7/6/08 Ian, Simon
14/6/08 Ian, Mike Cooper
For me, the most satisfying caving (and climbing) experiences are those which offer both a physical and mental challenge, allowing one to lie back afterwards knowing the test has been passed – until the next time!
Doing the trip in good style last year had certainly been an ordeal and without Ed to act as an extra porter, we reckoned on a physically hard day. Mind you, we felt no mental pressure, unlike before, since we knew that none of the obstacles presented a problem and with a lot of caving done since then, we felt fit enough for the trip.
With tackle lightened only slightly by using 8mm rope for some pitches, we still had a couple of bulging bags until the 40m rope was rigged at the almost dry 3rd pitch, using only the 2 natural belay points, still giving a nice free hang down this spacious shaft. One of the appealing points about this cave to me is that pretty much all of it can be safely rigged naturally, with only pitches 6 and 7 requiring hangers for sure. On the second pitch (1st from wet entrance) the chockstone is solid, but the only rebelay point I could find was a new-looking stud with a nut and washer, requiring tying off with thin cord, or a wire. According to Mr C a week later (chuckling at my faith in the chockstone, I reminded him that it was a lot more solid than RP belays I have resorted to on climbs!), a higher traverse out above the pitch does yield usable spits.
Simon and I enjoyed coffee from my flask at the bottom of pitch 4, one of the only friendly spots in the cave for a rest, before the gnarly sections to follow. Passing The Crux and the strenuous section to the head of pitch 5 went by quickly and fixing our own ropes all the way, we were in the grim Gormenghast chamber again in about 4 hours. It is worth noting that there are fixed ropes on all pitches bar the first 3, although they really should all come out, being unsightly and also probably unsafe. You do not want to have an accident down here!
Opening my chocolate bag whilst in Gormenghast, I was bit disappointed to find a mushy wet mess after the soaking in the wet wallows and had to force down the gooey mixture to get some energy for the return. I did feel a bit queasy for quite a while, but more seriously I developed very sore armpits from my undershirt chafing and no matter how I pulled it, I could find no relief. Having a very painful time lifting a bag, we decided to leave the gear at the head of pitch 5 and exit with only SRT kit. This made the journey out bearable and we were out after a 9-hour trip, feeling pleasantly worked, rather than exhausted, but we agreed that this cave is still one tough day out. Getting changed by the shakehole was pleasant enough, compared to the hypothermic experience of last year and I even managed to grab some crisps in The Station. Getting home I examined the red welts where my skin had rubbed off – showering was agony!
Not wanting to leave my kit in the cave too long, I resolved to return the next weekend and with Simon having to work Saturday, I enlisted help in the capable form of Mike Cooper. Mike was determined to show me some of the more esoteric parts of the cave – the first being the stream route to the head of pitch 3, which to me looked like a drainpipe, not a cave passage. Mike set off on the normal route, whilst I entered this spooky-looking crawl, pushing my harness, SRT bag and helmet along this very constricted obstacle. Apparently after a tight entry (yes) more amenable crawling (really?) leads to a tight exit at the head of pitch 3 (oh dear!). I could hear Mike’s exertions above me as I fought the numerous washed-in blocks, most of which seemed to get stuck in my nether regions, until I came across a rugby ball-sized rock ahead. Getting this to chest level only and seeing no respite ahead, I decided to make a strenuous reverse – believe me, the normal route felt like a walk in the park and I regretted the expenditure of energy in the horrid section below!
Mike again had a laugh at my sole use of naturals, but hey man, I’m communing with nature down here and I like it this way, okay dude!
Getting to the top of pitch 4, we uncoiled and dropped my rope from the previous trip and continued on to the bypass route. A fixed handline here leads down a slippery drop, tight at the top, into a small chamber with a thin squeeze back to the normal route ahead. Mike tried first, got stuck, stripped off his oversuit, got stuck again and offered me a go. Managing to pop through first go, I pulled Mike’s clobber through and offered the encouragement necessary for success. With no gear to carry, we were soon past The Crux and reached my bags. Reversing here, I said ‘adios Quaking’ and the grim gear haul began. Mike was first through The Crux on the return and I ferried the bags through to the slot for him to pull through. Reversing back, I took a while to find the spot where the squeeze up is made to complete the traverse, but once done steady progress was made and I was out of this final hard barrier. Last year, wearing only a neofleece, I had almost got through the bypass squeeze, whilst a similar effort this time in a wetsuit felt way too tight, with my ‘delicate’ appendages almost getting shoved into my body cavity, I decided not to try too hard this time.
Reversing the squeeze on the pitch 4 bypass was trickier, having little for the feet to push against and I set off first up the climb above. This looks easy, but the rock has the friction of formica covered in peanut butter for one’s feet and at the top I could not get my helmet through the gap, having to do some strenuous moves to force myself up. The helmetless Mike got up very smoothly and I reckon most people would feel safer with a jammer on the rope!
At the top of the big pitch the bags were bulging for the final tight bits – very nasty- and the final section was taken steadily, coaxing the big suckers around the bends and up the steps, until light was finally sighted. Hooray!
I got changed at the side of the shakehole again and Mike shoved most of the kit into his monster rucksack for the carry downhill – cheers Mate!
Obviously the trip does become easier, mentally at least, with practice, but is still hard work carrying tackle. Thanks to Simon and Mike for being such solid partners on these trips. Anyone for next weekend?