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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Martin Torbett

Committee Members

Secretary: Nigel Taylor
Joint Treasurers: Chris Smart, Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Roz Bateman
Editor: Martin Torbett
Caving Secretary: Rich Long
Tackle Master: Mike Willett
Hut Engineer: Toby Limmer
Hut Wardens: Vince Simmonds, Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in general

Club members should note: There is now a digital keypad as well as the key lock on the Belfry door.  Please do not compromise club security and members privileges by giving this number to non-members especially those who may already have a key!!

Editors Plea

I would ideally like someone to assist with the compilation of articles, collection of same from authors and help with the rolling calendar.  Also all of you out there, it is your magazine - thank you to all regular contributors but I need more from you.  A small read through the log shows that many trips take place but few get to my in tray!  If you can write, please send it in!  No articles, no magazine.  It's up to you!

Editors Page

Like all editors in the entire world, I have been extremely busy and have had little contact with the world of caving recently other than to take youngsters down Goatchurch as part of my work at the Charterhouse Centre.  I can often be contacted there during the day on 01761 xxxxxx.  I do have an e-mail address though and a lot of things come to me through that medium.  First a message from GREG BROCK, who has been hard at work on the club website.  Greg writes the following.  The new BEC website is now fully up and running.  Please Log on and give your comments on it so that it can be improved. Also please sign the visitors book. The address is 

You can contact Greg at the address below.  Greg@[removed]


Pete Rose has sent me a picture of the new entrance to Withyhill Cave before it has been fully covered over and profiled.  This seems worthy of a caption competition to go with the photograph.  Best entries either suggested in the Hunters Lodge or sent to me with judging by a totally partial panel.

From an e-mail received from Rob Harper.  As you may, or may not, know, there was a trip by several BEC members to Chile during February.  I was just discussing this with J’Rat in Bat Products.  Between us we worked out that we were in the Atacama Desert while he was in Cherrapunji.  Thus the BEC had the distinction of having club members at both the driest and the wettest places in the world at the same time!

Also on a sad note, I publish three obituaries

Arnold (Sago) Rice died on Thursday 25th May - Full obituary to follow next issue.  Ed


Graham Balcombe

Francis Graham Balcombe was born 8th March 1907 and died 19th March 2000.

Graham as he preferred to be called, was an engineer with the Post Office, and spent a lot of time installing aerial systems around the country.  He teamed up with a fellow engineer, Jack Sheppard, the CDG surviving President, and they formed a formidable climbing team.  They pioneered and improved many climbing routes in the Lake District and Wales.  Graham was credited with a number of unorthodox solo climbs, church steeples, office corridors etc., not always appreciated by officialdom.  As their prowess increased, their climbing activities were practised whenever they could; and when working at the Daventry site on the AS, in good weather they would climb a radio mast to eat their lunch on the top.  There is a story of a handstand being done on the flat top of a mast.  While climbing in the North, they met members of the Northern Cavern and Fell Club who were on Great Gable.  In discussion they were invited to try potholing (1932).  They liked it and now spent weekends down potholes instead of up mountains.

Eventually they were sent to work on radio stations in Somerset.  There they contacted the local caving expert, Herbert Balch who introduced them to the leading caver of the area, "Digger" Harris.  He was a respected solicitor in Wells, but he broke out at intervals to drive the town fire engine!  He introduced them to many local caves, including Swildons Hole which soon became important to them.  This had been explored as far as a sump by 1920.  This sump they tackled by conventional means, looking for a by-pass; but eventually they resorted to explosives.  This was not entirely appreciated by the locals as one charge had to be re-primed due to a misfire and went off a bit late on a Sunday morning during the service in the church - vertically above the sump, the congregation "felt the earth move" and the vicar was not amused.

By 1934 they had decided to try diving and Graham constructed a sort of snorkel part of which incorporated part of a ladies bicycle frame. It had non return valves and was connected to a piece of garden hose.  This was not successful firstly by reason of physics and secondly by the attachment of the hose coming undone underwater!!

On these first attempts they wore the caving gear of the time--old clothes!


Graham balcombe photographed recently in Bat products

Cold was a vital factor. Jack went on to produce a complete dry suit fed by a football inflator, and he used this to pass the sump. 1000ft further on he met a second sump but could go no further as he lacked a pump operator.  Spurred on by this Graham later attached a small oxygen cylinder to his device, and on a solo trip, passed both the 1st. sump and most of the 2nd sump.  He used synchronised breathing with opening the valve on the cylinder, and the gas ran out as he got back.  He nearly died of hypothermia on the way out.  The sherpa party found him shivering over a candle part way out of the cave.  In 1935 they were loaned and taught to use Siebe Gorman standard diving gear.  Due to its weight and bulk they explored Wookey Hole as far as they could drag their hoses.  During and after the war Graham built an oxygen re-breather and used it in various Yorkshire caves.  His transport was a tandem and trailer that his wife helped him to pedal push from Harrogate and other railheads.  By 1946 his diving equipment had been supplemented by some commercial sets and a number of enthusiasts met in S. Wales in an attempt to tackle a resurgence called Ffynnon Ddu. While there they decided to form a group.  The Cave Diving Group was born!  For several years Graham was Chief Diver, Trainer, Secretary and Treasurer--and he was what one would call a benevolent despot!  (Some were heard to refer to him as the Fuhrer behind his back)

Eventually the strain got too much and a more conventional committee took his place, and he was kicked upstairs as President, more or less his words.

I first met Graham as a comparatively raw recruit, and I was somewhat in awe of him, but found like a lot of rather abrupt people, his bark was worse than his bite!  He must have approved of me because we were diving partners on two dives before he handed in his gear and "retired".  On one of these we found an air filled chamber and a lot of passage underwater.  Although retired he was always pleased to see visitors and talk shop.  My wife was amazed by the wide range of his interests and his persistently enquiring mind.  I kept in irregular contact with him and took him to diving functions and AGMs etc. until his recent illness.  He will be sadly missed by his friends and leaves a large legacy of books, reports and articles that will take a lot of sorting and cataloguing.  He is survived by his stepson.

John Buxton



On 25th February this year Richard Websell committed suicide.  He was not a member of the BEC but he was well known to many of the members.

Richard was born and raised in Salisbury and started caving while at school.  Together with Andy Sparrow, Dave Walker and others he founded the Salisbury Caving Group whose members eventually joined mainstream Mendip Clubs. His academic years in London brought him into contact with SWETCC in the heyday of such characters as Aubrey Newport, Trevor Faulkner and the unforgettable Brian Quillam.  This as much as anything influenced his move into the Wessex.

I first met him in the late 70's.  Our views on caving and its ethics were identical and together with Paul Hadfield we formed a very active caving partnership during the exciting, and occasionally fraught days, of the development of SRT.  We both joined the CDG.  With Al Mills loaning equipment and giving advice ("Don't go below thirty feet those bottles are filled with welding oxygen") embarked on a series of "learning" trips - also quite fraught on occasion.  When I defected to the BEC we still carried on caving together on a regular basis.

His short stature and reserved manner tended to obscure the fact that he was a very hard caver. Although primarily a tourist caver both in Britain and Europe he did take part in original exploration - most notably in the pushing of Gough's cave in Cheddar and in Norway.  No underground hazard or problem seemed to bother him and his sense of humour never seemed to fail however grim the situation.  I remember one occasion in Mangle when it appeared that we would both be trapped by my inability to get back through the squeeze out of Aldermaston Chamber even after stripping off my wet-suit.  Eyeing my pink body apparently irrevocable wedged, Rich was heard to comment that it was like stuffing a marshmallow into a piggy bank.

In his youth he had been a bit "wild" and his life had not been without its problems. However we all thought that was behind him since he met Anne twelve years ago.  He seemed settled and thus the news of his death was a terrible shock. At his funeral the chapel was crowded and overflowing.  A testament to his popularity and not solely within the caving world.

On a personal note. He was my close friend; a kind, funny and totally dependable man who was always good company.  I still cannot believe that he has gone.

Rob Harper


"New Beer Warnings"

Club members may have problems relating to this compilation of beer warnings-Ed

From an e-mail received from the former editor Estelle

Due to increasing products liability litigation, beer manufacturers have accepted the Medical Association's suggestion that the following warning labels be placed immediately on all beer containers:

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is a major factor in dancing like a Wan*er.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to tell the same boring story over and over again until your friends want to smash your head in.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to thay shings like thish.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe that ex-lovers are really dying for you to telephone them at 4 in the morning.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may leave you wondering what the hell happened to your trousers.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you can logically converse with other members of the opposite sex without spitting.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you have mystical Kung Fu powers.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause you to roll over in the morning and see something really scary (whose name and/or species you can't remember).

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of inexplicable rug burns on the forehead.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may create the illusion that you are tougher, more attractive, and smarter than some really, really big guy named Franz.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to believe you are invisible.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may lead you to think people are laughing with you.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may cause a flux in the time-space continuum, whereby small (and sometimes large) gaps of time may seem to literally disappear.

WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may actually cause pregnancy.

Skittles Night

Craven Pothole Club joined Wessex and BEC members for a skittles match at the New Inn, Priddy on 27m May 2000.  I was a late arrival, but found the members and guests in great form, both skittles and beer going down well.  On the scene reporter Greg Brock managed to preserve the final outcome on his arm!  A fun and enjoyable night was had by all. No formal competition was set up just a social event with prizes for the highest scoring participants.  A £1 entry fee was taken from each person and the profit of the event will be donated to Sarah Blick to help her get to the Advanced base camp of K2 on the 26.07.00.  In amongst all the social drinking the winners of the event were: -

Cliff - Highest male scorer.

Judy Clark - Highest female scorer.

Judie - 2nd highest scoring female who won the boobie prize.

Don Mellar - 2nd highest scoring male who won the other boobie prize


Stock's House Shaft - The Spring Offensive

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos. 502, 504-506.

February 2000 commenced with the escorting of an MCG Wednesday night tourist party around Five BuddIes Sink and the Shaft.  Needless to say they were then conned into assisting with the dig and 50 bags were hauled out while, in the depths, vast amounts of rock was being moved along the level.  Some of them even threatened to come again - but haven't yet!  During the rest of the month and early March another 160 loads reached the surface and four more new diggers were recruited.  Much of the work involved transporting full bags and rocks from Heinous Hall to the Shaft.

On the 13th March the last two boulders from the Heinous Hall collapse were banged and on 15th another 46 loads were hauled out.  Analysis of water samples by Roger Stenner seemed to indicate that the Upstream Level inlet is fed by water from Waldegrave Pool - as is the flow from the Treasury of Aeops.  As these levels went in different directions this seemed odd.  Further water samples were taken on the 19th, both underground and on the surface.

During the rest of March another 214 loads were laboriously hauled out on the man winch but life improved considerably on 2nd April when Ivan arrived with the newly fettled, trailer mounted hydraulic winch and painlessly removed another 74.  The following day, with the assistance of two press-ganged Grampian men, down from Inverness, another 74 came out on the hand winch - in a rapidly worsening snow blizzard.  Work continued on clearing the Upstream Level on the 4th and the terminal inlet sump was drained to enable an airspace to be felt beyond.  This was investigated further the following day and found to be the continuation of the Level.  With high water conditions it was left for the stream to excavate for us.  Another 75 bags reached the surface.

On 6th April the writer, digging in the floor of the Upstream Level on a solo trip, was fortunate to find an almost complete and nicely decorated clay pipe buried in the silt on the RH side of the passage just upstream of the 5m aven (now named Pipe Aven).  Its fine state of preservation may be due to its having been protected by wooden shoring along the Level wall - now rotted away.  Being still intact and useable it is postulated that the pipe may have been put down by its owner and fallen behind the timbers.  The cherry-like designs on the bowl are stylised tobacco plants and on one side is what appears to be a church window or bishop's mitre with a star below.  The circled W on the other side may be the initial of the pipe maker.  Further research is being done on the date and origin of this minor treasure and the current "guesstimate" is late 1700s - possibly from the Oakhill area.  It will eventually be displayed in Wells Museum. A small piece of clay roof tile was also found.


On this trip the now drained sump was further enlarged to gain access to another 20ft of level, bearing to the WNW under the road and towards the ruined Stock's House.  This now added weight to Roger's drainage theory. It was pushed further on 9th by the writer and Greg Brock who demolished a small roof collapse to continue for another 15ft to a choke. Next day the backfilled naturale (?) passage on the SE side of Pipe Aven was partially excavated.

Another 46 loads came out on the hydraulic winch on 12th April and a set back occurred next day when a fairly major roof fall just beyond Pipe Aven luckily happened while the writer was having a fag break at the Shaft.  The 16th saw 74 loads out, more water samples taken and the new collapse banged.  A follow up blasting project the next day was curtailed by more raining boulders.

This is another example of the roof of the level coming down when the supporting infill is removed. Bits of rotten timber and black staining show that all these dodgy areas were previously timbered up by the Old Men who were fully aware of the consequences of leaving them unsupported.

On 26th April Trev and team cleared most of this fall, despite having to dodge more rocks, and hauled 30 loads out.  May started with 87 bags out on the 3rd and the next few days were spent in lowering the floor of the Upstream Level to gain access to the visible continuation. This was entered on the 8th May in high water conditions and found to be aloft long section of apparently modified natural streamway with an attractive section of scalloped grey limestone at the start.  51 more bags came out two days later. Three clearing sessions were then done in the Level during which some natural/mined alcoves were revealed directly under the road. These will be fully excavated at a later date.  The arrival of summer and associated problems was heralded by the stealing of our modified wheelbarrow and the throwing of a full bag of cement down the Shaft by some pathetic pratt.

The hydraulic winch was in operation again on the17th when 66 loads came out after considerable experimentation with tying-on techniques.  Eventually a system was devised whereby ten loads could be hauled up in one go.

The Scene on 3rd April at Stock Hill (you can just sees the winch)

Andy Elson emerging from the "natural" section of the Upstream Level.  Photo by John Williams, 22nd April

Visitors from Kent Underground Research Group were shown the workings on 20th May (and persuaded to shift a few bags) and the next day a mere 3 loads were hauled out by Rich Witcombe who was excavating a trench across the flat ground behind the winch to see if it could have been a horse whim circle.  He found no evidence for this so this ground can now be used to extend the spoil heap.  Down below work was continuing on clearing the Upstream Level and on the 22nd the collapse at the end was poked with a long crowbar to bring down another supply for our regular rockery customers. Caveable passage could be seen above the collapse but it was deemed prudent to leave it to settle - the healthy water flow continuously washing out the fine silt and gravel.

An exciting evening was had on 25th when 87 loads came out, generally a dozen at a time, on the hydraulic winch.  The weight caused the scaffold tripod to slip - heavy bits of metal narrowly missing the unloading team.  At the Shaft bottom a couple of head sized boulders had the same effect on the loading team as they ricochetted into the two different levels where they were sheltering.  Valuable lessons were learnt for future winching as having two thirds of the digging team wiped out in one go would be counter-productive!  The last rock out to surface contained a superb shothole section, 23mm in diameter and 116mm long to the bottom of the hole - which still contained a greasy black deposit.  This was collected for possible analysis as it is likely to be the residue of the burnt gunpowder charge.  The spring session ended with 104 bags to surface on 31st May.  Hopes are now on the weather drying up (some hope!) for a late summer push downstream.

This section will be walking sized when the floor spoil is removed ..

Additions to the Digging Team

Wayne Hiscox, Arthur Spain, Greg Smith, Roger Wallington, Mick Lovell, Brian Pittman, Viv Beedle (all MCG), Dave Boon (Frome CC), Barry Hewlett, Danny Burnett, Steve Windsor, Fergus Taylor (ex Camborne SMCC), Mark Denning, Estelle Sandford, Martin Parsons, Ken Ansty (Blackmore CG), John Moorhouse (Soton DCC), Jim Conway (Grampian SG), Dave Hodgson (GSG), Mike Merritt (SMCC), Chris Franklin, Ian Butler, Dave Morgan, Phil Spice, Nick Smith, Peter Burton (Kent Dnd. Res. Group), Mark "Gonzo" Lumley.

Additional Assistance and Photography

Graham Mullan (UBSS), Lou Maurice (DBSS), Marek Lewcun ( Bath Arch.Trust), Maurice Hewins (WCC).

Diggers always welcome to J’rat's Digs (or the many others!) Especially welcome, thick arms and a natural propensity for grovelling in waist deep mud!  Contact the diggers at the Hunters Lodge Inn, Priddy any Wednesday evening.  Ed


Tales of a lesser known caver Part 2

by the Editor.

As no doubt many of you know, there are lots of cavers who go climbing or walking up mountains.  I know of quite a few.  Perhaps it is some of the yearning to visit beautiful places, perhaps it's the thrill. Whatever it is, I was a relative newcomer to the climbing part of this scenario until quite recently.  As part of my work, I needed to attend a course in first aid and since others at the centre where I work wanted similar training, a group of four instructors drove to North Wales last year and booked up the Climbers Club cottage at Helyg near Llyn Ogwen, Snowdonia.  On arrival late on Friday evening, we were greeted by a terrible smell; similar to one that used to lurk at the Belfry some weekends after a group had visited.  We fumbled around for light switches and got the place warm by lighting the fire - coal supplied, and the smell gradually faded.  Further unpacking took place and then a fridge was opened and the smell came out and seized me by the throat or was it via the nose.  Yes cavers, you have guessed, it was a very former piece of chicken, still in its wrapper that had been left in the icebox.  Later, after gagging and cleaning the suppurating mess out of the fridge, I looked up the date of the last group.  Two weeks ago!  They had dutifully turned off all the power and complied with the plethora of little notices, forgetting to empty the icebox, but remembering to open the fridge door!  Nature had taken its course, but had been frozen once again when we arrived and powered up the place. Appropriate notes were left in the log!  Anyway, back to the point of the tale.

Snowdon from Plas y Brenin (many mines, few caves)

By now it is nearly 11pm and my comrades suggest a freshen up outside.  Packing two full ropes and a rucsac of bits, we are rapidly off up the road to stop at a blurry shape in the dark.  "Milestone Buttress," Chris exclaimed, Off you go Torbs, it's just like caving as it's so bloody dark you can't see anything.  So, Petzl on, up we go!  After about three pitches, I arrive at something akin to the entrance of a cave. In I go only to find I am snuggling up against a large boulder and a wall.  Well it felt safe, so on we go. More ropy things, a traverse across into nothing and a haul up and I can see a glow below.  F**k me it's a bloody great lake!  I am miles up!  Faint tremors of the legs are followed by turning the light out.  Can't see anything so nothing to worry about. "Off you go Torbs", so off upwards I go, finally reaching somewhere called the top.  By now I cannot see the bottom or the top so it is most cave like.  I can see I am on a ledge and there are a couple of other lights, one above, one below, and then we are all together.  "OK, time to get off and to bed", says Chris.  It's now 1.30 a.m. and I am tired.  A long icy, wet gully descends at a steep slope angle, far to slippery to do without a rope, so tie on and down we go, good cave practice this! Soon I am on a flat bit, then on a path, then I see the road and we are back, hot, sweaty and happy, just like a caving trip but in reverse (you go down to get out).  Well that was all fine and we are still alive so home we go.

About a year later, I am in Snowdon again doing some training and drive past Milestone Buttress.  I stop and go up to find the climb but cannot.  Just like a cave you visit in the dark with friends in foreign places, you can never find the entrance!


Extract from the Sherborne Mercury 1816. 

Sent in by Sett.


On Tuesday the 12th day of November, 1816, on the premises, at Priddy Minery, in the parish of Chew-ton-Mendip, in lots:

Lot 1. A STEAM-ENGINE, with a 16-inch Cylinder, Air Pump, and Condenser, standing in a wood frame, with a wrought iron boiler, cast iron round top, 6 feet and a half diameter, nearly new, with a grate thereunto belonging.

Lot 2.  A STEAM-ENGINE, with a 12-inch Cylinder, a wrought iron boiler, six feet diameter, cast iron flat top, with steam pipes, brass cock, and piston.

Lot 3.  Two 8 inch PUMPS, that lift about 30 fathoms with buckets, clacks, and iron rods to the same.

Lot 4.  A LIFTING CAPSTAN, with cogs and nut, standing in a wood frame.

Lot 5.  A STEAM-ENGINE, 6-inch Cylinder, worked with a flywheel & crank, and a 4 feet wrought iron boiler.

Lot 6.  A 6-inch PUMP, that lifts about 15 fathoms, with buckets, clacks, and iron rods to the same.

Lot 7. Sixty yards of INCH-ROPE, nearly new.

Lot 8. Sixty yards of Ditto,          ditto.

Lot 9. Sixty yards of Ditto,          ditto.

Lot 10. A quantity of Hods.

Lot 11. Shovels, Sledges, Mattocks, &c. Lot 12. Iron Screws, Nuts, and Pins.

Lot 13. A quantity of Iron.

Lot 14. Sundry Windlasses.

Lot 15. A quantity of Timber.

Several Servants Beds, Bedsteads, and Bedding, in lots.

Sale to begin precisely at eleven o'clock in the fore-Noon.



By: Ted Howard, manufacturing adviser and R.S. King C.Eng. Aerospace structural specialist.
January 1999

This summary presents facts about the design of karabiners


It is worth reminding ourselves about the function of karabiners used with ropes.

A karabiner is a much used link in a chain of components intended to provide a life support system either potential, to guard against inadvertent fall, or direct employed in a rigged system intended for rescue, access or industrial use.

The potential life support system is only intended to be used in case of a fall. The gear and its placement is more of a hindrance than a benefit apart from its moral support once placed.  Some risk is accepted.

The direct life support system is gear used dynamically for support as a controlled method with full knowledge of its characteristics.  Risk is not acceptable.

The acceptance of risk is the reason that recreational users are content with less robust and lighter gear than the industrial user.

Fitness for Purpose

The choice of a karabiner in a given situation must be its fitness for purpose.  When it is needed it must work.  It must have adequate strength and stiffness and continue to provide these in the working environment.

It is not the purpose of this summary to give the statistical results of tests readily available through the U.I.A.A., nor to arouse the wrath of manufacturers, but some salient points are given in the hope that they will aid selection of karabiners for specific purposes.


1.                  Many karabiners are made of aluminium alloy by user demand in the pursuit of lightness and also to gain a competitive retailing edge.  They have become lighter and lighter.  Advances in manufacturing and materials technology allow this but gradually the load carrying ability of specific karabiners has decreased.

2.                  Given their working conditions, aluminium alloy is probably one of the worst materials that karabiners could be made from.  Weight advantage has been gained by using increasingly higher strength alloys. These alloys are one of the strongest materials on a weight to strength basis that can be utilised currently for their manufacture.  However in the compromise required to achieve higher strengths these alloys also have reduced ductility and tend to crack more readily, with higher crack propagation rates.  This has the consequence that once a small crack appears then because of the concentration of stress and the nature of the material then the high tech. alloys can rupture easily, even under working loads.

3.                  All aluminium alloys have approximately the same low modulus of elasticity so that improvements to stiffness can only be made by careful detail design of the overall shape and the shape of the local cross-section.  Low stiffness means that the gate can deform requiring a screwed gate to restore some strength by providing a load path.  The size of the pins limits the magnitude of the load that can be carried.

4.                  Aluminium alloys are highly prone to corrosion which has given rise to a huge amount of effort devoted to the problem.  Aircraft in particular use these high tech. alloys and are sometimes grounded for weeks while corroded parts are repaired or replaced.  This means being aware of the various types of corrosion.  These are many.  Only three main types are considered here;

a.                  Surface, is caused by an impurity exposed at the surface making a small electrical cell in the presence of water.  The aluminium becomes an anode and corrodes.  The appearance is a flaky white powder.  The repair is to remove this mechanically and polish the exposed surface until no black pitting shows.  Restore the protective finish.

b.                  Sub-surface is caused by corrosion along the grain boundaries, starting at an edge or a hole. Sometimes called exfoliation corrosion, because the metal flakes, it is hard to detect in the early stages when a simple repair might be possible. The undetected corrosion represents a loss of strength.  Usually the repair is to throw the affected item away.

c.                  Galvanic corrosion is caused by dissimilar metals in contact in the presence of water. For example steel hinge pins in aluminium, unless they are coated with cadmium, will cause corrosion. Unfortunately aluminium will be the anode and will corrode.  It then becomes another throwaway job.  Water, particularly with salts, is damaging.  The simplest repair is to remove all corrosion but please note that both strength and stiffness are reduced by material removal!


5.                  Weight.

Design is usually a compromise between a number of conflicting requirements. The best link might be a closed steel loop tested safely at 100kN.  Anything less is a compromise but we are obliged to compromise.  A gate is required, that adds weight and reduces strength.  Weight is always a consideration if someone has to carry it, but how light should we go? Constructional rigging and rescue work recognises more readily that the strength of the links is paramount and in such situations weight can be tolerated if adequate personnel are available. After all, lightness is of no benefit if it leads to failure!

In climbing or caving the choice becomes blurred, with the decision being biased towards lightness in the interest of success.  How often do we contemplate falling off!  Remember too that a direct belay or an abseil point where one or more lives are at risk can be considered to be a direct life support system which needs higher security.

It is a useful exercise for a climber to weigh a rack of twenty lightweight karabiners say 20kN rated, and compare the difference in weight with a rack of twenty 28kN rated.  With due consideration it may be decided to leave a bar of chocolate behind and take the stronger rack - unless chocolate drives you on!

6.                  Material.

Steel is a much more robust and reliable material than the high tech, aluminium alloys and the red rust of corrosion is more easily spotted with less damaging effects.  Stiffness is a function of the material and also of the detail design.  If we assume that an aluminium and a steel karabiner have the same shape (or volume) the following comparisons can be made. The steel unit will be about twice as strong and three times more stiff but three times more heavy than aluminium.  So, for the same strength the steel karabiner would be about 50% heavier.  You'd get about 18 of these aluminium karabiners to the kilogram or 12 steel ones.  Steel is harder than aluminium and better resists abrasion and impact damage.  It's your choice.

7.                  Detail Design.

Since the advent of competition sports climbing, the availability of longer nosed karabiners, to aid fast clipping of protection points, has increased. This may be why they feature prominently in shops and that there are so many of them.  Are they fit for your purpose?

Karabiners are essentially like crane hooks.  The load is intended to be carried through the back which is shaped for maximum strength.  It is also designed for stiffness so that the hook will not deform and allow the load to slip out.  A karabiner has to have a gate and modem design makes it part of the strength but it is also a weakness.  It should not deform so much under static load that it cannot be opened intentionally, in an emergency.

The loaded rope is reacted by transferring a direct tension force across the link.  The sketch (fig. 1) illustrates this.  Any offset from the line between where the load is applied and where it is reacted will cause additional, weakening, bending forces.  The highest strength is achieved by keeping the line of action of the load as close as possible to the back of the karabiner.  This will give the lowest offset bending.

Pull or tension tests to destruction, are done with a karabiner mounted under ideal conditions.  Tests are done with the karabiner mounted with twelve millimetre rods tucked tight into the corners of the back.  This gives the least offset and consequently, the highest strength.  In practice extra offset bending can arise because the loading geometry is different.  If the same test is done with a twenty-millimetre tape in place of the rod then the point of application of the load is displaced from the ideal position and has an extra offset which significantly reduces the breaking strength (fig.2).  If the karabiner is jammed against something so that it can react force sideways then the rope or tape can slip towards the gate.  The offset is now far more than it was designed to be.  In these circumstances there is a danger of premature failure, (fig.3).

The figures illustrate the fact that the greater the offset from the line of action of the load the less the potential strength of the karabiner because extra bending forces arise from leverage.

8.                  Dynamic Performance of the Gate

A good 'open-gate' strength is difficult to achieve.

Consider the gate design.  It is made so that the latching end of the gate (as opposed to the hinge end) has its latching pin in a design distance clearance to the receiving slot in the nose (fig A ).  This allows the back to build up resistance as it comes under load.  The deflection of the back then allows the gate to engage and start to offload the back.  This device delays the build up of strain in the gate so that this weaker component can add its strength just before the back starts to yield (or permanently deform) on its way to failure.  This gate feature greatly improves the resistance of the karabiner.  However because of the reduced stiffness of aluminium alloy with the resulting deflection, avoid screwing up the gate when under load.  It may be impossible to unscrew it without loading it again.

Dynamic testing, involving a given load dropped through a specific distance, fastened to a rope running through a karabiner gave some very interesting results.  These were analysed in slow motion and it could be seen that as a result of the vibration set up in the karabiner the gate oscillated open with increasing amplitude. This sympathetic response would significantly reduce the unit's strength should the impact occur with the gate open. It might also allow the rope to escape. Without a gate to help, the integrity of the unit can be compromised making a sort of Russian roulette.  This should be enough to encourage the use of screw gates, twistlocks or any other gate locking device.  Again, more fuss but a reduced risk.


9.                  Care in Use

Where karabiners are made for a specific purpose they are not necessarily fit for multi-purpose use.

Avoid linking karabiners together.  They have a way of twisting against each other, especially when on a ledge, getting a back against a gate and opening it.  They can then slip apart.  This has been recorded many times.  It is a very real danger.

Lock the gate - against the rope slipping out - against vibration and to improve strength.

A lot of thought and experience has gone into the design and manufacture of karabiners.  They are made more and more for specialist purposes which may not be compatible with your requirements.

Different features often arise not as a technical improvement but as need to produce a new product and stay commercially ahead. "A karabiner is a karabiner" is not necessarily true.


10.              Will they last forever?

No, they do not last forever.  It is essential that any safety equipment, including karabiners, be treated with respect.  Karabiners need cleaning regularly.

·        After use, especially near salt water, wash in warm water with detergent, rinse in demineralised water, dry and lubricate with a water repellent including the gate hinge pin. Remember that soft waxes (WD 40) evaporate and need regular replacement.

·        Check for distortion, bent gate pins, fractured noses, surface damage such as indentations or cracks.

·        Check that there is a take-up clearance (fig A) at the nose latch, particularly if the karabiner has had a shock load.  Lack of clearance may indicate that the unit has permanently deformed and has a reduced strength.

·        Don't forget that one long abseil on a rope which is wet and dirty or covered in mud can scour a groove so deep that it puts an alloy karabiner beyond safe use. Cut it in two and throw it away.

·        Guard against sympathetic vibration by checking the spring resistance against the gate opening in comparison with a good quality new one.  If in doubt contact your supplier to have a new spring fitted. It is a simple job.

·        Karabiners are like any other mechanical device.  They are prone to failure, need maintenance and eventually are unsafe to use.

Choose your equipment carefully with its purpose in mind.  If it is to be part of a direct life support system where weight is not a problem then it is safer to use properly maintained steel.


Meghalaya 2000

by Tony Jarratt

Tom Chapman and the writer were the BEC's representatives on this year's expedition (Brian Johnson and John Whitely being the Club's agents on a separate Devon/Yorkshire trip to the south of the country which I am sure they will write up for the BB!)  The rest of the team consisted of our leader, Simon Brooks (Orpheus & Grampian), Fraser Simpson, Dr. Kate Janossy, Roger Galloway, Pete Dowswell (Grampian), Mark Brown, Dr. Kirsten McCullough (Sheffield Uni.), Kevin Garwood (Canada) and Dr. Mandy Edgemont (S.W.C.C.)  The Meghalayan Adventurers contingent were Brian Karpran Daly (leader), Donbokwell Syiemlieh (organizer), Ronie Mawlong (token small boy), Bokstarland Franklin (organizer/guitarist), George Nongkhlaw, Spindro Dkhar, Betty Chhakchhuak, Neil Sootinck, Lindsay Diengdoh, Andy Tyler, Adora Thaba, Myrkasim Swer (chef), Larsing Suklain (guide, caver and bigamist) and a host of cooks, assistants, drivers, guides etc. Hospitality and entertainment were once again provided by the ever popular Ladies of Shillong.

This trip had two primary aims: - 1) Continuation of the work done by Wells Cathedral School C.C. (1999) in the Sutnga area, Jaintia Hills, east Meghalaya (recced. by us in 1998 and 1999).

2) Recce. in the Garo Hills, west Meghalaya, following on from work done by earlier expeditions.

Aim one was accomplished very successfully, despite a total lack of surveys or information from the Wells team but aim two had to be cancelled due to insurgency problems in the area.

The BEC contingent left Mendip on 9th Feb. after getting a lift to Heathrow with Tony Boycott (who we had exchanged this year for three young and attractive lady doctors - good swap eh?)  Here we met Simon, Kate, Kirsten, Mark and Fraser and flew on to Meghalaya via Amman ( Jordan) Calcutta and Guwahati ( Assam).  A luxury coach then took us on the four hour drive to the capital, Shillong, where we met Pete, Roger and the local lads at the Embassy Hotel.

11th Feb. was a shopping and equipment sorting day followed by party number one at Brian and Maureen’s house.

12th Feb. hangover number one was suffered on the coach to Cherrapunjee (Sohra) where we went for a day trip to a proposed holiday resort owned by Brian's friend Denis Rayen.  Its spectacular location near the village of Laitkynsew gave views of the towering escarpment cliffs of Meghalaya which were as impressive as looking at one wall of the Grand Canyon - greatly enhanced by the endless flat plains of Bangladesh below.  The nearby sandstone cave of Krem Wah Sang was explored and surveyed by Simon, Tom and Mark to a length of 106m and depth of 32m.  Meanwhile, above, the rest of us sat around a bonfire drinking and listening to Roger playing Irish and Scottish folk tunes on his tin whistle as dusk fell over the plains below - we'd arrived!

Next day we left by coach for the five hour journey to Sutnga taking with us Betty (of the unpronounceable surname!) and Kevin - a travelling Canadian who expressed an interest in caving and, more importantly, was a computer programmer (we had two lap-tops with us).  On arrival we established HQ at the village Inspection Bungalow, some 3/4 hours drive from the main limestone block of the Nongkhlieh ridge.

The 14th saw the whole team pushing leads left by the Wells students though the lack of information from them was to frustrate us throughout our time in this area.  Near the village of Lelad, on the north side of the ridge, the horrific boulder maze of Krem Sniang was surveyed for 90m length and 47m depth to the head of a probable 10m+ "pitch".  Any attempt to descend this would have meant dislodging keystones holding up the 47m of boulders above!  It was abandoned in disgust as the strong draught indicated a big cave below.  The name, " Pig Cave", relates to an aberrant porker rescued from the entrance pit before providing sustenance for a village feast.

The nearby Krem Umsohtung was also visited and a pitch descended and surveyed to the head of a second pitch.  We later discovered that this had already been done more lack of information.

Today's best find was Krem Mawshun where a split 20m pitch (left un-descended by Wells C.S.C.C.) led to an extensive horizontal system - see later.

The 51.5m deep Krem Kdong Moomair was bottomed in one pitch by Tom, Mandy, Kirsten and Fraser to a choke. The long snake skin at the top of the shaft caused the explorers, especially Fraser, some concern as to whether its previous occupant was awaiting them below!

On the following day, after a long drive in our Mahindra 4WD pick-up, we arrived at Litien village where a couple of local lads were found to guide us to Krem Wah Sarang ( Rusty Water Cave).  A dry entrance above a small resurgence led to a fine 200m long, 3m wide and 4m high stream passage to another entrance on the far side of a ridge, near the sink. Other small caves nearby were investigated but found to be choked or sumped.  As our pick-up had gone back to HQ we were forced to hitch a lift home in the diesel soaked back of a monstrous 4WD Shaktiman truck - driven by a lunatic who was obviously late for his tea.  This was the most exciting part of the day!

Continuing our recce of this area next day, we went in search of Kut Sutiang - a hill fort with stone-barricaded caves which was stormed by the British in 1862 to eradicate the last of the Jaintia "rebels".  With the hill in sight we made a courtesy stop in Shnongrim village and had tea with the headman. Unfortunately he had previously been approached by the Jaintia Adventurers Assn. - a breakaway group from the Meghalayan Adventurers - and they had requested that the area be reserved for them only. Having experienced India's first case of "caving politics" we beat a diplomatic retreat after bribing the headman with Polaroid photographs of his family.  This short sighted action by the Jaintia cavers will do little to further serious exploration as they have practically no equipment, no vertical experience, no survey kit and very little intention of actually doing any serious caving. They do have a great interest in seeing their names in the papers and encouraging sponsorship though!  This problem will be resolved by next year as we have "friends in high places"

On February 17th-18th survey teams worked in Krem Mawshun to map several hundred metres of impressive streamway and a maze of wet tubes and boulder chokes leading to a large flood resurgence entrance in jungle covered pinnacle karst.  This system's total length was 3.3km.

The 19th was a rest day and we were invited to the village church/school fete very like a typical English one with folk dancing, hoop-la, tea and cakes etc. but with the exciting addition of a couple of fighting bulls let loose in the crowd and no safety fences!! Fortunately no-one got gored and the local bull was champion of the day so the villagers were in fine form, especially after celebrating with the traditional rice beer.  That night another party and sing-song developed.

Scenery above Krem Wah Ryngo

Next morning, late, the whole hung over team travelled by bone shaking Shaktiman for two hours to the remote village of Umteh.  Here we were shown the dry flood resurgence of Krem ah Ryngo ( Charcoal Cave).  With a name like that it was just begging for passage names with a Beatles theme.  On this first trip about 1km of impressive, walking size and up to 10m wide tunnels were surveyed and at least eight main ways on left unexplored.

We returned the next day replete with camping gear and cooks and established ourselves in a deserted coal miner’s settlement consisting of several bamboo framed huts devoid of roofs or walls. While the cooks rebuilt the place we returned to "Ryngo" and split into two teams to survey a further km or so including a huge, well decorated and sparkling chamber, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, and an attractive Gothic-arched phreatic tunnel-Abbey Road.

That night the jungle resounded to the joyful sounds of yet another party - this time with a roaring camp fire.  The departed coal miners would have been impressed as their ghost town sprang back into life for a brief period.

The morning of the 22nd saw the team breakfasting off baked beans, rice and bananas to the accompaniment of monkeys howling in the forest.  Another km was surveyed in "Ryngo" and a short but impressive shaft to surface climbed by Tom.  This was the dry main sink entrance, situated on the south side of the Nongklieh ridge above the camp.  In a plantation here we met three local rice planters who gave us tea, betel nut and biris (Indian fags).  In return we gave them Wills cigarettes and demonstrated the joys of lighting lumps of carbide.  Luckily we had George, a Meghalayan caver with us, who spoke to them in Khasi as they admitted that they were ready to run off and hide on first seeing the strange white men appear from nowhere!  We returned to the camp through the cave and completed a long closed loop to Abbey Road en route.

That evening four of us and the two cooks opted to stay for another night while the others returned to Sutnga.  A huge bonfire and limited rum and fag supply kept us going as we fondly thought of the body-destroying Shaktiman ride our colleagues were suffering.

Corned beef hash, noodles, oranges and bananas set us up for the day and while George and the cooks decamped Tom, Roger and I mapped another 300m of fine passages, loops and a large chamber - The Magical Mystery Tour - which fortunately led back to known cave after a committing climb down in its floor.  A low and wet route upstream from Lucy in the Sky was left unsurveyed due to lack of time and we came out via the top entrance to walk on up the ridge to the dirt road above.  Here we met George and the cooks who had built a roadside fire and prepared tea and biscuits.  As night fell and the strains of Roger's whistle soothed the savage beasts in the surrounding jungle we saw the welcome sight of the pick-up's lights in the distance. Bung, our faithful off-road driver arrived bearing fags and beer and took us back to Sutnga - tired but happy!

Meanwhile big things were happening at the nearby Krem Shrieh ( Monkey Cave).

Mark had rigged the gobsmacking 97m deep entrance shaft to enter a huge stream passage with lots of fossil galleries leading off.  In the adjacent Krem Um Sngad Fraser, Larsing and team had found over a km of streamway, fossil passages and a large downstream sump.  This cave eventually yielded 2.4km.

On 25th four of us drove for, surprisingly, only one hour to our old stomping ground of Lumshnong village. Here a fruitless recce. was done to try and find the resurgence of India's longest cave - Krem KotsatilUmlawan.  A shaft reported by local caver Spindro Dkhar was also not found.  The lower altitude here resulted in tropical temperatures and clouds of multi-coloured butterflies which made up for our lack of discoveries.  The plateau above Krem MaTom (Mf. Tom's Cave) was also looked at and the top of the impressive 30m+ Yorkshire Pot aven (found last year) was located on the surface - shown to us by immigrant colliers.  After tea with the villagers in Thangskai, where we had to arrange guides for the next day, we returned to Sutnga to find that Krem Shrieh had now grown to 1.6km with no sign of an end.

Back to Thangskai the next day for a long recce. in the forest with local guide Moon Dkhar (who we decided got his name due to his arse hanging out of his trousers) about 1 1/2 hours walk from the main road.  The first, Krem Pui Pui (pic above) was found by following a dry river bed downstream to what the non-English speaking Moon seemed to indicate was a small hole

Simon going over the edge at Krem Pui Pui

As we stood, suffering from vertigo, on the edge of an awe inspiring shaft, 34m deep by some 40-50m in diameter we realised that our interpretation was not correct!  With only 10m of ladder and a short length of rope we left it for another day and went to look at the second cave, Krem Thloo Mawriah.  At a mere 13m deep by 25m diameter this was a baby but still too much for our feeble amount of equipment, despite valorous attempts to lasso the top of a tree growing up from the base of the shaft in an attempt to shin down it to the floor. The third cave, Krem Khlien Wah Shyrtong, was reached after a long trek through dense undergrowth.  A small entrance in a cliff led to a 10m+ pitch which Simon found to be capped with loose debris and again needing more tackle than we had with us.  These three pots were formed by breaching of the thick sandstone cover and being in a previously unvisited area held great promise for potentially large cave systems filling in the gap between the Lumshnong and Sutnga karsts.

With the arrival that night of the party-loving Ladies of Shillong, plus a few more Adventurers, the inevitable happened.  Gorged on beer, betel nut and Beatles songs a few hardy souls were suddenly surprised to find that it was daylight.  After staggering off to bed at 6am it was not long before we were up again and on the road to Lumshnong where Brian and I visited the extension in my dig in Krem Umkhang/Kharasniang.  This was to confirm Tony Boycott's report of last year that it was too tight to push further without more banging or awkward hammer and chisel work.  Four other party survivors managed a Krem Kotsati tourist trip.

On 28th Simon, Fraser and I were back at Krem Pui Pui with plenty of rope, SRT kit and a video camera. Simon abseiled first into this mini "Lost World" followed by Fraser, our cameraman.  I joined them to find that the only way on was a sink passage almost completely choked with trees, boulders and bamboo.  I managed to dig through some of this to reach a blind 4m aven and then down through the floor into a most unpleasant section of draughting, spider-infested crawls over rotting vegetation which would need a considerable amount of digging to progress further.  A similar result occurred at Krem Mawriah where the pitch was laddered to reach a boulder choked draughting hole in the floor of the main shaft which would be a suicidal dig.  We had no time left to descend the third cave and our hopes for the potential of this area now having been drastically reduced we headed back to Sutnga to find that the others had had more success, Krem Shrieh now being over 5km.

29th February -St. Alactite's Day.  To celebrate this rare event I joined the Krem Shrieh team on a survey trip.  As my last SRT trip had been a year previously in Synrang Pamiang I was a bit rusty on the changeovers on the 97m entrance pitch so had plenty of time to admire the view and ridiculous amount of exposure!

At the pitch bottom we first mapped 120m of low inlet passage containing a couple of small animal skulls.  Tom then noticed a complete and very dead racoon-like creature curled up in a nest of leaves and still with all it's fur intact.  How did it get here?

On downstream to survey a series of large oxbows and smaller inlets for another 1.5km leaving several huge upper levels unlooked at.  These were in the Orang Utan Series, the cave having a "monkey" theme.  The prusik out in the dark was even more of a "ring clencher" than the descent as tiny spots of light signified colleagues on the chamber floor and lower ropes.

The next day Kate, Fraser, Tom and Mark continued with the survey - three of them opting to stay in overnight to make the most of the time available.  Another 2km was added to bring the final total to 8.66km and the title of India's fourth longest cave, a just reward for the effort and enthusiasm put in by them.  There is still potential for a few hundred metres here by surveying various small inlets.

Brian, Simon, Kirsten and I, led by Larsing, had taken the easy option and returned to Litien village to continue the survey of the impressive Krem Iawe - a river cave partly explored and mapped by the Wells team.  Our only information was a good thumbnail sketch by Kate and a write up in Caves & Caving.  A search by Simon and co. the previous day had failed to reveal the cave and it had become a matter of honour to finish the job.

The redoubtable Larsing took us straight to it and, resisting the temptation to go off looking for another wife to add to his collection, accompanied us underground in dry grots.  We had read the poor description provided and wore life jackets and wet suits!

The deep entrance pot was entered halfway down by a crawl from the surface and a steep slope then followed to a short climb and huge river passage.  On the LH side, facing upstream, we surveyed over 200m of labyrinthine, dry, phreatic passages ignored by the Wells explorers.  Leaving Larsing and the fag supply on a bit of dry ground we then commenced surveying upstream in a waist deep canal.  As we progressed the canal passages multiplied to become a fantastic flooded maze with the chilly water held up by a series of bright orange rimstone dams.  A very large black bat insisted on sharing the same airspace as ourselves and at one point missed the tip of my nose by the thickness of an After Eight mint. With 188m in the bag the maze became even more complicated, time was running out and we were all cold so we left the place with scores of ways on in an underground reflection of the street-like grykes in the pinnacle karst on the surface above.  There will be a few more kms in this place yet and we haven't even looked downstream! The shivering Larsing was collected on the way out and in true form had a bonfire raging at the entrance within seconds.  It’s a wonder that there is any forest left in Meghalaya with the amount of fires visible at night from any high ground.  A surreal walk back across the flat paddy fields in the dark was followed by tea and shortbreads at the local chai shop and the usual Polaroid donation.

March 2nd was our last day in Sutnga and Fraser wanted some video footage of local coal miners. Adora accompanied us to one of the nearest workings to the LB. to act as translator - the miners being immigrant Nepalese. They were delighted to be filmed and much of the medieaval methods of mining such as hauling coal carts, filling baskets etc. was recorded.  We then crawled underground with them to film a collier hand picking a shallow coal seam.  In return they were given Polaroid snaps and lent our Petzl helmets - probably the first head protection they had ever worn!

Later that day we returned to Shillong via the hundreds of impressive, ancient monoliths at Nartiang village.

On 3rd March a day trip to Cherrapunjee (now once again officially the wettest place on Earth) was made to tidy up the survey of the Krem Lumshlan/Rong Umsoh/Soh Pang Bniat system. In three teams we mapped over 700m of ongoing passage in the two main arms of this complicated cave network. Some fine, superbly decorated streamway was found leading to yet another maze of low passages.  Mark had a nasty fall when a bamboo maypole we had persuaded him to slide down snapped under his weight.  We later realised that it had been used as a canopy support over an active limekiln and had subsequently been baked brittle!  Moral - always use green bamboo.

The weekend was booked for a coach ride, ferry trip and beach party to the Ranikor River, near the Bangladesh border.  With the Ladies of Shillong in charge and several crates of beer on board it promised to be a memorable occasion!  We took the scenic road via Mawsynram and eventually reached the river at dusk. This was just enough time to board the ferry for a short voyage to the nearest upriver sandbank where camp was established, huge bonfire built, chef put to work, chicken sledge hammered, food eaten and beer drunk.  The usual sing-song was dampened by heavy showers which necessitated crowded tents of revellers and the omnipresent, whistle playing Ronie.

We awoke to a fine, hot day and chicken curry for breakfast.  A Garo fisherman was hired to take some of us across the river to look at an impressive rock shelter, Lieng U Blei (Gods' Boat), the legend being that the gods were building a vessel but were interrupted by a cock crowing and left it unfinished, upside down -which is exactly what it looks like.

Gods' Boat

Two wooden canoes and their Garo oarsmen were then hired to take us 1 1/2 hours upriver to the first river junction.  It was here that we found out that the caves and limestone were actually at the second river junction, two days paddling upstream!  Making the best of it we spent the day festering, swimming, drinking and admiring a couple of working elephants which appeared from the side valley dragging huge tree trunks.  One also carried Mark and the dreaded Ronie as the mahout had offered them a lift. One of the boats had returned downriver and on to the Bangladesh border post to buy more beer at double the usual price as it was a Sunday.

On the way back to Shillong that night Fraser, Mark and I got dragged into a "shebeen" in Mawsynram to sample the delights of rice beer.  This is sold in a poly bag and looks like a fairground prize without the goldfish!  It was apparently good stuff as none of us went blind.

On 6th March the last caving trip was made to Cherrapunjee where Simon, Kirsten and Mark added 100m to the Umsoh system survey and the rest of us recced the hills above the cave. Some small but interesting sites were found for further investigation next year.

Once again a magnificent time was had and some world class cave explored and surveyed - 20.34 km in all which was well up to standard considering that there were fewer cavers than last year, much more travelling to the caves was done and there were several unprofitable but necessary recce days.  With the 3.8km (snigger, snigger) found by the Devon/Yorkshire team the Meghalayan total is now well over 150km.  Who said there are no significant caves in India?

Our undying thanks must go to the Meghalayan Adventurers - especially Brian and Maureen, the Boks, Rose, Swer, Neil and Betty, Barri and all the cooks, drivers, assistants, Ladies, chai shop owners and beer suppliers (in the words of Fraser "swally wallahs").

REFS:- Edmunds P. "Earthquakes, cobras and marsala tea" Caves & Caving no 85 (Autumn 1999) pp21-23.

Various expedition reports, articles in the BB and International Caver and MSS Logs (A. Jarratt)


New Scientist Radon

A recent article in New Scientist (5th April) warns about the exposure to Radon that cavers could be subjecting themselves to.

"Researchers from University College Northampton and Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon measured Radon in a popular system of caves in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. They found that cavers who spent just 40 hours a year underground could receive a radiation dose of as much as 4 millisieverts - four times the annual safety limit for members of the public recommended by the UN ..... Guides and instructors spending 800 hours a year underground could receive as much as 120 millisieverts five times the safety limit for radiation workers"  (Journal of Environmental Radioactivity vol 49, p235).  Worried cavers should read the article!

White Pit

A new entrance lock has been fitted to the cave as the intellectually challenged have been dropping stones down the entrance shaft.  If you were a previous keyholder either call on Tony Jarratt at Bat Products or contact Rich Long (the caving secretary).

Waterwheel Cave.

Following an act of vandalism in this cave, the access controller, Charterhouse Centre, Near Blagdon, BS40 7XR on behalf of Somerset County Council the landowner, have further restricted access to the cave.  The lock has been changed and the key will only be available via Charterhouse Centre as before.  In future, all visitors will be asked to fill in a log.  Further work on strengthening the lid, retaping sensitive areas and recording formations will take place.  This work will be carried out by Cheddar Caving Club under the guidance of CSCC/Charterhouse.  No novice groups, leader plus six members only.


West Australia 2000

by Mr. Wilson

Rich Long and myself, plus our respective wives decided to visit W Australia in March 2000.  The plan was to visit the various relatives, go walking and fit some caving in.  Rich was going to stay somewhere near Rockingham (south of Perth) and we were staying with Hillary's sister at Yanchep (north of Perth).  As it worked out I never did find out where Rich and his wife managed to stay but I am sure that they really enjoyed themselves!  Hilary and I plus Pat and Neville went down to the Stirling Ranges and camped at the only site there.  I managed to fall foul of "JOYCE" the idiot site owner who seemed to think that customers were there to be patronised.  This was a shame because the site was in a good location in a National Park (hence the monopoly).  Her name was not Joyce but she reminded us of Joyce Grenfell of St Trinians fame.

Hilary, Neville (the brother in law) Pat (the sister in law) and myself managed to ascend two of the major peaks.  Neville did really well - he just took two of his live longer pills and then proceeded to climb (Bluff Knoll 1073m and Tolbrunnup 1052m) Tolbrunnup was the hardest of the two.  These mountains are very much like the Snowdonia range in Wales, but they have their own eco system which is totally opposite to British mountains.  The approach walks are fairly dry and featureless but as you get to the 500m mark the undergrowth starts to sprout, getting more and more lush until the top is reached.  This is due to the cooler temperatures and cloud and rain around the top of the range. It is possible to have difficulty pushing through the thick lush growth on some of the lesser-walked peaks!  This range stands alone in the south west of OZ as the highest points, but 60k south of the Stirlings lie the Porongorups which resemble the Malvern hills, these hills have many more roads leading to the start of the routes and have several camping and caravan sites on or nearby. The region is basically a farming area, mostly cattle on a grand scale probably like the small American ranches.

We liked this area and would have been happy to spend a couple of days more exploring the soft and accessible hills, in the end we managed to ascend two routes here, Castle Rock a super route with a boulder finish and good views, and a short Karri Tree walk through the forest towards Devils Slide.  For those who have an interest in forests the Karri tree walk in Walpole is a must, you walk 30m up on a walkway high in the treetops, we really enjoyed our afternoon there.

Having toured the south coast a little, Hilary and I visited Jewel Cave on a private tourist trip.  This is a stunning cave, very well decorated and well worth a visit.  There are many caves nearby which I visited later. North of Perth in a National Park is Yanchep, a caving area (mostly small caves similar to Burrington). Hilary and I went on a very good walk in the National Park which encompassed most of the caving area (we also found a really superb bunkhouse in the middle of the bush, which would make a good base for cave exploration, see photo).  The major caves in the region are for the tourists, that is Crystal and Cabaret Cave, not overly long.  There are 500 caves in all, mostly numbered.  The principal explorer of the region, Lex Bastian told me that it would be impossible to name all the sites and caves, so you have this quaint situation where someone says we are going to visit no. 54 today, meaningless to anyone else, but very practical!  For example Carabooda Cave (yn 485, the largest cave in the area to date from my map would be 260m 027deg magnetic from yn 484.  This cave is a short distance out from the western foot of a fairly steep ridge, the entrance being the largest solution pipe in the centre of a solution doline with several exposed pinnacles.

The Western Australia Speleo Society were very helpful to me and I managed to spend a busy long weekend with them at Margaret River, the principal caving area at the moment with 300 caves listed at this time!  Their shed is big and roomy but has no water or sanitation plus no lighting, this means every thing has to be brought with you (it also has these quaint tree squirrels that run up and down the tin roof at night - very noisy)!  The toilet consisted of a spade and a beer crate with a toilet seat attached to the top, the plan being to walk as far away as possible, dig a large hole, place the crate on top, sit on the seat and perform, backfill hole and return to shed with crate under your arm.  "No one would possibly know where you have been." The club took me to the flat roof extensions in Jewel Cave, a totally wonderful place with floor to ceiling pretties everywhere.  The cave itself is a fairly easy trip but the high humidity and CO2 levels can make it seem hard going, the series is about 40m deep and in total 3k long.  The water table has been dropping for about 12 years now and there is a great deal of discussion as to what is the cause (it is now a good metre lower).  Our next visit was Moondyne which is an "adventure cave".  It was also well decorated and contained some extremely good cave coral, it used to be called Coronation Cave for many years but has now reverted back to its original name. The cave would not put anybody to the test but is worth a visit.  It has fairly high CO2 levels and is only approx. 400 m long.  The next day I visited Easter Cave. This was the highlight of my trip (I have subsequently discovered that this is the most well decorated cave in Australia).  We spent some time wandering in the bush trying to find the entrance.  This is not surprising as the cave is only open 4 times a year to parties of 4 (very tight access).  I was privileged to get a trip on this visit many thanks to WASS.  It is a superb cave, stunningly decorated, 2k long and about 40m running depth.  There were some small lakes and ducks, but the steady drop in the water table has made the trip easier and dry with a lovely draught.  We have nothing like this in Great Britain, 15 to 16 degrees temp and 80% humidity. There is more beauty lying on the floor than in the whole of GB cave on Mendip; the crowning glory being the LEMON, a wonderful rounded stalagmite with a reddish coloured base.  Apart from the 10m entrance ladder pitch and several dry crawls the trip was not hard as we know it.  I sincerely hope that the tight access arrangements keep this cave safe from mindless idiots.  Deepdene was my next cave which involved a walk in the bush but we found it first time. WASS have been doing access checks with little trigger machines powered by batteries.  This was basically a trip to help them retrieve the kit.  The person who is conducting this survey is a WILLET CLONE right down to beer pot smile and general build, I couldn't believe my eyes so I head butted him and got a Willet result "GRUNT GIGGLE hit me again."  This guy John is Willet's doppelganger!


Hilary Wilson in the hut at Yanchep

We had a look at the cave which at one time must have had some really superb gours they have now all dried up.  The whole system was only 160m long.  Years ago people used to light fires to illuminate the formations (in the 1890s it was common practice to illuminate the King's Chamber with burning rushes. They would then retire from the cave and watch the smoke drifting lazily from the entrance!).  Luckily this practice has died out now!

My last cave visit was Brides, a 50m deep hole doline with a small cave at the bottom right hand side. There used to be a wooden ladder / staging which served as access, but it burnt down in a bush fire (probably the same fire that demolished the first WASS hut).  Perhaps this was the same fire that burnt the BEC hut down!  The access is now a 50m abseil via some bollards - quite pleasant.  This concluded our tour of West Australia and I drove back to Perth in the borrowed 4 - wheel drive Nissan Patrol. (Thanks Neville I could not have managed without transport).  We intend to return in the near future and go north where there are even more caves and good walking.  I cannot thank all the Western Australia Speleo Society cavers enough for their efforts and the Retirement Rellies who we sponged off for four weeks (so they say!).

Mike Wilson.

NB I am going to buy some of the brother in law's livelong pills just in case they work.

Ross (WASS member) in Easter cave

Mike Wilson’s Map of the area visited in Western Australia

 (Apologies for the quality – Ed.)


Male Pin-ups?

Some Pin-ups for the female club members – all in St. George’s Cave in Assynt. 

Photos by Peter Glanville.



by Peter Glanvill

The following comments were prompted by features in the last 2 BB's.  First of all with regard to Wig's article on lost caves (BB Dec. 99 Vol. 50 No 12) I would suggest that the cave Trevor Knief found on Cothelstone Hill which was subsequently dug at and photographed by myself and Tony Boycott is that mentioned in 19th century writings.  The cave we found consists of a large chamber about 10 metres long and 2 metres wide the entrance of which had been obscured by a cliff fall which has now slumped into it forming a scree slope which obscures the natural height of the chamber - probably 2 metres plus.  When we dug at the end we found the remains of a clay pipe.  I know this doesn't prove habitation but does suggest the cave has been open in the past.  The size of the cave suggests extensions may be possible and there are choked side passages but they would need quite a bit of digging.

Elsewhere on the Quantocks we have Dodington House Cave.  I have visited the area and you can see the engine house in a field - a little piece of Cornish landscape on the Quantocks.  Of more interest is that Nick Chipchase's research revealed that the mine was closed but mothballed and the shafts capped.  The adits remained but have all slumped in except for one.  This opens into a lane in the Dodington area and is invisible to the casual eye.  Unfortunately this low drainage adit was bisected by a brick lined water extraction shaft.  This presented an obstacle to exploration up the adit until local cavers chiselled away a course of bricks either side of the shaft to enable progress upstream. Unfortunately when the site was visited in 1987 the diggers were chagrined to find after another 5 metres that some of the stone lintels roofing the adit where it ran under the field above had collapsed blocking the way on.  Further digging just produced more collapse.  This would be an ideal site for a Hymac dig at the point in the field where the adit enters solid rock and would allow access to a perfectly preserved mine (and the cave of course).  Nobody has visited the site for 13 years.  If you want to know more contact me or Nick Chipchase.

See - Men and Mining on the Quantocks by J.R. Hamilton and J.F. Lawrence 1970

Beer Caves

Rob is to be congratulated on re-inventing the wheel with regard to the caves at Beer.  These were originally mapped, listed and surveyed and the descriptions published by Chris Proctor in The Caves of East Devon. The cover has a nice drawing by the author of the largest cave.  I have got photos of some of them but cannot find them at present!  I did try to match up all the names but Chris has listed more than Rob and the grid refs are more detailed.  He lists over 40 caves, the longest of which is known as the Hall and runs through the point north of Beer Head.  Another cave nearer Beer Beach is known as Tooth Cave and has about 67 metres of passage with several levels.  I strongly recommend visitors check tide times before having a look here.  It is possible to traverse the entire distance from Beer Beach to the Hooken Beach (the beach below the Hooken Landslip) on a low spring tide and then walk back over the top of the cliffs.  Visit on a falling tide for obvious reasons.

Finally, on the next page, for those looking for curiosities take a look at the adit running off the beach just to the east of Sidmouth.  It lies about 100 metres along the beach from the river mouth and may be obscured by cliff falls.  The tunnel was driven from somewhere inland reasons unknown.  The entrance to the adit was visited in February 98 and at that time there was an easily negotiable grille over it.  You will probably find notices telling you not to use the beach if you go there.  I haven't been down the adit - the fact that it is in red marl is just a teensy off putting but it is down for a 'nothing to do on a wet day' visit some time.

Sidmouth Adit

Looking out of Sidmouth Adit


From a Belgian magazine given to J’rat detailing articles on Priddy Green Sink.

Het beste uit andere tijdschriften

Doorsteek Priddy Green – Swildons Hole.

Vincent Coessens vertaaide voor u dit artikel met de ‘officielle’ versie van deze doorsteekm vorsachen in de ”Belfry Bulletin”  Het is zowat het meest scabbreuze dat ooit ib Spelerpes vewrscheen.  Lees ouk het virige artikel en heb medelijen met de Belgische speleo’s die zich lieten meeslepan.

The best from other magazines

Through trip Priddy green – Swildons Hole

Vincent Coessens translated the official version of the explorations that led to the through trip from BEC’s  Belfry Bulletin.  One of the darkest tales Sperliepes ever published .  Have a look at the previous article and feel sorry for everyone who has ever been there!

Flash sur les autres revues

Traversee Priddy green – Swildons Hole.

Vincent Coessens a traduit pour vous cet article qui est la version officielle de cette traverse.  C’est vle texto le plus scabreux ayant jamias paru dans la Spelerpes.  Lisez aussi l’article precedent et ayez pitie de ces pauvres speleos beiges qui vse sont fait savoir.



Pages From The Belfry Log

15/4/00             Swildons 2

John Williams and Andy Smith

Down to sump two and back: Met a party on the 20 whose lifelining technique was similar to fly fishing!

16/4/00             Swildons 2

Down to sump, in via the wet way with high level detour to avoid a large group.  Once through the sump we left our tackle bags at the turning for the Black Hole and continued down towards sump 2.  We climbed up to the Landing and continued on up to the Troubles.  We ducked through quite a few ducks until we got to the one which appeared to be the last of them all, and certainly the worst of them all.  JW sumped it, but me - no way!  After a quick baling session on the other side, JW returned then we went to what appeared to be Vicarage Pot.  On the way back passed what seemed to be the descent to NW stream passage? Got back to the bottom of the landing and looked at some very muddy passage that didn't go far - thankfully, then back to the tackle sacks where both our batteries ran out!

After changing to fresh lights we went up Approach Passage and then came back and went up Howard's Dig crawl instead!  At the T junction we turned left down Mayday Passage and then headed back up towards the Black Hole.  My battery turned out to be not so fresh, and so the Black Hole remained black (for me) and we turned around and headed back out, never having used any of the tackle we'd brought with us!  A cool trip, which finished off even nicer when Taylor produced some hot food for us. Cheers!

16/4/00             Wigmore

Vince and Greg

An excellent sporting trip down to the upstream and downstream sumps.  My first time in the cave and I was impressed.  I'm sure I will do it again (Greg Brock)


Mike and Tim’s silly Northern Adventure

We did playing on string and other silly games in:


Cowpot (Easegill),

Gaping Ghyll,(dihedral route)

Tatham + Vin (Northern Bird 1)

Bore Hole and Split Sinks + other silly hole in Easegill Beck

Juniper Gulf + Liz (Northern Bird II)

County Pot + Liz

Marble Steps + Liz

Alum Pot + Liz

Had a top time even though most of the entrances took many hours to find.  Best trips were Dihedral route - amazing exposure and great views; once Mike ran back to Clapham to get his helmet! and Juniper Gulf (we found it at 7.30 pm!)

22/4/00             Ogof Draenen

Vince, Bob Smith, Mr.Smith, Dave Fear, James Adie

Down to Megadrive for a bimble!


Rolling Calendar

Date                          Details -  Contact

June 10-11                 Cavers Fayre Priddy

16-18                         BCRA Conference

18                              Pwll Du CMG meet: 10.30 Gwesty Bach, Brynmawr

July 7-9                      NCA Cavers Fair, Pindale Farm, Derbyshire

14-18                         1st NAMHO International Conference, Truro School

August 1                    BCRA research fund deadline

25-28                         ISSA Workshop, Yorkshire Dales – Robin Gray

27                              Columns Open Day, OFD

31                              Ghar Parau foundation grant application deadline

Sept 15-17                 Hidden Earth 2000, NCC Bristol

Oct 20-22                   Issa Workshop, North wales


January 1                   Columns Open Day OFD

12-14                         ISSA Workshop and AGM, Mendip

New members

Welcome to the club and meet soon in the "Hunters"

Ian Matthews, Frome, Helen Hunt, Glastonbury, Philip Middleton, Nailsea James Weir, Wells, Dave Fear, Wookey.