Saturday - a cold and windy day, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Yorkshire. The sheep huddle together for shelter beneath the stone wall, rain splashes against the windows of the van and a shiver runs through everybody who glances at the muddy puddles outsides. All in all - the best type of day to go underground!
After changing behind the van in this less than inviting weather we headed off towards the caves. I found the bare windswept fields look much more agreeable when compared to this 50 metre deep hole at our feet. But we had already has gone this far and the bottom of the drop could only be better than the horizontal sleet up here.
They should have told us before that caving was like a drug, it turns you into an addict. Three drops later we arrived at the furtherst point for this trip - descending steep walls almost as easily as small rocks in freefall (although it took us freshers a bit longer than the leaders). The water sometimes gurgling at our feet and sometimes drenching us from above; only getting cold only when we had to wait for another group to pass us underground. Even though we had divided into three pairs it still took us quite long time to pass the technical sections so we ended up doing more waiting than moving underground. We were repaid by the imaginative shapes that the water had cut into the rock giving our minds enough material for reflection...
We emerged just as the night sky appeared showing off all its stars, a perfect end to a perfect day.
By the time we scrambled down to the minibus we were frozen and could barely wait for the hot curry being prepared back in the hut. When we had eaten we went out for a walk and happened upon some deviants and their fascinating fire show, even the cold was forgotten.
Weather: cloudy, overcast, strong wind from whatever direction, too cold to care Cave: Jingling Pot Depth: doesn't look very deep on the a piece of A4 paper (soon to find out)
Unlike IC caving style, at exactly 8:30am, a door swung open; entering Jim with the most persuasive waking fluid, tea. The effect was clear. Within ten minutes, a sudden urge to relieve myself of bodily fluid, forced me out of warm sleeping bag, to battle it out with the morning coldness.
The cloud hung low in the sky. The trees rattled outside. It seemed clear to me that I should be inside the hut sheltered by warmth, but my eagerness to try SRT in the real cave was stronger in my blood, soon to my surprise we left the hut well before the noon; a real chance to break the not-caving-before-noon tradition.
After changing into our gear, we began to ascend toward the cave entrance. My heart was pounding hard against my chest with burning sensation - fuelling blood to my two legs in attempt to overcome the gravity and a friction caused by the restricted garments. As I slowly walked, duck-like and out of breathe, the consequence of wearing undersized furry became clear. Combining with harness which was designed without walking in mind, it seemed obvious that I was going to suffer that day. So I was delighted to finally notice two trees (so I could stop walking!), which marked the entrance to 'Jingling'.
The two trees hung over the ledge of the cave, which dropped away into the darkness, providing a perfect shelter to six miserable looking creatures . With the weather headed for the worst, it was the most appropriate time to head down into the cave. The rope was pitched to the not-very-secure-looking tree, and I was the second to enter the cave.
As I approached the belaying point, my brain started to recall the distance memory of rope training on the tree. On testing the hard lock, I needed to put my whole body weight on the rope, suspended in mid air, high above the cave floor (which I was too scared to look at all). Although I have clipped my cow tail to a hanger, it was a nerve racking moment. Eventually, I regained my confidence in the rope, as I slowly lowered my body, and more weight rested on the lock around my descender, until it came to the full stop. My fear subsided and I regained my senses again.
The route took me to a hole on the side of the main shaft. From there two more pitches and a deviation, led my to the floor, characterised by two dead, deformed sheep. Chocolate pudding was shared among the crew, each eager for the liquid chocolate embedded in the centre.
On the journey back to the surface, I decided to take on 60-metre single rope climb. My first 10 metres, was mostly spent bouncing on the rope, after ascending very little. Before I realised that my chest harness was too loose, I was quite nagged and at least 10 metres off the ground, not too far to go up or down. It was here that I fully understand what a number 60 on that paper really meant.
Upon exiting the cave, a cold rain hit me squarely in the face, draining the warmth I have stored during the last two hours. Looking back into the cave , something occurred to me. I couldn't see the floor!
The wind and rain picked up. It was cold. The sky has not darken yet. It was time for more caves....
We all headed towards the huge 60km long cave system called Easegill in an unusually efficient manner, standing next to the van at 11:30 starting to get changed meant that we might get out during light.
Dave went down to rig the entrance pitch and next went James, this is when I realised that whatever you do on a Sunday it will end up being a faffy day. The pitch was a narrow slot in the rock, only opening out at the bottom. James, although by far the not the widest member of the group got stuck and decided he didn't want to risk going any further and it meant that he had to be hauled out. Not to worry though, he was out and the rest of us went down.
I'd never been into Link before, a slightly more unusual one of the Easegill trips but I don't know why. There was a bit of everything, climbing, crawling stomping and traversing a great trip with lots of pretties along the way. Our underground culinary delights this time were Christmas pudding served with warm vitaminski in a thermos. As with most horizontal trips it seemed to take about 15 minutes to get back to the entrance.
I went up first and met two final year zoology students from Leeds doing a project on bats. Apparently at this time of year they're hibernating and unlike in the movies they're really small and hide in crevices rather than sleep hanging from the ceiling.