Nathaniel Mumford and Oliver Hilton
Nobby It had been going on for years ...
Olly Apparently normal people were afflicted by this inexplicable condition.
Nobby Whenever we were in the same room, and often when we weren't, people would insist on mixing our names up.
Olly It was exceedingly annoying.
Nobby Whether because of similar sounding names, similar(ish) haircuts, or vaguely similar levels of incompetence, it had become a long standing tradition.
Olly But this time it was SERIOUS.
Nobby Even members of the expedition who had no previous contact with us were being struck by the urge to confuse us, for no apparent reason.
Olly Something had to be done.
Nobby So we set out to solve the problem once and for all by stamping our identities on the features of C4.
Olly The breakthrough had been made and 3 small pitches dropped by Pauline, Tim and Andy. Pauline and Tim went back on the next trip with Mike and me. and we dropped the pitch which was to become Maria Rosa, into a huge chamber. While Pauline rigged the pitch I followed Tim up a short climb into some awkward rift, which was obviously going nowhere. However, Tim pressed on and returned some minutes later with a stupid grin on his face. Six seconds' was his claim. We were all sceptical, and left him to ramble about huge drops whilst we abseiled down another sizable pitch (Double Fisherman's) Another short drop was rigged and Tim turned to me and said "It's all yours, Nobby." Grrr.
It was at this point that the rock changed to the more chossy dolomite, which tends to produce more constricted and awkward passage. I led off from a small chamber down a short cascade and into a narrow rift. We gathered at this point, where the water vanished into the bottom of a tight inclined rift which looked to close down after a few metres. "We seemed to have reached our journeys end", I remarked despondently. Tim, however, had other ideas. He found his way into the rift, and after a few metres turned a corner.
"Yeah, might as well turn back," he said, before disappearing from view. One by one we pushed through the rift, squeezed round the corner, and stepped onto a ledge above a black void. "It's HOOGE!" exclaimed Tim, with a wild look in his eyes. The next few minutes were spent carrying out scientific experiments, finding the biggest rocks to hand and throwing them down the pitch. However, my comments about the impenetrable rift had not been forgotten. The cave that I had written off as dead five minutes previously had turned into one of the most significant discoveries of recent years. I was keen to avoid the ridicule which was likely to follow such an error of judgement, and the tradition of misnaming gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. Thus Nobby's impenetrable rift' came into being.
After hammering in a couple of bolts, Tim abseiled off the ledge to try and rig the rope out of the water. The rest of us shivered on the ledge for an hour or so before we heard Tim's voice above the sound of the water.
"Are you coming down?"
He had reached a large ledge about 35-40m down, but by this time we were pretty cold and had no desire to descend a wet pitch however impressive it might be. So we headed out, leaving the cave wide open for the next team.Nobby Even after this news, the next team didn't get too carried away. Everyone knew Tim's reputation for exaggerating the size of pitches, so we mentally knocked a few seconds off the time he claimed it took for rocks to hit the bottom from the ledge. Alex, Jason and I had gone in to survey from the top of Maria Rosa, but Jason had been sick, the surveying slow, and we weren't too enthusiastic by the time we reached Nobby's impenetrable rift'. This all changed as we stepped out onto the lip of what was to become known as 'The Monster' and followed Tim's route down to the ledge above yet more blackness.
We had brought 90m of rope with us, but there was a substantial amount, about 40m, left coiled on the ledge from Tim's pitch and we thought this would be enough. We began to rig. The water plunged down a slot that split the ledge in two, and I sat on the left hand side and watched Alex gingerly hammer the first bolt of an exposed traverse along the opposite wall. An hour and 3 bolts saw us to a point where a nice hang would be available from a rebelay just below the pitch head, and Alex and I looked at each other. It was my turn to bolt and Alex, having done this kind of thing before, let me go ahead. I hammered carefully as I hung on the rope, aware of the emptiness beneath me, and when the rebelay was placed, abseiled cautiously down. And down. The rope hung nicely about 2 feet away from the wall as it kept running through my descender. Below me, through the vapour in the shaft, all I could see was the knot in the end of the rope coming towards me, and I continued down until I hung on the very end, the knot jammed up hard against my braking crab and my feet dangling in space.
I swung gently in silence for a minute, feeling very lonely, until, peering down through the vapour I thought I could see a tell-tale thick, pale band around the sides of the shaft, and my heart sank. A sump. It had to be. The thick band was a band of foam from a huge sump. The thing we all dreaded, filling the bottom of the shaft and effectively killing a hugely promising cave about which we were all getting very excited.
"It sumps!" I yelled up the shaft.
"What ?" from Alex far above.
"SUMPS!" I yelled hoarsely.
I hadn't envisaged doing my first underground changeover here either. Lock off. Hand jammer on. Stand up in foot loops. Can't get my croll onto the rope, and fiddle with it angrily. Sit in my harness, take the rope off my stop and finally I could prussik back up to an equally dejected Alex at the big ledge.
"We might as well put the long rope down," he suggested, "There might be a way over or around the sump."
Unconvinced, I helped him pull up the rope and we rigged the 90m rope from the edge of the traverse. It whistled down for an age and seemed this time, to hit something solid far below. We looked at each other again, more optimistically this time, and I impatiently threaded the rope back through my descender. Down I went again, with walls visible in front, behind and closing in on my right, and nothing but blackness stretching away to my left and below me. About half way down the rope I passed through the vapour cloud and then abseiled straight through my sump' - a huge, tell-tale white band of calcite running right around the sides of the shaft. Another 40m or so and I finally reached the bottom, where a tiny coil of rope, the last of our 90m, sat on the floor.
"Rope free !!" I yelled up 80m to where Alex's light, a tiny pinprick, was already making its way onto the rope, and as he came down, I ran about madly in the bottom of a vast, vast rift. We stumbled like idiots along 100m of passage strewn with huge boulders without once seeing the roof. Even Alex had to abandon his calm experienced manner of one who has seen it all before. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it.
At the end of the passage a boulder slope in a tall aven led steeply down to a rift where, far below us, the rumble of falling water told us we had found our back to the stream which had seeped away into the rocks at the foot of the pitch. We had dropped what was to prove the longest pitch in the cave, rejoined an active streamway and the way on was still open. As we headed out in triumph, my thoughts were already with revenge. The ingredients were all there: just as on the previous trip a feature which was initially thought to kill the cave had again led to the most impressive section of cave so far, with the promise of greater depth to come and the chance was too good to miss. In my minds eye the name Olly's perched sump' were already written on the survey.