Rearranging the Fan / Waste Interface

I’ve been listening to Iain Abernethy’s podcasts about practical Karate for a few years now. He says a lot of sensible things in his (admittedly non-speleological) field of expertise.

In a recent podcast he talked about re-inventing violence. There are  some forms of karate which describe themselves as being practical defensive disciplines; but, the scenarios in which their techniques would be wholly effective turn out to be elaborately unrealistic (attackers coming at you one at a time is a classic you may have seen in films). What has happened is that a martial art has evolved – moving away from its roots in conflict management, into the arena of a points-scoring contact sport.The point is, this is fine, as long as you don’t then take this highly refined sporting technique and say that it still works as a defensive strategy. The context is wrong. The fact that, in order for the strategy to work, violence has to be re-imagined into something other than its messy reality, suggests that while practitioners describe their karate as a valid defence technique, it is actually something entirely different. These highly-skilled sporting karateka  are so in love with their own expertise that they cannot appreciate its limitations; rather, they (possibly unconsciously) create the types of problems that best  fit their own capacity to solve them.

A few of us – back in the world of caving, now –  are beginning to experiment with the approach of swapping “here is a rope rescue technique, let us find the situation that fits it” for ” if ‘x’ happens, what is the resulting situation, and how can we solve it?”

In an advanced SRT practice last week, we had fun dealing with an array of unconscious casualties, on both Racks and Simples, who had slid into the loop of a rebelay. The rationale was, if an abseiler loses consciousness on these devices, they either hit the deck – traumatic but no longer a mid rope rescue – or their flight is interrupted by rigging, which *is* a pick-off. It was fascinating, and if you’ve never tried dealing with it before (we hadn’t) I recommend giving it a go.

But play safely, go carefully. Once you start tackling problems rather than practicing techniques, it’s all a bit more unpredictable. Much like life, in fact.


That time, when the words don’t need to

As Google Translate would have us believe!

-560 in Banka Cave, Sneznya System, Abkhasia. Dina Pimanova, Yulia Yatsusenko and Tony Seddon. Photo: Andrey Shuvalov

Thoughts on warmwear

Just a small consideration of undersuits and general insulation, in the wake of my recent trip to Snezhnaja Cave in Abkhazia, and thinking about the differences between my trips of winter 2016 and 2017.

The cave itself is a steady 6C, so not too cold. However the trip itself lasted eight days, with some of the individual working days in excess of sixteen hours. Also the surface was significantly colder, with lots of snow. All these factors played a part in the selection of kit for this year’s trip.

Last year I used an MTDE Butron, and was miserably cold for days on end. Normally I find this thin, very flexible and wicking garment fine for British and most European trips, including ones lasting several days and involving underground camps. Trying to work out why it had been such a problem in 2016, I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of two factors: caving style and physical attrition.

In the first case, Russian caving is sometimes a communal affair. Especially in this cave, where each person had at least a couple of heavy tackle bags, and some parts of the cave are a little awkward or tortuous, there is a tendency to cave as a group and move kit through obstacles using a human chain. This has some benefits but it does mean that there may be periods of five to ten minutes where there is little movement, and some of these locations may be damp or very, very draughty. Also both these trips used “pod” camps, where all stoves, food, tents and sleeping bags moved with the team, so the beginning and end of each caving day involved being pretty static while bags were unpacked, tents strung up and so on. If you rely on steady movement and burning calories to keep comfortable when caving, then you’re going to have a hard time on a trip like this.

Secondly – related but not identical – it is not easy to maintain full health on a multi-day caving trip, especially in a cold cave. Nutrition is hard to manage, even with vitamin tablets, and as a veggie getting enough protein can be especially difficult. The overall effect of hard work on a stressed body seems to be to make it more prone to cold, and the effect is increased the longer the stress goes on. In the case of these particular trips, the stress begins before the cave is ever reached; as time is short, moderately strenuous kit-carries bringing equipment up to the entrance – in conditions comfortably below freezing – are taxing, and there is not time for proper recovery before the caving starts.

So this year I opted for the significantly heavier and warmer AV Illamina, which is made of full-weight Powerstretch. This proved ideal for this trip. Slightly too warm at the start of the day, but nothing too bad; as the days progressed, the body deteriorated and the fabric became more vile and unwashed, even this problem disappeared. And at the end of the day, the cold was noticeable but perfectly bearable.

The other key elements were threefold: a Powerstretch balaclava, a thin basic waterproof and a mid-weight thermal top. None of these was required while actually moving in the cave (even the balaclava – a Buff was worn at all times to maintain head warmth), but the first two fitted into a drybag and could easily be stowed into the top of a tackle bag. Thus, at the taking down and putting up of the camp, extra warmth could be added with no appreciable delay; also at the base of a large pitch on the way out. The waterproof (Decathlon’s cheapest) was sized to fit over all kit, including oversuit and SRT kit, for mid-trip pauses.

For sleeping, adding the fleece to the Illamina gave sufficiently warm nights that the balaclava could generally be used as a pillow, rather than worn. The fleece was kept with the sleeping bag, as the other two items covered all the requirements of the working day.

This system worked well, and I’d use it again in similar circumstances; all I’d add would be a dedicated set of thick warm socks for tent life – drying your caving socks over the stove is effective but not perfectly so, and in trying circumstances a little luxury is welcome.

The only caveat. This minimum amount of clothing for effective warmth will leave you smelling like a dead badger after the first week, as there’s no allowance for changing kit, but that’s the price of efficiency!


Diving news – Sneznya in Abkhasia

Tony is on his way home from Abkhasia having found the way on from the Lake of Mozorov at the bottom of Sneznya Cave (-1800m). A sump of about 250m leads to large open passage ending in a boulder choke.

Taking your Scurion in hand luggage – Dubai warning

Scurion have reminded us that normal IATA rules say you should be able to carry your Scurion (or any Li-ion light) in your hand luggage provided the labelling on the battery is not worn so that the security officer can’t tell what he or she is dealing with. However there have been rumours of cavers flying via Dubai (e.g. to Meghalaya) having their Scurion confiscated. See

Breakthrough beyond Ink Sump

The boulder choke in the roof of Doom’s Retreat Aven beyond Ink Sump in Peak Cavern has been breached and a way on found into a large chamber beyond, “Endeavour”. There is a further climb, passage and chamber above Endeavour. For the moment the team is concentrating on consolidation work, mainly strengthening and enlarging the shaft from Doom’s Retreat to Endeavour. Radio location has shown that the surveyed location of Doom’s Retreat is accurate with reference to the surface but it has not so far been possible to measure the depth of the chamber from the surface.

This is a significant breakthrough after many years of work on the other side of a 200m dive, and it seems that the logistics of supply have been daunting. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Neanderthal cave dwellers dated to 176,500 BC

Structure built of broken stalactites (photo Michel Soulier, www.libé

The French newspaper Libération reports that a structure discovered in a cave in the Aveyron gorge, which is made of broken stalactites arranged in a circle, has been dated to 176,500 BC (by uranium/thorium dating of the calcite on the surface of the broken piece, compared to the base of overlying calcite deposited after the structure had been created). It is believed that the structure was made by people because there is evidence also of fires being lit inside the circle. If the interpretation is right, this is the earliest manmade structure found in a cave so far, and is over a hundred thousand years older than Lascaux and Chauvet. This is extraordinary because there were no Homo Sapiens in France 176,500 years ago – the structure must have been made by Neanderthal man. Hitherto (the article says) it had not been believed that Neanderthal man made art or created anything for non-subsistence, cultural reasons. Have a look at

Draenen entrance – care needed

The PDCMG tell us that following the failure of a couple of timbers at the bottom of the Draenen entrance series scaffolded shaft, work has begun on inspecting and replacing the current shuttering. A team from Morgannwg and Brynmawr CCs has started the work, which involves very carefully knocking out the current timbers and replacing them one at a time. Most of the newly-installed timbers are permanent, but at the moment there are a couple of pieces towards the bottom of the shaft which are temporary and will be re-engineered on future trips.

Teams are being asked to take extra care in the scaffolded shaft for the next couple of months. Work on the side walls of a shaft inevitably disturbs the choke, and some movement is likely.

Titan open!

On the weekend of 13th-14th February, remedial work on the entrance to Titan was completed after months of hard work.

Dave Nixon is taking bookings for trips to take place after March 13th. Further details are on the Peak / Speedwell website:

Many thanks and congratulations are due to the team of volunteers who have worked over the last fourteen months to the benefit of the caving community as a whole. Especial mention of Dave Nixon who was instrumental in the whole project.