It was late Friday night when we arrived to our cottage in Yorkshire. Cold winds were beginning to whip up and you could just hear the footsteps of winter coming closer. December was almost at the corner. Despite staying in the cottage you could still feel the chill right down to your bones. We went to bed almost once we arrived as new adventures awaited us on Saturday morning.
On Saturday we were split into teams. My team (Jack, Oliver, Sam, Thomas and me) went to Bull Pot cave. The cave starts with a vertical descending. It was the first time for me and Thomas to try out our SRT skills outside the tree training sessions. Thomas went first, so I watched him carefully and enjoyed my descending later avoiding Thomas's mistakes. A handful advice given by Jack was to rig the descender as higher as possible, so it was easier to test it later and made it easier to release the short Cow's Tail. Bull Pot had few deviations, so we could enjoy practicing them as well. Without reaching the bottom of the cave we turned back. I was the first one to go up to the surface (and not because I was willing so much to see the sunlight, but just... it just happened somehow). At surface we enjoyed the sunset and with the last sunlight we joined the other team on the way back.
Alexander Seaton Yorkshire I began with a gruelling test of my commitment to caving. Just as Odysseus' resolve was tested by the sirens, the Korean society's giant and delicious looking pile of food lay enticing me nearby as we packed the minibus. Despite this (and even without needing to be strapped to the minibus) I stood by my decision to spend my weekend cold and damp in a cave. Thus having had my willpower drained completely, the six hour drive up to Yorkshire serenaded by Ollie and his rendition of “I want to know what love is” was vital for restoring my passion for caving.
We rose unnaturally early on Saturday and were treated to a lavish breakfast of scrambled eggs, greasy sausages and Tesco's Everyday Value baked beans (a British delicacy). This put to rest any lingering thoughts I may have had about Korean food. I eagerly wolfed it down and proceeded to prepare myself physically and mentally for the day's caving. Due to the large number of people on the trip and the abundance of caves nearby we divided ourselves into four groups, mine made up of Ben, Sarah, William and Rhys Gordon-Levitt. Having begun relatively flawlessly, things took a turn for the worse as we drove towards the cave with my realisation that I was missing a couple of vital pieces of safety equipment: chocolate and a set of 'cows' tails'. Having not previously come across the latter I was relieved to discover that their manufacture didn't involve animal cruelty - the procedure involves plenty of anaesthetic. Fortunately the presence of a Co-op en-route combined with Rhys and Jack's ingenuity and sacrifice, in this case unfortunately lacking anaesthetic, solved both of these problems. Finally prepared, we set off up the valley on foot towards the cave.
The cave which my group opted to visit is called Jingling pot. It consists of a wide, 60m deep pitch (vertical drop) that is open to the elements and around which snake a series of much narrower and shorter pitches. These end with a 30m pitch down to the bottom of the cave where the main shaft also ends. The cave begins with a miniature 'canyon' which deepens gradually to about 2m at which stage the floor disappears and the main pitch begins. On the right hand wall of the pitch a narrow ledge leads to the opposite wall and the entrance to the smaller pitches. Rhys, who was rigging the rope, set off first and soon disappeared into the depths while the rest of us followed at a more leisurely pace. Being the penultimate in line to the pitch I had plenty of time for my fear of heights to kick in. I thus made ample use of the subsequent crawl along the ledge to contemplate mortality. With that out of the way I continued down the short, narrow pitches. While tedious these were fairly straightforward and in what seemed like a short amount of time I arrived at the final 30m pitch down to the bottom. I attached my cows' tails and descender to the rope and with Sarah's reassurance that the manoeuvre wouldn't involve a 30m free-fall, swung out into the void. Strangely enough, the descent was quite enjoyable and I even found myself wishing it was a longer pitch. Alas, my feet came to the ground soon enough and quickly became acquainted with a group of friendly maggots which had just finished a hearty meal consisting of a sheep foolish enough to venture into the cave without an SRT kit.
We took a short break to eat some of our chocolate and to take some photos. Then begun the ascent, which whilst tiring was mostly straightforward. Ben and Sarah went first and were rapidly out of sight whilst I at a painstakingly slow speed made my way up, closely followed by Rhys and William. Having taken a pair of rather clumsy and stiff gloves I made the mistake of deciding to go without them for the ascent. This gave my right hand a pair of impressive blisters which I made good use of for extracting sympathy and awe from people over the following two weeks. Nevertheless aside from this, managing to somehow get tangled in a Y-hang and having a miniature panic attack part way along the ledge to the exit, the ascent proceeded flawlessly. Emerging into the world again we discovered that it was dark already and we hurried back to the minibus for the journey back to the NPC cottage.
On returning I made myself useful in the kitchen where with Jack and Jarv's instruction we cooked up a feast worthy of.. ..well, a group of hungry and tired cavers. Following this delicious meal the important business of caving games for which we were joined by the Newcastle's caving club (UNCC). The games began with classics such as the table traverse and the 'pot and sling' game and progressed to more exotic games including the body traverse (about which James was somewhat worryingly enthusiastic) and a game of UNCC's invention involving the connection of random body parts between random people. Highlights of the night (for me at least) included Rhys and I gazing deep into each others souls to calibrate ourselves for our pot and sling attempt, Cecilia and Sarah's death-defying body traverses around James and of course the body connecting game in which I became perhaps a little too well acquainted with Ben's crotch.
On Sunday we (Cecilia, Jack, Oliver, Thomas and me) went to the Jingling Pot cave, which was a bit different from the Bull Pot. It started from a breath-taking horizontal traverse on the edge of a cliff and followed by an abseiling into darkness. A surprise was to find sheep bones on the bottom of the cave. It almost felt we were going down to hell, and seeing the sunlight seemed to be the most desirable dream at the moment. But it didn't take us long and we headed to the surface. This time Thomas was the first one to leave the cave.
Despite being exhausted I had a small feeling of regret and unfulfilled dreams as we left Yorkshire. And a wish to come back once again has sparkled at that moment.
On Sunday I decided that my life-threatening blisters were going to be an obstacle to caving and so opted to stay in the cottage. This was not as boring as I had expected as I was in the good company of Fiona, Jarv and Sarah and together we tidied up, sorted out the spare kit and washed ropes. Most of the cavers returned early enough but a splinter group led by Dave KP and Andy kidnapped Sam and held him ransom until we were able to negotiate his release late in the evening. Despite this we returned in good time to London and the grey monotony of life outside a cave.