Arun Paul, Bhavik Lodhia, Edith Huebner, Isha Kaur, Ivana Fertitta, Jack Hare, James Perry, Julian Keenan, Kelvin Choi, Kenneth Tan, Max Hörmann, Miriam North-Ridao, Pavel Kroupa, Peter Ganson, Rhys Tyers, Sam Page, Tanguy Racine, Tetley
My first caving trip as a gainfully employed person. And as such a person working in Guildford there was no way for me to make it for Herr Hare’s 7pm bus departure time (like his ideological antecedents he is making the transport run on time). I therefore had to make an arduous and difficult journey to a far off backwater known as “Reading”. Once there I spent an hour perusing the alcohol in Lidl before I wandered towards the motorway and attempted to flag down passing vehicles. The scummiest vessel I’d ever seen trundled to a stop and listed suggestively towards me. Opening a rusted side door I was knocked back by the musky stench of well aged caving kit and slightly less well aged cavers. They were not the doggers I deserved but they were the doggers I needed. I climbed aboard and set about plying everyone within reach with the Sloe-est Gin money can buy (in Lidl).
Our first stop was a wanky, town centre Morrisons in Swindon but the minibus was too tall to get into the parking. Our second stop was an Aldi but they didn’t have vegetarian suet. Our third and final stop was the ever reliable Tesco stocked almost exclusively with vegetarian suet, proving as ever that change is bad. The heavily laden bus, guided by Google, completed the Bath Travelling Salesman traversal before touching down in the Wessex at a civilised 11pm.
I slowly opened the Darren drum. A wave of sweet sweat and festering cave water filled my nostrils. ‘I’ll never leave my damp thermal top inside the drum again’ I thought. I took out a pile of fragrant sponges, the thermal top and two tea towels that had waited in stores since the end of Winter Tour and put them in the washing machine for a quick rinse. ‘ Twenty minutes here we go’. Jack then entered stores, dumped a bag and left immediately to check we the minibus wasn’t on fire. Slowly, eager cavers trickled into stores and before long bags were out on the corridor, ready to be packed on the minibus rack. ‘Beeep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeep’ sings the dryer. At last, Sam arrived, and the minibus was loaded. Engine on. Set off. About turn. Get on Cromwell Road, and off we go.
At around 11pm, we drove into the Wessex car park, ending our westward journey. Arun kindly took my bag and found it a bunk as I started giving out instructions for the late dinner we were about to cook. The Wessex clubhouse kitchen has a very good island, and four hubs. Alas, there was no turbine fitted into the outer wall. This would prove fatal (not literally) on the morrow. Shallots, mushrooms and broccoli were chopped by Kelvin, Pavel and Miriam, while a tomato stew simmered away in the corner. Max boiled a lot of water for the pasta and Edith grated a kilogram of cheese. Last but not least, Isha chopped finely a garlic bulb. A great team effort!
We tragically made a wrong turning off the M4 at Reading - whilst hunting for a place to turn round and rejoin the motorway, a deranged lunatic grabbed the door and flung himself inside. At first we were perturbed, and Sam stalled the van several times in an attempt to get him to exit, but then he offered us free booze and we decided to let him stay. We later found out this harmless old drunk was none other than Rhys - what are the odds?!
Never go to the Morrissons in Swindon! We paused outside the entrance for a few minutes, debating whether the minibus was over 2.2 m. Eventually we retreated to Aldi, where the staff were easily the least friendly I've ever encountered, and the suet was decidedly beef filled. Despite this terrible ordeal, Rhys managed to pick up vast amounts of cheap 4.4% beer, claiming optimistically that we couldn't drink them all, and so it made sense to stock up. This is in stark constrast to Hare's law, which says that the caving club can always drink precisely as much booze as is bought. We were able to thoroughly test these competing theories over the next few days.
Swildon's Hole (Reverse Short Round): Rhys, Arun, Perry, Sam
A beautiful grey morning rose over the Mendips Hills. We had been discussing the groups and trips the previous evening and now they were crystalising into reality. Three crack teams would complete various trips in and around Swildon’s whilst Sam and I drew the short straw and had to baby sit Arun and Perry. We decided to go in Swildon’s anyway.
Completing the exceptionally short walk over to the cave, I then stashed our exit beers behind a nearby rotting log and dived into the pillar box covering the entrance. I giggled with delight at the rush of water against my impervious neoprene armour. Down, down, down we went. I was careful to point out the navigational highlights to Arry and Perun, to ensure that if both Sam and I got wedged in a duck they would be able to find their way out.
We caught a brief glimpse of Tanguy across the first awkward waterfall climb. He had rigged a rope down it, easing what is usually a tricky climb. Again we caught up with Tanguy, and this time Tetley too, at the ladder. One by one, cavers were coaxed onto the ladder, first swinging wildy, then trapping their fingers under an awkward rung, and finally inhaling a lungful of water as the artfully placed ladder bent right under the waterfall. Spread out by the ladder we had one more glimpse of Tanguy's group as disappearing feet up into Tratman’s temple.
Worming down the streamway we were soon at the sump. From this side it is far less appealing than from the other (and it is not particularly appealing there). A thick head of foam that would put an East Coast IPA from the union to shame wallowed on the surface. Sam, seeing this, immediately and graciously allowed me to go first. I slowly lowered myself in and carefully explained how to correctly attempt a sump to Parruy and Ern. As I dived into the frothy dark all decorum was lost as I scrabbled madly, rope in one hand, body scraping solid roof and pebbly floor, legs flailing at nothing. And I was through into the welcoming dark space on the other side. Next through was Perun, relatively graceful. Next was Perun, less so though possibly because his ear drum collapsed or something. Finally Sam, normally known for his calm and unshakeable nature, thrashed his way through seemingly without the aid of the rope. “I’m having fun!” he declared, through a grimace, muddy water dripping from his teeth.
We stopped to be briefly amused by the Wookie Hole sign. Then off once more. Through the low arches guarding the way on. Up the slippery climb to The Landing and into the zig zagging fault beyond. We arrived at our first duck, a welcoming thing with airpsace you could get a van through. On our backs we each floated through. The next duck had less air but we were undaunted and again, like a mother duck with her ducklings I led my gaggle through. The next had less air still and was a little tricky, requiring a gradual twist round to keep your pouting lips in the air. I made it through and called back that it was fine. Arur followed closely and Penry wasn’t far behind guided by our voices. Finally Sam. As we stood and waited we heard a shout “Guys? Guys?! GUYS?!” and then the water frothed and thrashed. The narrow airspace disappeared beneath the turbulence and a moment later Sam emerged, panicked and wild. He was fine.
The final duck (or the First Trouble if you are approaching from the sensible direction) had only enough air space to allow echoey noise to pass back and forth, a fact we learnt as we arrived at the same time as Tanguy’s group did on the other side. His group began to bail. We looked around for buckets so we could help but soon realised there was nowhere on this side of the duck to bail to. Sam and I sat. Aruy and Perrn sat too, with their buckets upturned, and began to bang out a tune the likes of which Swildon’s has never heard. It was beautiful, one calling, the other responding, the cave reproducing all again and again.
Too soon Tanguy was through, leading a freshly bathed troupe of excited cavers past us. We steeled ourselves for the duck. But it was unnecessary. Tanguy, not a man to half-arse anything had certainly whole-arsed the duck which was reduced to a damp crawl. Minimal thrashing saw all my team through. We were quickly at Tratman’s, stopping for a moment to admire the pristine formations. Back into the streamway and I let Perun lead. Despite the streamway being pretty 2 dimensional he was still convinced he was going the wrong way as we climbed. Only the first of the two waterfall climbs convinced him we were heading the right way.
The ladder was no obstacle. Perry and Arun navigated the rest of the way out with only a subtle reminder to climb up into the dry route at the entrance. Nearing daylight, I told Arun and Perry to climb out the ‘alternative’ route. Arun was amused to emerge onto the surface from the decaying stump of a tree, and Perry who had followed the wrong light source attempted the pipe entrance (he did not succeed). On top, Janet and Mark were waiting coincidentally. Thankfully, and despite searching, they hadn’t found our exit beers.
Swildon's Short Round: Tanguy, Isha, Bhavik, Max, Peter
I resolved to take Max, Bhavik, Isha with Peter to complete the Short Round trip of Swildon’s hole. Departing shortly after Tetley’s group, I saw a wooden fence two metres away from the minibus. It was no more than knee height. It led to the path. I resolved not to take it, to exit via the driveway instead and cross the caravan field taking the path I knew. In the distance I saw a laughing figure. Jack. Making sure we weren’t going to Eastwater. I assured him we weren’t. The wooden fence is a stile. A good thing to know.
As we approached the cave entrance we met Tetley’s group who were about to enter the cave. Giving them a little headstart, we then entered the cave, down a climb that certainly looked more technical than it needed to. Down, down, following the water of the wet way, down the lavatory pan, and at the water chamber I could clearly see the short Dry Way leading off back to the entrance. Where did we miss it?
Down more to a wet down climb which I had the intention of rigging with a handline. In the absence of reasonable anchors, I wrapped the tape around a rock from the streamway that I then placed in a little solution hole. After securing the rope, we stormed down the streamway until we saw the lights of Tetley’s group in front at the Twenty-foot pot. I belayed my group down and soon we were on our way again. Checking several times where the climb to Tratman’s Temple should lie, we passed the Double Pots, the Inclined Rift etc… until the passage was obstructed by several large concretions. On the left, a particularly smooth road was spotted. This turned out to be the right way on, and past the smooth calcite squeeze at the top of the climb we stopped for water and biscuits. We then followed the dry passage till the ceiling dropped significantly, and passed a damp calcite constriction. Shortly after we saw a muddy dam on the right – probably the ‘first mud sump’ reportedly only passed once. We then followed the well-trodden trade route to the now dry-ish mud sump. A few minutes later the passage opened, assuming a westerly direction. On the left, a void beckoned: a line of P-bolts for a traverse line and a nice drop for SRT practice, this could only be the Fault Chamber Aven. Past this landmark, we found a particularly smoothed out climb, followed by a drop into a coplanar passage. Following the zigzags up and down for a fair bit, we then heard the sound of water. A the bottom of one of the zags, the stream dropped into blue pencil passage. Tetley and his group would have gone down for sure, so we checked where the nearby duck was at. Up the smooth plane, we reached the very full looking expanse of water.
As we needed to bail it to make it passable AND enjoyable, we filled and passed the buckets and emptied them, and filled them and emptied them, and filled them and….
BADOOM, BADOOM, BADOOOOOM, DOOOM,DOOM. Rhys’s group musical contribution was much appreciated. Instead of filling the buckets, they played drums. The earth shook with the sound of the Dank team’s rendition of ‘A jerrican concerto’. And the water level dropped. One inch, another. I bent over to fill my jerrican, it sank in the churning, muddy water but I felt cold fingers down my neck a Max’s leaker of a bucket passed over my head. Mmmm, that water is not tasty!
After twenty minutes the level had dropped significantly so I glided through. So wonderfully cold and humbling. A christening bath. We exchanged a few words with the other team and carried on. Immediately afterwards there was a second duck, deeper than the previous one and thrutchy small inclined rifty bit of passage therafter, ending at an ominous round muddy pool. No obvious way on. Wait, there is that small notch with an air gap. It can’t be. I looked around, hoping for a less daunting way on. All paths were closed. There were buckets, and there was a dam. I knew too well what that meant. We bailed a bit of water out of the pool, but soon the dam was filled to the rim and the air gap wasn’t that much bigger.
There was no option other than going for it. I glided a little bit and stopped. My shoulders had hit something halting my progress. I tucked them in, and carried on gingerly. I crawled out of the pool quickly and thought 'There is an air of finality about water filled constrictions that isn’t quite to my taste' but said 'Isha... tuck your shoulders in!'.
She emerged soon after and immediately told me she’d been scared by that duck. We all stopped for chocolate and water. After this we passed another flat out calcite squeeze, another deep duck and followed the passage, followed by Tetley’s group. At a junction in front of us, Jack’s group was singing. We shared in the party and drank a sip of sloe gin to envigor our spirits. Jack’s group set off in front of us while Tetley’s went to look at sump 2. We slid down the incredibly fun Landing ramp and had a look at sump 2 ourselves before turning back upstream to dive sump 1. We arrived at the road sign to Wookey Hole as Jack prepared to dive.
The big hempen rope was reassuring enough, and after Jack had disappeared, I approached the pool. Three sharp tugs indicated he had surfaced on the other side, so grabbing the rope, I crouched, took a deep breath and dived in after him. A friendly hey-ho greeted me as I emerged, rivulets of water dribbling down my glasses in Swildon’s One. Jack then departed with his team, so I gave the rope three good tugs and waited. I could see Isha’s light approaching and retreating. On the third attempt, she emerged for good with an ‘I’m so scared’ look on her face. Reassuring her that this was the ultimate obstacle in Swildon’s, we waited for the others.
As soon as we were all on the other side of the sump we set off upstream, glimpsing the light of Jack’s team here and there. After the sporting little climbs, and the Inclined rift we approached the landing pool of the ladder as Jack ascended. After his group had gone up, he belayed me up and I quickly set up the belay for my team, letting Max go first, followed by Isha and Bhavik. Lastly, Peter came up, and on we went!
I was not particularly inclined to take the wet way out, so I led the way through to the Short Dry Way from the Water Chamber. As we climbed out of the stream in the Old Grotto, we followed the dry rift where we met a lone, lanky caver moving at great speed. A simple ‘Thank you’ for letting him pass was all that was said. The rift narrowed down to a wet boulder choke – passable but rather grim- so I took a tight alternative to the right, through a muddy puddle with shrimp swimming in it, and reached a junction with multiple bags of dirt stacked up to form a wall. Down to the left the passage rejoined the Wet Way near the entrance so we took it and regrouped at the foot of the entrance climb. There, I heard a ‘Sorry’ behind me, and before I could turn round to see who the person was, the lanky caver stretched odiously long limbs and disappeared up the climb.
After giving everyone a leg up (Max helped me until it was his turn) I took the sketchier way up and led the way out. The wind had picked up a little, but the short walk up was soon over, as the lights of the Wessex hut shone far over the fields. A distant hey-ho was heard, and soon we were taking off our damp clothing in the brightly lit changing room. I could smell the fragrance of a Saturday night meal drifting inside the cottage. What a lovely way to round up the trip!
After the meal, plans were made for the morrow and a particularly staunch competition was engaged to recruit freshers either for a bimble down G.B cave or a loop in Eastwater- a cave so dark and small (the dankest in fact) it gave its visitors a sense of impending doom? gloom? Certainly not room!
Swildon's Hole, a Bounce to the Landing: Jack, Julian, Ivana, Miriam and Pavel
I love the smell of neoprene in the morning. We'd just bought eight new wetsuits, and I had cunningly stashed one in my kit bag, whilst telling everyone else that they could try them on on Saturday morning. So whilst the rest of the club became increasingly distressed about how baggy and poorly fitting their wetsuit was, I made hot blackcurrant juice (no added sugar, sugar added) with slow gin for my thermos, packed my new flash and camera, and slowly got ready.
Tetley was to head off first, followed by Tanguy, then Rhys then ourselves. My team was an interesting mix - Pavel hadn't caved in over a year, Miriam had been to OFD in October, Julian had caved a lot with the club about a decade ago, and Ivana had only done a very touristy trip as part of an adventure day. I cautiously suggested that we just go as far as we wanted to, and then turn around - my plan was to take my group to sump 1 and try and convince them to dive it, though Miriam and Ivana were not very enthused by the idea.
A pleasant walk across the mist encrusted hills lead me like a faithful dog on a well worn walk back to Swildon's hole. The group moved at a reasonable pace given the experience of those involved - I was pleased to see Pavel acting as an excellent second, all confidence and competence. We stopped at a well decorated chamber near the entrance to soak up the ambience, and allow me to take some pictures. At the forty foot pitch, Tanguy had left a rope rigged. I was surprised, because I knew there were no naturals or bolts to do so, and peaked at the anchor. He'd wrapped a sling round a liver sized rock and wedged it into a cleft - ingenious, safe and very useful.
At the Double Pots, I demonstrated the correct technique for not falling in the water. Others in my group demonstrated the correct technique for falling in the water. It's all a bit academic when you're heading to sump 1, but it's a nice challenge for those who can. The rift down caused us a few issues - I remember having similar troubles last year, and I admit that traversing along a slanted rift a few metres above fast flowing water can be a bit disturbing. Eventually we got through, and I shouted to my group about Tratman's Temple as we got there. I'm fairly certain none of them heard me given the questions I got later - I must learn to shout louder, it's always been a problem of mine.
Down, down to Sump 1. The foam on the top looked ghastly. Rhys is wrong, the East Coast IPA uses nitrogen (much like Guinness), producing a smooth, small bubbled head. This was more like the dregs of the classic Greene King IPA, big, bloated, misshapen bubbles with a brown tint. I thrashed the bubbles away using the sump rope, clearing a good space, and then turned round to engage in some consensus building. Miriam was now quite keen, but Ivana was understandably not that excited. In the end, we decided to give it a go - I dived through first, finding it quite constricted and having a minor panic when my helmet got stuck. On the other side, I didn't have to wait long for the others to emerge, with Ivana saying that it was not as bad as she thought - that's what we aim for in caving!
We spent some time emptying our wellies as I assured everyone that the passage was dry from now on. This was completely wrong - you follow the streamway down, and it's waist deep at times. We quickly got to the Landing, a sloping, well polished calcite flow with a gnarly rope on it. I had to crawl using my elbows as well because I couldn't get the friction otherwise. At the top, we did the tight squeeze, which was challenging, and probably the prime contributing factor to the exhaustion I'll mention later on. Sitting in the darkness, we prepared to turn around when I heard Tanguy in the distance. I sang the chorus to "North West Passage" to him, and he joined us, Tetley close behind, and we drank the sloe gin and blackcurrant juice. Delicious.
I decided to check my flash at this point. The transparent dry bag had split, revealing my flash floating in a bag of water like a goldfish at a carnival. So that's the third flash down in as many months. I must get a Peli case.
Heading out now, and we were quickly overtaken by Tetley's group. At the sump, Tanguy caught up with us, and my group demonstrated their proficiency by diving through very quickly. Most of the way back went quickly, but I dreaded the ladder. The last two times I've been in Swildon's I have needed to haul someone up who was too cold or tired to climb. So when we got there, I quickly decided that Julian would follow me up, as the strongest looking person there. Ivana was unable to climb, and we had to resort to hauling her. Fortunately she was wearing a full SRT harness as we had no spare battery belts, so it was safe to haul her. Here are some tips for hauling: 1) Build a pulley jammer. We had an Italian hitch, so I pulled on one side of the hitch and Julian pulled the slack through. This is exhausting. If I'd thought it through before starting to haul, we could have saved a lot of effort. It was too difficult to add a pulley jammer to a hauling system under tension. 2) Two people should haul at the same time. We finally discovered this in the last couple of metres, and it's far more efficient.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, and on the surface we drank the rest of the sloe gin, and wandered back. Julian marshalled a good dozen or so helpers and made delicious beef/quorn stew with dumplings and mash. Kent called the landline and said their van battery was dead - would we mind rescuing them? I promised to try and find a sober driver, and they called back in a few minutes to explain that a passing farmer had helped them out instead. I said that if there was anything else I could do, they should call back, and the Kent leader exclaimed: "Wow, you guys are really nice! I won't listen to any of the stuff people say about Imperial." Jolly good.
At some point in the evening, Perry's ear exploded and his mum came to pick him up and take him to hospital.
I had made a series of terrible mistakes over the preceding week. On Tuesday, I told the others that I would lead the beginners trip, but that I'd like to do a Blue pencil trip on Sunday. This act of drunken bravado resonated in the ears of some, and by Friday evening someone asked me whether it was true. I fobbed them off, saying we'd decide on Saturday after the caving, but that evening Kenneth approached me to check we were still on for the trip. I pointed out it was an exact duplicate of the trip he'd just done today, but he was undeterred. Miriam also piped up and asked to join, as did Arun. I swore loudly to myself. I'd really put my foot in it this time. I did everything I could to dissuade them: 7:40 am wake up time, the promise of a shitty breakfast, I let Rhys talk up Eastwater and GB, but nothing worked. With a heavy heart and an alarm set, I went to bed.
Eastwater: Rhys, Isha, Kelvin, Sam
A crack team rose at dawn. Sump 1, Blue Pencil and the plethor of ducks in Swildon their goal. Thankfully that was Jack’s team. I got up after they left and organised the clever team. Myself, Isha, Kelvin and Pavel were all keen to see the “awe-inspiring” gloom of Eastwater, promised to be a “caver’s cave” by Mendip Underground. I had been in Eastwater a few times before but always for an exploratory bimble. This time I wanted to see more of the cave and so settled on the Upper Series round trip (in MU).
We waited until Tanguy’s group left. Then we waited till the Kents left. Then we waited until men, who were naked in the changing room for a suspiciously long time, left. Finally we suited up and set off across the fields at around 11.30pm. Five minutes later we arrived at the fly tipping area immediately around Eastwater. We ducked under the barbed wire and stepped across a tangle of plastic sheeting to the conspicuous entrance. In sharp contrast to my previous experience, the stream was not flowing directly into the entrance climb. Emboldened I led on.
The route through the entrance choke is helpfully marked by string (MU warns of instability and wolves off the beaten path). The gloom was apparent. Black rock, flecked with small dashes white, absorbed all but the smallest amount of light. Past the choke the way on to the Upper Traverse is immediate. A downward sloping tunnel (a vadose trench if you will) to slip and slide down. The rock, already quite smooth I imagine, has been polished to a physicists frictionless ideal by ten thousand caver bums. Perspective warps. The low tunnel with every surface sloping downwards at the same angle, separates your own perspective of down from true down until you feel as though the cave is pulling you sideways into it.
We reached the crux of the traverse. A wedge shaped, diagonally sloping chamber. To cross you must prevent yourself from slipping down into the ever tightening jaws below, but there are precious few foot holds. Knees wedged into the ceiling, bum into floor, we shuffled across. At the other side a careful choice was made between several equally tempting chatières. Back into another vadose trench, the Lower Traverse, and again not for long as we step up into another side tunnel. This brings us to one of the few places to stand in Eastwater.
We take a moment to rest and marvel at being at the halfway point of our route after only 40 minutes. Kelvin, tragically having not packed a furry, steamed in his wetsuit. Off again. This time climbing. Offered a choice between travelling through a large (for Eastwater) chamber or a smooth crawl, I picked the crawl, Up, up. up, until a chamber (with a bat). A slippery climb (a second bat) and we reached the apex of our trip. We slid back down a familiar trench until we reached the Upper Traverse again and headed out.
We arrived on the surface once again, less than one and half hours after we entered. Eastwater is a very fun cave and I would like to see more of it.
GB: Tanguy, Edith, Max, Sam, Bhavik
I woke up at 8am and went downstairs, where Jack’s contingent were having breakfast before they set off to retrieve the ladder in Swildon’s and have a look at Swildon’s four streamway via Blue Pencil. As soon as they left, I went back upstairs to rouse my G.B. team, and with the help of Max and Edith, started cooking the main breakfast. Bhavik came down soon after, and supervised a vast quantity of fried mushrooms, while Max looked after the sausages. Edith and I fried eggy bread. Kent University Caving Club was also cooking their own breakfast as they were preparing their ‘Missed Call Out scenario’ for the day.
Stomachs full, Max, Bhavik, Edith, Sam and I filled in the GB permits for the day and I retrieved the key off an MCG member. At 10:45am, we drove off to the cave. We missed a turn to the left in Charterhouse, and ended up taking the next left to Burrington Combe. We turned around at the large parking place next to Goatchurch and Sidcot Swallet and drove on the main road all the way to Nordrach house (the MCG caving hut where a year ago we’d practised our first aid skills before the New Zealand expedition). Turning around there, we got back to the junction at Charterhouse, and spotting the correct road, we drove to the farm, parked and changed into our damp kit. The walk to the cave was familiar, across field towards the west, just past a ruined barn, over a wooden fence into the horse’s grazing field. We spotted three deers on the other flank of the dry valley that leads to the entrance. On the way there, the original big doline entrance was fenced off with barbed wire. Farther along, the muddy tracks led to a little concrete shed.
Down into the cave, the first junction was reached, doubling back under on the left, through a muddy puddle into a descending passage. A few easy climbs down later (the beds are so well defined that holds are found aplenty), we entered the Gorge of impressive dimensions. Very quickly we arrived at the bridge, where a photographer and his dad were taking pictures. Allowing them some time to get the right shot, we turned off our lights and waited around the corner, with the occasional flash disturbing the darkness. Every so often, we could fathom the vastness of the Main Chamber beyond. A few shots later, we crossed the bridge and started the little loop round. Soon, we were back into the main passage, so I resolved to explore downstream of the main chamber before taking photos.
We quickly reached a wet and exposed climb down (about 6-7metres). After Edith showed me a good way down, we all regrouped at the bottom, and carried on down until the sandy banks of the first sump appeared on either side. A few metres earlier I had spotted an ascending climb into a fissure in the right hand wall (western) which I believe is the way on to the Great Chamber.
We stopped for peanuts and chocolate, and few photos there. I then photographed the waterfall climb, with long exposure shots, and some good results before we ascended all the way back to the main chamber where the team posed on the bridge. I tried long exposure shots of the main chamber with multiple flash triggers and light painting comparisons. I now know that a tripod is what I need to move forward with cave photography in big spaces, though at least one 10’ shot came out rather well.
After the photo session, we climbed back out, meeting another group on the way. As we arrived at the Wessex cottage, we packed our kit – the other groups having already done the cleaning up – and loaded the minibus. Soon, we were on our way back to London.
Swildon's Hole, Short Round + Blue Pencil: Jack, Arun, Miriam, Kenneth
My alarm went off and I almost cried. Every part of me was broken. I stared at the bunk above, till eventually I realised I had to get up. I took some glee in waking the others, and went down stairs to cook a quick breakfast for us. Putting on the wet neoprene wasn't too bad, and armed with a flask of hot blackcurrant (Rhys had drunk all the gin the previous night) we trudged to the entrance.
What a joy it is to cave quickly. Here I was, in one of the most interesting and varied caves in the UK, with three keen, able novices at 9:20 am on a grey, misty morning. We plunged quickly into the depths of the earth. I barely paused - the others were keeping up. The ladder posed no problems, and we got to Tratman's temple in no time. I recognise it by the elegant column on the left followed by a sharp down climb - don't climb down, climb up! Here the neoprene became unpleasantly hot, and I paused to air myself. Onwards, and we were a little confused by the big damn of the first mud sump - look back a little way, and follow the smooth polished calcite of the St Paul's series on your left. We saw the SRT bolts on the left and went up instead, with Kenneth leading the way at a terrific speed. It's all a blur until we pause at Blue Pencil - I take some ibuprofen for a head ache, and Kenneth leads the way down, shouting advice that it passed back to me through various filters.
Blue Pencil is good fun - it's just tight enough to give you a moment's pause, but it's quick and has some interesting bits, like exiting legs first over a two metre downclimb. The chain at the end is quite slick, and I certainly didn't trust it. At the bottom, we go downstream so that the trip is not identical to Kenneth's previous day, and find sump 4, and the bones (of a cow) on the side. Back up, and Arun leads the way out of the crawl, cursing his helmet's ability to turn off every time he tapped it. I showed him how to bend and clean the contacts, which seemed to fix it.
We found the first Trouble overflowing, clearly a result of the heavy rainfall overnight undoing Tanguy's good work. After twenty minutes of intense bailing, Kenneth peaked at the duck and declared it clear. Well, I wasn't about to go first, so I graciously let him go. Miriam looked somewhat perturbed by my description of the technique, but she handled herself well. I came through too quickly, washing filthy water over my eyes and blinding myself for a few long seconds.
The next duck was easy, but the third one, as many others have said, is a little tricky and horizontally constrained. We got a little confused when the fourth duck appeared to be a sump - I lay in the water, feeling for a way on, but finding only mud. A few metres back is a climb up into a circular passage on the left that is the way on.
Calcite flows, slipping down the slopes, Birthday squeeze (keep high and to the left!), Vicarage passage and the Landing, all a blur. It's a joy to cave with this group - we move quickly, shouting advice, passing bags, checking that no one falls behind. Sump 1 is brief but never entirely pleasant, and as Kenneth surfaces I leap up to keep us moving.
At the twenty foot pitch, an instructor (?) with a novice caver is rigging another ladder, and he allows me to come up first. I suggest that he just heads down as my group isn't that cold or tired - he shows me how to rig a ladder off a natural a little further round to the right, which keeps the ladder out of the waterfall, but makes the exit at the top more tricky. My group ascends quickly, derigs and blasts onwards.
At this point the tiredness hits me hard, and I am aware that this is a stupidly difficult Sunday trip. I struggle to keep up, stumbling and fumbling my way up the forty foot, watching the lights of my group recede into the distance in front of me. Arun makes a few wrong turns, which allows me to catch up, and we're on the surface again, with Kenneth taking the tree exit.
Back at the hut, Kenneth asks whether we can do SRT rescue practice, another ill advised promise of mine. Fortunately, Tanguy's group has driven off with all the SRT kits in the minibus, so I can say no without loosing face. Rhys is back already, excited by Eastwater, and we begin to clean and pack, heading off shortly after Tanguy gets back.
As I write my trip report, on the Wednesday afterwards, I sit shivering in my dressing gown. The dreaded Mendip flu, or Leptospirosis has hit me, taking me out of work for a day and leaving me weak and feverish. I had a long, involved dream about building a sort of 3D sculpture/mobile of the whole of the Slovenia survey out of acupuncture needles and thin cord. My advice to you, reader, is don't swallow the water.
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