As I wrote the last news I was on my way to SUICRO, the Speleological Union of Ireland annual congress, which as I expected was an excellent event. I was kept pretty busy with the shop (thanks for helping out Biff) but also managed to get to one talk on Shannon Cave and the remote exploration that’s been going on there (I like the name of their bivvi site – camp Camp) and enjoyed a trip down Pol na Gollum in sporting conditions (see Pol na Gollum)
I also found time to get my head underwater in the Hell complex off Doolin strand. This is an excellent area, in which three decades of exploration have left a legacy of several fascinating sites well worth a visit by any passing divers. Much of the most recent work has been done by Artur Koslowski, who is pushing the boundaries of Irish diving on an almost weekly basis right now.
Mind you- Artur’s view on what constitutes a reasonable amount of swell for diving at Hell’s kitchen is less conservative than mine! The phrase ‘cat in a washing machine’ springs to mind when I recall trying to get out after the dive with a pair of big cylinders. I should have recalled that old saying “Where the Devil fears to tread…they send a Polish man”.
This month the Starless River Shop has been at CHECC at SWCC on Saturday 21st and will be on Mendip for the weekend of the 28th/29th. I’m hoping to meet up with some eastern European friends at the same time to plan next year’s Papua New Guinea trip. If it ever stops raining I may even go caving, or diving.
This weekend the Starless River van and I are at SUICRO, the Irish caving symposium, where no doubt tales will be told and some Guinness drunk. I am hoping to get some diving in as well – the last few weeks have been frustrating on the diving front as whenever the vis is “poteen” I am irretrievably committed to doing other things and whenever I am free the vis has been “Guinness”.
Despite the long drive, Hidden Earth was well worth it in all sorts of ways. It’s always good to catch up with friends, as well as having the chance to meet new people. The only downside this year was that I didn’t see a single lecture…or indeed sit down, for about twelve hours on Saturday. In fact, it was so busy that I didn’t even take any photographs…
On the other hand, it was a brilliant chance to see just how your mates will help out, unasked, as they did in looking after me and the stock when the van broke down on Saturday night. You know who you are, and words can’t do justice…but “thanks” is perhaps a start!
Gear update – although these are so brand new that they aren’t on the site yet, we are selling the new Viper Lights. These are a high-end caving light, with a nice combination of robustness, good run times, and a *significantly* bright high setting. It doesn’t do everything, but what it does, it seems to do pretty well. Well worth a closer look for those committed to their caving in the longer term (or just those who are afraid of the dark).
In November the Starless River shop will be at CHECC, the Council of Higher Education Caving Clubs annual meeting. We do good bulk deals for student clubs so all you tacklemasters out there, bear us in mind when you are kitting out your novices. We know that starting out in caving can be hard on the pocket so keep an eye on the site – we are shortly going to be promoting starter packages for your caving clothing and SRT gear.
Tony has been too busy the last month to write anything, so it falls to me to update you all. Late August saw him taking a lightning trip to Austria to do some caving in Lamprechstofen (somewhat curtailed due to heavy rain and high water) but more importantly meeting up with the team for a proposed exploratory trip scheduled for autumn 2010 to a little-known area of Papua New Guinea. Last week he was occupied with a different hat on as a freelance inspector for the Adventure Licensing Service, but this week (keep up!) the project is helping the Beeb with a programme on Wild Swimming, due to hit BBC 4 soon.
Best of all, we finally have the Starless River van sign written. Look out for us at Hidden Earth if you are going to be there this weekend!
Newsflash – we are now stockists for ETCHE BOOTS. Some of you may have seen these recommended in Alpine Caving Techniques. They are available both as wellies and lace-up ankle boots, now with a redesigned sole. They are quick drying and comfortable and come in a wide range of sizes so may be suitable for people with small feet – female cavers and offspring take note! Tony says he used them in Voronja and they were perfectly good for prussiking in.
Well, I’m home.
An interesting trip; pretty straightforward but with just a dash of incident to enliven the whole affair. The main lead for me, the terminal downstream sump which lies at -950m in Asopladeru la Texa, was pretty remote as a dive site and required a lot of help from many cavers to lug all the kit there. The pushing dive took place on the third day of my camping trip, and it took about eight person trips to get the rebreather, drysuit, tanks of mix etc from the underground camp to the sump; fortunately, this bit is the nicest passage in the whole cave!
The dive itself was going swimmingly until about 120m in, at a depth of 48m, at which point the rebreather flooded. Without getting technical, this is a bad thing which could result in death. Clearly, in this case it didn’t! but it meant that most of my gas reserves were used getting out safely from that point. The sump, Blue Again, was left as a very large shaft dropping into blue / black obscurity to a depth that I’d guess to be a minimum of 60m deep; an impressive place.
Luckily, the ongoing upstream passage was still an excellent consolation prize. Kitted up for long deep diving, the logistics of doing a short shallow sump with caving beyond made for amusing kit choice. I opted for normal caving kit under a diving drysuit, dumping this after the 40m dive as the streamway beyond is pretty gnarly in places, a real gear ripper.
What I’d not twigged, is that the passage also has three sections out of depth! Even though I had the lighter bag of climbing kit, hand traversing around the edges of these, neck deep, was a bit of a fun experience. Spending the next few hours sharing the lead on a bolt climb next to a waterfall was just unspeakably fun…
An excellent lead, and still going in a major stream passage when I left the next day, after six days underground.
Some thoughts on kit that I used:
1.The Raumer 4000 braking krab was excellent on the gritty 10mm and 11mm rope that the cave is rigged on. I pretty much wore out the bottom spool of my Simple, but the Raumer is not marked at all. Nice to use, too. However sandy it got, the wiregate opened a treat every time.
2.The MTDE Butron undersuit was excellent – warm enough in an 8C cave, and the fact that it drains very quickly and effectively made the swimming and standing around as least bad as it could be. It dried pretty well in the course of the 6+ hours’ prussiking next day.
3.The Amazonia / Garma harness combination did its usual good work; even with a non-insubstantial caver, and three tackle bags, the sit harness was comfortable; and I reckon that the Garma is still the best way to carry bolting accessories easily to hand (as well as feeling very safe when leading, tied into an effectively full – body harness)
Next trip away – somewhere deeper, can’t say more than that just yet…
The Western Massif of the Picos de Europa is well know to generations of British exploratory cavers. Pozu del Xitu was the first 1000m pothole explored to depth by a British team in the early ’80s, and many teams have dreamed of forging a connection between the high mountains down to the Culiembro resurgence in the Cares gorge some 1500m below.
This year a team from Oxford University Cave Club is returning to Asopladeru la Texa to push some significant leads left at the end of the ’08 trip. A large and well decorated phreas at depth, first reached by Phil Rowsell after some ‘soul searching’ climbs; a large ongoing streamway beyond a short sump, where a cascade needs bolting; and the impressive downstream lead, the ‘Blue Again’ sump – left at -43m depth in a large open passage. I’m intending to dive this with CCR, trimix, and drysuit, rather than the SCUBA plus wetsuit combination used last time! Pushing these leads are the main aims of the expedition, with the desire to make the first deep through trip after nearly forty years hard work in this most beautiful of caving areas.