Depth through thought

OUCC News 7th May 2008

Volume 18, Number 8

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

It's great to see two write-ups of the Mendip weekend. Please keep the write-ups coming.

Caving Trips

Nick Edwards

The 7th week trip has been moved to 8th week so as not to clash with Keith's stag do. We have SWCC booked. I've spoken to a few people about going to Bull Pot Farm for pre-expedition SRT practice and survey training after the end of term. 20th - 22nd June seems the best weekend (and maybe a few days after if people want). Could other people going on expedition let me know if that works for them? Also need someone to volunteer to co-ordinate the week 4 Derbyshire trip.

Jonathon Tombs

Steve Roberts

I received today the sad news that Jonathon Tombs, OUCC member in the late 1980s, and an expedition stalwart in the exploration of 2/7, died of motor neurone disease on 1st May 2008. He had been for some years a Professor at the University of Seville. His brother (who works in the engineering dept at Oxford) emailed:

"The funeral was on Friday 2nd attended by hundreds of friends and colleagues. There will be a memorial service in the University Chapel next Thursday. It was very moving to see what high regard he was held in by so many people in the university and football supporters clubs - see for example:
and students:

Ana and her close family will take his ashes to be buried in Galicia later that week, where they have been renovating a long-held family house. Apparently some time ago Jon had mentioned this would be a good final resting place, with countryside that reminded him of England and close to the 'Picos de Europa', where I'm sure you know they first met."

Mendip Madness

Paul Savage

Club Mendip weekend [May 3-5 2008]

Team Gaia: Andy Morgan (Captain Planet), Paul Savage (Earth), Anthony Johnson (Fire), Elise Piazza (Wind), Chris Rogers (Water), Mardi MacGregor (Heart).

Caves: Sidcot Swallet, Lionel's Hole, Goatchurch Cavern, Read's Cavern

 Having felt pretty guilty about leaving the bulk of organisation for Mendip Madness to Lorna and Nick, I agreed to sort out the minibus and kit for everyone on Saturday morning. Arriving late with the van, I was greeted with the brave bunch of cavers who had decided that losing their sanity in Somerset was the best way to spend a Saturday. On arriving at the UBSS hut, we were assigned teams and team names (using a tombola method, and a Guardian Newspaper Poster of Greek Gods). Gaia were primed and ready for the challenges ahead.

Sidcot Swallet

Our first challenge as the newly formed Gaia was to fetch some items from Sidcot, namely a bunch of flowers from Paradise and 4 balloons from Purgatory. The team made good time bundling down the cave and we found the bunch of carnations (I think), hidden at the top of the Lobster Pot.

A giggling Chris Rogers persuaded everyone to carry on the end of the cave - "that must be quite tricky on the way up," commented Elise. Cue more evil laughter from Chris. After a brief debate on whether or not to pass the duck at the bottom of Sidcot (NO), we sent the brave team Gaia up the Lobster Pot - I was very impressed as the whole team got out, needing barely an extra foothold. Grabbing the flowers on the way, we made our way to the beginning of Purgatory.

Stashing our flowers under the handy cardboard sign, we made our way down to find the balloons. Purgatory is a less-explored bit of Sidcot, and it shows ? the rock is noticeably sharper and weathered-out fossils impede movement, so perfect for transporting balloons out of ? but, with characteristic teamwork, Gaia found all 4 balloons in quick succession and, forming a chain through the boulders, extracted each dirigible safely. A great result.

Exiting the cave, my foot seemed to catch on the cardboard sign pointing the way to Purgatory, and so it may have moved somewhat. I don't think it affected the route-finding for the next two teams at all.

Lionel's Hole

Lionel's is a maze of boulders and small passages, most polished clean, and quite easy to lose the way on. Thankfully then, the conscientious organisers had provided a string to follow. The challenge here was to collect a piece paper at the entrance, follow the string, and create a work of art using the craftily-placed pens along the route.

A bit more of a challenge than Sidcot, progress was slightly slower, but Team Gaia quickly established their theme of Captain Planet (see picture), attempting to draw a representation of each team member's assigned element (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water.....Heart?). Traversing along the rift was good fun and I seem to remember Mardi suggesting that she was really enjoying it ? Eastwater, anyone?

Our masterpiece was fairing well until the duck, when two of the elements, Earth and Water, decided that they weren't going to be represented by mere felt-tip, and got in on the action. Once through the 1st duck, we attempted to salvage our picture, but it was almost beyond repair. However, Chris' fantastic rendering of Captain Planet himself (albeit upside-down) saved the day. I would like to mention the insidious tactics of Team Apollo, who decided to throw the string we were following along the 2nd duck, hoping we would blindly follow it along. We didn't fall for such blatant sabotage, and I personally was shocked that cavers would resort to dishonest practice. Team Gaia certainly wouldn't try such a technique (AHEM).

Goatchurch Cavern

Our final cave of the day, and it was a crucial one, Although we had extracted safely (and hidden) all 4 balloons and the flowers from Sidcot, we were relying on a damp and muddy A3 sheet to represent our efforts in Lionel's. Gaia was tiring, but Mars bars kept us going (apart from Anthony, whose Twix fell out of his oversuit while climbing the Lobster Pot, and somehow it became open and eaten).

Sliding down the cave, over the coffin lid, we arrived at the Drainpipe crawl, a 7m long, straight, slightly constricted crawl. Nick was at the far end and he was timing our efforts along the tube. Once again, Gaia proved a redoubtable team, with each member reaching Nick in under 60 seconds. None of us managed to beat Keith, who won the speed crawling event with a time of 13.69s, although, of the organisers, Nick did manage it in an impressive 12s.

Last challenge of the day "blindfolded caving" and what amazing fun it was! Certainly the best challenge of the day, the whole team was blindfolded and led around the Maze by Lorna. Having to feel your way along the cave, moving inch by inch, all the while listening to instructions from in front and making sure that the person behind gets the same information is tricky, weird but great fun.

Out of the maze, and into the fading light. A warm night around the UBSS bonfire awaited.

Read's Cavern

Using our artwork, balloons and flowers plus a numbers of tealights and glowsticks that were awarded to us after Goatchurch, we were told to create a tableaux in Read's Cavern. Each team presented theirs to the panel of judges (Lorna and Nick) with a view to impressing them enough to clinch the win. It was eventually decided that, in the spirit of "Caving and Caves", everyone was pretty much a winner, and to celebrate Nick conjured up a Tequila-based cocktail. Much fun was had.

I think I eventually got to bed at 5.00am after drinking games, bonfires back at the hut, juggling, singing, more drinking games, rope-swings and climbing trees. Good times. Big thanks go to Nick and Lorna for organising such a great weekend!


Mendip Madness

Nick Edwards

Club Mendip weekend [May 3-5 2008]

Planning challenges and games with Lorna on Thursday night, and the two of us rushing around Oxford finding bits of pieces on Friday, I was worried we'd left it all a bit late to pull Mendip Madness off. Luckily that wasn't the case, as I'm sure everyone that went will agree.

We had a good mix of novices, people who'd been caving a few times and those that had seen it all before. After a quick lunch people were split into 3 teams - Apollo, Gaia and one other Greek god who's name i've forgotten (inspired by a poster found in the UBSS hut) and off they went on the challenges.

The idea was to complete various tasks in the Burrington caves to win items to make an art display in Reid's. In Sidcote Swallot we had flowers hidden in the "Paradise" series and balloons hidden in the spiky "Purgatory" end of the cave. Gaia took it upon themselves to relocate a helpful sign directing the way to purgatory, resulting in some novices being sent head first into an unstable boulder choke. Chris Rogers denies all responsibility.

In Lionel's the teams took large pieces of paper around the cave, following a string trail and finding pens along the way to do drawings. The final set of pens was placed after the first duck - one helpful team decided to return Gaia's Sidcot favour and extend the string through the second duck.

In Goatchurch we had timed crawls through the drainpipe (for which the teams won glowsticks). The glowsticks were awarded for a combination of speed, creativity, enthusiasm and 'niceness' to the judges. Unfortunately Ben and Pip's plan of hauling people through on a rope didn't speed things up - Keith's brute force speed method worked much better. Larson's 'feet first on your back' approach didn't really work either, getting the worst overall time, but did attract points for style! The teams then also did a blindfolded circuit around a corner of the cave - 'the blind leading the blind', which worked really well.

After dinner the teams set up their displays in Reid's cavern - the cave looked beautiful decorated with glowsticks, flowers, candles and 'paintings'. Lorna decided that everyone was a winner (something to do with getting back at PE teachers) and we celebrated with cocktails and beer.

We weren't brave/organised/warm enough to sleep in Read's cavern, and the party drifted back to UBSS. My memory of the night drifts off after the second cup of very strong spirit from "you sink it you drink it", but apparently people climbed up trees and saw the sunrise.

On Sunday there were a few trips down Swildon's for those in need of a hangover cure, though unfortunately even a trip to sump 1 and back didn't sort my head out (maybe I should have gone *through* the sump as Paul suggested.

Thanks to Lorna for making it all happen, Alex L for sorting out the food, Andy for helping us set up and everyone else for coming!

Here's the top 5 drain-pipe crawlers:

  1. Keith 13s
  2. Kayleigh (UBSS) 15s
  3. Paul 17s
  4. Andy 21s
  5. Ben 22s

and the worst: Larson 1min 23s - but full marks for style!

Steve Roberts leads the Way

Peter Devlin [May 4 2008]

Steve and I had for some time been trying to organise a caving trip for Katie and Catherine. We eventually decided that since Steve wanted to attend the SWCC AGM we would go to Penwyllt that weekend. I elected to undertake the arduous duty of keeping an eye on the girls, while Steve elected to do the riveting "AGM" duty.

We made it underground sometime after 2, the plan being to take a look at the Mini Columns, then maybe Judge and Trident. We had elected to go via the climb, then come back the muddy way. I elected to do the climb, which felt a tad exposed, but soon I was lining the girls. Catherine struggled at one point, so Steve offered her various body parts to stand on. Having stood on his head she managed to complete the climb.

After the climb we went through some very pretty passage with lovely straws and curtains. One or two false starts allowed us to see a bit more of the cave before eventually coming to the Mini Columns. When we left the Mini Columns we went the wrong way, leading Steve to declare that we had gone back on ourselves. Soon we were in the muddy bit that Steve had promised. A couple more wrong turns and we were back in known territory (the gour pool near the entrance to the Brick Yard).

At this point we had been underground a couple of hours (not much more than a stone's throw from the entrance), so we decided not to go as far as the Judge and Trident. We went as far as Gnome Passage where a chocolate break was announced. Steve showed me where Edward's Shortcut comes out and we headed out. By now Katie and Catherine had started talking about a game, SIMS II, they both play on the computer. This game of ruthless social engineering kept them fully occupied: Steve and I heard comments like "I divorced them, 'cos he didn't have the right job". Steve observed that they were so intent on their conversation that they both caved through the Brickyard without any help.

It was a great little trip and I particularly enjoyed the sense of exploration that stemmed from the fact that for most of the trip we weren't sure whether we were on the right route to our objective. As Steve explained to Katie: "We're not lost ... we know where we are, we just don't know where we are going".