Depth through thought

OUCC News 20th April 2005

Volume 15, Number 7

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Film Plug

Chris Densham

To anyone who has a satellite dish: my film of Peru is due out at 9 pm on Monday 25th April, on National Geographic's Adventure 1 channel. My next filming effort is due to appear on Vietnam TV at some point, but I don't suppose you can get that on a satellite dish?

Another one gone

Chris Densham

I am sorry to announce that Quackers (real name Mike Duck), the man who lives in the van outside the Shepton Mallet CC, passed away over the weekend. He was a BEC stalwart, always to be seen propping up the bar at the Hunters Lodge. He also loved the Dachstein in Austria, and most British caving expeditions there benefited from his cheerful and flatulent presence. Spookily, I was just talking about Quackers this lunchtime with Steve King of the SMCC, before he heard the news of his death and called me. The Mendips in general and the Hunters in particular will never seem the same again.


Martin Hicks

Wlodek Szymanowski, a Polish caver with long ties to OUCC, died in a cave-diving accident on 6 April 2005.

In the few years before the Iron Curtain was finally torn apart, OUCC cavers had come to know of a bunch of Polish cavers over the ridge from top camp, in the Picos. We'd heard stories of their exploits, including, on one occasion, a tragic underground fatality but, for whatever reason, the club never really managed to make any meaningful contact with them until the mid '80s. From that point onwards, matters moved quickly resulting in a group of Polish cavers visiting Britain and two memorable OUCC trips to Poland in the winters of 1988 and 1989.

The 1988 and 1989 trips to Poland were a real eye opener for us soft Brits. Those guys were hard, no question about it. Forget your self-congratulatory jokes about Grade 5 Leck Fell changes after eight hours down Lost Johns. These guys would take us on 3-hour walk-ins up precipitous snow- and ice-covered mountains in Seriously Cold Conditions. Then you might have to change on a 30 degree snow field, while clipped on to your hopefully well-secured ice axe, followed by a bijou 18-hour trip in and out of the cave, and then back down the mountain in time for breakfast. Oh, and because our Polish hosts had 'forgotten' to book the caves, we'd have to leave at 3am in order to avoid the park wardens of the Tatra National Park. (Note to newer OUCC cavers: the Polish for pirate is 'pirat.')

While we quickly learned the Polish words for vodka, beer and, of course, pirate, our overall Polish linguistic skills were still sadly lacking so it was very useful that a few of our Polish hosts spoke good or passable English. One of these people was Wlodek Szymanowski, although he was at pains to apologise for his poor English and explained that his main foreign languages were (just!) German and Russian. [Apparently English was one of his second-tier languages, along with (at least) Spanish and Italian, but he was keen to learn - and learn he did.]

Most of the Polish cavers we caved with were hard. Wlodek seemed to belong on another tier of hardness, the kind that exists without any apparent effort. He was also superbly fit and an excellent climber both in and out of the cave and was able to contribute significantly to a number of OUCC expeditions in the years that followed. But above all, he was a risk taker and thrived on new challenges. Where lesser mortals would understandably place prudence above glory, Wlodek would press on without apparent regard to his own safety or his responsibilities as a husband and father, but often with spectacular results. It was he who discovered the London Underground in 2/7, when, as he put it, he'd committed himself to a free climb that he didn't think was possible to reverse. The only way on was up. Fortunately, it went, to the delight of cavers who were able to follow up the (by then safely roped) climb. People's reactions to him within the club varied but it was impossible to ignore his presence or belittle his ability.

Once the Iron Curtain had finally disappeared, Wlodek was one of the first people there to realise the new potential and take advantage of the rapidly changing economic situation. He chucked in his rope-access maintenance job and trained to become one of Poland's first stockbrokers. From there, he was the driving force behind the formation of Poland's first fully independent stockbroking house in his home town of Wroclaw, and became its chairman.

At the end of his training to be a stockbroker, the American teacher congratulated them all on completing the course and then cautioned them. He said that out of the class of 20 people, perhaps 5 people would become very rich, 10 people would be reasonably prosperous -- and 5 would end up in jail. Whether Wlodek made it into the first group is questionable, but he briefly made it into the last group. His legal difficulties had the unfortunate side-effect of making untenable his chairmanship of the stockbroking company he had formed and he was forced to quit the job. He used his new-found free time to dodge the Polish police, a skill he had acquired while evading the communist-era military conscription (he never did join the army), cross-country ski in and out of Poland to evade border patrols, get an MBA from Durham University Business School (in English, naturally) and then, when the legal difficulties had subsided sufficiently, albeit after a few months inside the clink, to bounce back and take up a new directorship role with Siemens Financial Leasing in Warsaw.

Wlodek's business acumen also brought him a certain amount of wealth, which enabled him to indulge in his love of gadgets. Few who knew him can forget his Porsche 928 - which he eventually abandoned in Germany after it broke down catastrophically on an autobahn - and he was at the head of the queue to get a GSM mobile telephone in the days when they cost a fortune and weighed a ton. It was typical of the man that even when playing, he strove to go to the max, as, for example, when he completed all levels of the computer game Doom in a 48-hour, non-stop session, apparently living on nothing more than beer and Snickers bars.

It is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, that such a driven, risk-taking lover of gadgets would eventually find cave diving. Once the boring compressed air stuff was out of the way, he seems to have ventured into the high-tech tri-mix and rebreather kit that's necessary for really deep diving.

Middle age seems not to have blunted his inner drive or propensity to take risks, although its physical limitations must surely have begun to make their mark, even on someone of Wlodek's physical abilities. He died diving in the submerged passages of the Goul du Pont cave in Ardeche, France. His body was found at a depth of -105m and a diagram of the place at <> indicates that divers have reached as far as -178m. Crazy cave, crazy guy.

He leaves behind a wife, Rysia, and three children: Piotrek, Marysia and Joasia.

[ For an analysis of the accident, see: "A Bridge Too Far" ]

Extract of minutes from CSS AGM

[AOB] c) Grade 5 Survey

PDCMG had no November meeting. However they appear to be waiting for us while we are waiting for them. The PDCMG representatives are Pete Bolt, Ali Garman and Martin Laverty. There have been problem identifying a facilitator so Stuart proposes to fill this role himself if necessary. JM attempted to establish what the Grade 5 policy was. There are two points:

Distributed Grade 5 data

In the early days of the G5 survey data was passed to Rhian Hicks and Andy Kendall to draw a grade 5 survey. This data was subsequently passed to Tim Long, later the PDCMG Survey Officer, and it is believed that the copyright banner was removed from this data and it was distributed widely via email. John Stevens has already provided a list of these files to Ali Garman and he has confirmed that any held by PDCMG have been deleted.

PDCMG are being asked to publish a list of these files, say their distribution is an unlawful distribution of copyright material and that anyone holding them should delete them. Anyone wishing to keep them should apply to the G5 surveyors for permission to keep them.

It is felt that these files cannot be used as the basis for any other Grade 5 survey without being identified.

Grade 2 policy

Since enormous effort is going into producing Grade 5 surveys, it is time PDCMG abandoned their Grade 2 policy and whole-heartedly supported the Grade 5 surveyors.

They should require that any new cave passage found is described to the PDCMG Secretary with a sketch map of its location so the details can be passed on to Grade 5 surveyors as quickly as possible.

CSS to write an official letter asking that PDCMG implement these two points.

The motion was proposed that CSS formally withdraws all support for the PDCMG Grade 2 policy because it is inconsistent with support of the Grade 5 survey.

Passed with 3 abstentions.

Expedition Update

Gavin Lowe

Summary: Mailing list; Land Rover; drivers wanted; passengers wanted; expedition dates; decide your dates; pay your deposits, rescue practice.

There is an expedition mailing list. If you didn't receive a mail from me on Monday, then you're probably not on it, and should let me know.

Good news! The Gordon Foundation is loaning us a Land Rover again, <>. It's been a novel feature of recent expeditions that we've had a vehicle that has worked reliably.

If you would like to be included on the list of drivers, please let me know. I think the only requirement is that you have a full driving licence. I'll need to know your name, address and age.

We will have room for probably 6 passengers in the Landy, both going out and coming back. We'll ask for a contribution --about GBP50 each way-- roughly equivalent to the cheapest way of getting out by public transport. If you're going at the start or end, this is the easiest way to get out, and probably the best crack. Please let me know asap if you want a place. I want to book the ferry soon (probably within the next week), before prices go up, and we need names for that. It is possible to add extra names later, but that will cost an extra GBP5. First come-first served, except some priority might be given to drivers.

The expedition dates will probably be 1st July to 8th August. They might change by a couple of days in order to get cheap ferries.

Please let me know your dates as soon as possible, as it will help us plan. Can I encourage you to come out for either the start or end to help with rigging/derigging, please, unless you're a real prima donna. And also pay your deposit to Gareth asap please (c/o University College; cheques to "OUCC Asopladeru expedition"): it's GBP80 for students, unwaged, etc, and GBP120 for the workers (in principle, subject to a surcharge, but that's unlikely); we need deposits in so we can buy some gear.

Finally, there will be a rescue practice during the Yorkshire weekend at the end of Week 2 (7th May for those of you out there in the real world). Please come if you can: it might be important.

Lemming Hat-trick?

Steve Roberts [Bank holiday Sunday]

Few are called to lemminghood. Fewer still achieve lemminghood twice. None so far has gone for the triple crown of underground close-range death-defiance. I think we might now have a candidate.

Ursula (founder lemming and lemming 1987) will no doubt not thank me for putting her name and exploits forward again. However, I think the opportunity for her to claim L3 should not go unreported.

It all stems from childcare difficulties. We had in Mendip, Tony, me (for the day) Ursula and Nellie. The project - Rhino Rift, with all three adults to have a go. The Plan - Tony and Steve to rig in (Ursula looks after Nellie), Ursula, solo, to rig out (Tony to look after Nellie, Steve to go back to Yeovil).

Team rig-in passed a pleasant couple or three hours down Rhino. I then drove Urs over for her quick amble down, waved her off at about 3pm, drove over the to Mendip Gliding Club for a chat, then off. I persuaded the Roberts-Bailey set to return to Mendip to camp overnight so that the girls could be taken down Goatchurch the next day.

We arrived at the Seddon-Collie tent at Mendip heights at 7.30. No one there. No one there for quite some time in fact. At about 9pm, Tony, Nellie and a mud-streaked and somewhat wide-eyed Urs returned.

The tale will, I hope be told in full - but do be aware that if you have a whizzo speleotechics Nova headlight, that when they go out, they do so suddenly, with no warning, and irreversibly. Further, if they do so near the bottom of a cave, and you are on your own, and you have no reserve light, then your alternatives are either: (a) wait to be rescued with the ensuing boredom and then embarrassment; (b) negotiate a vertical squeeze, three pitches with somewhat technical take-offs, and an exit crawl with a few route-finding problems, with no light whatsoever.

Congratulations to Ursula for making light work (ha!) of option (b), and even managing a partial de-rig in the process.

The trip down Goatchurch was comparatively uneventful.