Depth through thought
OUCC News 7th November 2001
Volume 11, Number 4
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Thanks to all involved in organising the Mendip weekend, especially the UBSS crew who were bamboozled into inviting us to their fireworks party. Return match in the Spring for a bit of Mendip madness? Anyway, below, some trip reports, and more to come next week.
Fluff. Noun. A light downy substance; a bungle or mistake.
And so it was (incredibly given the fine UBSS firework party) that Oxford cavers were proposing to go caving before midday for the second day in a row. Well some of them. The really fluffy ones were packing themselves off for Oxford, leaving Team Fluff (Tim, Pip, Al, Fleur) and Team Not So Fluff (Geoff, Matt) to tackle GB to various degrees of fluffiness.
After the first fluffiasco of managing to lose half the team within 50 yards of the car park, we finally made it to the entrance, after all not quite before midday. Unfortunately Team Not So Fluff had managed to convince the Team Fluff leader to enter the cave by the Team Not So Fluff route of choice, the Devil's Elbow. We squirmed and crawled and Pip and I moaned as much as we could. But in the end the threatened duck was barely even a puddle and Pip just about managed not to propel herself head first down the drop just beyond the Devil's Elbow.
Next we all learnt classic abseiling, even Al on his second trip, and I must say he made a better job of it than either Pip or I did. The hardest bit was actually trusting the small length of 'string' that Tim had chosen for this activity. Especially as Geoff decided to try and test its limited heat resistance by running it through a karabiner during his descent.
And then all the moaning ceased as we arrived in GB main streamway. What a fantastic place. We raced over the rock bridge, through the gallery and round to the balcony where Team Fluff stopped to admire in the view. Team Not So Fluff headed off for not so fluffy things leaving Team Fluff to by fluffy in the main stream passage and look not too hard for the miserable sump. Then as the time we had promised Simon and Lou we would be back had long since past, Team Fluff headed out to try and avoid another fluffiasco.
A swift exit was broken only by myself, Al and Tim all trying to climb the
same climb simultaneously and Tim filling the (small) passage in which I was
lying full of rocks. Great trip. Great to be underground again. See you all in
Wales in a fortnight.
Fleur 'yes I am still alive' Loveridge
Last week's quotation was, as Jim Sheppard was first to guess correctly, from Alan Garner's "The Wierdstone of Brisingamen". Special mention to Tony Seddon for guessing also that the scene was probably modelled on Alderly Edge Mines (or some such). Pints for both, if they care to come and collect them...
If you've convinced yourself that this trip is going to be utterly, miserably tortuous, and quite likely physically impossible, any surprise can only be pleasant. This was one of my few thoughts as Gavin, Doyle and I trudged the hour or so's walk up to Quaking Pot on Saturday morning. The other main thought was that conserving energy was absolutely of the essence. Lift foot minimal amount each step. Eaten lots of breakfast but don't use yet will desperately need later. For this reason, I was quite glad when Rich finished kitting up first and thereby nominated himself to start the rigging - it meant I got to sit on my arse while he had to move his arms. There are advantages to being of the slower-pissing sex, sometimes.
To explain my fear: I had three prior impressions of Quaking. One was the thousand-yard shell-shocked stare Rich Gerrish had had after his Quaking trip. (Rich was pretty hard, so this was pretty bad.) Another was a drunken Rob Garrett trying to convince me that going down Quaking was a really, really, really bad idea. And the third was an old DTT write-up, of which one phrase in particular had stuck in my mind: "Not many things do [what Quaking] does to you. I wouldn't want them to." For reasons that only cavers, and I think most cavers, can understand, I wanted to go anyway, but I was officially bricking it.
The trip down as far as the crux was pleasant and passed quickly enough. But I'd known it would, having been this far twice before - it wasn't this part of the trip I was worried about. Beyond the crux, we stopped to put our harnesses back on; Gavin warned us that he remembered this as one of the few places where re-kitting was possible, the next being astride the head of the 5th pitch. He then disappeared towards said pitch, with a parting comment that I could have sworn was "you want to be at stream level for this bit". Rich inserted himself into the rift at floor level and grunted his way around a corner. "How is it?" "Hmm. Bit tight and awkward, but okay." I had a quick scout for alternative routes. Roof level looked okay, but Rich was still making progress, and Gavin had after all said that the way on was at stream level, so I followed Rich. One look at the rift and I decided to de-harness again, exposed pitch-head or no - some of us have "child-bearing hips" (alright, yes whatever, fat arses, if you insist :-)). Further on I was unspeakably glad that I had. The rift was obscene. "Rope free!" Well, yes, thanks. That'll come in useful, although not for quite some time methinks. The rift got progressively more ridiculous, and it became evident that Gavin wouldn't have come this way so quickly and without comment - this was significantly worse than the Crux. I was more than aware that this fuck-up was my fault, and apologised with due profuseness. Rich said, "Never mind, it's fun." Lunatic. Eventually he managed to thrutch up to roof level. His comment, sitting at the top of the rift in sensible-sized passage, was "it's difficult thrutching, but the rewards are very great". I was very glad to have Rich there to pass tackle to, as I had no belt (bit of an oversight, this one) and so nothing to hang my SRT gear from in these harnessless moments, and it was seeming that I really needed both hands free for this operation. As I tried to work out exactly where he'd managed to thrutch up, Rich gave his best effort at directions: "Not exactly sure where I was, but it'll be where there's blood on the rock..." I remembered someone once saying of Quaking that if you were with someone who knew the way it wasn't that bad, but if you went at the wrong level it could be horrendous. No shit.
Our detour into the depths of Torture Rift had amused us for maybe three-quarters of an hour - long enough for Gavin to get bored, wonder where the hell we were, and re-negotiate the pitch and pitch-head squeeze to come & find out - but once we were both up at roof level, the trip continued smoothly.
Surprisingly soon we were at the 11th pitch. Gavin announced, "This is Gormenghast." We descended. "We're in Gormenghast now?..." The feeling was strange. I can only describe my own. For over a year I'd had this trip on my agenda, done a recce trip to the crux and back, done an abortive hung-over trip to the 4th pitch bypass and jacked (really pissed me off, this one had), and then been put on hold by Foot and Mouth. Now I was here, in a mere 4 hours. On the one hand it seemed premature to celebrate... but on the others, well, apart from the bit we weren't going to have to reverse, it had been okay so far... and we didn't feel knackered, Rich and I had both expected to reach GG knackered enough to be facing the trip out with some dread, but we had enough energy and enthusiasm to clamber round the terminal chamber, checking out the rather unspectacular scenery... and we were, after all, At The Bottom. Barring the unthinkable... we couldn't fail now. Fuck it, let's have that premature celebration, nothing like tempting fate for a bit of Saturday afternoon entertainment. "We're in Gormenghast, woohoo, we're at the bottom of Quaking Pot, fookin'ell, we dunnit..."
What to say about the trip out? Physically, of course (apart from the
significant absence of Torture Rift), it was harder than the trip in.
Psychologically, it was far more pleasant. so much better the devil you know. We
exited the cave at 9pm to a firework display over Ingleton, a
not-entirely-cloudy night and that gorgeous, sweet smell of surface air. Our
limbs ached. We were tired but I, for one, was very, very happy. Not only had we
"done" Quaking, but the pubs were still open. Hobbling into the Marton
Arms with straggly mud-matted hair, muddy face and that all-over jelly-like
pleasant ache, to be met with real ale, log fire and seats with Cushions, I
realised just how much I'd missed the Yorkshire caving-weekend scene, these past
10 months. How the hell had I survived without this? It was so, so, SO good to
Gavin was unavailable for comment at the time of writing, but his solicitor issued the following statement: "Good trip."