I usually feel personally offended when the sun dares to peak out from the thick cover of the British clouds and hurts my precious pupils, but that day the sun was more than welcome, warming us up while we were lazily changing in front of Winnats’ head. Who the fuck is this Winnats anyways? What kind of name is that? Too shit to be a winner, too boring to be a brat.
But I digress.
We made our way to the cave, reaching the mass of boulders that constitutes its entrance, both Jack and Jreg enthusiastic about the trip that was about to unfold, Jack even claiming this cave was his favourite. I stepped in with confidence. Now the cave was probably having a hard day, going through a rough patch of its life, who are we to judge? Being eaten by water, little by little, doesn’t exactly sound like a perfect life. Whatever frustration Winnats was battling through, it was getting ready to pour it all on us.
Or maybe it was just a douchebag cave. Who knows.
A crawl greets us at the very entrance, which I only mildly complained about; followed by a few vertical squeezes, which we overcame with ease. But gravity is the kind of friend that comes with terms and conditions, “only here for you half the time” written in small letters; the thought that those squeezes will certainly not be as fun on the way back floated around my mind for a while. The first 30 minutes were definitely brilliant and spectacularly boosted our moods.
The final crawl through muddy waters ends in a fairly painful squeeze which Michael and I wriggled through with an ogre’s grunts, but it failed to destroy his positivity (not much can) or mine.
If God existed and the bees weren’t dying, the cave would have ended there, we would have headed back content and enthusiastic, but our world is cold and cruel. Instead, we walked into a small chamber with a single rope against the wall, and so the SRT part of the cave began. We put our kits on and prusiked up the first rope, followed shortly after by a risky traverse whose ending felt like it was going to snap our feet off. The more we travelled in the cave, the louder the thunder of water echoed on the walls, until we eventually arrived to a chamber with water pouring down its centre; we stayed sheltered while Jack quickly set up the first rope, feeling the cold slowly creeping through our flesh. Now I’m not too sure my figures are exact, but it went down approximately a shitton of meters, and had a waterfall of about fuckass strength. Needless to say, that descent wasn’t my favourite, and I beautifully failed at both going up and down the rope. On the way there, I completely forgot that you weren’t actually supposed to unclip a deviation and let it go, which I – evidently – did. I then got completely stuck at an easy rebelay, following Jack’s advice wrongly and ended up having Jreg pull me up so that I could un-clip my cow’s tail. I’ll just blame those two ridiculous errors on the fact I hadn’t actually practiced SRT for two months prior to the trip. Does that mean I feel like less of an idiot? No, no it doesn’t.
Somehow, the way up was even worse. But I’ll come back to that.
The two next rope descent things (still haven’t caught up with the caving lingo, appy polly loggies) weren’t as tedious, but were still falling right through waterfalls, which got us colder by the minute. At least descending a rope only took us a few minutes; as soon as we reached the bottom of the cave I began expressing my concern (french for “complaining obnoxiously”) about the fact that pruseking up the ropes through the waterfalls was going to take a considerably longer amount of time, and that the crippling cold we were all experiencing was only going to get worse. The others argued that pruseking would at least heat us up.
It didn’t heat me up. I realised it about halfway through the first ascent, with freezing water pouring down my face and shaking body; I let my french instincts take over and started unceremoniously swearing. I rested while waiting for Michael at the top, who hugged me and instantly reassured me – with his usual grin – that he was also Freaking the Fuck Out.
I went up the second rope in the exact same way, and switched my footloop with Michael at the top, since mine was too long and his was too short.
We were back at the cursed rope; thinking that I could out-smart the waterfall, I started walking up the side of the wall instead of pruseking up the rope; when I couldn’t walk any longer I stepped into the bare centre, and did what any respectable engineer could have anticipated (Rossiter style): I swung through the waterfall. I began to scream that swinging at full speed with no control whatsoever through a waterfall when I was already frozen to the bone won the glorious award for the Worse Feeling Experienced Yet, but the cave was just desperate to prove me wrong and top itself.
I got stuck on the deviation, unable to push the rope through since my arms have the strength of a weak sloth fetus, slowly turning into a frustrated crying mess while Jreg was gently trying to give me advice from a few meters above. Nothing seemed to work, the angle of the rope meant I couldn’t simply snap my chest jammer over the karabiner, the walls on each sides of me preventing me to slam myself in the opposite direction to unhook the rope like I did in the previous ascents. After thirty minutes of this ridiculous endeavour, Jack shouted he was going to help me out and prusseked up the rope quickly. He climbed in between my legs to check on the situation; at that point my brain was begging me to throw a sarcastic comment at the absurdity of the situation, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to poke fun at the guy who was literally going to rescue me from a shitty situation I had thrown myself in. After assessing the problem with calm, he decided to do it “the old fashioned way” and asked Jreg to slide a knife along the rope. I caught it as it was hurtling towards us; my love for knives and anything sharp took over and I asked Jack if I could cut the deviation’s rope. He shrugged and I started to cut through, until the rope snapped and we both violently slammed into the opposite wall, right underneath the waterfall. I started growling at the water while Jreg let a scream of relief and Jack vividly encouraged me to prusek up the few meters left, which I did. I climbed up the border, feeling quite shaken while Jreg congratulated me and handed me a twix bar when I was sitting on the last floor at last. He comforted me with a hug and the tales of his fuckups, while Michael was de-rigging and getting up the hated pit.
We finally left the soothing sound of the tumbling water behind us, beaten and drenched, pleased to slip out of our SRT kit and start walking towards the heavenly exit.
But my troubles weren’t over; I had almost forgotten the upward squeezes that were patiently waiting for my body completely devoid of energy. The three boys helped me up the climbs, needing both Jack pushing me up and Jreg pulling me up at once to get through the toughest one; but the only thing I could feel was the relief of being far from the terrifying waterfalls, and feeling the heat slowly rise in my petrified body. As we walked I watched in awe Jreg throw around and haul with ease the three bags containing our kit, while I was barely able to lift them. We eventually made it to the final crawl, which had a gentle slope making it noticeably more irritating on the way out.
The night had already wrapped itself across the peaks when we stepped out; being out of this cave was surreal, although the bite of cold was very concrete. The feeling wouldn’t leave my bones until many hours later, as I was happily dozing off in a crowded movie night in Fir Street.
So remember, kids – waterfalls are the spawn of the devil, insulting a cave somehow doesn’t make it easier, and knives are fucking great.