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The Art of Jacking
Undoubtedly the hardest task in writing this article was deciding which year I was supposed to be referring to. Since I'm still not really sure, maybe a few words about the present situation of the club would not be out of place. Certainly from the membership point of view this year is the most successful the club has seen for a long time - a combination of an unusually popular open meeting, a dry novice trip and a less-agonising than usual selection procedure have all helped to boost numbers.
Last year (that is last academic year which is nearly two real years ago) was the last of a string of novice meets to a ridiculously wet P8. This 'year' (which, hopefully you will bave quessed, was last year) saw a break in this strange tradition and the P8 meet was held at Carlswark Caverns. The novices behaved well and were given a good introduction to the sport. There was even time to explain in detail what would happen in the unlikely event of someone needing to be rescued.
Yorkshire and Mendip meets followed in quick succession. At the M.R.O. sale of cave signs at the Hunters, Pine Tree and Longwood/August were secured by careful bidding and brought back triumphantly to Cambridge.
The New Year meet (1974-75) was well attended, and this in spite of rival underground meets to Mendip and South Wales. OFD II to Cwm Dwr is rapidly becoming a club favourite and Johnofd is making great attempts to get everyone into III. In Yorkshire meanwhile, as is traditional at New Year, the Penyghent Pot trip was aborted - this time without even needing to leave the Helwith. This was in part made up for by a moonlight ascent of Penyghent in superb conditions.
Meets continued throughout the Lent and Easter terms with several 'firsts' falling to the club with alarming rapidity (like the boulders in Maskhill). I just can't think of any names offhand. Simpson's/Swinsto was performed in high water conditions with its usual grace and efficiency, but not all trips went so smoothly as the party who conquered Alum in just under six hours will testify.
Over Easter a small party joined up with Trat's UBSS party in Clare and a week of intensive caving undertaken, culminating in a combined sherpa trip to the magnificent sump in Fergus River Cave.
Pre-pre, pre, post-pre, pre-post, post, post-posts followed chaotically. On the official post-tripox meet the club reverted to its usual social caving with Tatham Wife falling before opening time at the Hill, and a pleasant day was spent ambling over Bishopdale Gavel, venturing into the pots of the same name in shorts and boots and getting thrown out of the Buck.
Then summer was upon us. For those with vacation terms, Giants and very little else was done, but EXCSS expeditions were launched into Europe with enthusiasm. One party embarked on a pot-bashing trip to the Alps, while in the Pyrenees the latest allocation - the Audiette - was pushed to a disappointing conclusion. Our last year's assignment to find the Arrigoyena - fell to the Spéléo-club de Deux Sèvres - the entrance being only a matter of yards from B102/2. Andy and Vic took part in a PSM through trip and several trips were made into the Arphidia.
The year's speleological activities were brought to a close by a well attended President's Invite when Birks Fell, which had just been re-opened, was on the cards. However, heavy rain ruled out almost all the planned trips - grey wet-suited figures managed a walk through a misty Littondale. Brave (?) attempts were nevertheless made, and nature didn't win without a battle. Boy Wonder and Doug tried G.G. Main Shaft on ladders (yes, in flood) having struggled up Long Lane alone with all the necessary tackle B.W. got a mere 30' down the shaft before returning and commenting that it really wasn't possible to get further on one breath. Meanwhile Doug had been steadily paying out the lifeline!
Not to be outdone the same deadly duo were to be seen the next day attempting a second epic, by taking all the tackle for Penyghent to the end of the canals before performing the inevitable abortion. A wet Low Douk was conquered and later on in the week the president was actually invited to do Penyghent (wait for it) Longchurn. During the walk up we were entertained by a magnificent meteorological display with fantastic cloud formations. Not unexpectedly it rained when we were down and we returned to the entrance shaft to find an enormous volume of water coming down.
The year may be remembered as the one when prusiking really took a footing. Much water has flowed over the pitch since the pioneers cautiously threw a rope down Lancaster Hole and prusiked back up after a through trip nearly six years ago. Although not encouraged on club meets for obvious reasons, private meets have made progressively more use of the technique. The consequences are still felt however - the 'revolution' has given the opportunity for the introduction of a new jargon, new equipment and new attitudes to pitches. For the past few years, Cambridge cavers (and I won't accuse any others) have been guilty of a far too complacent attitude - the almost implicit assumption being that the rope wouldn't break while abseiling no matter what, and that self-lifelining would always proceed without a hitch.
Prusiking has taught otherwise and so I feel has led to a greater awareness of the danger on pitches and a resultant increase in safety. The increase in speed will be condemned by those who hold a conventional view towards caving, but why spend 12 hrs in Penyghent when three club members have done it in under two ! From the financial point of view it also means that the big European pots are no longer beyond our reach.
On the social side the club has flourished. The great event of the year was the Annual Dinner held for the second time in Caius. David Heap returned to the club as a guest speaker and Steve Perry made an impromptu address when he was unexpectedly presented with the newly created Golden Boot award - a proposed annual award for the person displaying the most incompetence underground.
CUCC can look forward to a healthy future.
Mike Perryman, St. John's
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The Art of Jacking