The Sleeping Stal
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On the Measuring and Defining of Rants
Austria expedition archive

Cambridge Underground 1999 pp 62-65

Speleo Pachydermis

Sam Leiberman

An Elephant, the perfect caving companion

One dull afternoon in Ye Olde Naked Man Café in Settle, Yorkshire, after a particularly hard drinking session, was born the concept of adding elephants to the list of essential tackle required by any self respecting caving club. There are many obvious benefits to having an elephant on your caving team.

First and foremost they would be able to carry huge quantities of gear AND, all, the team members up the hill, though some of the stiles would possibly have to be modified to take the weight. Having arrived at the entrance, you would then be able to drop a custom tailored 'skirt' around the legs providing privacy and weather proofing -- no grade five changes for these lucky folk. Obviously care would be required to not wrap the skirt around too high otherwise inadequate venting at the rear may lead to the whole shebang hover-crafting over the fell.

For surface shafts all you need do is tie the rope round any useful appendage as a backup, and off you go. The first re-belay then provides a tether to prevent your transport (and your gear) wandering off in search of friends and/or peanuts. If you're tired on the way out, then, with minimal training, the elephant will be more than happy to haul people and gear back to the surface, though any undue excitement (e.g. startled by a rabbit) may lead to the unfortunate haulee being rocketed skywards against their will.

This is all very well but HOW do you get your elephant to your favorite caving area. This is no problem for local clubs but what about us keenies in Cambridge who have to drive 200 miles to get anywhere useful? It's debatable, based on past experience, whether the CUCC trailer would be quite up to the job. You could always make the animal walk, but not everyone has three weeks free just to get to the Mendips and back, and the cost of supercharging elephants with amphetamine laced carrots would be prohibitive. One thought that occurs, at least heading north anyway, would be to get the beasts as far as Bradford on the train. From there a suitable quantity of super hot Vindaloo'd chick pea curry might provide enough gaseous power that you could literally rocket to the Dales. The ears could be used as steering vanes. Careful dosing would be required so as not to run out of power too soon and hence miss the pub, or worse still, to overshoot and end up bogged down in the Morecambe sands for the night. The only other option would be to invest in one elephant per caving area and keep it stabled there (probably at vast expense) I can't see it working myself even with a 'ele-share' scheme in operation between clubs.

These problems aside, we can now consider the more advanced uses of elephants in a speleological situation. Elephants are quite at home in water, blessed as they are with a built in snorkel so the exploration of big river caves and sumps would be wide open -- none of this poncy dangling about in the roof to avoid the water. Sump drainage would become a doddle -- no more tedious bailing in Swildons, and in a rescue situation there would be no need to wreck the landscape by towing fire pumps across the fell -- they could just walk there. (The CRO would have to sell their land rovers to cover the cost of painting the things yellow every couple of weeks, mind you, but then they wouldn't have need of the Land Rovers anyway).

For the diggers of this world, it's well known that elephants can be trained to shift large bits of wood around so why not boulders. All those chokes deemed to be 'No goers' because of their sheer size could just be barged out of the way opening up new vistas of exploration. In the Mendips you could dispense with the expensive hire costs of a JCB, just borrow the MRO rescue elephant. Being yellow it would even be the right colour. Even better, if a reasonable method of 'corking' the elephant after a Fountains Café, double with beans breakfast, could be found, then blasting techniques might be feasible.

"Ah!" I hear you cry, "I've spotted the obvious flaw in your scheme - Elephants sucking sumps out in Swildons, indeed! and what use are they on a Quaking pot trip? or for taking gear through the Darren entrance crawl?" But we've thought of this as well. One possible solution, we've rejected, would be to blast out the caves until they are big enough -- but I can see there being some objection to this given the potential disturbance of archeological remains and law suits from jealous quarrying companies. So, as some of you may know, there are several voluptuous female elephant decoys currently in place in Swildons and other strategic caving locations in Britain and as we all know from Professor Spielberg and his experiments with dinosaurs: Nature will find a way.

On the subject of breeding, for those clubs large and rich enough to own two elephants there are obvious benefits. Though it may be an idea to set up a reciprocal breeding rights program amongst said clubs -- can you imagine the result of twenty years of inbreeding elephants at Bull Pot Farm ???!!!! There is a danger of course that caving clubs will loose their sense of purpose and end up spending all their time constructing ever more elaborate housing for the burgeoning populations of speleolephants. Eventually the landowners would step in and have to start organising elephant shoots, the environmentalists would then be up in arms, and you'd get no peace in the evenings for people wandering up and down with placards and handing out leaflets "An elephant is for life, not just Christmas Pot".

You may, at this point, be wondering if elephants are really up to the dismal weather conditions found on your average Yorkshire fell, you might well end up having to house the poor beast somewhere warm for the winter months and where's the use in that? So, to get round this problem, Lyon Equipment in association with the Dent rare breeds farm, is attempting to cross breed standard African elephants with indigenous populations of sheep. Initial experiments with natural insemination techniques were abandoned due to a) lack of mutual interest, b) even the randiest of rams being unable to jump high enough, c) lots of squashed mutton. Consequently, experiments continue apace, with modified vacuum sewerage pipe unblocking equipment buckets and bath sealant syringes. We look forward to the delivery of the first 'woolyphant' next summer. The new breed would have the added benefit of blending into the scenery much better -- I can see it being quite hard to pirate Dan yr Ogof, for instance, with an elephant in tow.

There's a thought, how about painting them pink, you might get away with that... "Honest, I saw a large pink elephant just wander through the gates" would be the words, as they hustled the manager of White Scar into the special long sleeved suit and rubberised compartment in the ambulance.

So what about expeditions? Well if Hannibal can get them up the Alps then so can we. To be fair, I think we'd have to get an Expo elephant and keep it out in Austria (see 'trailers') but once there they could prove extremely useful. It's well known that elephants never forget so they could be trained to memorise surveying data and back at the potato hut stamp out the figures so they can be typed into the computer. Also, no more getting lost on the plateau with a trained homing elephant and a Petzl Elephone for locating each other even in the foggiest of conditions (see advertising feature). By pegging down the windproof skirt there is an instant tent for top camp but I feel there would have to be a chute arrangement otherwise the unfortunate campers might wake up to find themselves up to their ears in elephant poo. In the morning all that would be required is to unpeg the skirt and off you go to the entrance. This has the added bonus of causing no problems with passing tourists / hunters, since the ele-tent will be tethered up by the entrance all day. At the end of expedition gear washing session -- no problem, you've got your very own pressure washer there already.

And finally, in a dire emergency (or on retirement) the animal could be slaughtered and used as a jolly fine slap up meal -- anyone know any good elephant recipies?

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The Sleeping Stal
CU 1999 Contents Page Next:
On the Measuring and Defining of Rants
Austria expedition archive