The drive up was quite dangerous with heavy fog at one point - the way on had ‘no entry’ written on it backwards (mean for traffic in the opposite direction) which confused Perry and we went another round around the roundabout before exiting. We reached CHECC and put up our tents. We met Louise from Nottingham who was quite keen on caving with us the next day. Apparently there was a fancy dress theme that we didn’t bother with.
On Saturday, only Arun, Jack and I were keen on caving, while others either signed up for workshops or were too hungover to do anything, and Louise joined us. The plan was to go in Maskhill Mine and out Oxlow Cavern. This order was chosen because Maskhill had a lot of long pitches (125m in total) that would be a pain to prussik up, and many teams (10-15 people who are mostly freshers) were going in and out Oxlow so we potentially would have to wait quite awhile if we were to go in there.
Down from Maskhill was fun with many rebelays that nicely had ledges to stand on and made them easier. There was an awkward bit that was both a vertical drop and a horizontal traverse – Arun used sheer arm strength to pull himself across the traverse, letting the rope feed through, while I unglamorously descended too much and had to wedge myself between rocks and shuffled my way up. At the bottom, we discussed whether to go back out the same way, which meant a lot of prussiking, or to go out by Oxlow, which is less effort but would probably take the same amount of time and we might get cold. In the end, we decided to go out Oxlow.
Halfway up Oxlow, we met the team of 6 Durham cavers (mostly freshers) and were told of another 7 after them who were a mix of freshers from different universities that Notts were leading (because their own leaders abandoned them of sorts). We cheekily bypassed them and waited at the bottom of the last pitch, since the last two (Lorna from Notts and a fresher from Leeds) already started their way down. I was getting cold from waiting so started crawling through random side passages, then shared Louise’s bothy bag.
When they got down, we found Lorna on the brink of hypothermia - she was shivering furiously and struggled to talk as she mumbled her words, saying that the two of them spent the last three hours waiting in the cold and wind at the entrance. Arun, Jack, Louise and I put the bothy bag over her and huddled around her like penguins. They decided to head out together with us, with Arun taking Lorna, Louise and I taking the fresher (I can’t remember his name – Alex? Andy? I don’t know), and Jack descended the pitch briefly to tell the team below. The fresher struggled a lot while ascending, and Louise and I eventually realised that his footloop was attached to his central maillon. We got out to see Lorna still shivering in the minibus, but she was better by evening.
In the evening, Una and I attempted the squeeze box challenge. I bailed quickly when I reached my pain threshold, while Una went on to win. The Monday after, we both ended up with huge bruises on our arms. The night went on with Arun accidentally smashing Jennifer’s full bottle of gin, Jack pretending to walk and be like a penguin because I said he looked like one, and some attempts at socializing with Notts and Belfast cavers. I tactically avoided the disco, and a peek in was enough to convince me that my decision was right.
I spent Sunday at an SRT/rigging workshop, and quite uneventfully taking a nap and cleaning up. Jack went into JH (I made a joke about how JH (Jack Halliday) went into JH (the cave) but it didn’t seem very well received) with Alex from Notts. They came back quite late, so we had to wait for Jack before we could leave, while Sheffield and Notts had to wait as well because Alex very smartly took along with him both of their car keys. We drove back and ended up with a lot of things which was surprising, given how little caving was actually done.