Dates For Your Diary

May 12th

Dalimore’s  (Friday niters trip)
7.30 pm

May 14th

Yorkshire – White Scar

May 26th

G.B. (Friday niters trip)

May 27-28th

Yorkshire – GG (Bradford winch

May 29th

Yorkshire – Gingling Hole


Contact Martin Grass for details of
Yorkshire meets – tele:  HODDESDON 66966

June 9th

Longwood (Friday niters trip)

June 10th

Symposium on Cave Exploration in Northern Spain at

.  Organised by Phil Hendy (WCC). Details next

June 23rd

Swildons Hole – CANDLE ONLY! – (Friday niters trip)

June 10th

Symposium on Cave Exploration in
Northern Spain




The Mid-Summer
Buffet at the Hunters.

Members and close
friends only

Buffet limited to
70 tickets but there will be plenty of time to drink and chat if you do not
want a meal.  Buffet tickets £2.00 ea.

Time 8p.m. in the
‘new’ backroom

Tickets from Tim
Large, c/o Trading Standards Office,

31 South St.
, Wells, Somerset.

with order!!

Don’t forget to buy your raffle tickets for a camera, worth
£50.  Tickets are available now from
MARTIN BISHOP, tele: Priddy 370.  Tickets
10p ea.  The draw will take place during
the evening of the 17th June.

THE Club Dinner will take place on OCTOBER 7th – 7.30 for
8p.m. at the Caveman – make a note in your diary NOW!

The BELFRY BULLETIN is published monthly by the B.E.C.

Hon. Editor: D.J. Irwin, Townsend Cottage, Priddy, Nr.


—- PRICE 15p


Mendip Rescue Organization

Cave Rescues and Incidents for the Year ending 31st January 1978

Sunday 6th February                  Swildons Hole

A party of twelve including eight novices were led down the
cave by S.P. Tarran from St. Edmund Hall,

and Hilary Worth from University College Buckland, Farringdon.  On the way back from Sump I, Liz Ellis, who
was one of the novices, lost both


boots between the Double Pots and Twenty Foot Pot owing to the strong stream
flow.  She sustained several cuts to her
feet, legs and hands and was clearly suffering from exposure on reaching the
Upper Series.  The party was met by
Martin Bishop, Pete Moody, Pete McNab and Tony Jarratt at the Well and the
victim was carried out and given a hot bath at Priddy.  Rich Websell assisted two other novices.  In a subsequent letter of thanks, Steve
Tarran writes, “A number of recent novice trips down Swildons recently have
gone so well that I become a little overoptimistic.  Obviously, in those water conditions I should
not have taken them down.”  The party was
not an official

one and the
rescue did not involve the Police.

Sunday 3rd April                        Manor
Farm Swallet

Martin Bishop received a call from the Belfry at 8pm
regarding a party from Bath 18 Plus group two hours overdue.  He went to Charterhouse with Andy Sparrow and
found a very tired and lightless party at the foot of the entrance shaft.  They were lifelined to the surface and it was
not necessary to inform the Police.

Saturday 4th June                      Buddle’s Wood, Chewton Mendip

Howard Kenney and Richard Stevenson searched old mine shafts
in the wood for a golden retriever dog missing from nearby Grove Farm.  The dog returned home on its own during the

Saturday 11th June                    Stoke Lane Slocker

A party of eight from the Cambridge Climbing and Caving Club
entered the cave at 12.30pm  On reaching
Sump I, all but one went through, the remaining caver staying in Cairn Chamber
to await the return of the main party from Stoke II.  During the time they were visiting the upper
chambers, the stream rose so that it was impossible to get within a safe diving
distance on the downstream approach to the sump when they returned. They
remained on the far side for about four hours until the water level had dropped
sufficiently.  By 6.30pm the farmer
became anxious and contacted Frome Police who checked the cave entrance and
then called M.R.O. at 7pm.  William Stanton
alerted Brian Prewer who went to the cave. Richard Stevenson and Alan Mills led a small rescue party into the cave
at about 8.30pm and met the trapped cavers safely negotiating the dive as the
water had fallen.  All were out of the
cave by 9.50pm.  All cavers are urged to
note that the quarries upstream of the village have installed automatic pumps
which now exaggerate the effects of local floods in the system.  The water level was significantly reduced
after the quarry company had been requested to switch off their pumps during
the alert.  A helpful resume of the
situation appears in the Cave Diving Group Newsletter No. 46, January 1978,
pages 3-4.

Monday 11th July                       Swildons Hole

Christopher Bowden, an 18-year old student from

, accompanied
three friends on a Round Trip starting about 3.0p.m.  He had not dived a sump before but was well
equipped with a 6mm wet suit.  The party
was led by Alan Travarthen.  Bowden
declined to dive the sump and became frightened.  Another party let by Bob Lewis chanced
across, the scene and Lewis remained to give help whilst others left the cave
to alert M.R.O.  Alan Thomas was
appraised of the situation and informed Frome Police.  Martin Bishop, Ross White and Dave Irwin went
down the cave about 9.30pm and the latter returned after an hour requesting
diving gear since Bowden would not go back through the Troubles either.  Chris Hannam took diving gear into the cave
at 11.0pm and Thomas alerted other wardens and informed Don Thomson.  Between midnight and 1.0a.m., a strong
support team went underground with further equipment and medical supplies.  Final efforts to bully Bowden to make the
dive succeeded shortly afterwards and the cave was cleared rapidly by about
1.30a.m.  It seems more logical for
first-time sump dives to be undertaken the right way around rather than
committing such cavers to a Round Trip and obligatory reverse dive.

Saturday 6th August                  Swildons Hole

A party of four descended the cave at about 3.00.m.  They did not have wet suits and were using
carbide lamps without spares.  Only two
had any previous experience and had travelled to the area from
Crawley with their parents.  Arrangements had been made to meet at
Rickford about 5.00pm otherwise the parents had no knowledge of the party’s
whereabouts.  Before reaching Sump I, the
lamps began to dim and so the party started to come out.  They took a turning unknown to them in the
Water Chamber and then their lights failed. Before the Rickford rendezvous passed, the parents happened to notice their
son’s car on Priddy Green whilst on a tour of Mendip, so when they had not
turned up at 8.00pm they returned to Priddy. Finding the car still parked there, they made local enquiries and
alerted M.R.O.  Brian Prewer informed the
Frome Police whilst Ian Jepson, Phil Hendy, Paul Hadfield and Barry Wilkinson
searched the cave.  The missing four were
found in the Old Grotto, dispirited, cold and hungry.  Had the parents not spotted the car, this
call-out would have been difficult.  It
is most important to leave exact details of which cave is being visited.

Saturday 27th August                 Lamb Leer

David Getterling and Paul Lydon from

went down the cave in the afternoon;
the former claimed to be experienced but the other was not.  A lifeline was used on the fixed entrance
ladder; however, it was not thought necessary to use one on the Main Chamber
pitch!  On returning, Lydon was unable to
climb the ladder and so his friend alerted M.R.O. through Bath Police.  Brian Prewer was contacted at 5.20pm but
could not reach Getterling for further details as the informant had left the
phone.  Prewer alerted William Stanton
and a party of four from the Belfry led by Graham Wilton-Jones went to the cave
finding Gettering at the entrance.  They
hauled Lydon up on the winch and the cave was cleared by about 7.00pm.  Quite apart from the conduct of the trip, it
is very important that informants remain at the phone until contacted by an
M.R.O. warden for further details; otherwise, it is very difficult to initiate
an effective call-out.

Sunday 11th September             Reads

A party of four youths went down the cave during the
afternoon.  After leaving one of the
party in the Main Chamber, the rest found their way into the Browne-Stewart
Series.  The lad left behind panicked
when the others did not return so he left the cave and asked a passer-by to
contact M.R.O.  Frome Police received the
call and alerted Brian Prewer at 5.45pm reporting that two cavers were stuck.  Dave Irwin, John Dukes and Chris Batstone
went to Burrington to assess the situation followed by four cavers from the
Belfry.  Alan Thomas was stood by.  The rescuers met a Police Patrol there and
reported that the overdue party had surfaced. A brief chat ensued about under-estimating the times for trips and about
not leaving novices alone in caves!  All
were stood down at 6.30pm.

Saturday 24th September           Ham
Rising, Derbyshire

Martin Bishop called from Derbyshire to stand-by a caving
team to help retrieve a body from Ham Rising if required.  Richard Stevenson was contacted to alert
local divers.  In the event, Derbyshire
rescuers recovered the body.  (See Cave
Diving Group Newsletter No. 46, January 1978, pages 17-18)

Wednesday 28th September       Swildons

Frome Police contacted M.R.O. and reported that a Mr. Trig


had seen the same ladder hanging at the Twenty Foot Pot during a trip that day
as on the previous Sunday.  A quick check
of car parks and camp sites in Priddy indicated no one missing nor any parties
that had not returned from the cave.  No further
action was taken.

Saturday 29th October               Eastwater Cavern

A call was received from Bridgwater Police by Briar Prewer
at 10.00p.m.  They were concerned about a
call from a woman in cheddar who said that she had arranged to her husband
there at 6.00pm after a caving trip somewhere on Mendip.  She thought they might be using a blue 1100
Estate car but was not certain about that either.  Prewer contacted Chris Hannam at Priddy and
the latter met a local Police patrol. They made a tour of the most obvious sites but could not find the
car.  Meanwhile Andy Sparrow checked at
Eastwater Farm and was informed that a party of four were still in the cave and
now overdue.  The blue car was parked in
the farmyard.  Sparrow and another caver
went down Eastwater Cavern straight away and located the missing party at the
bottom of Baker’s Chimney.  They had
taken a long time to reach the bottom of the cave and had lost their way on
coming out.  Otherwise, they were all
right and were brought but of the cave by about midnight.  It transpired that Corporals Keith Loti and
Brian Rawcliffe of the R.A.F. had gone down the cave with Mrs. Barbara
Rawcliffe and Alan Whitehead from Henton at about 3.00pm.  Two of the party were complete novices.  The incident highlighted yet again the
problems faced by both Police and M.R.O. when insufficient information is left
about the exact location and duration of a trip.  It is important that accurate details are
given to people preferably cavers, who know the area and its caves.  This saves much time and frustration should
an emergency arise,

Sunday 20th November   .
          Cuckoo Cleeves

Brian Prewer was contacted by a Mr G. Samways of Yeovil
Caving Club at 3.15pm who reported that two of his party were stuck, in the
narrow tube approach to

.  One of those stuck was said to be rather
distressed.  Prewer informed Frome Police
then alerted Martin Bishop to contact Pete Moody and Alison Hooper who were
thought to be in

.  Fred Davies, Dave Turner, Alan Mills and Colin
Williams were called and Don Thomson asked to standby.  By the time Alison Hooper arrived, the pair
had succeeded in reaching

were she joined
them with Moody.  With Pete backing along
the tube and Alison following, each of the cavers was coaxed out.  Alan Thomas and Martin Bishop organised other
parties if required.  In the event, these
were not needed and the cave was cleared by 6.15pm.

Sunday 20th November   .
          Swildons Hole

After the Cuckoo Cleeves call-out, Brian Prewer received a
message from Frome Police at 8.30pm reporting that a girl was unable to climb
up the Twenty Foot Pot.  The informant
had left the Priddy Green call box when Prewer tried to get further details, so
he contacted Martin Bishop there and asked him to locate the caller.  Meanwhile, a party consisting of John Dukes,
Chris Batstone, Andy Sparrow, J. Kirby and N. Weston joined Bishop with hauling
ropes and the Revival apparatus.  On
reaching the Twenty, they pulled the girl up and assisted her out by about
10.00pm.  She was given a hot bath.  The girl, Sharon Gorman aged 21 from Yeovil,
was on her first caving trip and only had light clothing on.

Saturday 3rd December


Dr. Oliver Lloyd received a call from the Belfast Police
requesting him to stand-by a team of divers for a rescue in progress there
being organised by Dave Drew and Jeff Phillips. Two cavers had been trapped by floods. The local Fire Service was pumping out the entrance series, the Army
were building a dam and Dave and Jeff were the divers.  Lloyd consulted with William Stanton straight
away at 10.30pm and proceeded to raise local divers whilst

contacted Frome Police.  It was agreed that, if a diving team was
required, the Police would call on the R.A.F. to fly them to

Northern Ireland
.  In the end, those on the spot successfully
rescued the trapped pair in the early hours on Sunday.  A full report on the incident by the divers
appears in the Cave Diving Group Newsletter No. 46, January 1978, pages 23-24.

Sunday 11th December             Burrington Combe

Brian Prewer was contacted by Weston-s-Mare Police the
previous evening regarding the whereabouts of unknown youths missing from an
abandoned tent on Burrington Ham.  It was
agreed that the area would be searched on the Sunday during daylight.  Several cavers gave the Police assistance in
combing the surface throughout the day and parties visited the caves.  Nothing was found except a set of drums!  The Police informed M.R.O. later that they
were concentrating future enquiries elsewhere.


The Latest B.E.C Expedition to

By Paul Christie

That’s a rather grand title for a meet which for a number of
reasons bordered on a total washout.

Needless to say the problems started on the day up when the
car carrying


“disaster follows me around” Cullen in had a broken universal joint at junction
33 of the M6.  You may well ask what they
were doing that far up the motorway on their way to the BPC hut.

The rest of us arrived safely in the small hours of Good
Friday morning and found bunk space easily. It wasn’t until the Cerberus arrived over the next ten days that the
place began to resemble a sardine tin.

We got up Friday morning woken by the phone call of the
stranded car calling out the BEC Relay service. Graham Nye put on his patrolman’s uniform and set off leaving his
passengers Breakfast locked in his trailer. Martin Grass, Graham W-J and myself had our breakfast and set off to go

We had decided to go down Tatham Wife Hole which is near

.  Graham and Martin navigated between arguments
and after directing me into a muddy field where we found that my car had a bald
tyre we settled for the grass verge as a parking spot.  I took one look at the scar we had to go up to
get to the cave and tried to find an excuse to back out of the trip, all to no
avail.  We quickly changed and set off up
the scar with me bringing up the rear.  I
had hoped that Martin and Graham might not find the cave but my hopes were soon
dashed when Graham located the fault line that the guide book refers to.  We found the cave entrance in a small
depression at the far end of the Tatham Wife fault taking a fair sized stream
of melt water.  The tops of the hills were
still covered with snow as they had been when we had been here for the White
Scar trip earlier in the year.  However,
the snow was now thawing quite quickly and we thought that the cave would now
be a bit sporting.  Almost excited by the
prospect by now we descended the entrance passage and quickly reached the first
pitch.  We abseiled this without getting
too wet and rigged a ladder for the ascent. The second pitch followed almost immediately but was much netter than
the first one because the water was concentrated into a small gully.  We abseiled down again and rigged the pitch
as before and left the abseiling rope for self lining on the way back up.

We then set off for the third pitch discussing a possible
bypass to it and also who was going to be first up the second pitch on our
return.  It was obvious that it was going
to get wetter and we decided that even if it didn’t it was going to be a
desperate climb.  About half way to the
pitch Graham’s light went out so with only two lights working and the
possibility of more water we turned round and made our way back.  What we did not know at, this point was that
it had rained on the surface.  By the
time we reached the pitch Martin’s light was working on dip only but he bravely
volunteered to make the first ascent.  My
light was now the only one working properly, Mike Palmer please note!  Graham was next to go, followed by
myself.  The water was now very
unfriendly and the ladder hung in the water. The water came down and hit you on the head rather like a lead
weight.  I climbed most of the way out of
the water by pushing one leg against the wall and climbing while the ladder was
swinging out of the water.  The top pitch
was a bit easier but we were glad to be up as the water had increased since our

We returned to the surface and began our long walk back to
the car.  While descending the scar, a
hazardous job with boulders rolling around, I dropped the three ladders I was
carrying and they ran off down the hill. However, the high spot was when a boulder leapt up and bit Martin’s leg.  Graham was nearest and comforted Martin after
this brutal attack and helped him limp off down the hill while I chased after
the escaped ladders.  When we met back at
the car and looked at Martin’s leg we found that the boulder was indeed guilty
of grievous bodily harm and that the resultant hole in his leg might need
sowing back together.  Having packed
everything into the car we set off to the nearest Hospital.

The first Hospital we found was a mental/geriatric Hospital
who declined to treat Martin as he was not yet geriatric.  Instead, we were directed to the local
surgery where the Doctor had been on duty most of the afternoon stitching up
fell walkers and such like.  The Doctor
put Martin back together while he wasn’t watching and sent him back to the car
where we were waiting.  I gather that
Martin was not very happy with the sight of a needle going into himself.

Naturally Martin had now provided us with an excuse, as if
we needed one, to spend the next day in the pub as it was open all day.  Some of the others went caving but as the
thaw had now turned to rain we felt we were safer in the pub.

On Sunday Graham and I were going to explore parts of the
Red Moss cave system but Saturday’s rain had turned to snow on the high ground
and was again thawing.  We went over to
the resurgence and saw the amount of water coming out and felt the temperature
of it and decided to go for a walk instead. We returned to the hut, put on our walking gear and persuaded my wife to
join us.  We left Martin plating cards
with the Cerberus and set off up Pen-y-Ghent. Funny, I thought the Cerberus were keen cavers these days.

The path from Brackenbottom was well trodden and
consequently very muddy.  As we got
higher the mud gave way to snow and the wind got stronger until on the final
climb up the wind was whistling round the crag which was covered in ice. The
only time we were able to stand up we were nearly blown over the edge.  Pat and I were much slower than Graham who
had chosen to walk up a gully rather than the crowded path.  We met again at the top where Graham told us
that the gully had been easy because the wind had blown him up it.  On the way down we left the path and slid
down the snow covered slope straight across to Hunt Pot which was taking a
large stream.  We rejoined the main path
until we were nearly into Horton and then cut across the fields to look at the
normally dry Douk Ghyll which had been transformed into an impressive waterfall
by the rain and melting snow.  When we
got back to the hut we found the card school still going strong 4 hours after
we had left.  We changed out of our wet
clothes and after tea went off to the pub where for the first time in three
evenings we actually got a seat.

On the Monday morning we decided to make an early return
home as Martin was still unable to use his leg. The Doctor had told him not to get the wound wet which also gave him a
great excuse not to have a bath.  It took
Graham and two Valley CC members an hour to get my car going and we sat off

There was some other caving done by Gary Cullen and friends
so maybe we could have another account of the weekend.



Or just a minute with our Hon. Sec.

Tim Large

Don’t forget the Midsummer Buffet at the Hunters on June
17th – see details on page 1 (Diary of Events).

Don’t forget the raffle for a S/L Camera worth £50.  Tickets are available from Martin Bishop.

The working weekend went well and quite n lot of useful work
was done.  The new soak away has been
completed thanks to Nigel Taylor, Ross White, Martin Bishop, John Dukes among
many others.  Inside the Belfry ceramic
tiles replace the formica above the sinks, outside woodwork has been sanded and
cupinol’d ready for the fine weather and a painting session.  The track from the road to the cattle grid is
to be tarmaced, the club sharing expenses with Walt Foxwell.  Cost to the club is about £150.

Midsummer Buffet – JUNE 17th.  Come on up
and give a hand.  John Dukes has
requested that those turning up to work bring up any tool that they feel might
be useful, electric drills, paint brushes etc.


Tim Large,
c/o Trading Standards Office,

31 South Street



The Committee have agreed to buy 100 reams of paper suitable
for the both B.B. and Caving Reports at £1.12p per ream + Vat of 8%  The price of duplicating paper per ream has
risen to £3.60.  The B.B. consumes about
35 reams per year so this purchase at £120 is a Good investment and should keep
the BB going for the next couple of years or so.  Our thanks to Tony for getting it for us.

It is good to see Chris Smart back from the Middle East and
John Riley, back from Aussieland, rejoining the club and swelling the numbers
of active Cuthbert’s leaders.


Letter to the Editor

Dear Dave,

I was very interested to read Dave Metcalfe’s description of
the entrance series of Pippikine (B.B. No. 358).  He’s quite right to say that most of the
entrance series is totally dry, indeed I would say that most of the entrance
series is totally dry, indeed I would say that Pippikin entrance series is quite
a suitable choice as a ‘wet weather’ alternative.  Now having said that, readers may be
interested to know what happens to Pippikin in torrential flood conditions.

At about midday on Tuesday the 14th June 1977, I entered
Pippikin with four other

cavers.  One of the two alternative entrance pitches
already had a ladder on it belonging to a


party.  (

were in fact pirating on our
permit.  For similar behaviour, I believe
that they later got into trouble with the CNCC. The ethics of this sort of situation can be argued out ad nauseam, but I
must say that in the light of subsequent events, I was very glad of their
presence on this occasion.)  We put a
ladder down the other entrance pitch (about 25′).  The points to note are that our ladder was
about four feet short of the floor, and that neither we nor the

had used
lifelines.  (Long drawn out arguments on
this one too I suppose but accepting the experience of the party, how many
people really bother lifelining easy, dry entrance pitches, which have belays
that would hold a tank?)  Anyway, we
passed: through the wet bedding plane that follows, traversed over Cellar Pot
(down which the stream sinks) and carried on to the next pitch.  We experienced the entrance series much as
Dave Metcalfe describes it.  We reached
the lower cave and inspected ‘Hall of the Ten’, ‘Hall of the Mountain King’,
‘Gour Hall’ and the other ‘big stuff’ down there, but that’s another
story.  We started making our way out.

We were following the group of four

cavers out.  By the time we had reached the third we had
almost caught up with them. We took some time de-rigging this pitch to let them
get on a little and so avoiding too much congestion.  (No overtaking allowed in this cave!)  By the time we reached Cellar Pot again we
were astonished at the tremendous volume of water crashing down the pot.  It was flooding!  The


had made it out, and closer inspection showed that the bedding plane above
Cellar Pot thankfully had a few inches of airspace left.  We hastened through to reach the entrance
chamber.  The formerly dry entrance pitch
was now an absolute deluge!  The

had again managed
to climb out, presumably with at least one not using a lifeline.  We decided to try.  Pulling the ladder out of the water revealed
that the Durham had replaced our short ladder with one of their own which
easily bottomed, plus a double lifeline. We abandoned our tackle for collection later (we tied it all together
and belayed it to a rock) and we proceeded to climb the entrance pitch.  The weight of water was tremendous.  Breathing was between pursed lips in the
‘rain shadow’ of the helmet peak. Visibility was minimal.  We
emerged into the evening air thinking we’d been pretty lucky.

Little did we know at the time, but we’d been luckier than
we thought.  We caught up with the

at Bull Pot Farm,
and returned their tackle with many thanks. They then informed us that shortly after they had passed the bedding
plane on the nearside of Cellar Pot, a natural dam on the surface was breached
by the high water conditions.  A minor
flood pulse had then passed along the cave, and the bedding above Cellar Pot
was observed by the Durham to completely sump off for some fifteen minutes,
with us still below!  We had reached the
bedding thinking that it was flooding, and that the water was rising, when in
fact it was only just going down! Knowing us to be trapped by the sumped off section, the

had alerted the CRO.  We hastily reached for phone and manage the
stand down before any action was taken. So ended quite a trip.

Although not quite of the scale of the ‘Great Flood on
Mendip’, the freak storm of the 14th June in the Ingleton area was still very
significant.  The rain gauge at High
Centham recorded 1.7 inches of rain between 6pm and 8pm, and it is conceivable
that even more than this fell in other areas. The water level recorder installed in


was jammed at its maximum recording level between 5.30pm and 6.30pm.  The flooded fields, swollen rivers and
impassable roads, as well as intermittent thunder and lightning later on in the
evening, all attested to quite a flexing of meteorological muscles.  As for Pippikin, then I think it probably
remains a wet weather trip.  The freak
storms required to make Pippikin impassable, like the one I’ve just described,
are thankfully rare.  And since they just
about defy prediction, it’s just as well!

                        Good Caving, Nick Thorne.

P.S. Further information on the storm of the 14th June,
191’7 can be found in BCRA Bulletin No 17 August 1977, p 6 – Ric Halliwell –
‘The Ingleton Storm and



Floating Cams.

By Nick Thorne

The floating cam is a subtle innovation in prusiking
methods.  It was first introduced by
American, Kirk Macgregor for the purpose of speeding up a ropewalker
ascents.  The modification enabled him to
set several records.  The floating cam
takes the form of a length of elastic from the shoulder to the knee ropewalker,
as shown in figure one.  The knee strap,
previously used to raise the ascender, is then discarded, and the ropewalker
lifted by contraction of  the  elastic.  This  idea  seemed fine  for    prusik racing, but was perhaps thought of as being a little remote
from caving.  Experience has shown this
not to be the case.  With judicious attachment
of the elastic to the ropewalker, several distinct advantages over the knee
strap method arise, in addition to the convenience of the lifting
mechanism.  These advantages, of which I
will explain later, make the floating ropewalker far superior to the fixed knee
variety.  Although racing rigs deal
mainly with ropewalkers, for caving purposes, sprung earn ascenders are
justifiably popular.  These too can be
floated in suitable systems (e.g. the Mitchell method). The floating operation
with sprung earn ascenders is much simpler than with ropewalkers, and again, is
very effective.

A discussion of the setting up of a floating ascender
obviously centres around the elastic. For materials, it is worth experimenting with most types of elastic
fibre.  Ordinary rubber bands work well
(1).  These may be tied in parallel and
end to end, and this allows for convenient alterations to the elastic length
and tension.  The major disadvantage is
that the bands wear out and break quite easily. They have recommended thick surgical tubing, despite its vulnerability
to cuts (2, 3), and I have even seen inner tube rubber used with some
success.  The best material however,
seems to be shock cord. (1, 2, 3) 5-7mm thickness seems to be the most
appropriate diameter.  The elastic
properties of the shook cord are perdurability makes it the best choice.  Some makes of shock cord have sheaths that
expose the underlying rubber when under tension.  These types would be less suitable for
caving, I think, due to abrasion of the rubber.

Once a suitable material is chosen, length and tension
considerations occur next.  The two main
properties of the elastic that are important are the tension at full working
extension, and the slack threshold, i.e., the upper limit of the ascender
movement.  The tension at full working
extension can be as high as eight to ten pounds force (1).  This may seem a lot and certainly a straight
vertical lift of the ascender can be performed with a much smaller force.  Problems arise however on sloping pitches, where
only a component of the elastic tension pulls the ascender up the rope.  Consequently, for general purposes, the
tension mentioned above is recommended. This tension is not difficult to judge, but for those who cannot
estimate what feels ‘right’, the tension can be measured quite easily using a
fisherman’s spring balance.

The other important consideration concerning the float
elastic is the slack threshold.  The
elastic should come just slack when the foot using the floating ascender is
raised well above that involved in normal prusiking.  This makes for a good, clean lift, entirely
within the linear region of the elastic.

Some experimentation will be required to obtain the optimum
properties of the elastic.  In addition
to length variations of the elastic itself, tension and slack threshold
variations can be made by altering the position of the upper and lower
attachments of the elastic.  This may
seem obvious, but a few qualifying statements need to be said.  It is nice to have the upper attachment of
the elastic.  This may seem obvious, but
a few qualifying statements need to be said. It is nice to have the upper attachment of the elastic within easy reach
when the time comes to de-float.  An
attachment to the front of the sit harness therefore provides a very convenient
attachment point.  Unfortunately, the
resulting length of elastic will often be too short to supply sufficient
tension.  This in turn can be slightly
offset by placing the ascender lower down. This obviously leads to shorter steps, which may be undesirable, and it
may also place the ascender effectively out of arms reach, which may prove
awkward at times.  Alternatively, the
upper attachment of the elastic can be raised to the shoulder as mentioned
earlier.  This involves a longer length
of elastic and is still convenient from a handling point of view.  For some elastic materials however, the
resulting length of elastic may still be insufficient.  If this is the case, then the next step is to
pass the elastic up and over the shoulder and attach it to the back of the sit
harness.  This attachment may be more
awkward to reach, but the ascender can be temporarily de-floated by slipping
the elastic off the shoulder.  This
action may prove adequate for short sections of cave between pitches, instead
of a complete removal of the elastic. The elastic can be prevented from slipping off the shoulder accidentally
by placing the attachment more in the middle of the waistband, at the back.


Passing the elastic over the shoulder does however raise a
subtle complication the resulting tension in the elastic becomes a function of
the friction between the elastic and the clothes worn.  On one surface practice, whilst wearing one
of a well known Mendip retailer’s plush ‘boiler’ suits (low friction) I set up
the precise length of elastic required for an ‘over the shoulder’
attachment.  Because of the low friction
between the elastic and the suit, the elastic was fairly evenly tensioned along
its length.  However, on the first
underground outing with this particular set up, I was of course, wearing a
wetsuit (high friction). Consequently an uneven tension in the elastic
resulted.  The elastic from the shoulder
to the back of the sit harness was almost slack, and that from the shoulder
down to the ascender was very highly stressed. It didn’t take long for the lower attachment to fail.  The solution to the problem seems to be to
sheath the elastic with some flexible hose. This I have found does not add to the practical complexity of the set
up, and it does make the float elastic performance independent of the clothing

The actual type of attachment mechanism for the elastic at
its upper end is not critical.  Any hook
and eye arrangement should do.  I have
found the hooks from standard car top carriers to be quite suitable, especially
after bending over the end to make a more secure, barb type of structure.  Less likely to unfasten accidentally would be
some form of snap link arrangement, but the potential increase in awkwardness
of operation should be borne in mind.

The lower attachment of the elastic i.e. that to the
ascender, is unlike the upper attachment inasmuch as it must be totally
secure.  Failure of the float elastic at
its upper end is generally fairly innocuous as far as physical injury is
concern.  If the lower attachment gives
however, the elastic is nicely primed to flick up into the face, bringing with
it whatever hooks and the like that may be tied onto it.  Total security I have found, is only
genuinely obtainable by actually tying/or lashing the elastic to the
ascender.  As well as being extremely
unlikely to fail, this mechanism avoids any extra metal or other parts that may
be potential projectiles.  The method
does however, have certain difficulties associated with its permanent nature.  If the ascender were to be used for other
purposes (such gear hauling) the elastic may be a bit of a nuisance.  The permanency of the attachment also makes
replacement by a spare more impracticable. Consequently, many practitioners again use some sort of hook and eye or
ring and snaplink arrangement just like the upper attachment.  This seems perfectly suitable providing that
it can be made secure enough.

As for the exact part of the ascender that the elastic
should be tied to, then this obviously depends on the type of ascender.  For all slung cam ascenders commonly
available (i.e. Jumar, Petzl, Clog.)  All
have krab holes conveniently placed at the top of them.  The only point to note is that with the Petzl
ascender, only one of the two top holes should be used.  Any hook placed through both would mean that
the ascender would have to be de-floated in order to remove it from the
rope.  This is an unnecessary procedure,
and should be avoided.

With ropewalkers such as the Gibbs, the ideal attachment
position is less obvious, and is subject to several considerations.  These are:- the spring loading of the cam;
the attitude of the cam when the ropewalker is disassembled (assuming an a
attachment method is used that avoids de-floating to dismantle the ropewalker)
and a possible increase in cam wear. Consequently several attachment positions are possible, but here, I only
propose to outline what I consider to be the best method.  Other methods of attachment are given
elsewhere along with discussions of their various pros and cons. (2, 4).  The discussion essentially hinges on whether
the elastic lifts the cam directly or indirectly via the body or the pin.  The former is by far the better method.  Lifting the cam directly is the only way to
spring load the ascender (i.e. make the cam action like that of a Jumar)
whilst, at the same time, not critically increasing the cam wear.  This can be achieved by the attachment show
in figure two.  The cam is sprung onto
the rope by the couple of the foot pressure down, and the elastic tension
up.  (The weight of the body of the
ropewalker is small enough to be ignored.) When foot pressure is released, the upward travel of the ascender is accompanied
by some release of the cam pressure on the rope.  This effect is more marked than with other
attachment methods and so it leads to lower cam wear.  (Particularly suspect for cam wear would be
the attachments to the pin or body of the ropewalker.)  This attachment method also has the added
advantage that the cam is held nicely poised in space when the ropewalker is
dismantled.  This means that the cam
accepts the other parts more readily and so a faster on/off time for the
ropewalker is achieved.

Finally, a few words of warning are needed to those who wish
to set up a floating cam system. Firstly, check the attachment methods, particularly the one to the
ascender.  Before ‘Kitting up’ test the
attachments under loads well above those expected in normal use.  Practise on the surface first-this should go
without saying, and be able to cater for an elastic failure.  With sprung cam ascenders this is no
problem.  The hand that was freed by the
use of the elastic simply comes back into action.  With ropewalkers, a spare elastic or knee
strap should be carried.  When it is
necessary to de-float the elastic, do so from the upper end first.  The other way could be dangerous if the
elastic is stressed and it slips out of the hand.

In conclusion therefore, I hope I haven’t deterred any
prusiking cavers from trying this innovation for fear of getting a black
eye!  To put elastic failure into
context, then with a carefully set up rig, it is an extremely rare event.  Once this is appreciated the full advantages
of the floating ascender can be enjoyed. Ropewalking cavers can ascend faster than before.  Gone will be that flicking motion required to
make the cam bite, and gone too will be those annoying holes on the inside of
the knee of the wetsuit.  With sprung cam
ascenders, the freeing of a hand will be found most welcome.  There will be no tired upper arm any more, as
the hand pushing the upper ascender can be alternated, or both hands can be
used in combination.  Additionally, on
those sloping pitches, there will be no need to have your nose rubbed into the
rock as the free hand can be used to ‘fend off’.  Make the initial effort to set up a floating
ascender system, try it, and you’ll be convinced.


(1)                Macgregor, K. – Personal communication, I.S.C.
September 1977.


N.R. – ‘Single Rope Techniques – a Guide for Vertical Cavers’. pp. 86-88 and p
90.  (N.B. When

discusses floating ropewalkers, I
doubt if he has tried all the methods he shows. His conclusion about cam wear is valid, but not for the reason he
gives.  Some of his arguments concerning
the ‘spring levering’ and slippage of the cam are incorrect. (p.86, 87 fig,
131C, fig. 131D).

(3)                Halliday, W.R. –


and Caving. pp. 217-219.

(4)                Thorne, N. Floating Cams for Prusiking.




compiled by Niph

The greater part of Jottings is taken over by the latest
Mendip discovery by members of the club.

Extension in Lionel’s Hole

On Saturday, 22nd April 1978, about 300 – 500ft. of new
passage was opened up in Lionel’s Hole, Burrington Coombe.  A series of stream and high level passages
were explored that can only be entered via two ducks – making it the severest
undertaking in the area; certainly thin men need only apply at the moment and
Burrington novices should stay clear.

page for details.


Another BEC extension in another cave will be reported next

Early in February 1977, ‘Wig’ and Bruce Bedford, working on
‘Mendip Underground’ heard a sizable stream in the ‘Pit’ area.  Willie Stanton knew of no stream. Thus things
rested until ‘MacAnus’ and Ross White went and took a look for themselves early
in April 1978.  They went on into the
Traverse and entered the East Low Level and found the stream at the lowest
point.  A week later Ross and Andy
Sparrow with an un-named Scot went looking for the strewn again but descended
the West Low Level by mistake and found a continuation of the same stream with
a way on.  This was on the 15.4.78.  They pushed the Scot through the duck only to
find another a few feet further on.  The
following day the second duck (Bird Bath) was passed by Andy Sparrow who
followed the streamway for some 60ft where he could turn round.  The stream sank into a soakaway but the
passage flattened to a low crawl.  Andy
felt lonely and so made a brave retreat leaving the crawl for another day!  On the 22nd April Andy returned with an
‘army’ of thin ‘men’ – Alison Hooper, Pete Moody Chris Smart et al.  The streamway was pushed for a further 40ft
to a diggable choke.  Above Andy’s
turn-round point a tight rift in the roof was climbed for about 15ft. leading
into the high level series of chamber and passages, some of which are extremely
muddy and which are thought to flood. Alison pushed a rift and entered a large rift passage some 40-50ft high
and 8ft wide leading down to a small chamber followed by a succession of roomy
phreatic rifts terminating at a divable sump. Andy will be writing in the next issue of the B.B. giving all the latest
details as there are a number of unexplored passages to be pushed.

The rifty nature of the passages shows that the cave is
trending to the west.  It is possible
that this stream is the same as that heard by the unfortunate Joe Plumley in
the late 19th century at the bottom of Plumley’s Hole, just below Aveline’s
Hole.  Is this stream the same as seen in
East Twin or is it, more importantly that sinking at Top Sink at the upper end
of the

? Anyway the importance of this discovery cannot be underestimated as it
might provide a clue to the cave under Burrington Ham.

A sketch survey compiled by ‘Wig’ based on a sketch by Andy

News in brief.

Derek Ford is back again on Mendip and has been down
St. Cuthbert’s collecting more samples in the Dining Room
area – hopefully we shall be reading of his work in a future issue of the B.B.


Mendip’s veteran caver ‘Trat’ recently suffered a heart
attack.  He was rushed to hospital into
the intensive care unit.  I’m pleased to
report that he’s making a good recovery and planning has visit to

in the summer.  I’m sure that I’m joined
by all members in wishing him a full recovery and an active digging future.


A mine shaft opened up on the top of Cadbury Hill back in
February when members went over to explore it at the invitation of an old BEC
member.  John Dukes and Rog Sabido went
down.  Its 150ft deep.  More later.


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registered in England and Wales as a co-operative society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, registered no. 4934.