Petzl Spelios – to be discontinued

Petzl are discontinuing the Spelios helmet (the Elios helmet with a Duo 14 ready-mounted). We only have size 1 remaining in stock – if you are particularly attached to this helmet / lightset and see one somewhere in a shop, buy it!

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!

Tony

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 http://scurion.ch/jm/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=218:transport-of-li-ion-batteries-in-airplaines-&catid=40:faq&Itemid=63&lang=en

In Praise of Washing Up

It is strange how, as SRT cavers, we don’t look after kit. Unlike cars or washing machines or computers, it’s all pretty eighteenth-century stuff. All your jammers, descenders and harnesses need is a little, little bit of TLC. You can do it at home, in an alpine meadow on expedition, or even – to an extent – underground. Here are a few suggestions. They’re not exhaustive but at least they’re a start…

Harnesses and ropes are pretty tough, but if we wash our SRT ropes when we have used them, then surely we need to extend the same treatment to the cowstails and footloops that get rubbed against rock, dragged through gritty mud, and repetitively stressed in use. Think of the dreadful things you do to your footloops, when you grind mud into the foot section, then repeatedly put your full weight on it, maybe thousands of times!

For this kit, a good wash in warm water is surely the least it can expect. A stream and a scrubbing brush will do, but warm soapy water is even better – this is why we wash our clothes in special machines and not (normally) in rivers. Most of the non-metal parts of your SRT kit are made of the same material as your clothes, so why not treat them in a similar way? Harnesses are sold with notes on their care, so take a moment to read them. As a minimum it should be possible to sneak cowstails and footloops into a caving hut kitchen and give them a once-over in the sink. Just remember to tidy up after yourself or there may be trouble – don’t blame me for that…(As an aside – if you choose to put kit through the washing machine, take the metalwork off first, use a cool – sports – wash, and put it in an old pillow slip to keep it neat if you like. Don’t put it through a hot wash, or force dry it at all!)

If you are camping underground, leaving the kit in running water overnight will help, if you give it a bit of a scrub to break up crusted silt. BUT remember to secure it – having your SRT kit washed away in a flood would be embarrassing.

Metalwork – jammers, descenders, karabiners and maillons – all get treated pretty brutally. They contain simple mechanisms but they can still be delicate with their small springs and fine bearings. Let’s be clear, oiling is not enough. It’s like putting polish on your shoes without taking the crud off them first. The answer is simple – once again warm soapy water is the best treatment. Washing up water is ideal as long as you clean the plates and cutlery first, or you may get complaints! Treat the kit like you would a dirty plate, let it soak and then give it a bit of a scrub. After that, all you need to do is work the moving parts while still in the water (gates and screwgates on karabiners, cams on ascenders, moving plates on descenders). You should feel the mechanism clearing as the combination of movement (to loosen grit) and water (to transport grit away) works its magic. Keep doing this until it all moves as you’d want it to. Perhaps the main advantage of warm water is that it makes this part of the process comfortable, so you persevere until the kit is properly clean!

As for lubricating moving parts, I know that this is a controversial area. So I’ll let people make up their own minds about what to use, while adding that a small application of cooking oil has helped make maillons and descenders work as good as new on several expeditions.

At this point, you must hang the kit up to dry, if you possibly can. Don’t leave wet alloy and wet steel in close connection for long periods of time – the alloy doesn’t benefit from this at all. As I said earlier, force drying or leaving in high altitude sunshine is to be avoided, but generally a dark or at least shaded place can be found to allow kit to drip and air. Don’t put it back in a plastic bag! This is also the best opportunity to check kit for developing problems: wear and abrasion on harnesses; slipping knots on cowstails; loose nuts on descenders; and smooth cams on jammers. This is perhaps the most important part of the process, after all!

It all takes about ten minutes. Just make the washing up bowl your friend!

Tony Seddon

How to get the right size gloves

Measure from the bottom of your palm to the tip of your middle finger to get your finger length in mm. Use the longest finger length to determine your size. If your finger length falls between two sizes, buy the bigger ones.

These are the UK glove sizes based on finger length:

160mm – size 6

171 mm – size 7

182 mm – size 8

192 mm – size 9

204 mm – size 10

215 + mm – size 11

Starless River buff

Starless River now have a new Starless River buff. In case you were wondering, the model is Clive Westlake.

Photo courtesy of Robbie Shone.

“Old” Croll

Petzl have issued a news release concerning two instances of failure on the rivet head on the old style Croll. This is NOT a recall and Petzl say the problem applies only when the item is used intensively in a commercial environment – both the issues arose on a North Sea oil rig. See Petzl’s information release at:

www.petzl.com/en/pro/safety-information-croll-B16AAA