After an incredibly epic game of risk (with a Scottish Alliance battling against the Southern Coalition for the supremacy of the British Isles) the minibus arrived at the NPC. The common room rang with laughter and good spirits. The wine flowed red, ales and ciders ran gold, brown and amber to the sound of ribald jests.
There was a sense of accomplishment I drew from emerging from Lost Johns' Cave into the Yorkshire mist, exhausted after a day's exploration of a very extensive cave system. The descent down Cathedral/Dome route was straightforward, saved for the rebelay. The obstacle hung on a rather smooth wall of a massive pitch, above a window through which apart from Dave KP and I, the rest of the group swung into the Dome Junction. We continued our adventure down Sink Chamber, where we found Jack rigging Pinnacle, swinging in and out of the waterfall. Though I later discovered the more experienced cavers seem to dislike a combination of rigging and getting wet (or either), from a fresher's view that looked nonetheless impressive, before James' monkey sounds changed the atmosphere of the scene.
After some exchange of information between teams, it was decided I would go up the Monastery route with the two Daves and Chris. All that height I excitedly descended translated into an arduous labour as I slowly pulled myself up the 50m pitch. I was only motivated by the distant light from Chris' torch above me, and the chocolate bars in my pocket. Chocolate bars work magic for tired cavers. Caving is enjoyable in journeying forward with the help of any resources we can lay hands on, therefore despite the weariness, the traverses provided a fun investigation into the use of the hand jammer and foot loop to tug myself upstream. Where they were not used I was stepping on Dave's shoulders and yanked upward by Chris or Dave.
A lovely dinner of curry, Tanguy's lemon drizzle cake, and beautiful performances on recorder concluded the day in perfection.
The merry company of seventeen woke up the next morning, keen to explore Lost John's system. I baked a cake, and a rich breakfast, concocted by Rhys, Jack and Cecilia sent the group running, hopping and skipping to the cave. We split into three groups, for each vertical section of the cave. With the company of Dave and his knowledge, Fiona, Gaby, Alex and Pavel, I rigged the Centipede route, Candle and Shistol followed soon after. Being a quite speedy vanguard, and fortunate with the simplicity of the rigging involved, we kept to the master plan. I rigged the Battle Axe traverse, and dropped the rope down Valhalla. A fine pitch for any caver, and a mighty one for Freshers. I traversed back to the small alcove at the start of Battle Axe and played a little tune on the recorder as we waited for the main body of the troop to arrive. Minutes later, and announced by the rattle of metal against rock, Rhys's party arrived. We decided to take four Freshers down Valhalla. Valhalla's Walkyries were Peter and Pavel, Alex and Gaby, Rhys and I.
We descended the drop. I then rigged the last pitch, and hit the bottom, next to a deep pool. Carefully treading on the edge I climbed over an elevated platform, overlooking the pool, and the cascade. One by one the Walkyries descended. Rhys being last and watched intently by the Freshers decided to demonstrate his skill. All were awed at his speed...Soon we were storming down the streamway until we hit a junction and entered the master cave. It was truly well decorated with draperies of calcite, ripples of white sand and pebbles as black of the night. Our 'reverie' was interrupted by the need to turn about as the hour grew late. Rhys and I derigged the route, with music (Centipede makes for a good opera house – the acoustic for the recorder or the deep Czech voice of Pavel is unbelievable) soaring up the pitches faster than Rhys and his pantin ever could. One the way out, Rhys akin to the Blue Shepherd (an illustrious mythological figure) gathered his stray yellow sheep – namely James. We made our way back to the minivan in the gathering mists, and soon, that is after the key situation was resolved, the wheezy minibus whizzed down the bumpy roads. Ale ran gold and brown, and wine flowed red. Spices teased our nostrils and papillae and spirits were high. On the surface once again...
Epic Lost John's trip! 18 people in the cave, all three route rigged, bottom of the cave reached and only a few freshers lost into the terminal sumps. All in all a very impressive accomplishment.
In the morning Jack, sick of the usual 4 hour discussion, assigned everyone to teams. I was to lead team Dome with the important task of linking the Centipede and Monastery routes. We mostly changed at the NPC which is definitely a good idea because if someone forgets their entire SRT kit (cough cough Lucien cough cough) then its much easier to cobble together a new one. Thankfully we'd prepacked all of the rope and were on the fell before midday. We faffed around the van for a bit to avoid the curse and were in the cave just after midday.
Team Dome, eager beavers that we were, were first into the cave. We traversed over Monastery (in my opinion easily the scariest bit of Lost John's) with no trouble and I set about rigging Dome. A short 10m pitch sufficed to refresh everyone's SRT skills. The second 10m pitch came as a bit of a shock as we didn't have the rope for it. My first thoughts were severe disappointment, to have to turn back only 1 pitch in was pretty pathetic, but they quickly turned to curiosity. It doesn't look that hard to climb down here, I thought, there's even a ledge halfway down. I put in a token sling as an extra handhold and slid down. Easy! I called back to the others and each made their way down apprehensively, DKP practically jumping it (though I don't think deliberately).
The next 30m pitch was fine and thankfully we had the rope. We were soon onto Dome pitch itself. As I dangled off the pitchhead Dave and I negotiated that I would rig to Centipede with Peter, Aliette, and Rosanna and he would rig to the Monastery team with Cecilia. I got down and swung into the window which was a lot easier and more obvious than I had remembered or than the rigging guide had made it sound. Peter followed, then Aliette, then Rosanna. Rosanna got quite stuck above the window, somehow managing to tie a serious knot around her descender. I left Aliette to deal with this, and rigged the next pitch with Peter. When we didn't hear anything in a while we returned to find Rosanna past the rebelay but still quite stuck. A combined effort by me and Alienate as well as the classic "have a second hand jammer" technique freed her and we made it into the lower reaches of the cave.
Finding Candle and Shistow rigged we shot down, catching up with Tanguy, Fiona and DWs group at Battleaxe. I quickly found myself volunteered into the deep team, to go down Valhalla and into the master system, so I decided to drag Peter down with me. The sensible halves of mine and Tanguys' groups would start to head out together. Peter took the rear and one by one we shuffled down to the pitchhead. Most people took their time on their way, in awe of the dark open space, terrific waterfall and seemingly endless rope. I chose to enjoy a few seconds of free fall, included bouncing into the wall and then sliding at some speed off a sloping sectionl that shot me out into the middle of shaft. I recommend this method.
I'm not sure if I've ever been further than the bottom of Valhall before but this time Tanguy was well ahead and rigging the final pitch. Down the winding canyon we eventually popped out into the wider streamway and waded downstream for a few minutes. Immediatley after going through the one puddle deep enough to fill my wellies we turned back and began he long journey out.
The previous Yorkshire trip, with the smaller group sizes and shorter caves, had not adequatley reintroduced me to the Zen art of caving. Luckily this trip would more than provide. Tanguy cleverly tricked me into derigging Valhalla so I sat at the bottom for some time attempting to replace my internal monologue with the white noise of the waterfall. When it was my turn to ascend I was quite keen to get to the top. On top of this DW had made an off handed remark about it taking 20 minutes for a fresher, 8 minutes for an average caver and maybe 4 minutes for a fit 20 year old to get up Valhalla. Challenge accepted DW. At the top scarcely over 2 minutes later I wasted any time I saved by having a very long rest.
With Battleaxe derigged I caught up with Tanguy and co. I now realised Tanguy was even more devious than I had thought as he was now derigging, leaving me to carry the full bag of wet rope the rest of the way out of the cave. The way was long and slow but we we made steady progress and everyone was buoyed by my choice selection of music and Tanguy's surprisingly versatile recorder tunes.
Heroes of the trip were Gabby and Alex who both carried out tackle sacks from near the bottom of the cave. Gabby impressively had not done SRT before and his only previous instruction was a 5 minute demonstration that morning by me using the back of the van as a belay.
At the last pitch Tanguy and I had told the freshers to go on without us, the way on was relatively obvious and I reminded them of the only tricky left turn. But when Tanguy finished bashing the last bit of rope into the bag and we headed out ourselves we quickly found them again, clustered around a large hole in the floor discussing its depth and how much they didn't want to walk across it. I weaved under their feet and bridged across it and reassured they all followed. Suddenly a bedraggled face loomed into view. James. Thank god! he cried, before explaining that he had been wandering around the entrance of Lost Johns for two hours (actually only 40 minutes) apparently having missed the tricky left turn multiple times.
On the surface we met up with everyone else some still changing with the groups all apparently getting out within 45 minutes of each other. James' group expressed some relief that he was alive but apparently were at no point concerned enough to go and get him. DW then hustled a few ready changed people into his car to get back to the NPC. Once I was changed I started searching for the minibus key and despite a thorough search of the bus, a minor witch hunt and combing the mud a few times I couldn't find it. We came to the horrible realisation that Jack had taken the key with him in DWs car.
My phone was out of battery and noone else had one. We sat for a few minutes before I made one final dejected search of the various compartents in the front of the van. Salvation! A tiny microusb cable! I plugged my phone into the car charger and quickly set about phoning people, head pressed against the dash at the limit of the cable's reach, before Fiona answered. A short while later a sheepish Jack returned, driven by Fiona, bearing the key.
At the hut we ate a delicious curry (thankfully) preprepared by DW and sunk into various states of unconsciousness, some fatigue induced, some alcohol induced but mostly a bit of both.
I was initially not fond of the idea of going down ladders in a cave, and the analogy of going down a chimney was unhelpful. Notts II turned out to be quite a playground, with exquisite formations awaiting those willing to get soaked. The cave entrance was located in a tiny picturesque valley, glazed by the setting sun as we sat leisurely waiting for the full team to exit the cave.
Sunday saw a glorious sunrise. We got changed, and decided we wanted more caving done. So we visited Notts II. The cave proper was well decorated, black pebbles, draperies and all. So our 'reverie' continued... until a wade balls deep that sent a profusion of oh's and ah's across the fell. I can only say that I am fortunate to have long legs. But far from deterring our contingent of eager, and ever more competent Freshers from pushing on. And we were rewarded with stunning formations. Afterwards, what looked like a passage choked in inches of mud turned out to be a passage choked in feet of mud. So we headed back out, to the sound of Puff the Magic dragon. As I emerged from the manhole that is the entrance to Notts II I could not help but marvel at the scenery Mother Nature had put before my eyes. The russet heather contrasted with the indigo clouds, the waning light of the sun brushed the fells, and crowned them in gold for a short moment. The sea shimmered in the distance.
It is with regret that we left Yorkshire this time, having spent a fantastic weekend. Now I can't wait to read what others have written about it...
Everyone caving except the usual skivers, Fiona and DKP plus Celia who DKP had managed to corrupt. We shot back up to Leck Fell for some Notts 2 action. Everyone was suitably impressed by the tens of meters of scaffolding down the entrance, including me as I had forgotten about the majority of it.
At the bottom we split into ad-hoc teams and stomped up and down the streamways visiting the usual pretties and taking some photos to make up for the lack of them on Saturday's trip.
We exited into glorious sunshine and views across the countryside all the way to the sea.