Despite only being around for the Sunday of Peak Freshers weekend, I still encountered a lot of really keen fresh faces (as well as some filled with a mild dread). I spent the morning helping Creg and Mark out with the classic get-to-know each other games, which was really fun. It was great to also be joined by Nottingham, which was a lovely way to get the new cavers immediately used to how close the uni caving community is. Caving clubs seem to be one of the few examples of uni sports clubs fostering friendly inter-relations (sometimes too friendly, admittedly) rather than tense rivalries, and it was nice to introduce the freshers to this.
I think the early start lent us a helping hand, as everyone was too bleary eyed to argue when we gave them instructions like “get into a circle and hold the hands of the people next to you”, or “tear up this single sheet of news paper in such a way that four people will fit through it”. Pretty soon everyone had got over, or got used to, their social awkwardness – lets admit it, this is fairly inescapable in the caving community. The morning culminated in the treasure hunt, where teams were sent to explore Castleton and retrieve the items which Creg demanded such as something for Botch to eat, something orange, or something Russian. Some teams performed pretty well, while others failed to find such simple things as a holly leaf! All in all, it was a great way to break the ice, and after a lovely dinner of vegetable soup it was time to swap over with the morning cavers and get underground.
Once everyone had got kitted up, Rachael, Creg and me took Zinab, James and Chris underground. None of our freshers seemed too nervous, in fact I think I was probably most nervous of all after Rachael told me I’d be leading the trip! So after I’d double and triple checked that I had spare batteries, a whistle, a knife, some food and water etc we set off through Castleton for Peak Cavern.
It quickly became clear that Rachael had been slightly misguided when she told me to lead, as I had never actually done the Peak round trip before and had no idea where we were going. After leading the freshers to the end of Buxton Water sump and trying to assuage their growing distrust in my sense of direction by showing them the dive line, I resolved to ask either Creg or Rachael where to go from then on.
We descended the ladder at Surprise View and wandered off to take a look at the far end of Buxton Water sump, which James was certain seemed free dive-able. All the freshers (and me!) did the little wet squeeze underneath the boulder going downstream, and Chris decided to do it going back upstream too despite the high water making it pretty unattractive. Everyone was pretty wet and cold by that point but still in good spirits so we obviously had some decent caver material in our group. We headed towards Ink Sump and came upon a short free dive, which I made Rachael do first – I’ve still got some way to go before being a confident leader. Once again all the freshers did it without hesitation, although we were all rather miffed to see Creg on the other side who had gone around the dry way (which Rachael had failed to mention to me!!).
After this we kept moving quickly to keep everyone warm. It was clear that everyone in the group was getting used to moving around underground because I was now struggling to keep up rather than slowing down to let people catch up! When it came to the slimy muddy crawly section, I noticed our three freshers hesitate for the first time. But once again everyone forged ahead with very little complaint, despite James telling me afterwards that he hates small spaces. I was very impressed with everyone’s willingness, as well as a little worried by their trust in me!
We crossed paths with the other groups who were underground a few times before we popped back out at the top of the ladder once again. No one said anything, but I think everyone (including me – I was knackered!) was pretty glad to be on the home stretch by then. We took a quick picture on Zinab’s disposable camera, which had been lucky to survive a leaky dry bag, just before passing back through the Mucky Ducks.
When we reached the show caves again, after about three hours underground, I would have expected the first time cavers to be eager to get out but they took their time looking around before we quietly passed a tour group on the way out. At the entrance to Peak, a slightly bemused looking tourist took another victory snap of us before we trudged back to the TSG to dry off.
All in all I had a great day, and I hope all the freshers who came along to give it a go had just as much fun as me. Thanks to everyone who came underground and made my trip so fun (even though I was embarrassingly achy the next day!)