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Published: December 23rd 2013
Time for something completely different
For most of my life the concept of caving has been an intriguing yet terrifying prospect. Earlier in the year I purchased a voucher for an outdoor activities day for Gemma and I for £50 instead of £260, among the activities listed was caving, climbing, gorge walking and abseiling. Gemma was keen to try the climbing and I the caving.
We'd completely forgotten that we had booked onto it until I received an email earlier this week with consent forms and injury waivers to sign.
We arrived at the predetermined meeting point in Calver and I waited for everyone else, we then drove up to Grindleford to a natural rock wall. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought we'd be at a climbing centre. This was just a wall a short walk from a winding country lane. The Climb
Malc set up the ropes and gave us all a safety talk, demonstrated how to belay for the climber. V-knee-1-2-3. The little rhyme went to safely belay the rope to keep it taut and to ensure the best chance of survival in case the climber slips off the rock.
some dry jokes about sliding out of your harness and dying which upset the little girl in the group, Ruby.
We were then divided into groups, what appeared to be a stag group went on the middle rope, the dad and his two kids went on the right with our group on the left. The left rope was on the hardest section, so hard that 3 of us failed at getting higher than 4 foot up the wall, and the only reason the teenage lad got any further was because his Dad pushed him up to a ledge. We all shuffled around to try each rope and we were fairly successful at ascending the next rope. Not far from the top was a lip of rock that I just couldn't haul my bulk over, my mum has always said that I'm built for comfort not speed, but I was happy with how far I'd got, which was higher than any climbing tower I've ever used. On top of this the rock was so cold after only seconds your fingers were numb. I enjoyed my abseil back down the rock face, the first time I climbed (years ago) resting back in your harness was a terrifying prospect this time I settled in quite easily and began my descent, the Dad at the bottom controlling my descent with the brake on the belay system. About 5 foot from the bottom he essentially released the brake and I ended up flat on my arse at the foot of the wall, much to everyone's delight.
We all had another go and again I found myself caught at the same lip, this time I spent longer trying to work a way over it and up the last 5 or 6 foot but to no avail, it was getting on for lunch time anyway. My descent was much more dignified. Into the dark
After lunch we made our way to Stoney Middleton and pulled up at the foot of a vertical rock face extending up for what seemed like forever. The garage nearby was called Lover's Leap Garage which gave away what this area could be famous for...
We suited up in wellies, several layers and overalls and headed up the hill toward our cave entrance. On the way a complete nutter being spotted by two blokes was climbing up the sheer rock face putting in hooks and loops for others to climb with, it didn't look particularly safe or sane but he was leaping around like Spider-Man.
The entrance to the cave was a metre long by 18 inches wide gash in the ground covered by gnarled tree roots. Malc did a safety briefing and talked us through entry to the cave. I turned to Gemma and said "it's just hit me what we've signed up for".
What on Earth was I thinking? Everything you're ever taught dictates you shouldn't climb down into dark chasms, but it was too late to go having a panic attack I was already climbing over the tree roots and peering down into the shaft that would take us to the cave. Gemma's head torch gave up the ghost at the entrance and Malc told her to follow me down into cave before he would check it out. The entrance dropped down a series of 3-5 foot steps while twisting down a contortionist's wet-dream of a passage, at several points I had to sit on the step and twist into positions unbecoming of a young gent to ensure safe passage. The last obstacle before the cave opened up was the caver's answer to a cat flap, which had to be crawled through. We all sat down, infiltration had been no easy feat.
Malc talked to us about the cave taking us from its humble beginnings as a sea bed off the coast of the super continent Pangea to its formation from dead, fossilised animals. The roof was formed from fossilised muscles and there were remnants of stalactites and stalagmites, most having been broken off by other cavers or removed for sale, or destroyed by lead miners back in the days of yore. Malc's calm attitude put everyone at ease and we set off at a steady pace deeper into the cave.
We'd been told that it would be damp in the cave as it was precipitation fed and that we may get wet. What we found while walking along stooped over at 90 degrees was that the water often dropped to knee deep without warning and with nothing to catch onto you often fell over into the water. There were large flat banks of limestone which would stretch along the shaft making passage easier as people leant over and used it to support their upper half. I took this technique to a new extreme. Stop drop and roll
Caving, one must understand, is physically demanding. Imagine crab walking while doubled over, go ahead try it... Take ten steps. Now add cold murky water, unexpected holes to fall down, rock formations to trip on, a jagged roof scraping your back and remove 90%!o(MISSING)f your available light. Now walk like that for 10 minutes without stopping. You get pretty short of breath pretty quickly.
My solution to this issue was; whenever we came to a bank of limestone I would lay down on it and sausage roll across it. This saved time, conserved energy and eliminated the chance of tripping or slipping over. Gemma burst out laughing as I sausaged and salmoned my way along the shaft, the stag do who were behind adopted this technique, deciding that my change of travel method was ingenious. I can see why Gemma saw the funny side, we were all tall lads shuffling like babies in the cave, getting caked in crap but not giving a damn. The Salmon Run
Further in the group began lining up on the right hand of the shaft, there was a crack in the roof so I was given the rare opportunity to stand upright while we waited. As the people ahead grunted and shuffled up ahead it became apparent they were passing through an extremely tight section of rock. Malc had gone around and was taking photos of us as we popped out the other side. I was up next Gemma looked over my shoulder and opted to go around. I went for it after a moment of apprehension. Right arm first I got my head, and shoulder through next and got stuck. My left arm, compressed against my ribcage by the encroaching rock. Panic began to set in as for a moment I was oblivious to the group around me as I tried in vain to force my way through.
All I knew of caving was that if you get stuck panicking is of no use. Your muscles tighten, your body goes rigid and you are less flexible as your heart rate and lung expansions rise. After a moment where my anxiety levels shot through the roof I gave myself a little internal dressing down and forced myself to nut up. I wriggled back and tried again this time again to no avail as my left arm entered a separate hole above the one I was trying to squeeze myself. Again I wriggled out pushed my arms through first then squeezed my head and shoulders through. My upper half was supported by the rock below as I half emerged on the other side, reminiscent of Ace Ventura when he exits the rectum of the robotic Rhino. With some considerable wriggling and pushing with my feet I flopped out unceremoniously into the pool of water in front of Malc and his camera (as yet the photos have not been published).
The rest of the group quickly followed suit and we pressed on. Ruby gave up here opting to sit with her dad until the group returned. I couldn't blame her, she couldn't have been more than 8. Few children achieved such physical feats. Her dad had bought her book down for her to read... How, I do not know!
Further down we came to another area that was seemingly blocked, there were 3 available routes though. One flooded, one over some rocks and the other through a narrow shaft in the corner of the room. All of us had to take the shaft.
Malc had promised us that the Salmon Run was the tightest section we'd hit. He was a downright liar! If I thought I was stuck earlier then I was in for a shock. Again the terror, the hysteria, the niggling thoughts that this shaft would be my tomb were setting in and again I forced myself to push myself through. I gulped in some air, pushed my arms over my head and scrabbled forward, what seemed like an eternity later and with scraped and bruised knees I was sat with the rest of the group in the final chamber.
The way back out of the chamber was easier as Malc allowed us to use the way he'd entered where I could stand upright briefly. He then told us that for an experienced caver we were probably 20 minutes from the entrance and not long ago a lad had dislocated his knee where we were stood and it took the rescue team twelve hours to get him out! It wasn't lost on us how serious this sport is.
We salmoned, rolled, crawled, dragged, partially swam and crab walked our way along. Fatigue setting in, muscles screaming for a reprieve. The water was so cold that at one point I had to climb out after rolling in and lay on some limestone just to warm back up. Safety first. Nobody is any use if they endanger themselves so I figured I'd take a breather. We made it back to the opening chamber in due course... Then the hard part began. The Cave Troll
Malc told everyone to bunch up tight through the exit, this was to aid the person in front incase they slipped. Back through the cat flap and into a stooped crouch as we climbed up. Entry was a cake walk compared to this, what we hadn't factored was that entry was gravity fed. One way or another we would end up at the bottom. Now with aching arms, tight muscles, chilled bones, breathlessness, waterlogged boots we fought gravity to climb out of the hole. The last remnants of daylight just piercing the entrance were a real booster. After some precarious negotiation up ledges and over the tree roots we emerged at the top of the hole.
Have you ever seen The Lord of the Rings?! That bit where Aragorn says "They have a cave troll!" Then a massive ghastly beast bursts through the doors snarling, dribbling, and caked in cave crap. Well add aching and shivering to that mix and that's how I looked. For for all the pain, bruises, and anxiety it caused Caving is one of those truly amazing experiences, that won't be forgotten anytime soon, it is as terrifying as it is awe inspiring and definitely not for the faint hearted!
Massive thanks have to go to Malc for his amazing approach to these activities and the effort he put in (he wasn't really a rotten liar). He runs Truth and Trust Adventure which I couldn't recommend highly enough.
Tot: 1.375s; Tpl: 0.017s; cc: 14; qc: 52; dbt: 0.0255s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb