29 May 2013

Last trip with the PCG

The Plymouth Caving Club has been instrumental in making me feel at home in Plymouth. I was looking for some activity to engage in. And, of course, I was also in need of friends. And when Rob inadvertently drew my attention to the activity of caving, which I had until then never really heard of, my life took a fortuitous turn. I googled "caving" and "Plymouth", and the rest is history. The PCG has given me much: an introduction into an amazing pastime, and from that introduction a long way into almost veteranhood. And a path to both the Cornish mine explorers and cave rescue. And friends I wouldn't otherwise have made! Except Rupert, who works part-time at the university, but I wouldn't have met the others.

But all good things come to an end. I checked the trip diary, and saw that in my last weekend, there would be a trip to Wheel Fanny. One of my favourites! I decided that would be my grand finale. I would still be in town the Tuesday after, but I had bad experiences with Tuesday trips in stressful times. One tends to end up in bed too late, and I need my sleep! And that week I would need to be in fine shape to drive the 500km to York without problems. And a proper Sunday trip would be a worthy last adventure.

Only a few months ago we had done Wheel Fanny further than I'd ever been. Richard had found a shaft that time, but not told anybody until we were out again. Dave was keen to see it for himself! And so was I. And with a small group we set off.

The group was a bit different than I had hoped: I was glad Dave was there, and Rick; these are two dear friends with whom I have done most of my best trips. And there were two splendid chaps I mainly know from cave rescue: Brian and Rich. And then there was a chap who takes thinking "what can the club do for me?" rather than "what can I do for the club?" a bit too far; that hasn't made him very popular, neither with the club nor, especially, with me. (Maybe because I'm not a conflict-avoiding Brit.) But more importantly: there was a Lionel-shaped void in our midst! He hadn't managed to borrow rope kit for his girlfriend, and he had recognized the day as a possible one for painting the house. So he had withdrawn! Fortunately, he has something to do in York in a few weeks' time, so I hope to see him again there.

We went down the main pitch. This is something I could do over and over again; it's a beautiful drop through the main lode. And then we went down the next pitch; still surrounded by, allegedly, the best timbering in the country. Then there is a walk through the bottom of the lode, and a clamber back up a level. There I stood for a while, first with my light on, and then with it off. From where I was standing you had an amazing view that illustrated the immense scale of the lode. And behind me were Dave and Rich; Dave was, as usual, taking pictures using slave flash photography. I could see the flashes through gaps between the woodwork. It was a magical sight! But after a while I turned around and followed the others, who were rigging the next small pitches. These were rather straightforward and could also be done without rope, but we were being safe.

Lots of dripstone dangling from the ceiling

When we were on the other side of these obstacles we were back in the main lode. This is as far as we had come the previous time.We had a rummage around. We didn't have any drill battery power or rope left to explore the drop at the end. And we saw a level going off above our heads, but there was no way of getting there, with the kit we had with us. So we went back!

Rick dived into a side level we hadn't explored yet. And found the shaft! It was one massive gaping one. One couldn't look into it too well without risking falling in. But it was a great sight! If they ever drill and drop it I probably won't be there. But it was great to see it!

An almost Wheel Jane-red puddle

You can't blog about Wheel Fanny without showing some timbering. Notice the pain can on the right!

I was the last to leave the shaft. So I de-rigged the hole you had to cross to get there. And then I came to the previous hole we had had to cross; it was rigged! Why not go down it too? I got into the rope and had a look. I ended up on a slope of loose stuff, at the bottom of which was a wooden floor with a ladder on it. And the space was wider than the floor! I wanted to see what was below it too. I soon saw it wasn't much, and in having a look, the rope rubbed along the loose stuff, and dumped lots of it on my head. I decided to get out of there. Dave took some pictures of me while I came up. It wasn't spectacular down there, but it was uncharted territory, as far as I knew!

 Me coming up from the uncharted hole. Pic by Dave

Then it was time to climb out. Having explored that hole I was last. So I de-rigged the whole place! Which I like. This time I liked it less than normal: there was a lot of Ali-rigging going on. (Ali being the consumerist caver.) As an example: there was a bolt in an irregular wall, covered in snottites. And for those who are unfamiliar with them: these drip acid, so you don't want to look at them from below. The bolt was at ~2 m height... How daft a place is that. But I managed to get all the bolts out without issues. Brian suggested they let me de-rig as a gesture, to mark my departure. Probably not true, but I liked the symbolism!

 A stalactite covered in fluffy fungus

Brian and Rich posing heroically

When we got out we rinsed our stuff in the stream, and then we went to the pub. For a last beverage with these men... snifs! And then I hugged Rich, Rick and Brian when they left, and I hugged Dave when he delivered me home, and that way my "normal" membership of the PCG came to an end. I hope I'll see them again on trips away; North Wales, for instance, is closer to York than it is to  Plymouth!

I already have the York Caving Club lined up to take over. I hope they will do as spiffing a job!And the PCG is not forgotten. Thanks all! It has been great!

No comments: