Arun Paul, Constantinos Lordos, Hengxi Ouyang, James Perry, James Wilson, Jay Chen, Jeannie Michaels, Jipeng Su, Lorraine Embleton, Peter Ganson, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Shivani Gangadia, Simon Ang, Wesley Gaunt
The caving members are very helpful and friendly and I had a lot of fun during the weekend trip at Wales. I had never imagined myself squeezing through holes that are smaller than me and I was oddly surprised with my body's flexibility to fit through holes of different shapes and sizes. The incredible cave formations I got to witness made the journey so much more rewarding. 5/7 Will definitely see myself caving again soon.
Being inherently clumsy, I do have a generally inability to do basic human things like not fall over every 5 minutes, so I was pleasantly surprised that I made it through the whole trip without any major injuries.
Saturday's caving was really fun – we never found the turning for where Perry had actually planned to go that day, but we did find the fake music room, the real music room, the fake trident, the real trident, and probably a couple other places that we couldn't name nor place on the map.
Interesting Saturday night. In summary: roast veg and stuffing, caving games, Daren drum of an alcoholic concoction never to be made again, candle wax (roughly in that order). Thoroughly appreciated the late starts and full English breakfasts.
Sunday consisted of 5 of us visiting a place called ‘the corkscrew' (with such an inviting name like that I'm surprised more people opted for going to Eggy instead). I personally rather enjoyed it, despite distinct memories of Wes leading us through the cave and consistently saying "I think this is the end…oh wait, it's not" every 5 minutes.
Caving highlights include cave slides, being too vertically challenged to climb things with ease, and getting whacked in the face by someone's muddy foot whilst trying to help them.
Domestic highlights include chopping 2kg of carrots, and having to scrub congealed bacon fat off a baking tray for much more time than one person can handle.
Thoroughly enjoyed my weekend of wedging myself through small gaps in rocks for several hours – 10/10 will be going on more caving trips (sorry to those upon whom my company and general ineptness will be inflicted).
We left at a reasonably 18:15 after Jimmy unreasonably arrived at 18:15. Rhys made good progress and without the minibus problems that plagued CTO on W1 we were at the Swindon Tesco. We bought lots of treats and the freshers bought a magnificent amount of alcohol. I've never been on a trip where so many people bought their own bottle of spirit. Definitely didn't need to buy club booze but it did help to fill the Daren Drum (which according to starless river "Named after their initial use in British caving in the wondrous Daren Cilau, where the prolonged and thrutchy entrance series caused a demand for some means to get camping kit into the far reaches in a useable condition." #FactFridays?). My section of the drive went well (for me), and all the criticisms were silenced when we got to a steep section of hill that flattened out to a switchback right. After grounding the minibus on the ridge, everybody got out to give me some clearance. I then completed a 7 point turn that left one wheel spinning and one in the air. The breaks where shit and the minibus would only stay on the hill if I engaged similtaneously the handbrake, the brakes and held the bite until the clutch fumes made me high. I did it. I was sweating. Everyone got back in, I ate a sausage roll and we drove the remaining 5 minutes to the hut where I gladly drank a Biere D'or.
The minibus was packed and raring to go, only one thing was missing – a Jimmy. Remembering the horror story of Winter Tour when he was shockingly late, we were a little panicky. Thankfully after only a few missed calls and a bit of waiting he cycled in, ridiculously large kit bag on his back. A forced apology and we were off, only a little behind schedule.
This weekend was a bit different to usual as most of the leaders were what I like to think of as the "children" of the bunch. Feeling overwhelmed with power, we dashed about the Swindon Tesco gathering all the necessities – 6 boxes of stuffing and a good amount of club booze. Amongst said booze was something called Bier D'or. This was the cause of much confusion as Arun asked me if I wanted one and all I heard was "Beer door?" but he eventually explained that it was the mini beer we bought and that it used to be a regular purchase. I can only assume that we weren't worthy of such things last year.
We arrived at Whitewalls after Perry doing an impressive turn uphill that lifted at least two wheels off the ground as well as leaving a lovely burning smell. Peter commented that the walls weren't very white, but I assured him that they were whiter than some things and that totally warranted the name. He seemed satisfied and we all entered, some of us planning on sleeping in the members room because there were too many of us for the usual bunks. We brought a tent because some members were supposedly thinking of staying but they were nowhere to be seen so taking their beds seemed legit.
My first time being vaguely in charge of cooking went quite well – the usual pasta but not baked because effort. Adding sugar (learning from Jack) to the sauce did wonders and any lack of flavour was made up for by dousing in salt and sriracha. I forget exactly what occurred after food, but it wasn't long before we went to bed, after some amount of beer and totally no sudden realisations about keys.
I had a lovely morning. I wasn't even up at 7am compiling a list of "Fuck Up Plans" which had nothing to do with Rhys asking me at 23:30 if I have the keys to Aggy. Breakfast was great. My over zealous talk of the Grand Circle had all the freshers scared of my "Ambitious" team. I persuaded Diss, Lorraine, Shivani and Hengxi to tag along to the main passage (not the usual main stream passage) where I had an extremely enjoyable trip. Perhaps not as exciting as the W1 OFD trips since it was mostly walking. I was thoroughly in awe of the huge endless easy going passage. Tedious and boring are easy words to describe this part of the system, I just found the vastness of the place brought back the sense of amazement. Sadly I couldn't find the southern stream passage but since getting back to the hut and examining the large survey and pretty confident in the way on for next time. We had some fun, saw a few cool formations, many many bats and dead ends before deciding to head back to the main stream passage. We bumped into Arun and Peter with Jeannie, Constantinos and Jipeng before heading out together. This is my 5th time in Aggy and my first time not doing main stream passage - turkey junction and a failed attempt at inner circle. At least we got through the entrance and first boulder choke quickly and easily since the way on is ingrained in my mind! At the hut we had a great dinner of roast veg and stuffing with gravy. Amazing. This will feature in all the trips I'm on. Pumpkin carving, caving games and drinking ensued. The highlight of my night was the impressively small sling that Arun & I vs Rhys & Diss completed. It barely fit over my hips alone and was very difficult to get past arun's shoulders. The night started to take a strange turn when we started a card/dare game that ended up with all of us sitting on the roof of the minibus and drinking a concoction of alcohol out of a darren drum. It was half full with at least gin, cider, lager, ale, cinnamon whisky, vodka and perry (the drink). It was surprisingly drinkable and between about 8 of us only took three rounds of sip sip pass. I went to bed at 2am but nobody remembers what I missed so I'm not too sad that the rest of them stayed up till 4am.
A beautifully late morning – I think around 9am for the cookers. We had the usual plus fried bread and cumin in the mushrooms. Wanting to stick to tradition, we didn't plan to cave until after 12 so the morning was nice and slow – lots of tea and faff. I ended up in a group with Perry, Lorraine, Shivani and Hengxi planning to head to Southern Stream passage. The walk to Aggy was pleasant and nobody fell off the cliff, so we were off to a good start. Rhys' group went in first, and we were next after a bit of helmet trouble on my part (again!!!) – I had a bisun light with an adaptor and one of the wires had disconnected. Luckily Arun had a spare bisun battery for me to steal. Perry lead through the entrance passages with confidence and I was at the back to kick, oh…erm, I mean...help the freshers. They were all fine and we got to the main passage without it feeling like too long a journey. Coming back to Aggy after a year of caving meant it felt a lot lot nicer and I was appreciative of the lack of large holes to fall into. We headed down Main Passage for a while, in search of a right turn into Southern Stream passage. We saw a few but weren't sure which it was so decided to head down to the Trident and Music Room before turning back and checking out the streamway. Main passage gets huge. It really was very impressive – easily hundreds of metres of easy walking. I actually found it quite scary because you just couldn't light much of it up and the darkness was everywhere. We got to the Trident and went to the end – not anything too exciting but there were a lot of bats. We then carried on to find the Music Room which proved pretty difficult. After walking for a while we came to a very large chamber which we assumed must have been it. On our way back, we somehow went a slightly different route and found ourselves in a dark chamber that had what appeared to be a sign post in the centre. I was confused at this point, not remembering seeing a sign on the way in, and said as much to the others. When more lights were directed at it, Perry realised it was a music stand and we had inadvertently found the actual Music Room. After a few minutes arguing with ourselves about how on earth we had gone a different way, we gave up and walked back up to look for Southern Stream passage. There is supposed to be a Northern passage opposite this and we couldn't find one on any of the junctions. It was getting a bit late and we decided it would be more interesting to see the others on their way back. We met up with Arun and Peter's group and went out together.
Dinner was similar to Wales I – parsnips and carrots with mash and onion gravy – but with the addition of an excessive amount of stuffing. Best. Idea. Ever. We had to fry the carrots because there is only one oven in Whitewalls but this ended up being great because we added a tonne of sugar, so they were sweet and delicious. After lining our stomachs with an outrageous volume of food, it was time for beer and caving games. The order of events from here on is likely wrong but it all happened at some point. First, a pumpkin carving contest, which I think Arun, Simon and I totally won with a pumpkin sporting ICCC, a bat and a bloke smoking a spliff. Then for table traverse and a nice chair squeeze that wasn't too challenging and another which was a bit ridiculous. Rhys and Arun managed to squeeze through but Jimmy had no such luck. I think he may have spent 40 minutes in that chair, eventually needing the help of some extra virgin olive oil (oily boy mark II?) and two people to pull (with an amused audience), and he was out the way he came in. All the pain and none of the glory.
The night got steadily more interesting from here. There are so many things to squeeze through in the hut – under shelves, through the weird hole in the kitchen surfaces. It was madness. We then had an epic game of Pot and Sling ending with me and Rhys vs Perry and Arun. The sling was very tight at this point – fitting over Perry with a bit of effort. We had to adopt some advanced techniques which I hadn't done before but it worked out and both teams managed to get through on their second attempt. We decided to call it a draw as trying to get through anything tighter at that point with the increased alcohol consumption was likely to end poorly. Next was the superb card game we learnt from Nottingham on the previous trip which probably has a name but eh. Essentially, you all say a dare you will do if you get the lowest card number. The fun part is that if anyone gets a jack you all have to do their dare instead. With so many people playing, a jack came up every turn. I forget what all of the dares were, but the best was all of us having to dance on top of the minibus whilst drinking out of a Daren drum full of alcohol. The alcohol wasn't quite enough to stop me worrying that the bus would tip and we'd all fall down the hill to our deaths, so we did some quite reserved dancing whilst keeping most of our weight on the side of the minibus away from the edge. Several of us also decided to climb off without using the ladder which was good fun. A minibus traverse was also suggested but we never got around to it, sadly.
After this, the night took a turn for the scandalous. I'm not sure how it started but many tealights were lit and the communal wax pouring commenced. Some of us were up until 4/5am doing god knows what.
Arun and Diss had pinky promised the night before that they would go to Daren. I had also told Diss in the cave that I've always wanted to go to Daren so if no-one else will and leaders aren't needed elsewhere we can go. Arun broke his promise so Daren it was. We got ready quickly and headed off to the cave. We didn't bring water or a first aid kit which is probably a mistake but in hindsight I'd do it again since the cave was so tight. (I had a sore chest from where the zip on my furry kept digging into me.) I wasn't 100% sure which way the cave was and didn't ask Rhys. I remember his instructions for corkscrew once being walk to a carpark and turn right. I didn't trust us finding a carpark any time soon so walked down the road a random distance then turned right and walked straight up the hill through all the ferns. We arrived at the top of the hill almost directly outside Daren. I had been 5 metres into the entrance once before when looking for corkscrew so knew to look for the phone cable. Daren is really really grim. Like really bad. I hate crawling. I hate Squeezing. I didn't even know thrutching was a word but I now hate that too. Having said all that I really was amazed at what is possible if you put your mind to it. We took our time on the way in, taking regular breaks because crawls have previously worn me out very quickly. We got to the end of the entrance crawl in about 1 hour. Couldn't find a way on that wasn't a crawl so lay down for 5 minutes before crawling back out. I had an amazing sunday trip. It was scary because it was the first time I'd caved with one other person but such a unique cave. I also somewhat enjoyed the stal squeezes. 5m out of 550m of enjoyment is about as much as anyone can expect. Would definitely go back if I could make a full trip out of it but don't regret the experience.
Up at around 9am again, somehow lacking the ridiculous hangover that I definitely deserved. A luxurious breakfast with added hash browns hit the spot and we were ready to think about caving. After such a nice trip on Saturday, the masochist in me decided I needed something a bit more challenging. Daren, it was then. Dragging Perry into it wasn't too hard and we set off quite swiftly for the grim crawl that awaited us. The entrance elicited a "bloody hell" or something similar from me – it's very low and muddy water lines the bottom. It only got worse from there. Perry said it was described as being "40 minutes of thrutchy crawling" which is pretty accurate except it actually took us closer to an hour each way, with an added array of high pitched sounds from me. A lot of time was spent dragging myself sideways whilst lying in muddy water, keeping low to avoid getting stuck. At one point my helmet was wedged into a rift and I had to take it off and back up to pull it out. There were several bits where the passage was low and the water scarily close to your face so we lay on our backs and shuffled to avoid any potential drowning. We hadn't taken any water with us because carrying anything would have been awful so made the most of the dripping stals above us. The hardest bits were when we came to a rift with large ledges that meant only your hands could reach to the floor and feet/knees got stuck. The method here was just diving forwards and then sort of lying on your back and shuffling along with your hands until it widened out. The scary thing was that the gap was definitely big enough to get part of your leg in but then super hard to get it back out so slipping wasn't a good idea. We somehow made it to the end of the crawl and into a big chamber which I'm not sure of the name of. We had planned to carry on and explore the less grim bits but this would involve another stint of crawling and we didn't quite have the heart for it. Instead we lay in the chamber for a few minutes before heading out. The way back felt a lot quicker despite the fact that we didn't actually get through any faster than on the way in. It was a lot less scary though as I knew I could do it. I had managed to keep my hair dry (but nothing else) until the final 2 metres where I accidentally dunked my head in.
Well, Daren is an experience. At so many points I thought "there is no way I'm fitting through that" but somehow, we made it. I am ridiculously bruised and it was grim and awful but I think I quite enjoyed it. I might even go as far as to say I'd do it again…
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