Alex Seaton, Arianna Renzini, Ben Honan, Bhavik Lodhia, Dave Wilson, Edith Huebner, Isha Kaur, Jack Hare, Jarvist Frost, Kenneth Tan, Layla Aston, Max Hörmann, Nuria Devos, Oliver Myerscough, Peter Ganson, William French
Another weekend, another quick swing by Leamington Spa to collect Alex, who'd be doing some of the driving. Having accidentally entered the train station during some brief rush hour, Jarv managed to escape by backing out onto a main road, before doing a U-turn to take us towards Morrisons. Despite Jarv's efforts to sabotage my thrifty food budget with knock off jaffa cakes, mince pies and double cream, the total came to around £5 a person, the best I've ever seen. We also discovered Biere Continentale, which at 2.8% makes even our standard Bier D'or look extravagant. Okay, enough about Morrisons.
Morrisons was amazing. The big yellow glow so near the train station, our promised land of cut price delights, shelves stacked with all a hungry caver could ever need. We shall never darken the corridors of Tesco again.
This was the third time I was going on a caving trip. However, when I got into the minibus, I felt as excited as if it were my first time. After a long journey to Clapham (Yorkshire) we finally arrived at the famous NPC cottage (which was said to be the spiritual home of the imperial caving club). Everyone was quite tired, so after drinking some tea, we went to sleep.
First we eat, drive and change
I rose early and almost collided with Nuria and Arianna coming up the stairs - they had decided to launch a joint expedition to the loo. A classic caving breakfast ensued, but it turned out we'd forgotten to buy any baked beans! Fortunately, Jarv found a box with some of his old food in, and as the beans were less than two years out of date we went for them. Delicious.
We were waiting for our final member to arrive at Clapham on the train, so I briefly demonstrated a deviation to our new cavers, followed by my Drill Sergeant impression as they practised hard locking. We grabbed the bedraggled looking straggler, who defensively told us that he'd only vomited once this morning (*), and set off to Leck Fell.
Gosh, it is a godawful place. The sleet came across the fell at Mach 3, completely horizontal. We swung the minibus round to present a broadside to the wind, causing it to rock alarmingly as we desperately changed. Around an hour later, we screamed at each other about tackle sacks until it was time to enter the cave.
(*) I got the full story on the tube on Sunday night. He'd vomited only once, for sure, but in his old bedroom at his family home, all over the bed and onto the carpet. Since he had to leave to catch the dawn train, he left it uncleaned and emailed his parents, who were leaving themselves that day on holiday, to prewarn them. Truly a caving god amongst us mere mortals.
Okay, enough about vomit.
We were in three groups - Oli would rig Dome down to the bottom of Monastery, Jarv would follow and rig down Dome Junction, and I would rig down Centipede to meet them. We optimistically had the ropes for Valhalla and Final (I quickly gifted them to Peter in Jarv's group). We'd already abandoned Monastery due to the torrential rain, and in the streamway, we saw we were right. There was a raging torrent that tipped every rock to its angle of repose, making walking along an exercise in gently sliding with the mini underwater avalanches we triggered. Dave W stayed behind the first group to lure us up onto the dry traverse, and Ben quickly got to work rigging Hammer, the first pitch in the Centipede series.
My group consisted of three SRT novices (one of whom hadn't been in a cave before!) so they seemed excited and a little nervous. I skipped past them down the rope so I could rig Mud and Centipede, and realised how much I enjoyed Lost Johns' for about the umpteenth time. It really is a beautiful and varied cave, with lots of little surprises and quirks. I decided to show off to Isha by descending down Centipede at a rapid rate, but I had forgotten how long the pitch was. Suddenly I was plummeting into the darkness with no sign of the bottom, so I slowed my self down, looked around and took the rest at a more leisurely pace - I wasn't convinced I'd tied a stopper knot...
At the bottom it was a long, cold wait for the rest of the team, but we were eventually all there, and buoyed by Dave's saturated solution of sugar free lemon squash and sugar, we pressed onwards, quickly reaching Candle and Shistol. At this point, Ben took over rigging, and Jarv caught up with our group from Dome, saying that someone had had a minor accident, but seemed unharmed and keen to continue. We dropped the first two rebelays on candle and Shistol, till it got stupidly wet. At this point I realised Ben had bravely/foolishly rigged down through the torrent. DW looked at me and said "I'm wearing fabric, I'm not going after him!" I concurred, and we shouted at Ben to come back up.
We were leaving just as Jarv's group caught us (apparently they got to the bottom of the pitch, through the water, but had left the bag for Battleaxe traverse behind. Schade). After getting an update on who was where, we headed out Dome. As I was derigging, a somewhat flustered Alex caught us up - he'd apparently been derigging the pitches down to the base of Monastery, and wanted to catch his group going out Centipede. I was sure I'd been told he was already out, so it's a good job he arrived when he did - otherwise we would have derigged all his escape routes...
It was slow going on the way out, but I was proud of the novices for handling the deviation and somewhat awkward pitch head on Dome so well. DW is an essential team member for this sort of trip - patient, calm and confident. He went ahead with Isha and Layla, with Ben going up next, followed by Edith and then myself derigging. I caught the group again in Cathedral, and Ben agreed to derig the rest so I swapped the order with him. No real mishaps here, apart from an interesting method for attached a hand jammer to a shock cord. I was singing Christmas carols when Edith and Ben joined in with the German lyrics (it's things like this that make Ben seem really foreign), and I rope walked as fast as possible up the pitch in the hope of impressing our novice. She seemed unfazed.
At the top we met up with Jarv's team heading over the top of us, and then after a short wait Ben caught up and we headed out together, meeting the front half of our group as we went. We returned last, changed in short order and drove back singing 'On the Surface Once Again'.
At the NPC, I cooked up a huge shakshuka with help from most of the club. It's a spicy tomato stew with eggs poached in it, very quick and extremely tasty.
Cavers' Shakshuka (serves 16)
- 8 red onions, sliced
- 2 bulbs garlic, mashed
- 8 bell peppers, sliced
- 4 chilli peppers, sliced with seeds
- 6 cans tomatoes
- 1 tube tomato purée
- Smoked paprika
- Chilli powder
Fry the onions and garlic with salt, adding the chillis and bell peppers when soft. Added chopped tomatoes and purée, simmer, adding spice to taste. Made an indentation in the stew, crack eggs into from some height so that they penetrate deeper into the stew. Cover and leave to simmer until egg white is cooked. Serve with crusty bread, cous cous and plain yoghurt.
"Take it easy." one said.
"Find your maillon." another shouted.
Look up at the steel Transit, leaden sky.
"Underground there won't be any wind."
"Can you pass a deviation? Prussic? Secure yourself?" I can pass a deviation sir, prussic an hour and secure myself back to. "If you see DANGER, pass the nylon webbing back to cover." I see danger sir.
And so we away, pull aside our white craft, left rocking and the buffet, scudding drifts across the desolate Leck fell. Heave to, heave to! We hear the roar approaching. Deep puddles, pierced Earth welling up it's water, and cascade down to where the wash roars and the white foam gasps with gappy teeth.
Slip underground and the warm moist breath envelops all. "Lights on now, everybody!" Click and flick and follow we go.
"Take it easy." one said, "The cobbles are still shifting from the floods." Easy sir, easy sir, I can crawl and scuttle, clamber and climb. Wet foot, wet foot, wet feet.
"OK, away now - up into the roof traverse - the Cathedral is no place for cavers today." Dash and flash of white falls away, soft crystal walls, thud and percussive thud, not even sound, but below where sound can be.
"Rope now! Lock on, take care." I lock on, take care. Like an 'S' not a 'Z'. I soft lock, then hard lock. My lanyard? Good. Test a little, and away. Careful now! Keep control. And down.
And deviate. And crawl. And descend. Where to now? Over there. My view is dark! "Fiddle the switch." So to bright. More forms of rock and water and darkness. Echos back, the other group. "Hello there!" Exchange of people, plans and times. Too wet they say, too wet! "I've seen worse." a Ben.
Step through the window, halfway to a pitch, and down we see the worse. Beyond the white mush a light and "Just clip your cows-tails on. Take care, take care to climb! But drier this way." I take care, take care, but stream in face and icy tendrils slither down my chest.
"OK, this last pitch, then that's us. Valhalla a maelstrom, and no more rope." Yes, that's us, that's us. Last slither and crawl, we. Do not fall. Oh the white water dash and whistling airs.
Now away, and up and up. Step to step to step, and tired boredom. "Rope free you?" "No, sing me a song, sing me a caver song."
Icy airs and fog forms, plants suddenly lit by gentle LED. Icy gate and step quickly back to our white ship, hop from foot to foot, pass from underground to overground, wet socks to dry socks.
On Saturday morning, the snow welcomed us. Normally I would have said: “Wow! It looks beautiful! I love snow!” However, the thought that in a few hours I would have to change in my caving suit outside, stopped me from celebrating.
After breakfast we did some quick review on how to do a rebelay or a deviation and then we set off to the cave (Lost John’s). Changing outside was quite grim but, because of the fact that when we started changing we were warm, it wasn’t too bad.
I was supposed to go, together with Oliver, Alex, Kenneth and Will down Dome and Sink. We started our day walking through the streamway until we reached a long descent which also had a deviation. My first deviation!!!! After successfully completing it, we went down even more, while singing the Titanic song. In fact, the song fitted perfectly well because as we went down, we found more and more water until at some point our path was blocked by it. So we decided to go back and try to find another group. My first ascend began with a little shower due to the presence of a waterfall, but after the first meters it was over. First ascend in a cave successfully completed!!!
After a while we found Jarvist’s group and after discussing what we were going to do, I continued with Jarvist, Arianna, Kenneth and Will. We walked for a bit, made some funny pictures and then decided to make our way out of the cave through Centipede. We had to wait for a while because there were still some people ascending the (40 m long?) pitch. But Arianna and I found the solution to avoid getting too cold (or at least to forget how cold it was): we started singing songs from The Beatles!! Finally, it was my turn to ascend. Though tiring, it was really cool to go up for such a long time. Picking one of Arianna’s kneepads on my way, I continued until I reached another group. I waited a bit for Jarvist (because I wasn’t sure I would be able to find my way out) and then we walked with him until we were on the surface once again.
It took me a long time to change into my clothes because my hands were so cold I sometimes couldn’t feel them. However, instead of complaining I suddenly started laughing out loud!
Back in the comfortably warm cottage, we had some really nice cous-cous with vegetables and eggs cooked by Jack. There were no caving games this night, but some of us played our own games: first Rummi and then... Twister!!!!
We arrived around midnight in the hut in Yorkshire. It was a great hut we had for our own. I went to bed soon. Saturday morning we had a great ICCC breakfast with eggy fried bread, beans, würstel and I think mushrooms and toilet afterwards. I put on the ferry and wetsocks already in the hut and then we drove to the cave. It was even colder than two weeks before at the Lancaster hole entry. So we were really glad after entering the cave. Lost John's is amazing. You walk into it through a small river. This is a beautiful entry. So much more beautiful than a gully. After a small traverse in the beginning our groups splitted up. I was with Arianna and Bhavik. Our leader was caving veteran Jarvist. We started with a small 3 meter pitch after a short traverse. It was nice to start with something easy. After that we had to pass a longer rigged traverse. At its end was a pitch. The abseiling was interrupted by one deviation which probably was there because of a ledge. I was a few times to high to undo the crab, but in the end managed to do it. Down the pitch I was eased. We waited for Bhavik. Suddenly we heard a bang and a scream. We were really worried what happened to Bhavik.
He felt down on the ledge. Something went wrong when he did the abseiling. Jarv went up to him and we were glad to hear that he was physically fine. But of course he was really shocked and I was as well.
When we went down dome I tried to be even more vigilant while rigging my descender. The abseiling itself was fine. What I really don't like is the waiting. You stand close to an abyss, look down the pitch and wait for going down. It's bad cause you can't do anything. The deviation was again easy. This time I used my long cowstails and put it in the myon to make it easier.
I went through the dome window. This is really cool. Abseiling into a window. In the end the rope is horizontally and one can pull oneself with the rope into the window. I made the mistake to not hardlock my descender while doing this. So I droped down a little bit but it wasn't bad.
We couldn't go down much deeper in the cave because of the high water level. I went out with the first group. From now on Olly was my new leader, another caving veteran. He helped me when I got stuck in the end after ascending all the way up centipede. I ascended too high – bad – and couldn't undo my jammers. Luckily Olly build a loop for me to step in and I could release myself.
The sky was really beautiful. It is always a nice moment when you come out the cave again. We were the first at the minibus and put on our warm dry clothes. We enjoyed ourselves sitting inside the minibus when the next groups arrived and had to get rid off their caving equipment.
Through the darkness, the path was bleak. Specks of light refelecting off droplets of water raining down from the limestone ceiling above gave hope in the treacherous road ahead. Ropes rigged and deviations set, the time to venture forth had come.
Descending into the abyss, disaster struck. As my right foot hit the ground, my foot became perpendicular to my leg. As I reached down the anticipation grew. Upon discovering that my Wellington boot had simply become dislodged and prasing gods I didnt even know, I proceeded on the perilous journey ahead. After many more descents, the time to return surface had come.
As the journey came to an end, the stars of the Yorkshire night sky greeted us. Yorkshire, I will be back!
"I went into lost Johns, it was quite wet, but not too wet thankfully, on Sunday I went to notts 2, the scaffolding was fun"
Somewhat expanded reports
Notts 2 is just a blast. You park right next to the entrance, stroll confidently over, flip the lid off and tell some terrified fresher to lead the way through an Esheresque nightmare of scaffolding, dodgy ladders, electrical wiring, breeze blocks, expanding foam and sodden boards. It's great fun to do the entrance series without using the ladders, especially on the way up. I followed up near the back, and was surprised to find that everyone made it to the dripping cavern just after the dodgy down climb.
We'd expected the streamway to be too flooded for us to enter, but the water was quite low, with only ominous clumps of foam hanging from the walls three metres up. I'm convinced they were from the flooding yesterday. We made good progress up the streamway, with various novices taking the lead, and I took a huge number of photos, some of which were almost good.
The pretties at the end were even better than I remember, including some superb straws and curtains (even a yellow striped curtain?!). On the way back, we moved quickly under Layla's guidance, arriving back to the minibus in time to whizz to the NPC for crumpets, fruitcake, mince pies and hosing the sheep shit off the tarpaulin.
What a glorious weekend.
On Sunday we went to see Notts II, an incredibly beautiful cave. Some time ago, people could only access it by diving, but then someone had the great idea to dig an entrance which didn’t involve getting that wet. This entrance was literally a hole in the ground with lots of ladders and metal bars. It looked like an Escher painting! When we were all down, we walked until a big chamber and made a group photo there. We continued then through the streamway, making a lot of beautiful pictures of the amazing formations we saw in the cave. This time, when we got out, it wasn’t that cold and we still had some daylight, so changing was a bit easier. We had some crumpets for lunch, packed everything and started our way back to London again.
Notts 2 on Sunday was great as well. An artificial entry built to a cave which was only discovered by cave diving. Nice!
I felt like a miner when I went down the shaft. At the bottom we followed the streamway. The cave was beautiful and we saw beautiful stones, while calcite and white foam. The foam was above our head level, probably showing the water level of Saturday. Going up was easy and straightforward.
We got back to the hut and packed stuff. I tried Soreen during the drive. It is really disgusting and awful. Bhavik made me jealous with his stories of excursions to the Arctic, Saudi-Arabia and the Alps.
All in all I really enjoyed this caving trip and got more confident with SRT technique.