Cambridge Underground 1990 p 25

Underground Camping

by Mike Richardson

The big problem with underground camping was the dark. Basically, morning doesn't exist. Without the arrival of daylight, the body doesn't seem to realise that it ought to be getting up, and just lies there, waiting for something to happen. Getting the brain into gear is seriously hard work.

For the first time since Stellerweg was bottomed in 1982, C.U.C.C. decided to camp in Kaninchenhöhle in 1989. Not that it was strictly necessary, you could get to the sump and back in 16 hours or so, and there was nowhere to camp below -300 metres, but people thought it might be fun. Anyway, it seemed like a good idea to have a go where you could still escape if something went wrong, or if you just couldn't face it any more.

The first camp was in the Toilet Block, off Yapate Inlet, near Tower Hamlets. Juliette, Wookey, Del, Jeremy, Joe and Dave set off to do two days pushing and surveying below Knossus. The author joined them, mainly for the hell of it, that night. The Toilet Block is a metre wide passage, quite long and fairly draught-free, leading to a grovel into a sandy chamber. The latter had no ways on (once Tina had persuaded Jeremy to have a look down a dubious free climb), and served as the bog. Beware of buried treasure! This camp was occupied for a single night.

The second camp, populated by Julian, Jeremy and the author, lasted for two nights. It was to have been on the Black Lagoon at the bottom of Niflheim, but after getting sidetracked when we discovered the Pot Of Gold, we ended up in a rather draughty side passage just off the Left Hand Series. The campsite itself was suitably sandy, and led to a boulder slope which provided easy hidey-holes for nasty deposits. Unfortunately the draught got up on the second night, so it was excessively cold. Fortunately, Jeremy's bowels started to play up the following morning, so there was a good excuse to leave.

So, what did we learn? The biggest problem was keeping warm at night. The air temperature is pretty low, but the main problem seems to be the draught. Unlike 1982, we did not use any tents. These would improve the camp considerably. An inner would almost certainly be enough, and following the destruction of top camp, we have a two-man inner for next year. Alternatively, any sort of cheap tent would do, or a breathable bivvi bag. A survival bag was used, but was horribly sweaty. A tent or bivvi bag would also keep down the sand, which threatens to get everywhere.

Cooking presented no problems. Both meths and pressurised paraffin stoves were used quite effectively. Food really needs to be warm and filling, and needn't be particularly nutritious, unless it is going to be a very long camp. The usual diet of chocolate bars and the like keeps you going.

Apart from the horror of getting back into furry suits in the morning, the damp wasn't a problem. Everybody took down spare clothes to change into on return to the camp, and to sleep in. Thermal gloves and balaclava are a good idea even if you don't use them at any other time.

The more nights the camp is occupied the better. A lot of effort is expended in getting gear down to the camp and out again afterwards, so the less times you do it the better. Gear was carried in ordinary tackle bags, with sleeping bags and spare clothes being bundled up in polythene bags and stuff sacks. Kaninchenhöhle is not wet, so there were no real problems in keeping gear dry in transit.

We'll be back in 1990, and it will be fun to see if we can make it a bit more civilised. Now, a music system would be really nice.....