Coming from Nottingham, I joined SUSS, ULSA and the Red Rose (plus Durham)’s Christmas Dinner weekend at Bull Pot Farm over which a merry booze- and meat-fuelled time was had by all. On the Saturday I went on a trip from Pippikin (conveniently located the furthest walk through the sweltering heat of Yorkshire in December from the hut) to Mistral. As Jethro said, on a trip you either have a good time or get a good story out of it so, er, here’s the story.

The trip was led by Brendan with me, Helen, Rachel, Jethro and Leo in tow. It was described as a fairly nasty, squeezy SRT cave with Mistral being an easy cave to get out of. Having been caving a year and even feeling vaguely competent on the last few trips I’d been on, I thought this sounded like something I could deal with but the combination of my size and not quite the competence I’d imagined made the trip just about the limit of my abilities.

To set the tone, the cave started with a fairly awkward, tight pitch-head but this was a relief when compared to the weather outside. The first point of interest was a crawl that ended with a drop spanned by a scaffolding pole. After lowering onto this, you have to detach cowstails and flop into the next crawl which is at about chest height. This then ends in a short free climb down, avoiding another drop, into a small chamber.

From here the tighter squeezes started and the first I had to take SRT kit off for. The first I managed but this ended in a tiny chamber in which getting SRT kit on, without falling down the next pitch, proved very awkward and Leo had to help from the end of the squeeze. After this there was another squeeze around a corner before what was possibly the tightest squeeze in the cave. I got stuck in this the first time but with help getting out and trying again I made it through. It was at this point Helen got stuck in the previous squeeze, having left SRT kit on and got the croll badly lodged, and Leo had to dash between the squeezes to help us both get unstuck.

Brendan gave the impression we’d gone through the worst of it but after the next pitch there was another tight squeeze that ended in a short pitch/dodgy free climb. Having opted to take my SRT kit off again, I’d be doing the free climb. Before I got there though I managed to get nicely stuck in the squeeze. The squeeze consists of a vertical rift which narrows towards the bottom so you have to go through head-first on your side, using your lower arm and leg to keep you high enough not to slip lower into the rift and get wedged in. This one was a few metres long and the width varied along it. Quite near the end, in a narrower section, already tired from getting through the rest of the cave and hence more prone to silly mistakes, I failed to keep high and got wedged in – but where wriggling and pushing higher would normally help, my leg could barely move at all. Where it had slipped, there were ledges in the rock which narrowed the rift such that it was actually thinner than my thigh and where gravity had helped it in, I could not move it out. The space my head was in was also small and could not turn far with my helmet on. I tried to budge myself but it wasn’t long before it was clear I’d need help again and Jethro climbed up the free climb in front of me and Rachel came into the rift behind me to help me out. Jethro removed my helmet we got down to trying to get me higher and moving my leg slightly back and forth to try to see if there was space it could move back above the ledges. I started to panic and feared Cave Rescue might have to be called and, if they were, what a terrible position for a rescue it would be. My head was also in an uncomfortable position as my chest was wedged in but my head was loose, with nothing to support it, and it was slightly lower than my core – at one point Jethro had to hold it up to keep the strain off my neck. I’d never been claustrophobic in a cave before but at that point I did – I felt trapped and a very strong desire to not be in a cave. It was a difficult situation but I don’t think I handled it very well. I think if I hadn’t panicked as much it would’ve been easier to get me out. Nevertheless, after a great deal of pushing, pulling, maneuvering and wriggling we managed to free me and, despite my fears, I managed to get to the end of the squeeze without slipping down again.

Only then there was the dodgy down climb. This required shuffling out of the rift, putting your hands onto a scaffolding bar and lowering your weight onto that whilst moving your legs out of the rift onto a ledge below, then climbing down a couple of metres with the help of a hand-line. This wouldn’t normally have caused much of a problem but getting unstuck had taken every ounce of strength from my arms and so I felt I couldn’t take my weight on them and panicked – again. Brendan sped back up the climb and with his help I got down the climb. Made it! Phew.

The rest of the cave wasn’t too difficult but was made much more so by being exhausted. There was another pitch, then a reasonably tight streamway and some easier passage and into Mistral. Brendan and I chilled with some total darkness whilst the others went to visit Mud Hall and then we proceeded to the exit.

Having done the tight, awkward cave the freshers’ cave was a piece of cake, right? Not so. There was a muddy slope. The first few got up the slope making it nice and wet such as to make it incredibly slippery for the rest of us. Ridiculous effort went into getting part way up only to slip down, over and over. It was ridiculous and, admittedly, a much funnier and less terrifying way to get stuck than in a rift. Eventually, using a string of cavers, cowstails and footloops as a hand-line we made it up and pressed on. Some mud, water and crawls and a short climb later and we were out. Success! (We were out, alive and didn’t have to call the CRO, which counts).

We got back to the hut to find an enormous Christmas dinner waiting for us which was IDEAL then drank the night away.

On Sunday we went for a walk.

Thanks very much to the rest of the group for getting me out of the cave and putting up with my panicking.