Depth through thought

OUCC News 1st December 2004

Volume 14, Number 12

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Steve "still caving after all these years" Roberts

This club weekend gone [2004-11-19 to 2004-11-21], Keith Hyams and others were nearly caught out by flooding in Kingsdale master cave.

Be careful - the kind of weather we had on Sunday had "danger" stamped all over it. Snow and ice were on the ground, and rising temperature and rain were forecast. This will mean that serious amounts of water can be dumped into cave systems all at once, as the rain melts the snow and surface ice, but the ground underneath is still hard-frozen enough not to absorb any of it. The result can be a floodpulse.

If the weather looks like that:

  1. choose a cave that isn't prone to flooding;
  2. choose a cave you know well, so you can gauge the water levels when underground;
  3. rig the cave for safety not convenience (ropes well clear of any possible path of water);
  4. make sure the team could cope, collectively and individually, should things go wrong;
  5. make sure you've got survival gear;
  6. leave a conservative call-out (no, not Boris Johnson).

Some years ago I went down Vesper Pot in similar conditions. A hundred-foot pitch that was bone-dry on the way down was a torrent of ice-cold water in which it was impossible to breathe on the return, less than only an hour later. The ascent was a desperate struggle, which at times I didn't think I was going to make.

Most people learn from their mistakes; clever people learn from the mistakes of others (and of course some people, unfortunately, make this sort of mistake only once).

Taking the Plunge

Peter Devlin

Diver training repeatedly stresses never taking your regulator out of your mouth, never holding your breath and to avoid overhead environments and constrictions. On that basis I had decided when I started caving that the "reckless" practice undertaken by cavers of free-diving sumps was not for me. Somehow this personal limit got transformed into "I must free-dive the sump" on my first trip to Swildons.

Minutes before we got the the sump, triggered by my particularly inelegant tackling of a squeeze, Fleur had made a comment questioning the sanity of people determined to cave under water. My response was along the lines that I intended to avoid squeezes underwater.

I knew that the sump was short and that there was a rope, but since I envisaged a Florida style passage, possibly with worse visibility, I managed to convince myself that the rope served only as a aid to stop people getting lost. My surprise at my first attempt on the sump - that without turning my head my helmet did not fit through the gap, was sufficient to make me stop and question my approach and commitment to this dive. Having taken a deep breath to go for it again I got a bit further. With my somewhat large shoulders wedged in the gap I quickly came to the realisation that the rope was there to pull on ... which I did with great gusto. My sense of relief coming through the short sump and being able to breath again was palpable. I had expected Josh to come through after me, so after a few minutes I went back through to find out what the plan was. This time Josh and I went through and waited to see if Pete and Tom would follow. At this point I was beginning to get hooked on the adrenaline high of the squeeze and the subsequent breath. After a few minutes we proceeded to explore beyond the sump for 5 minutes so that we would be back before the 20 minutes we had agreed with Tim was up.

I enjoyed our little trip beyond the sump all the more for the sense of isolation and achievement, and we had a good laugh at [*censored to preserve a sense of mystery*] just past the sump. We never did figure out why somebody left [*censored to preserve a sense of mystery*] .... maybe an offering to some obscure caving deity.

All in all I enjoyed my little free dive way more than I had expected to, but I remain somewhat attached to the practice of breathing underwater. As for setting personal limits and sticking to them, the least said the better.

Thanks to Tim, Fleur, Josh, Pete, Tom and briefly Matt for a fabulous trip to a spectacular cave.

Liu Chi Aokou Xia (Part 2)

Rob Garrett [see DTT 14.9 for part 1] --------------------------

Since our aborted push into the miserable ducks of Bathtime Crawl our new lead had indeed proved to be the way on and with the cave now over 500m deep it was time for the final push.

On the way on we made good progress to Dysentery Passage, the route that bypasses the ducks, where initially small phreas gradually enlarges to a tedious rift with a series of short awkward climbs before rejoining the streamway in a chamber. From here the passage gets a little bigger with a few short pitches until it final pops out in the side of the main streamway. Easy sporting passage soon took us to the current survey limit on a ledge 30m down a 220m pitch.

Erin went down the next 60m hang first but when Duncan started to follow our efficiency started to disappear as he noticed a rather delicate loose rock which he had to hold in place while sitting in his harness just below the lip of the pitch. Our only option was to call Erin back up the pitch which wasn't easy given the noise of the falling water. Unsure why we were summoning her she nevertheless returned in good time for us to dispose of the offending rock without dropping it on her from a great height.

We now set to work surveying the remaining 195m of pitch the bottom two thirds of which were particularly cold and misty. By the time we'd finished we were all freezing so we wasted no time huddling under a boulder around a small gas stove whilst cooking some pasta in cream sauce. From here we knew the passage continued in a fine horizontal streamway to a pool which marked the limit of exploration. Surveying as we went we soon reached the pool and had no problem traversing around.

Nearby we know of another cave with a sizeable stream and we were hoping that we could follow this passage to a confluence which would provide a much easier entrance. Alas, after 150m it turned away from the other cave and a little later went down a short pitch. Duncan rigged this with our last piece of rope while Erin and I photographed the streamway. At the base of the pitch we were disappointed to find further progress barred at 588m depth and about 2.5km from the entrance by yet another large pitch.

It was now time to head out, derigging as we went. This was necessarily slow and once we'd all got back up the big pitch we were quite hungry so we stopped for another feed. With a heavy tackle sack each it was slow work and by the time we'd got back to Dysentery we had four tackle bags and Erin was exhausted. Nevertheless we were very reluctant to leave any gear the wrong side of Dysentery as collecting it would entail yet another journey in and out of it. Sending Erin ahead Duncan and I followed with the gear. Curiously, having two heavy tacklebags each seemed to make the passage less unpleasant than usual. We're even considering leaving a couple of sandbags at the start of it so that we can always have two tacklesacks through.

Having got the gear as far as we sensibly could we finally ditched two of the tacklebags and headed out with just one each. It didn't take us long to catch Erin up and the three of us struggled our way through the entrance series together emerging into daylight around 22.5 hours after we'd set off down but at least the cave was nearly derigged. A bigger team might be useful next year though.

A weekend at Bull Pot Farm

Peter "FB" Devlin

Soon after Steve, Harvey and Gabriella and I arrived at Bull Pot Farm in the small hours of Saturday morning we were discussing what we would do on Saturday and the decision was that I would join Gavin, Gabriella, Keith and Arry doing Pool Sink. Gavin pointed out that there was a bit of a squeeze which immediately set off my "oh my God, I'm going to get stuck again ... wish I wasn't a fat bastard" alarm. Matt Balaam talked me through the moves with all the grace of a synchronous swimmer, but I still wasn't convinced. The only good news was that the squeeze was right at the start, so the worst that could happen was that I would have to trudge back in defeat.

When we got into the cave, I found that after less than 5 minutes of not so difficult struggling I was through the bad bit: my heartfelt gratitude to Tim for taking me into even tighter spots in GB and Swildons!!!!

I found the first pitch a bit tricky, but once down very much enjoyed the passage. While waiting for Arry to come down Gabriella explored upstream and found a beautiful chamber with magnificent stalactites. After a little while Arry and Keith decided that they'd had enough so Gavin, Gabriella and I continued.

On the way out I found my poor SRT technique together with my low level of fitness pushed me right to the boundary of my ability to cope. After the last pitch the only thought that kept me going was that I wouldn't cave the next day so I only had to get myself out of this cave to survive the weekend. Poor Gavin had to suffer trying to get me up what I found to be an awkward bit getting above a rift. I don't think he'll be offering me to stand on his shoulder again. ;-(

By the time we got back to the formerly dreaded Z-bends I found that my affection for them had grown: I knew I could get through them and I was almost out! The light was fading, but there was still enough daylight to see the sky through the exit. As a novice caver I still greet the first sight of daylight after a trip with intense relief. Walking back across the fell I kept up the pattern of the day lagging behind Gavin and Gabriella, but I managed to drag myself back to the farm where a tasty warm dinner was topped off by pancakes made by Anita, Gabriella and Josh. Many thanks to Gavin and Gabriella for an excellent trip.

That evening Steve managed to talk me into caving the next day, so with Steve, Gabriella and Harvey we beat the rush and got out before most people were stirring. The entrance to Marble Steps is certainly the most scenic cave entrance I have experienced, marred only slightly by the half decomposed body of a sheep (must have had a few pints too many ...). I found the descent somewhat stretching: as I was getting ready to go down Steve asked me had I done a re-belay before, which I hadn't. I found the first re-belay a bit challenging, but once I got past that the going was smooth (although slow).

Once in the cave I decided that I definitely wouldn't do all the pitches. I felt if I did pitch 3, 90' in length I would be struggling to get back out the entrance pitch. This decision helped me to enjoy the cave rather than to worry about my capacity to get out again. When we got to pitch 2 (Stink Pot I think), the top was much tighter than I had ever gone down on a rope and I really didn't fancy prusiking back up it, so I decided to let the others go on and have a rest. Steve gently tried to persuade me that I was good for another pitch, and had it been the start of the weekend I would have gone for it, but there are times when discretion is the better part of valour. I quite enjoyed my rest and devoured my Yorkie bar with relish.

Soon Gabriella rejoined me and by the time Steve and Harvey got to the bottom of the entrance pitch I was almost free of the spiders web I had got myself into on the final rebelay. Delicately stepping around the dead sheep I clambered back into the blissfully welcome daylight of a cold, foggy, drizzly Yorkshire day. Many thanks to Steve, Gabriella and Harvey for an excellent trip.

Caving Joke

contributed by Rob Garrett

So, there's a canoeist, a climber and a caver taking part in a psychological experiment. They're all locked in separate rooms for 24 hours with nothing except three balls. When they are let out the psychologist interviews them to find out what they did to pass the time.

Well, says the canoeist, I picked up the three balls and started juggling to practise my coordination.

Ah, says the climber, I just used two of the balls to squeeze in my hands and so strengthen my grip.

And what about you says the psychologist turning to the caver. What did you do with the balls?

Ah, says the caver looking sheepish, I broke the first one, lost the second and then I got hungry so I ate the third...