The night before I was volunteered to join Tetley, Tall Pete and Jack going for through Blue Pencil Passage in Swildons. Tetley had been enthusiastically talking about this on Winter Tour, so I naturally expected the worst, but we were a small crack team, so I felt mostly positive about it.
Our team managed to overtake Jarv’s on the approach to the cave, and with us not wanting to end up waiting at the ladder we stole the tackle sack off Jarv and headed inside first. The entrance gave no false impressions of it being a dry cave, with an initial stumble down through the streamway. We headed off quickly, climbed down a waterfall and ended up at the ladder pitch. Tetley belayed us all down the ladder, and with some advice from Jack about not getting your fingers caught between rung and rock, I managed the ladder without too much effort. After we were all down it transpired that Tetley had left his gloves at the top. However, he was up and down before any of us even considered sitting down or getting out a chocolate bar, his speed helped by forgoing the ladder on his descent, and just abseiling on the rope.
After Mud Sump was little more than a shallow puddle, Blue Pencil Passage was our next challenge, which ended up being a mostly enjoyable squeeze through to the streamway. Tetley, who was leading stopped before each tricky part, giving a lengthy bit of advice to Peter, but due to the nature of the passage, information had to be passed along person by person, and by the time the advice reached Jack at the back, it was little more than one sentence. God knows what Tetley was originally saying, but we all survived, and got past the part where you must face the right way in order to be able to bend your legs around the corner.
The passage allowed us to enter the streamway between sumps three and four, and we had a nice wander between the two. After a short rest, we headed back through Blue Pencil to the main round route. Going back up was much more exhausting, and less exciting as you can see where you’re heading. Just as we had all reached the main route we were intercepted by Rhys and Oli’s group.
After a quick chat and deciding to remain as two groups to save time, we were off almost straight away to the four ducks and birthday squeeze. Fortunately the ducks had been nicely bailed out, so we had no extra work to do.
I had never done any ducks before, and while the initial immersion lead to some panicked gasps for air, I felt I was getting the hang of the weird floating zen of ducks. However, on the third duck I went slightly wrong near the end and jammed my helmet and got a mouth full of water. This destroyed the little confidence I had, and fortunately the last duck went by uneventfully. While I was feeling slightly disoriented after the ducks, we carried on through some squeezes uneventfully, and made it to the long slide down to the streamway.
After a quick trip to sump two, ending up only about twenty five metres from where we had previously visited, we headed towards sump one. The sump didn’t look particularly inviting, and after watching Jack and Peter squirm their way under a rock into the unknown, it was my turn. I was petrified, and with Tetley providing encouragement, I somehow went for it, after only a few seconds, I heard the sound of Jack shouting that I could surface. In the end the sump was better than some of the ducks, and I felt better for having done it.
We headed up the streamway, and up the ladder without any trouble. We met a large group coming down, so were fairly lucky to have not hit them climbing down the ladder. The final exit was made through the trunk of a tree, which was a spectacular way to end the trip, especially as it was still light outside. Having not needed to wait either time at the ladder, nor to bail out any sumps meant we made it round in record time, getting out just after 3pm.
Having woken up too late and missed all the cooked breakfast, I realised I wasn’t that interested in doing caving, and decided to stay and see how much of the cave rescue course I had remembered from Winter Tour. We practiced some pulley jammers, and a Z-rig, and universally agreed that rescuing someone is a lot of work.
Eventually some of the cavers returned, and we got cold and headed in, cleaned up and went back to London.
Chris McDonnellrequire('../footer.php'); ?>