Depth through thought
OUCC News 21st October 2003
Volume 13, Number 17
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Editor: Anette Becher, email@example.com
As I am off to follow the yellow brick road in about two hours, you'll be getting this a bit earlier than usual. I'll be back from Kansas next Wednesday morning, so no excuse not to send in some top copy from the novice weekend or any other caving exploits. It's *your* newsletter, so send in *your* caving news - simple!
I mentioned last week that Hilary had moved, but forgot to put in the details she had asked me to post - apologies:
I have moved to New Jersey, USA, to do a PhD at Rutgers University. If you are swinging through the New York area and fancy some beers, drop me a line... My email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Just a small recce: Juan, a Peruvian of limited caving experience, Nick a British ex-pat, myself and an armful of geological maps. It took two days solid driving from Lima up the coast and then across the Andes to reach our target area on the edge of the Amazon. Thickly forested mountains rise to above 2000m, while huge resurgences abound eventually draining to the Amazon river. On the drive in, we had stopped frequently to hear promising rumours but had yet to see anything of interest... apart from a lot of karstic limestone.
With only three days in the field we set about visiting local villages to make inquiries. We already knew of the existence of a number of "tourist" caves and one of these, Cueva de Palestina, was our first destination. It takes its name from the local village, which is conveniently situated somewhere between Beirut and Segunda Jerusalen. The cave is a respectable size resurgence but we didn't follow it far, since after 30m a wade degenerated into a full on swim. There was no sign of any tourists. The locals also directed us to other nearby resurgences and took us up obscure paths into the hills behind to show us some undescended 30m plus shafts all called "infernillo" (little hell).
On our second day we returned to survey Cueva de Palestina. This was Juan's first major trip, but we still made good progress despite the clouds of mosquitoes and raucous birds that plagued us for the first 500m. After 1.5km of typically 10m wide passage it was time to head back to meet the locals again (we'd agreed to drink some beers with them the day before). The drinking session proved as profitable as the caving, as we heard yet more rumours of river sinks up in the mountains not to mention some freshly discovered Incan ruins. We even persuaded them to spend the next month looking for more caves for us to return to in September - the thickness of the vegetation meant that we would have no hope of finding entrances unaided.
On our final day we visited another huge resurgence. Again, we were shown to a small hole which dropped into a miserable little cave full of scatalogically prolific vampire bats and a strong reek of ammonia. A small hole might just go but we left it for later. In need of a wash, we then went to check out the resurgence cave which, we were told, soon climbed above the narrow torrent of waist deep water to dry passage like the "inside of a church". The inside of a church organ would have been more accurate as a narrow flowstone chimney decorated by stal climbed precariously upwards but went nowhere. The main waterflow sumped. Once again, however, rumours of caves higher on the hillside and far off river sinks abound.
With many other similar prospects liberally strewn around the region and another going fossil entrance leading to a small stream the return in September is looking promising.
A favourite cave. Very pleased to get it for President's Invite Saturday, as one of its many virtues is the number of people who can do it in a single day by various routes and combinations of routes. I think we had 22 people down in sort-of five groups.
Team geriatric (Dave Horsley seriously lowering the average age) set off early to rig to the bottom by Centipede route. A swift descent to the Battleaxe traverse, the rigging of which I regard as one of caving's pontes asinorum - if you're still happy doing this then the true spirit of caving has not deserted you entirely. Only hazard here was the prodigious amount of Picos mud still on the rope. Usual cracking descent of Valhalla pitch and then on to Groundsheet junction.
We wandered off downstream, and I mooted going to the sump, rather than binning the trip at the lake. Good choice. Lake only up to armpits, echoing complete rendition of "Swing Low" as we glooped and "ooh me balls"ed our way through. Beyond the lake, a cheerful streamway, very unlike the preceding gloomy stroll. The usual ceremony was performed at the sump.
Where was everyone? We met the first of the descending hordes just above the last pitch, Lou making a big comeback to SRT caving. Up to find a bit of a logjam at the start of Battleaxe: the Dome riggers, Old Roof Traverse team and maybe some premature deriggers had telescoped at the traverse. Simon, Matt, Rosa, Dave Legg and Harvey decided to make a shorter day of it. I showed Matt the way to Centipede, then thought again about going straight out. After all, the last time I had a go at the Old Roof Traverse was some years back, when Gavin and I were beaten back by vast amounts of water on Monastery pitch. And here was the route ready rigged for my convenience; I didn't even have to derig it, that being an SEP. Who knows when I'd have another chance?
In short, this is a cracking route that must be one of the best in the UK. The descent into and climb out of Sink chamber set the scene, followed by pleasant sections of streamway that zigzag away from the New Roof Traverse routes. The climax is the emergence into the thundering vastness of Monastery pitch. I don't often find myself in agreement with Dave Elliot, but here he has it on the nail: "Monastery pitch is a superb, active shaft sculpted in massive, clean-washed rock, spray-lashed and magnificent. Such places are at the heart of caving in the Dales". Yes indeed.
From the top, it's easy going to the entrance. A grade zero change in the sunset with Snowdonia clearly visible and some pre-cached beers in the back of the car. Top cave, top day.