As I’m writing this trip report whilst the annual dinner is technically still in progress I can’t yet say that the event has been an unqualified success. But unless someone fails to return from the various bimbles down Alum Pot or the frankly insurmountable challenge that is the west face of Ingleborough I suspect that I shall shortly be able to. With that in mind I’d like to start by thanking Gamble for all of his hard work and now that I’ve burned through my sentimentality quota for the year I shall return to the usual business of trip reports; taking the piss.
I think it’s fair to say that weekend departures are not really SUSS’ strong suit, to the point that we should really consider adding an F for faff to that acronym at some point, but this particular weekend was certainly one of the rockier attempts that we’ve made this year. Making the proposed departure time 6:00 was probably the first mistake because it was Never Going To Happen. And lo it did not. We then had some of the usual car faff, how many cars do we actually need, how many people need to go in each, do I really have to drive, is anyone going to the shop first, and so on. Additionally, Tom had planned to bring his Land Rover along but some incompetent fool had attempted to nick it so before we could leave Dave had to come and tow his vehicle for the second time in as many weeks. We also had to push it a bit which is about as fun as you’re imagining, which is probably why I nearly let Broken Botch stand in for me.
Tom, Jethro and I set off a little while later, which was really very late indeed. Fortunately, the journey was pretty uneventful. There is genuinely nothing interesting to say about it. We left, we drove, we listened to the radio and we arrived. Everyone else seemed to have more fun with a few stops to rekindle lost friendships and other pithy formalities, but I’ll take deadpan silence over fun any day.
That evening was the usual assortment of SUSS rowdiness. People threw food around and generally mocked one another and, as ever, I went to bed shortly before everything properly kicked off, which mysteriously coincided with the return of Rob and Helen from their evening trip. Lots went on but I gather that one of the highlights was definitely Botch’s drunken search for a light switch.
We kicked off the next morning at around 9:00, ate breakfast and continued to sit around generally faffing and hoping that no-one with real enthusiasm would notice that we weren’t doing anything and make us go caving. We failed and despite Creg’s fervent desire to swap with me so that he could do some SRT instead of the horizontal trip he had been coerced into I foolishly ended up with Helen, Rob, Sam and Molly on a trip down Dale Head Pot.
We packed up and drove for a little under half an hour whilst eating some chocolates that I can only assume are used by dentists as a method for extracting teeth. When we arrived I was delighted to discover that Helen was more apprehensive about going caving than I was because of her horrible damp undersuit. Well haven’t the tables turned Helen, now you know how it feels. The entrance is a pleasantly brief five-minute walk from the road so we were underground a little before 11:00 which isn’t ad as these things go.
What is bad is the sodding entrance to the cave. There’s a brief pitch into the shake-hole followed by a free-climbable scaffold ladder which brings you to 10 glorious metres of flat out crawling where you can’t turn your head and wouldn’t want to anyway because t do so you would have to dredge it through the three inches of water that you’re lying in. This is all exacerbated of course by taking five people on the trip. The British reputation for queuing would be in tatters if you had to wait I line in Tesco’s like that. Plus you can’t see what’s ahead of you because you have to push a tackle sack of either rope or SRT kits in front of you so every so often you hit a rock or an entire wall and have very little conception of which way to move in order to progress. But wait. There’s more, you had to do SRT to get in but now you’re pushing a bag of kits through the crawl. How did that happen? Well, you get to take your SRT kit off on a tiny ledge onto which the stream directly flows. Meaning you’re basically drenched before you’ve even started.
That said once you’ve made I through the cave’s frankly appalling opening gambit there’s actually a fairly decent and sporting bit of caving to be done. The crawl widens out so that you can use your hands and knees and then you can even walk with a luxuriously stooped posture. Incidentally the description Helen and Rob had printed out for us to navigate by used the words stoop and crawl in basically every sentence, so I was really looking forward to that particular set of challenges. The passage continues like this for a while before widening out into a proper rift which is followed by a brief but very entertaining series of cascades.
Whilst the cascades are fun they come rather inconveniently just before the pitches start. So you get wet, have enough time to dry off and then soak yourself again just before you get to sit atop a boulder choke waiting for everyone else to clear the pitches. Once again five people is probably a few too many for this particular cave because that wait gets pretty damn cold. Once you’re on the pitches though they’re pretty cool. Not huge, but large and spacious enough to be impressive. Plus we did it all on lovely smooth 8mm rope which is just better. There’s two sets of pitches and of the two the second is definitely the best. The re-belays are each in really cool spots, one allows you to sit in a big alcove in the cave wall and the second essentially perches you in a sort of suspended rift which you traverse a short distance through. There’s a heck of a draft in it but it’s a cool place to sit while you’re waiting for the “rope free” call. The downside of the cooler pitches is that they take the term a rather literally, aside from the draft there is a lot of water that’s not all that easy to avoid and again five people makes for a fair bit of queuing.
As much was evidenced when we reached the end of this series of pitches as there was a fair amount of shivering going on. After a quick snack we decided to break in two. Rob and I would persevere a little further to prevent getting colder whilst Helen, Sam and Molly would start straight back up.
The next part of the cave was pretty cool if extremely muddy. There was an interesting squeeze at the beginning followed by a couple of small traverses and a fair bit of free climbing. All of which I began to feel was a little sketchy both I and all of the surfaces had become. When we came to a second squeeze I decided to pack t in conscious that I was actually pretty knackered and was probably going to suck at free climbing back up. Rob pressed on a little further and discovered that we were pretty much at the end of the cave anyway and I turned around to prove myself right about muddy free-climbs.
Rob caught up to me as I was starting my ascent through the pitches again and continued to bite at my heels the whole way up despite having to de-rig because I suck at prussiking. I was flagging pretty seriously and stuff like the suspended rift turned from awesome to irritating pretty quickly and there was a lot of quiet swearing, which you couldn’t hear anyway because of all the water falling directly onto your skull most of the way up. This, of course, was all prior to the point that Rob handed me a tackle sack, so that was nice. I also managed to fall maybe two meters when my croll mysteriously undid itself at the start of a pitch. I was pretty tired at the time and couldn’t really work out what had happened. In retrospect I suspect that in my hazy delirium and fervent desire to not be in a cave I simply forgot to close it. All that being said we did gain a fair bit of ground of the others and Helen very kindly waited at the top of the final pitch with the water bottle. Once Rob caught up we removed our SRT kits and pressed on through the the good bit of the cave.
Rob chose this point in time to begin belting out a medley of 90s classics to help raise our spirits. Sam and Molly had gone on ahead whilst Helen had waited for us and I am me, so I guess he maybe made Helen feel a little better. There was much surprise when I suggested we sing Ballroom Blitz instead because glam rock is the last thing either of my compatriots expected to be my thing. A fair assessment based on the evidence presented. This all passed the time rather well and we flew through the rest of the cave pretty quickly until we hit the dreaded flat-out crawl.
This showdown had been one of those inevitable things, like the Jeremy Clarkson getting dropped from the BBC or the Cold War. None of us were looking forward to it, but none of us had a choice and somehow the way back managed to be much worse. Its hard to tell whether there was more water, whether us going upstream created a series of miniature dams or whether we were simply too tired to keep ourselves out of the water this time but whatever the case it was a miserable slog full of panting, wheezing, more quiet swearing and growing muscle cramp.
Once out, we climbed the scaffold donned our SRT kits and left the shake-hole. I sat in a vaguely humanoid heap for a moment at the top and apologised to Rob for being a little slow and thanked him for his patience if not for his musical stylings. We got changed and went back to the hut whilst drinking from Rob’s inexhaustible supply of cherry cola and munching forlornly on soggy double decker bars. I had a good time overall, I would say that we all did, but some small part of me does still wish that I had listened to Creg.
We sat around in the hut for a while waiting for a free shower cubicle, recovering from our various bruises and discussing the trips that we’d been on, which had included visits to King Pot and Ireby Fell. I soon discovered that I had really messed up my knees somehow and walked with a slight limp that no one had the sympathy to notice. They were probably too busy watching Jethro go ginger courtesy of Rachael for the second year running. I’m not sure why he allowed that to happen in the first place, leave alone a second time.
Once everyone was cleaned and changed we started an excellent dinner of pulled pork sandwiches and best of all we didn’t have to walk anywhere to get them or sit and wait in a pub for hours whilst famished, because Gamble in his great wisdom had hired caterers. This is a good plan, we should do this more. The food was great and more importantly plentiful. When we were done we retired to another room where we began the various presentations. Benjy gave a great talk on his expedition to Myanmar and Rostam spoke at length about his adventures in the deep south of the USA. I then did the awards which seemed to be well received, which keeps happening despite my clear intent to offend as many people as possible. I guess I’ll just have to try harder next time. I was also flattered to receive an award for best article in the SUSS journal which I remain certain I didn’t deserve, but as it came with a free prize I wasn’t anxious to turn it down.
These festivities were followed by the highlight of all annual dinners; the Condiment Race. There’s a video out there somewhere, but the long and short of it was that Molly demolished everything and everyone without batting an eye. Leo’s back-up career as a carer is in shreds. And Jreg, well I’ll let the video speak for Jreg, because even I can’t find the words to describe that natural disaster.
The evening continued with drinking and merriment which thankfully was contained to the room next to me. Once everyone finished singing at the top of their lungs, they moved into my nice quiet room and I did the only thing I know how to do when faced with social interaction and went to bed.
I gather that Friday was the louder night but Saturday was not without its, shall we call them events? The next morning started a little later, a few people went caving, a few went for a walk and a few of us stayed behind to work on dissertations and trip reports. As I write this last paragraph everyone is returning home from their happy sojourns and having a nice chat on the sofas next to me. All this talk of glitter-bombing Rachael’s car is sounding a little sociable, if it didn’t sound hilarious now would probably be another good opportunity to go to bed. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year, which I am thoroughly looking forward to, no pressure Sam.
In the time since I finished this, Sam has completed a trip report on the same excursion which actually describes the cave rather than venting the author’s worldly frustrations, which can be found here. Additionally, if you enjoy slapstick comedy our New Chairman, Nat, demonstrates the prowess that surely led to her election here.