Depth through thought

OUCC News 20th May 2008

Volume 18, Number 9

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Note from the editor

Please keep the reports coming in.

Weekends for the remainder of term:

Urban caving

Rick Padfield

The University being slightly unsubtle in their attempts to scrounge money, I already receive the Oxford Alumni magazine (I'm a second year undergrad).

Browsing through it a few months ago while on the loo, I came across a letter referring to an underground stream that T E Lawrence allegedly punted down during his time in Oxford. My attention caught, I recruited a friend, Rich, to help in the hunt for the Trill Mill Stream. Some internet research and urban shaftbashing later, we managed to find the entrance to the stream in the grounds of Christ Church, flowing out of an unpromising looking small archway.

It struck us as unlikely that the authorities would see the funny side of exploring the drains underneath their College, so we quickly ruled out going in under daylight, and various ways of getting onto and out of the grounds after closing time were gone through.

The most entertaining was to waddle straight through the porter's lodge wearing wetsuit, flippers and a snorkel, trusting in their assumption of our being drunken students to let us through. In the end, we went for a more discreet route.

And so it was that, at 11 o'clock at night, I found myself standing waist-deep in fetid water under a bridge, nervously watching the police car patrol the grounds with a bright flashlight (looking for boathouse arsonists). A short while later, I saw a head drifting towards me through the murk: the rendezvous was made. It took us about half an hour to move up the stream through the meadows and towards the "cave" entrance, moving as slowly and quietly as possible to avoid detection.

Eventually, we made it - under another bridge, and there was our target - an archway about two metres high, half full of water. Once we'd groped our way round the first corner, we finally turned our torches on. The tunnel was old brick (Victorian?), that's been rerouted several times - there's occasional concrete sections with right angle turns. Has to be said, there wasn't much in the way of pretties, though the wildlife was better than your average cave - bats, spiders by the billion, fish (easily caught by hand), and a duck.

Quite what the duck was doing half an hour inside a dark tunnel I don't know. Another source of interest was listening to peoples' conversations in the rooms overhead - given we could hear them, could they hear the splashing sound from underneath them?!

On the internet account of someone who's been in before, they recorded the tunnel as finishing with an unpassable flow control gate. Of course, being cavers, we weren't going to let it die that easily - and so, a sump was born. A rather unpleasant one, it has to be said - longer than either of us expected (about 2m), half blocked with vegetation, and finishing in a large floating pile of plastic debris... Still, it was worth it - we'd come out at the Castle! The trip ended most enjoyably, rescuing three liferings from where they'd become tangled in a tree, and drifting down the river on them to be dropped off right outside our houses! Whoever said Oxford doesn't have decent caving?!

Not another trip down Titan

Peter Devlin

Derbyshire weekend [16-18 May 08]

Arriving in Great Hucknell to collect the Titan key, I was pleased to find the old Methodist chapel, and the wheelie bin which was supposed to hide the key. Unfortunately the key wasn't under it as expected. There followed a series of calls to Katie Dent to try and track down the whereabouts of the key. Apparently another group had the key for the Friday and the second key had been recently lost. It was agreed that I would meet Katie there the next morning, in the hope that the previous lot were to have dropped back the key and we could do our Titan trip.

Sadly the next morning the key had not been dropped off. Katie and I went round to Dave Nixon's girlfriend's place, but she was out. Katie had wasted a trip from Sheffield and back and we were left with alternative plans.

There were seven of us, so it was decided to split into two parties. Ben, Paul and Yifan decided to do JH, while Geoff, Fumie, Richard and I did Oxlow. Team Oxlow managed to get underground at 12.30 and made fairly efficient progress down the cave. In the lower levels of the cave there was a bit of a delay while Geoff tried to rig a 15m pitch with a 7m rope, but overlooking the 15m rope in the tacklesack he was holding. Soon we were at the bottom of the last main pitch. There was a way on down to the sump, but it was very wet so only Richard went down to take a look.

Soon we were progressing nicely up through the cave. At a certain point we stopped to examine some bits where lead had clearly been mined: you could see the pickaxe marks and bits of black ore left behind. Geoff pointed out stemples high in the ceiling where miners had worked: I found Oxlow a pleasant cave, but the thoughts of working high up in the ceiling in dangerous conditions was less appealing. We passed a spot where we could have gone up into a higher series, but Geoff described it as "mostly crawling", and nobody took him up on his offer. We decided instead to do a second trip down P8 when we got out.

Geoff and I had agreed I would derig the lower pitches and head out with the ropes while he would derig the upper pitches. As Geoff got to the entrance he swore: having had his prusik bag at the bottom of the last pitch he had managed to loose it (and all our metalwork) on the way up. Soon he re-emerged complete with prusik bag. We set off to P8, Richard, Fumie and I in the back of Geoff's truck on top of his gear as we were in our over suits. I was tired, having done two days climbing Thursday/Friday, so wasn't really in the mood for another trip.

Geoff asked us were we still up for the trip and nobody said no. Later Geoff confessed he hoped someone else would decline, but peer pressure kept us going. Just before the second pitch there was a little climb down and since the pitch head was a bit crowded I waited until Richard was on the rope before climbing down. When I clipped into the rope I looked down and noticed the knot at the bottom of the rope hanging about 4m off the bottom: before I had a chance to get too perplexed I heard Geoff tell Richard to swing onto a rock ledge and get off the rope. After this there was a tighter piece and I struggled a bit to get through.

By now I was feeling I wanted to head out, but Geoff assured us there wasn't far to go and it was large passage. Soon we were at the sump and had turned to go back. One by one I ticked off the bits of passage (climbs or tight bits) I knew would cause me to pause. 8pm saw us back out in daylight having done two trips in a day. Not a bad effort given all the key kafuffle in the morning.

Many thanks to Geoff for two excellent trips.