Depth through thought
OUCC News, 10th July 2002
Volume 12, Number 6
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Editor: Anette Becher, firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to another of this summer's intermittent, but soon to be regular, editions of DTT. The DTT volume numbering system may possibly now be in line with where it left off.
The expedition send-off BBQ at CDs was an unqualified success, with lots of food, drink, and a good mix of cavers (even some expeditioners) and climbers present. The weathergods were generous and postponed the inevitable BBQ rains until the night.
To anyone on expedition: Glueck tief! (and no, it doesn't mean f*** off)
Dales: Breakthrough at the end of Gour Hall in Lancaster Easegill. On Saturday, a 'small' team of 11 NCC and Red Rose PC cavers (news seem to travel fast) increased on the passage found the previous weekend. All in all, about 340m were found. Following the tube that was enlarged last week, a 3m pitch leads into a rift, then an 8m pitch produces more rift with some muddy traversing for about 70-80m. A climb up into a boulder choke then leads to the next dig.
Mendip: The car park dig in the Hunter's car park has broken through into what is described as an extremely unstable chamber. Definition of chamber is probably Mendip definition? Apparently, shoring is required before it can be entered.
'Got any trip ideas for this weekend?' 'How about Langstroth pull-through', I jested. Gavin had told me that he'd always hated ducks, so I knew I was safe on this one. 'Yeah, I'd be quite up for that.' What the fuck? That wasn't in the rule book. I thought he was supposed to be soft. Oh.
That was last November. Since then we'd vaguely threatened each other with the trip from time to time, and always come up with some crap excuse (usually me, usually of the "I haven't brought my wetsuit" variety, sometimes, just for a bit of variety, more of the "weather looks dodgy" type). Last Sunday, my number was up.
So we left a call-out with a very smug-looking, tea-drinking, not-sump-diving-going Rich at Bull Pot Farm, and headed out into the the uncharted hills of Volume One.
We took two twenty-metre ropes. The second and final pitches are close to 20m, so we'd debated whether to take spares to cover the eventuality of stuck ropes. But we figured that the only real danger area was the second pitch. If the rope got stuck on the first pitch, we could possibly (depending on details) prussik back up and exit the cave if need be; anyway the first pitch was only 4.5m. If they got stuck on the last pitch we could abandon them. If a rope got stuck on any one of the short pitches, we could abandon it, since we had a second short rope and we could always hard-rig the last pitch. If it got stuck on the second pitch, we might be fucked. We also debated briefly whether to take ascending gear, but then we realised that since we were pulling through, if we needed to go back up any distance, we'd be fucked. We took a jammer each.
We leapfrogged the pitches on our 2 ropes and splashed down storming stream passage and the trip proceeded more or less uneventfully until the last pitch. I was surprised that the sensation of total commitment wasn't stronger, after we'd pulled through on the 2nd pitch [actually the entrance "pitch" is an easy freeclimb]. Reaching the head of the last pitch, I found a nice yellow Bradford Pothole Club rope already rigged. It looked okay, apart from the lack of knot in the bottom, which was soon remedied, so I decided not to bother rigging our ropes on pullthrough, but just to use the in situ rope. "I'm assuming that's long enough", Gavin commented, catching me up. "So am I." The same thought had occurred to me, but I'd dismissed it. Well, it would be perverse to leave a too-short rope in situ, wouldn't it?
A few seconds later I was hanging next to the waterfall, staring at the floor 3 or 4 metres below me, thinking, they're taking the piss, and I'm glad I tied that knot. And I'm glad I brought that Ropeman.
Gavin rigged one of our 20m ropes and threw it down to me, and I proceeded to make a right balls-up of changing from one rope to the other, finding it difficult to take enough stretch through my Stop on the new rope, and neglecting to think of all the obvious things that would make it much easier. Gavin noticed that I wasn't actually hanging in the waterfall, so he helpfully dammed it and periodically released a sudden four-second tidal wave to completely engulf me.
One borrowed second jammer later I was on solid rock, Gavin had re-rigged for pull-through and come down to join me, and we could delay no longer. 'How far's the sump?' 'Don't remember. Probably not far [thinks: by Sod's Law].'
It wasn't far, it was just round the corner. We had a pointless discussion about who was going first. I realised that the usual comfort of going second through something intimidating, namely that the first person could make all the mistakes and then tell you what not to do, hardly applied here, so I didn't care. As long as he didn't use too much air from anywhere important. Gavin took the end of the rope and, with an impressive lack of hesitation, disappeared underwater. I fed out the rope until the whole 40m plus two prussik bags had disappeared. It stopped moving for quite a while near the beginning of its journey, to the point where I started to get worried; Gavin later explained that he'd had trouble getting under the lip at the low point of the first sump, and was debating whether to struggle on or turn back. I'd foreseen that one, and filled my wetsuit with largish rocks (all the pies) before feeling the "three tugs on the dive-line" signal and following.
I knew the first sump was short, so I wasn't specially worried by it. Nevertheless, I was struck by my situation of total and utter reliance on the dive line as I pulled my way through, unsure of how far I'd gone or whether it was safe to raise my head yet, just knowing that as long as I kept hold of the line and went far enough, at some point it would be. The phrase "lose your line, lose your life" surfaced in my memory. No shit.
I'd been sufficiently soft to bring my dive mask and supply my mini-Q40 with fresh batteries before the trip, and with them I could see about half a metre. I could probably have seen further, except that I was staring at the gravel floor sloping up in front of me and the rock roof not very far above. I thought, this would be a really unpleasant place to know you were going to die.
We met up in the large airbell separating the first and second sumps, and repeated the procedure, this time with no dive-line signal (the intermediate tie-off in the small airbell prevented that) and, pleasantly, no pause in the disappearing line. We didn't have a contingency plan to cover the event of a fuck-up on either side, so it was just as well there wasn't one. In the small airbell, I took two breaths of very reassuringly fresh air before following the next line through the 4.5m sump and into Langstroth Cave. We crawled the few metres to daylight and surfaced close to the car, glorious afternoon sunshine, and a full complement of tourists to offend as we shed our neoprene on the warm limestone by the roadside. A fantastic trip.