I am indeed going to start my first trip report with a confession: I really don’t like heights.
Like I REALLY don’t fucking like heights.
So logically I joined a caving club, with the opportunity to put myself at the top of rather large heights, in the darkness, underground. But this is all for my own good; I want to be able to get over this fear, and a sport which is bloody brilliant even horizontally and with some awesome people involved seems a pretty damn good way to start.
The trip consisted of me, the two NUCC member joining us for the weekend (Jacob and Rosanna) and the very patient Helen and Nat. We arrived and got kitted up at the roadside at around 11:00am after one set off and a restart due to the minor detail of a not putting up a call out. We ran into Creg and Leo on their way to Maskhill mine and also Jethro and Tom on their way to pick up a desk or some shit. But none the less we were up the hill and had Helen on her way down the entrance pitch in no time.
We sat basking in the grey Derbyshire morning sun until it was time for us to make our way in down the close entrance pitch. My previous experience with SRT has been a singular tower training session and the jaunt down P8 the previous day; so I believe this had been the longest pitch I’ve done so far. I felt ok about this descent though, as I felt secure with the closeness of the walls.
Helen was waiting for us to help out with the rebelay down a smaller pitch, but everyone handled this fine and we made our way down to the second large pitch. I started to get a little nervous here. The pitches were getting more open and we began to get a view of the East chamber and that tiny little bastard in my head started whispering thoughts of going off the side and into the blackness at the bottom, which would spell the end of ol’ Jreg. But I made it down there ok, albeit slowly getting more frustrated with the jerkiness of my stop descender (a point I’m sure the rest of the group were sick of hearing me bitch about).
Then came the decent down into East chamber that linked into the transverse down to the West chamber pitches. There was a little wait here as Jacob had some trouble with the deviation, which to be completely fair was his first I believe, but with a very helping hand from the mysterious ‘man in the red hat’ (as Nat described him) he got down fine and the deviation was re-rigged. I was ok across here, but was starting to struggle more with my stop descender (the bouncy ropes didn’t help at all with my nerves, or my hangover from the fancy dress do the night before) and I was having visions of me having a fall and ending up permanently stuck as my costume: sloth from The Goonies, but with some advice from the group we had met ahead of us I was able to smooth this out and descending became much easier.
After a quick breather we slipped down the traverses to the final pitch into the smaller (yet equally massive) chamber before the squeeze into West chamber.
Once in West chamber it was very hard not to be taken aback by the sheer size of the cavern. It was the largest I’ve ever seen before and the immensity of its full height was dizzying, but I’m extremely happy to have a memory of this hidden secret of the peaks.
We explored the chamber and walked right to the end to the crawl that leads to the sump, hearing stories of Dave and Rostam’s many numerous Christmas dinners there and keeping an eye out for left over tinsel.
On the way back me, Jacob and Rosanna tried the Oxlow squeeze, failing miserably but happy to sit around and chat as each of us in turn made the typical noises of someone trying to force themselves up a tight hole (or giving birth).
Now comes the way back up, and where my story takes the dark, sweaty turn I’ve been dreading to tell.
Jacob and Nat went up ahead of myself, then Helena and finally Rosanna who de-rigged us the entire way back up.
By this time the thought of the pitches had been playing on my mind for a while and the immense openness of the chamber was making the task ahead very daunting for me. But when it comes to prussiking I don’t think I do to badly, it’s more the climbing off pitches that freaks me out; having my back to that great, black openness just makes my legs wobble, especially having to get off onto a slope.
Climbing back up the traverse wasn’t too easy either, the fear was on me and I had to make my way very slowly indeed, and I worry that my clumsy footwork had sent some rocks down towards Helen and Rosanna more than a few times (sorry guys).
By the time I’d made it to the pitch up the East chamber I was really getting edgy; this was going to be the hardest one for me. Climbing out into the dark on quite a thin rope, manoeuvring the deviation and finally climbing back out onto the thin slope at the top was not something that could easily, and very much did, freak me right the fuck out. After finally edging myself out as if into scolding water I was able to get up to the deviation by looking straight ahead and trying not to imagine what was beneath me (which was probably a bad idea, as my mind had conjured pictures of nothing but crushing black and rock). It took me a long time to work myself up for standing and getting myself over the deviation but by slowing myself down, lots of calming words from Nat above and some from me that would make my grandmother faint, I was able to get up and over it. It wasn’t over for me though as I had to get myself off the rope at the top, and when I was struggling to get my chest jammer off all I could feel was that I’d be yanked back over the side.
Eventually though, Nat was able to peel my sweaty, shaking body off of the rock face and I could rest at the top of the pitch.
I sat there and reflected on what a bloody wuss I must have looked but also that it was done, and that the pitches would start to get easier from here.
I was very eager to get out and eventually we all scrambled out of the entrance on the hill into a slowly darkening panorama of Derbyshire, a sight that made me feel relieved and happy that I’d gone a round with my biggest fear and still came out in one piece. We waited for Rosanna and Helen to finish the rest of the de-rigging and plodded our way back to the car.
All in all this has been quite a ‘me’ trip report but it was something that Will suggested I share and I’m glad I’ve done that. I have to thank the rest of the guys who went down with me and hope they had a slightly less stressful time than me. But in the end I hope that it’s the first step in me slowly getting over my fear and after all, to re-quote myself from Wills report of the weekend:
“I fucking shit myself, but it was a good trip” – Jreg 2015.