As the time is approaching when I will have to hang up my wet suit, I tend to indulge more and more in the sport of armchair caving. Reflecting on the last three years and nearly 60 trips with CUCC, it appears that caving trips fall into two main categories: epic and non-epic.
A non-epic trip is well led. The party is efficient (and fit), and the whole trip runs smoothly and is incident free. This allows time for ale before bed. This would seem to be the more desirable type of trip, the sort for which every caver should strive. But is this really so?
On an epic trip there may be continual route finding errors, the party may well be unfit and badly organised. Tackle can be muddled, and there may be long waits at the pitches. As a result, epic trip take much longer than they should and sometimes they are so disastrous that there is no time for ale.
Now what does the armchair caver remember when he indulges in his sport? I believe that he nearly always remembers the epic trips best. He is more likely to remember nine hours in P8 than five hours in Pen-y-ghent. The longer a trip takes, the more likely it is for memorable incidents to occur. This does not mean to say that epic trips are enjoyable at the time. In fact they can often be extremely frustrating and unpleasant experiences. However, with the passage of time, it is not so much the suffering that is remembered but more the little incidents that went with it.
My first year was a bad year for epic caving, but I think we had a taste of things to come when a certain large caver managed to wedge himself solidly in the Giant's - Oxlow link for just over two hours.
My second year proved to be a vintage for epics. The sagas of Alum and Pen-y-ghent Pots are recounted in the last journal, and make interesting reading. Two incidents that stick in my mind from the Alum trip are being swept over a waterfall and Gareth being washed off a ladder. In Pen-y-ghent (the Presidents invitation meet) the President fooled us by giving two whistles when I was lifelining him DOWN the fourth pitch. I couldn't believe my ears and did nothing. Then two more frantic blasts were heard from below, and the leader of the trip was then hauled UP the pitch, and after mumbling something about his jeans catching on the ladder made his way out and left us to it.
The Lost Johns' trip that year proved to be an epic caving classic. It was the first trip after foot and mouth restrictions were lifted, and the members of the large party on this trip obviously did not realise how unfit they were after the long lay-off. The waiting at pitches was particularly bad, but the sight of our leader on Dome pitch (80 ft.) on the way out had to be seen to be believed. He went up twenty feet, stopped, asked for a tight line and then clipped himself onto the ladder by a "gonking sling". Then to the amazement of all he took both hands and feet off the ladder and despite our jeering hung by his sling for a few minutes. When he felt that he had regained a bit of strength, he unclipped and started up again. After only 15ft. the same procedure was adopted. This time out leader expressed a desire for a fag as he hung limply from the ladder. He had two more gonks before reaching the pitch head.
The first time I did the Oxlow-Giant's-Oxlow trip it proved to be decidedly epic. Two incidents concerning Jeff spring to mind. The first when I was waiting by the pool in the Plughole (Giant's). Suddenly Jeff came charging along the passage to the Plughole, with his NiFe cell only just alive. Before I had time to warn him, he had walked straight into the Plughole (10 ft.), landing in the water beside me. By some miracle he was quite unhurt. The second incident occurred in the ducks in the crawl back to Oxlow. I thought I had dropped a ladder in the ducks, and as Jeff was right behind me I asked him to go back and look for it. After much gurgling, grunting and splashing Jeff said that he could not find it anywhere. After I had made him try again I found it by my feet.
In my last year an Aggie trip nearly made me burst a blood vessel, but it seems I survived the gross route finding hashes of that trip to go spare down Stream Passage Pot. The highlight of this epic was when Martin descended the second pitch (85ft). When he seemed to be nearly at the bottom we heard two frantic whistles and shouts of "the ladder's too short". Martin then came straight back up again and collapsed in a gasping heap at the top. An extra 20ft. of ladder was clipped on and I was lifelined down so as to give Martin a chance to recover. When I got to the bottom I found that not only was the extra ladder unused, but also 5 ft. of what had been on it in the first place. The swearing about this incident was of a very high standard. All Martin could say was that he must have been misled by the spray at the bottom.
I hope that these few examples have shown why I believe epic trips are more desirable than they seem at first. They are the lifeblood of armchair caving, a sport to which we are all reduced in the end. Let me finish with a recipe for an epic trip
Take 1 large, green leader
1 dozen weegees
A sprinkling of hard men
Mix all the ingredients in a large pot and let them stew in their own juice.
Happy epic caving,