Ben Honan, Ben Richards, Clare Tan, Dave Kirkpatrick, Dave Wilson, Fiona Hartley, James Perry, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Alex Lipp, Max Stunt, Solomon Roach, Nic Gruse, Ignacy Bartnik, Carl Hentes, Ana Teck
Jennifer and I arrived in stores at 5 ish which felt super late seeing as i’m usually there from 3-4. Things were packed and a brief lack of tarp occurred. It’s fine, the union reception doesn’t actually close when it says it does, probably. The bus was rather packed despite the spare seat and the journey was long. We arrived at a very busy NPC at around 2am. Some small amount of socialisation occurred before sleep called.
Aquamole: Dave Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Diss, Max Stunt, Solomon Roach
We planned to Kingsdale it up and I wanted to rig. We settled for trips down Bull Pot, Yordas(/Heron), jingling and Aquamole. I was doomed to rig aquamole and took with me the crackest of teams - Solomon, Max and DKP. I was also gifted Jennifer’s camera as she was on a trip with a Rhys who has a flashier (literally) camera kit.
The trip started with the usual irritating walk up the hill (much less grim than the hill to Vesper/King though), thankfully lead by a knowledgeable DW. We finally reached the concrete tube that is the entrance to aquamole and i started fumbling with ropes. Eventually a thing was rigged and i was going down. Kind of annoyingly, there was an in situ divers rope there which made rigging a bit awkward as i attempted not to tangle the ropes. Solomon was behind me and I was unsure about the first rebelay i rigged so asked him how tight the rope was. He seemed to have trouble hard locking so i did a quick changeover and put some more slack in the rope above me.
I decided it would be best to wait after each rebelay to help Solomon (this was his first SRT trip) which made the rigging slow but felt vaguely necessary. This is my kind of cave - there are frequent rebelays and all the pitches are quite narrow (except the final one) so rigging wasn’t too scary. There is a horizontal section after the first pitch series involving a scrotty crawl which was excellent at getting tackle sacks caught.
At some point i realised i’d need the other rope bag which DKP had (at the back) and so we ended up having it passed between Dave and the freshers and then to me as there was no place to stand without ropes after the rebelay i was at. This took a while but no tackle sacks were dropped on heads so overall was a success.
We were eventually at the final pitch, which on the rigging guide had two deviations. One nice and close to the top before a rebelay which would be good practice for the likely more challenging one after. Of course, the in situ rope had four deviations and i followed this rigging because i make incorrect life choices. It all went fine but the third and fourth deviations were quite hard to rig (and likely tricky to do) and i managed to use every single Krab (and maillon) i had attached to me. In hindsight I reckon the 1st and 2nd deviations were probably the ones on the rigging guide and the second two aren’t really needed - perhaps they were there for when it’s super wet?
This pitch was quite big and scary but I just sort of did it and nothing terrifying occurred until after the final deviation. I definitely did not get distracted by looking at the deviations i’d just rigged and find my hair caught in my descender. No flashbacks to watching that scene in Sanctum occurred and i certainly did not remove my glove with my teeth and drop it down the pitch so i had enough finger movement in my one spare hand to get my knife out of my pocket. No knives were opened one handed and I certainly didn’t have to cut a chunk of my hair off. Interestingly, I actually didn’t panic at all and somehow wasn’t traumatised so i’d say all in all a successful descent. The others came down slowly (damn deviations) but competently and we ate chocolate and marvelled at the lump of hair i now have in my pocket.
It seems our freshers had a harder time on the way up that the way down in terms of SRT (not just prussicking) which i found odd as rebelays and deviations are usually easier on the way up and none of them were rigged so horrifically as to make any of it hard. We took some photos a bit higher up before heading out. I was first and ended up freezing on the surface in the rain, wishing to be back in the cave.
The evening consisted of a meal already cooked (yum), pumpkin carving, pot and sling and other such things.
Yordas: Fiona Hartley, Jennifer Ryder, Rhys Tyers, Ignacy Bartnik, Ana Teck
Rhys and Jennifer were leading a trip down Yordas Pot and Rhys suggested I come along. In the past a few people have described the Chapter House traverse as very good value. And Dewi had a car, a plan to take photos in Yordas Cave, and an agreement with Rhys not to cave before 1pm, which would allow me to have a necessary second breakfast. Some choices make themselves...
After trying to recruit Perry into the NPC by suggesting numerous other clubs he could join (I am an excellent recruitment officer), we went to Kingsdale with Pete H. At the parking spot there were two other cavers and we dissuaded them from also going to Yordas by brashly declaring nobody was in Heron Pot. It might have been quicker to just push them over the Heron stile.
At the middle entrance, I joined the back of the team. The middle entrance actually has two entrances; the one on the left is free-climbable, providing a bypass to the first pitch of the right-hand entrance and also providing entertainment while waiting! There is a bolt you can rig if needed.
After two short pitches and an easy crawl along a nice bit of stream passage we reached the Chapter House. Jennifer was rigging with Rhys on hand for advice. It lived up to its reputation! There's some quite technical stuff to do within a short time and distance. As everybody said, very good value.
For most of the time that we were at the traverse Dewi and Pete were below at the window that enters Yordas Cave. Pete was dutifully holding a flashgun and I think trying to light the waterfall. At various points Dewi would advance menacingly to the window with his tripod and the accusing light of his Scurion would point up into the ceiling at us.
I took one of Rhys's flash guns and started firing it at random, hoping some of the random light would be helpful for lighting a photograph. Of course it was not and with zero communication possible this was basically a waste of time and battery power, but the fear of the flashgun falling out of the open peli-case and down the waterfall kept me occupied while waiting so that's good.
When Jennifer reached the final drop after a tension traverse around the right-hand wall she checked that the rope would reach the bottom. It did not. Dewi and Pete emphasised this by yelling a lot. Always check! Back up the traverse we all went and I hurried to the entrance to collect the bag of fuck-up/Heron Pot rope. Dewi was there already though so I got him to throw the bag down the second pitch, sparing me from having to make any effort whatsoever. I returned the bag to the group, who had all reassembled at the start of Chapter House by now. Jennifer needed very little encouragement to get back down there and rig the final pitch with the new rope.
Thankfully I was now at the back and so the novices, who were both extremely competent, weren't watching me and didn't see me flailing and faffing to my heart's content along the tension traverse. I used my hand-jammer and footloop repeatedly because bridging across large exposed gaps is still awful and scary.
At the bottom I stepped through the window into the comparative silence of Yordas Cave proper and was promptly told to get out of Dewi's photograph. Fair enough. I wandered to the entrance. It was raining gently and the light was fading. I sat down in the dry and had a very pleasant chat with Jennifer about biology at Imperial: Steve Cook, R programming language, David Attenborough. Ah, memories. (Yes, I'm very old, thanks.)
To complete my afternoon of being lazy / a tart (pick one), I chose not to climb out of Yordas. I'm an old lag now, for sure.
Heron Pot: Dave Kirkpatrick, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Alex Lipp, Ignacy Bartnik, Ana Teck
Everyone wanted to go caving for some reason so trips were planned down Heron, Yordas and Swinsto (pull-through). Dave and I were roped into pre-rigging the pitch in Valley Entrance for the Swinsto-ers. Woop, two caves in one day. Gotta keep those numbers up!. We arrived at Kingsdale and realised we weren’t actually sure where the cave was. Dave ran around a bit and we decided to change before looking properly. The tubey entrance appeared and we slid in, greeted by some humans in what looked like down jackets. We got to the pitch pretty quickly after far too much stooping. There was another group there and we waited for them to disappear before Dave rigged the rope. We ran away and got to the minibus just before everyone was ready, nicely timed.
We made our way to Heron - a far longer walk than i remembered. I rigged the wet route, Jennifer rigged the dry route. I definitely didn't just use 4 maillons. It all went fine and I spent a while singing at the bottom while we waited for the others. Bit wet on the way up (read: full soaking) and back out to a vaguely sunny afternoon!
Back in London by 11.30, a drawer of maillons lighter than when we set off.
Swinsto Pull-Through: Ben Richards, Rhys Tyers, Max Stunt, Carl Hentes
I wanted to do something interesting, so I chose a Swinsto pull through as my trip du jour. I had done it once before with Jack and the Dubz (and we did a pull through derig) and I started out quite confident that it would be easy and straight forward. As the morning wore on my confidence waned as I considered the inexperience of my novices, the necessity of prerigging and the middling water levels. I carried on however, motivated partly by showing Ben R (my nominated second) a good time and partly by a very kind offer from Diss and Dave to do the VE prerig for us, which saves a good 40 minutes which we could very well need.
I borrowed Honan's GPS and when we were changed on the Kingsdale road I set off in an unerringly straight line. I have found Swinsto without a GPS before and it is not too hard but it always involves a few minutes poking in the dry streambed and I was keen to allow as much time for the actual caving as possible. We found the cave and there was a decent stream flowing in.
In the cave I heard questions from Max and Carl about how long the crawls were etc. I deflected and giggled in response. Down the first pitch they seemed disappointed that the entrance crawl was not the 'Swinsto Long Crawl' and that they still had that to do. The crawl was as long as I remember it being, it being quite long. We reached the next pitch in good spirits though and we began the vertical adventure.
Carl and Max performed admirably, given the unusual and often awkward nature of pull-throughs. I was glad of the in-situ traverse lines though. I got Ben rigging and derigging some of the pitches and we were sailing down fairly efficiently. Not quite as quick as my previous trip but that is a high bar. We got to the big split pitch. I went down first to sort out the complicated rigging on the ledge, setting up a traverse line with ends of the first rope and rigging the second.
Max Stunt, true to his name, decided it wasn't exciting enough and dangled himself from the in-situ deviation. HE was still attached to the rope so I wasn't too worried but he was far away from the walls and didn't have a good idea of how to extricate himself. The water was loud and communication hard. After ten minutes I was worried that the cold would soon be the major problem for all of us and shouted up to Ben to zip his knife to Max. Max then cut his cowstails. He did rather slam into the wall, but gathered himself remarkably quickly and joined me at the ledge.
With our one incident out of the way we carried on reaching the bottom. I had forgotten how much crawling there is to get through to the main stream (not helped by me missing a few of the stream crawl bypasses) but I was relieved once we arrived in the large tunnel. We climbed the short pitch by the sump and stooped through the agonisingly long entrance.
Outside we found the minibus had been moved right nearby, which were very pleased by (thanks DKP!). A good trip, I would do it with novices again. Though I probably would not rig that deviation.