~~The stiff muscles and aching back are almost recovered now. The bruises might take a bit longer. Vague feelings of embarrassment will probably endure.
Martin and I were the only caving group regulars for the trip on Saturday 14th, joined by an experienced newcomer. The event list said we were going to have a relaxing day doing a so-called pull-through in Kingsdale. You enter a cave up on the hill and abseil your way down to emerge in the valley three or four hours later. As all three of us had done the pull-throughs a few times we decided to visit Brown Hill Pot instead. Alex had been there but he wanted to look for a route part way down that parallels the one most people use. Martin and I had previously only been a few metres into the entrance.
Brown Hill Pot is entered via a vertical, plastic tube that must have been chosen for its extreme slipperiness and total lack of any hand or foot holds. It was not until we exited hours later that Martin and I acknowledged how wise Alex had been to fix a rope to climb back up. The tiny hole that is the way on at the foot of the tube presages what is to come. It leads immediately into a higher passage that is easy to get through but very soon you are forced to lie flat and shuffle forwards. That is no big issue for cavers but bags of rope are less enthusiastic.
Each of us pushed a bag in front of us. It was all right at first as the passage had a fairly smooth floor and sloped gently downwards. After we passed a little chamber things changed. The floor became stony and there were tight bends in the passage with protruding points of rock in the walls. The bags were horrified and clung on in desperation. We reassured them at first before losing patience and opting to beat them into submission. A bit further on we found ourselves in a vertical rift, too narrow for a man at the bottom but wider higher up. We shuffled along, jamming ourselves in place with our knees and shoulders, collecting an assortment of bruises in the process. The bags, attached to us on short lengths of rope, were convinced they could manage down at the bottom. So we expended much effort trying to hang onto them or dragging them back up when they got stuck.
Eventually we came to a rope descent. Getting down the first few feet was a challenge because the walls were so close together but we soon dropped into a wider space and enjoyed being able to breath and wave our arms and legs about. Rather sooner than we might have liked we were struggling along a narrow rift again, though not such a tight one as before. After a few minutes we climbed away from the popular route to look at the alternative that interested Alex. It started out all right but the passage got smaller and smaller until we realised why this was the less-favoured route. We came down and took the usual one.
Very soon everything changed. We reached a magnificent abseil down a huge shaft. The streamway at the bottom might not have been the most dramatic in Yorkshire but it offered a spacious stomp that made what we had been doing for the last hour or so worthwhile. We splashed our way to a last short pitch, looked at the spine-chilling, foam-covered sump that marks the end of the cave and set off back towards the surface.
At that tight spot at the top of the first pitch I disconnected from the rope, tried to go the wrong way, and got stuck. Martin climbed the rope and went the right way, the three of us having developed a theory that witnessing his success would cause my spontaneous liberation. It did not do that, but it did show me what I ought to have done. After some heaving and naughty words I got back onto the rope and up to where I should have been. It was not what you would call roomy there either and I proceeded to get stuck again. More flailing about and expostulation eventually led to my escape. It was not the caving style an agile newcomer might have hoped for but at least Alex did not have to rescue me!
If the bags had been reluctant to enter the cave, they were even less ready to leave it. We fought through the rough, restricted passages, using tired muscles to pummel and push the bags and collecting further bruises as we paid more attention to that than to where our limbs and shoulders were going. It was getting dark by the time we reached the surface. We must have been underground for six or seven hours. We were tired and battle-scarred but we had had a great day. Cavers have their own way of defining pleasure.