With snow on the hills and umpteen cups of tea inside us we headed off towards the cave entrance. We could see that we had an exciting day ahead of us because the small stream which usually flows into the cave was already more of a gushing torrent. To make matters worse, half of the team was clad in only normal gear and no wetsuit.
We made good time until we reached the ladder, where predictably there was a hold-up, although not as bad as expected. We then continued downstream with the water level rising all the time until we reached a few climbs down through waterfalls. As you might guess, they presented quite a challenge: Daniel got half way down one of the climbs when one of his wellies fell off into the deep and very turbulent pool beneath. For some reason MS Word corrects "wellies" to "willies", I dont know why, but if "willies" should occur hereafter, take "wellies" instead. To make matters worse, while he was recovering from this tragedy, the other willy fell off too, and so Saber and Chris were forced to wade right into the pool around which they had so painstakingly climbed, in order to feel for the missing willies with their feet. Against all the odds the wellies were finally found and passed back up to Daniel, who attempted the climb for the second time. Note well at this point that Daniel's wellies, far from being too large as one might expect given what had occurred, were in fact one size smaller than his shoe size, so how they could fall off is anybody's guess. On the second attempt he made it down to the edge of the pool with both feet still wellied before falling in and getting completely soaked.
The next challenge was Sump 1, which is basically a muddy, ice-cold puddle which you have to dive through. As you may imagine, it is not the pleasantest of prospects, especially when you are already cold and thoroughly wet. Once through the sump, we went on to have a look at Sump 2, an underwater passage which is too long to dive through without air bottles. As there was not much to see here, we headed back through the first sump and back up the waterfalls. With a few slips and stumbles we made it back to the bottom of the ladder, which we then had to climb. This was made more difficult by the fact that there was now a massive waterfall coming down exactly where the ladder was attached to the rock. Let me mention also that this is no ordinary ladder, but rather some fiendish contraption made of steps just wide enough to fit your feet into connected to one another by extremely thin wires free to wobble around while you climb. Imagine trying to climb a Jacobs's ladder inside carwash while it is switched on, and you might get some idea of what it was like.
While attempting this feat, bad luck was again destined for Daniel's feet, with his left welly being swept off by the current almost immediately. This was fortunately retrieved before being washed away completely, but Daniel was left dangling half way up the wire ladder with only one willy. Once we had all finally reached the top there were only a few simple sections of cave left, but Daniel's wellies still didn't want to stay on, with one of them seemingly jumping off of its own accord. Against all the odds we yet again found the welly amidst the thundering torrent of water assaulting us, and luckily this was the last incident of its type and we safely made it back to the hut.
Ah, a gentle little trip down towards Tratman's temple! What could possibly go wrong.
Well, it was wet and very cold, snow all across the fields as we stomped our way to the pillbox. The water level wasn't tragically high, and we made good progress down the short wet way, the confluence, the 40 and thereby to the twenty. Here we caught up Clare 'n' go, I belayed their last one down the ladder (the bottom looked very wet), and then dropped my team one by one. The splashing was icy cold.
We continued on through the low bits just beyond the twenty. We were just passing the double pots when Rhys arrived & informed us that Janet, in her first trip in twenty years, was sated in the cold splashy dark & fancied returning to the daylight. We said goodbye, and continued as a little four-some. Up into the Barnes loop, mainly to avoid the water rushing down the rift, and safely down the other side. Oops - where was my hand bag? The old school Dragon SRT bag must have pulled its buckle through and fallen off! A quick hunt in the stream, no luck. I leave the three girls and head backwards retracing my steps.
Above the double pots I pass Oli's group, and soon find myself at the twenty just as Rhys reaches the top. Janet is next up, and is doing just fine until she pendulum's into the waterfall and her headlight is swept off its bracket! Wow, never ever seen that before... I light her up with my spot as she regains her composure. She seems to consider whether to continue to come back down, but decides to just power on up & is soon up and anyway. They shout down that there's no sign of my bag, and so I turn tail and race back. I get to the double pots to the rather odd spectacle of Daniel standing just in his wetsocks. His wellies were apparently swept off! Chris and Saber are wading around in the plunge pool feeling for them, armpit deep in icy water. This noble endeavour soon finds them both, and so I continue back.
I find my three girls sitting on a rock, rather cold and glum, but clutching my bag! Clare's group, wandering back and forwards looking for Tratman's, found it in the streamway after it had been washed down. Some water levels!
We storm off to warm up quick, and up into Tratman's. A little breather then on into the crawly section. It's really quite damp up her - a normally dry bit of flat out crawl is watery indeed. We can hear Clare's group ahead, as well as Tetley's. We assume Mud Sump has beaten them. With shivers and tired legs, we decide to turn at this point.
The way out is slowly but surely completed. At the twenty we have a head-on collision with Nathan's group, but we manage to get a nice 2-down 1-up rhythm going & everyone is soon where they want to be. Onwards and the 40' is looking a little bit worse than before, water really flying off the step. Dani goes up first, and is making good progress when she slips off a hold, pivots to the right and catches the full force of the water, throwing her backwards into a crumpled up heap below the lashing white water. Oooh.
I drag her out by the armpits as she's having difficulty standing and seems to be in a lot of pain - oh dear! We retreat down the passage to a nice bit of flowstone to sit on. She landed heavily on her right ankle, but the damage isn't too severe so after a few ibuprofen (and the always motivational option of 'well, you could sit here for a few hours in a survival bag while we get the rescue...'), a force fed asda smart-price snickers-a-like to fight the shock we head out limping slightly.
Steady progress is made to the surface, pausing only to admire the dew covered moths in the entrance: "When moths die they fly somewhere and hold on for ever. LIKE ME IN THIS CAVE." And outside to daylight, find where Rhys had stashed the beers (in the snow, in the snow), and then back to the SMCC for tea and medals.
The plan was to get some 'traditional' UK cave diving practice in. None of that messing around with buoyancy, hovering like a dive god or playing with line junctions. Just short sumps, slightly too long to do comfortably on a single breath. After back to the SMCC for a quick bit of food, a few cups of tea, I was picked up by Tony at 7:30pm as the rain really started up again. Just driving back to the Wessex was rather sobering, sheets of water on the road and the snow on the fields visibly melting between our eyes. Priddy green was awash, and there were a fair few cars parked up there.
Abandoning our diving plans, we had a little discussion (or rather, fret) about the many rather over due parties down Swildon's, and the obvious reality that there was currently rather a lot of very very cold water gurgling down there. So we decided to at least 'go and have a look' in dry grots. As we changed into wetsuits at the Wessex, I spotted LED lights outside - the first party! Clare had been borderline hypothermic in her furry on the short round, but they were out all OK. The Manchester lot were still underground, though apparently they had just mislaid a couple of people in the entrance series.
So Tony & I set out across the fell, bumping into the Mancunians about halfway there. They were safe & sound, cold and wet but in high spirits.
Tony and I decided to have a little lone trip into Swildons - mainly just for the excuse as to see it at its extreme.
When we got there, water had backed up and was flowing into the higher inlet, about half filling the ~25cm diameter pipe. We headed down into the maelstrom.
It was... impressive. We made our way down to Sump 1, but I certainly would not have been happy being there with anyone much less experienced than ourselves. The climb down near the confluence was just a shuddering mass of white water, the 40 required a careful holding of the body away from the force of the water while plunging limbs into the chaos to get a good hold on the rock. So much water was flowing over the 20 that the ladder was now dry - the water impacted the far wall instead! At one of the many climb downs following the water, I slipped slightly and found myself jammed in, with the river behind almost immediately backing up to flow over my shoulders and either side of my neck. Sump 1 was taking a good flow, with the dive line well submerged.
The way out was... exciting. Tony took the lead and took a number of high routes avoiding the water, we found ourselves in places 10m above the streamway, with massive exposure but surprisingly good footholds. He led the (free climb) of the twenty, starting far back and working up to almost full splits, before changing to put feet on the left hand wall (looking upstream) before transitioning over the head of the ladder. I followed, rather carefully! The 40 was just climbable, the cascade near the confluence was horrific. Tony just sort of disappeared into the white water and then sort of clambered up from amongst it, I started much earlier and climbed up to be able to traverse over the top. Rocks that weren't usually even wet were totally awash.
Out in a rather speedy time - I think an hour and a bit. Swildons Sump 1, but not in its usual mode perhaps.
It was reassuring to know that even in extreme conditions it is possible to make progress there. Perhaps the most obvious impassable point when the water really gets up is just below the 20 where there's not much space above the stream, and no way to climb over. On the way back I found myself in a body sized tube with just a few tens of cm between my face and the white water, much higher and this would have got both dangerous and unpleasant.
The day began slowly and unenthusiastically for most. Tetley was keen to go to Swildon's again, through Sump 1. When I failed to show interest in this, Tetley decided that he did not want to go caving at all. I however did, just not through sumps. The only other cave I knew of in the area was Eastwater so I decided to go there.
I cast about for victim...I mean volunteers and found the unwitting accomplices in Sam, Jessica and Su. I promised them a nice dry easy trip, hahahaha ha. We suited up and set off. Arriving at Eastwater the first thing you notice is the climb into a shaft, in a waterfall. You then crawl and climb about in the boulders below said waterfall. We pop out into a streamway, we follow it down to find an ever tightening rift that is full of water. I decide not to go that way
We find the way on, on our second try. I remember this bit from last year, the 45 degree sloping rift. I thrutch across, warning the others not to get stuck and die. On the other side of this we get to where Tetley and I went wrong last year. So instead of heading down towards the incredibly tight pitch, we head up. Su calls from the back
'Do you have a plan, Rhys?'
'Yes, of course' I reply, attempting to quickly think of a plan.
After much caving, we arrive at crossroads, I think it might even be named 'The Crossroads'. This being only the second trip I had really lead, and possibly the first as the most experienced caver on the trip I was not entirely confident of my routefinding. This crossrroads was not helpful. We explored each way off, finding only unpallatable crawls, dead ends and at one point climbing down half way down a pitch by mistake. We did find a nice chamber, but there didn't seem to be any ways on. We call it a day and head out.
As we exit I find that I do remember the route but I attempt not to show my relief in front of the freshers. We get out into daylight, after a 3 hour trip.