Hardcore hour of drinking in the Hunters' before hitting the sacks. Sweet sleep disturbed by odd things going bump in the night.
Escaping the fester of the Hunters', half the minibus whipped off their fetted college clothes and slipped into the soft touch of giant fleece Babygros. Quickly zooming down to Priddy Green, an al-fresco change and then dashing across the field to the Swildon's pilbox. Our mission (ostensibly) was to put in the ladder and lifeline for Saturday's planned Priddy-Green pull through. Storming trip down (short wet way); all the novices are now very speedy indeed.
Belay everyone down the ladder, and swap to a fat krab for a lovely hop-hop-splash abseil. Check my watch - only forty-five minutes gone!
I run along to catch up the party, seems to be a bit of a log jam on the Double Pots (two short but challenging climbs above thigh-deep pools of water). Clamber down, and bimble around to the front of the party - Rik looking rather worried. Someone injured? Who? Oh Ben - looking rather Ashen.
A nasty sprain - obviously very painful. Looks pretty bad; my sister, mother and caving friend have all had 'twisted ankles' over the last few years that turned out to be various breaks (Fibia, Ankle bone and Tibia respectively).
Carefully heading out, Ben requires shockingly little assistance. He's not even swearing - I would be turning the air blue at this point! Rik goes up the ladder pitch first, clips one of the sexy new Kevlar slings in as an extended cows-tail, and Ben follows him up. Thara and Gergurly help put some positive tension on the bottom-belay to assist his climb, Rik grapples him off the top of the ladder. They're soon joined by Gurgerly, and head out.
Everyone up, set the rope for tomorrow's trip then start to head. Catch up the group just the other-side of the water chamber, Ben still powering along on his own steam. Up through the pillbox to a glorious moon-filled landscape. Pretty damn cold but dry and still. Ben limps across the fell, occasionally engaging in a mini three-legged race with Thara (initially attempted with Rik, but he was too tall!). Change in the cold - with a little assistance Ben manages to get his wellies off.
Back to the Belfry for a more in depth examination. Ben having difficulty getting his wet-sock off. Talk of slicing it open (the neoprene, not the foot). Gently ease it off with a few pained grunts from Ben.
Bloody hell! Look at that! The size of a fecking tennis ball...
Crack open the union first aid kit; a stack of forms to fill in upon using it tumble out. Never mind. Extract one of seemingly only two (What the hell?!) triangular bandages from it and put some pressure on the swelling in a rather comedy way. Where's the crepe bandages? Plenty of dressings, but I've only ever needed those for burns...
Team Ambulance bundle into the back of the minibus, Ben hopping, Jutta navigating, Thara philosophising, Jarv driving. Zoom towards Wells. Find a closed down Hospital - with 'For Sale' signs in the grounds. Cheers Blair!
On to Glastonbury, get to a minor-injuries unit by 2am. Lone nurse on watch comes down to have a look, Ben left leaning against the counter while vast reams of NHS bureacracy are filled in. Finds pain-points in rather worrying locations, binds the foot with infinitely more skill, issues crutches and sends us on towards Taunton with a referral. Slowed down occasionally to admire the flood-lit church towers along the way. Arrive at A&E to see one battered lad poured out the back of an Ambulance. Ben hobbles in after them, Thara and I park. Sitting in A&E is horrific. There was maybe one non drink-related patient; everyone else was there either through fighting, or slipping over while out on the lash.
Ben seen and X-rayed within the hour; no breaks! Pills appear from nowhere - cocodomol and ibuprofran, use it as much as possible etc. Back to the bus and pulling out of the carpark by 4am. Drive back was lovely, deserted M5, zooming along with the full-moon now casting long shadows from the West. Brent Knoll looked mighty impressive. Opted for the Cheddar gorge slalom in returning to Priddy, mighty crags standing either side as we swung wide for the corners, the moonstone rock shining beautifully.
Back at the hut; Ben hobbles to bed, shut the bus and slip into my sleeping bag. In bed by 5:30. Up at ten to do it all over again (Swildon's that is, not breaking undergraduates!).
What a stonking trip! In caving for well over three years now, I had always managed to avoid it as was generally taking freshers to Sump I & back. I used my one lifetime-pass to go via Barnes' loop, and wish I'd spent slightly longer admiring the formations. Perhaps I can do some pretty amazing cave conservation work in order to be eligable for another look...
Tratman's Temple was a lovely clamber, then a crawl through various well-greased passages to arrive at Mud Sump. The first thing you see is a laminated warning about standing on the dam, followed by the most ludicrous subterranean asemberlage of equipment that I've ever seen! It looks like something out of Launchpad, the 'play' area of the Science Museum where I spent many a fun afternoon between lectures terrorising primary school students. For the non-rounded amongst you; imagine a vast collection of dam's, pond liners, cracked buckets and flyover pipes. Two people in the sump itself loaded a small paddling pool with water, whereupon three (two in the water passing to one standing on the shelf) lifted the water about 2m to put it in a basin made out of some horrific 8-way sewage pipe connector. This then drained about 10m further back down the passage into another pool, where the last group lifted it another 2m into a plastic funnel (actually a chopped open 20L oil container), which flowed via a rather more sensible sized pipe into the initial dam. Quite a bit of engineering!
It was short work with eight of us; the limiting factor seemed to be the rate at which the initial bowl could suck away water - maybe something could be done to build up the sides slightly? Mud Sump itself was an easy wriggle, the following were rather less pleasent. Rik did sterling work in sucking all his might on the siphon for sump 2/3, swallowing more Mendip water than is surely healthy. Though we our excess of manpower; we found just flinging water out of the sump and over the natural dam lip was more effective.
Lovely route finding, a slippery 'jam your arse in' climb and stonking passageway. Good stuff! Even birthday squeeze was alright, as long as you swung up to the left to avoid getting wedged in. It helps being the 'Grinning Skeleton' though.
Bit of mud/chocolate/mud water mix in Vicarage passage, a quick wander the wrong way then a climb down to the Landing. And isn't that good fun? Tuck the thick rope between your legs, push off and slide down to the streamway! Streamway was lovely, with a lovely jog up to the sump.The following was written vaguely for publication in our student magasine:
So there we were, the corridor of rock ended just ahead. The usual pool of muddy water lay in front of the shear wall. Strangely a rope led from a bolt on the left, down to the mirrored surface and into the depths. We were on the far-side of Sump I in Swildon's Hole. To go back now the way we had come was impossible - other sumps that we had emptied with buckets and siphons would have now refilled with the slow percolation of water from the surface. Our only way out was to dive through this short flooded section; and then climb the 150 metres (nearly twice the height of the Queen's Tower) back to the surface.
"It's simple!" I explained to the first timers, "Lie down in the water to get used to the cold and flood your wetsuit, take a deep breath and then pull yourself hand-over-hand on the guide line. Keep low so you don't float up and get stuck on the ceiling, someone will grab you when you reach the otherwise. Send three tugs on the line when you're clear."
And so the number of lights slowly dwindled, with a "See you on the otherside" as they set off. A few anxious seconds, then the tugs coming back on the line and the next caver getting ready.
Finally I was alone. The tugs came. I lay down in the water, and felt the icy fingers slip in through the seals around my neck. Alone, and a long way from a place of safety. Please light don't go out, please rope don't fray, please don't stuck. A deep breath and I force myself under.
Bubbles as I sink, the water stings my face. No point looking about - too cloudy to see anything. I pull myself along and graze the pebbly bottom. Too low. Hand over hand on the rope. Hit the rock ceiling. Too high. Am I there yet? There's no way to tell what's going on above - had better continue rather than risk snagging my helmet.
Suddenly I'm grabbed under the armpits and wrenched out of the water. I gasp, pick myself up and stumble out-of-kilter from the pool. Just a few seconds; but the cold is sapping. Everyone ok and accounted for, now there's just a quick climb between us and our dinner.
After a night of a pint-too-many, I woke up to find myself next to a strange man, whom I certainly didn't recognise. Although my memory doesn't serve me correctly anymore, I still remembered distinctively that I went to sleep next to Paul and Sandeep.
Never mind, check that nothing happened to me. All done and good... Nothing too weird had happened.
With the usual early morning indecisiveness, we were fully kitted up and walking towards the caves of Charterhouse well past noon. The proposed cave was Longwood and the only description I got was that it was in a wooded valley.
Not too long, the team was lost. Marc, the gadget man without his GPS, Chris, with a vague memory of the cave, Gurgerly, Joe and lost Thara (me). Eventually, a chance encounter with Rhino Rift indicated that we were close.
Wasn't long before we took a wrong turn. A dug cave was found (later identified as Longwood Sink). The key fitted. And eager cavers were immediately ready for crawling action. As I went down the death-stairs of loose boulders, I couldn't help myself noticing what held the cave together, corregated iron supported by rotten wooden beams, a section of which was now in my hand!
Placed it back gently back where it was and pretended it never happened. A crawl down, followed by a 3m drop, which Marc carefully concluded with uncertainty that it was a dead end, the cave turned left. Followed I did, and soon I was met with same conclusion, dead end or extremely tight squeeze, one worthy of Sandeep, El Presidente.
A decision was slowly made - go out and find a better cave! One was found indeed by 2pm, leaving just two hours left to cave. And this one was actually Longwood!
Five hungry-for-cave men gathered around the lock, which was carefully hid under the lid covering the gateway to caver's utopia. Four men it took to insert the key, One more to turn it.
The open shaft near entrance gave way to a tiny drop, accessible only by keen cavers. A short crawl to the left was followed by a squeeze and a tight (oh.. very tight) crawl, letting the saturated welly juice running free. Occasionally 'Nursie', the bag, needed a few lessons from me with a bit of kicking and pulling. We soon approached a 3m drop. Immediately, Gurgerly disappeared from my fogged-up vision, single-handedly free-climbed slippery rock face. Marc, on contrary, being slightly shorter, was doubtful of the prospect of free-climbing. A rope was quickly (in caving time scale) set up, and we were all reunited.
Taking the less wet route, I followed da leader down a small crack that soon opened up into a huge chamber (my glasses were still fogged up). The waterfall freely ran down the 8m vertical face. Slightly drenched in the exposed region of my groin, I traversed across toward the remainder of the group, bringing up the rear.
The keener members were ahead for a little exploration before time was up and we must surface.
As it took four to open the lock, it took five to lock it and pull the key out...
Heading back toward the bus in perfect timing, a rather lost Jarv whizzing past in the big blue bus, leaving us to ask for directions of the main road. A quick hitchhike and a rapid clothes changing (comes with caving experience) followed.
And in Rik's typical caving style, a flash at the unfortunate driver was inevitable....
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