Ian and Simon.
With our plans for some horizontal caving scuppered by the persistent rain during the week, our fallback plan was a quick trip down one of the West Kingsdale pots. As I hadn’t been down Rowten since about 1981, I was curious to see how the memory of a draughty, wet hole compared to the present.
Driving past Braida Garth, we noticed several cars of the BPC on their Vespers trip and we parked at the gate below the Rowten approach. Noticing 2 lads in caving gear, we asked them what their plans were, but they weren’t sure and we started to change. A few minutes later, a tall, grey-haired figure in a yellow suit emerged from a purple V-dub van (no it wasn’t Steve Warren!) and met up with the 2 lads. When Simon asked him of their plans, he replied with a rather autocratic tone “Rowten, but you may double rig it!” Because of his demeanour, I imagined him to be a Latin master at a public school and christened him ‘The Captain’ after Captain Mainwaring of Dad’s Army!
We decided to linger by the cars to let them get down and I struggled to pull my oversuit over my wetsuit, reasoning that it would be very wet and windy down the hole and that I would need all the insulation I could manage. The major flaw in this was that the friction of my wetsuit against the outer layer and the steepness of the hillside meant that I could only take minute steps, making comically slow progress up the hill burdened by 140m of rope and an SRT bag, until Simon relieved me of some of the load and I rolled my trousers up to the knees.
Arriving at the pot, we were somewhat disappointed to find the 2 lads to be at the lip, with 1 apparently an SRT novice being given instruction on hard locks, soft locks, full locks and all that techno gobbledegook gear freaks love. Still, it was a pleasant day to loll about and we patiently waited to descend. With Simon rigging, we dropped to the bridge, where ‘The Captain’ was using his rope from the surface to rig down the dry SRT route. After an eternity the 2 lads followed into the roof traverse and Simon went down to the 1st rebelay, where he waited and waited and waited, until it transpired that ‘the Captain’ had come up short of the ground and needed us to extend his rigging and use our rope to reach the deck. Reversing to the traverse from the bridge, I managed to gain about 20 feet of rather nice yellow Beal rope and we were finally able to move.
With more waiting at every belay, I looked longingly at the cascades below, wondering why we were hanging off bolts when we could be down in the streamway, since the levels were not too desperate looking once we were up close. I know a lot of people like this sort of stuff, but to me it’s not the most satisfying form of caving. Eventually we were at the last pitch down to the sumps and curiously, as I started to descend, ‘The Captain’ started up his rope, obviously desperate not to let us get ahead on the way out and despite a rather leisurely walk to the sumps we had to endure the same delays on the way out, turning a trip of about 2 hours into more like 4. When we got out we were all for giving the chap a bit of verbal, since he hadn’t even said thanks for sorting his rope out, but he was nowhere to be seen. However, when we were almost changed, a vehicle emerged out of the darkness, a few words of apology were mumbled and ‘The Captain’ sped off on his way! You have been warned.