First trip of the year... Naturally it was going to be a horrific Cluster Faff of epic proportions. But low and behold, all the new people turned up at Stores on the dot of 6pm, and duly dived into the enormous pile of odd wellys. Which is not something you want to try and say quickly unless you want to be investigated for cottaging.
Naturally, the balance of the Faff, the Yin/Yang, the Light Vs. Darkness that powers the core of the caving club had to be conserved. This time it was Rik who stepped to the fore to prevent us leaving London on time, playing with his Lasers down the Lab late into the evening, as we only over left at 8pm, right?
Uneventful trip, except that the WGO bus probably shouldn't have been on the road as the tracking was absolutely screwed to the point where we drove the entirely length of the M4 turning 'right', evening around the sweeping left hand bends through the Cotswolds... The 24hrs Tesco was its usual post-midnight graveyard self, though the self-service checkout was frustrating at best - and didn't take to the dozens of cans of beans we attempted to pass over it. But we trundled up to the SWCC at long last, and started the Cheese on Toast production line.
Roll out of bed and start frying breakfast. Forgot the French-toast, but the porridge + dried apes was stellar.
A good hard stuffing and gear fettling kept us safe from going caving anti-meridian as it were, entrance to the depths of OFD was only delayed by having to pull-in regularly on the Salubrious super-streamway for NUCC groups coming out!
Spiralled down to the Maypole climb with ease, whereupon the horror of climbing struck the freshers, quite deservedly so! For a poor innocent, rescued by the big yellow speleo van from their London cocoon, its quite a frightening proposition: you start by climbing backwards and forwards over enormous fridge-sized wedged boulders, like some kind of perverse Jacob's ladder as you seesaw down. Then there's a particularly nasty climb over a boulder on an overhang, then a crazy jam-your-arms-out and pivot to a small football sized chock-stone in the rift. Then comes the really nasty bit - take a deep breath then fling yourself forward pushing out against the scalloped rock. You are literally flying, loosing height as you glide forward, fixated by an implausibly small ledge that is your salvation, a tiny 3cm wide wedge that you can jam the edge of your left foot on as you come in for your landing, before pulling yourself around and standing on something rather more sensible.
It took us a while, and there were a few moments where I was tempted to call it a day and abort, but with gentle coaxing (there's not much physical help you can lend in such a foothold-less rift), everyone was safely down. We cracked open a malt-loaf and swigged from the Sigg - the tackle-sack was too much of a faff for the next more constrained bit so we dumped it here and took slings in pockets for the climb. Way on to the ladder was easily covered - with sheer rock walls disappearing tens of metres above you the echo is brilliant, and led to singing bouts - all of which were thankfully more tuneful than my attempts. The ladder was bounced down, with some rather particularly enthusiastic bailing of the natural dams above. Pity that they generally seemed to get emptied as someone was on the moon-milk free-climb below, which made it all a bit pointless! Swing down to the stream was easily carried out - it makes a nice 'Z' as you step down off a stemple onto a natural crack in the rock, then walk back down before hopping off just before the waterfall.
Streamway was lovely - just the right height to be impressive, but not to scare the new members. I lopped off upstream, hoping over the dwarf traps and bounding off the walls. Its moments like these that remind me how much I love caving. A quick stop for a choc, a swim for the shorter members of the party who found the manhole in the Oxbow too taxing and an entirely unnecessary Tarzan-like swing across a pool (to nowhere) on a handy rope that appeared to be made out of hemp (!). The cascades just before the waterfall were beautiful, absolute roaring white water bouncing down the footholds. Saluted the waterfall, then stormed our way out.
Bumped into Rik's possy at Salubrious after paying our respects to the Judge and admiring the new Epoxied-on nature of the Trident. A brief discussion of tactics, and a promise to point their tacklesac in the direction of the corkscrew and save them from wandering aimlessly around the labyrinth for hours. Once back with the Gnomes, we stopped for a few photos, had a sightsee and were out for Dusk and running down the hill for tea and medals.
Food was pretty Epic. Pasta bolognase with a red wine sauce after a fleshy salad starter. Two kilos of pasta disappeared as soon as the Colander of Doom was put down.
Post food and washing up, we fought for the Imperial side in the great Squeeze-through-the-church-bench competition of the long common room. We lost, 8 passed the test of 11 to compete, 2 abstentions from battle. I think we get the moral victory though: Nottingham had a roomful of people and even then had to buy in mercenaries to fight back our lead.
Hmm... well, no one else has written anything yet... All I know is that they started a quick trip down Ed's shortcut via a controversial head-towards OFDIII method... but got there eventually, had a peer at the Maypole Inlet rift climb and backed away with an anxious new member (most definitely fair enough), and had an awfully exciting time exploring the dry upper levels and sightseeing everywhere.
Hmm... I think the Presidents & Arseholes session lasted till about 2am, fuelled by tea and a desperate urge to knock Dan from his presidential perch. I awake, the hut is quiet. Festooned in the triple-high bunk beds around me the troops are sleeping like babes, even the snorer is silent. I check my watch - gone twelve. Jesus. There goes the early start.
Stiff-limbed we lay on another epic breakfast, and badger the SWCC till they give us a cave key. Its gone 2 by the time the cavers stumble off to the Quarry, followed by the faffers / fell-wanderers heading up over the hill to stretch their legs. A few flashes, fiddling with the rusty lock and we're off!
Well - you start by climbing down some egg-shell sewer tubing, then clamber down a series of increasingly rotten wooden supports. It must have been a serious engineering project to dig in! Lovely walking passage, till you come across a curious sign: Grade II Confined Space. Follow Site Working Procedure (Or words to that effect). The following is a rather horrific belly crawl across boulders that were they round would function as very useful ball-bearings, but instead just jackknife repeatedly and stab you in the chest.
It opens out marvellously beyond though, and soon you're following an enormous chamber along and find a stream. We dived into the boulder-choke and writhed ourselves around and up and over and down to get to a drippy chamber, with the way on looking rather confined (but very worn) disappearing down to the left. Alas it was time to turn back, but I'm almost certain we were on our way to the Confluence...
The Walkers walked, enjoying the Flora and Fauna of the national park.
Rocket-powered exit, to find the hut mid-clean, windswept walkers and a bus ready to whisk us home. Zoomed off into the setting sunset, Dan live DJ'ing a mix on his iPlod, suspicious sandwiches prepared from the breakfast leftovers, the M4 junction numbers counting down to home. Caving is great, weekends away from London rock, ICCC whoops ass, the new members this year are a great bunch, LETS HAVE SOME GOOD MUDDY FUN!