Oxford University Cave Club
Huerta del Rey Expedition 1992
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Like most practitioners of any esoteric art, when talking among ourselves we tend to use jargon without thinking about it. I hope that I can explain some of the more obscure words here, so that you are not too puzzled by the articles that follow.
Say that it is a hot day and you are shaft bashing, that is walking across the scorching bare limestone, or karst, looking for cave entrances. Imagine your joy when you find one that looks as if it has not been descended before: this is your chance to do some pushing, or original exploration. The first thing to do is to mark the reference number on the cave using an aluminium tag. Referring to the shaft bashing kit, which details all the caves that we have found in the area in the last 13 years, you notice that this cave is the 71st entrance to be recorded in Area 5, so you mark the cave 71/5. You go in. The first part of the cave is a rift, a tall narrow passage, where sometimes you can see the floor and sometimes you can't. With uncoordinated movements of your arms and legs you thrutch along it, making good progress. Then, horror of horrors, you come to a squeeze, and the passage narrows until it is only 7 inches wide, tight, but not so tight that you have to hammer it open. You breathe out and try to relax as you let yourself slide gently through. On the other side of the squeeze you come to a vertical drop or shaft. You can't decide whether it is free-climbable and can be climbed without artificial aid, or whether it needs to be rigged with artificial aids, in which case the climb becomes a pitch. You decide not to risk free climbing. You have a choice of equipment for rigging the pitch: you can either put a wire ladder on it, in which case you are laddering the pitch or you can rig it with a rope, so that you are doing it on SRT (Single Rope Technique).
You start to rig the pitch for SRT by hammering an artificial anchor, a bolt, into the wall. You screw a hanger into the bolt and attach the rope to it with a metal link called a maillon. This is the first belay: for safe SRT you need at least one more belay at the pitch head, so you place a second bolt and tie the knots to give you a Y-hang where the load on the rope is shared equally between the two belays. You attach your descender to the rope and use it to slide down in a controlled fashion; this is abseiling. For the first part of the pitch the rope hangs clear of the walls, and you notice with satisfaction that you have thus got a good free hang. A bit lower down the rope touches the wall and you are worried about the possibility of a rub point; this could cut the rope, so you are anxious to avoid it. First of all you experiment with a deviation, where you pull the rope slightly out of line using a piece of nylon rope attached to the opposite wall of the shaft. This doesn't work, so you decide to put in a rebelay, where you re-attach the rope to the wall of the cave. There is a spike of rock handy, which makes a very good natural, so you tie the rope to this, rather than using another bolt.
At the bottom of the rope you find yourself in a roomy chamber, with water entering down one wall as an inlet. The route out of the chamber, the way on, is down a passage with the water, a small streamway. The roof of the passage drops until it is very close to the water, and you can only get through by lying on your back in the water with your nose pressed against the roof: this is a duck. The roof lifts slightly, and then drops under the water at a sump. You see that there is a continuation in a high level passage above the sump, and you follow this. It is well decorated with pretties: stal (stalagmites and stalactites), helictites, which grow horizontally out from the wall, and flowstone where the walls and floor are covered with white deposits. Shortly afterwards you find that the passage is blocked with fallen rocks; this is a boulder choke. You can feel a slight breeze: the fact that the choke is draughting is a good sign, it means that the there is more passage on the other side. You know that you will have to dig the choke open. The cave goes, and, elated, you return to the chamber and climb, or prussik, up the pitch using two jammers which slide up the rope but not down it.
You return to camp, and bore your colleagues with exaggerated tall of the size of the new cave that you have found. Next day you return to the cave that you found, with a compass, a clinometer (clino) and a tape and make a map, or survey, of your discovery.