GSG Newsletter 140
1 October 2009
Scotland's First Pleistocene Bear
We've waited for over a year to learn the age of the bear skeleton we recovered last year from Portobello Promenade in Claonaite Seven (GSG Newsletter 135, August 2008). The wait has been worth it, when we learned in early October we'd got the first bear dating from the Pleistocene in Scotland. Thanks are due to Scottish Natural Heritage for this. In July we applied for a grant to SNH to pay for radiocarbon dating the increasing number of finds we had made. In late August they offered us enough to pay for the five dates we wanted. Dr Andrew Kitchener of National Museums Scotland immediately sent the samples to SUERC (Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre), East Kilbride for dating. The first result came through in the first week of October. The rest should arrive about mid-November.
The result surprised most people, but it does fit in with thoughts of how the cave was affected by the last glaciation. The bear skeleton was dated 23,650 +/- 110 years BP which translates to 21,700 BC. The last ice sheet - the Late Devensian - is thought to have built up in Assynt after about 26,000 years BP with the area west of Breabag, which includes the Allt nan Uamh glen, free of ice till after 22,000 BP, This last date fits in with the bear wandering into the Great Northern Time Machine via an entrance under the Bone Caves which was later bulldozed shut by the Late Devensian glaciation. The sealed entrance can be seen in the NW corner of the GNTM. I did predict a pre-glacial date, but thought that it would be even earlier since I'd have expected the climate by 23,650 BP to be too cold for brown bears still to be in the area. Perhaps, as Tim Lawson suggests, they were trapped there by ice-covered mountains to their south.
We have another four dates to come: the ulna found in Legless Highway, and three samples from Antler Chamber; a reindeer antler, a horse mandible and a bear humerus. The last is assumed to be of the same age as the bear skull recovered earlier this year and possibly only a few thousand years old. The others could be anywhere from that to even older than the skeleton. We have to contain our impatience for another month.
The GSG Wedding of the Year
On Saturday 5th September, GSG members Roger Galloway and Annie Audsley tied the knot outdoors in her parents' garden in Cheddar. GSG ex-member and minister Anja Matthalm led the ceremony with the rain obligingly waiting till afterwards to start. That didn't stop a strong gust of wind sending apples plummeting amongst the guests. This wasn't a competitive wedding attempting to set standards for identikit bridesmaids or sartorially elegant guests. Norman Flux did turn up in a white suit and tie, but it was a boiler suit, and the Austrian guests appeared in national costume. The aim was to celebrate the occasion and enjoy the day. After the ceremony the happy couple was sped to Priddy Village Hall for the reception in their 'bridal carriage'. Annie was offered the use of a limousine, but preferred her Dad's open-topped Landrover with its frame suitably decorated with flowers and streamers.
The reception was a lively affair with stacks of food and plenty to drink though there was a slight problem with non-arrival of a licence. This meant that after the free booze was finished the rest was issued free to those buying raffle tickets! One highlight was the cutting of the wedding cake. Constructed by Norman and his helpers in Sheffield, it had very appropriately dressed figurines decorating it. The colours for oversuits, helmets and even Annie's patterned wellies were true to life. Roger and Annie then split rather than cut it using plugs and feathers then a hammer and chisel!
After the multitude was fed, the Somerset Levellers Ceilidh Band swung into action. Most folk were soon following the instructions and whirling and birling around the room. There were many well kent faces there including a couple who seemed very familiar, but so out of context it took a few seconds to recognize them. It was Roger and Jackie from the Hunters; for once not standing behind their bar.
The dancing continued till everyone was exhausted then it was back to the Belfry where another barrel of beer had magically appeared. Sunday arrived and as some of us rose for breakfast others had only just collapsed into their bunks. A visit to the village hall found the clean-up well under way and plenty of volunteers so we started the trek back to Scotland after what had been the best wedding I have attended for many a year: a really excellent day making a memorable weekend. Thanks to Tony and Alice Audsley and all their helpers for the tremendous amount of hard work they all put into making it such a success. Oh and there was a little caving done over the weekend with a few members descending Swildon's Hole.
Caving - Assynt
Not much progress has been made in clearing the Rana entrance shaft of all the digging hardware and the remains of the dam. Most of the dam has now been dismantled by Julian Walford with help first from Bob Mehew and then Peter Reynolds. The sandbags and fill have been used to reduce the depth of water in the dig from chest deep to about knee deep. Peter reported 'saving' 16 frogs, 1 toad, 1 newt and 2 black beetles.
Ivan and Martin spent a day lowering a 5m length of the floor in the Sky-way by about 0.3m. This was the section upstream from the large boulders and left the narrowest section for the next visit. On that next visit, however, it appeared that the rains of the previous weeks had done our work for us as the 0.3m step had disappeared. This was confirmed when some of us had quite a struggle to get out. The passage narrows as it gets deeper and only the slimmest can now 'walk' through without jamming. It was still possible to traverse higher up by clutching a high ledge, but I hear that one member without the necessary Popeye biceps took half an hour for extrication. Derek Pettiglio has since installed some wooden stemples, and it is planned to replace these with some made from stainless steel.
The latest trip down Rana during the recent SCRO exercise found that self-digging had continued and there was now a rock step at the entrance to the narrow section. A hammer and chisel should make short work of it next time we are there and reduce the water level in the dig by another 100 to 150mm.
In August the Walfords and Joneses with a little help from StuL (Stuart Lindsey) spent a few midge-infested hours transplanting turfs from the surrounding moor to the spoil heap and moving boulders into nearby shakeholes. Meanwhile Ivan tidied up a few loose survey ends in Antler Chamber and installed some marker tape there using the BCA approved orange variety and BCA supplied stainless steel supports. The tape is said to have a much longer life than the striped variety and the colour doesn't run. Supporting it above the ground and tensioning it to plastic cable tie mounts in the walls also gives a much neater finish. We plan to eventually replace all the tape in the cave with this glo-tape variety. In Antler Chamber and Portobello Promenade stainless steel and non-magnetic coach bolts were screwed into holes in the walls to provide permanent survey markers.
While surveying the first part of Legless Highway a possible passage was spotted at the top of a small aven. On another trip with Steve Birch to collect sediment samples we were accompanied by Nigel Marsh and son Roger. The latter was persuaded up the aven only to report the roof tube tightened to impassability within a few metres. There are other possibilities for extensions along there and we have still to complete the survey.
StuL spent over a fortnight at the hut during September and recorded rain every day - except the day he left. He investigated the rising above the Fhurain Rising and started a dig not far downstream of ANUSC. Several metres were cleared, but it is underwater when the stream is in spate so could be refilled before his next visit. He also met a couple of cavers from Fife, passed their email address on to Ivan, and the GSG now has another two members!
During a week-long stay in Assynt, Derek continued his explorations around Tibesti Chamber. On a solo trip he dug into another small chamber, but it didn't go far. He left his brand new crowbar in the ammo box on the surface - and it disappeared! Later that week he was joined by Ross Davidson. They found an interesting void, dug for an hour and entered another small chamber. There is still potential there, but it sounds loose and tight.
Alex Latta continues to find more cavities in Sutherland away from the usual limestone area. The latest is a fissure cave in sandstone near Ardmair he is calling Rhue Fissure Cave. He writes "It can actually be seen from the roadside at Ardmair up on the hillside on the left (about halfway up ) that eventually goes around to Rhue lighthouse. We parked there for a few hours to let my brother fish while I went taking photographs so no caving gear at all to hand. The fissure crack is about twenty feet or so in height into a narrowing unexplored cave, but big enough for me to walk into. It also has another smaller entrance on the hill to the right which can, without too much effort, be reached to gain entry, but I didn't have time to explore further.
The hill is also littered with large boulder collapses which has produced many tiny "caves" or rock shelters. I found about six or seven in a short period of time. This included falling up to my waist into one hole into the heather. If these were anywhere but Assynt I'm sure there would be potential for digging/finding a Loch Ard "Rob Roy" type boulder cave very easily. The cave pictured can be found by following the pronounced "sheep path" round the middle of the hill from the Rhue lighthouse area.
I've only so far explored the area around the middle band of the hill. Has anyone looked here before? The easiest way here is to park at Rhue and walk around (20 mins)."
Editor - From the description and photos I think the fissure is around NH 099977 on the northern slopes of Meall Garbh if anyone else would like to investigate further.
David Morrison with Ritchie Simpson and Toby Speight, now a more permanent resident of the area, has been pushing Ivy Hole and nearby sites (see GSG Bull Oct 2009). Their latest find is near the resurgence for Ivy Hole and is called Ivy Chamber Cave. A small hole was enlarged to give a drop down into a walking-height chamber. After a few metres the roof lowers and 10m of crawling in a Toby-sized tube ends in a pool. With no room to turn this needed to be reversed. A return trip is planned for drier weather to see if the pool might drain and if it is really the end. Total length so far is 15m. Further up the hill they've found another cave, but two poised granite boulders need removal before they venture any further into it.
Even later news is Echoey Rift: a hole between CG7 and CG8 dug down into a tight rift that Toby descended 3m to find 5m of low stream passage ending too tight in one direction and choked in the other. In a large shake not far from Uamh an t-Sill they dug into 5m of stream passage with possibilities. Their other dig near Uamh an t-Sill could be the downstream end of this and is 40m away.
The Mendip branch of the GSG are keeping busy. Pete Glanvill and Tony Boycott are rumoured to be persevering with the dig at Reservoir hole. Paul (Brockers) and Stu Lindsay (StuL) carry on with stalwart work in Caine Hill alongside the rest of the Cainehillites team, the labourers of love. There is probably 2 tonnes of rock to get out by the end of October. Plug and feathers in calcite veins don't work well and Caine Hill has loads of those. So Boooooooooooooom! Hi Mr Nobel or is it Mr Nigel soon to do our dirty work and expand the working space 4m down the rift...another tonne! Rocks anybody £1 each or 2 for the price of 3 !!! Estelle has wandered off, and is now enthusiastically digging a couple of places in St Cuthberts...where conditions are dry, water levels are low and the chance to press on avails itself.
StuL Stuart Lindsay
Croatian Cavers Visit Scotland
Three Croatian Cavers visiting Scotland on a reconnaissance trip joined us in the Cumberland Bar one Thursday evening. They were not here to go caving, but to see what there was to be seen and to make contacts for possible future visits in both directions. Ben Nevis and Skye were on their agenda among other places. We spent a pleasant couple of hours talking about caving to Kresimir Moticic, Darko Henc and Tommy Kolman all from Speleoloski Klub Samobor. Their web site may not have much English, but does have some good photos:- www.speleo-klub-samobor.hr
Croatian caver training is more organised than in Scotland with novice cavers rising through graduate level (my words) to speleologist then senior speleologist before reaching the heady heights of instructor. Tommy talked about pushing the bottom of a 1km deep cave and looking at the Internet there is plenty to see including Velebita which is 1026 m deep with an underground free fall vertical drop of 513 m. And for nature lovers - 'At the foot of the Lukina jama, there are ponds and streams including one of the largest known colonies of subterranean leeches.'
For something a little different there is a video of an Austrian base jumper plunging into Mamet Cave in Croatia's Velebit National Park
The Scots Truffle Story
One of the most enjoyable, but interrupted, walks to a cave/caves or prospecting grounds is that which follows the Allt nam Uamh valley. Carrying a heavily laden rucksack either up or down is as we ALL or most have experienced not a mean feat. Now speaking only for the month of August, and having a few spare weeks on hand I set out to learn a few things about this area whilst also following the caver's dream, well the digger's dream. a new cave, bigger than all else found before. Now along this path lie The Bone Caves, a main tourist attraction for the area, and over the dozen or so days that I traipsed up and down the valley it was nice to meet the varied mixture of visitors from near and far.
Well, that was until the last couple of days when the experience of a chat here a chat there got right up my nose! The day before the truffle incident I met a man wearing the shortest of shorts, a tee shirt, sandals, and carrying a map. Bearing in mind the midges, it rained everyday whilst I was up there and the sun was conspicuous by its absence, he seemed odd. Indeed he was, and when I can remember the conversation properly I will relate it. He annoyingly answered or asked a question using two different phrases meaning much the same, each time. So on the following day I was still a bit "ruffled" after having been crawling around in decayed peat, mud and worms when I espied a quite large gentleman, rotund, white monk like hairstyle with a large white beard. A Burl Ives type person, carrying a large home made walking stick. Approaching the top of the rise just up from the car park. having not long left the spring where for the last time I had washed out my oversuit, putting it in a large black bag. Carrying the bag and a spade, and wearing my furry suit and green wellies we converged. He, blocking the path...a conversation ensued. It went like this.
SL "Hi good afternoon."
BI "Hello, that's a funny garb you are wearing, what's in the bag?" (Pointing his lumpy stick at it)
SL "Uuum. Truffles." I replied.
BI "Truffles! You need a dog for them don't you. Where's your dog?"
SL "Eer. No dog. Up here it's mainly peat bogs and truffles only grow in earthy bits."
BI "So how do you find them. It must be quite difficult?"
SL "Easy really. There are not too many earthy bits, so once you find one you have a fair chance."
BI "But where you know where to dig, do you dig up all the earth?"
SL "No. You see my wet knees." (indicating my muddy undersuit) "You kneel down, nose to ground and sniff. When you smell a pungent damp dank sort of smell you know you are pretty close, just dig."
BI (Shaking his stick at my black bag which was tightly wound round my hand) "You must be very rich then?"
SL "No, not really. I don't sell them."
BI "What do you do then, eat them all?"
SL "Uuumm No. I feed them to my pig!"
BI "You feed them to your pig!"
SL "Yes I have got a pot belly pig as a pet and he is very keen on truffles. He lives in a large pen, 100 yards or so. When he is in the hut for the night I go out and bury 3 or more. Next day he enjoys going round and rooting them out with his snout."
BI "Seems a waste to me, why...."
At this point I had manoeuvred past him, so cutting him short I wished him well and headed down to my van, carrying my bag of truffles....wish....and headed for the Inch.
So next time you are up the valley and see a large white haired bearded man with a spade, a black bag, and down on his hands and knees sniffing the ground....wish him well....you never know !! He might just give you a truffle or two! "KEEP ON DIGGING" ...you bet we will
StuL Stuart Lindsay
Hitler Goes Caving
A hit at the 2009 Hidden earth UK Caving Conference was a clip from the 2004 film Der Untergang (The Downfall) with new captions. See it at youtube
The Marshall Bay Kelp Tunnel
It seems Jim Salvona just can't help it. No matter where he goes, and however innocuous the occasion, subterranean cavities leap out of the undergrowth and, like a black hole swallowing a passing star, pull him inexorably into their maw. His latest find was during a quiet coastal stroll with his walking club a few miles north of Berwick upon Tweed. Just as they were stopping for lunch at the Marshal Bay caravan park, he spotted a wooded depression. This aroused his interest, but what tipped the balance was a notice: "Entry at own risk." Red rags and bulls spring to mind!
Within a few seconds Jim was down a steep flight of crumbling steps and at a tunnel entrance. Looking downwards he could see daylight in the far distance. About 95m later he arrived at a small platform near the bottom of the 50m high cliffs facing the North Sea. The descent had been helped by a rope running along the tunnel and this now continued down very steep and even more crumbling steps to the beach. Jim resisted the temptation and returned to his friends wondering just why anyone would excavate a tunnel there. There was no obvious harbour or jetty at the bottom, and it was very unlikely to have been dug to allow access to the beach for passing tourists.
A little research on the Internet found a book, The Border Line by Eric Robson (2006), describing a coast to coast walk following the England/Scotland border. Eric used this tunnel to descend to the sea and reach the eastern end of the border. He didn't know when it was cut, but did know why: "Originally a steam-powered hydraulic engine hauled wagons up a tramway through the tunnel carrying kelp from the shore to use as agricultural fertilizer."
The Barjarg Waterwheel
In the August 2009 issue of the Northern Mine Research Society Newsletter the story of the Glasgow Speleological Group's extraction of a waterwheel and associated pumps from Barjarg Limestone Mine in Dumfriesshire was reprinted. The NMRS Newsletter editor, David Neal, asked where the wheel was now and asked any of the "Magnificent Seven" GSS members involved to email him with their memories of the occasion or more information on the machinery at firstname.lastname@example.org. According to that GSS Newsletter extract the waterwheel went to the Scottish Society for the Preservation of Historical Machinery. I found that it merged with the Scottish Industrial Archaeology Society in the 1980s to become the Scottish Industrial Heritage Society. Goon has since found that the waterwheel is in the Chambers Street museum. NMRS would still like to hear from anyone with information on the machinery so please contact David Neal if you have any knowledge of the event.
The next NAMHO Council Meeting is being held in Nenthead Mines Heritage Centre on Saturday 14th November 2009, starting at 10.30 am. There are trips organised into the mines after the meeting and on Sunday. Any member of a NAMHO member organisation can attend and that includes the GSG. Contact Steve Hooding at email@example.com if you want to go and contact the GSG committee if you wish to represent the GSG at the Council Meeting.
2009 Meets and Events
See the GSG events page for details.
Request for requests
If there is a particular cave you'd like to visit please let me know - preferably with one or two dates when you might be able to make it.
Five more cavers have joined Scotland's finest caving club since July:-
- Gareth Dennis - son of Peter has returned to Scotland to complete his education in Edinburgh University. He now has the opportunity to add to the limited amount of caving he has done with his dad. I won't embarrass him by publishing the several years old photo of him at one of the GSG meals in the hut.
- Imogen Furlong has joined with her partner Robert Bryniarski - She is an experienced caver, has been on expeditions to Meghalaya and Mexico, and even dug in Rana.
- Robert Johnson and Michael Tutt - have both been in a wide selection of caves and mines all over Scotland including Schiehallion and Assynt. They met StuL in Assynt and have joined us as a result.
Gareth Dennis, Imogen Furlong & Robert Bryniarski, Robert Johnston, Michael Tutt.
Ross Davidson. Alison Jones.
John Crae, Tel mobile; John Glover, email home; Dan Harries & Fiona Ware, email home; David Morrison, Tel home.
David and Suzie Robinson announced the arrival of a son - Cairn Peter Robinson. He was born at 12:22pm on Tuesday 1st September and weighed in at 7lb 15.5oz, and 52cm long to mix measurement systems. With granddad Andy and parents all in the GSG, Cairn in a few years could become the first 3rd generation GSG caver.
Alison Jones and fiance Mark Gallaghar are back from New Zealand and living in Dundee. Before returning they spent five weeks touring South Island visiting some caves as they did so. IN Alison's words "We followed in Rosemary and Bob's footsteps and saw the Moa bones at Ngarua caves, which are part of the middle earth system. The West coast is rich in mining heritage (both gold and coal) and we visited a few tunnels and workings on our way down. The hamlet of Punakaiki gave 2 caves to explore. Firstly, the surprisingly well decorated Fox River Cave, which even has a paved floor as a relic from its days as a show cave. The 200m long passage provided ample entertainment before we visited the Punakaiki cavern, which lies next to the main road south and even has a Dept of Conservation sign marking the entrance. This was less decorated, but provided 150m of easy passage to wander through. Mark is now keen to explore the caves Assynt has to offer!" They also visited a cave with aboriginal hand painting in the Blue Mountains on their way home.
Jackie Yuill and George Sutherland indulged in their own low profile spot of knot tying in August. A couple of days later there was a quiet afternoon of nibbles and drinks in George's garden, but no dancing, just gentle staggering.
Elphin Caving Centre
Some maintenance and repair work has been completed at the hut. After the dose of Cuprinol reported in the last Newsletter all windowsills have now been undercoated by Ivan then painted by StuL. We now need to buy more Butinox 2 to paint the rest of the window frames.
A dripping tap in the kitchen led Ivan to attempt a quick check on the type of washer needed to fix it just before he heading home. The tap was dismantled, but only after almost cracking the plastic cap. He then found the washer had fallen off and had disappeared into the tap never to be seen again. And there were no spare washers! We started by trying to cut down larger size washers without much success. Luckily a further search in the plumbing department over the toilets found a similar tap which still had an intact washer. This was quickly fitted and with a sign of relief Ivan could drive south. Because of lingering doubts on the longevity of the tap mechanism a pair of replacements were bought and one fitted at the next opportunity.
Hut visitors sometimes take chairs outside to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the ambience. We don't mind them doing so. So please continue to do so provided you take the chairs back inside afterwards and don't leave them outside to get trashed by the weather!!! It doesn't matter whether they are the plywood variety or the plastic, they all suffer if left exposed to the elements.
Confirmed Taigh nam Famh Bookings
contact Hut Warden for latest information)
There will, no doubt, be a series of theme evenings and a Christmas Dinner organized in the hut for members. We'll let you know when we do of the dates.
Hut fees are £5.00 per night for non-members and £2.50 for GSG, Bradford and BEC members. Reduced to £3.00 and £2.00 for children, students, the unemployed and OAPs. Camping is at a reduced rate of £2.00 only when the hut is full. Day fees are £1.00 for members and £2.00 for non-members.
If you want to stay in the hut please contact the Hut Warden - Peter Dowswell to check if there will be space. It is never too soon to book and can be too late if another group has already booked. So if you plan to stay at the hut over, for example, the Xmas/New Year period now isn't too soon to tell Peter.
Altnacealgach - There is Oriental Cuisine on the menu on the 24th October (fixed price £15) and an Acoustic Music evening on the 30th - bring your own instruments or use theirs: clarinet, clarsach, fiddle, guitar & piano.
House Improvement - When Derek and Ross were in the hut for a week recently, they watched as the new house across the road acquired a CR Smith conservatory. A case of keeping up with the cavers?
The GSG private web site can be found at http://members.gsg.org.uk Login names and passwords are distributed to GSG members by email. If you have lost them contact Ivan. Many of the events and caving trips covered by this Newsletter appear in the photo gallery and all recent Bulletins and Newsletters can be found there though not at full print resolution.
SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) publishes information on river levels on their web pages. For example if you are interested in Assynt the most suitable page is probably for the River Oykel at Easter Turnaig about a mile downstream of Oykel Bridge. The graph for the weekend of the recent SCRO exercise on the 3rd October shows the river level peaking only a few hours after our exercise, so allowing for the flow-through time we must have timed our exercise to coincide with the peak in Rana. There is also data for the River Inver at Little Assynt, but Loch Assynt smoothes out the flow so the changes there are not so dramatic.
To see other river levels go to SEPA and select one of about one hundred sites on the map of Scotland.
Thanks are due to Julian Walford for telling us about that. He also points out that "If you want a decent sized chunk of OS mapping in Scotland (purely for private research of course) larger than the OS 'Get-a-Map' size, try the SEPA map viewer It is not particularly up-to-date at 1:25K, but the 1:50K & above looks better; maybe 2006/7. It needs patience, but as it provides quite a big map, that is to be expected."
Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation
Cave Rescue Conference 2009
Four members attended the UK Cave Rescue Conference this May in Derbyshire. It was held in the Nightingale Centre at Great Hucklow. A very well run weekend with plenty of interesting talks and useful practical sessions. A good opportunity to meet members of other teams and swap information.
A history of Derbyshire Cave Rescue was accompanied by walk-on parts with team members attired in period caving garb carrying equipment of the same vintage. Some of this was on loan from Goon.
Ivan attended the session on foul air followed by practical demonstrations at Nick Williams' lead mine shaft. There were handheld detectors from MSA, a safety lamp, and tests using a cylinder of carbon dioxide to generate foul air in the shaft then blowers and lengths of lay-flat plastic tubing to ventilate it. Some folk walked and ran around the field trying out an experimental rebreather for use in foul air. This promises a far greater duration than conventional breathing apparatus provided problems with cooling can be overcome.
Mark, Roger and Annie joined a rigging workshop down a nearby hole where teams demonstrated rigging pitches for vertical hauling.
In April we held a joint exercise with Strathclyde Police MRT. The main aim was to extract a casualty from a deep fissure cave on the slope of A'Chrois near Arrochar. The subsidiary task was packaging and moving a casualty in our Slix stretchers and brand new CaRe casualty bag out of a smaller fissure. Both tasks were run twice so everyone had the opportunity of taking part in both. Prior to the event Annie and Roger organized a couple of evening sessions at Uphall on hauling techniques.
During June we visited Applecross for an exercise with members of Torridon and Kintail MRTs. For once the weather was superb though not many MRT members ventured underground. Most entrance locations were GPS'd and afterwards we send the results and copies of the local cave guide to Torridon MRT.
The annual Assynt event with Assynt MRT was not blessed with such good weather. In fact the planned extraction of a casualty from Claonaite Seven through Rana Hole had to be shortened. Rana was the wettest anyone there had seen it. With the Black Rift pitch far too wet to be contemplated, we started the extraction from the chamber above it. Some work had been done earlier in the summer to open up a couple of the places where diggers had done the minimum, so the stretcher slid through quite easily with only a modest amount of further clearance. Just as well we were using a dummy: the digging hardware still in place in the entrance shaft slowed the ascent and Effy (the casualty) got a good soaking as she swung under the waterfall cascading down the pitch. A useful exercise nonetheless, but we need a rematch to attempt the section from Belh Aven and up the Black Rift. The day had its moments particularly when Bob Jones slipped a couple of metres at the top of the fixed ladder - he still doesn't know how - and acquired a couple of cracked ribs and a fine display of multi-coloured bruises. That was before the exercise started. After the exercise, and not to be outdone by her husband, Rosemary Jones lost her footing in the Allt nan Uamh and went for a dip after staying dry in a shelter all day!
The SCRO has now acquired a Larkin Rescue Frame and we spent one evening at Uphall familiarising ourselves with its use. It'll be great for extracting casualties and team members out of shafts even if they have crumbling edges. Only drawback is that if the shaft is a long way from road access, and especially if it is uphill, it is heavy at 40kg plus ropes and pulleys. Roger is buying more carry bags for it so it can split into several lighter loads.
More recent acquisitions are handheld multi-gas detectors. Funded by a donation from John Ireson - Peter's father - we bought two Honeywell GasAlertMicroClip detectors, calibration gear and a PC interface cable and software. These detectors measure and display levels of oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and explosive vapours eg methane. As well as for use during callouts, they are available for SCRO and GSG members to borrow during normal caving and especially during visits to mines. This will enable us to build up knowledge of just what normal atmospheric conditions are in the various cavities we visit, allow us to detect changes in them, and to better evaluate conditions in places we are visiting for the first time.
When you borrow a detector there's no need to keep writing down the readings. Every 15 seconds they store the current readings in memory. When it is returned I can download the data into my PC, and produce graphs of gas concentrations versus time. So far I've only taken them into Rana where the oxygen concentration stayed firmly at 20.9% and the others gases at zero. It was suggested we take one into the hut's bunk room overnight, but we wouldn't want to wake everybody up if gaseous effusions caused an alarm in the early morning.
Mark has continued talking to MRCofS about issuing more radios to SCRO. That is not going to happen so he is going to evaluate a completely waterproof set that is totally compatible with the present and future requirements for mountain rescue radios. We'll then buy some. Since they will be waterproof they can be used as pitch radios underground as well as for surface communications.
Meetings and Events
SCRO committee members attended the BCRC AGM in April and the MRCofS AGM in May. The MRCofS is keeping us busy with a symposium on the future direction of mountain rescue, imminent meetings on distributing the Scottish Government's grant and a new constitution, followed by a General Meeting in November. John Glover has reviewed the proposed constitution and found some serious deficiencies and plenty of drafting issues. For example it doesn't allow for animal rescue or searching for anything other than missing persons.
MRCofS Shell Seminar
This year's Shell Seminar is being held in MacDonald's Aviemore Highland Resort from the 13th to 15th November. Cost is £50 per person and doesn't include accommodation though it does include some meals. This is quite an increase on previous years in quality of venue and cost, but you still have to find and pay for accommodation. In previous years I have encouraged members to attend as it was a good way of meeting members of other teams. This year there seems less opportunity for that since participants will be scattered all over Aviemore in the evenings. The programme includes some good topics so it should still be worth attending. For more details contact a committee member.
The SCRO will pay the seminar cost for members attending it, but please contact the committee first to discuss other expenses.