If I’m being perfectly honest, which the law of averages states that I have to be eventually, I’d have to say that I’ve not been on that many caving weekends lately. Its possible therefore that I’ve lost some of the acclimatization that I picked up last year. The weekend I’m about to describe was really very good, but equally it was frequently, really very painful.
It began normally enough; a lengthy drive to the Mendips that I mostly slept through was occasionally punctuated by sing-alongs of Queen and Disney favourites and more Haribo that was strictly reasonable. Upon arrival we unpacked our sleeping bags and made for the party, looking for a good time. Unfortunately Sam Goodyear was there so I can’t say we found one. Instead the early part of the night was spent a tad forlornly, lamenting the presence of the worlds only human-Chihuahua cross breed, until some of the Southampton and Exeter members took an interest in us. Sam took the trouble to describe me as Mr Miserable to his new Southampton buddies and I pointed out that he only ever sees me being miserable when he’s about, they all laughed so I presume he feels right at home.
I retired to bed pretty early, as I’m not a big drinker (a fact which garners me truly endless grief.) I gather the night picked up a bit when I left, or rather I suppose, it picked up a bit because I left. Still I had a lovely sleep, which I gather wasn’t the case for everyone. Gamble lasted the entire night, as in, Gamble didn’t go to bed at all. Instead he went for a swim in a puddle and failed to slack line with a few of his new buddies. Incidentally if you’re reading this Gamble; Will and I are the club insomniacs. Get your own thing.
The next morning was remarkably coherent, everyone chipped in on the breakfast front and everyone liked that I practically burnt the bacon. We had to rush a bit to be ready for expedition training. Most of SUSS began with rigging and bolting, though Tom went to teach SRT to everyone else’s freshers. A BEC member named Chris checked first that we understood the basics of knots and rigging before letting us have a go on some of the more fun equipment. We each had a go at drilling and hammering a spit and took turns to hold the rock still (a good practice to get into, as we all know that if the earth is not properly braced and steadied under ground in a expedition chaos theory states that earthquakes start in San Andreas). Now this trip report isn’t intended to solely take the piss out of Goodyear (though I will admit it is something of an ancillary aim), but I have noted that in an existing trip report he criticised us for splitting the rock we were hammering, forgetting in his pretentious hubris that he hammered that rock as much as any of the rest of us. In the end of course it was me who actually split the thing, and as I did so a second time moments later with the drill I can only presume that the boulder was overwhelmed by the sheer weight of testosterone and general manliness I exhibited throughout proceedings.
We then moved on to pastures new and learnt some surveying. This took the form of a brief lecture followed by a practice course around the BEC hut. Jethro, having marginally more experience went off of try a disto. So it remained for Gamble, Helen and I to duke it out with Rachael and a girl from Southampton for the grand title of “best team at surveying an arbitrary course around a building that is far easier than doing it underground especially with the professional assistance provided”. There were many trials and tribulations to this endeavour; a combined rather than separate compass and clinomter, excessive scaffold to throw off compass readings, and animosity from our opponents. The latter manifested most notably when the otherwise amicable Southamptonite saw fit to wipe her muddy trousers on me when I jokingly stole her clinometer reading to avoid lying in the mud she’d just got out of, even though I’d already taken the reading from the other end. Moreover, I was wearing easily washed synthetic trousers where she had to get mud and grass stains out of jeans, so who’s laughing now? Huh? It ain’t you!!
In the end the SUSS all stars took the crown with a discrepancy of 4ish metres to the other teams 11ish. Though I gather our clino readings were a fair way off so I’ll try not to be too boastful, even if we did win by miles WOOOOOOOOOO!! Our score also proved to be the most accurate of the entire weekend, as compared to the worst, suck it losers. You may have noted that the teams were uneven, but some of the other team’s measurements were taken by a pro to balance the numbers. Which only makes their defeat more humiliating. Hehehe.
This was followed by a relaxing afternoon wherein we sat in the living room and chatted and Jethro and I fought over comfortable seats (I claim a pyrrhic victory here, if only because I brought Jethro close to tears by threatening to melt his Mars Bar). Before heading outside for a go on the slack lines. Most of us were terrible and it was a bit wet to seriously practice as beginners. Instead we contented ourselves by attempting to make Jethro fall off and attempting a few less demanding tricks. Herein lies the first of my attempts at self-harm, whilst attempting to suspend myself above the line with my arms, in a sitting position I began to go over backwards. Rather than doing the sensible thing and letting go I simply allowed myself to plummet backwards head over heels and crack my skull on the one bit of the floor that wasn’t wet and by extension wasn’t soft. It really hurt and sympathy was not forthcoming despite my resting my bodyweight on my neck and tottering not insignificantly as I attempted to stand again. No big deal I suppose.
We retired to the hut shortly thereafter to prepare a delightful dinner of bangers and mash. Sam had just left so we had reason to celebrate and be merry. Sadly Jethro had left all the potatoes behind so we made do with heaps of Yorkshire puddings, fortunately there was enough of everything else that no-one went hungry. The meal was very good, mainly I think due to the gravy. We cleaned up promptly and everyone but me prepared to get drunk. Of course this didn’t stop me it rarely has.
We visited the Pub down the road before the real drinking began however. The walk there, and indeed back, was treacherous as the dense fog made it feel like we were visiting the town from Silent Hill. Whilst there we mainly drank an ale aptly named Potholer, which was rather good and discussed several possible ideas for CHECC themes. The precise details of which shall remain under wraps to avoid the prying eyes of the public. Some though were genuinely amusing. We departed after a short while to find that the fog had not lifted at all, and as we walked I looked longingly back at one of the few establishments left in the country that hasn’t succumbed entirely to the gastro fad.
Everyone filtered back in as we began a game of ring of fire, eager for more of what had made the first night so entertaining for those who had stayed awake long enough to see it. Even one Exeter caver who had spent the entire day avoiding all sensory input due to a hangover, that from the way he said it sounded like it would have floored Steve Tyler, had recovered and was keen to participate. The game proved fun with several enjoyable extra rules including ‘flood’ and the little green man; which saw us leaping violently off the floor and fetching small viridian companions from various distant locations. The buddy system also proved comedically fruitful when I foolishly paired myself with Jethro, not realising that though he would have to drink when I did the opposite was also applicable. Needless to say I swore often, loudly and violently. Until a rule was introduced which punished expletives with alcohol, at which point Jethro started and I had to find more inventive and descriptive ways to reprimand my so-called “buddy”. I prayed to the gods for an opportunity for revenge.
We then played another game the name of which eludes me but it involves a pyramid of cards, numerous nominations and the loser “riding the bus”. I’m sure you’ve heard of it if you’ve ever drunk with any students in your life. Jethro and myself ended up riding said bus , and though I didn’t get off lightly, Jethro suffered significantly worse, it would seem the gods are very quick these days. That said Jethro’s drink was nicer than mine as I mostly ended up drinking Tom’s leftover scrumpy. I had maybe two pints of that and it felt like something had died in my esophagous, Tom finished most of the rest of the bottle. I’m amazed he retains the capacity to speak now, let alone at the time. That bottle, it would seem, was his attempt at offing himself.
The night took a new turn when the drinking games ended and the caving games began. We started with the squeezes in the bannister of the BEC. Jethro was I think the first of us, attempting the third hardest for a short while before capitulating. He then practically fell through the next one down, which allowed us to convince him to try the harder one again. This time, less a shirt with a lot of encouragement and a little more vegetable oil than he was comfortable with, our Chairman made it. I went next. I had already succeeded in rescuing a little green man from the clutches of the second hardest level, it was time for the worst. My second attempt to kill myself loomed near.
My head fit through, which was promising, as that step had eluded several before me. I then got my first shoulder through, but the second proved tricky. An experienced BEC member suggested I try for a leg first. Oh how I wish I’d told him to get lost. With a little pulling I got my leg through, then my other shoulder came more naturally. And I moved to get my arse through. Now, I have a rather bendy sternum thanks to a genetic condition which causes it to protrude slightly, apparently the outside of my pelvis is remarkably flexible too as it made it but the inner part which in theory is thinner got stuck. It was not the only bit of me that got stuck. Ohhh no, every male caver knows there are certain parts of his anatomy that he must not wedge in anything, and though I had not wedged much I had got enough through for the pain to be legitimately excruciating. What happened next remains a little fuzzy in my mind, but as I recall the pain grew worse and I moved from calm, to shouty, to slightly panicky and in this final stage my good friends realised that the drunken encouragement was not going to see me through this and rushed to unscrew the board the held my future children in its vice-like grip. Emerging from the gap I fell on to the stairs gingerly stood up and attempted to walk to the bedroom for a lie down. Attention left me at this point, but had anyone been observing they would have seen me stumble into several walls and furnishings, as the pain was such to cause really quite extreme dizziness and nausea. To add insult to injury, in the confusion I had torn my newly acquired SUSS shirt. If only someone had ordered them earlier it might have lasted longer.
About 20 minutes later I had recovered sufficiently to stand with only mild pain and re-joined the group. Only to find Gamble and Rachael completing the very squeeze that had defeated me. I take solace in the fact that for the first time in my entire life I am no longer “the skinny one”, I am now merely skinnyish.
Next was the classic ladder game. The two Toms succeeded at this along with several members of other clubs. Jethro and I tried but again Jethro proved too wide (read fat) to get far and I found myself hamstrung by the pain of my previous encounter. Despite several attempts I was resolutely beaten. I will win when we next meet inanimate climbing mechanism, mark my words. Gamble was the true hero of the night succeeding at nearly everything, I can only presume that there’s a snake somewhere in his family tree he even looks a bit like he belongs in Slytherin. The only thing that stopped him was an attempt to do the ladder challenge backwards, i.e. feet first, he insisted it was possible and that he was nearly there, but I was both outside looking in and less drunk, I suspect he may have been fooling himself. All credit for trying though. In the corner two girls attempted to do the ladder challenge vertically moving into each new rung before fully leaving the last one. One got stuck and the ladder had to be removed from the wall, but if Gamble can be said to be part snake, they were anacondas in people costumes. I left shortly thereafter still dizzy and still in pain and went to sleep.
The next morning started an hour or so later than planned, which bothered precisely noone. We broke our fasts and packed up to leave. Before driving out to Swildons. We changed and made our way over and it was pleasant not to be burdened by full SRT kit. My still injured (and now quite severely bruised) anatomy was also thankful for the lack of rope work.
We found the “cave” to be very busy once we got down there, encountering several different groups while we were down there. Most of the trip was comparatively uneventful, which is not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable, far from it. But the steady streamway provides little in the way of interesting description. Several small free climbs liven up the walk and the cave is a nice balance of wetness and movement which keeps you at a pleasant ambient temperature. One such free climb saw Jethro slip and fall into a large pool of water. As I followed and laughed heartily at his misfortune I too slipped but managed to catch myself with my arms before I actually fell in and proved the ironic victim of my own snark. Uncertain as to whether I could get back off my arms and walk down properly, I opted to voluntarily jump into the pool as its harder to mock me if I made the choice to be wet.
Gamble also belayed us off a ladder which was very nice of him and the excess of people in the cave meant we had to wait around a bit longer than we’d have liked but apart from that there is little to speak of until we reached the sump. WE had planned to go all the way through the cave that day, but as I said we got up late so the new plan was to come this far and go back the way we came. This meant that the sump itself was technically optional. I was quietly determined to do it due to an unpleasant experience with a rare sump in JH shaking me a bit and a consequent desire to prove I could to it with less help and less spluttering. That same encounter made me rather nervous of this fresh challenge. As a result, though I was first to enter the water after our food and water break, I was only the third to pass through the sump, after Gamble and Helen. Rachael followed soon after and we all emerged with a look that said, “Was that it?” You see unlike JH this sump gives you a rope to pull on, allows you to acclimatize to the water temperature and is tackled face down. That means less shock, less water in your nose and none of those horrifying moments when your feet aren’t getting any traction to push you forwards. Another group met us on the other side so we went for a little wander to keep warm while they tackled the sump.
We didn’t find much of interest so we headed back through quickly, the sump wasn’t nearly as intimidating the second time, it was however just as cold so once through we didn’t hang about. I should clarify at this point that Tom1 didn’t come with us through the sump as he’s already done it several times and Jethro didn’t follow us because hes a massive wuss and the worst of all wimps. I made sure to point this out to him as we made our way back up through the streamway by observing how dry he looked. Isn’t that strange how you look dry Jethro? Even though you did the sump with the rest of us you look very Dry. I don’t understand how you’re so DRY. Whats the secret to your impeccable levels of UTTER DRYNESS!?!?
The exit was slow as we now behind a larger group, but after a while they let us pass. We exited in the middle of the afternoon and as we made our way back across the fields I took extra vengeance on Jethro with Tom’s aid by repeatedly dragging him to the ground after noticing that he ran away any time I ran towards him. He got me a couple of times too, but again I emerged victorious with a final devastating rugby tackle that brought him down faster than McDonalds can bring down the Amazon.
We changed, returned to the BEC and paid up our fees, including Sam’s as he claimed to have run out of cash and swore to pay SUSS back upon returning home. I don’t believe we’ve seen that payment Sam. Allow me to assure you that Jethro’s new election to the treasurer role does not make you safe, the payment was promised on my watch and I will have it. Nor does your distance from the treasury; long shots are after all what the coriolis effect is for. And you’ll be longing for me to pull the trigger anyway after you’ve watched your entire world and all you love burn before your very eyes. No its not just a fiver Sam, its MY fiver.
And with that we merrily made our way back North. You know…that place where all the caves are. Rachael slept through most of the journey once I took the front seat and missed the exciting action as I picked songs to listen to and sweated as we waited to see if my iPod battery would hold out long enough for us to hear them, luckily it just barely made the journey. Oh and Jethro forgot that his favourite song in all the world, was his favourite song in all the world. His realisation was a curious sight to behold. Upon arriving home we ordered curry and attempted to introduce Jethro to the Muppets. Unfortunately as I don’t have a functioning copy of the TV show or Muppet Treasure Island and we weren’t in a seasonal mood for a Christmas Carol we watched the original Muppet Movie. It turns out that’s the worst possible way to introduce someone to the Muppets. Avoid it, apparently the genius of Jim Henson was having an off day as literally nothing happened for an hour and a half. Rest assured we’ll find another way to bring Jethro into the light soon.
Well that was…comprehensive, sorry about that. That said it was, all in all, a solid weekend, even if I still have a painful lump in an unfortunate place and have to walk up steep stairs a bit awkwardly.