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Caving in Switzeland

by ‘Mo’ Marriott.

Caving life is really very dull here.  It consists of exploring one ruddy vertical hole after another!  To be serious, it is actually pretty interesting – most of our efforts are concentrated in an area about forty miles from here and this area is real mountain Karst country, albeit rather juvenile.  The amount of work to be done is vast, work that can, however, be unrewarding at times.  The area is simply littered with shafts, some of them deep (deep means over three hundred feet) but many of them are disappointingly blocked with snow, even at quite considerable depths.  The deepest hole to date was found to be blocked with a mixture of snow and ice at a depth of about twelve hundred feet – and it took the best part of eight days to find this out!  (I wasn’t on this trip, unfortunately).  Our great hope is that we shall be able to get into a system which will connect with a quite gigantic rising in the South West corner of the area.  Our hopes are spurred on by two things.  First, the size of the rising, which seems to dictate that the whole area is being drained at one point – this augers well for the existence of a master type system.  Secondly, there is a very large difference in height between the main area where the shafts are found (1,8000 to 1,9000 metres) and the rising at 450 metres O.D.

If we could push a system right to the rising level, we would have a world beater on our hands, although I might add that this possibility does not figure very largely in our calculations or account for our enthusiasm.  I feel that if such as system id ever found here, it will only be at the expense of a lot of very hard work.  Of course, there is also the possibility that such a hole does not exist here in any case.  Our biggest ladder pitch so far is just on the six hundred foot mark – and ruddy marvellous it was too!

I had one or two second thoughts just as I was getting on to the ladder, but it is quite the finest shaft that I have ever seen, or am ever likely to see for that matter.  It struck me as slightly ridiculous at the time that this monstrous pitch – free hanging all the way – was deeper than the deepest British cave.  I can assure you that it gave me a profound sense of respect!

The principle disadvantage of this kind of caving is that the available caving season is rather short. One can usually reckon on beginning in the early part of June, and the season ends in October or December depending upon the weather.  Of course, a cold winter – or the early onset of bad weather can cut down the available season even more.  Even though the skiing season acts as a compensation during the winter months one gets a bit frustrated knowing that those dam great holes are just waiting there, probably blocked with snow.

That is more or less a general picture of caving here in Yodel Land, I’ll tell you more about it in the summer.

Editor’s Note:    We expect that ‘Mo’ will be surprised to see this article, as it was not intended by him to be such, but was part of a letter. However, we understand that we have his permission to print it, and we hope that ‘Mo’ will keep us abreast of his work out there during the summer.

Photographic Competition

Members will note that the rules for this competition have not yet been published.  This is because the grapevine has so far failed to suggest that anyone might be thinking of entering.  We obviously don’t want to run a competition for which there is going to be insufficient support.  Perhaps people have got the idea that this is a fantastically difficult thing to do. The organiser would therefore appreciate if anyone who thinks that he or she might possibly enter could let him know, and it might then be possible to arrange the competition to suit their ideas. Contact Alfie for further information.

Caving Notes

G.B. Saturday, March 26th.  11am at the Belfry.

Easter.  April 8th – 11th.  Yorkshire, including G.G., Bull Pot, Browgill and Calf Holes.  For transport contact Roy Bennett or Dave Irwin.

Swildons.  May 15th. PRACTICE RESCUE 10AM  SUNDAY.  Meet at Maine’s Barn.  Route: Twenty back to the Water Chamber

Agen Allwedd.  May 21/22.  Names to Dave Irwin.  Members not having signed an indemnity chit should do so as soon as possible.  Forms available from Keith Franklin or Dave Irwin.

June 18th.  St. CUTHBERT’S PRACTICE RESCUE.  11am. All leaders please note this date.


Nife Cell Spares.  Main lamp bulbs and armour plate glasses are available at the Belfry. Any other spare     parts can be ordered against cash.

Carbide Lamp Spare.  Most spares are available.

Access to Mendip Caves

(Continued from the January B.B.)

Longwood Swallet.  This cave is controlled by the Charterhouse Caving Committee.  Indemnity forms are obtainable from R.J. Bagshaw, 699 Wells Rd, Knowle. These are to be returned to Bob when completed, and he will send a five year permit.  Call at Lower Farm.  Farmer charges 1/- per caver.  Changing accommodation is available.  Permit must be shown to the farmer.  It is best to write to Mr Young, Lower Farm, Charterhouse, Nr Wells, Somerset, as the number of parties in the cave at any time is restricted.  When B.E.C. members wish to take guest, the guest must complete an indemnity form and Bob will issue a temporary permit to cover the actual day or days required.

G.B. Cavern.  As for Longwood Swallet, but the permit must be countersigned by the Hon. Sec. of the U.B.S.S.  There is also a U.B.S.S. charge of 1/- per caver as a tackle fee.  For permission and keys, write to Dave Irwin, 9 Camden Hill Gardens, London W8 or B.E.C. Assistant Caving sec. Keith Franklin, 20 Clayton Street, Avonmouth, Bristol, giving at least four weeks notice.  Tackle fee should be sent to either of the above when returning the key. Instructions hung inside the blockhouse should be strictly adhered to.

Rhino Rift.  As for G.B. Cavern.

To be continued.

Emergency Food

The Chelsea Cave Group were recently given an illustrated lecture on the Horlicks Packs, and many types were passed round for inspection, including the two Aggy M.R.O. packs.

The average adult requires about four thousand calories per day – an example for practical purposes in an emergency being 4oz of sugar (in form of sweets, tablets, etc and a pint and three quarters of water).  This is sufficient for 24 hours.  The representatives at the lecture added that teenagers normally require something in excess of this, but the additional quantity would vary very much from one individual to another..

A pack now being manufactured by Horlicks for emergency occasions is contained in a standard tobacco tin, this type weighs only a few ounces and it is well to carry in addition to such items as matches, candle, toilet paper, spare bulbs, iodine and medicated plasters in a similar tin.  This kit can be easily be assembled for a few shillings.  Who can tell when Swildons will flood again?

One or two novelties were also shown.  A plastic clip – used to seal polythene wrappings, when empty of food stuffs, makes a useful water bottle with clip seal.  An extra tobacco tin lid with an ‘H’ shaped hole punched out of its centre makes a useful emergency stove.  The centre flaps may be bent downwards at right angles to the plane of the tin lid and the tin itself then fitted into the lid.  This arrangement leaves a space under the tin for a small block of solid fuel of the metaldehyde type.

Also being manufactured for long expeditions are 20 man-day boxes constructed of plywood and stiffened with bimetal frames.  These have been designed primarily for Polar expeditions, but have been used on mountaineering expeditions.  They are completely Husky proof.  Apparently, these dogs are blessed with extra strong jaws and are often fed with unopened tins of bully beef.

If water is suspect in any cave, a small drop of iodine will completely sterilise it, although the taste will be quite revolting.  A sterilising kit may, on the other hand, be bought from any good chemist for a few shillings if necessary.

Although hot food is pleasant, it should be well down on the list of priorities.  In emergencies, the temperature of the food is unimportant with respect to calories.  The actual calorific value of the food hardly changes with temperature.  This has recently been proved in the U.S.A.

From his records and questionnaire sheets which are sent out with every consignment, the lecturer concluded that water was the major problem.  Although it was bulky, water should always be carried as the one and three-quarter pints per day minimum was absolutely essential.

Editor’s Note.    The above has been in the B.B. files for some time, but has not been published before as we have no record of the name of the contributor.  However, we thought that the subject of what and how much to take in the way of emergency food supplies had not been tackled before in the B.B. and so we are breaking our usual rule.  Perhaps we can have some comments from any of our medical members?

Instructions for passing through Swildons Sump 1

In these days of wet suits and other sumping gear, it may be of interest to read Don Coase’s original instructions for passing Sump 1 in Swildons.  This is reproduced from the B.E.C. caving log for July 1946 – six months before the B.B. started.

1.                  Get straight into the water up to your neck.  Don’t paddle around and take half an hour getting up to your waist.  The cold will sap your vitality.

2.                  When up to your neck, let your breathing slow down to normal.  About a minute should be enough for this.

3.                  Deliberately sink to the bottom before moving.  Then pull yourself along the line, but don’t rush it.  The reason for this is that there is a step in the roof (see sketch) and contacting this too forcibly is not good for the cranium. Don’t take too deep a breath before starting.  It only strains the lungs and heart.

4.                  As soon as the step is passed, let yourself rise.  Some one who has been through before should preferably go first, so as to hold the guide wire up on the other side, as it is possible to go under another overhang if not careful.  Go through with the guide wire in your RIGHT hand, and use it to pull yourself along with. DON’T let go of it.  You have plenty of room to swim with your feet to help you along.

5.                  Returning. Repeat above, but there is no step to contact.  Guide wire should be held in the LEFT hand this time.