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On The Oregon Trail

As a change from Butcombe, I nipped off to the Pacific North West of America to have a few BudweiserÂ’s - and also a bit of walking in the Cascade and Olympic mountains and along the Oregon coast.  Superb walking, especially in fresh November powder snow.  The place is a backpacker's paradise, particularly in the summer.  Unfortunately there is not a great deal of speleological interest at this time of year, except respectable caves on Vancouver Island, some lava tubes and Ice caves.  I thus failed to get underground in a speleo sense at all.

One aim was to travel down the central spine of Oregon, the Cascades, to look at lava tubes, fossil beds, Crater Lake and other morsels but unusually severe snow prevented me from getting even remotely close, let alone a look-see, I did have however get 'underground' three times.

** In the late 1890's, Seattle in Washington State was blessed with a wonderful sewage system whereby the gentry on the hilly parts slopped their stuff downhill in hollowed out tree trunks. The mess then settled un-firmly on the lower parts which had been re-graded and built up out of mud and sawdust from the thriving lumber business.  Muck and sawdust do not make good foundations so various events, primarily a bit of a blaze, prompted the almost complete re-building of the city in the early 1900's - 12 ft higher than the previous level.  You can thus descend into the depths and walk along the old streets, see original shop fronts, walk through an old speak-ezee cinema etc. Irwin and Knibbs would call it an easy stroll with no technical difficulty, no specialist knowledge or equipment.

** Hailed as the biggest sea cave in the world (some hope - what about Fingal's) this one in the wilds of the Oregon coast contains literally thousands of sea lions.  Technically it is a littoral cave (formed by wave cut action).  Access is by the ultimate SRT experience, a lift down 250 ft into a Semtex blasted passage that would put Bowery to shame. There is no problem with route finding - you just follow the smell and the noise.  The smell really is overpowering, very much like the Belfry bunkroom after a Saturday night barrel.  You don't stay down there for long - a bit like Jim Smart's caving. The sea lions push and barge, honk and wallow in the mud. reminding me instantly of Chris Castle. "Moderately Interesting" on the Irwin/Knibbs scale.

** An island of the Pacific coast is now the proud owner of the most secure BEC sticker - under the bunk bed of cell 48B. Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. A past occupant was Al Capone. They now let you down into some of the earlier dungeons, easier to get out of the West End, Piers Pot, Coral Squeeze or the Hunters.  In 1963 four inmates did a wondrous bit of digging and squeezing to get out of their cells through enlarged ventilation grills.  I couldn't even get my head through, not that that's saying much.  Needless to say they perished in the swirling, treacherous streamway known as ' Fricso Bay.  "Hours of fun for the intrepid digger and one hell of a sump outside" is how Irwin & Knibbs would have it.