David Wilson, James Wilson, Rebecca Diss, Úna Barker, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Filip Maron, Wouter Rienks, Kitt Thomas
Swildon's Hole: Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Filip Maron, James Wilson, Rebecca Diss, Lucie Studena, Ellie Pizey, Úna Barker, Kitt Thomas
A combination of factors led to a really excellent day. It was pretty slow to start, as has become customary, but we eventually settled on all in Swildon’s, split into 3 teams. We took ages to get ready, as per, getting laughed at by the Wessex members for still being at the hut at half one.
Something about Swildon’s hole made it fantastically fun to climb through, but I can’t put my finger on what exactly. I’m obviously not the first to think this, but I never really understood to the extent it was such a good cave. I was donning a wetsuit-PVC combo so the slow pace didn’t bother me at all.
There was some confusion at the 20; I had never use ladders so was given a crash course in belaying to make sure Ana could get down safely, which sort of worked; Wouter and I spent a couple minutes figuring out how to tie the Italian hitch Ana had taught me 30 seconds ago. I’ve been told many a time that ladders suck and this more or less confirmed that – the only positive was the lack of all the SRT kit, but that was mostly negated by the extra weight of the ladder.
I had also never done a sump before, so was a little intimidated by Ana disappearing behind a wall of rock, but had time to mentally prepare as the others went through. Even so, Ana set the example to be face up, which led to many nosefuls of muddy water being swallowed.
Turning around at sump 2 (after some excellent cheese of course), we made it back to sump 1 in excellent time, so Filip and I waited there so Ana and Wouter could peek into the black hole. 2 left, 6 returned – they had met the other group. The necessary confusion followed – who wants to go where, what is feasible etc. In the end the other group were to follow Filip and I to the 20 before leaving for the Mud Sump. Wouter and Ana would be spaghettified.
Going back through the sump was much more sudden as I was first with lots of cold people behind me – and as a result I panicked and got up too quickly and hit my head on the rock, opening a cut. Nothing serious, but solidified the fact that face down is far superior.
As dinner was still a while from being ready when we got back, Janet took Una and me on a trip to the legendary cider barn. A beautiful cacophony of pink and green lights lured us in, where a man with less teeth than fingers concluded after much deliberation that 3x4=12. He gave us a small cup to try some ‘Mendip Shine’ (8%!), and a shady man from the corner murmured, ‘Hm that’s the good stuff’ before calling his enormous dog from behind the bar. Here alcohol wasn’t sold in pints but jerrycans. Quite the experience.
We were in the Mendips and thus destined to Swildon’s. Despite the mud sump being full, I was keen to attempt to get to Blue Pencil by going through all the ducks anticlockwise. Lucie, James and Ellie were attracted to this option and thus our party was formed.
There was an impressive amount of faff and I believe the Wessex members present were dubious of our ability to actually go caving. To spite them, we eventually made the trek to the cave and prepared ourselves for the joy of submersion.
We went down what I think was the short wet way and fairly quickly made it to the 20 foot pitch. We had decided to honour Mendip tradition and rig a ladder and belay rather than the frowned upon SRT we sometimes undertake. James belayed us all and then we naturally faffed at the bottom as we realised we would need to belay him down. I tied an Italian hitch with Ellie’s expert advice and awkwardly belayed as James descended the ladder. I found the only way to actually feed the rope through was to aggressively jump up and down as I pulled so it was quite a tiring endeavour.
When we reached the Sump, I appeared to be the keenest to dunk myself and so was sent in first. The club wetsuit I had with me this weekend was horrifically stiff and so I opted to just wear a furry and thermals in the interest of not getting exhausted but this did make the initial submersion quite a shock to the system. Nevertheless, I pulled myself through with a smile on my face and emerged with only a small volume of water up my nose. The others slowly followed and I had a relaxing wait in the sand listening to their yelps as they too braved the liquid.
We swiftly continued on to the landing and pulled ourselves up the muddy slope. I was curious whether I would remember the way from the last time I was here but we managed to do everything without much backtracking. The not birthday squeeze was as pleasant as remembered (really not all that bad) and we were fairly swiftly faced with our first duck of the day. I, as the designated sumbersion lover, was nominated to go first which was somewhat daunting but thrilling at the same time. I forget which duck was which but one of them was quite long with not a huge amount of air space. As I slowly moved through, on my back with my face in the air gap, the passage got tighter and I was briefly concerned for my well being. I felt I had gone too far to give up now so pushed on through the mild fear and thankfully soon emerged into a chamber with plentiful space and air.
Convincing the others that this was not horrific was quite the challenge. I believe Lucie went in first and definitely panicked a bit at the restriction despite my reassurances. The unfortunate thing about ducks is that if you don't move slowly and calmly you end up creating waves which push the water over your face and make it even more grim. Luckily this did not last long and Lucie soon exited the water. The others followed suit, equally unimpressed by both the coldness of the water and the tightening of the passage.
By the time they had come through I was very cold and keen to get moving. We continued on to what I believe was the final duck but were greeted to something we deemed to have too little airspace to pass. Alas, we would not make it to Blue Pencil this fine day. We turned around after careful consideration of the possibility of attempting the duck in its current state. Before entering the duck on the return, we bailed for a short while which both improved my temperature and the grimness of the duck. At first glance it didn't seem to have done much but when I actually went through it was significantly easier.
We made our way back towards the 20 fairly swiftly in the interest of heat production and bumped into Ana and Matti’s group just before reaching Sump 1. We faffed around for a while as people rejigged, some going with Ana to the Black Hole. Some of us opted to go and look at the mud sump from the other side to see how high the water was. We got there swiftly and the water levels, while high, were not as high as when I was last there. Satisfied we would not attempt to free dive this muddy lake, we turned back. Lucie had left a buff at Sump 1 so we went back there before heading out. When we reached the ladder, I belayed everyone out from the bottom which was incredibly tiring (my arms got a real workout) and by the time we got to the surface I was knackered. Doing the not short round is quite a lot of caving.
Back at the hut, caving games and cider barn beverages occurred. Ellie and I were fairly good at pot and sling but would inevitably lose to Kit and Una, the smallest of teams. Matti and Wouter also teamed up and made an impressively long duo. So much limb.