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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Nr Wells, Somerset.
Editor: D.P.Turner

“Driver of the Year” award looks like going to old member GRAHAM PHIPPEN – captain of the Antarctic Expedition “Southern Quest,” now residing at the bottom of the Weddell Sea, thus proving that the BEC once again “get everywhere” and “do it to excess”.  Beat that Trevor Hughes.

Tony Jarratt says that we have negotiated member’s rates at the following club huts:-

Chelsea, Bradford, TSG, Pegasus, and NCC

The arrangements are unofficial at the moment so it may depend on their Hut Wardens.

Membership Changes

New Members

1071     Clive Lovell, Keynsham, Bristol
1072     Tracey Newstead, Mount Pleasant, Devon

Ratified Members

1053     Steve Milner
1055     Oliver Wells
1057     Mark Lumley
1059     Alison Ainsley
1061     Kerry Wiggins
1054     Tim Gould
1056     Chris Larkin
1058     Ron Wyncoll
1060     Peter Crawley
1062     Andy Cave

Eratus

I must thank Alfie for checking the membership list printed in the October 85 BB and noting the following membership number errors

364L Peter Blogg shown as 348L who is R.G. Brown

405L Frank Darbon shown as 454L who is George Blackhorn

1038 Alan Downton shown as 1039 who is Lisa Taylor

947 Phil Ford shown as 949 who is John C. Watson

647 Davce Glover shown as 648 who is Jane Glover

668 Mike Jeanmaire shown as 669 who is Rees

575L Dermot Statham shown as 547L who is Willie Stanton

Alfie has also sent an interesting graph showing that the BEC is on the way up (see page 21)

 


 

Outstanding Belfry Jobs

Main Room

1.         Re-fix padlock bar to roof access
2.         Repair damaged ceiling and re-plaster
3.         Repair leak in roof
4.         Fix wall units to wall
5.         Put up signboards

Showers and Changing Rooms

6.         All doors to be cleaned down and re-stained
7.         Fix lock to entrance door (same key as main door)
8.         Put up hat and coat hooks
9.         Make up and fix new benches
10.        Shower curtain to third shower
11.        Finish off painting
12.        Re-fix toilet to floor
13.        Rod drain pipe
14.        Clean out gully
15.        Lag pipes
16.        Fix toilet roll holder to wall
17.        Clean out drying room
18.        Install extractor tan and ducting

Bunk Rooms

19.        Patch up render by meters
20.        Finish oft painting
21.        Patch up holes in ceiling and walls
22.        Fix bunks to wall

Entrance Hall

23.        Tile floor
24.        Finish off painting
25.        Hat and coat hooks on toilet door
26.        Lag pipes

Loft

27.        Lag pipes

Library

28.        Put up new shelving

External

29.        Build external gas bottle store
30.        Clear away rubbish
31.        Re-build manhole to soak-away
32.        Stain front door
33.        Remove facia and replace with U.P.V.C.
34.        Repair rainwater guttering
35.        Fix frame and hang door to shed
36.        Take down timber shed and remove from site
37.        Cut grass in the spring
38.        Fix sand buckets to wall
39.        Build small roof over sand buckets
40.        Fix new sign on Carbide store

Dany Bradshaw

Personal Column

Mary Ham (from Peter and Mary Ham and family) an ex member of about 11 years ago now living in Australia, called in at the Belfry recently.  Greetings to lot, Jock, Alan Thomas, The Riley, Martin Bishop, Barrie and Brenda et at.

*****************************************

Subs are. now well overdue - if you still haven’t paid then you had better send your money now to Brian Workman or you are unlikely to get another BB


 

Caving Secretary’s Notes

CLUB MEETS

I've put together a more up to date meets list.  Some of the dates have changed because the caves were already booked.  Others are still waiting for replies and permits from the various governing clubs. Accommodation will be entirely up to those people going on the trip.

DATE

REGION

CAVE

Mar-01

Yorkshire

Black Shiver

Mar-02

Yorkshire

Lancaster/County Pot

Mar-09

Yorkshire

Juniper Gulf (not a club meet, but the cave is booked if anyone wants to do it)

Easter W/E

South Wales

Craig-an-Fynnon (unconfirmed).  Daren Cilau

Apr 19/20

Mendip

BEC members weekend and barrel at the Belfry

Apr-26

Wye Valley

Otter Hole

May-03

Yorkshire

Pasture Gill (unconfirmed)

Whitsun

Yorkshire

Gaping Gill (unconfirmed)

Jun-19

Derbyshire

Nettle Pot

Jun-20

Derbyshire

Giants (Unconfirmed)

Aug 1-17

Austria

 

Aug-30

Yorkshire

Providence - Dow (Dowbergil)

Aug-31

Yorkshire

Birks Fell

Sep-27

Yorkshire

Penyghent Pot

Sep-28

Yorkshire

Marble Steps (Unconfirmed)

Oct-11

South Wales

O.F.D.

Oct-12

South Wales

Dan'-Yr-Ogof

AUSTRIA

A combined BEC and NCC trip to the Dachstein Massif has been arranged for August 1st-17th.

With the Barengassewindschacht finally pushed to conclusion by the NCC last summer, the expedition will turn its attention to some of the leads left unfinished on previous trip,s as well as looking for more entrances in the same area.  Hopefully we may also have a chance to look at the extensions in the Hirlatzhohle at the bottom of the mountain.

At the moment there are about 15 NCC members going and from our end we have just 4 who are definitely on for the trip, with another 4-5 who hope to be going, finances permitting. If you would like to be on the trip then get in touch soon because the NCC need numbers to sort out a Sport's Council grant.  We are particularly looking for people proficient in SRT and someone with a knowledge of the area from one of the previous expeditions would be most welcome.

Accommodation is being organised at the moment and we should be staying in the Glocken Hut, next to the Wiesberghaus as before.

Nothing has been finalised with the NCC about equipment for the expedition, but we hope to be able to beg, steal or borrow as much as possible to keep costs to a minimum.

References to the previous expeditions can be found in the following copies of the B.B .

BB 214 - Dec 65
BB 366 - Oct 78
BB 370
BB 379 – Nov 79
BB 388/9
BB 412/5 - Nov 82
BB 417 - J an 83

CLUB YORKSHIRE MEET

The "Jolly Roger" flew defiantly above the snow covered slopes of Leck Fell on a crisp Saturday morning, denoting the presence of the BEC Cave Pirates in Notts Pot.

The pothole was found to be rigged for a major push beyond the "terminal" Sump, so the four stalwart (cave dogs found themselves at the bottom in no time at all, whereupon they met up with John Cordingley and A.N. Other kitting up for the 700ft dive to the new extension.  Rations be scarce in that there cave so the team tapped the weevils out of a ship's biscuit and drank each others urine before setting back for the surface.

Once out, First Mate Trebor (Avast Behind) McDonald set sail for the N.P.C. Dinner via the Marton Arms and New Inn where lashings of Grog were quaffed and bawdy Shanties sung 'Ad Infinitum' !

The next day was a belter with the brilliant sun shining over us as we tacked up the side of Ingleborough towards Nick Pot, whereupon we descended through the 80ft Thornber's Entrance, leastways, Capn. Gonzo - he descended, Trebor - he descended, Long John Wobbley - he descended too, but the Boatswain (Aah - Clever Fucker he were!) he turned a pear shaped Krab into a useless L-shaped piece of scrap, shat himself and set sail for warmer climes!  The rest of the crew crossed the Traverse in the Gods, descended a magnificent 280ft shaft to the bottom before a-hoisting the mizzen and heading for home.

EASTWATER CAVERN

In the wake of Cave Conservation Year the committee have decided that the club should adopt Eastwater Cavern. There are numerous BEC members active within the cave every week so it wouldn't take much effort for people to pick up bits of rubbish in passing and bring them out.

The dig at the end of the first Rift Chamber eventually broke through into a further 30ft of high rift passage closing down to a tight flooded bedding plane.  A way on looks doubtful.

J. Rat and Tim Large have an interesting project going in the Boulder Chamber.  Tony pushed a route through loose boulders for about 30’ to a point where a way on could be seen but was too unstable.  A smoke test was tried from the aven in Ifold Series and this came through very strongly in a boulder choked rift directly below the Wind Tunnel.  A connection here would make the West End Series far more accessible for pushing trips (and rescues! - see Tony's article)

Tony also tried to divert the water at the entrance to make it go down through the Boulder Chamber as it did when the cave was first opened.  So far this has only been partially successful but it enables a dry exit to be made from the cave even in wet weather.

NOTE

Mrs Gibbons requests that all cavers visit the farm BEFORE going down the cave so that she knows who is down there.  Don't forget your 10p goodwill fee.

CAVE ACCESS

Below is a list of Club Leaders for various caves throughout the country.  I am aware that it is very incomplete but it’s a start.  If you know of any other access arrangements please let me know.

MENDIP

            Charterhouse     Alan Downton
            Reservoir Hole   Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Brian Prewer
            St.
Cuthbert’s    See me for details

WALES           

            O.F.D.              Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Mike Palmer, Graham Wilton-Jones

            Dan-yr-Ogof       Martin Grass, Tim Large, Graham Wilton-Jones

            Craig-an-Fynnon            Martin Grass

NORTH

            Peak Cavern      Martin Grass

            White Scar        Martin Grass

Mark Lumley

Club Tackle

The following is a list of the club tackle currently accounted for and available for use:-

9 Wire tethers (11, 2 and 15ft)

3 spreaders (1 and 2ft)

17 standard ladders (L9, LI0, 21, One in oil, No ID, L5, L17, 20, No ID, 30, L44, 29, No ID, 23, L5, Cuthbert’s, No ID) (2 withdrawn L7 and No ID)

5 expedition ladders (L42, L24, L35, L26, L41)

Ropes: 1 x 150', 1 x: 200' (new) 2 x 120’ (new)various digging ropes

2 tackle bags

Suunto compass and clino

6 ice axes

2 pairs snowshoes

If anyone knows of, or has any other club tackle please let me know as we are attempting to compile a complete inventory of all club property.

Steve Milner
7/2/86


 

Longwood Tragedy

On Saturday, 11th January 1986, about midday, a party of five cavers from South East London descended Longwood Swallet.  The water level was quite high and it is likely that they decided to explore Longwood Series rather than August Hole where the chimney and drainpipe would probably be impassable.  They had explored the Wet Series Passage below the Main Chamber when, on the return, four of the group successfully negotiated the stream passage beneath the chamber.  Atilla Kurucz was the last of the group and on pulling himself up into the chamber, a large slab of rock, weighing about half a ton detached itself, pinning Atilla beneath.  His friends quickly realising the seriousness of the situation were eventually able to wedge the rock up and get him out from underneath it.  He was given mouth to mouth resuscitation and cardiac massage. Within a few minutes another group of cavers from Imperial College arrived and gave valuable assistance. Several people left the cave to raise the alarm at this point (see postscript).  The police at Yeovil alerted the M.R.O. at about 2.00pm.  No details of the incident were available from the police at that time and the informant could not be contacted by phone. Among the first to arrive on the scene was Trevor Hughes, who had been dragged from his pint in the Hunter's and then managed to demolish his car (and someone else's) en route to the cave.  By 3.30pm Trevor and a small party arrived in Longwood Main Chamber. After previous careful briefing by Donald Thomson, the M.R.O. Medical Warden, it was decided that Atilla was in fact dead.

It took another six hours to get him out of the cave, with four teams of cavers being used for hauling. Over two hours were spent in getting him through the bedding plane squeeze near the entrance.  This manoeuvre was only successful when the bag, in which he had been placed, was removed thus allowing his arms to be placed over his head.  Finally a rope puller was used to lift him up the constricted entrance shaft.  The whole operation was over by 10.00pm.

P.S.  Although on this particular occasion a delayed call-out of the M.R.O. would not have made the slightest difference to the outcome of this tragic incident, as Atilla probably died within five minutes of the rock landing on his chest, it should be pointed out that a delay did occur because the cavers sent to raise the alarm did not know where Lower Farm (now known as Longwood Grange Farm) was located.  They, in fact, drove their car to one of the houses near to Manor Farm and received quite a cool reception from the occupant when they asked to use the telephone.  The call out saga didn’t end there, the outcome being that the M.R.O. were not given the full details of the accident.

Longwood Grange Farm can be reached by walking up the valley, following the stream and not crossing the little wooden bridge.  After a few hundred metres (yards for the non-metricated) Mr. Trim’s lawns and farmhouse will be found. Mr. Trim is a very pleasant gentleman and is quite prepared to help out in any emergency situation.  It must be stated however, that under normal circumstances he does not want his privacy invaded or his lawns damaged by cavers.

An additional instruction to the M.R.O. notice in Longwood blockhouse will be put up as soon as possible giving details of the location of the farm.

Brian Prewer.


 

Eastwater Cavern

Ongoing situations in Boulder Chamber and Ifold’s Series

With the lower parts of West End Series being almost permanently sumped off at present other projects in the cave have been initiated with intentions of providing a new route from the entrance area directly into the Ifold's Series.  Apart from bypassing much awkward passage this route would allow a change of scenery to those who have used the standard trade routes continuously for the past three years.

Work started on the 7th September when, with the assistance of Dave Nicholls and Mark Lovell, Tony Jarratt climbed the 55' Aven at the head of Harris's Passage in Ifold's Series.  A fairly easy but damp and exposed climb led to the top of the aven via three roomy ledges.  Two ways on at the top were both impassable without bang but draughted strongly inwards.

A return was made on 3rd January with Phil Romford and the aven was re-climbed and rigged with 60’ ladder. (The more exposed, stal covered part of the aven was also climbed and found to close down at 35'.  Initials on the wall showed this to have been looked at twenty years earlier).

The following day AJ and .John Dukes returned with hammer and chisels and spent some time removing rock from the larger of the two ways on in preparation for banging.  John continued hammering while AJ went to the Wind Tunnel at the top of the Canyon where the hammer blows could be distinctly heard emanating from the rock.  In the Boulder Chamber - a black hole was noticed below the boulder floor and this was investigated on the 10th January, when with the aid of a sledge hammer and rope winch a 12' deep hole was engineered leading to a loose, strongly draughting choke in a rift.

Next day, Jim Smart, Harold Price and John Chew lit a smoke bomb in the 55" Aven while AJ and Tim Large opened up the draughting choke in Boulder Chamber, getting through into some 30' of horribly loose descending passage with only one solid wall (and that’s dubious!).  This dropped down a wide rift which was not entered due to the frightening mass of boulders above it  This passage has since been renamed “Death Row”.

No smoke was evident here but as TL emerged back into Boulder Chamber he noticed it seeping out of another hole directly below Wind Tunnel.  This small vertical hole lies at the start of Keith Gladman and Andy Lolley's old dig which oxbows back into the Canyon.

The hole was attacked with hammers and chisels and good progress made, continued on the following Wednesday by TL, Tim Gould, Mark Lumley and JS.  More work was done on a solo trip by AJ on 23rd January and Death Row revisited.  After a lot of deliberation the loose boulders at the head of the rift were passed and the rift followed down for some 15' to where a low arch led into larger passage.  Unfortunately the arch was composed of loose boulders and as it was being gently prodded the earth moved.  So did AJ who shot out of the passage with large and small boulders literally brushing his legs as they parted company with roof or walls.  Not a nice place!

Back at the 55" Aven two days later, TL banged the larger way on with an appreciative audience of JD, AJ and Andy Sparrow.  Not so appreciative was the unknown poor bugger who was at that time sitting alone at the top of the Canyon and probably only about 20' above the bang!  The results were checked the following day by AJ, Trevor Hughes and Snablet and the now open rift found to close down after about 6'.

Work is continuing when lethargy permits - assistance welcomed.

Tony Jarratt.

Terminal Rift area, Ifold’s Series

Further investigations have also been made in the area off TermInal Rift below the 13 Pots.  Jim Smart first looked at this old digging site where the stream sinks.  To the right is a tight rift which further closes down after about 10' but could be chemically enlarged.  Also Sand Chamber was inspected.  Considerable amounts of spoil have been deposited in the chamber from previous digging activities - maybe they are obscuring a possible digging site.  At the eastern side of the chamber is an ascending rift which appeared possible providing some form of stemple could be inserted at intervals to assist progress.  Jim and Mark investigated this, managing to pass the constriction to passage beyond which appeared not to have been entered before. Unfortunately it soon closed down.

Another interesting area is the small rift in the eastern wall at the base of the 55' aven previously mentioned.  This leads into another small rift at right angles to it.  This area takes on a more phreatic appearance.  At the lower end the rift drops into a small chamber with a boulder floor - several interconnecting avens appear in the roof. In the northern corner is a squeeze into an ascending phreatic rift. This area is leading into the unknown, outside the boundaries of existing cave.

The current survey of Ifold Series is very sketchy and appears inaccurate.  Perhaps it could do with a re-survey from Dolphin Pitch onwards.

Tim Large.


 

Daren Cilau Extension

(The story so far)

As you have probably read in the last BB, members from the BEC had joined forces with a group from Cardiff University to dig at a remote site off the Kings Road.  On the 8th February we went down again for a hard digging trip.  At about 10am Jim Smart, Neil Scallon, Nigel Burns, Andy Lovell and Wobbley entered the cave with photographic equipment and were taking the scenic route via Epocalypse Way and Antler Passage.  Then around 10.30 to 11am Mark Lumley and Tim Gould, then Steve Milner and me (Snablet) went straight to the dig, closely followed by the Cardiff team, Andy Cave, Steve Allen, Pete Brown and Henry Bennett about half an hour later.  We struggled through icicles and frozen floor and walls in the entrance series, then hammered through the rest of the route as far as the 65ft pitch.  We had to wait an hour at a diver ruckle, meanwhile Mark and Tim had overtaken the divers and were well on their way to the dig.  When we eventually got going again, the Cardiff team floated down Red River Passage and walked along the roof of the Time Machine with their little pipe.  Mark and Tim had got an hour or so digging in, with Mark managing fill the passage behind him with spoil!  We arrived over an hour later, ready for a brew-up which was already on the way.  A steady flow of people continued for the next few hours.  The primus stove was working overtime with constant demands for cuppa soups.

The dig was making steady progress in a phreatic passage filled with sand and clay on top.  The sandy spoil was used to fill in a steeply sloping floor in the existing passage to make a large level and fairly comfortable campsite, it was enough room for the 13 people who had been down there. We were well prepared for a breakthrough into “caverns measureless to man” with tape to mark off any formations we found, SRT kit and rope for pitches and climbing gear for any avens and surveying and camera equipment etc.

Jim Smart and Nigel Scallon arrived after their photographic trip with a large supply of Ovaltine, which was followed by shouts from in the dig that they could see a passage or chamber a few feet ahead.  Mark then went into one of his digging frenzies, while the rest started to brew up some Ovaltine.  Just as the water was coming to the boil Mark broke through into a passage 5 foot high and 10 foot wide at 9.20pm.  Everyone dropped everything and rushed into the new passage, a decision was made to explore the passage all together since we had all dug at some stage.  Photos were taken of the virgin passage with its mud formations and occasional crystals on the walls and ceiling. The passage continued around a couple of bends, then ended in a squeeze.  A passage could be seen continuing on the other side.  The squeeze was enlarged and I was pushed through to dig from the other side.  The team, some wearing woolly hats and carrying carbides by hand (leaving their proper lights and helmets behind in the rush) and armed with digging tools and cameras, were

trying to think of names for the passage.  After names had been flying around the passage from all directions, someone suggested the "Ovaltiney”, and it stuck because of the almost made ovaltine back at the base camp.

Once through the squeeze the passage continued for a short distance a similar size to the passage before and ending in another larger squeeze with passage on the other side. A message was passed back that it looked fairly big, but by the time it had reached the last man the message had changed from fairly big to massive.  The passage beyond was similar but slightly smaller also ending in a squeeze with an awkward twist in it.  The passage on the other side was slightly larger than before with a cold draught coming along it.  The passage went around a couple of bends, and then ended in a large pile of sand forming a choke.  There was a small air space with a howling gale going through.  Further investigation revealed blackness beyond (it must be a chamber or mere passage).  The next push should hopefully uncover caverns measureless to man, and another, nay, either Agen Allwedd or Llangattock Swallet.

The extension is a high level passage like Trident in Aggy and about 200 foot long, heading in a North West direction like all the other big stuff under Llangattock Mountain (it got to be a good sign).  We didn't push the extension any further because it was getting late, lights were getting low, we were tired and it would take a good few hours to dig out the choke, so we thought it appropriate place to leave it so we meandered on out fairly slowly, having to break our way through the ice in the entrance series.   We arrived back at 5-30am. after an 18 hour trip and celebrated the initial breakthrough by getting pissed on wine and beer and waking up half of Whitewalls.

To be continued in the next BB when we will probably have found more. 

Snablet.

PS. Wormhole, you're going to have to buy some new kit now!


 

Mexico

The following is a brief account of the 30 strong Mexico '85 expedition which visited the Xlitla plateau, North Mexico over the Christmas period.

After a two hour coach trip to Heathrow, a 16 hour flight via Amsterdam and Houston to Mexico City, a night in a hotel and a further day by bus Dany and myself along with other members of the expedition arrived in the large town of Ciudad de Valles, situated 220 miles north of Mexico City.

Sunday morning we went in search of the café "Don Juan" to rendezvous with members of our advance party, who over the past 5 weeks had driven our 3 expedition vehicles down from the States, cleared the expedition gear through customs (this took 21 days) set up base camp, and started the serious business of prospecting and caving.  The cafe was easily located, parked outside was a 4x4 Chevrolet truck bearing the insignia "MEXICO 85 British Caving Expedition, sponsored by Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey", everything to plan, amazing!  We entered.  "Where the bloody hell have you been", we were greeted by the soft and gentle voice of Alan Thomas who had cunningly followed us from Priddy, "The rest of your lot are asleep out the back", he went on. "I have had lots of adventures getting here, I must tell you".  Some time later, after a meal and Alan's story, the Chevrolet was put through the pain barrier along the Pan American Highway as we headed for Xlitla, the nearest town to our base camp.  Alan was installed in a hotel here and we carried on up a very unmade track for a further 50 minutes to our base in the small picturesque village of Tlamaya.  The following day was spent setting up camp and preparing for the caving proper.

Tuesday morning, we drove to Tampajal, from there 3 hours walk into the mountains gained us the village of Los Horneas, the site of one of our satellite camps. The weather was unusually bad for Mexico, very wet and misty, for this reason we decided to live in one of the cave entrances, this became very squalid during the four days which we were in residence.  Dany and myself had a very good photo trip down a cave found by the team who we had relieved.  April 5th cave has a large entrance ramp 50-60m high leading down to a sizable streamway, this was followed past a previous stal blockade, which had fallen victim of a lump hammer (in the name of exploration), into large well decorated stream passage.  This extended some 3km to the head of a 25m pitch, at the bottom the cave terminated 100m further on at a depth of -400m in a non free divable sump.

We spent the next day doing some bread and butter work, following a young local lad through very wet and soggy jungle at high speed, descending each shaft as he magiced them out of the undergrowth, most of the shafts proving to be choked with rotting vegetation.  All would probably go with digging but we had not come this far to do that.  We returned to our cave home to find that a shaft shown to the others had gone to a 100m pitch, two of them had walked back to Tlamaya for more rope and would return later that night.  It was decided that one team would push on down the pitch the following day, while we investigated a second draughting shaft situated nearby. This we did, and after the passing of a squeeze at the bottom of the entrance climb by John Palmer and Debbie, both anorexic whippets!  A further hour was spent enlarging it to Bob and Dany size, this gained us a large, steeply descending fluted passage carrying a small stream.  In an alcove on the right hand wall two brawn calcite formations closely resembling hedgehogs gave the cave its name, Queva de la Erizo ( Hedgehog Cave).  We took it in turns to explore the cave ahead; it meandered steeply downwards in fine passage for a further kilometre with many free climbable pitches.  We were halted by a lack of tackle at the unstable head of a 7m pitch.

The others had also done well and their cave was still going at -300m.  We returned to base the next day and another team took over at Las Horneos, we had had atrocious weather but a good four days caving.

Christmas was fast looming on the horizon, Alan Thomas had searched high and low in Xlitla for a cafe that would serve roast turkey and Christmas Pud on Christmas Day.  He had even applied his shouting in a silly accent technique, but not even this, combined with his school teacher stern look, brought any joy.  We finally had to settle for spicey chicken, assorted vegetable and sala served on Christmas Eve. Some compensation was gained in the fact that the red wine we had ordered arrived in the form of Bacardi and Coke, oh the joys of the language barrier!  Dany and myself returned to the local bar at Tlamaya to carry on the Christmas Eve festivities.  Christmas passed in a haze.

On the 27th December, Dany and I plus three others set off to an area to the northeast of Xlitla, near the large town of Jalpan, some four hours drive from base camp.  Our main objective was to investigate some sites found previously by a reconnaissance party.  We arrived in Guayabos, a small village situated 6km up a very rough track, here we were instantly taken in by a local family, seated down and fed before we had time to ask for permission to camp.  The friendliness of the local people in this part of Mexico made an impression on all the expedition members.

The following day we carried our tackle up into the surrounding hills aiming to descend the reported shafts above.  We systematically worked our way through a number of these, all with the same result, all were very dry and dusty, adorned with bat shit and choked around the 50m mark. Our resident geologist, Alf Latham, weighed up the situation and declared in best scientific terms, “this is a real bum area”, we all agreed and returned to our truck.  Our next port of call was Puerto de Animas on the main road north of Jalpan, here locals had told us that there were large caves where a river disappeared and then re-emerged on the far side of the hill. They were right, the problem was that they had been previously explored by the Americans, all the same, they were well worth the visit.

We spent the following day in the sink end, this proved to be about 1km of mega passage, well decorated, brought to a sudden end in a very stagnant sump.  Before returning to base on the morrow, we visited the resurgence cave, this was  a very picturesque railway tunnel carrying the main stream, opening out into a large decorated chamber.  The streamway terminated 1/2km further on in a good size clear inviting sump pool.  A dry flood overflow passage, explored on the way out, gave another 1 1/2km of big mud floored passage ending in a muddy chamber. This must be close to the upstream sump but no connection could be found.

We returned to base for the New Year, a group of us decided to celebrate by going to a dance advertised in Xlitla, this proved to be in a building site (the Spanish influence, I suppose!).  Everybody stroved towards their desired state of drunkenness and the locals looked on in amazement at our rendering of "Auld Lang Syne" as the magic hour passed, six hours after the real English one.  All was well until the return journey in the early hours, the vehicle in front of me sprung a puncture, I swerved around it and drove off the edge of the track.  I sat there in amazement as the thing rocked on the edge of a rather steep drop above the valley floor many feet below.  "Oh dear", said everybody and deserted the vehicles to walk back to base. The next few days were spent persuading a rogue from a Tamzunchale rescue truck company, firstly to lift our truck out of its predicament, and secondly to let us have it back.  During this time our third truck had broken down leaving the expedition rather immobile although teams still managed to get out by using local buses.

With the New Year’s problems behind us, and two vehicles back on the road, a team of 10 were off again, this time to visit Ixtacapa, an area not far from Xlitla.  There were two caves still going here, left by a team on a day trip to this area.  On arrival we asked permission to use a half built hut as a shelter, this was granted. Before we had finished erecting our poly sheet, a woman appeared from the mass of spectators that had gathered and told us that she had a house we could use.  As I have said before, the friendliness of Mexicans is amazing.  The house was a large wooden one, just right for our needs, we accepted it gratefully.  At a team discussion that evening Dany and I volunteered to go with a local guide the following day to explore the caving possibilities of the Tancuilin river gorge.  This proved a major undertaking, it took us about an hour to reach the top of the gorge, we then descended 300m plus down the steep, heavily vegetated sides, at the bottom it was apparent that finding entrances would be impossible in the short time available as the gorge was so immense and dry water courses emerged from the jungle in all directions.  After a quick dip in the river we lugged ourselves and our un-needed caving gear back up the gorge, arriving some hours later back at the house, hot and sweaty.

Our remaining two days here were spent shaft bashing, photographing and surveying the two going caves which were now finished, and also exploring some short, but well decorated, caves that we had found.

After our couple of days back in base we set off on what would be our last trip out into the hills. As you have probably realised, the system is to spend 4 days out and then return to base.  This gives everybody the chance of going to different areas and doing a wider spectrum of the expedition work,  i.e. photographing, surveying, pushing etc.  The time at base camp allows for getting cleaned up, shopping, drawing of surveys, and generally relaxing between caving bouts.

Since we had last been to Los Horneos, the caves there had been pushed to their conclusions and attention had been moved lower down the hill to a village called La Mesa (the table), tucked into a high valley. Two large caves, both 3km long, had already been found here but had sumped around the 300m mark.

We spent our usual day shaft bashing, this paid off towards the end of the day with the discovery of a large draughting shaft, Lawrence, of Speleo Nederland fame, descended this.  It proved to be 50m deep with two ways on, both pitches.  He returned to the surface to report his findings.  Owing to the lateness of the hour, it was not worth returning to the camp for more tackle.  Dany and Lawrence looked at some other shafts nearby which proved to be part of the same system while John Palmer and I bolted the head of one of the second pitches.  On our way out we noticed two large snake skeletons at the base of the entrance pitch, hence the name "Cave of the Dead Snakes".  We returned the next day and descended the second pitch; this was 50m broken by a re-belay.  On from here we followed good sized scalloped passage carrying a small stream, passing a duck gained us the top of a series of photogenic flowstone cascades.  More passage and a final 10m pitch dropped into a huge chamber, well decorated in its higher levels, 1km from the entrance. No way on could be found from here.  Lawrence caught us up having had no luck with the second of the ways on.  John Palmer and I exited while the Flying Dutchman and Rupert Skoupta finished the survey.  The cave was photographed by Dany the next day whilst I sunbathed, sorry, looked after camp!  The locals are reasonable honest but it's best to keep an eye on things.  Whilst on our return journey to base we took the opportunity to look at Guaguas (Parrot Shaft), a very impressive 200m deep, 200m wide daylight shaft which has the reputation of giving a greater sense of exposure than Golondrinas.

It was now Saturday, the 18th January, we had to have all our kit in Mexico City by the 24th January for shipping, which meant that everything had to be well dried and packed by the 22nd.  Anything left wet, with the prospect of three months in transit back to England, would smell horribly at the least.  For this reason we must start closing down the satellite camps and start the process of washing ropes etc.

While this was going on we managed to fit in a trip down Hitchuhuatla cave, an American find near to our base camp.  A 130m entrance shaft is followed by a 50m second pitch, at the bottom of which 3km of magnificent stream passage can be followed to a terminal muddy sump - a fine trip by any standards.  Also during this period Golondrinas was visited and descended by a few of the brave. There are problems here with locals demanding money and a guard on the rope is well advised, I quickly volunteered for this job.  The depth of the shaft does not become totally apparent until a boulder is observed disappearing downwards for 12-14 seconds.  I abseiled over the edge on a 30m rope to get some shots of the heroes on the main ropes.  The walls bell out after the first 4m and are 30-35m away 25m down.  I sat on the end of the short rope and did a very careful changeover, emptied my trousers and tried to hold myself still enough to take some snaps.  A few minutes later we were treated to the very impressive sight of thousands of swiftlets returning to their nests, they circle in the sky above the shaft and dive bomb at high speed into the hole, this causes a loud roaring noise which resonates around the walls.  The marathon task of hauling up the special 400m ropes followed, some Yorkshire wit remarked that we could do the 20' in Swildons with one of the ropes in its plaited state, this is quite true.

A large truck and driver had been hired to transport our gear back to Mexico City.  The plan was to load up early evening on the 22nd then return to the bar where the landlord and his wife were holding a farewell meal/party for us.  The truck would then leave around 4am with as many drunks that fancied the 15 hour trip on top of the mountain of gear.  The pair of us decided to stay along with a few others and leave the following day.  We were awakened from our slumber from under the porch of the bar by locals arriving for their early morning draughts of Cana, a fire water made from distilled sugar cane.  No member of the expedition had managed more than four of these and walk back to the camp site.  The landlady’s beaming smile greeted us as we entered into the back yard, in her hand she held a tray bearing glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice topped with a raw egg. We grinned and took our medicine bravely.

There were now about twelve of us left in Tlamaya, five of us to catch the night bus from Xlitla to Mexico City, and the remainder to drive our two remaining vehicles (we sold one) back to the US of A.  We loaded the vehicles, said our tearful goodbyes to the very tearful locals and drove out of the village past the school where the children had been brought out from their lessons to line the track and wave goodbye to us. Leaving this beautiful place with its super people was difficult.

The night ride to Mexico City passed quickly, arriving at 6am we booked into a hotel so that we could wash and brush up for a lunch engagement that had been arranged with the Johnnie Walker distributors in Mexico City.  The meal was excellent and the company of the Mexican businessmen bearable, after lunch we were treated to a tour of the earthquake damaged sector.  This resembled a film set showing the aftermath of the blitz in the Second World War.

The following day we left for England, again via Amsterdam, landing early Sunday morning and so to the Hunter's by lunchtime.

The final score was 20km of new passage explored and surveyed, over 100 entrances noted, the deepest cave was over 600m and most importantly a good time was had by all with no deaths, injuries or diseases.

Bob Cork


 

Letter to the BB

S.R.T. Tackle

Whilst welcoming Tim Large’s comment about the proposed S.R.T. equipment in the last BB., I would like to put forward the other side of the debate.  I should first take issue with some of the points he has raised.

1.                  No record of a discussion about S.R.T. at an AGM has been found so, presumably there is no set club policy about the equipment

2.                  The suggested tackle would not be for general club use.

3.                  a. The tackle would be stored off Mendip and would only be used on organised club meets in Yorkshire, Derbyshire etc. (This is a system already used very successfully by other Mendip caving clubs).

b. The Tackle Master would administer it and keep a log of usage. He would also check for damage and say when a rope is unsafe.

c. There is a demand for group S.R.T. equipment amongst the younger, less wealthy members of the club.  In real terms we do not have the facility to teach the up and coming keener members the basics of modern vertical caving techniques, let alone bottom any respectable Yorkshire pot.

d.  A basic stock of maillons, hangers etc should be kept a a foundation to be supplemented by the individuals on the trip.

4.                  On the Berger trip, worries were expressed for two reasons, the main one being misuse of equipment due to the inexperience of various members of the team.  I would have thought that their experience should have been gained closer to home in order that they may not jeopardise an expensive and well organised trip abroad.  The Berger S.R.T. training meets showed up a lack of basic knowledge in several members of the party.

5.                  If the tackle were kept in the Tackle Shed for general use, would be inclined to agree with Tim that its safety would always be suspect and the hardware would disappear in no time.  However, as I suggested in point 3, this would not be the case.

6.                  What can possibly be more important than caving equipment in a caving club??  We have just spent a small fortune in refurbishing the hut (and very nice it is too), but surely the ultimate objective 15 to get people caving proficiently.

In summary, it is unrealistic to expect the younger members of the club to cave solely on ladder when a much wider scope to their activities is offered to them with S.R.T. There is, of course, a responsibility to the individual to equip himself with a reasonable amount of equipment but you cannot expect anyone to be self sufficient in ropes, bolts etc for a long Yorkshire trip.

Clearly it is a subject that is open to debate.  As Caving Secrtetary I have been asked to organise some Yorkshire trips and do not propose to bottom large systems on ladder.  Nor do I intend to leave it to chance that the Individuals coming might just be able to muster up enough ropes, hangers etc. for the job.  The only alternative as I see it is to forget the ideas of meets elsewhere in the country and let the club potter around the hill on ladder with individual members taking the initiative upon themselves for more ambitious trips - but doesn't that make a mockery of the existence of a large caving club in the first place?

The committee will not go ahead with the purchase of Club Meet S.R.T. tackle without first publishing its exact proposals and ensuring that it is carrying out the wishes of the caving members, so let us know what you want.

Mark


 

Upper Flood Swallet

Upper Flood is a conservationist’s headache.  Now read on ...

Originally known as Blackmoor Flood Swallet this cave was one of the bonuses of the 1968 flood that washed away the Forty and the road at Velvet Bottom.  The heavily choked passage was originally explored by the MCG and subsequently dug by both Willie Stanton and that club whose headquarters lie conveniently within walking distance.  Although the cave promised much, lying at the head of the Velvet Bottom catchment area near the limestone/shale boundary with a potential 700 feet of vertical range, it became clear that siege tactics were required. The once roomy ancient stream passage was choked with fill, stal obstructions and lead tailings.  It has taken nearly 17 years of digging, blasting, wall construction and back filling to gain access to the present cave.  It has paid off for the MCG who now have in their grasp potentially one of the deepest caves on Mendip, if not the country, and despite the length of the known cave the depth potential still remains.

The entrance lies on land controlled by the county council which is why access arrangements are fairly tight.  Parties of four including a MCG leader are allowed down but due to the nature of the cave overcrowding and damage to formations can be a risk if more than one or two groups are down the cave.  My interest in the cave was photographic and it must be said that it lends itself to photography magnificently.

A concrete barrel shaft drops two metres into a small chamber from which a flight of steps leads to a rift passage.  A further short drop intercepts a small stream.  Upstream can be followed for a short distance while downstream continues as a stooping or crawling size passage on a very shallow gradient.  At various points evidence of the Intensive excavations can be seen In the form of walls.  Malcolm Cotter tells me that in places the passage has been back filled to a depth of 1.5 metres or more.  Eventually after 275 metres or so the roof lowers to a muddy grovel partially full of water.  However, the enthusiasm of the explorer is more than stimulated by the draught of cold air and the sound of running water.  A wriggle up a mud covered stal slope and a squeeze through stal curtains leads to one of the most dramatic entrances on Mendip.

One stands (carefully avoiding the numerous straws above ones head) on a big stal slope in a roomy well decorated chamber.  On one's right a large stream gurgles out of the wall, crosses the chamber~ and splashes off at bottom left into the enticing darkness. This is Midnight Chamber, the breakthrough point. 

Upstream the passage is a low crawl to a sump whilst downstream the cave continues as a crawl. Here the damage to stal formations is most evident and I suspect that although this is by far the most vulnerable part of the cave that much of the destruction was caused by the excited first explorers.  This is hardly surprising because the passage consists of a crawl about 1.5 metres high and 1 metre wide along the walls of which are arranged a mass of stals on a false floor whilst the roof is studded with a forest of stalactites.  Delicate crawling in the stream leads to a boulder obstruction through which one gingerly worms into the next section.

Here the streamway widens a little but the roof remains low.  Some attractive stal bosses can be seen on ledges on the left and there is enough exposed limestone to observe the nature of the rock.  It is extremely shaly and it seems to me that the best formations can be seen in the shaly sections.  Stal formations and shale seem to go together – does anybody know why? Anyone also cannot fail to notice the black marks on many of the stalagmites.  Closer examination shows the marks to have legs and that they are the remains of dead flies.  Presumably flies hatch from eggs carried in by the stream on rotting vegetation and then die from lack of food.  Incidentally there is little evidence of flood damage to the formations which suggest the streamway can cope with large volumes of water of that the ingress of water is limited.  Now that there is an excavated entrance to the cave a repeat of the 1968 floods could destroy the decorations and the MCG have already thought in terms of constructing some kind of flood gate to the entrance.  The streamway turns a corner passing a massive stal bank on which are arranged numerous numbers of totem pole stalagmites, some at angles suggesting breakage and re-cementing.  The straws in this section are some of the best on Mendip.  Just before the stream dives into a bedding crawl one can see clumps of stal on the floor.  If one looks closely one can see straws that have been formed, broken off, and have been re-cemented before the floor they were on was broken off, and washed into the stream.  I must say that this suggests to me that the cave is pretty ancient!

Beyond the bedding crawl one enters the second largest chamber which is really a washed out shale bed. Some nice false flooring remains here. A squeeze under boulders at stream level leads to another bedding passage which suddenly develops as a rift at a corner.  Here one can walk upright for only the second time since leaving Midnight Chamber. This state of affairs doesn’t last long because another crawl looms up.  Here the roar of a waterfall can be heard but disappointment soon supervenes as the stream is found to drop 3 metres down a narrow slot into a low sumped-up crawl which has not been passed since I last visited the cave, just before Christmas.

All is not lost however for above the waterfall is a short climb into a small decorated chamber.  A low excavated crawl leads to the current terminus – a tube filled with stal false flooring and mud.  It is possible to gaze into the promised land beyond and feel the hint of a draught.  The spoil heap in the chamber has been decorated with examples of cave art ranging from the obscene to the ingenious.  At the end of the cave one is less than 30 metres below the entrance with most of the depth potential of the system unrealised.  God knows what will happen to the pretty bits if the system gets really massive – hence my initial statement.

Peter Glanville – January 1986


 

The Gouffre Berger

The first time I heard rumour of an expedition to the South of France was in an art lesson at school. At that stage I had no idea that I would be a participant, but on hearing that it was to be a club trip with everybody involved, I was determined not to be left out.  I borrowed and begged as much as possible and the rest I was; able to buy due to the “Ian Dear memorial Fund” grant.  The few SRI practices I was able to go on, because of my exams, indicated that my SRT was very poor, in fact, the only time I was confident of it was at the top of Ruiz.

The journey down to the South of France as tiring but enjoyable.  We avoided the motorways~ sticking to the country lanes, thus seeing a little more of France.  The second night of travelling we broke down, but luckily it was only half a mile from the campsite.  When we did arrive the following morning, I couldn’t believe the view from the plateau where we camped, as I’d never seen mountains before.  The Alps appeared so close, yet high and majestic.

The afternoon we arrived I managed to damage my ankle, and so was forced to sit around for a couple of days, resting it and cursing.  The first trip that I managed was to the Gournier with Robin, Paul and John, my travelling companions.  The cave was superb.  In the entrance was a beautiful, crystal-clear lake which had to be swum to gain entry to the cave.  The freezing swim was followed by a short ladder climb into extensive passages With powerful formations.  As my ankle coped with the Gournier I was ready to have a go at the Berger.

The hike from the campsite to the cave entrance almost finished me off but putting my kit on brought the adrenalin pumping back!  After a year of Mendip cave entrances the entrance to the Berger was quite awe inspiring. A large hole in the ground surrounded by scaffolding and memorial plaques to those who have died there.

I started descending the Berge, midday on the Thursday, with Robin G., Paul M., Edic H. and John C. We each had kit bags for food, sleeping bags etc.  Mine seemed to weigh a ton, I think I took too many packets of glucose sweets!  I really enjoyed the descending of the cave - that was until we reached Aldo’s.  Aldo’s terrified me.  After traversing over the top I sat shaking at the top of the pitch.  I peered ever the edge to see the others but all I could see were pinholes of light.  I took a few deep breaths and with great care abseiled down.  At the bottom I felt completely overwhelmed and couldn’t say a word.

The Gouffre Berger was big! The passages were on a mega-Yorkshire scale.  The boulder piles and pitches were of a size I’ve never seen before and personally wouldn’t mind not seeing again.  The formations were spectacular, especially the Hall of Thirteen.

At Camp 1 we had a welcome cup of tea before carrying on.  Just after the Hall of Thirteen Paul slipped and twisted his ankle.  Robin volunteered to return with him whilst John, Edric and myself carried on.  I thought the second half of the cave was similar to an overgrown Swildons, but more exciting.  As the cave grew wetter my furry suit grew baggier and soggier.  I had a slight hiccup with my SRT 8ft off the ground on one of the wetter pitches but by standing on Edric I was able to unhitch myself. As we ventured deeper and deeper into the cave, the feeling we got from meeting people coming from the bottom spurred us on.  Finally we arrived at the top of Little Monkey and stopped to check our carbide supplies but found that they were low.  We decided we ought to turn back two pitches from the bottom.  It wasn’t until we started going up the pitches that I noticed how tired I was.  Edric hurried on as he was cold, whilst John and I ambled back to Camp 1.  I found myself getting slower and slower and dropped off to sleep if we stopped.   After 19 hours underground we reached Camp 1.  I felt absolutely shattered.  We stripped off our damp kit and crawled into sleeping bags.  I didn’t sleep but to stop moving was reward enough.  Six hours later we started making moves to go out. I think one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was crawling out of my warm sleeping bag into damp cold kit with the feeling of dread from knowing what is to come and that it’s all up hill! From Camp 1 to the surface I ate glucose tablets by the packet so that now and again I had spurts of energy.  At Aldo's I had a panic.  My chest jammer would not run up the rope correctly and kept coming off.  John calmed me down, sorted the jammer out and convinced me that I could do it. Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, I clipped my cow’s tail in at the top of Ruiz.  I vowed then and there not to go down again.  The elation and relief I felt was immense, only comparable to seeing daylight the next morning or to using Dany's udder cream on my "Berger" hands.

Other caves we explored whilst in France were the BournilIon and Padirac.  Bournillon must have the most impressive cave entrance in Europe.  Padirac, a show cave, had too many steps and too many people waiting to see it.  The rest of the holiday was spent discovering French cuisine, sight-seeing and doing tent duties.  The area in France where we were staying was beautiful.  I found it difficult to adjust to waking to a view of the Alps each morning.  Their character constantly changed during the time that we spent there. During the sunny days they appeared inviting, at night time a vague outline but during the spell of freezing weather only their awesome presence could be felt.

Thinking back now about the Berger, I don’t think it was as physically difficult as people tend to believe but more psychologically difficult.  The feeling of desolation at the bottom of Aldo’s and the desperation to get out was much harder to cope with than any of the caving done within the Berger.  All in all, it was an experience I’ll never forget and a superb trip.

When’s the next one?

Lisa Taylor


 

Daren Cilau.  The Story so far ….

Andy Cave, Steve Allen and crew had made such a fine job setting up the Hard Rock Cafe, many miles down in Daren Cilau that we, Steve Milner, Mark Lumley, Snablet, Dave and Alan Turner, had to go and pay them a visit.  The Hard Rock Cafe was superb; good food, plenty of whisky, good sounds from the Ghetto Blaster and most of all, good company.

As a minor distraction we turned our minds to a little bit of digging, just to break up the hilarity. Steve Allen and Andy Cave made the first breakthrough into new stuff at 3pm on Saturday, the second breakthrough came 2 hours later into Agrophobia Airbell (say no more).  The time came however, for the (Hey, You, the) ♫ROCK STEADY CREW♫: Steve Milner, Mark, Snablet & Henry to start work.  After 2 hours digging in soft sand, Steve, threatened with burial, broke through into low sandy passage, inadvertently kicking in the passage behind. It took some time for the remaining crew to catch up with the elusive caver.  The Rock Steady Cruise, a lofty phreatic passage adorned with minute aragonite, gypsum and selenite crystals was discovered.  Unfortunately, the passage closed down around the next corner leaving a 6" airspace draughting strongly.

It was time then to retreat and let the next shift have a go.  Andy Cave made the next breakthrough, he too was threatened with sand avalanches but then the Peace Pipe was passed.  The passage beyond, the High Flyer, changed character becoming cleaner but more friable without diminishing in size.  The present terminus (" Brazil" 'cos its a long way away) saw some 6 hours of intermittent digging but no breakthrough was made.  As it draughts so strongly the digging teams will be back very soon.  The Rock Steady Crew emerged from the cave after 32 hours, Steve Allen & Andy Cave after 46-48 hours.

SEE THE NEXT ISSUE FOR - The Story so far…….

Steve Milner