QUODCUMQUE  FACIENDUM : NIMIS  FACIEMUS

The views expressed by contributors to the Belfry Bulletin, including those of club officers, are not necessarily the views of the committee of the Bristol Exploration Club or the Editor, unless so stated.  The Editor cannot guarantee that the accuracy of information contained in the contributed matter, as it cannot normally be checked in the time at his disposal.

The usual list of club officers etc., has been omitted from this B.B. owing to the proximity of publication to the A.G.M.  The new officers etc. will be printed in the November edition.

Editorial

Clarification

With the A.G.M. fast approaching, and bringing, no doubt, its usual crop of member’s resolutions and the like, it might be a good time to prevent any misunderstandings by setting the record straight on a small but important point recently raised by a member about the status of the current B.B. team.

In the interests of accuracy, his description of it as the 'Editorial Sub Committee' is not a correct description for two reasons.  Firstly, a sub committee is a body set up by a committee for some special purpose during the lifetime of that committee.  The B.B. team was set up by last years A.G.M and must therefore be considered (if it is necessary to label it at all) as a special committee; a working party or a standing committee.  In fact, when the club did a vaguely similar thing in 1957, they called it the B.B. Editorial Board.

But, coming to the second point, the present team is not an Editorial board.  The chairman of the A.G.M. made it clear that editorial responsibility – and, in fact, responsibility for the whole team remained within the present editor.

By defining what should be done and who should be doing it, the A.G.M. chairman was acting in accordance with traditional practice whereby the basic arrangements concerning the B.B. are laid down by the general membership of the club at General meetings. Thus, the B.B. is effectively managed directly by the club membership.  Further guidance may be found in the discussion non the constitution and the B.B. in the minutes of the 1970 A.G.M.

Growth Of The B.E.C.

In this issue, the series of articles lately running is completed.  It would be interesting to see if any members can draw different conclusions from those in this B.B.  As always, correspondence is welcome.


 

Fifth Column – A Birds’ Eye View of Mendip

As a complete change this month, and to convince our readers that we really are a group (and versatile at that!) we have exchanged our literary talents for artistic ones, and present our bird’s eye view of the present club committee.  The editor (that well know MCP) tells us that our cartoon will probably be too big for all of it to get printed.  We don’t understand why, as it all went on the stencil we were given, but conceded that he might just be right.  If so, we apologise for ‘doing it to excess.’


 

The Deepest Cave?

Stan Gee, who is well known to most older club members, sends us this interesting account of his work in Italy.

In response to numerous requests in the B.B. I have at last put pen to paper in effort to tell of some of the recent, and not so recent doings of a group of friends which includes several B.E.C. members.  For some years, from 1968 in fact, we have been very interested in the area of the Appian Alps in Italy wherein lies the Antro del Corchia which we have had high hopes that it might become the deep¬est cave known. These hopes are now all but realised, though we were 'pipped at the post' as it were.  However, we can take some consolation in the fact that it was our researches into the area which led to this happy state of affairs.

For those of you who like to mix mountaineering with caving, the Appian Alps are ideal.  Lying some 12 miles (19km) inland from Viareggio, they soar up to 7, 000ft (2,000 odd metres) in parts and provide some excellent climbing on limestone and marble with runs of 1,000 ft (300m) and more.  The area, though quite remote and wild, is well provided with good footpaths and several Rifugi of the Italian Alpine Club.  It abounds with wild life, including too many snakes for comfort and there are hundreds of caves of varying depths.  The nearest point of access is the village of Leviglian - a small semi-tourist village nestling beneath the bulk of Monte Corchia (5,470' - 1,677m).  From here, you must walk, though it is possible to use a recently constructed quarry road, to reach some parts of the mountain, but in the main you must be prepared to walk for a couple of hours or more.

I first became interested in the are in 1968 when I led an expedition of the Derbyshire Caving Club to the Antro del Corchia.  This was something of an epic adventure that resulted in the extent of the cave being more or less doubled.  A couple of years later, I made my first excursion into the mysterious area beyond the Corchia ridge and commenced the programme of research which is still continuing.

My companions on some of these ventures have been Arthur Ball and Nigel Dibben, both of whom are B.E.C. members, and after some years Arthur and myself were offered that rare distinction of full membership of the C.A.I.  A happy situation which has be of great assistance to our work.

The old entrance to the Antro del Corchia is at 3,600ft (1,100m) and in 1968 had attained a depth of 2,200ft (670m).  This seemed to be the downward limit though there was ample room for extension horizontally.  The Antro played tricks on us and did not resurge where we thought it would but, by a 'geological impossibility' it changed direction and resurged at La Pollacra - some two and a half miles (4km) in the opposite direction.  Thus it was that we went beyond the ridge and commenced working much higher up.

In 1972 I had heard of two caves situated near to the summit of Monte Corchia and as a consequence in 1973 I scoured the area of the summit with a small party where we found two fluted shafts approximately twenty feet deep (6m).  At the time we thought that that they were the two known caves and it wasn't until the next year that we found that they were two unknown caves - the known ones being a little further on.   Thus, in 1975 with a larger party and well armed with crowbars, hammers etc, we slogged up the mountain in temperatures of 80°F (27°C) to dong the caves. The geologists laughed.  It was impossible.  The caves were too old.  There was no water, too much frost shattering - in short, another geological impossibility.

Twenty minutes work on the first cave produced a shaft of a hundred feet (30m) and an eventual depth of 250ft (76m) to a boulder choke that even chemics failed to remove.  This cave was called Buca del Arturo (Arthur’s Hole). An hours work on the second cave and we had a similar situation but with an even worse boulder problem. This cave we called 'La buca dei massi dandelante' (the cave of the great hanging boulders).  The proximity of the two caves to each other led us to believe that there was something BIG beneath and 1,600ft (500m) above the Antro del Corchia, so were searched for and found the other two caves, the Buca del Gracchi (Cave of the Crows) which was an open shaft of 150ft (46m), and the Buca del Cacciatore (Hunters Hole).  Suitably impressed, we returned in 1976 to dong the Buca del Cacciatare only to find that an Italian group, who' had been following our progress, had donged it same months previously to a depth of 1600ft (500m) and a length of two and a half miles (4Km).  Being only a small exploration party, we did not have the necessary gear to attempt anything on this scale, so it was abandoned.

I have recently returned from Italy and am able to report that the Buca del Cacciatore - now renamed Abissa Fighiera is now at a depth af 2,700ft (820m) and heading away from the Antro del Corchia towards a cave called Tana dell Uomo Selvatico (The lair of the Primitive Man) which has a depth of -1,034ft(318m).  At the moment of writing, the Italians are being rather cagey about their finds but I was able to find out that at -2,700ft (820m) they have encountered a lot of water and two other galleries one of which is heading towards the Antro.  The Buca del Cacciatore is at an altitude of 5,360ft (1650m) which is approximately 1,788ft (550m) above the old entrance to the Antro which would give a total depth of 3,965ft (1,220m) to the present bottom.  It is known that a further 300ft (91m) is possible between the bottom and the resurgence, which would make 4,265ft (1,300m).  However, there is some evidence of a secondary and lower resurgence and this will be one of my future investigations.

In the early part of 1977, another group of Italian cavers did an epic pegging job from the 'Canyon' in the Antro and discovered two new entrances high up on Monte Corchia.  From the highest of these entrances, the Antro now has a depth of 2,616 feet (805m) to the bottom.  Access to the bottom is now quite easy, as our discovery in 1969 of the 'New Hope Series' culminated in the opening of a lower entran¬ce called the Buca dei Serpenti (Hole of Snakes) that is accessible by a rough road.  This route gives quick and easy access to the Stalactite Gallery which was adjacent to our camps in 1968.  Thus the bottom is now obtainable in a fifteen hour round trip and an interesting through trip can be made between the old entrance and the Buca dei Serpenti.

A combination of same of the Italian clubs have attempted to place same restrictions on access to the whole of the Corchia area and to the Cacciatore in particular.  In the case of the Corchia area, this is ridiculous and it is doubtful whether the restriction to the Cacciatore is legal.  At the moment, something of a battle is going on between the cavers and the local authority, which is a quarry workers co-operative. At present, if anyone is contemplating a trip to this area, they would be well advised to contact me beforehand so that I can let them have the up to date information.


 

Totes Girbirge 1977

There is, happily, no shortage of caving articles this month, and we go from the Appian Alps to an Austrian caving area, with this article sent in (and, of course, written) by Nick Thorne.

It is many years since Britain could offer open potholes for pioneers to explore, and now even Europe is fast running out of areas of genuinely virgin limestone.  One area where almost no work has been done however is the Totes Gibirge in Austria.  Cambridge University Caving Club had a short expedition to that area in 1966 and I went with them where they paid their second visit in the summer of 1977. Since, in their past, the B.E.C. have shown an active interest in Austria,  I thought that members might like to know how things went.

C.U.C.C. set up camp by a lake in Alt Aussee, a sleepy little village some 80Km (50 miles) east of Saltzburg.  The scenery is spectacular in the extreme.  On the opposite side of the lake to our camp stood the Trisselwand, a sheer rock wall six times taller than the Avon gorge!  Our interest was focussed on the nearby Loser Plateau, a sharply undulating plain nearly 2000m (6,600ft) above sea level.  Until recently the plateau was inaccessible to anyone with anything short of a helicopter.  However, a few years ago, a road up there was built for the skiers and the plateau is now a brisk three quarters of an hour’s walk along dubious tracks from where the road ends.  The road itself is no trifling effort but a great autobahn affair zigzagging its way up the hillside.  Near the top, it has a heart-stopping hang gliders' take-off ramp.  The road is a toll road, and a car plus four people would cost about £3.50 per trip.  Before we parted with cash, however, a curious aspect of local attitudes was utilised. Cavers in Austria, and I believe in other parts of the continent too, are regarded as real heroes.  The words "Hohlen Forscher" were all that we needed to gain us free tolls, reduced camping fees and even free beer!

Once on the plateau, we began prospecting.  The tens of miles of lapiaz have rather daunted Carl, the only local caver.  He welcomed our extra manpower, pointed us in the right direction and essentially said "Explore whatever takes your fancy!"  I found that after the British caving scene, some adjustment of scale was necessary, both above and below ground.  Looking across the plateau; the Schonberg looked to be within spitting distance, but in fact it would have been a long days very tough walking.  Crossing the lapiaz was a real headache.  Unlike Yorkshire, this stuff is faulted, folded, over folded and has patches of tough, hardy vegetation growing all over it.  The plateau can be a very unfriendly place with its abundance of snakes and its very changeable weather.  In two minutes, prospectors can have their sunbathing (Oh!, what a giveaway!) interrupted by some very spectacular thunder and lightning and be pummelled by hailstones as big as marbles.  The run-off from these thunderstorms is so fast as to be almost comforting.  I am sure that if one were caught underground in a floodable passage (of which there are thankfully very few!) and not be drowned instantly, one could almost hold ones breath until the flood subsided!

When it comes to the caves themselves, finding the deep ones requires a little thought and a lot of luck. At first we looked at big open shafts, and found many fine and un-descended examples.  Some were up to 40m (130ft) deep, but they were invariably choked or plugged with snow.  A much better type of entrance to look for is the horizontal type.  A short section of horizontal development is all that is needed to protect subsequent shafts from the debris that chokes the open pots.  An additional clue for a good site we learned was the presence of a draught.  So healthy an indication of good things is a draught that we even hammered out the entrance to one cave - a Yorkshire trick that leaves the continentals absolutely staggered!  The subsequent hole led to a fine series of shafts before becoming too tight at about 250m (820ft) depth.  Although deep, this is nothing to what Loser could produce with its maximum depth potential being in the order of 900m (2,950ft).

As an example of the type of caves that we were finding, I include a survey of one of the caves with which I was personally involved.  We are provisionally calling our find the Eisluft Hohle.  The official Austrian number designated to a cave initially is only worth superseding by a name when the cave reaches some 150m (490ft) depth. The cave draughts outwards.  This we find very puzzling as the cave temperature is considerably lower than that outside.  The draught varies with the temperature of the atmosphere - implying a convection draught as opposed to a stream driven one - and there are no higher entrances that draught in.  Indeed, no entrances on the plateau seem to take an in-blowing draught.  We are still thinking this one out and would welcome any suggestions.

The cave has three entrances that each shares the draught.  These soon unite above a snow slope.  A handline descent of this leads to the top of Plugged Shaft which is over two hundred feet deep and broken by numerous but very small ledges.  The icy draught is at its strongest at the top of the shaft and on a good day difficulty was found in keeping carbide lamps alight.  Sound natural belays are scarce as all good looking flakes and threads just come off in your hand, so bolting was the order of the day.  This was very slow as the limestone is very hard and rock anchors soon blunted.  Half an hour’s hammering in the cooling breeze and the snow at the top of Plugged Shaft was nothing if not soul-destroying.

The shaft descends through snow plugs to a very dubious platform of dirty snow.  It was while standing on this that we began to wonder about the degree by which the caver's presence alters the cave environment. (I don't want to worry you chaps - but it's melting!)  Further down, the shaft enlarges and a small rock bridge is met. Behind the bridge is some horizontal passage to a shaft.  As time was short, we left this un-descended and followed the draught down the main shaft. The shaft ends at a chamber and some short horizontal passage that thank¬fully marks the end of the snow. Saved Shaft was descended to a chamber and a fearful looking boulder choke.  The draught filtered enticingly through the ruckle and, prudence lost, we crawled through to a rift beyond.  We reached a pitch and descended 32m (105ft) and pushed on to the head of another shaft, when we realised that we had lost the draught.  We therefore left this next shaft un-descended and returned and traversed over the pitch head to another up which the faithful old draught was blowing.  We then descended 30m (98ft) down this one, past a ledge to a rift passage.  This enlarged to a reasonable sized chamber with, a choice of routes onwards.  We had just about run out of tackle and, with the expedition nearing its end, time was short too.  We started the awesome task of de-rigging. (Yes, we were on ladders!)

We've left the cave with enough promise and question marks that I am sure will drag us back to it next year.  If you think that I’ve been a little rash in telling you of this unfinished find, then I might warn the would-be pirate that the Loser plateau is very, very big and the Eisluft Hohle, like many of Loser's caves, cannot be seen from more than five yards away!  And, whilst on his wandering’s across the unexplored lapiaz, the pirate might just find something better than the Eisluft Hohle.  How about it?  "Noch ein Bier, bitte!"

References:       Cambridge Underground 1977 - for details of C.U.C.C, finds in 1976

Cambridge Underground 1978 - to be published next spring/summer for details of finds on the 1977 expedition.


 

The Growth Of The B.E.C.

 

PART 6 - WHAT IT ALL MEANS

The improve model representing the growth of the club over the years is shown above and compared with the actual figures.  As may be seen, the fit between the two is not bad.  The improved model is in three parts.  The first of these, from 1943 to 1951, has a slightly lower slope than reality over its earlier portion, but the actual point at 1951 is correct.  The second part, from 1951 to 1957 is pretty accurate throughout and needs no further comment.  The final part, from 1957 to 1975 is slightly too high in its later years but, for various reasons, it is very difficult to correct this in a meaningful manner, and – taken in all – the model is good enough to explain the main features of the club’s growth which have been described in detail earlier in this series.

The changes between the three portions of the improved model have been made just by changes in the decrement (which represents the amount of satisfaction that members have in their club at anyone time).  It is possible to base a number of scales on the value of the decrement, and the one used is one in which the figure of 100 would represent perfect satisfaction - a state of affairs which can be defined, one where nobody ever leaves the club once they have joined.  A figure of 0 would represent complete dissatisfaction - with no member ever renewing his or her subscription.

On this scale, we would naturally expect to see a figure of satisfaction nearer to 100 than to 0. For instance, a figure of 50, if applied to the B.E.C. would have produced a club which would have built up to about 60 members with about 25 of these leaving and another 25 joining each year. In fact, the simple model gives an average value for satisfaction of 77.

The improved model has, of course, three different levels of satisfaction.  From 1943 to 1951 it is 80.  From 1951 to 1957 it is 70 and from 1957 onwards it is 86, although there is some evidence for a very slight drop in the early 1960's to possibly 83 or 84, but this is too fine for the analysis to tackle.

With this recording of satisfaction, we have gone about as far as we can with the figures and from here, we must guess.  What we are looking for are two, preferably related events which took place in 1950/1 and in 1957 which could have led to the changes we have noted.

Nothing can be found in the way of external events, such as the advent of the five day week or the end of petrol rationing.  Caving has already been eliminated, as have any changes in life at the Belfry.  The only thing which seems to fit is the B.B. itself.

In 1951, Harry Stanbury - the founder of the B.E.C. and currently Hon. Secretary, Hon. Treasurer and Editor of the B.B., resigned from the club committee and all his offices. Reading the B.B. before this date will show that it contained a great deal of news of club members and of social and other events on Mendip as well as caving news.  In other words, the B.B. formed a strong link between the club on Mendip and in Bristol and those members who could only appear at infrequent intervals.  Members thus tended to hang on to their membership so that they could find out what their friends were doing and what was going on 'on the hill'.

After Harry's resignation, his posts as Hon. Sec. and Hon. Treasurer were ably filled by the (then) young Bob Bagshaw.  The B.B. proved more difficult to get anyone to take on and for a year or so it was actually run from London by Don Coase and John Shorthose.  Even when Harry was persuaded to come back and edit it again, it was not the same. As Secretary, he had previously run features like 'From the Hon. Sec's Postbag' - which he could no longer write. Even members addresses were not published over most of the period 1951 to 1957.

In 1957, the B.B. was handed over by the A.G.M. to a group of active club members who produced most of the 'chat' which members said they missed and also gave the B.B. a facelift. It is interesting to note that the even more bigger and better B.B. produced under the editorship of Dave Irwin did not have a corresponding change in satisfaction.  It seems that while the club demands a minimum standard from its magazine, a great increase on this has no proportionate effect.

If any reader wonders why the portions of the curve flatten out when there has been no change in the figure of satisfaction, this is a natural function of this type of curve and does not actually mean that the club is doing any worse.

It only remains to explain the two 'frighteners'. The second of these obviously reflects the sudden doubling of the annual subscription in 1974.  The first can be associated with the opening of the campaign to collect money for a new Belfry.

Thus, in 1975 when the survey ended, the club still appeared to be 'on course' with its satisfaction at a high level.  It would seem that as long as its B.B. continues to give its members the sort of information they basically want and the club avoids sudden financial shocks to its members, there is little cause for concern.

What we cannot forecast is any change in the number of new members arriving each year.  The figure just announced by the Hon. Sec. is one of the lowest in the club's entire history.  It was worse in 1957 and, like then, the low figure this year may be an isolated case.  If it is a trend, then it will have to be watched and acted upon, but here we must be very careful.  At 34 effective years of age, the club has reached a stage where exactly half its members may be considered as 'permanent' and this percentage will rise so that it will become more and more important not to drive these members away.

What, then, can we do in the future?  It may well be that we live in times that are changing too rapidly for the type of analysis talked about in this series to be any of further use.  However, if this exercise has taught its author anything – it is that guesswork must be reduced to an absolute minimum if we are to take sensible decisions about anything which may affect the growth of the B.E.C.

S.J.C.


 

Monthly Crossword Number 79

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Across (Passages)

1. 14-18 vadose cave features?  (6)
4. Commercial concern as requirement for belays perhaps? (4)
7. London street in September.  (6)
8. Strongly assert topless speleologist. (4)
10. Serve rat going across. (8)
13. Cry a mixture of salts deposited in caves. (8)
16. Smirk – presumably at young sheep on Mendip. (4)
17. Will keep a climber as warm as anything in Oban or a kilt.  (6)
18. You might need a rope to this a 10 across if handholds are scarce. (4)
19.  Determines metallic content of ore. (6)

Down (Pitches)

1. It is cricket to make sure a belay is sound, for instance?  (4)
2. E.G. location of Pollnagollum. (4)
3. Large number on Mediterranean island for possible entrance shaft material. (8)
5. Turn upside down in vertical cave descent. (6)
6. Alcoholic French pioneer? (6)
11. Untidy leaves in autumn may blow into this cave. (8)
12. Laughable old Mendip inhabitant. (5)
14. The Hundred Acre field describes its this. (4)
15. Form of winter mountaineering transport? (4)

Solution to No. 78

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