21 July 2013

Digging in the Moors

Coming home too late on a Tuesday night, with about a kilo of mud in my hair! It was an integral part of my time in the southwest. When I moved north, I found the YCC does its trips mainly in the weekends. So that’s good for how fresh I appear in my office on Wednesday morning. But there was more. They may indeed do their trips in the weekend, but they do their digs on Tuesday night! Only a small subsample of YCC, and in collaboration with another caving club. And not just any other caving club; Rick’s old club! So I thought it would be worth having a look there.

And the first weeks I had other things on my mind. But in a week where I did not have any other evening activities I figured I could chance it. It did mean coming to work by car; it would take too much time to bike home from work and then set off from there. Did I mention I do not like driving? I did it anyway. Term was over, so there was plenty of space on the parking lot. And at the end of the working day I got back in. Unfortunately, by now the car had turned into an oven. But what can one do. 

An hour later I had found the venue without issues. I decided to park at the road rather than the track; that’s easier. I got into my kit, and walked down. To my surprise I saw movement at the cars of the others! They weren’t underground yet. I thought they would have been for an hour already!

I met the other cavers; they seemed glad to see me. Maybe someone who comes with Rick’s recommendations is always welcome! And soon we went underground. It started with a narrow rift. And a small tunnel and another rift. And then the fun started! Then there was quite some belly-crawling. First through mud. Then through slop. Then it got a bit better; it was high enough to crawl on your knees. We brought a big steel bar down, for poking rocks. Is that a good idea? Of course!

When we came to a chamber big enough to stand Gary went ahead with the end of an entire reel of electrical wire. I made sure it unwound tidily. I was a bit baffled by all of this; why were we doing this? But all would become clear. 

When Gary was at the end we followed him. The passage, which was another long stretch of belly-crawling, ended in a boulder choke. You could see through the boulders: the passage went on! Interesting! You could also feel a draught coming through. This was the goal: get through this choke. Matt decided to see if he could remove some blocks, and stabilise others, by doing some energetic prodding with the big pole. We couldn’t see what he was doing; we were hiding in the passage. But we could hear it. A bit unnerving. And we were idle; I had expected, and prepared for, hauling buckets of mud out. I wasn’t wearing enough for sitting still in this draughty cave! 

Waiting in the passage while Matt pokes rocks. And finding a tear in a boiler suit.

When he was done we all had a look; there were two boulders that were still in the way. The plan was to blow them up next time. And that was what the wire was for: ignition! You want to do that from a distance. I don’t think you would get rocks on your head if you’d detonate from the tunnel, but I have some idea what it would do to your eardrums. 

When that was decided we headed back. Matt and I went into some very tight side passage on the way; there was a chamber at the end of it. This had only been discovered some two weeks ago! It was difficult to get there, but at least the belly-crawling warms you up a bit. 

By the time I reached the rift again I felt like I weighed about twice what I normally weigh. All that mud, with pebbles, that stuck to me! And I was tired and thirsty. I wasn’t particularly fast climbing back up. But I did get up, and for the first time since the start of this heat wave I was glad to come out into the heat. 

 The effect of a river

Most men just got out of their kit and headed for the pub. I had heard there was a river nearby; that seems quite a good idea! Matt was willing to show the way. I went in as a mud golem, and I came out as a woman. Very nice! I got into my civilian clothes and headed for the pub. All the men were already there. I thought I’d get me a beer, but no; they insisted on getting me one. Very nice! There was banter, there were chips, there was beer. And then I decided to go home. It was another hour driving! And once at home I had to take a shower; in spite of the river, I still had about a kilo of mud in my hair. And then it was bedtime. And I was hooked; I sure want to come again next week!

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