The phone rings and Jen answers it. It’s a “Steve Thompson” she shouted. Not heard of one of those I thought. Does he sell double glazing or life insurance I asked? I listen, waiting for the call centre patter, when I thought – I know that voice. Steve!!! THAT Steve!!! How the devil are you, must be 30 years or more! Thats how I ended up at the SUSS 50th anniversary bash.
Arriving at Castleton on the Friday afternoon and following the narrow road to the right, I saw the sign for SUSS, immediately followed by a sign for Castleton Burial Ground. I see they haven’t lost their black sense of humour, I thought. The Rotary Centre was alive with activity. Beer being carried in. More beer being carried in. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, very much like a SUSS trip, with Jane issueing instructions and running a tight ship. That evening I met up with a lot of the younger generation and how impressive they are! I thought my aspirations of a P8 trip the following day would be easily met.
Saturday dawned windy, but bright. Sleep deprivation due to the “disco” pulsating through the room, meant I was a bit slow on the uptake that morning. Hannah had kindly arranged for some caving gear for me and pointed towards a board, with various caving trips listed. Oo! I thought, Peak Cavern, I have not done that. In my day, we were “personna non grata” in the Show Cave. Someone said that was an easy trip, so I saw JH – Peak cavern, through trip. So I signed up for that. Outside I met up with the 4 others going on that trip. Ed, who was leader, Claire, Jenny and Simon. Claire asked me.
1) When did you go caving last? 30 years ago I said
2) Have you done any SRT work? What’s SRT I said?
Clearly, she wasn’t impressed, because she asked if we were all going on the right trip! I have to say I can’t blame her. They were all in their 20’s and I am 62! To put that into context, I run 6-8 miles in the hills around Holmfirth where I live. I go to the gym and push weights regularly. I love mountain biking too and enter the Holmfirth Mountain Bike Challenge every year. I do some climbing and have just come back from good walking in Switzerland and France as well as doing a very airy Via Ferrata, with zips-lines and other fun. I am still love my adrenaline fix. Ed and Claire soon sorted me out with the right gear and SRT kit. I was in fact familiar with the rack as I have used one before. Ed was very clear about the cardinal rules of safe SRT work.
Changed and ready to descend, I looked dubiously at the entrance to JH with 2 very slippery looking bars to stand on, before clipping on and descending. Once started, the descent was like old times. Brilliant! With Ed’s guidance, Bitch Pitch was handled with “relative” ease, although one rope change did require me to use the jammer and foot loop to stand and release a cow tail. Onto Leviathan! Oh what a pitch that was. Teetering out on a traverse with dubious footholds in space to reach the belay point made me wibble privately. (well at least I hope no one heard me!) Definitely outside my comfort zone there. Still, once on the line and descending, this was THE moment of the trip. Pure joy!!! I must have had a really silly grin on my face when I joined Ed at the bottom. We all stopped here for a well earned mars bar and a drink. So far, so good.
Moving quickly on down, we negotiated streamway and crawls before our illustrious leader had second thoughts about where we were, prompted by Claire who was having 3rd and 4th thoughts. Retracing our steps to Leviathan we moved in the opposite direction and found the right way. I can’t recall all the passage work, other than crawling, stooping, streamway work were there in abundance. To the left, we found a crawl. Was it the long one or the short one? Doubts about our route finding were surfacing again. OK lets do this one! After 20 mins it was obvious it was the Looooooong crawl!!! Bugger, I wish I had bought some knee pads! It had shades of the crawls in Giants-Oxlow Connection, which still haunt me! Finally, we drop down into a streamway and proceed downstream. My energy resources are being seriously eroded by this time. I like streamways, but not this one. Its floor is blades of limestone with drop offs to fall into and break a leg if you are not careful. Again, doubt sets in about our location and direction. Concerns over our time underground, meant that we had to have a plan B, which was to head for Speedwell, if we couldn’t find the route. It’s always good to have a plan B. We set off back to where we had dropped into the streamway and Ed headed further upstream till we heard him shout that he had found the ladders into something called..Colostomy Crawl? What was that? Soon, team spirit was soaring again and we entered the crawl. Team spirit was tested here, which much oath uttering from me. I hate crawls! How long is the darn thing? On and on it went, muddy, awkward in parts, but all confident that we were heading out into the main Peak passages.
Eventually, we dropped down into big passages with fallen roof blocks. It was a bit like a mini Lancaster Pot. Fantastic though. Then a streamway and finally coming out to what I can only call a car-wash! A pristene stream with a totem pole sporting an array of bristly brushes! We were soon spotlessly clean! (relative term when you have just done Colostomy crawl). By now my tank was definitely running on empty and it was just lovely to enter the warm evening air and kiss the Devil’s Arse goodbye. Walking through the centre of Castleton, I had this insane urge to hug a pristene tourist. Has anyone else had that experience? Fortunately, my maturity kicked in and I managed to surpress that desire. We changed at the TSU barn and then to back to join the others to party the night away. Well they did – I was buggered.
Thank you so much Ed, Claire, Jen and Simon. It was a pleasure going caving with you. (Thinks, maybe I should take this up again!)