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 meet)

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 Bristol University.  Organised by Phil Hendy (WCC). Details next month.

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.

Money 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. Wells, Somerset.



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, Oxford University, 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 Wellington 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 Oxford University 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 evening.

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 Plymouth, 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 London 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 Cavern

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 Hole

Frome Police contacted M.R.O. and reported that a Mr. Trig from Bristol 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 Lake Chamber.  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 Rocket Drop Cave.  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 Lake Chamber 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 Boho Caves, County Fermanagh

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 Stanton 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 Yorkshire

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 Gary “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 caving.

We had decided to go down Tatham Wife Hole which is near White Scar Cave.  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 descent.

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 home.

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.

DON'T FORGET THE NEXT WORKING WEEKEND - the weekend of the 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,
Wells, Somerset

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 Cambridge University cavers.  One of the two alternative entrance pitches already had a ladder on it belonging to a Durham University party.  ( Durham 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 Durham 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 Durham 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 Durham 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 Durham 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 Durham 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 Durham 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 Scar Cave 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 White Scar Cave’.


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 worn.

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.

(2)                 Montgomery, N.R. - 'Single Rope Techniques - a Guide for Vertical Cavers'. pp. 86-88 and p 90.  (N.B. When Montgomery 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. - American Caves and Caving. pp. 217-219.

(4)                Thorne, N. Floating Cams for Prusiking. Cambridge Underground 1978



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.



Another BEC extension in another cave will be reported next month!!

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 East Twin Brook Valley? 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 Sparrow

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 Ireland later 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.