Depth through thought

OUCC News 9th June 2004

Volume 14, Number 6

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Editor: Pod:

Editor's bit

This week we have a write up by Fleur of what sounds like a full weekend of caving and some observations from Steve regarding some interesting content in Descent. Please keep the articles coming.

Descent 178

Steve Roberts

Interesting issue with the "real story" of the Mexico flooding, including a quote from me to show that the flooding problem has been known for a long time. I guess that's a compliment... Also a somewhat bizarre advert from Arthur Millett about the grade 5 survey of Draenen.

I quote (in full):


I propose, as a surveyor, that:

Following the successful conclusion to this proposal, all impediments to proceeding with a Grade 5 survey will have been removed.

Arthur Millett Member CSS and Grade 5 surveyor

Comment is no doubt superfluous. [Au contraire. I'd love to publish comments on this - pod]

There are also last year's rescue stats and summaries, always of vicarious schadenfreudlich interest.

Four Go Round the Circle and Three Go Down the Tube -

Fleur Loveridge

I think the idea started after the Yunnan Rescue Practice. We got talking about the Grand Circle in Aggy, but in retrospect that Sunday was a far too optimistic time to attempt it. So two weeks later on the Saturday of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the team was assembled. Some people say Aggy is boring, but not to our intrepid team. Geoff O'Dell proclaimed Aggy one of his favourite caves, Pete Talling told of psychological battles round the Grand Circle with Si Flower, and for Martin Hicks and myself it was a totally new cave. Or at least for me it was, Martin had been there before, but he protested so long ago, that he might as well not have.

€And so after a combination of the Blackwalls vodka on the Friday night and the playoff traffic, we set off with an early start of 2pm. We were still somewhat unsure of the size of the undertaking we were committing to. Pat from the SWCC has said you can get round in 4 hours if you are competent and know the way, and that he had dragged a hungover and vomiting Rhyss Williams round in the past. But Pete and Si had taken 7 hours on the last visit. And we also wanted to try and pay a quick visit to Maytime on the way round, so we'd have to wait and see.

So in we all went, soon arriving in the fine Main Stream Passage. By the second boulder choke the pasty in Pete's oversuit pocket had been ruptured and the cave was filling with the fragrance of mangled Ginsters. On downstream, past Northwest Junction to Deep Water. Here I somehow seemed to be in front, and as the shortest person in the party did not appreciate being used as the water depth dip-stick. This was however, only chest deep and subsequently outdone by the following Narrows. Here I again had the lead. Pete assured me I could just wade through the bottom, and being mostly soaked already I did, but noticed he traversed over the top. Shortly the water was up to my neck, and so I called in Geoff as a proper dipstick and he confirmed it to be out of my depth. Still I couldn't get much wetter and bobbed along behind using the walls for hand and footholds.

After the oppressiveness of the wading I was glad to be out of the stream and into the next boulder chokes. However, the relief was shortlived as we climbed up through the fifth boulder choke, which appeared substantially less stable than its predecessors. This was born out as a boulder managed to break free and attack Geoff as he wriggled through. I think he managed to stack it somewhere safely; at least it didn't fall down onto Martin and Pete anyway.

Crawling through Biza passage felt like easy going after the preceding obstacles, before we dropped backed down to the stream. Here the virtues of experience were clearly seen at a small cascade with a deep plunge pool. Pete lead on, attempting a teetering traverse on the right hand wall, before bombing like a subterranean John Smiths advert into the pool below. The following three didn't fancy this, but Martin saved the day, by leading a far more civilised traverse around the left wall, and less than waist deep too.

And then we stomped on down the Main Stream Passage until the mud coated the walls in a darkly sumpy manner, and finally the inlet of Southern Stream Passage came in. I'd heard bad words about Southern Stream Passage, but found it very enjoyable, initially narrow and rift like with some entertaining boulder obstacles. Soon we found the climb up towards Maytime, and being in good time decided to go and investigate. A fair bit of crawling followed, including a wide sandy bedding, which allowed some entertaining crawl racing. But still we crawled and stooped on, and so marched the time. We entered a flat out sandy crawl and Martin sped off with no end in sight. I looked at my watch, my thoughts were in the pub, and I think Geoff agreed, although he seemed to be almost asleep on the sandy floor some way back in the passage. And so somewhat uncertain that we were in the right place anyway, we turned tail back to Southern Stream Passage. Although Geoff made a somewhat foolish extra crawling diversion into Priory Road.

Then Southern Stream Passage began to bite. Initial estimates of only one hour to the entrance were revised and we crawled over and under boulders in and above the stream. For the first two thirds I quite enjoyed it, but then it just went on too long and there was an all round sense of relief when we popped up and returned to the Main Passage. I think the possibility of missing the way on and continuing ad infinitum up Northern Stream Passage had been playing on more minds than just mine. And so some final stomping and boulder hopping saw us out to a beautiful evening and sunset in around 7.5 hours including our Maytime diversions.

Back at Whitewalls, we found some German cavers, who gave me a strange look as I came in to get changed. Only when I looked in a mirror and saw my wild hair, muddy face and 'Southern Stream Passage' look did I understand their glances. The fine Whitewalls shower was welcomed before we dashed back to the Lamb and Fox for last orders. There ensured an entertaining bidding match between Keith and Martin in order to get recruits for their respective digging projects the next day.

In the end Keith won out, and so it was that on Sunday I found myself pulling on my soaking furry suit in preparation to go to Hexamine Highway. But at least I didn't have puréed pasty in the pocket of my oversuit. For once Keith was the wise one, having elected not to go round the Grand Circle the day before, he was in far better shape than Pete and I as we flogged down to Hexamine. The idea was to survey Keith and Chris's finds, tape the formations, and maybe look at the next dig, enthusiasms depending.

We put a new rope on the climb up at Crunch Corner and started the survey. At this point the low competence levels began to surface as we faffed with surveying the vertical leg and getting sensible readings from the instruments. A few more legs took us to the break through point. Here Keith did a fine impression of a female tennis playing, grunting for South Wales as he fought his way through to the other side. This didn't encourage Pete very much, as he worried about his larger shoulder dimensions. A few looks at the dig and Pete handed over to me. However, all that prevarication had affected my competence levels too. I had a furtle both feet first and head first before committing myself. The dig forms a slight U tube. It goes down through two low arches which you pass on your side, followed by an uphill flatter out section where you need to turn over onto your front. Except that I managed to accidentally turn over on to my back (an easy mistake to make?) and suddenly found myself with my nose disconcertingly close to the roof. I peddled along with my feet on the roof, my lamp came out of its bracket, I couldn't see anything and then finally I popped out the other side.

After seeing me make such a hash of it, Pete elected to stay on the other side, whilst Keith and I finished the survey. Or more accurately almost finished the survey. After passing the very fine 'frozen gerbil' formations, there was a sharp left bend and then Keith performed some more grunting in the passage ahead. That was enough for me. I knew I'd rather be in the pub. I left Keith to finish the taping and beat a hasty retreat. Still it wasn't all a disaster. We managed to survey 40 or 50 odd metres and show the promising direction of Keith's lead. And we (sorry they) carried out Keith's ridiculously long shovel from the camp.

When I said to Keith I would write this weekend up for DTT, he made me promise I wouldn't make his dig sound too bad to discourage the hoards of potential keen digging partners he knows are out there. Well, he's right (my God, again!), it's not that bad. I just recommend that you go when you haven't got that Southern Stream Passage look about you.