be held at the Pauling Human Sciences Centre, 58 Banbury Road on Saturday 3 March 2001, starting at 9:15am. The event consists of talks and posters about cave science and in previous years it has proved to be a very enjoyable event. The whole day costs just £4 for undergrads, £6 for BCRA members and £7 for others. Hope to see you there on the day.
Fleur Loveridge, OUCC North East Section
Sometime the year before last Nobby scoured Northern Caves 1 for a good trip to do in the Alston/Weardale/Teesdale area. The result was a trip to Ayleburn Mine Cave. Well, I say 'a trip' really it was a non-trip. We could not find the entrance, despite searching around a spooky mining machinery graveyard. I then slipped and stabbed my hand with a nail and lost interest somewhat. Two miners (!) then told us that the entrance is now only through the operational (!) mine and permission was hence needed. Not deterred Nobby played around in little caves up the small stream valley and I got bitten by midges. However, this unsuccessful outing somehow started off the idea of looking for the northern master system.
The idea soon faded however, until talking to a friend of Rod's. He said that whilst walking on the moors above Alston he had seen draughting shakeholes blowing holes in the snow. Whilst retelling these tales to Mad Ian Benson at the last president's invite the enthusiasm was rekindled. Ian whilst on a walk in a similar area found a potential dig site. Fuelled by some Black Sheep and vodka a digging trip was planned. Two weeks later Nobby, Ian, Aiden (Ian's mate) and I set off for Alston.
After stopping for a fine breakfast we headed for Ian's dig. Armed with crowbars we peered into every limestone crevice and shakehole along the way. We followed the stream up the small valley until our attention was drawn to a spout of water flowing out of the valley side. The dig was above here. By now time was marching on and so we quickly pulled a few rocks out to uncovered a small trickle of water flowing from beneath. Meanwhile Nobby went to check out the line of the shakeholes above the dig. What he found was much more exciting. In the side of one of the shakeholes was a small opening, just larger than body sized. We could see down past what looked like solid walls to a solid floor. It appear to bell out and no one really fancied the free climb. So a return was planned.
The only trouble was we needed a ladder. So Nobby's Dad posted us one. No expense spared in the pursuit exploration. The following weekend we reconvened. Ian had been left in charge of finding a large piece of wood to wedge across the shakehole for a belay. We cut the resulting wooden beam to size in the road, much to the amusement of Ian's elderly neighbour. Then we were off. Ian had also fashioned some wooden stakes for belay posts, but as they stuck out of his rucksac he looked more like a vampire slayer than a caver.
Sadly (but as expected really) the shaft was found to be choked after 6.5m. The bottom was diggable in one corner, but was also at the foot of a waterfall so it would not be a very pleasant task. And so we returned to the original dig. After some more blocks were destroyed and removed I managed to squeeze my upper body into the dig and round the corner so that about half of me was actually out of daylight. The passage went on in what was a beautiful but very very much smaller minarets shape.
But again time had beaten us and we returned to Newcastle. Its not the dig with the most potential in the dales. Its not even close to a pub. And the nearest pub always seems to be shut. But it might just be the key to the undiscovered northern master system. We will return.
Thanks to all the hard cavers and partiers who turned up to make the weekend an absolute riot! I decided to have an early night on Friday so as to be fit for a big trip on Saturday. At 2:30ish I headed for bed but due to the Baltic weather and my inebriated state preventing me from sorting out my sleeping bag I spent most of the night shivering and dozing. Despite sly attempts to jack on a trip from Top Sink to Bye George which I had previously being looking forward to, 2:00pm found me sat outside the cave whilst we considered the danger of undertaking the longest through trip in Britain with what appeared to be a collection of lights all doomed to failure. Lev only had a previously used battery inside his light and no spare, Paul Windles light had failed to work at the Farm so he now had a four LED hand torch bungeed to the side of his head, My lamp turned on and off every time the battery box was bashed and Beardie had a brand new FX ion but this only had 8 hours of duration and he had just leant his spare Petzl Zoom to Hils because her lamp totally refused to work by the time we got to the entrance.
Progress was pretty slow to start and I made a halfhearted attempt to jack out of Wretched Rabbit when we reached Main Line Terminus. Fortunately everybody else was up for it and so I felt like a jessy and agreed to carry on at the probable expense of the expedition dinner. We all sweated buckets in the big high level stuff but as we passed through the Minarets Bypass all the time we had made up was quickly lost due to lamp failure on my part. After repeatedly bashing my lamp against the floor the dim glow of my LEDs gave up altogether. Opening up the battery box gave me the explanation. The battery itself had been smashed by the repeated abuse and was obviously fucked. I on the other hand was also receiving repeated abuse from the rest of the party who were concerned about the delay. Whilst I fitted a spare battery Beardie piped up with "Rich, you are the weakest link" followed by a chorus of "Goodbye!" from everybody else. Wankers!
Soon after though we descended into Lancaster Hole Main Drain which was absolutely gorgeous and a little bit exciting with the strong currents snapping and clutching at our feet. Poor Lev insisted that he go at the back due to his small stature. He figured that if he got washed away there would be four people who could possibly fish him out as he floated past... All too soon however we climbed out of the streamway at Stake Pot and were back into the mud plastered fossil passages.
Taking a turning into the Earby Series the passages narrowed and our thoughts turned to the Wormway. Please let it be totally impassable or wide open, we prayed. God forbid if it was full of water but still doable. Luckily after descending the 88' we found with much relief that it was wide open. At the far end however the misery began. The pitch up Echo Aven was absolutely saturated. Turning back was not an option because the easiest exit from here was out of Link Pot not five minutes from the top of the pitch. After waiting for others to follow up the pisswrapped 26m pitch the cold water and lack of movement took its toll. From this point onwards (about half way) at least three members of the party lost any feeling of warmth they had had and failed to find it again until long after they had arrived back at Bull Pot Farm. After climbing up through a choke into Link Pot we waved goodbye to the easy exit and turned instead to the Muddy Wallows. This is a long series of uninspiring, tiring and wet grovels that carries on even when you are absolutely certain it is about to end. When it was finally over we sat in Dusty Junction and ate chocolate. At this point Mistral entrance is about 15 minutes of relatively easy caving away. Unknown to me at the time however Bye George was closer to three hours of pretty miserable caving away. My ignorance and a growing sense of determination to complete the trip now we had come this far took over and we plodded into the still shitty as ever Hall Of The Mountain King where Lev struggled to keep his wellies on in the abundance of treacle like mud.
It was a relief to enter the Cigalère streamway which is fantastically sporting and brilliant for washing off the accumulated shite from the endless passages of squalor that had gone before. Just when I thought I may be getting warm however the roof lowered and a crawl up and through a series of cascades and pools saw my core temperature drop back to shivering level. This was kindly followed by an awkward and now due to fatigue a pretty strenuous traverse over a very deep and mighty cold looking canal. After this we arrived at the bottom of the Grand Cascade which is very similar in appearance and feel to Viagra Falls. One particular trait they both share is the swirling wind and spray that chills you to the marrow when you have to wait there for any length of time.
I was quite optimistic at this point however to hear Beardie exclaim that it would only take an hour to get out from the top of this pitch. An hour later after much grovelling in freezing cold water Beardie insisted it would be only half an hour more maximum. An hour after this we were still underground and my faith in Beardie's time keeping was gradually waning. Luckily however we all had chance to laugh at our newest weakest link as Beardie made a right arse up of the Back Breaker and threatened to become a permanent feature of the cave. Bye George has many entertaining features that maintain your interest throughout its entire length. After a short duck came the Ochre Winfreys, three beautifully coloured stal formations cunningly disguised as flat out crawls in water!!!
We emerged 9 hours after entering Top Sink, in the middle of a freezing bog and buggered off quickly back to the Farm where we arrived at midnight an hour after our call out, bollox! After a quick trough of everything hot and ingestible we retired to a comfy sofa with a (too) cold beer, and a large bifter. Bed greeted the last of us at about 5:15am.
The following day was spent by myself Hils and Lynn on a grade five cafe crawl which involved a considerable amount of expensive shopping and an undisclosed quantity of Tea!!!
Thanks again for turning up folks. Keep an eye out for future ramblings by yours truly in DTT. Don't forget if any of you fancy prospecting or just hanging out in Africa then you are more than welcome to stay at my hut. If you want to be attached to my boring bulk e-mail but I don't have your e-mail address then send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll write to you too. If I do have your e-mail address but you don't want to receive my boring bulk e-mail then tough shit, get a new address!
Keep in touch, Happy Caving, Dick.Gerrish