CTS 87.266: NPC Journal 4(1), Jan 1987, pp 78-79

Should the Moribund learn SRT ?

Andy Waddington

Following the extensive use of Single Rope Technique (SRT) during the recent explorations of Far Notts Pot, there has been much discussion within the club on the merits of regular SRT use on club trips. The committee firmly vetoed any plans for the club to own SRT rope. The support for this veto came not just from those cavers with no SRT experience but also from some of the most experienced SRT users in the club. Why ?

This article does not set out to show that either SRT or ladder and lifeline technique (LLT) is superior. My thesis is that each technique has a place in the club, but that it is not appropriate for the club tackle store to house SRT rope for general use. The discussion relates to the Northern Pennine Club with its very diverse membership and would not necessarily apply to other clubs.

First let us examine the membership profile of an established club with plans to survive for many years yet. A mature club like ours needs to recruit new blood to replace those older members who cease active caving owing to business or marital commitments, or to increasing decrepitude or alcoholism. If it fails to find new members it becomes moribund. This new blood is a mix of complete novices and young active cavers who may have started caving at school or university. After a while in the club, these people will form part of the active 'core' to be seen caving regularly. Several years later, they may have specialised into digging or diving, surveying or photography, or into the detailed exploration of a certain system or area. Eventually, at the other end of the scale, we have many experienced members who now only cave infrequently. They are no less valuable members of the club, but now they contribute information and anecdote rather than muscle and undirected enthusiasm.

Novices with very little experience tend to abdicate all responsibility to the more experienced leaders of the trip, who must be responsible at all times for the safety of the party. This usually means a fairly high level of supervision. For a novice to decide he likes caving, he must enjoy his first few trips, and not become bored with an excess of training on the surface, the relevance of which may not be apparent for some time. This is a powerful argument for avoiding vertical work entirely on the first trips, and for using LLT on subsequent trips, until the new caver has learnt to look after himself underground. Once he has discovered the potential dangers to be found, he can assess for himself whether he wishes to go in for the sort of caving where SRT is appropriate.

On the other hand, those in the twilight of their caving career have been brought up using LLT and now do not cave often enough to wish to invest either their money in expensive equipment or their time in learning new techniques to the high standards required for safety. Their continued caving relies on being able to turn up at the cottage and either join in with whoever may be going on a trip, or get a load of tackle from the store and set off with that. If the club owns both SRT gear and LLT gear then there must be less of each or higher subscriptions, neither of which is desirable.

Many trips, however, (and more especially, many of the working trips on which the club relies to make the discoveries which keep us at the forefront of speleology) are done by the regular active core of the club. If a new discovery relies on repeated trips to the far reaches of a cave by a small digging party of two or three, or on the transport of heavy diving gear to a place remote from the entrance, then they need to use the fastest techniques and the lightest equipment to gain the maximum benefit from the trips. Such has been the case in Notts Pot where the sump had to be dived a dozen or so times before the breakthrough was made, and many more dives were needed to carry on the exploration and survey beyond. On many of these trips the divers had to carry for themselves and the need to rig and derig the pot with ladders each time would have made the trips impractical. If the cave is left permanently rigged with SRT, a caver can leave the entrance with a heavy bag of diving gear and be at the sump well inside the hour. Using SRT means that sherpas can move independently carrying gear at their own pace, without the endless delays that lifelining and tackle-hauling would present. It is no exaggeration to say that without SRT, the further reaches of Notts Pot would not be known today.

SRT has also made it possible for the 'hard core' to go digging in Far Waters on a two man trip, and to spend time prospecting in Lost Johns' on two or three man trips. It is essential for those of us who cave abroad on expeditions where perhaps half a dozen people are rigging caves five or six times deeper than Penyghent. Why then should the club not own some SRT rope ?

Everyone on an SRT trip, not just the leader(s), requires a very high standard of training if safety is to be maintained at the same level as on an LLT trip. Caving on SRT, one relies absolutely on the rope to be in good condition. With LLT, if the ladder fails you have (or should have !) a lifeline, so less frequent inspection, and perhaps even somewhat less care in use, are not such serious dangers. Metal ladders and hawser laid ropes are both more robust than kernmantel SRT rope, and usually easier to inspect. One has only to look at a selection of ladders after a couple of years in use, or at some club lifeline after a few weeks, to realise the level of abuse that tackle can suffer in general use. SRT rope requires very careful supervision to remain in safe condition, and I for one would not trust SRT rope with an unknown history.

At various times, groups of club members have owned SRT rope between them, and have sensibly avoided keeping it where it could be subject to general abuse. The rules enforced by the current SRT collective are very strict, and the system has always worked well.

At the end of the day, SRT is a specialist technique to be used by those who have a need for it. In this it is no different from cave diving, and there has never been a suggestion that the club should own diving gear. There should be no pressure on anyone caving with the club to use these more advanced techniques:- if they want to bottom Jib tunnel solo or see the China Shop, they are free to buy the gear and learn the skills. By all means let us have SRT trips, and I applaud the committee for agreeing to pay the cost of ropes worn out on the Notts Pot explorations, but keep SRT out of the club tackle store.

> NPC Journal 1987:
---> Back to contents
---> Previous page: The Story of a Rock Drill
> Out of print publications list
> Northern Pennine Club Home page