The aux cable in the van had a loose connection, so as we left London the music from the speakers sounded like the singer was deep underground in an echoing cavern. This was made more surreal by Benís excellent collection of reggae, which had songs in every imaginable language. We stopped briefly in Tesco to pick up the essentials - okra, creamed coconut, flaked almonds - and arrived at the TSG cottage in Castleton a bit before midnight. Tanguy cooked up a feast of pasta, and the some of the more adventurous members went to check out CHECC (Council of Higher Education Caving Clubs) which was taking place at the Rotary centre up a frozen, muddy road.
The next day I woke up to find Tanguy in the kitchen cooking up a truly vast number of crepes. We knew that all the caves in the area would be busy what with CHECC, so we tried to pick trips where we wouldnít get stuck anywhere for too long. Rhys led a trip with Will, Tanguy, Gaurav and myself through Peak Cavern, with the intention of meeting up with another group coming down from JH and ascending their ropes. With this hopelessly optimistic and masochistic plan in mind, we set off into Peak, pausing only for a quick photo-op with an excited pair of tourists.
We were quickly belly deep in freezing water, which brought us nicely back down to earth. After several Ďdetoursí and some spontaneous SRT practice, we realised we couldnít find the Wind Tunnel, which we intended to use to get through to JH. Fortunately, SUCC were coming the other way and set us straight - the Wind Tunnel was practically impassable, and we wanted the Trenches, which were in the opposite direction.
If the Trenches were the easy choice, I donít really want to try the Wind Tunnel. It was tight crawl through a few inches of standing water that just went on and on, with only a couple of truly nasty squeezes to break up the monotony. We met MUSC along the way, who assured us we were going the right way, though they were quite skeptical about out chances of getting up JH. Well, weíll show them, we thought, climbing down a set of delightfully rickety ladders, one of which suddenly jinked to the left leaving my foot hanging.
We hit the main streamway, and it was too loud to speak. With a series of extravagant gestures, I was made to believe I had to climb up a ladder that had been rather carelessly placed under a massive waterfall. I watched as the rest of the group went up, and then carefully stowed my glasses, tucked my chin down and braced myself for the torrent. At the top, we stood in waist deep water as the realisation dawned that we werenít going to make it up JH. We were too cold, mostly too inexperienced, and we hadnít even seen the other group who were meant to be rigging it. It seemed like there was no choice but to descend back down the ladder, though the waterfall and back through the Trenches out the way we had come.
Our spirits were high as we sung and hummed our way back the route weíd come, and it certainly seemed quicker. We emerged into a freezing cold, but beautifully clear, night, and hurried back to the hut before our gear froze up, pausing only to scrub ourselves off in a pool before the main part of Peak Cavern.
Beer, curry and Daveís red wine followed in quick order. Eli washed up like Bond (I donít mean a chemical bond) and a fair few of us headed out to CHECC, dancing until the music stopped at midnight and then watching the various caving games and drunken antics.
The next morning, Tanguy made a chocolate tart. Iím still not sure why, but Iím told it was delicious. My hangover meant that only baked beans and toast seemed appetising. As we hadnít retrieved the ropes from JH yesterday, a crack team of old farts was assembled to go rescue them. The freshers who werenít too traumatised by yesterdayís trip went with Fiona to Eldon cavern for some SRT practice.
Eldon is a big hole in the ground, and you can even see the sun from the bottom. Bristolís club had kindly rigged it over the weekend, so Tanguy, Ben, Fiona and myself slipped down the rope, passed two deviations and a rather tricky set of rebelays. I needed quite a bit of reassurance before I was ready to take my descender off at the first rebelay, but my descent went smoothly after that. At the bottom we crawled down into the main cavern, which had some spectacular rock formations. There wasnít much else to do, so we went back out and ascended the 30-odd metres back to top. There we met Cardiffís caving club, and then Bristol arrived to derig the cave. I was feeling pretty chuffed after my first proper SRT experience, and we went back to the hut to clear up and drive back to London.
My second caving trip was even better than my first - the crawls that phased me in Wales now seem quite easy, and even the SRT doesnít seem as daunting. Itís great to see the community of cavers that exists round the UK, and to meet alumni from ICCC that are still caving. I canít wait for Winter Tour!