Otter Hole is, I gather, a cave that every caver in Britain worth their salt has heard of, thanks primarily to its extraordinary series of pretties. It is also relatively difficult to get into, permits only coming up once or twice every couple of years. This was more or less all I knew going in, because it seems that he general consensus when a novice caver asks about it is for an experienced caver to simply yell. “GO!! DO IT!! ITS REALLY GOOD!!” How could I refuse?
After a tiring awful early start in the freezing stupid bracing weather, myself, Sam, Jack and Rachel were soon on our way. In a delightfully good show of form we only got lost once on the way to the cave and thus the new and singularly terrifying experience of Rachael’s driving was only extended by a meager 10 minutes or so. We made ample use of the time by force-feeding ourselves sausage rolls and drinking enough water to drown a small hamlet. 12 hour trips it turns out require a lot of sustenance. Upon arriving and meeting our guide for the day, Andy, we immediately agreed that we would do the trip in the shorter window of 8 hours. Despite the bloated feeling caused by the Tesco aisle in my stomach I for one was very happy; 12 hours is a long time.
We changed quickly into our gear and arranged a somewhat uncertain callout with a hung over Glenn before starting the trip down to the cave entrance. Where we spent a refreshing 10 minutes waiting to actually be able to get in as the padlock failed to cooperate with our desires.
Once in the entry series takes about half an hour to complete. There are a couple of squeezes and a bit of crawling to get by, but nothing to serious, a lot of it like much of the rest of the cave consists of scrambling over boulders. At the end of the entrance series is the chamber where the flooding occurs. When the tide rises outside the cave it blocks the flow of an underground river causing it to back up sumping this chamber and making passage impossible without diving gear. When the tide goes down passage becomes possible again. Whenever you arrive though there is water and like all cave water, it is cold. Fortunately the freezing water is followed by a good 2 hours worth of scrambling and boulder chokes, which keeps you nice and warm. The lack of vertical shafts makes the cave relatively uneventful and my untrained mind could distinguish little of it from the rest. Except the pair of squeezes of which Sam chose the smallest and consequently got himself stuck for a good few minutes. Often in trip reports these big events are punctuated by a witty joke or a scathing comment, I feel that the above speaks for itself.
There is also mud. Lots of mud. Andy told us that this was probably the least muddy he’d ever seen it. I’m still not convinced about that because the cave made a prolonged and powerful effort to steal my wellies. Then it made another, and another, and another. It is a cruel irony that one of the most visually impressive caves in Britain filled with many wonderful formations which must be kept in peak condition for the eyes of many cavers yet to come, is also full of more mud than the Lake District. Meaning as a consequence, that you have to sit in a part of the cave shortly before all the pretties. Making you cold and wet before you go and get covered in more mud again. It is truly an exercise in futility if ever I have seen one.
After the remainder of the trip to the former camp just before the hall of the 30 had elapsed and we felt that Sam had been adequately mocked, we sat down for a quick lunch of chocolate, assorted nuts and jelly cubes. Our guide Andy had managed to bring an entire packed lunch with him, much to my personal envy and I suspect that of everyone else.
We then pressed onto the hall of the 30 and suddenly all the pestering of more experienced cavers began to make a great deal of sense. It really is very impressive. There are lots and lots and lots of straws, but also some stuff that you might not have seen before much of which dwarfs anything you could imagine in your head as a novice caver. Such is the scale of many of the pretties that you have o climb over parts of them to reach further into the cave in order to see yet larger pretties. Navigation is only really possible due to the copious amounts of tape that cordons off 80% of the floor space, and even that colourful tightrope walk isn’t perfect, sometimes the path just seems to run out such as at one particular squeeze through one of the formations which invokes a feeling of “What do you mean through there?” The place is littered in spray bottles in an attempt to keep the pretties pretty and the place does make you very conscious how you move. You feel very guilty anytime the edge of a limb brushes a stalagmite and extremely paranoid anytime you stand up too quickly and bump your head. Actually getting through the place took ages because you are forever stopping to go “Oooh.”, “Ahhhhh.” and “Hey look at that one.” A situation that was exacerbated somewhat by my being made to lead with my SUSS rented pixa, which meant I walked past half of the formations and had to look back. Once through the hall a few short sections of passage lead to still further formations, which though less grand are arguably better looking.
You can go further than we did but its really an exercise in getting to the end for the sake of it. So in the interest of getting out nice and early we turned around and made our way back to the camp. Another quick chocolate break and a few hours of training we made it back to the now sumped chamber. Arriving far earlier tha you’re supposed to meant that we had to swim through the keyhole, a smaill space above the main passage in the chamber. Walking through the water was not especially fun, the less said about swimming in it the better, especially when I hit my light on the roof turning it off midway resulting in much spluttering and fumbling in an effort to get it back on. Fortunately even with such ineptitude holding us back we timed the run perfectly and we were all able to swim through the gap before the water level dropped too low forcing us to wait from the chamber floor to be walkable.
The rest of the trip if brief, you’re tired and cold and you want to leave, so you do. On the way Andy told us a story of one of the other guides who took a group down as far as the tidal chamber before they turned to her and said “this really isn’t for us” we all agreed that they were weak, feeble wusses. We quickly found ourselves out in the open and facing a delightful walk up the hill back to the cars.
Sam, Andy and myself made it in good time. And near the top of the hill we were able to wash our kit at a bathtub in the middle of the trees filled by siphoned stream nearby, where me and Sam Definitely Did Not Rub Each Others Backs To Get The Mud Off Our Oversuits.!I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE INSINUATING!!!
After a good year and a half (or so it seemed) Rachael and Jack saw fit to join us. They looked a little tired and out of breath, bless their little cotton socks. We then retired to the car where we gratefully changed back into new clothes and ate the remaining sausage rolls, which suddenly seemed a lot more appetizing, whilst thanking our guide for his time. Then I realized that Rachael had to drive us back to Hidden Earth and my relief vanished.
All in all it was a really good trip, which makes you realize how great caving can be beyond the sporting aspect, and I didn’t have to carry any SRT gear which was awesome. If you ever get a chance to go I would say only this. “GO!! DO IT!! ITS REALLY GOOD!!” Sam seemed a fair bit less impressed than the rest of us, but screw Sam. Nobody asked for his opinion anyway. He can shut up.
P.S. Yes I know there are lots of American spellings in this trip report. This is a new copy of word and I haven’t edited the settings yet and I can’t now be bothered to go back and correct it, so shut up. I may also have the camp and the hall of the 30 the wrong way around. Frankly it was a week ago and I’m a bit fuzzy on it and the story flows better like this anyway so stuff it. If the point of trip reports was to be accurate I’d have spent longer making fun of the funny noises Jack made with his throat when he started to get a cold. Phonetically it went something like Hhheeggghhhc…Hhheeggghhhc
Hidden Earth was pretty good too. There were lectures. There was beer. There were impressive photos, films and artwork. And my friend from school who I haven’t seen for 5 years won a Scurion in the raffle (which wasn’t remotely annoying by the way).