Produced on 10 March 1988 on the Campus of UWIST Cardiff & Published on 17 Sept. 1988 by Aberystwyth Caving Club
As usual I must start with the customary apologies for yet another late, late Thrutch. However for once I am innocent! Way back in May 1985 Leonie and Jane were elected to the exaulted post of Editor/s, and in all their time in office did not produce as much as a single word for publication. Fortunately yours truly stepped in to save the day. This saving-of-the-day took a little longer than anticipated, and I've overshot my deadline of October 1987 by a little bit. Still, it (very) might have been worse. I won't make rash predictions for the next Thrutch, but you may rest assured that my intentions are sound (blather, blather, blather zzzzzzzzz).
Anyway, 1985-86 turned out to be a very good year—in the end. It certainly had some bad bits, but looking back there are many highlights. The tackle at long last acquired a superb home in the cellar of 30 Bridge Street thanks to Tim's hard work. The residents of Nos Nibor were thankfull to get it off their landing too! A lot of good caving got done notably the four trips down Daren Cilau—truly it was "a very horizontal year." The culmination was the Alpine (well, just about) Expedition in the summer. After six years of abortive Switzerland trips, by which time they had become a joke, we at last got there—even if we only passed through on our way from the Jura to the Haute Savoie. All the continental trips turned out to be mega-trips and now we all appreciate the difference in standard between British and foreign cavers. Not only did our standard of caving improve, but so did our standard of equipment and technique. I can't recall that we even took ladders to the Jura with us. S.R.T. training sessions were held on a regular and organised basis for the first time in the sports hall.
In the long hiatus since Thrutch came out more or less on schedule a fresh young upstart rival—Peoples' Committee News—has sprung up in a paltry attempt to fill the void. It may be vaguely on time, but it has yet to mention caving. It's contents are best summed up by Oscar Wilde:
As for modern journalism... It justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarist.A lot of mining got done this year in addition to the caving. As usual the run of the mill surveying trips have been held back for an eventual 'Mining Thrutch', but the highlights of the more noteworthy trips are presented here. The reopening of Taylor's Level at Cwmystwyth definately forms the highlight of the mining year, but there were many big trips into the larger and more neglected mines of North Cards, especially the Lisburne Mines draining to the Lefel Fawr at Pontrhydygroes. By the summer of 1986 though, the folly of attempting to work on all the mines of the north Cards ore field had become apparant, and work on all but Cwmystwyth gradually ceased. The non-Cwmystwyth surveys will be presented in one 'Mining Thrutch' and the ever growing Cwmystwyth survey will be held over for a seperate publication. Cheers Speleobods
U.C.W. Union, 1.10.85
Usual displays of nice clean tackle, books and posters this time augmented by a great big photo display board. Got about 60 members, slightly less than last year but our average figure. Elaine advertised for "Butch Men". Followed by the normal introductory evening in the Coopers' where the lack of alcahol in front of the freshers was noted with disquiet. Still, the photos and tall tales were passed around and hordes signed up for mining trips.
Llanbadarn Union, 2.10.85
"A total waste of time"—even worse than previous years—zero members!
A dying transit and lunatic driving by John resulted in many sick people by the time we arrived. Robin kept getting sentimental about Elaine who he'd met at Cwmystwyth exactly a year ago—he was obviously besotted. Through the water, climb up the incline, view the Roman levels etc.
Tim and Underwood were walking up the long trial crosscut at the back of Lefel Fawr when Rob, Grav, et. al. came racing towards them. They were creating a superb rumbling, roaring noise as they ran. Tim turned to ask John what the noise could be and discovered that Underwood was already sprinting back towards the entrance. Obviously Underwood knew what Rob and party new—a tidal wave must be coming down the passage from the old workings. Rob and Grav were puzzled that no matter how fast they ran towards Tim and John, they couldn't catch them up. After a quarter mile they caught John up at the ore truck in the Kingside Lode. (Tim had already climbed 30' of ladders to escape the flood).
Then John realised that there wasn't a dam-burst, and ceased running. Walking in small circles, heart almost leaping out of his chest at each beat and adrenalin pumping furiously, all he could gasp was "Bastards!, pant, pant, Bastards!!" Moral—he who is sprinting for his life will outdistance the best runner (I'm sure he was on for a three minute mile!).
Also looked at Steel Ore Level and Crossroads Level before changing and calling at the Halfway.
No transit so a very reduced car trip. The small party resulted in a quick trip—Crossroads through trip, Lefel Fawr (stepladder and up Incline) and lastly a look at our dig at Taylor's Level. Since our last day's work on 12.9.85 a party of persons unknown, led by one McLeod (evidence of new grafiti in Level) had undammed the final block of gravel damming the water up and de-sumped the level. Miles and Simon didn't fancy a navel-deep trip, but Rob and Phil (despite dry gear) plunged in—couple of hundred feet to first lode; access to dry lower workings on left, passage sumped to right. Then on into half a mile of trial levels, littered with abandoned ironmongery and some small formations.
Massive traditional fresher trip. One party did Crossroads through trip and the other went up the Incline in Lefel Fawr. Then we swopped over. No fatalities despite usual ailling lights and falling rocks. Extravagant post-trip diversion to the Blue Bell at Llangurig (over the border in Powys) to get a drink on Sunday.
P.8. Cave, 12.10.85
Successfully completed P.8. amid much confusion at the 25' pitch—we met two groups intent on getting out before we got down so we were kept waiting ages. After that it was plain sailing apart from a few mud slides and the prospect of climbing over 15' deep water. The return was uneventful except that I got lost a crawl near the waterfall. Paul, Sue and Grav unsuccessfully attempted on an alternative route out which involved much low muddy passages. The survey was 'wrong' and in the end Grav had to drag the cramp-struck Paul out backwards. Bronny experienced some slight difficulties due to her lack of stature. "I was the only person to be daunted by giant, gaping, bottomless, endless holes in tt ground—but thanks to Robin I got across, using him as a bridge (well, he did tell me to abuse his body!). I'm quite little (short anyway) and so have been pushed from behind, pulled from in front, yanked from above and below over all obstacles I couldn't cope with! I just never seemed to be able to reach the hand/foot holds everyone kept pointing to! Sigh. C'est le caving!".
Gaultries Hole, 13.10.85
A caving weekend with everyone caving twice! We slithered down Gaultries, slithered up a mud slope, splashed and waded through various passages and found dead ends and sumps. Finally we gave up and came out. All collapsed on the ground for a Mars bar and to contemplate the next hole. It seemed strange that the guide book told of untold wonders in Gaultries—we wondered where they were! But other caves came to the rescue and it turned out that Grav and Robin and been very c? to a breakthrough at what we thought was a sump. All except Elaine and Mel returned to try the duck. Robin psyched himself up for 15 minutes and wait fo?—it was 18" long. The rest then went through apart from Sue who feared she wouldn't fit(!)
An extra dinner in the social calendar—this time to say bye-bye to Alison. Much beer, an Indian, more beer, usual inanities in the log—enlivened by sexism rearing its head, as certain second years turned from caving to feminism.
Congregated at Nos Nibor, sorted out gear and left in two cars to meet at the Westminster Hut at 10.30 p.m. No key due to Paul's administrative error of forgetting to send a deposit. Had a pint in the Lamb but couldn't find anyone with a key. Struck by an irrational thought—"find a policeman", so down to Hirwaun Police Station to ask to see the call-out list of local WSG members. Station closed, but eventually flagged down a police car, only to be told "You should have thought of that before leaving Aber." They then drove off. So much for boosting the 'friendly' image of the police! Decided to kip outside the hut, it being a mild night. Just dropped off when we were walked over by a contingent of WSG members stumbling to the door. Door was unlocked, so we moved indoors for the rest of the night.
Little Neath River Cave, 19.10.85
Spent a paranoid half hour adding stones to dam at entrance before entering—very sporting as water was reasonably high. (More sporting on way back against flow... ). Entrance series led down to large streamway. Then the canal bypass —mainly gours and bedding crawls—and back into the main streamway. Really massive dimensions, and a long walk to the terminal sump (Sump 2) to watch two divers emerging from Bridge Cave. Diverted on way back to try and find Genesis Passage. Struggled around in a lot of dry sandy crawls but couldn't find way through. Gave up and started back. Unremarkable return trip, but entrance series was 'interesting'.
Had a look around Cwm Glais, above Merthyr Tydfil—first of all tried Ogof Rhyd Sych. Got further than last time, but were defeated by the bedding plane squeeze—it looks impossible, though legend has it that Hywel overtook Stayte whilst doing it! Up stream to Ogof y Ci to do a through trip from the Lower to the Upper Entrance—mainly crawling over cobbles. Larger passage upstream of Upper Entrance for a 150 yards, but closes down beyond a large aven. On the way back to Aber did an impromptu trip into the Craig y Dinas Silica Mines without bothering to change—regretted it when climbing the waterfall on the path to the entrance!
Late start from Llanbadarn in the world's slowest transit. Interesting trip down to the sounds of a strange rattle in the engine and vomiting at the back of the transit. A late start the following morning from Wells saw us splitting into three groups:
Swildon's Hole, 2.11.85
Straight forward streamway to 15' pitch on ladder, and on down to sump 1. Climbed up on left to start round trip. This was a series of rifts and ruckles, quite muddy. Hywel's navigation left something to be desired. Halfway along we diverted down Blue Pencil Passage which gives dry access to Swildon's IV. This passage is a bastard—a downhill squeeze/crawl until you reach a 15' fixed chain down into streamway. Interesting manouver to emerge from crawl and attempt to negotiate chain climb. Down to Cowsh(it) Aven—yes it does smell!—and Sump 4 to watch two lads free diving out of it. Sooner them than me as it's 20' long and silted up with cowshit.
Then back up Blue Pencil Passage (Rob had an attack of the heebie-jeebies at the tightest part) to the rest of the circular route. More muddy passages led to the four ducks, each about 4' long with minimal to un-usable airspace and tight and muddy. Only their inability to navigate back out along the circular route kept some of us going. Between each duck the air got more and more foul, until at last we reached Sump 1. After the ducks, no-one was going back! Easier than the ducks by far. Great fun to stand on the far side and watch people feeling around with their legs before diving through and swimming 10 or 15 feet before surfacing (its only 18" long!). Much back-slapping between the 'First Sump', group, and off out to the pub.
Manor Farm Swallet, 2.11.85
Opening resembled that of a 50 foot well, straight up and down—no bends, no hand holds, no tea shops, etc. Small passages at bottom leading into larger bedding plane and a 20 foot sheer, vertical shaft. I got my rather large child bearing hips stuck, but after much struggling reached the bottom. More microscopic passages led to a massive fairy grotto with lots of fantastic formations.
"Now you come to mention it, there is a second pitch in Manor Farm", says Paul over a congenial pint in the Oakhill. I'm less likely to forget this fact than he, 'cos I thought if P.W. says it doesn't exist then it must be free-climbable. Thrutch!—I nearly thrutched myself to death trying to get out of that second "figment of my imagination" pitch without the aid of a safety net, safety line, ladder, or moral support from the girls. A second group we met also had problems with the Imaginary Second Pitch, but by re-rigging the REAL first pitch and shearing gear we overcame the IMAGINARY PROBLEM.
We eventually bottomed this beautiful little hole after pausing to admire the Trodloditic Fauna and Flora. A bumper day out for the family.
G.B. Cavern, 2.11.85
First trip for a long time for many people. Met two other groups and had to show Lancaster Poly the route. Sump had receeded somewhat since my last visit. Through duck (met a Coventry group) to boulder choke—got to end of ladder dig without going wrong. Uneventful trip apart from my light going out (again).
Rods Pot, 3.11.85
A quiet Sunday—most people were enjoying the hospitality of the cafe. Intended doing Swildon's but were put off by the sight of six parked transits. Decided on Rod's instead. Hunted through several hollows before finding the entrance with the aid of some walkers. The trip was enlivened by Andy's free-fall antics. However he does not qualify for the T.V.C. despite nose bleed. At the exit we surprised a couple trying to find some privacy in the hollow; as they ran of, one was observed to have bright ginger hair and a beard...
Usual gathering in Downies and Light of Asia, enlivened by Tim unveiling his Patent Canoodle Detector—lots of strange noises when directed at certain souls!
9.30 a.m. (!) outside Nos Nibor: Knock, knock, knock, thud, thud. Dulcet reply from Rob's room: "F... off" (disturbed from his slumbers, and, undoubtedly, dreams of pennys en masse). However, after a mega-breakfast we hit the road. Forty miles later, as the snow began to fall, a sudden cry arose "Oh shit, I've forgotten my wet socks and boots! (but I have remembered my laces)". "But you can go caving after all Rob", cried Sir Gravelly, spotting a size 8 wellie (with only one hole) on the roadside. The car screeched to a halt. Paul looked in the ditch—and found the other half of the pair!! However despite a most careful watch, a pair of wet socks were not spotted in the remaining ten miles.
Changed in the pub car park and tramped up the river to the entrance. Through the duck and into the mud crawls (where we turned back in April) and on to the bedding plane squeeze (where we turned back in October). Not so bad once you're psyched-up, but still pretty tight (exhale to move, etc.). The worst bit was the first five feet. After thirty feet we emerged into a streamway which led to a tight rift with apparently bottomless water. After a couple of hundred feet and a right angle bend, the horizontal stuff returned—Milk Crate Crawl! Hell itself could not be more miserable—30" high, dark and wet, and floored with 12" high bosses and sharp gravel/cobbles. After 400', as the guidebook promised, "the character of the cave changes completely"—before us lay a vast array of glittering white formations. Yet more lay around each corner as we strolled up the large streamway. An easily passed boulder choke with some loose blocks led to yet more superbly decorated streamway. The last hurdle was a tricky climb, down an overhang to the last section of streamway which ended in a massive, and inpenetrable, boulder choke.
The return was, not surprisingly, a reverse of the inward trip. Grav had a nasty experience in the tightest part of the rift, but we all got out eventually to a dark cold evening. Truly a collector's piece!
Yet another first for A.C.C.—SRT practice in the Sports Hall. Took 50 minutes to rig a few ropes from the roof beams, and then spent an hour dangling around and upping and downing. Useful practice—better to be stuck in the comfort of the sports hall than underground. However, beng able to see the 'pitch' was disconcerting.
Future practices were rigged much faster and most folk who wanted a go at SRT had the opportunity to try it out.
The trip up was enlivened by the singing of many bawdy ballads by Brony and Sue—later written up in the log for posterity. Pete, having spent the day at the beer festival, had a most evil trip, vommiting before Machynlleth—as a result of which he had to keep his hand in a poly bag for the entire trip. Chips at Queensferry, and on up the M5 to Ingleton.
Awaken early next morning by Andy and Luke (Phil's friends from Nottingham), and a few decided to go caving. (The rest went shopping/walking).
Jingling Hole, 16.11.85
Changed opposite Keld Head and were amazed to see a flood pulse go down Kingsdale Beck—2 foot high, dark brown, and moving at a fast walk down the dry beck. A very sobering sight.
Rigged Jingling off the tree and descended 120' pot in good style. Everyone was impressed by the familiar view from the bottom—'just like the poster!' Pushed the corners of the pot a further 15' downwards and then prussicked out, posing for photos on the way.
Because of the rain everyone else aborted their plans for going underground and decided instead to view Attamire Scar, above Settle. This proved impossible due to extremely thick fog, which enabled us to loose Tony and Pete. After an abortive search (including calling out the local farmers) we decided things were serious so we returned to Settle to inform the Police. However we met the missing two in Settle market square. They had apparently left a message for us in the condensation on the transit windows!
Had an evil mega-session in the Craven Heffier in the night. Eighty Five verses of 'Beastiality's Best' were composed in course of the evening—all thanks to Brony and Sue.
Rowten Pot, 17.11.85
Untangled various big ropes. Andy rigged the pot with umpteen re-hangs (12 bolts; 6 hangs in total). The main pitch was split into: 10' - 70' - Traverse - 10' - 90' - 60'; the last 100' being in the waterfall. Down the dry oxbow led to the 25' and 40' pitches and, at last, the sumps. Rob got stuck at the lowest change over in the main shaft as a result of using a Clog Chest Ascender. (However, he has now vowed to buy a Petzl Croll instead!). Eventually, we got out, past all those bolts, and dragged all the rope out.
Swinsto Hole, 17.11.85
Straightforward trip through Swinsto and out through Valley Entrance. Cleared the hangovers from the party in the Craven Hefier for those about to depart on the Mexico expedition.
At last, A.C.C. attempt Daren Cilau! The entrance is definitely the worst bit—a flatout squeeze in water; the entrance crawl has a reputation far greater than it merits—no doubt dating from when the cave was the entrance crawl and little else. We were all surprised at how easy it was (compared to what we expected): 1 hour on the way in and 1 hour and ten minutes on the way out. The rest of the cave is almost beyond description. Fortunately it has been well taped off, especially in Jigsaw, so that you can see clean untrodden mud and clean walls.
The path itself is a muddy quagmire with mud filled pools that at one point—as I discovered—go to your waist. Even now there's very much a feeling of walking in an untrodden passage, mainly because so much is taped off. How long that will last I don't know. Somehow the Antlers were not as good as expected. White Company however is superb. Epocalypse way contains superb selenite crystals sticking out of the mud and walls. At one point was a hollow filled with small rock spheres, each ringed with a band of calcite—most curious. Grav and Rob did a loop via Man in the Roof and we met back at Big Chamber Nowhere Near the Entrance.
Andy's verdict: A truly amazing and exceptionally wonderful speleological experience. My knees hurt.
Callout: Carruthers, Rob, Tim, Ieuan
There I was sitting comfortably in front of the telly waiting for Sally to finish in the shower we could go out for a meal. Ring! Ring! Ring! phone call from Bridge Street—the caving lunies are late: they're supposed to be back at 8.00 p.m. and its now 8.20 p.m. A rumble came from my stomach, but duty calls—my caving friends are late and they're intelligent and respectable people so there must be something wrong. Within a flash I ran downstairs shouting to Sally that I was on a mercy mission and apologised for not taking her out. She said to take care.
Cranked the car into life and tore through Aber at illegal speeds—the police would understand—and burst into Nos Nibor. Two wise heads—Rob and myself thought it out. We'll give them until 9.00 p.m. So sat down for a cup of tea and a welsh cake—turned out to be the highlight of the evening. At 8.55 Tim and Carruthers arrived so we loaded the car up and burned rubber towards Cwmystwyth looking for a Moggie Thou. Checked every car we passed; nothing. Passed the Halfway Inn—"Shall we check the car park?" "No they'd have phoned if they'd stopped for a drink".No sign of their car parked at the mine but walked up to all the main entrances to look for clues. Back to the village at 9.40 p.m. to phone Bridge Street—are they back?—No! Even worse; 1¾ hours late; so back to mine to tackle up and go searching, ignoring my rumbling stomach because my friends might be dying underground. No sign of them, but much evidence that they'd exited from the Cross Roads through trip.
Back to village at 10.30 p.m. to phone again. Oh Joy! thery're back! So glad to hear they're safe, and I really wanted to waste my Wednesday evening wandering around a Welsh tip in the middle of nowhere.
Drove back to Aber and stopped at the Halfway where we met Sue and Bronny. Started talking. But oh the irony of it, the missing party had stopped at the Halfway for beer! OH SUCH RAGE!!! but the four of us are responsible people and since the Caving Club Dinner is tomorrow evening, the FAIRY STORIES should be ENTERTAINING.
The usual pre-Yuletide jollities in the Downies and Light of Asia, graced this time by Bronny as Santa and Sue as Rudolph. Presents included a potty for Sophie (for those desperate moments after the Coopers); rubber gloves and Kleenex for Tony (for the man who's into DIY); a spare nose for Andy (see Mendip trip); a transit steering wheel for Rob; toast for Bev; Fairy Liquid for Sue for those tight moments (see Derbyshire Trip), and a noose with instructions for use for Paul (see call-out report). Grav, the trip leader at Cwmystwyth on 4 December was presented with the newly-instituted "Gilded Toenail Award" for the worst fuck-up in the preceeding few months.
Predictable mayhen in Llanbadarn after an early start in the Black Lion, continuing at Nos Nibor until all the beer was finished and everyone fell asleep.
Yet again I find myself thrusting my body into Mother Earth, squeezing through the tight wet confines of Daren Cilau entrance series. Popped out of other end like a cork out of a bottle after two hours, Phil and Robin having been hampered by carrying two cell bodies. Robin's first cell immediately expired due to a fault not repairable underground, so he continued on his seecond cell.
A pleasant slip, splash down jigsaw where we met Arthur Millet and Dave Ramsay returning from a survey trip—famous comment that we must be the night shift coming in. (It was 9.00 p.m. and we were doing an overnight trip to avoid crowds of tourists, and also because there were no spare bunks in the cottage). Route finding from Big Chamber to the pitch was straightforward. Passed the 65' pitch with some effort and much grunting, groaning and gnashing of teeth. The by-pass to the 70' pitch was quite pleasant but not for those who suffer vertigo as it is necessary to do a bold-step type traverse over the top of the shaft. Without a rope it would be lunacy as opposed to merely 'bold'—very exposed.
After each climb down in the pitch by-pass large holes in the floor and distance echos give an indication of the size of passage to come—Time Machine. Then in no time we were there—Ah, ga, ga, it is biiiiggg! Walked about half its length, our lights barely making out the walls or roof. Having taken 6 hours to get that far we realised we'd have to turn back, mainly because of the deteriorating lights situation. Took us 5½ hours to get out and it felt like it. An excellent trip, tiring but well worth going back to get to that sump at the end.
Photographic session of some length in workings off bottom of Incline in Lefel Fawr. For once Rob was holding someone else's flashgun! (Paul's).
Rather abortive photographic trip to help Paul; defeated by rain, cold and darkness.
Mega-photographic trip with a Torque Starter and foglight. Successfully illuminated some of the more meassive chambers on the round trip and actually overexposed some scenes! Didn't quite succeed in adequately lighting the huge manway chamber at the end of the trip however—'tis a big'ole!
I first encountered Taylor's Level in December 1984 when Raif showed me the sumped entrance and enthused about how much workings were reputed to lie beyond. Once I acquired a car I too did a bit of enthusing, and convinced Chris, Dave, Grav and Joe to put in a total of 130 hours over 6 days to dig a 30' long drainage trench up to 11' deep with drystone walling sides during the autumn of 1986. When we left the site on 12 September there was a days work left to finally hole through and release the water, and a day or two left of dry-stone walling and tidying up. However, by my next visit to the site on 5 October with Phil, someone had completed the holing through, and the standing water was down to waist depth. We did a quick (and very cold) exploration and realised how much there was and I determined to return to complete the exploration and survey the workings.
Thus in late October, Chris, Grav and I waded up the level. The former water level was marked by the peat deposited on the walls, indicating the sump had been 20' long followed by 150' of nose-in-the roof type passage—most unpleasant! At a couple of points was the name "McLeod" freshly scratched in the peat on the walls, presumably the name of the person who'd pirated our dig.
At 350' was a crossroads; straight on into the hill lead to 2000' of trial crosscut with very well preserved remains (rails, compressed air pipes, ventilation pipes, buckets, boxes and tools); and to the east lead to 400' of passage ending at a sump caused by a small roof fall. This was earmarked for a future dig.
To the west was 350' of drivage with some stoping. Halfway along was a 65' deep oreslide to the eastern extremity of Lefel Fawr. There was 1,500' of accessible level, but unfortunately the connection westwards with the main Kingside workings was collapsed. Three rises were noted for future attention. A winze some 60' deep to a flooded stope was descended, but the drivage (the Kingside level—same level as at the bottom of the Incline in Lefel Fawr) was sumped.
Back at Nos Nibor plotting the survey up, it became apparent that the distance between the east end of Lefel Fawr and these newly discovered workings was only 600'. Until a small roof fall in about 1984, the Cornet Lode east drivage in Lefel Fawr had been accessible for a further 300' or so. So fired with enthusiasm for the possibility of a Lefel Fawr-Taylor's through trip, Chris, Robin and I started digging at the east end of Lefel Fawr the following day. Despite a tantalising howling-gale-type-draught (we'd also noted one at the western end of Lefel Fawr below Taylor's Level) we eventually had to abandon the dig because of loose rock overhead. However, a brave man with a long stick might succeed in breaking through...
Beamed down to a tiny barn behind Loosehill Hall. No expenses spared. Running water (but only during the day) and even a toilet with bog paper. Spent a pleasant night apart from Dave who suffered from a Woolworths sleeping bag and awoke to a cold sunny morning and the hills covered with snow. Made the pilgrimage to Caving Supplied to spend vast sums of money which we did not possess. Eventually decided to go caving:
Perryfoot Cave, 25.1.86
Bloody cold changing into wetsuits; got underground at 2.00 p.m. Cave much smaller than expected and consisted of a lot of shitty crawls and even more shittly near ducks. Generally speaking a pretty miserable but sporting hole. We thought that changing on the way in was cold but the 30 yard walk on the way out was unbelievable—our wet clothes froze within minutes, as did \all extremities. Coldest cave I've ever had the misfortune to go down! Back to Castleton, drank tea shop dry and splattered wash-room walls with mud. Back to t'hut (barn) and then pub.
Peak Cavern, 26.1.86
Survived another freezing night thanks to copious quantities of CH20H. Woke up to tea in bed courtesy of Dave. Crawled out of warm sleeping bags and thawed frozen wetsuits in the sun. Yuk! the joys of living rough. Peak cavern was the most excellent cave I've been down (but considering I've only been down two, I don't know if that means it's good compared to others).
The considerable number of degrees of frost in the night had frozen anything wet into concrete-like hardness, including wetsuits. At the entrance to Peak Cavern we impressed everyone present by moaning our way into ice lined wetsuits. One bod from Orpheus was so moved that he said we could stay at their hut next time we were up—an offer not yet taken up!
Peak Cavern is a superb cave, but for all its magnificence and splendour and size there are not many routes. We went up the main dry passage beyond the show cave (not worth paying money for) then went left into Pickering's Passage. It's a low hands and knees sandy/muddy crawl for interminable ages. About ¾ of the way along a hole in the roof leads into a mud sloped chamber and a series of awkward climbs into Moss Chamber. Very pretty. Very morbid. Retraced our steps, and continued to the main streamway for a clean superb passage with crystal clear water. Went right up to the upsteam sump. On the way back found we could set in the steam and be pushed along by the water—great childish fun.
Encouraged by the success of the Torque Starter and fog light in the North Wales Slate Mines, decided to try it on the Deep Level headgear in Bwlchglas. Robin was game for a laugh so off we set—abseiling with a car battery in a rucksack is no fun, but prussicking with one is ridiculous! The photos were fairly decent but suffered a little from the redness of the light.
Photographic trip through Cross Roads. Took some interesting photos at top of first pitch with the lense cap on! Cathy's B & W photos were very good though. Discovered moths and two hibernating bats on way out which were duly recorded. Emerged into a blizzard.
The memory of yet another tourist trip into the Bwlchglas Deep Levels begins to blur into all the others. Andy wasn't too keen on the abseil into the big slope however!
Eager to get the Caving Club in on Rag, Paul arranged a sponsored abseil off Constitution Hill followed by a crawl along the Prom from Alex to Castle Point. Not surprisingly there was a low turnout for the one-mile crawl, although most of the club spectated/encouraged the hardy four who raised £30.
Tim drove down to the WSG hut through just-about-passable roads—huge drifts cleared by snow ploughs. The following morning between Penderyn and Llangattock passed a number of skiers in the Brecon Beacons! Entrance to Cilau was frozen solid so the Chelsea members and us dug at it for 10 minutes each—that was as long as anyone could bear to lie in the ice/slush! Arthur Millett went to buy some salt whilst other people considered blowing it up! Eventually got so cold that we aborted the trip. (Plus the fear of being stuck inside if it re-froze!).
Straightforward surveying trip coupled with an introduction to Mining for Chris, one of the agrics from Phil's house. First stop the Rhiwrhigos Upper Level; walked in to the first lode where I abseiled down the two open stopes to look for the Midway Level, some 160' below, which connects to the Gwaithgoch Mine and possibly to Nantglas and Foxpath Mines. However the narrow stopes were a horrific tangle of tiny working platforms supporting masses of unstable deads. Got down to 80' or 90' but no sign of the 10 Fm divage as the whole of the lode appeared to have been stoped out and no false floors installed/survived. Too nasty to push all the way down to 160'. Returning towards the crosscut we found a hole in the floor which had not existed when we went in! Instantly went into thrutching mode as I realised that the apparently solid floor was in fact made up of tiny rotten timbers (little more than sticks actually) covered with 2" of gravel. The new hole in the floor appeared to be at least 50' deep; warned Phil and Chris to take care etc. Then Chris explained: "Oh, I put my foot through the floor on the way in, but didn't mention it because I thought it was normal in old mines". Total disbelief from Phil and I!
Exited without further excitement, and had a quick look into the Nantglas Isaf Level (Fallen in after 600'), and a level 450' east of the Gwaithgoch Uchaf Level (100' to a narrow, unpromising looking stope).
Had a phone call from Richard on Friday inviting us on a 'free mining trip to Blaenau'. Only when he arrived at Nos Nibor on Saturday morning did he reveal that we would be required to carry the NUS Wales banner in a rally in support of the striking quarry men. Drove up in brilliant sunshine and sub zero temperatures, quick stop at the chippy and then got the banner out—it was bloody massive! At least 8' x 16', with huge poles the diameter of fence posts, guy ropes, etc. We assembled it and tried pulling it upright; result—we almost took off in the wind! More guy ropes and helpers were added, until we felt safe enough to join the procession. There were lot of 'real' trades union banners, many of them really pretty, but ours was the REDDEST and the BIGGEST. As a result we got on the TV news struqgling with it in the wind. Processed all around the town, brass bands playing, banners flapping etc. It was a really good natured rally—all the townspeople seemed to back the strike, and there were only a couple of policewomen to divert traffic. So much for the usual image of rabble rousing rebellious strikers. Afterwards we went to the indoor rally—speeches etc., many in Welsh. The rally was to boost flagging spirits (the strike had been on for 6 months) before Monday's renewed discussions with the quarry owners.
Then to the pub for an evening's Apocalypse: a row of gleaming brass handpumps—a good sign! "Four pints of draught best please" I asked and uncomprehendingly watched her pour four points of keg. "What about the handpumps?" I asked, "Oh, they don't work. We can't get the spare parts!" she replied. Still it was a good evening: as soon as it was discovered that we were up for the rally we were made much more welcome. At 11.30 staggered out to the chippy. Once again "Were you up for the rally lads?" and we got extra chips! "where are you staying?" they enquired. "Er... we're camping actually". It was now well below freezing. "You can't do that! You can sleep on our living room floor!" So there we were, installed on their floor for the night, supping rum and playing Apocalypse! They even gave us breakfast!
Sunday morning we slogged our way up to Cwmorthin Slate Mine with a torque starter and foglight and spent 1½ hours taking two photos of the great Manway Chamber—at last success! Next one—Time Machine?
Swinsto Hole, 8.3.86
Bitterly cold day. Trekkled up hill to Swinsto—a fine through trip with 7 pitches leading to the West Kingsdale Master Cave, and exit via Valley Entrance. Shakehole drops into a small streamway which swiftly leads to 1st pitch (20'). Then a miserable all-fours 900' crawl in very cold water to 6 pitches in rapid succession (25-30-50-45-25-20). We were moving at a reasonable pace until we became snarled up with the back of a photographic trip at Main Pitch (95' split by a ledge into 50' and 45'). Got cold and wet waiting for them, but eventually reached the impressively large Master Cave. Had a look upstream toward the upstream (Rowten) Sump, and then toddled along to the 20' pitch at the downstream sump up to Valley Entrance. (Which we had rigged before going in).
We had just climbed out of our freezing cold wet suits when a lad came running up—one of his party from Aston University had fallen at the exit pitch in Valley entrance and broken her arm. Tim, Paul and Rob changed back and we went to see what we could do. We rigged a hauling system and splinted the girl's arm with a tyre lever, and then hauled/lifelined her up the ladder. Thank goodness she was not a 15 stone bloke, as it was still a difficult job to haul her up! She exited okay though. Met Phil at the entrance with a flask of tea—much appreciated. Then to the Marten Arms to boast to the others of our exploits.
Ibbeth Peril II, 9.3.86
The water level in the river at the entrance was high, and due to snow melt was extemely cold. I got most of the way down the entrance crawl before deciding to opt for prudence—just before the crawl opened out. The others completed a good trip into the large chambers beyond.
Our third Cilau trip and this time we were determined to get to the sump. Martyn Farr was going to do a pushing dive on the terminal sump so we wound up portering for him. Entrance series and Jigsaw Passage were by now relatively familiar, then the 65' pitch and on through Time Machine. Bonsai Streamway and the Kings Road are very long and a bit tedious. Reached the sump after 5 hours, and hung around for an hour whilst Farr kitted up. Watched him disappear into the large sump and set off back. Extremely knackering 6 hours to get out; Farr et. al. overtook us at the pitch, having pushed the sump further, but not linked it to Elm Hole in the Clydach Gorge. My trip out was especially miserable, my light having died (due to abrading connections) at the sump. Superb trip having seen so much of the cave but realised how huge the difference in our standard of caving from the hard men! emerged into sleet, stumbled down to Whitewalls and crashed out. Impressed that Alex was in considerably better shape than the rest of us despite the fact that this was only her fourth ever trip.
Planning for this trip consisted of one hoax phone call to Dave Eyre to enquire whether several ex-Aber members could sleep there for a few days. I could sense the relief in his voice when I told him it was a joke. He provided some copies of old maps of Dean which allowed us to locate the main sites. Accommoation was kindly provided by the 'Dog and Muffler' at Coleford who allowed us to camp in their beer garden. This was an astute move on their part since we drank about 50 pints a piece. Beware the extreme heavy metal jukebox in the public bar! Both the food and the beer (John Smith's) are excellent. The mines we visited are described below. The first four are within about half a mile of each other around Lambsquay, about half a mile south of Coleford on the B4228; Old Bow Mine is at 578/089 and Slingsby Mine at 562/115.
New Dun Mine
Spent two hours unsuccessfully searching through a huge scrapyard covered in massive waste oil tanks and industrial boilers. A couple of locals claimed the entrance was in these somewhere, so does the map.
This has been opened as a showmine and is on the hillside just below the scrapyard. £1.20 gets a trip round a reasonable mine, going down 150'. Everywhere there are sealed-off sections which obviously went a lot further.
Old Ham Mine
The gate, apparently never locked, says permission must be obtained from Clearwell. Our request for access met with a demand for £5 per head which makes Giants Hole in Derbyshire look good value. Since the entrance is out of sight from Clearwell we went in anyhow. The mine is connected to both Old Ham and Clearwell and is very extensive. Plenty of big, easy, walking size passages linking large chambers. Occassional squeeze through roof falls and collapses. Eventually worked our way down to what seems to have been the main haulage tunnel and followed the rails around in a large round trip. Much squeezing through collapses but compared to anything in Mid Wales it's wonderfully safe. We spent about four hours in the mine which resembles a cave in many respects (it may be natural in parts?) but only saw a fraction of the total.
Old Bow Mine
Found four entrances along the edge of 'Puzzle Wood', an area of Roman ironstone mining which resembles a miniture and overgrown Grand Canyon. The first entrance led to a series of tight passages and seemed disappointing until we broke through into easy walking passages and several fairly large chambers. The true size of the place escaped us—only later did we find that it's connected to both Ham Mine and Clearwell 'Caves'.
Marked on map so we went to have a look. Nice stone shaft collar but shaft blocked by dead sheep—just like North Cardiganshire!
Life in the marquee was more horrible than even the infamous 'camping-outside-Penwyllt' days. Marshall's bowels were not designed to cope with the John Smith's and his farts proved to be highly obnoxious. The drinking was maniac and the Apocalypse as obsessive as ever. The trip was marked by the formation of The Most Honourable Dog and Muffler Free Forest Show Mining Society; sole aim being to gain free access to such mines (this was achieved at Old Ham and Old Bow). The society's Log Book and Constitution have been deposited with the A.C.C. Librarian.
Our third attempt at Cardiganshire's very own 'bottomless hole'. Having progressively explored it to -260' (Oct. 1985) and then to -500' (Feb. 1985), we now felt ready for another attempt at pushing it all the way to the Lefel Fawr at -710'. On the Friday we surveyed down to -260' (20 fm level) and rigged down to -410' (45fm level). Then came the pushing trip on the Sunday.
Just below the 45 fm level was a precarious looking tram which had collapsed off the landing on our last trip. Fortunately it turned out to be fairly solidly wedged, and so we safely passed it and reached the 60 fm level. It was disappointing to find that at the 75 fm level (-590') the inclined shaft ended in a mud filled pumping sump. The 75 fm level was open but 2/3 filled by incredibly viscous mud with (of all things!) what appeared to be a row of birds foot prints running along the level. The mud had a jelly-like surface layer over viscous blancmange consistancy mud. We negotiated it by hauling ourselves along a compressed air pipe along the wall as it was impossible to walk through the mud. The passage sloped up hill and gradually the mud disappeared. At the end was a vertical winze to Lefel Fawr (the 95 fm level) at -710'. Unfortunately there was backed up water to -650' beneath the tangle of subsiding ladders and platforms in the winze. We contented ourselves with surveying all the accessible workings and then started long slow business of detackling and exiting.
The Engine Shaft is at the west end of the mine, and generally all the passages to the west off the shaft are blind, while those to the east lead to inpenetrable falls from stopes. The only way into the main part of the mine looks like being the adjacent Davey Shaft which is vertical all the way to the Lefel Fawr and would therefore be a more serious undertaking than this shaft which is inclined below 260'. Anyone fancy a spot of prussicking?
David Bick, needing underground photos for his forthcoming book on Frongoch Mine, had asked Abdul and I if we could oblige. Abdul dragged Dave Corbett up the aqueous depths of the Wemyss Deep Adit, and after many hours emerged with some credible results which were later published. Paul and I had opted for a look at the workings in the opencuts at the east end of the mine, armed with a camera specially loaded with black and white instead of colour, and lots of flash batteries. We'd surveyed Temple Mine at Parson's Bridge in the morning, but by now were both suffering from bad stomachs and nausea. As a result the afternoon was a bit of a washout, the highlight being Paul grimly hanging onto a ladder road in the Llwynynwch Shaft and spewing between photographs. The bad tummies grew into food poisoning and we both spent a miserable 24 hours. Worse was yet to come though—on unloading the camera I discovered that the "black and white film specially for publications" had not been loaded in the first place. Not only did we not get any photos into David Bick's book, but we'd lost all the progress photos of the Taylor's Level dig at Cwmystwyth.
After considerable plotting and planning the Otter Hole trip at last came about. For once, the trip list was positively overflowing as 'retired' cavers crawled out of the woodwork and cited reasons why they should be on the trip. Warfare was only narrowly avoided by the use of considerable diplomacy by Paul and Tim in their aportioning of the available places on the two trips. Two trips were planned—a 12 hour over-tide one on Saturday and a 6 hour half-tide one on Sunday. Needless to say, competition was fearcest for. the Saturday trip which was to be the first of the season. Spent an expectant evening at Ystrafellte, going easy on the beer before the big trip the following day.
Otter Hole, 19.4.86
Met John Hutchinson (Royal Forest of Dean CC) and John Steenson (Hades CC) at the car park above the river and trooped off through the rain forest down to the insignificant looking entrance. The entrance series led to a long series of extremely muddy, frequently wet, crawls, gradually enlaging to a decent walking/slipping/sliding size. After an hour we reached the tidal sump, which because of the high water conditions did not open at all, not even the famous eye hole. Sat and glumly watched the sump until it was obviously rising again, and slithered and crawled our way out again.
Washed in the bath in the stream, went to John Hutchinson's for coffee, and then spent a damp afternoon in Chepstow until the others returned in the transit late in the evening for a curry and a drink.
Little Neath Cave, 19.4.86
Consolation prize for those who'd drawn the short straw and were to have done the 6 hour trip on Sunday. In the event they had a decent day's caving unlike group 'A'.
Daren Cilau, 20.4.86
Sucessful trip into Cilau as far as the Antlers. Dave and Pete completely knackered—Tony exited the entrance crawl in about 35 minutes compared to our 1¼ hours—Bloody dwarf obviously ran out!
Agen Allwyd, 20.4.86
As a consolation for the Otter sump not opening (and it obviously wasn't going to open on the Sunday either), we elected to do a decent trip into Aggie instead. Entered as one large party, and reached Northwest Junction without getting lost once (not bad for only my second trip in two years—I'd expected disaster!)
Most people turned back at this point and by all accounts had some fun navigating their way out. Phil, Grav, Tim and I intended doing the Grand Circle, but found that Deep Water had sumped, and so had to back track also, having done a third of the circle. All in all a wet and (literally) washed-out weekend.
Enthususiastic but small trip going up in Rob and Dave's cars and taking all the club's rope and upey-downey gear etc. Surprisingly both overloaded little cars got there, and a spacious night was spent at Holme Head. Arose early for a greasy breakfast at the Fountain Cafe, and plotted what to do. Visited Inglesport, and eventually decided to try to reach Gaping Ghyll Main Chamber via Bar Pot, every other ACC attempt over the last few years having failed for various reasons.
Bar Pot, 26.4.86
Changed in Clapham car park and trudged up to the allotment, Paul pointing out all the sights as he'd worked for the Dales National Park the previous summer ('I built that wall/stile/bridge' etc.). Paid the obligatory visit to Gaping Ghyll shaft and oohed and ahed as is customary. Then down to Bar Pot shakehole. The 1st pitch (55') is tight and awkward at the top (especially on the way out!), but soon opens out. An obvious and well worn route down the bouldery passage soon leads to the head of the mangificent and spacious 2nd pitch (120'). A huge great CPC eye bolt provided a comforting back-up belay, although the Main hang was considerably more exposed. Landed in a spacious sandy passage. Easily followed the route past Flood Entrance, and on down the abysmally over-trodden Southeast Passage to Main Chamber. For all the grottyness of the immediately preceeding passages, Main Chamber was a fantastic sight. Despite photos and the survey, it is still much larger than expected, and also much taller. Stood at the foot of the Main shaft and peered up through the grey spray at the sky far above. Immensely impressing. Because most people were laddening out, didn't have time for much else, and so returned directly to Bar Pot and slowly we all exited, having the anticipated fun with the greasy slab below 1st pitch, and the narrow bit at the top of 1st pitch.
Yordas Pot, 27.4.86
After the heavy night on Saturday, a very bright Sunday found us not particularly inclined to a big trip. Elected for Yordas Pot. Changed at the top of Kingsdale and raced another group to the top to grab the best hang. The 80' pitch rapidly widens out and becomes damp. Fairly low crawl in water leads after a couple of hundred feet to larger passage and the head of a slippery 30' waterfall pitch into Yordas Cave. Got held up for ¾ hour behind a party of children, but eventually their leader took pity on us and let us nip down before his last half dozen. Walked out through Main Chamber and changed in brilliant sunshine whilst enthusing about the forthcoming summer expedition.
Took a party of Brum. Scouts down Lefel Fawr and Cross Roads. Phil installed new handlines in Cross Roads, as our concern was growing over the continued regular use of North Cards' 1973 handlines!
Uneventful Bwlchglas trip for the scouts with the usual protracted lifelining as usual on these 'tourist' trips.
Straightforward Cross Roads through trip—some old story.
- The minutes of the last AGM were not read.
- The new committee was voted in; results as follows:
- Life membership was granted to Ieuan, Andy Cairns and Bev.
- Rob's proposal of a tackle charge of 25p per person per trip in an attempt to get the active cavers to contribute proportionately more money to the club was carried unanimously.
- Paul's proposal for a split membership fee of £1 for novices and social members and £2 for active members was carried unaninmously.
- Ieuan's proposal that the dinner venue be moved from the Indian to the Chinese was defeated by a vote of 5 for and 9 against with 5 abstentions.
- Paul was presented with the Gilded Toenail Award for forgetting the keys to the W.S.G. hut for the S. Wales Trip of October 1985.
- The outgoing President, Grav, made his speech in the customary format: "It has been a very horizontal year".
|and 5 candidates|
|and 4 candidates|
|and 5 candidates|
|and 3 candidates|
|and 2 candidates|
|and 2 candidates|
|and 4 candidates|
Decided to make something of the otherwise wasted AGM weekend so drove down to South Wales to do that fine sporting cave, Rhyd Sych, for a second time. As happens so often, we'd forgotten how nasty parts of it were, but it was a satisfying trip. Luxury of changing in sunshine for once.
Predictably horrible trip into the ocherous depths of Level 6 inspired by the arch-fiend Fenton. Yet more orange underwater to add to the collection.
Usual tourist trip with many photos by Rob. Surprisingly for 'snapshots' some particularly good ones were obtained, notably of the abseil into the main stope, and a good double silhoutte of Al and Tim in the twin tunnels near to the Deep Level headgear.
Lunacy strikes again! All the way from Aber to Norwich for a party, and home via a county cricket match at Tring, Hertfordshire. Extreme culture shock as ACC meet normal respectable folk—scene is set when we arrive at a nice semi detached suburb and Elaine, Sara and Hazel are told they "can go upstairs to change". Into what? Comments in pub along predictable lines (Hairy bloody hippy students, etc.). Party fairly boring and normal until Pogues begin blaring out and Colin threatens to launch into various people (but especially hairy hippies). Finally abandoned the Garys and Mandys the next day and escaped to Tring to inflict ourselves on English cricket.
Ivor's long standing invitation to photograph various Mid Wales mines from the air enventually materialised (he owns a 1/12 share in a Cessna at Haverfordwest). Superb day until we met much turbulence in North Cards, then I lost my lunch and much of my stomach lining. Not surprisingly the others didn't like it particularly as I couldn't find a sick bag. Fair number of useful photos taken, then back to the airfield for me to wash the plane out. Funny, I haven't received another invite yet...
After so many years of County Clare and cancelled Switzerland Trips, at last we made it to the continent. Collected/loaded/press ganged people into the trannie across the breadth of Britain and eventually reached Dover. Midnight cricket game followed by a long boring wait in the bus after Paul lost the ball. A greasy breakfast and pint of keg beer later we were abroad. Much snoring across France, breakfast somwhere in the northwest and lunch halfway across near Reims. Then the sun came out and we sweltered our way eastwards, hour after relentless hour. Eventually reached Bescancon at the edge of the Jura in the cool of evening, and 12 km later stopped at Ornans for the night after 32 hours travelling.
Pitched tents, washed sweat off and went into the small town for a celbratory beer and a meal. Great feeling to be abroad. Reliance on Alex's A-level French lead to 5 people eating Tripe instead of Golden Trout. The local red wine—Caves de la Haute Loué was decent enough at 22.5 f; Fenton didn't choose so wisely, quote: "I've never had a bad rose yet" (pause, sip, sip) "God, This is rough! "
Moved 10 km up the road in the morning to a nice little campsite on the banks of the Loue just east of Lods, a village boasting a bar and a shop. Turned out to be a superb location, centrally placed for most of the caves, and also for walking. Immediately upstream of Lods the valley becomes a spectacular gorge with a wooded plateau 400 m above. The weather was generally dry and sunny apart from a couple of thunderstorms, and much time was spent walking, and also canoeing/sail boarding on the river next to the camp.
Evenings around the camp fire were a feature of the Jura, accompanied by copious drinking of Caves de la Haute Loue, as witnessed by the huge heap of empty bottles obscuring the sun besides Tim's tent. This culminated in the fairly epic "Lira Show Band and Review Fashion Show 1986" when the Lira's transvestite tendencies (to which we have all been subjected to since) first publically surfaced in E's bathing suit as the "Miss World Contest". Alcahol has thankfully blotted out many of the memories of that evening, but some events live on: Tim and Lira up a tree daring each other to climb higher; fire walking, breathing and swallowing; Grav swimming across the river fully clothed; and the predictable drinking and drinking and singing and drinking.
Five trips into three caves were undertaken in the week we stayed in the Jura before moving to the Haute Savoie:
Gouffre du Bois d'Ully, 19.8.86
Easily found on the east side of the Route Nationale 492, 3 km south of Ornans. At least 30 bolt holes visible! Lovely dry freehang of 90 m to a dead rat and something nameless but smelly in a poly bag. Grav's first words underground, whilst struggling with his brand-new expedition carbide were (appropriately enough) "Fucking Carbides!" Good to see that despite modern technology, some things never change. Al abseiled down with his eyes closed, and Alex had to haul herself down, having put all five bars of her rack on. After lunch we ascended 10 m and found the continuation down to 98 m via two small hangs of 10 and 11 m, both wet and a bit tight. Towards the bottom Paul, in a supreme fit of absent mindedness removed all the bars on his rack and slipped down to the bottom of the rift. (Free fall caving).
After Rob prussicked out, Al followed and got his top jammer jammed (as is their want), positioned inconsiderably beyond audible range of both top and bottom. There ensued a conversation of chaotic proportions. Al was obviously stuck but it wasn't that that worried me; what was more horrific to contemplate was an attempted resuce by the alert Jones. Always on the lookout for prey to descend on (one has only to recall the Jones rescue of Clancy in Bwlchglas in 1985 which reduced her to the gibbering woman she is today—more gibbering than women in general). Fortunately Jones didn't grasp this chance and the coversation carried on. "Speak Slowly", was a popular phrase shouted rapidly. Great amounts of technical information was exchanged, meanwhile Grav prepared to launch himself upwards in a rescue attempt. Information on Karabiner characteristics were swapped, the question "Does it screw?" however was met by stunned silence... it didn't... or was unwilling. The possibility of an SRT rescue loomed. New scales of chaos opened up and the possibility of several members one below the other on a 300' pitch bouncing around offering each other advice tempted one to start digging for the resurgence even at the risk of coming into contact with the mandatory dead-animal-in-a-sack festering at the bottom. However this threat and the knowledge that at least two of the rescuers had acetalene welders bolted to their heads encouraged a frenzied self rescue much to the disappointment of the onlookers. Alex: "Please repeat that slowly!" Al: "I'm swearing!"
Alex made her way up in extreme path due to Paul's design of his Mk.V sitharness, and Grav and Paul exited rapidly. Tim ascended at a steadily slower and slower rate, admiring the view en route, endulging in conversation (to hide the fact he was resting), examining the geology and wondering if he'd miss the return ferry.
Grotte de Chauveroche, 20.8.86
Two kilometres up a dirt track which leaves the D241 immediately east of the sports ground at the Southeast edge of Ornans. The drivable track ends as it enters a pine wood, and a footpath/forest drive leads off to the southeast.
Across a meadow and ford a stream after 500 m. A little further on is a small but fairly obvious resurgence. The entrance is 50m higher up an obvious path, at the base of a large cleft in the cliff. Low entrance arch leads to a muddy rift; way on is under a fairly low wet arch to the left. For the next kilometre the route is a mixture of muddy/sandy passages generally of impressive size. About half way in is a memorial tablet to a French caver who died in 1975, but doesn't say if he died in Chauveroche, or was simply associated with the cave. Shortly after, a wide pool of incredably viscous mud under a low arch had to be negotiated. We all exited 5 stone heavier having experienced what a fly on fly paper feels like.
Finally, at 1300 m a very wet 5' high bedding plane is reached. Large passage is regained after 50 m, but the character of the cave is completely different; the mud being left behind, and water now dominating. A heap of inflated inner tubes and flippers gave us a clue as to how wet!
Eighteen large, deep 'gour pools' (can they be that large?) followed—2 m or more deep and each about 50 m long. Then we waded through seventeen shallower ones. The rubber rings were vital, but didn't make negotiating the 1' thick gour dams particularly easy! We then (mistakenly as it turned out) abandoned the rubber rings and waded off up the shallower, more normal streamway. However, it gradually deepened and sections of traversing proved necessary. At 2.8 km a 3 m high awkward free climb up a waterfall was negotiated. Beyond was even less shallow water, and almost continuous traversing was necessary. Interestingt to note that we fell in in proportion to our swimming ability—at one extreme Grav (who's swam for his county) fell in every five minutes, and at the other extreme I didn't fall in once. Eventually gave up at about 3.1 km for the water stretched on as far as we could see in the 3 m wide by 8 m high passage.
Grotte de Lanans, 21.8.86
Difficult to find: 30 km ENE of Bescancon on the D464 is the village of Lanans. From the centre of Lanans the D101E heads Southeast towards OUhans. Two kilometres south of Lanans the road traverses a 500 m wide area of open meadow land completely surrounded by forest. At the northern edge of this open land a minor tarred road (not gravelled as in the guide) heads east along the edge of the forest. After 300 metres a delapidated barn stands between the road and an obvious doline to the south, shortly before the road enters the forest. The entrance is at the north side of the doline in an insignificant looking hole.
The guide book indicated a straightforward 300 m one hour through trip. In reality it is far from straightforward and rapidly turned into a five hour epic.
Entrance grovel leads to 50 m of 'wedding-cake' type decorations, really superb—spent a fair time photographing them. Beyond is a partially choked rift, necessitating thrutching at the wider top part, and freqeunt serious climbing around. (Some parts need lining even). The survey only shows 100 m of this, but it seemed much longer. At the end was a 10 m abseil down the rift—not mentioned in the guide, so presumably free climable by the hard men. This rift area is very greasy and treacherous. Thinking we were nearly out, but distrusting our instincts because the abseil wasn't in the guide, we sent Grav on 'just in case'.
He disappeared for five minutes and returned to say he'd found the way on—arrows leading to an ascending passage. Feeling more confident we abbed down and pulled the rope after us. However, after much grovelling in the higher passages—nasty and muddy—we had to conclude that there was no way on. Getting more desperate we rechecked the passages—no joy. Returned to the bottom of the abseil; the only other way on was a further 3 m abseil into a wet gloomy chamber—surely it must sump?
Once again Grav was sent on ahead. We waited. And waited. We got worried. Finally after 25 minutes he reappeared with the news that this time it definitely went to surface. 250 m of gloomy low streamway led to a shale slope leading up to a shored up entrance at the bottom of a large shakehole. Tremendous relief to get out! It was only when safely out that everyone admitted to the doubts they'd all had but wouldn't voice underground—especially that we may have been in the wrong cave...
Got back to Lods at 11.00 p.m. totally shattered just as rescue preparations were getting serious.
Grotte De Lanans, 22.8.86
Quick photo trip into entrance series—many successful shots, but exposure tricky due to high contrast of formations and rock. Met a group of German cavers at entrance—ended up attempting to converse in French. Fortunately many caving terms are universal. They too had found difficulties with the understated nature of the guide book.
Grotte De Chauveroche, 23.8.86
Two parties—Fenton and Tim attempting to push the streamway further than our last trip, and Rob and Lira taking photos. (Lira's mandatory annual trip).
Off to a wonderful start with Lewis entombed by the viscous mud, having to be pulled/pushed through to safety. I waded into the mud crawl weighing 10 stone and exited 5 minutes later weight 43 stone. Lira lost Tim's tripod in the mud—took him much searching before he pulled out a glob of mud with something hard in the middle...
Photo trip started at the gours. Tim pulled on some flippers and we grabbed some inner tubes. Floated about with feet held aloft until Rob had done the business and we were freezing. Then off through the gours—after a few we esablished a technique which used the advantages of flippers without the disadvantages: Tim towed me through the deep bits and I pushed him through the shallows.
Eventually got to waterfall, then the misery began; trying to cling to the walls to avoid having to swim the icy cold deep water. This goes on for an apparently endless distance. Last trip got around 300 m along this. We made about 600 m before abandoning the venture.
Meanwhile, Lira was exiting to the accompaniment of Rob's clicking/flashing camera. After the success of his photos in the flooded bedding plane, he need never go caving again: 'superb 'hard caver' photos!
After a week we moved location to Les Carroz, a village near Flaine in the Haute Savoie. The move, made in torrential rain, can only be ascribed to Tim's leadership/lunacy. Found a free campsite (only facilities = a tap) about ¾ km north of the centre of the village. The nights were decidedly chilly for we were now at 1,050 m, and the weather was generally wet, with snow at times. This resulted in the non cavers being firmly ensconced in the bar except for the occasional walk. The fondu on the last night was memorable, particularly for those who found they didn't like fondues. By the time the speeches began, the restaurant was surprisingly empty.
Our first day was by far the sunniest. Walked from Flaine (1600 m) to the summit of Les Grandes Platieres (2480 m) from which there was a superb view of the Mt. Blanc Massif. Visited all 6 cave entrances between Flaine and the summit which were described in the guide. Three were blocked by ice plugs, apparently a problem after bad winters. Met a group of cavers from Lyons who, being especially familiar with the area, suggested Gouffre Karen as a suitable pothole for a 'tourist' trip.
Gouffre Karen, 26.8.86
To the accompaniment of much revving and burning smells, Al coaxed the transit up to 2000 m on a dirt track—much road building/repairing by everyone else. Mega portering trip got 5 tackle bags of rope 200 m further to the entrance at grid ref. 939.37 (west) 119.90 (north).
The pot proved to be a series of tight jagged crawls linking wide open pitches. The whole lot had been recently bolted to a very high standard. Rigged the first six pitches (5-11-4-38-23-11) and took as much gear as far in as possible ready for the big trip.
Gouffre Karen, 27.8.86
After a morning of umming and ahhing and discussing cloud levels we finally succumbed to the desire to go caving. We managed to persuade Al to drive us to Flaine and then spent an hour trogging up the montagne (and bloody knackering it was too). Spent an hour recovering at the cave entrance getting psyched up and laughing at Waggy putting on a freezing cold wetsuit. Eventually descended at about 3.30 and spent the next three hours abseiling and abseiling and more abseiling. (exciting stuff). Waggy forced me into rigging my first pitch on a mere 120 footer—and then made me go down first in case I'd done it wrong!
We finally reached the split in the routes after rigging two more pitches (6 and 40 metres). Typically we chose the wrong one to investigate first. At this point Grav, the wise man, decided enough was enough and began prusicking back up—with my chocolate and Paul's carbide! (and the only watch!!) We abseiled some more spectacular pitches which Tim and Paul rigged (7-25-30-8)—I'm sure they were just trying to make life as complex as possible.
When we reached the horizontal passage (12 pitches or 233 m down) Paul nosed around and discovered it to be pretty small with a nasty traverse. So as we'd run out of time two hours before hand we decided to go out. So we prussicked, and prussicked, and prussicked. 600' later and at 12.15 a.m. we got out. Changed under the stars and trogged miles back down to the waiting transit and the not-so-friendly faces of the rescue party waiting inside it.
Gouffre Karen, 29.9.86
De-rigging tip of first 6 pitches combined with some photography (reasonably successful). Simple, if a bit exposed at times. Got out after three hours to find that a near white-out and 2" of snow had dramatically replaced the sunshine. Usual problem of iced up rope on the top-most pitch. Hurried to the trannie in rapidly freezing gear.
Everyone congregated on Alison's at Warrington for the Friday night, then off to UMIST on Saturday morning in time for the Daren Cilau lecture. Lectures and films on caving in all parts of the world were eagerly lapped up as usual. Indian and stomp in evening before crashing out in the multistorey. Quote from some bods next to us in car park: "Which group are you lot?" "Aberystwyth" "Oh God! Not again!". Awoke totally knackered and begrimed. A greasy breakfast and back to the conference. More lectures and films ending in the superb slide contest.
I hope this article is unnecessary for most of you; however it could prove worth the effort the next time I get cramp halfway up a 100 ft. pitch. Whenever you are climbing a ladder, an exposed rock-face, mud slope or even climbing ice to reach the entrance, you should be lifelined. There are many methods of lifelining, each has its relative merits and drawbacks. Most are a matter of personal preference.
The one know everyone should know, no matter how little they go caving, is the double figure of eight. This is easy to tie, easy to untie when its been loaded, obvious if it is tied wrongly (this results in an over-hand knot which is still safe, but harder to untie), and can be used in almost any situation.
It is useful to know the bowline, which is quicker to tie and can be tied one-handed. It should always be tied off with a couple of half-hitches. If the the wrong end of the rope is loaded it can turn into a lethal slip-knot, so be careful.
Before rigging a pitch, photographing a gaping void, or just admiring the view, make sure you are properly belayed. This means attaching yourself to an immovable object. A suitable belay-point may not always be obvious (unless it has got a red ring round it), so have a good look round. Most major British pitches that do not have a natural belay point have been bolted (and many that do).
Attach yourself to the belay by a tape, rope sling, wire belay, or cow's tails. It's a good idea to keep a krab permanently clipped onto your belt (except in nasty crawls), and a sling over one shoulder.
Once safely belayed you can begin to rig the pitch etc. When the ladder is safely hung the first person can get ready to descend. The ideal situation is for everyone to wear a sit-harness. A simple, but uncomfortable, harness can be improvised using your Belay Belt and a tape sling.
Using a long sling (4 m), preferable.
Always use a Mallion Rapid (preferably a Delta) for the central link as Krabs are not designed to take the 3-way stresses involved. For (very) short pitches the rope can either be clipped via a krab to your Belay Belt, or a loop made in the end of the rope. A belay belt will spread the load better but prevent you breathing! A rope loop will hurt but should slip under the arms and allow you to breath (a little), but unless the loop is tight you may find it slipping off.
N.B. never clip into the D rings supplied with many belts. If you take a fall the D ring could crack a couple of ribs.
The other end of the lifeline should be attached to a belay. This should preferably be a different one to the lifeliner's, and never the same one as the ladder. Make a short loop in the rope with a Fig. 8 knot at a point where you can just see down the pitch, and clip in a Krab. There are many methods of controlling the lifeline. Any descender will work but remember that they are designed to provide friction on the rope. They will help absorb a fall and safely lower the climber, but it may be impossible to pull a tired climber. Fig. 8's, Racks, etc. are all suitable and have the advantage that you are likely to be carrying one anyway.
Locking off a Fig. 8
If the climber wants to rest the Fig. 8 can be locked off.
Normally the rope runs freely through the plate. If the climber falls the belayer pulls the 'dead' end towards the Krab, locking the rope. Sticht Plates are very easy to use and very safe. The only disadvantage is that it is another extra bit of metal to buy, carry and lose.
As every caver carrys a karabiner the simplest technique is the Italian Hitch. It is simple to tie, and forms a hitch which locks the rope if tied incorrectly.
If the climber falls the knot reverses and provides enough friction to hold the fall without too much effort. The Italian Hitch can even be used for an emergency abseil (safe, but damages rope). The only drawbacks are that if the rope is very gritty (e.g. when mining) it causes excessive abrasion to the rope, and ultimately the krab. It is also difficult to use if the rope is frozen. In these situations it is better to use the Sticht Plate.
If you are caught without a spare krab, then you will have to resort to the traditional method of belaying. This should only be used as a last resort as it demands total concentration and is tiring (especially if you have to life-line a large party). If the climber fell and the belay point gave way, you would be dragged over as well.
When taking up slack always keep at least one hand gripping the rope. If the climber falls bring your right hand across your body to hold the fall.
When you are the last person to descend, or the first to ascend, you should be 'Top-roped'. The rope is passed through the belay krab, or a pulley hung from it, you can then safely descend, belayed by someone at the bottom. The life-liner should be firmly belayed as if the climber falls then the belayer could be lifted off the ground (especially if a pully is used as it greatly reduces friction at the top). The top belay must be very secure. To hold a falling climber an equal and opposite force must be applied. This means that the stress on the belay is doubled.
These techniques may look obvious on paper, but it is a different matter putting theory into practice. Make sure you have mastered these methods on the surface before using them underground.
- First published March 1988. Originally edited by Robert Protheroe Jones.
- This digital edition published on the World Wide Web June 2010. This volume was scanned and edited by Rich Smith. Hard copy supplied by Robert Protheroe Jones.
© 1988, 2010 Aberystwyth Caving Club