It was Friday at 6pm when I realised that something was terribly, terribly wrong. A sense of dread and foreboding washed over me. What had I done. The Disco Box. It was at home, where Saber had left it after the previous trip. Fiona arrived and we quickly agreed that without the Disco Box there could be no trip. Quick as a flash I hopped onto my bike and sped home, hitting Mach 3 down Ladbroke Grove. When I returned 45 minutes later, Disco Box in hand, I was pleased to find that preparations for the trip were well underway. New cavers were packing, rope was piling up, and ancient alcohols were prized from the icy depths of the fridge.
The van was loaded with minimal fuss, and we were quickly off straight into the back of a two hour queue to the M25. Normally this would be a major setback but as this trip Fiona was driving solo, and therefore in charge of the tunes, it was merely an opportunity to blast "99 Luftballons" and other 80s classics. Once we broke free of the traffic and hit warp speed (62mph) we had an untroubled journey to the North (apart from a brief detour to Coventry in a desperate attempt to avoid paying £9 on the M6 toll).
Up bright and early on Saturday, fueled with the cheapest protein based breakfast possible, everyone was eager for caving. Oli, Dave and Will took charge of a novice trip to Bull whilst I, Fiona, Jack, Sam and Sarah prepared for a jolly down King.
We arrived, changed, and walked to King, much enjoying a brief conversation with the farmer who we managed convince of our ability not to need a rescue. Maybe some foreshadowing there.
At the shakehole I sent Jack in, bag in tow, to rig. Jack proved to be a most capable rigger and we made good progress. I had forgotten how soon the T-Shaped passage is and assured everyone that it was a few pitches away as Fiona clambered into a conspicuously small crawl above a rift. When she called back that it seemed a lot like the T-shaped passage I replied that it probably was in fact the T-shaped passage. I don't think anyone noticed. Fiona, possibly using some sort of ESP or astrology, decided that it would be a bad idea to continue and elected to make her way out.
The rest of us decided to venture on. Sarah, up until this point, had spent much of her time extolling the benefits of being small and the ease it afforded her at any constricted passage. So I dared her to walk through the T-shaped passage, I of course would do so as well. It would be a competition. The going was relatively easy at first and she had the audacity to laugh as I scraped my croll past a few of the tighter bends. Eventually she stopped, unable to continue, the passage t0o tight. She tried to reverse, but each movement led her lower into the rift until she was quite, quite stuck. I did what any leader would in this situation; laugh at her, point out the various limbs we could amputate, and tell her that she "Just needed to move up a bit". Despite my help, Sarah I think became a bit worried. Her giggling had slowed to just a few giggles a minute, which was telling. After some time and presumabley a "fuck it" moment she forced her way upwards to freedom. We continued down the passage, me vindicated as best small caver, and Sarah with an important lesson learned.
We emerged on the other side to Jack and Sam's smiling faces. Maybe grimacing actually. Swiftly we reached the conclusion that everyone was fucked and that surface was calling. We clambered back into the T-shaped passage. Both Jack and I managed to leave our cows tails on the hand line as we crawled away. Great minds, ay? Jack kept up as I huffed and puffed my way through pushing the tackle sack. Once again on the other side we both sat and listened to Sarah and Sam slither through. Jack retained his composure despite (as he revealed later) undergoing a minor mental breakdown. Ha.
We exited at some pace beyond singing to keep our spirits up (incidentally the wet crawl beyond the t-shaped passage is exactly one "Puff the Magic Dragon" long). Jack derigged and eventually we caught Fiona on the last pitch. Sam decided to lose a finger (or something) on the way out. Jack using wilderness survival skills taped it back on and we made our walk back.
From T to infinity – a lone caver on the way out of King
I'm watching Sam's wellies kick about in the T-shaped passage as I consider the journey ahead: the return trip out of King Pot. Solo caving is not encouraged, and yet I am about to have my best trip since going down M16 in Slovenia.
First, the right turn into the wet hands-and-knees crawl. The first thing I note is that going at my own pace – admittedly slow, but slow and steady wins all of my races – immediately improves my mood. Not that I was having a bad time beforehand, mind. The water has settled since we passed through on the way in, clear and cold.
Next I have to tackle the upwards climb marked by two slings. Why is there not a third sling that would make an improvised ladder? If only I hadn't remembered to give the slings to Sam in case they needed them for further rigging. As it is I work my way up to a point where I can get a foot in the loop of the sling, then wedge myself between the walls with a knee on a slight rock protrusion and hang aforementioned sling over a higher rock to give myself another foothold.
I reach the bottom of the second pitch. I ascend smoothly but spend many minutes in the narrow pitch head trying various body orientations. King is a bit squeezy for me and doesn't seem to be letting up just because I'm beating a retreat. Millimetre by millimetre I work my way through the gap until I get a knee in the right place, push up and pop through. I keep thinking I can hear the others behind me, but it's my imagination every time.
I clamber up to a section of tight, narrow passage where Rhys earlier commented that watching me get through it was like witnessing a birth. I'm being reborn! I think idly, contemplating the sideways crawl. I chuck my SRT bag in ahead of me and head in.
Around here it becomes more obvious that my thoughts are wandering a little. Still, after the unease that set in when I tried the T-shaped passage and my earlier exertions, this is positively pleasant. At one point, on my side in the superman position, I rest my head on my outstretched hand and laugh at the mental image of a reclining model that my posture reminds me of. In another life, perhaps. I wiggle through, massaging my SRT bag onwards with the tips of my fingers.
Around the corner I clip into the traverse. At first it's easy as I can straddle the gap. But when I sit down to attempt the middle bit, I realise I've made an error in judgement. I can sense my impending drop into mid-air; I can't reach the foothold, and I can't support myself against the opposite wall, and gravity and mud are enabling slow but inexorable downwards motion.
I let the fall happen as gracefully as I can (read: a gentle slide) and work my way back to the beginning of the traverse to try again. The second time I am successful. At the top of the chamber, where the traverse lines are bolted in, I start to go through a narrow section. My legs are hanging over the edge before I realise I don't remember doing this the first time. I retreat due to the unfamiliarity, and scrutinise the passage.
'Go under rather than over' I remember Rhys saying and suspiciously I return to spur of rock at the 'end' of the traverse. I look down and sure enough, there's a lower passage. I go through to a short crawl, which I babysit my SRT bag through to prevent it from 1) falling into the rift and 2) making me get stuck. Around this time I start to wonder if it has been raining on the surface because the cave seems drippier than it was earlier. I also start to get paranoid about the others catching up. I almost don't want them to. I want to prove something to myself.
It definitely is wetter than it was on the descent. Climbing the first pitch washes my oversuit; it is scarily yellow by the time I've ascended past the drippy bits. I stand before the narrow slot that will lead to the entrance climb and the surface once again, and hear voices behind me: real voices, not imagined.
The others soon catch up and assist me through the slot, which takes me a bazillion attempts and Sam manages first-time. I curse everyone and only feel less useless when Sam stands on my shoulders to exit the entrance climb. It's drizzling and windy on the surface, but I'm satisfied, and not even too tired.
The depths that lie beyond the T-shaped passage hold an allure for me now, and though most wouldn't find the trip I've described here much of an achievement, for I who normally needs another's leg to stand on it's a true boost to my flagging caving confidence. On the walk down the hill I declare my uncertainty about ever returning. But I think I was wrong. King, I'll be back.
Team Deathwish consisting of Oli, William, and Mel were going to be exploring valley entrance as a recon for a subsequent free driving trip down Rowten. Team Notquitethatinsane led by Myself and Dave went for an SRT-tastic trip to Jingling. I couldn't remember going there before and was a little apprehensive that it wouldn't be that interesting. I was very wrong. The usual Kingsdale hill scramble got us up to the impressive open shaft. The two trees normally by the entrance had been reduced to one and a half, the other half dangling precariously over the shaft. Dave gave me quick run through of the rigging (though it turned out to be a "follow the bolts" sort of affair) and I set off to rig the Lateral Cleft route. The first traverse is interesting to rig, involving crawling under a drippy rock centimeters from shaft. As I rigged Jack stepped in to ensure that Karim, Chelsea and Rachel were descending correctly. The route zig zags into a large rift and pops back out two thirds of the way down the main shaft. As the sky once again came into view I saw Jack, dangling 10 meters above, rigging the alternate more direct route. As if to punish me for failing to supervise his rigging as I had promised to he dropped his remaining rope and bag down the pitch (deliberately, so that he could go back up and come down the route I was rigging). After the accompanying loud bang and assurance that it was not a person falling we all continued reaching the bottom. Karim was behind me and we rigged the final 20m descent into a rift. The attraction here appeared to be a dwindling crack so we both decided that waiting at the bottom of the vastly more impressive shaft was better. We were soon joined by the rest of our party. We played with the collection of sheep bones at the bottom, took a few photos and started heading out. Jack derigged the Lateral Cleft and I derigged the big hang. A fantastic quick SRT trip and a sort of mini-exchange if you rig both routes. I would certainly recommend Jingling if you're stuck for trips.
We packed the minibus, complete with a bike which had been the price of having Jack on the trip and headed off. The trip back was as fun as the trip up, Chelsea introduced us to some banging new tunes and we proved that you can in fact sing along to "Sandstorm" by Darude.