With a suspiciously low level of faff, the van was packed + we were off by 7:30. However, Jan was late as ever - having just submitted a job application to a company that he could not name [Is this his defection to Russia in progress?!], so we buzzed around Mr Tesco's before popping back to pick him up + then down to the west country. Arrived fairly early, too early in fact - as all the people with keys were still down the pub. After an unsuccesful breakin attempt, we resigned ourselves to waiting.
Due to a slight communication error, we had one fewer sleeping bags than people - which resulted in yours truly spending an entertaining night on the sofa, under a pile of constantly shifting coats, punctuated by rather animalistic noises drifting over the Mineries from the Belfry. Waking to find our West-Country contact Ben Ogbourne gazing down benignly as I slept, the standard chloestral-packed Caving breakfast was rustled up with disturbingly little faff. In order to prevent us tempting fate by entering a cave before midday, we distributed the rather lacklustre neoprene - taking us into safely.
Going down Swildons were two fresher groups - [Jarvist, Tom, Lyndon, Fresher Jo, Fresher Sarah] and [Martin, Jan, Fresher Sandeep and Fresher David]. The wrestle into the gear was entertaining as ever, as was the trudge through a field with a 20m diameter cowpat by the gate. The entrance to Swildons was already getting congested - the time spent waiting exabacerated by rather frustrating queue jumping.
Descending to the ladder was fairly easy going + mostly dry, with just a couple of wrong-turns and confusions. At one moment it looked like we might have to turn back for a new battery, with Sarah's FX3 light getting dimmer and dimmer. Luckily, it turned out to be dirty contacts in the headset, so after a bit of a fiddle we continued down.
At the ladder pitchhead, there was slight wait, but once clear, Tom quickly belayed us down someone else's ladder - our ladder + dynamic rope ended up sitting unused. There was a slight waterfall-down-the-back-of-the-neck at the bottom, but nothing too serious. The pitches onwards comprised of fairly energetic clambers, all of them over or through the live streamway. The Dwarf-Traps were fairly impressive in width, but none of them turned out to be particularly deep - I feel slightly cheated, as was hoping that at least one fresher would slip + disappear completely - with just the orange glow of a headtorch visible.
At Sump 1, we sat and ate our all-new 2 bar cave rations - we would have taken the chance to impress the fresher's with how deep + far we had come; but noone could remember the ever-so-exciting statistics!
Free-diving the sump was an interesting experience, I had waded in [well, its about as deep as a paddling pool] and felt the far side - couldn't touch the air-bubble, but there was definately a place where the rock started to go up. So, having got almost fully soaked doing this - I felt I might as well try and drown myself in front of the freshers thereby warning them from a lifetime of caving. The fit through the sump was tight, I had to twist my helmet sideways + was lucky not to have a FX3 battery on my waist. Contemplating what an utterly silly way this would be to die as I tried to come up too early, the passage through the sump was easy. On the far side, the cave clearly forks to the left and right, forming the loop of the round-trip. Seeing the rope twitch as the rest of the group wondered whether El-Presidento had just been suceeded, I dived back. Lyndon went through it - snagging his FX3 battery, reporting of a streetsign the far side directing "Wooky Hole - 1 1/2 miles".
Heading back up, we passed the other Fresher group + The Others [they tried to get into Eastgill but failed, and came back to Swildons]. On the climbs / scrambles, the two fresher's were at rather a disadvantage - its very hard to copy someone's handholds and technique when they have an extra foot of reach!
At the inevitable ladder-wait, I fell asleep. Which was a bit disturbing, as I had felt my lips go blue after sump diving - I may well start rubbing myself with goose fat before donning a wetsuit in futer... Jo shook me awake from my Hypothermic slumbers, and we passed without incident over the ladder + meandered through 30 odd waiting members of Cardiff Caving Soc.
After a storming climb out the cave, we headed back to the MiniBus through a herd of cows + their excrement, finding a handy tap to wash the wellies. Sarah's neoprene booties looked distinctly brown after the ordeal.
After a fine Balti-Curry prepped by Dan + Co, we headed off to the main caving activity of the day - a game of President + Asshole down the Hunters. Returning to the hut after a rather too-prompt closing time, the members of ICCC Sofa Rugby team headed off to the Belfry after cheese 'n' toast.
The bellfry was as manic as ever, with the Cardiff + Portsmouth caving socs doing as caving socs do. Dan + I kept the IC name in repute for the squeezing-under the table competition; an acitvity that resulted in the destruction of both our belts - a rather disturbing moment as after ignoring my own advice viz. swimming trunks, I was without underwear. The sofa-rugby was decidedly won by Cardiff, though after seeing Dan get thrown into the top of the door frame, and having someone knee me in the small of the back; I sense that they may take it a little bit too seriously. The remains of the sofa were burnt in carciogenic brilliance, with the manic + slightly tipsy Ben Ogbourne getting Cushion-Napalm stuck to his foot + trousers rather too repeatedly.
Only serious injury was to Grace from Cardiff, who got knocked onto the wood burning stove + burning her forearm rather badly. Cardiff has had two fresher trips so far this year, and hospitalised a person on both of them - the first one fainting on the way to the cave entrance after being told a few horror stories. I feel we rather let the good name of ICCC down in having had no serious injuries; though I'm sure we can correct for this on the fireworks trip.
Sleeping in to 11:30, we managed an unusual display of efficiency + cooked, ate, washed up, cleaned up, packed, sorted kit + got the van moving by 12:30. Eventually finding ourselves at the Quarryman's Arms in Box, Wiltshire - we were faced with the unfortunate reality of once again going caving.
Taking the Backdoor Entrance just off Love Lane [who thinks these things up?], round the back of a rather nice house, we found ourselves in the comforting environment of a mine - 100 ton blocks of limestone held up by nothing more than failing wooden props + hope.
The mine was dry, spacious + warm - only vague difficulty was navigation. We took a route via the Water Tank, then up through the Iron Door to the Northern parts of the mine; taking a scenic detour described on the back of the survey, before ending up in the most northern part - up against some endworkings + a rather decrepit crane, where we munched our chocolate ration.
Heading back through some other workings, visiting a very strange + still crankable winch [sitting on the original rails], we drifted back through the Iron Door and along the rather reassuringly brick-lined WPC, taking a random south passageway that brought us to the stone staircase.
The staircase is fantastic - you expect to gaze over into Mordor when you finally reach the top of it, after having to wrestle with Shelob for a bit... In actual fact, it terminates with a rather shonky iron ladder leading to a surface hatch - the ladder seems to be stopping a couple of ton of limestone boulders from plummiting down the staircase, so it was decided not to attempt climbing. The steps nearest the surface have been erroded rather badly, becoming more a slope - its a lot more scary going down the first bit than coming up!
Just round the corner from the staircase is an extremely echo'y + large breezeblock-lined air shaft - unlike the others, there's no rubbish at the bottom of it either.
The trudge to the cathedral was rather complicated, but not too horrifically difficult. There's a large assortment of signposting, but most of it is inconsistent, self-conflicting or otherwise useless. One misturning put us in a dead-end where the smooth work-face had 'Try Again.' spraypainted across it! After a rather squalid clay crawl, we were presented with the Cathedral. Ben commented that it must be wonderful when snow is falling through the large gap in the roof towering above you; unfortunately the enormous pile of flytipping seems to detract from any experience.
After a shortbread-stop, we exited explosively through the backdoor, installing ourselves in the pub by about 5:30. Martin managed to secure himself the back left seat in the Minibus - again, and promptly fell asleep. Setting off around 7, we made it back for 9 and managed to squeeze in a pleasent drink in the Union Bar.
Photos by Jan, Photos by Jarvist.require('../footer.php'); ?>