BCRA Conference

2-3 October 2004

Jan's report on Hidden Earth 2004

To start, a brief rant. The M6 bites my crank. Thankyou.

Apart from the small matter of travel, it was another great cave conference weekend! Tom, Clewin, Colm and myself went up, via the NPC, and joined the w/e traffic queue into a damp overcast Kendal - WHY?
Why where 100s of thousands of people queuing to wonder around Kendal on such a miserable day! For those that don't know, Hidden Earth (or the BCRA if you are an old lag) is the annual get together for anyone involved in British caving, if you've invented something (like Dave Wilson and his excellent Mig-lite) or gone somewhere exciting (like ICCC to Infinity And Beyond!), you can go there and show-off.

After registration, the first stop was The Vat bar, which indeed had half the bar inside vats of beer. But without so much as a drop, I was soon minus a t-shirt - so it could be entered for a competition - fortunately for me entries were closed. But its not all about drinking and giving your clothes away, and I wandered into an excellent talk on zee 'nipples' of Yucatan peninsular and its Kms of submerged cave, by a frenchie called Christian; followed by some more dive talks. Concerned that I might start thinking that cave diving is a good idea - which it isn't - I stopped by Cinema 1 for some caving above 4000m above sea level, in Sima Puacoch, Peru; and then the fantastic Meghalaya expedition, which in the "stages of caver" must come somewhere between stage 3 - 'growing a beard' and 4 - 'armchair caver'. This trip focused on a massive ridge of limestone in N East India, including the Khazi mountains. Average rainfall is 10's of metres and the caves are huge and horizontal - by way of example, a 2-day side-recce discovered and surveyed 3km, then they returned to base camp with its staff of 10 and its bamboo sauna*.

That evening, the IC contingent joined by Hugh and some other Glasgow cavers who had just come back from Romania, all commended Hugh's skill, as he proudly passed round his trip photos (or 'cave porn') in a local curry house, naked cavers with strategically placed stalagmites and helmets! (More evidence of which can be seen in Glasgow uni's sports calendar, a copy of which, purely for reference purposes, is in stores).
Back at the conference centre, the night descended like a classic alpine cave - quickly and dramatically - into drunkeness with live music and the Stomp. Cavers doing what they do best, drinking well and dancing badly. Sunday morning, and sometime the previous night a sign had been posted above the bar. "OUT OF CASK ALE....you drank it ALL! 350 Gallons, 2440 pints!!!!!" Personally, coffee, a dark lecture theatre and a dive talk on the worlds most unpronouncable cave, Llygad Llywchr, by Martin Farr - a great talker, so you can close your eyes and not have to look at the slides - was perfect for a hangover. With things returning to normal Colm and myself hiked round Kendal only to learn that 'All Day Breakfast' was a foreign concept, in particular Weatherspoon's were VERY strict about their 12 o'clock deadline, can someone explain that one?

Back at the conference they were onto ancient sandstone caves in Sao Paulo, containing Opal speleothems. Diving a sump pool in Mexico, minus 1300m and 6 DAYS undergound. And the well publicised rescue of Armed Forces cavers from Cuetzalan, subsequently arrested and accused of hunting for Uranium! Then Clewin's excellent talk on Imperial's expedition to Migovec in Slovenia. And finally the closing ceremony. Fortunately the traffic-jam tedium of the journey home was relieved by Colm brewing espresso's on his gas stove, on the backseat of the car. To all those, eh-hem, hordes of would be undergraduate cavers, 90% of these expeditions are British, and some are open (to anyone displaying a degree of competence).

* I think this was an open expedition?