With a disturbing and downright dangerous lack of Faff, kit was sorted, food was bought and the freshers coerced into the back of the van. Leaving the Union by 19:30. Traffic was light, we arrived by half midnight in time to meet up with Andy Jurd + the NUCC peeps.
We decided to have a three-pronged attack on the Easegill system, running a ladder trip for the Freshers, and two SRT trips of varying Epicness for the Novices. After breakfast, Lyndon + Dad went to buy three more SRT harnesses from Inglesport, while rope-technique was practiced on the tree outside the NPC. Once over at Bull Pot, we fought our way past the 30-odd vehicles already there and got changed on the side of the road in the gentle drizzle.
The original plan was to only do Lancaster Hole but upon arrival at the entrance we were greeted by a group dressed in casual clothes and helmets. We quickly discovered that they were pissing around doing an 'initiation' of some sort and were going to be phaffing in the entrance for quite some time. So instead we decided we'd go to Cow Pot and do an initiation of our own, that of introducing our two freshers (numbers 1 and 3) to the dubious joys of SRT.
Without any major issues, the whole group made it down to the bottom and then, with a little wriggling, down the entrance squeeze into the cave. After a short bimble we were at the main pitch but without any more rope we were unable to rig the near free-hanging traverse at the top of the pitch (shame). We headed out and after a lot of effort got back out of the squeeze and up the rope to the surface.
Having only taken two and a half hours of our planned six we went back to Lancaster Hole, and thankfully the phaffers had gone. No longer being novices, our two freshers got down to the bottom of the pitch without too much difficulty and on we went to explore the cave down to Fall Pot. As the Top trip were possibly planning to come back out of Lancaster we left the cave rigged, and headed back out to the minibus.
A tough and long trip was planned by the team of Migovec veterans eager to get back in the saddle, and zealous [read masochistic] Novices. Originally intending to go down Top, then coming out via either Wretched Rabbit or Lancaster; we drudged up the Valley, in slightly nervous awe at the very pretty, but rather full flowing, stream.
Climb down the entrance was decidedly dodgy, but succesfully completed after drinking some apple juice and reading the Bull Pot Farm treasure hunt clues attached to the ladder rungs. Crawl through water pool just beyond the entrance was distinctly depraved. Chris ran ahead to rig the first pitch rather too efficiently, so we got ourselves lost by following the dry route to a dead end rather than the streamway.
The first pitch had a serious waterfall going down it, but the Novices managed to stay out of the brunt of it while descending. The already rigged rope [well, one of two] seemed in fairly good nick, so we didn't have to worry about rigging and then retrieving our own. More tight streamway followed, the more inverted-keyhole shaped parts passable by crawling through the stream, the more hourglass sections by wriggling sideways. The 4cm diameter ridges in the wall made a very pleasing but worrying abrasive sound on the chest jammer. In one section, trying to pass a narrowing hourglass I should have ducked under + crawled for, I managed to get my helmet properly wedged. Luckily, there were no Novices to laugh at me or to learn unsafe technique, so I simply unclipped and wriggled my way out.
The Second Pitch was less wet, but spray filled - very difficult to avoid getting damp.
Chris, leading us deeper into the beast's lair, stumbled upon a ferocious but luckily immature Minatour. :-
Attempting to find our way through Limerick junction; we first tried following the stream which was fairly tight, involving moments of traversing above the stream on a shelf, and more depraved moments of crawling through the cold cold water. This lead nowhere, and after checking out various possible leads and climbs off the streamway, we explored the junction itself and found the Oxbows leading on. Climbing up was rather difficult; the easy route involved a rather exposed traverse across some rather loose boulders + a 4m drop, the safer route only climable by those with the longest legs. The route continued pleasently along some old and very dry higher level of Oxbows, climbing up a boulder choke by a fairly easy stairwell Z route - well, easy once it had been scouted out!
This quickly led into Nagasaki chambers; which were on a most impressive scale. After a few clambers over mud covered multi-storey high boulders and avoiding the large hole, we found ourselves in a rather holey rift. The early gaps were rather easy and only involved a fall of a metre or two, the last one involves a traverse of about 4m with few foot holds - but is pleasently narrow and offers easy elbow nooks. Assuming it was of a similar depth as the earlier ones, I traversed it lightheartedly and with ease; it was only on the way back across that I looked down and saw that it was actually a drop through a none-too-narrow-slot onto a 10m fall-of-certain-screaming-death. I was rather more careful on my way back!
We continued up into East Grotto, and admired the many formations - no camera unfortunately! Assuming that we were continuuing along the way, we followed the Grotto to its painfully crawly + mud splattered actively digged end. Pondering upon Chris' quickly transcribed and rather vague directions, we managed to find the way DOWN the handline + into the chamber exposed by the Hole. There was a little clamber down a knotted handline with a fair few footholds, until you have to swing around the rift to the right. The chamber led on to a 3m climb down; but it looked rather frightening and so we finally got to use the rope we'd been carrying around + rigged a quick pitch using two large boulders as anchor points.
Deciding that we could climb up far easier + that the rope rubbed too much for prussacking, Pip derigged and clambered down, we found ourselves in the impressive Assembly hall. After a quick mars bar stop and considering the time; we decided to attempt an exit via Wretched Rabbit, and so plunged down the White Way. The stream seemed fairly agressive, and noone was particularly keen to get cold playing with the duck / sump at the end. We carefully picked our way back to the Assembly hall, exploring sidepassages for any possible bypasses of the sump - but other than a lot of digging works, could find nothing particularly encouraging. Note for Next Time:- There's supposedly a staligtite guarded letterbox slot on the left off the streamway, wedged in a narrow bit.
Considering the difficulties we had experienced in navigating, and the extent to which people had got chilled as a result, we decided that backtracking our way to Top would be energetically demanding but quick, and should keep everyone pleasently toasty!
Progress was smooth and pleasent until we hit the two pitches; both of which were very wet. Standing at the bottom in the spray to pull the rope through for the Novices added to the chill; spirits all round were on the ebb. The view from below was rather entertaining; with the badly-patched ICCC oversuits springing forth fountains all over the Arse, it became rather less comic when you experienced it for yourself though!
In a bid to charm any Minatours still around, Pip + Chris started a duet from the top & bottom of Top Sink. Very surreal experience, the echoes and waterfall noise destroyed any words but left the notes, Sarah:- "Like lying dead in a cathedral and listening to your requiem".
The exit continued without incident; we collapsed outside and drank the carton of apple juice we'd been carrying around for the last nine hours, then picked our way carefully back across some distinctly boggy moors in the mist. Dave Wilson was waiting halfway along the road, worried about our soon-expiring callout.
A truly epic trip that would have challenged the experienced caver; our Novices faired very well indeed!
The Wretched Crew had prepared Chilli for our return, which we ate after peeling off our wet furries and wiping the worst of the mud off our faces. Fireworks were enjoyed by those who were still managing to move themselves around, little of the alcohol needed to be drunk before everyone fell into a deep sleep.
Late start to the day, due to general exhaustion; and being lazy asses.
On Sunday, Pip, Chris and I left the slumbering students for a hardcore trip down Pippikin. Famous for its size, Pippikin has had its fair share of rescues, usually as a result of people getting wedged in one of the numerous squeezes.
The often tricky task of finding the entrance proved to be trivial, and we were met by a piece of slightly green ICCC rope in the entrance from a previous visit. Pippikin's good fun, but consists almost entirely of contortions and tight bits. These are best done feet-first since they usually open out on to vertical shafts. Strategically placed drills and scaffold bars can help, but you usually can't see where you're going.
None of this takes very long, so when Chris, who was bringing up the rear, failed to appear, I suspected that he may have fallen for the charms of this particular cave. It was at this point that I regretted my decision to bring no ascending gear.
I managed to get myself back to where I could hear Chris. Yes, he was stuck in Stemple rift (the site of two rescues in the space of a fortnight last year). I called Pip, and she came back, getting her footloop stuck in the process. I was then stuck between two cavers who were both stuck. For experienced expeditioneers such as ourselves, this was highly embarrassing.
Luckily, Pip managed to get herself and then Chris unstuck, and we could carry on to the lower depths. We followed the meandering streamway along to the Hall Of Ten, then out Mistral entrance and back in time for tea.
With the promise from Jan of a nice easy "girly" cave, Valley Entrance sounded like a pleasant little trip ideal for a Sunday afternoon. "It's just a short ladder pitch, followed by some splashing around in a little river" said Jan as we were getting changed by the minibus in the middle of nowhere. All kitted up, we headed through the embedded oil-drum entrance hole and crawled our way to the top of the ladder pitch passing Andy (6/7 IC, 1/7 NUCC, 100% traitor) on the way.
Down the easy, 5m free-hanging ladder we followed Jan splashing our way through the fast-flowing streamway. After a short way we came to a junction, a nice route to the left that appeared to be dry or a deeper part of the streamway to the right. Another caver adjusting his kit suggested we take the left route, and following it around to the right as "it's much dryer". What he failed to mention was he actually meant take the left route and follow it around to the left.
With Jan leading the way, we very quickly found ourselves wading (or in the case of Jo, swimming) through deep, very cold pools of water, through tight crawls with only a foot of airspace in places and dive lines through sumps here there and everywhere.
This did not seem like the pleasant Sunday trip we'd been promised.
We started to wonder if it was actually Jo's fault, that perhaps this was Jan's way of getting her back for destroying his bike and shoulder during drunken shenanigans after Jarv's party last weekend.
Finally reaching a large sump and no obvious way on we turned around and headed out through the still freezing cold pools. Now that we were completely soaked when we reached the streamway again some of the group did a little tobogganing down the fast flowing shoots back out to the ladder pitch before heading back out of the cave.
Despite the freezing water, all seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
Our hard-core testosterone-fuelled SRT assault turned out to be rather unsatisfyingly pleasent + pretty; a small dry 4m pitch after an easy traverse - looked free climable by the more experienced. Streamway quickly led on via a 'crab' sideways crawl to a long traverse above a triple-cascade waterfall to a approx. 8m pitch with early deviation + rebelay. The rebelay was unsurprisingly a bit of a challenge to the Novices; apart from anything else - I couldn't hear Dave shout that he was about to rig one + so rebrief the poor devils! David coped amiably with it, Charles unfortunately had a twisted breaking crab that was preventing him getting off his descender. Luckily, Dave was able to quickly join him at the Rebelay, attaching himself spider-man like to some spare P-bolts while readying for the derig, while Charles + I descended past.
Other than the last couple of distinctly wet metres, nothing else was particularly challenging - David, Charles and I had a pleasent walk-out exit through a beautiful stone-cathedrawl, Dave headed back up to derig with his usual smooth efficiency.
Photos by Jan, Jarvist and Lyndon
Written by Jarvist Frost, Lyndon Leggate, Clewin Griffith & Lewis Carrollrequire('../footer.php'); ?>