This trip could quite justly be put up there amongst the list of my all-time favourite trips underground, and it certainly has been my favourite fresher trip so far. The cast of this most auspicious of trips was Helen, Gamble and myself to be leading, the two Icelanders; Viktoría and Andreas, “American Mike” and two joyful bioengineers; Lucy and Rachel – who bridge the gap between the club’s current state of being basically just engineers and my dream of it being ENTIRELY BIOLOGISTS.
After everybody was suited and booted (an idiom that applies to caving in a deliciously literal fashion), we set off to Giant’s Hole. As we drove out the weather got progressively worse and seemed to reach its torrential peak just as I got out to open the gate to the cave’s parking area, thankfully the rain turned it down a notch before we got out and began to get changed. The one good thing about heavy showers is that they do encourage freshers to get changed at a reasonable pace and with minimal faff. Andreas did lose a club light however, leading to a complete strip search of Gamble’s car, which sadly yielded no Pixa. Helen kindly offered Andreas her backup Pixa and we resolved ourselves to searching for the AWOL Pixa with fresh eyes once we were out of the cave.
Mike seemed to be concerned that we wouldn’t be able to locate the entrance to the cave, but after nearly falling into the gaping maw that forms the swalleted entrance to Giant’s Hole he conceded that it may be a bit easier than he had thought previously. We all trundled into the cave in single file with Helen, Gamble and me regaling our troop of freshers with various tales of previous exploits to Giant’s.
We stopped off on the way to Base Camp Chamber to offer up a squeezy challenge to break in the newcomers, American Mike (being an American, of course) quite literally leapt at the opportunity and dove straight into the bedding plane. Upon reaching the crux of the challenge he took the awkward manoeuvring with unnecessary gusto and almost shot out of the terminal end – I had to physically catch him to prevent him “eating shit” as he put it. Viktoría was next, she elected to go for an alternative approach, entering the tight tube upside down (Icelanders always have to be different…) We corrected her orientation and sent her on her way. Now, while caving is most certainly not a spectator sport, watching Viktoríá navigate squeezes is definitely a sight to bear witness to. A myriad of English and Icelandic expletives came flowing out of the mouth of the tube she was struggling in as though it were inhabited by some demonic offspring of Frankie Boyle and Björk. When she finally eluted from the squeeze she was caught by Mike. Lucy, Rachel and Andreas all refused to follow such a magnificent performance, so we continued onto base-camp chamber.
While I gave the freshers a quick spiel about Base Camp Chamber Gamble shot off to rig the ladder in the upper series. In the meantime I lead the party down to Garlands, stopping briefly to exhibit the calcite flows that lead up to the organ pipes. After a swift interlude during which I listed off all the various rescue incidents that had occurred in Garlands – while allowing the group to peer down into the surging pot – we set off back to Base Camp.
Helen and I aided our eager novices up the wet climb that leads to a smooth plateau beneath the ladder pitch, as the final fresher made it up and Helen followed suit I heard a call from above. Over the sound of the fierce water flows around ups I bellowed “Gamble!?” in response. This call was interpreted by the freshers as a call up to “Gandalf”, causing the group, in all earnestness, to refer to Tom as “Gandalf” for the remainder of the trip.
As Gandalf tossed down the end of the ladder it unravelled fully – a good two metres above the ground. It became immediately apparent that we had brought the one ladder – out of the 4/5 that SUSS own – that is slightly shorter than the rest. Bugger. I shouted up to Gandalf, asking if there was any more he could let down but the only response I got was derisive laughter. Improvising, Helen and I ferried fresher after fresher up the ladder; giving a boost to each in turn in order for them to be able to get their feet on the lowest rung. Gandalf, watching and belaying from above, was clearly rather enjoying the comic spectacle that was our struggle below. As the number of people at the bottom dwindled – it soon came to the point when Helen and I had to address the issue of who went last, and had to somehow climb the ladder unaided. I offered to go last as I felt fleetingly confident that I could climb the first 3/4 rungs hand-over-hand and then get my feet on the bottom. Helen, clearly happy with this decision, reached up for the ladder as I boosted her – which proved difficult given my lack of height. Fairly soon she was at the top and I was left alone at the bottom, with the lowest rung dangling just within range of my somewhat stunted reach.
I climbed into the harness that Gandalf lowered down, called up for him to take on belay and began to ascend. I managed four rungs hands-only before my forearms began to throb with exertion, but I could not get a foot on a rung yet. I bridged my legs across the chamber which, despite being wider than I anticipated, granted me the extra few centimetres I needed to grasp the next rung and with the final drop of energy left in my arms I swung my legs up onto the bottom rung. Taking a brief moment of rest, I relaxed my arms before setting off up the ladder in pursuit of the others. Once at the top I took a more prolonged rest, breathlessly removing the harness. I soon mustered the energy to say “Right! Next bit!” and we were off again.
We took a brief detour to the small and very wet passage that connects through to the chamber above the Organ Pipes. Even though I explained that we wouldn’t be going through the passage, which features a submerged crawl with mere inches of airspace and a tight squeeze on a 90-degree bend, Viktoría still tried to get into the water and attempt the crossing. I pulled her out and we set off back to the previous room. The climb down into the streamway was quite fun, Lucy was apprehensive at first but after Helen and I coached everyone else down she took to the descent with ease and worked her way down no problem, very happy to have overcome the obstacle. We took a brief look into the upstream passage but were soon returning back downstream ready for the crabwalk back to Base Camp Chamber.
It seems that the main thing you need to negotiate a relatively technical crabwalk is communication (and a slim waistline). The eight of us traversed the snaking, undulating passage almost as quickly as a single leader would. The technique that really works best is finding the best way to pass a squeeze then simply relaying it down the group “Chinese Whispers” style, instead of just buggering off ahead, that way everyone in the group knows the tactic and nobody gets stuck at all, which is nothing if not helpful.
Soon, were were back in Base Camp Chamber and on our way back. Just before we made it out, there was one place left to explore – Gandalf had, on a previous trip, taken a peek in one of the passages that leads off from the roof of the entrance stream just inside the cave – he needed a willing fresher to boost him up the climb inside; eager as ever, Mike offered to help. In the meantime I took Lucy, Viktoría and Andreas into another little off-shooting passage to take a look at a small loop I had recently found. It was on this little foray, when I spoke about what “Gamble” was up to and I got blank faces as a response, that I realised the freshers had genuinely thought that Tom’s name was Gandalf for the whole trip. Once our loop was done we made it back to the main passage, and waited a short while for Mike and the newly re-titled Gamble to return. Their exploration had proved fruitless, so with a heavy heart we climbed down into the streamway and out of the cave. We arrived back to the cars, and began to get changed. The missing Pixa debacle was resolved almost immediately when Mike picked up his bag of clothes and found the lamp nestled beneath, he swears to this day that it wasn’t there before – but I’m keeping my beady eyes on him…
Trip date: 6/10/15