Foreword

This report has been ‘in the works’ for a long time, and thus much of what I have to say is now faded memories of the truth. I have striven to present a true and honest depiction of that days events, but it may be that I am so mentally damaged so as to repress some of it. I hope that any falsehoods contained within my account do not cause too much distress. 
The fact that this early and influential trip stuck with me is not in doubt.

______________________

Many a moon has passed since that fateful day. My confidence, experience and understanding have grown to levels I couldn’t have imagined, but nothing could have saved me from the calamity of a Wasteman.


It was my fourth trip, and myself, Botch, Rachel, Corin, and some scottish guy called ‘Hugh’ set off as bright and early as 11-ish. We parked Pedro in a layby so as to give country drivers some passing amusement and after a good bit of old-fashioned faff, we set off into the woods. Clambering along over the grand obstacles of two fallen trees, and some loose stones, we reached the desired orifice of the Earth and admired the days quality.
So-far so-good.

Botch ventured inside and rigged up whilst we lounged, enjoying the October sun. Once we vaguely heard his cries, we slithered inside to reach the pitch. I believe that I entered first, but the quantity and size of the spiders strung about the entrance were of much greater significance to me than the order of entry.
Putting my new SRT skills to work, the short descent of the first (and only) pitch was no problem and I proudly took just 5 minutes to descend. Botch and I waited for Corin, who had trained at the SRT tower once, and ‘Scotty’, who had “done some abseiling before” and had “been underground plenty”, to join us with Rachel’s help.

Botch described to us his plan:
“We’ll take a little detour to look at a nice sump, then we go through a bit of a squeeze to the streamway. We follow that for a couple metres and then we go through a bit of a grim bit before we crawl through some sandy stuff to leave. Don’t worry, this is a pretty good fresher cave if I remember rightly”
Sure.

We took turns at a small squeezy-climb to get into the main section of cave, which passed by a slowly rotting piece of venerable wood which I spotted as a convenient handhold. I began to gangle through the drop, using the wood to…
“MICHAEL, DON’T USE THAT WOOD AS A HANDHOLD” cried Botch
…throwing myself past the wood, limbs autonomously catching me on the rocks to avoid falling, I realized why: some distant ancestor of man had used that wood to prop-up the pile of rocks that my peers now sat atop, the same pile that would slide down on top of me if unfavourably disturbed.
“Ah, better be careful about stuff like that” I thought, cataloguing the experience into my mental ‘How-to-die whilst caving’ folder.

Once we’d all done some gravity-assisted climbing we began our leftward detour through the standard Streaks tunnel: crawling height, 2-6 inches of fast-flowing water, 2 inch scallops on every surface.  The passage split into two tight, but still sharp, passages and Botch assured us that they were both about as-easy, and recombined at the other end. Still full of enthusiasm I raced Hugh to the other end as he confessed to me that he’d not actually abseiled alone before, and that this was actually his second caving trip. He seemed to be enjoying it though, so I supposed it was fine.

We followed more Streak passage, now split centrally by a deeper flow of icy water which we sensibly straddled at the cost of our knees (‘knee pads’ – who needs em’?). Passing over a large pool, which we inevitably filled our wellies with, we followed Botch for many minutes until he confessed that “this might not be the right way”.
‘Okay, no problem, we’ll just head back until we spot a turning we missed’ I thought cooly.
We got back to the large pool and spotted an obvious turning that almost immediately terminated in a staggeringly beautiful sump. Whilst we admired the clarity of the pool below us, we began to realize that we were very cold, and by ‘we’ I mostly mean ‘me’. 

Now, I expect that the others would complain that they were cold as well, and they’re probably right, but as I discovered soon-thereafter there’s a point of ‘cold’ where you cease to consciously care about anything else.
It becomes the driving factor in everything you do:
‘better climb over that rock’ – one step closer to being out and warm.
‘better take this slightly harder route’- maybe the challenge will warm me up a bit.
‘better spend some time complaining about how cold I am’ – inflicting some measure of this misery on my friends may make me feel slightly better about it. [1]

Once our interested gazes had become glazed over, we moved onwards back to the ‘actual’ route out of the cave.
This time around I took the other split of the passage, which turned out to be vastly easier than the first, and we allowed ourselves a blissful moment of uprightness before dutifully bending our knees to the floor for more crawling. 

Eventually we arrived at ‘the tricky squeeze’ that we’d been promised during the journey thus far which had sounded quite exciting, and thus warm. Naturally, I volunteered to be the first fresher through and I distinctly remember being quite pleased with my ‘incremental wedging’ technique through the tight, but blissfully short, ascent. Joining Botch at the top, I foolishly lay into a recess in the side of the passage, allowing as much conduction of my heat into the cave wall as if I’d taken a block of ice as a lover. This proved to be an even worse technique, as I think it’s fair to say that Corin struggled with the squeeze.
Sometimes ‘struggling with a squeeze’ can mean some pain, or can confer some measure of increasing fatigue. In this instance it meant becoming horribly, excruciatingly stuck. Increasingly cooling, we all did our part to help him out: some of us providing physical assistance, others (most valiantly) calling out advice. 

The competent members of our group inevitably helped Corin out, and he collapsed over the top of the climb. As he recovered, Hugh followed in Corin’s lead: learning from what he’d seen already and using Rachel for leverage over the lip of the climb. As Rachel summited, I finally ventured out of my alcove and stimulated my thermoreceptors into stark realization. Wrought with cold we clambered onwards, through a muddy section of passage, and came out into the streaks streamway.
As the leaders debated the way, we appreciated the space for movement: performing a majestic rendition of the “bugger me it’s cold” dance. Recalling that the way forwards ventured further upstream we strolled towards a narrowing section of streamway sided by rotting sandbags, with an encouraging cry of “This way” from Botch.


Following the water’s course, we toppled over inescapably as the roof lowered, and lowered, and lowered. Eventually the only way onwards was to retrace our steps slightly to a damp side-passage and continue to crawl for several minutes through some grim, muddy phreatics until we came upon an aven with no clear way on. 

“Erm… do you remember this bit?” Botch muttered to Rachel.
“No, I didn’t recognise any of that to be honest” admitted Rachel.

By this point, about 2 hours into our debacle, I just wanted to curl up and think of pre-infantile times: when the warmth was so easy to find and I had not yet considered the comparisons between caving and being a foetus. We about-faced and fell unto our knees: not in distress, as my heart desired, but to return from whence we came.

As we again squeezed past the mud-filled sandbags, our sombre gazes once-again found their way onto the streamway and we began looking for the real through-passage. Truthfully, most of us found a rock to sit on and shiver, since we had no idea where we were, but we shouted out ideas nonetheless.

After ‘we’ decided that the way definitely wasn’t anywhere downstream, we returned to the sandbags from whence we came to re-examine the false passage. As soon as we arrived Botch spied the true route, just the other side of the accursed sandbags and twice the size of the passage we had previously followed. 

With a muttered “My bad” from Botch we strolled through the briefly roomy tunnel and inevitably bent our knees to the ground in submission. The crawlspace, in some vindictive blessing from the gods, was floored with blissfully soft gravel: but was also wet and stagnant.

“oOo, we’re close now!” cheered Rachel. “Just one last damp squeeze and we’re pretty much there!”

Spurred onwards by the words of so-trusted a leader we rapidly bounced along to a dip in the floor, filled with water and evidently smoothed by the passing of our forebears. 

“A bit wetter than I remember” she admitted as I pushed my way through the tightest bit of the squeeze and into a dry, sandy room beyond.

Some moments of worry were shared about Corin’s ability to pass this one final obstacle, but his form had been refined by his prior conquests, and he popped straight through.

Still rattling with cold, but spurred on by the triumph over the caves wetness, we bundled along through the chamber into the final section of muddy stooping passage before we would reach the exit.

The tunnel gradually curved right, then took a sharp downwards turn left down a well-lubricated mud slope. 

Our minds fixed into imagining the exit, we euphorically slid down the slope. The slopes steep gradient left us little choice but to drop into the fast moving, 6inch deep streamway below. [2]

“Erm” squeaked Judas “was there another turning back there?” 

No-longer feeling the cold for the anger in my bones, I glanced about to my newly unified comrades. We wordlessly dropped to the painfully scalloped floor and looked downstream, watching the stream disappear into the distance.

After a too-brief conversation, we prostrated ourselves upon the scallops below: immediately filling our wellies, oversuits and souls with ice. 

Flat out, we shuffled our way downstream. 

Our tears mixed with the crystal clear water. 

Our knees shed their protective outer layers. 

Fine motor control became a distant memory.

Anger shrivelled and became self-loathing.

“I’m fucking cold” became a mantra of such power that I could have, at any moment, reached a nirvana so perfect as-to render me immobile with bliss. [3]

After perhaps 8 minutes, I was forced to hold my breath as the ceiling lowered towards the water, ensuring every last part of me could effectively be evaporated from. 

“T-tt-that was r-r-really shit” I near-sobbed.

“Gets worse” Botch managed.

Botch lay 10 metres ahead of me with his entire body contorted around a deepening bend of the waterway, gurgling gently. 

“Water’s a bit…” *glug* “…deep here. Dunno if…” *splutter* “… I can…” *slight drowning noises* “Nnn..nno, I don’t think that’s right way”

Our heads darted around frantically: our helmets colliding with the ceiling, our chins with the floor.

“What was that?” bellowed Corin, who had stopped before the ceiling-sucking and was now trying to stop Hugh from going through.

“I err…”
I glanced at Botch.
He nodded.

“We’re turning around” declared Corin as I closed my eyes.

Wills sapped and bodies broken, we were forced to face the oncoming water.

Through a timeless void we slithered: wordless and broken. 

And cold. 

So Cold.


Rachel was ready for us at the top of the muddy slope, once we had pushed and pulled each other up. 

She said something like “You guys okay? I didn’t think that looked like the right way” but her words where but frost on the breeze to my frozen ears. I was much more interested in other things: the bothy and haribos she brought.

It was a surreal moment of bonding for us five then.
I don’t know how long we huddled there, covered with our plastic bag to hold in what little warmth we had left, being fed by Rachel. I think I was probably the worst off, and for the first stretch of blurred time I existed in a state of delirium. 

“Is this what it’s always going to be like?” I remember saying. Or maybe I just thought it: I was pretty loopy for a while there.

Still shivering, but about as warm as we would get anytime soon, we unsheathed and realised that only our little bubble had gotten any warmer. We knew that the exit neared, and we were all very much ready to leave, so we pushed on as quick as we could manage: this time, Rachel leading the way.
Shortly, roots started appearing through the roof and the smell of the cave changed to that of diesel and dirt. The smell made me feel sick, but I knew that it meant my salvation.

After one last (preciously short) wrong-turn, the flat-out exit tube was gained. Though this entrance was crawling with life, I closed my eyes and writhed through the narrow gravel choke and gained the surface.
It was warmer, but it seemed that November had arrived whilst we journeyed underground.


I was ready to face the final challenge of getting re-dressed and re-warmed, but shouting from the exit tube was holding us back. Corin was stuck.
I considered suggesting that we leave my new friend there, and come back when warm: but by the time my mind had formed the idea the others where already in the process of digging the exit to be wider.

After shovelling several helmet-fulls of gravel out the hole, corin could squeeze through and the ordeal was over.

On the walk back to Pedro, Botch suggested the “extra challenge” of the roadside culvert. 

We told him to fuck off.

______________________

Postscript 

Corin has also ‘stuck’ as a fresher, though I fear that the Streaks trip caused him some internal damage as for some time he was afflicted by an acute case of ‘Caving once a weekend is enough’. [4]

‘Scottie’ became president of GUPA, and as we slowly expand SUSS’s borders northward he could prove a valuable ally. His admirable enthusiasm during our trials and tribulations was probably mostly due to his warmth, but I’d like to think that he’s still enjoying the caves that he can in Scotland.

Rachel drove Pedro to death, or something near,  and never-fails to be a stalwart leader: though sometimes she has used her leader-prowess for evil (Being more-than insistent with certain SUSS beverages at CHECC). Although she now lives in distant lands, untouched by nature’s subterranean blessings, her presence is always welcome and appreciated.

Botch is still a Wasteman, though he has now gathered some measure of respect about him. How he transcended the limitations of his skinny flesh, and became supreme chancellor of the Northern Caving Republic, I don’t know.
But I do know never to blindly trust him. I can never forget.

______________________

Notes

[1] Clearly this last affliction has never quite left me, for I made extensive use of the ‘cold’ page of my thesaurus for this trip report.

[2] A streamway is a main watercourse within a cave. Yes, watercourse: as-in “water flows there”.

[3] When I reach genuinely frightening levels of cold I set my mind on little self-delusional tangents.

[4] This curse also seems to have sat latent in my body, like a loose rock atop a climb, ready to strike at any time.

Trip was to Streaks Pot, in late October 2016.
The following days trip was to take the Christmas photo for the 2017 SUSS calendar.