It has been related to me for several months now by a few members of SUSS that Streaks Pot is a great trip. Like, really terrific. Just spectacular from start to finish. Some have even gone so far as to say, in hushed and furtive tones, that it may even redeem the rest of the miserly crawls that make up Stoney Middleton.
Well I’ve been now, and whilst it’s fair to say that elements are a step up from the rest of the dreck in Stoney, I can safely report that these individuals were, to a man, huffing some kind of paint thinners when they went down. Presumably their poor solvent-addled minds have since blocked out the trauma with falsified memories of fun, games and other such lark.
Time to set the record straight.
As is so often the case with SUSS we were a little late setting off. This was largely my fault because I only get in from work late and need to eat if I’m going caving. This is why I’ve not been on evening trips for ages and if you want me back you’ll just have to deal with it. That said we managed to fit in some good old-fashioned, home-grown general faff in too.
It was pushing 7:30 by the time Gamble, Liam, Mike and Myself actually left for the cave. Liam had control of the music and discovered that Kate Bush makes me want to die. I mean could Babooshka be a weirder song? . . . No, no it couldn’t. So that was a fun half hour.
Arriving at the layby we changed pretty quickly and headed up to the cave entrance, which took a little longer than we might perhaps have liked. We also bumped into some climbers on the way that looked at us in the manner that you might look at Gorillas in the zoo.
Liam rigged the one small pitch at the entrance with only one minor rub point so we all descended carefully. At the bottom we took off our SRT kits and attached them to the end of the rope. You see, our intent was to come out of a different entrance and then to return and haul all of the kit out. Doubtless the more astute among you will have worked out where that plot thread is going.
Once SRT stripped we started looking for the route on. Essentially there’s a long narrowish chamber into which the rope comes. In our attempt to find the exit, we went to one end, then the other, then back and then back again. The path isn’t all that obvious, as its quite a narrow climb that doesn’t really look as though it goes anywhere, and I’ve always felt subconsciously reluctant to look upwards for the route onwards. This foible has hamstrung me on a number of occasions, but I’m a caver dammit I’m supposed to go down. Nevertheless, this was not the start we’d hoped for.
Once you’ve found the route it becomes quite a promising little opening series. Several squeezy down-climbs that you’ve got to think about but aren’t actively dangerous. Basically it looks worse than it is, which always comes with a lovely feeling of accomplishment.
Once you reach the bottom, you’re past the good bit. Now we’re into classic Stoney territory, which for the uninitiated consists primarily of lots and lots of flat out crawling. The first burst of this splits in two and reunites pretty much in the main streamway.
It was here where everything started to go very wrong. The water level was obscenely low, which I would be fine with under any other circumstances but our navigational capacity rather depended on knowing which way was upstream and which way down. In the absence of any flowing water whatsoever we had no choice but to push everything until we found the way out.
Liam and Mike chose a passage and started off down it. Gamble and I waited in the main streamway where we could sit up to see what they found.
They found a rock.
It fell on Liam’s leg.
It fell off again so we didn’t have to deal with crush syndrome or anything but it gave us a brief scare and caused Liam some not inconsiderable pain. Even I expressed some mild concern as to his wellbeing, you know, briefly.
Wiped the smug, hyper-enthusiastic, Kate Bush loving smile off his face though.
We left that bit of tunnel and tried the one next to it.
It’s a flat out crawl that goes for ages. We pushed it for a while until Gamble decided, when it got even smaller, that he wasn’t convinced. Nor was this environment the best fit for Liam’s newly crippled leg. We turned around with some substantial effort and raced back out to somewhere we could sit up again. No fun was had.
We headed back and found a little passage off to the side. Which seemed to warrant investigation as it rang a bell for the people that had read the route description. It was another flat-out crawl but had the decency to be muddy and wet which eases up the strain on the elbows.
There’s a very pretty sump near the end of this section in a little side passage, but the broader path on peters out pretty soon after. So we turned around.
Back in the main streamway there were only two paths left open to us. Gamble tried the first and quickly discovered that it smelled of petrochemicals. Quite rightly he didn’t hang about.
With only one route left open to us we followed another (blissfully brief) flat out crawl we found sizeable chamber that was essentially a big boulder choke with no visible path onwards. Plus I found another corner of it that smelled of petrol so we left, again.
Gamble was suffering a bit from the bad air and things didn’t improve for him when he got stuck in the L-shaped entrance to that chamber. You go in head first and depending on whether you’re looking up or down when you do it can be very tight on the back. He was the last through and called for aid and I rushed to his aid. Much to everyone else’s surprise.
Side note: why is everyone surprised when this happens? I Know I’m a git, but I’m not a monster. If you’re scared or in pain I can put a lid on the sark until you’re safe again. I mean, it’s not like I recommend that you get into that situation near me, because the aftermath will be just hellish, but I’ll help you out at the time, if only so that I can mock you later. See the case of Liam immediately above.
Rant aside, Gamble was fairly firmly wedged. He seemed to have his torso pretty much wedged with all his weight painfully resting on his shoulder, but due to the shape of the passage and his position in it I couldn’t really see what was going on. At best help him think through what he was doing and maybe wedge a hand under his shoulder to ease the pain. In the end Gamble did make it out and I did nothing but throw away my reputation for cold-heartedness.
We were then presented with a choice, as it was getting on a bit. We could try and push a little further down one of the options we’d given up on, or return the way we’d come. Liam was remarkably keen to try the option that had nearly cost him a leg, as they hadn’t pushed it far at all, and I suspected from enthusiastic descriptions from other cavers that it was the really long flat out crawl, but was none too happy to fight that particular corner.
It won’t surprise any of you to learn that we opted to go back to our original entrance. Some might call it the cowards out. To which I would respond in the immortal words of Starscream in one of the worst films of the last decade: “Cowards live to fight another day.”
So think on that.
The climb out was pretty awkward, on the way down you could just sort of wedge yourself and slide down if you needed to, unsurprisingly gravity has something to say about doing it the other way. The footholds are limited and it’s difficult to even look down at some points to see where you’re putting your feet so there’s a persistent sense of trepidation. The final climb can only be tackled facing in one direction, if you face the other way which feels more natural to begin with then you run out of footholds and end up suspended by your elbows over nothing. It’s only a meter of nothing so it’s nothing too heavy but you can’t see down so it feels like an endless abyss.
Mike caught himself in that particular trap and I was sympathetic then too so screw all you naysayers.
After that we paused for a drink and before a brief prussick to the exit. I’d lead the way out so far but after Mike had ascended we prioritised Gamble for the last run as he was still nursing a substantial headache from whatever chemicals he’d run into. This all took longer than we might have liked due to the aforementioned rope rub making us take extra care with our prussicking. I hung about at Liam’s request to entertain him whilst he derigged and we finished up without further incident.
Which is just as well when you consider the torrent of incidents we experienced down there. Injuries, getting stuck, bad air, dodgy climbs, endless crawling, rope rub and a host of further issues like rotten beams that I glossed over to keep this under four pages.
None of the worst of which directly affected me curiously enough. Perhaps the universe for once felt that my nigh infinite misery was sufficient for the day. I suppose it was punishment enough for me to be going caving at all. Lucky me.
Basically it was a technical nightmare of a trip. Nothing went catastrophically irredeemably wrong, but nearly everything that could go wrong did. And we still have no idea where the bloody exit is.
To all of you who told me it was a great trip, Liam and Gamble could use some of those painkillers you were on. Kindly share and enjoy.