Hopefully you won't have to see this if one of the freshers writes a report and we get some lovely video from Sean. But if you do, read on...
There was a pretty low turnout for a fresher trip (only 5 new cavers) and it was one of the most chaotic I've been on but it all turned out right on the night, honest! (No one drowned in the streamway, cracked their heads against the ceiling or fell down any large holes...)
The weekend kicked off with the union being annoying and telling us our minibus was at Charing Cross Hospital, forcing Jarv to cycle over there to collect it. Without any SRT gear and only the slightest amount of metalwork to throw into the back of the 9-seater though we were at Newport Tesco by 10. Here we loaded over 10 litres of the greatest cider the world has ever seen into the van. Reached the WSG by half 11 where the men did manly things like chopping wood with big axes and the women chopped vegetables with small knives. The boys did a few squeezes in the squeeze machine, culminating in Sean overthrowing our president as the skinniest caver and Dave getting his head stuck.
The WSG remains the cosiest hut I've been to and thanks to the silent slumber of a group of people who do not snore, I slept beautifully on two pillows.
Super prepared, Rhys had us all ready to go caving by 10. On that bombshell our best laid plans went awry. Catherine had no wellies. No problem; we raided the WSG for a pair. Catherine had no wetsocks. We found some massive ones in a bag of spare kit that we had chucked into the bus last minute. Catherine had no helmet. Oh bollocks...
Let's leave aside our negligence in letting someone leave stores without a fully-packed kit for now. We all drove to the SWCC, with teabags and milk in a bag in case Rhys had to forgo caving, and thankfully managed to scrounge a lovely new orange helmet off one of the other clubs (Ed: Mad props to Reading University Caving Club for the loan!) for Catherine to use. Crisis averted. Then while changing I discovered that the oversuit I had packed was far too small. Damn. But, finding a 2A PVC suit in the spare kit bag, I persuaded Oli to change out of his 3A and try it on. It fitted, so I stole his 3A, which needs some TLC that I was not willing to provide. Again, crisis averted. Then we had to find kneepads for Ellen, who was trying to put elbow pads over her legs. Then we nearly forgot the cave maps.
Well, at least the minibus hadn't broken yet. We eventually made it up the hill to the entrance and got underground. Jarv led us to Gnome Passage where we finally had to ask the question, "So what the hell are we going to do on this trip then?" With the weather unstable a trip to Top waterfall was a no-no and trips round the Labyrinth not advisable when only Jarv knew the cave. So what else is there to do in OFD II?
We just went all around really, starting down Edward's Shortcut which has a committing downwards climb that is more psychological than physical. We managed to waste 90 minutes before reaching the Crossroads, by visiting the frozen river and the Shattered Pillar and strolling along Selenite Tunnel. Here we debated what to do next and elected to follow Jarv to check out the water level in the main stream passage. We abandoned three litres of ‘cider' we had brought into the cave in the passage as a warning to other cavers and a reason to come back alive. Going to the streamway involves climbing down the Fairy Steps and heading along a rift to Maypole Inlet to drop into the main stream. The last free climb with rope is really good fun!
Water level was medium but still pretty forceful coming downstream! We stomped upstream to where the water gets deeper and the passageway narrower, and turned with the warning, "If you hear something that sounds like a freight train behind you, run." Made it safely out of the stream and enjoyed ourselves (things always seem much more fun directly after doing it) getting hit in the face by water ascending the freeclimbs out of Maypole Inlet. One of the tacklesacks attempted to escape down the rift; clearly it was feeling underused. Back at the Crossroads we drank lots of cider and headed off up to visit Trident and Judge. After this we went to play around in Swamp Creek for a while, traversing up and down the rift.
Navigation was entirely taken over by Rhys and Oli with some input from me at this point. The Labyrinth would have ensnared us on a couple of occasions were it not for Jarv sometimes making rather passive-aggressive comments at the back. We found the Corkscrew climb out of Salubrious passage after a while, and heading back to the entrance involved a little bickering about the correct route. We were out in time for sunset, having not seen any other cavers until the last possible moment even though there were many groups down in the system.
Back at the hut we made pizzas on a smaller but no less delicious scale than the freshers' trip in 2011, followed by crumble. We literally kicked the spin-dryer into action before wiling away the hours with lewd caving games (a spectator sport to be sure; "Hur-hur-hur, put your foot over there, and someone pass the cider!"): chair traversing, table traversing, body traversing, baked bean traversing, slings and saucepans, slings and chairs...
While Ellen and Liam snoozed at the WSG the rest of us spent Sunday afternoon on a bimble around PYO, which has a quintessential cave entrance. The weather was pretty nice. When we got there we realised we had to pay for parking. With 5p and a nickel between the seven of us it was fortunate we got a nice carpark attendant who was cool with us not paying.
Team America (Jarv, Sean and Catherine) donned wetsuits. Team Can't Be Arsed With Wetsuits (AKA Extreme) consisted of Rhys, indulging in ‘decadence' in his dry wet socks, Oli with a hilarious oversuit crotch rip, and Dave and me who just didn't feel like getting super wet. PYO apparently hasn't been visited by the club for a while, so it was nice to break the trend. It's a great cave to be set loose in. It has several entrances that can be explored, nice waterways, a bit of crawling and stooping and the passages often go slightly different ways and ultimately pop out in the same place. It was also full of cavers, including a large group of scouts unnecessarily crawling along a thin shelf instead of talking the easy walking option.
We ate the rest of the pizza, cleaned up, and made a speedy departure. Despite the moaning of the minibus we were back in stores just after 9pm.
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