I showed up at stores with the phrase, "Don't get too many bruises," ringing in my ears for this trip - quite amusing because I had a new purple one on my thigh from tree-training on Wednesday and my bruises from the Mendips had only just completely disappeared! We were a small group leaving London on Friday despite all efforts to drum up more people: myself, Simon, Clare, Jarv, William, and Nick. Jarv's mp3 player serenaded us for the six hour, gale-accompanied trip to the NPC hut, where Alex's presence was a surprise to all of us. The lack of people made the minibus very quiet; I dozed on and off for the entire journey and I don't think I was alone in that. It was raining when we got to Yorkshire and so tea and toasted bagels were much appreciated while chatting with the NPC members before heading off to bed.
The hut was bustling with activity in the morning as various groups of cavers set off for different potholes in the area. Since everyone agreed that King Pot probably wasn't the best place to take me, the fresher on her first SRT trip (even though I totally could have done it :p), we went to Bull Pot instead. There was a slight worry that the cave would be full of people but the weather was quite miserable so we were the only ones up at Bull.
After quickly changing into our gear in the cold mist at the side of the road (and waiting for at least 20 minutes or so for the rope that had been forgotten ha!), walking up the steep slope to the pot was strenuous to say the least. Dave rigged the entrance pitch and demonstrated to me how to descend. It looked fine when someone else was doing it but of course when it came to me doing it I was really anxious! Obviously the abseil was fine once I had actually put my weight on the descender but doing so went entirely against my nature?
Well, after eventually prevailing and a thump on my helmet to get my headlamp to work, I followed Dave to the traverse above a roaring streamway and slippery rock. First ever cave descent, complete! The traverse consisted of me not knowing where to put my hands and feet and Clare helping me along - nothing new there, though hanging suspended above the flowing water after losing my balance definitely was.
The cave got wetter at the second pitch (not as wet as Swildon's though, full-on dunking isn't exactly possible in Bull Pot) but the second and third pitches went well. I was a bit jerky with my abseiling as I haven't mastered letting the rope run through slowly yet, but the B-relay went fine, yay. At the bottom of the pitch there was half a Snickers bar and the general consensus that the next pitch was too wet to attempt.
So back up we went, which is a lot harder than going down. Dave disappeared up the rope in a flash: all three of us were in awe of his technique. I followed behind Clare slowly; the little ledge at the B-relay is a great help for regaining energy. Although it didn't stop me from struggling to get off the third pitch; my ascending technique isn't that good and my thighs were more than feeling the burn by the end.
The second pitch was good. In hindsight I might even call it fun gently swinging around trying to avoid the waterfall. However I had a few problems initially in getting the rope to pull through my chest jammer properly; I remember cursing about it a couple of times. What a waste of energy to try and ascend and to go no further than a couple of centimetres. After Alex pulled on the rope behind me the ascent was fine. Once again though getting off the rope and onto 'solid' footing required help from Clare.
The traverse was slow going and I don't remember too much about it but getting off it was difficult, as was the case with the entrance pitch. I was pretty chuffed and not too tired when above ground again. Bull Pot really isn't a long trip though (you can tell from the shortness of the description!) and it shows that it was my first SRT trip because it took ages - I'm not surprised that Clare felt like she hadn't really caved at all afterwards (and considering every other fresher has already been down there this academic year, yeah, must've been well boring!).
A cold roadside change in the rain and the dark and we made our escape (slowly due to spectacular fog) in Alex's little car back to the warmth of the NPC hut. We observed a committee meeting and amongst all the conversation I looked through the black book of caving horrors. 'Not for the Faint-Hearted' indeed! Alex and Clare made a gamble about when Jarv and company would return from King: Clare said about 12, Alex about 4. In the end they came back somewhere around half 11, looking tired but satisfied with their trip. Colour me both envious and happy I hadn't gone? maybe someday!
Ah, King. Rather aquatic in Kingsdale, asked the farmer for permission & was graciously granted it. He had a whole string of puppies chasing his quad bike around the farm, very cute! The old farm dog gave his usual barking send off.
Quick walk to King in the mist, the cavemaps GPS coords seem off by around 50m though (wrong shakehole by two, too far north). We re-GPS'ed the entrance, natch, and the Breda Garth gate so we could get home without trashing the drystone wall.
Once underground, it was rather nicer! However the '1st pitch' was really quite wet, could do with a deviation bolt in the dry parallel shaft. Traverse ropes over the pit still present + in good nick. Screwed up slightly on the '2nd pitch' rigging with the traverse rope, then wondering why I ran out at the rebelay! Sling left on the climb down, for waymarking the way back as much as assisting the climb.
Canutes crawl was rather wallowey, Emma was positively thunderous. Made use of the chockstone in the rift for a tight deviation at about -4m with a single 8ft taped sling, had purposefully rigged the y-hang to position for this with minimal rub. You can of course just walk back in the rift to achieve something similar, but with the sheer mass of falling water a slip could have been your quick exit from this vale of tears. The noise at the bottom of the pitch was deafening, bouncing off the clean limestone walls, even a fair way down the rift there was a high pitched buzz resonating up and down.
Pushed on and on, to get to Elizabeth. Alas, here we were stumped. The water formed a thuddering 2m wide column of white terror. From the 'p bolt' y-hang, the in-situ deviation rope would just pull you directly into the path of the water. You really need a deviation bolt on the far (dry) side of the shaft the otherside of the dividing flake, alas there is nothing.
I rigged a natural deviation off a lump on the fair side of the flake that would pull you around the flake, and give a rather rubby, but safe and dry descent. The angle was a little extreme but easy enough to reach thanks to footholds. It slipped as I loaded it fully, I turned to expect to see the sling had slipped off, but no -- the football sized lump of rock was falling down the shaft instead. I then had a little chat with my jammers (you couldn't be heard more than a metre away), and we all decided that we didn't want to drown today and so decided to bow out.
I have heard rumours that there are some additional (Spit) bolts further out from which a dryer hang is achievable, I had hangers and was looking for some bolts somewhere, but assumed that these were the earlier (rusty to the point of disuse) traverse bolts.
Steady pace on the way out, William assisted with the derig and all helped with the gear haulage. Pita bread sandwiches the other side of the t-shape passage with lashings of hot squash were pretty nice. Out just gone ten, about an eight hour trip. Visibility was approx 6m in the clag, quite glad that we caught up the initial party who were preparing to depart with the minibus keys and GPS, leaving the rear guard to fend for themselves!
Great trip, certainly everything as far as Elizabeth is eminently doable even in the flooded state of Yorkshire this weekend. A pity that there aren't some 'heavy weather' deviation bolts on the 1st, Emma and Elizabeth pitches.
During the long dark tea-time of the soul that is a 100km/hr limited minibus crawling along the M6/M42/M40 back to London, I marshalled a few thoughts about the T-shaped passage, and other such 'Grade V' guardians of the underworld.
The T-shaped passage is, objectively, a small section of narrow bedding plane, cut through with an active vadose rift, in which a little stream trickles below you. It's nothing really, a few tens of metres, just a few minutes active riggling, passing the tackle sac from rock mantlepiece to mantlepiece. But on the way out, sometimes, to the weary traveller, it exposes the hidden dimensions.
As the main obstacle barring you from the surface, it is the key test that King offers to see how much of your resolve and strength remains after its multifarious demands on your time and effort, for there is much great caving to be had on the way to the bottom of the cave. It is here that the facade can slip, that the strained muscles start to tremble in exhaustion, the bruised knees swell with each heart pulse.
Gravity soons loses any meaning, your head dangles low between arched shoulders wedged in the bedding. The blood, pushed by your straining heart and horizontal position, rushes to your head. Being swung widely around, looking below you for your feet, glancing ahead to plot the next difficult manouever, your inner ear is soon swirling and churning just like the stream below. There is no down in the T-shaped passage. There is only the T, the negative space sliced out of the
limestone, plotting it's sinuous course between the underworld and the sweet air of the surface. In this place there is only the water, the blackness, and you. Suspended in the only place fit for a human, with your five limbs (at this point of desperation, your chin and helmet rim are entirely suitable points of attachment) jammed into the chest sized enlargment at where the narrow
horizontal slot bisects the rift.
Legs flail uselessly behind you. The occasional foothold is found, but mainly they just present an additional trouble as they fail to follow the librations of your spine around the corners, the loops and barrel rolls that your desperately computing mind is plotting as a course of achieveable movement to
progress. Femurs and Tibias, and knee joints that won't dog leg. The T-shaped passage becomes a dash between the relatively safety of the corners, where the curve offers a place of rest and relative safety, tucking your shoulder in counterlevered by arms and legs on the other side you press your feverish cheek to the cool embrace of the rock. Eyes closed you breathe and listen to your
heartbeat subside, feel the ache in your muscles depart and the tremors lessen.
There is fear in the T-shape passage, but it is not morbid. The fear is of failure, of being judged by the cold objective rock and to be found wanting. To fail in your movements, the horrible toppling realisation as your pectoral muscles collapse in anguish and your start to slip down head first to the
stream. The tiny trickle, swollen by your bulging eyes to the size of the Amazon. Oh you tried. If only you were stronger. Ashamed at not back flipping out of bed every morning to do your press ups. Ashamed at all the easy trips you fell for. Ashamed for the missed chances to improve your skill. Ashamed at the caver you are, the person you've become.
There are no supermen in the world below the Earth. For every mere mortal has their limit, and will find a caving trip to fit.
Oh to be a deep sea diver, and have a button to press and start the effortless drift to the surface. To be a mountaineer and turn tail and follow the cut snow steps down.
And yet. And yet.
Emotionally drained, spleen vented at the deaf rock, angry tears shed into the wet slot, there is nothing left to do. There is only one way out. Hand over hand, microscopic battles fill your world as they are fought and won, and lost. Never giving up, only to 'rest'. You flow, somehow, outwards, as the water cascades in below. An equilibrium in the tiny bubble of the T-shaped passage that exists around your light and consciousness. Because there is nothing of consequence here once you are gone. A tiny part of a minor and inconsequential drainage in the Dales.
There is no abrupt end to the T-shaped passage, the rift widens and the bedding plane opens. Eventually you accept their enlarged dimensions, and swing your legs down to regain a sitting normalacy. Your blood redistributes, the last vestiges of the fear depart, a small smile spreads across your face as you look back into the gauntlet you ran, and won.
Gently caving off, a bare hour more of crawls, wet slithers, climbs and rope work and you meet the welcoming committee on the Yorkshire moors. The thick fog crowds in around you, tendrils waving in jubilation at your great glory. For you have been somewhere that few people can go and returned, safe and sound.
Safely back in front of the warm fire in the caving hut, you sheepishly acknowledge your failings in front of your caving peers, a simple 'found it a bit awkward on the way out' explains all. For only other potholers can understand the feeling of being broken, and then remade, in the bowels of the earth.
The T-shaped passage? I love the place.
There was a lot of talk on Sunday about going caving again but I can't say the weather made me particularly love the idea. Each time someone mentioned caving the wind's whistling seemed to increase! We ended up just spending the morning and early afternoon lazing about drinking tea and chatting again. In a lull between rain spells we packed up the minibus and we set off for London mid-afternoon. With no mp3 player (Jarv's had run out of battery) the radio was our companion instead and we got back to London at the reasonable time of nine (give or take ten minutes).
(Now to decide if I dare to go on expedition in the summer?! :)