09 February 2014

Underground pictures

The day I heard I had the job in Bangor was a Wednesday. I would be celebrating by lying in the mud in a cold cave! What could be better. We didn't think we would get to the far end, due to flooding, but there had been a call for pictures, so I had packed two cameras, two tripods (the one with the wonky leg and the one with the wonky head) and a flashgun. The latter would not be triggered by the camera flash anymore (I have a way with ruining electronics) but if I would have a flash monkey at my disposal they could manually trigger it while I was taking a long exposure picture.

When I was changing into my wetsuit the Cleveland men arrived, and we went down together. After a bit of gratuitous crawling around we got down to business. Chris and I had brought cameras, so Rich became the model. Chris soon vanished while I tried to get the tricky timing of a back-lit picture right. Rich had taken his helmet off and pointed it in my direction, with himself in between. We tried pictures entirely back-lit (these tend to be beautifully arty and spectacular) and those filled in with light from the front. The camera can't time this (it's just a compact, after all) so I had to try to guess how much time was needed for both my headlight and the exposure. And I had to try to keep the lens clean and dry. Rich was a bit shocked when he realised I try to achieve this by licking it. But how else? I had belly-crawled through mud to get there; nothing else was as clean and dry...

After a whole lot of pictures of various degrees of success I was cold. I was glad we moved on to try elsewhere! In the "Main Chamber" we did another session. And then we went on again. And bumped into Handshake and Sparky who were trying to enlarge a passage by removing a large rock. They tried to lift it up, but after a lot of wiggling we decided we had better let it slide down. A good way of getting warm again! When the rock was out of the way we squeezed through and had a look in this chamber. And the passage behind it, which had really weird mud formations. Back in the chamber I climbed into the ceiling, and then poked through a hole in the floor. I could see a passage going on, by the looks of it only blocked by sand, so easy to dig! But the chaps weren't too happy with me in that squeeze with a boulder choke above me, of which we turned out to have varying interpretations of its stability, and soon I felt hands around my legs and was popped out again.

It was time to get out. Rich and I were summarily ordered to get out the difficult way, as we hadn't been before. Okay! It was a bit narrow, though; I banged my head  a lot,and thought I felt my suit tear on a pointy bit of rock. Oh dear.

I had taken my belt off, from which my bag hangs (which had quite some photography gear in it that day), and I was too lazy to put it back, so I just held it in my hand. And lost the belt. Luckily Chris noticed and took it with him.

At the next junction our ways parted; I preferred the route we had only opened up in November, but the men went the other way. In there I noticed I had banged my head on the ceiling so much my battery pack had come off. Luckily I had a torch in my bag; using that I could put everything more or less back in place. Onwards! I got to the shaft, climbed up, dislocated my battery box again, laid down, and crawled to where the others would appear. pushing my bag in front of me. And forgot about the slits in the ground. Oops.

With a dull thud the bag with two cameras, two tripods and a flashgun landed on the bottom of a narrow rift. Sigh! I climbed back down the shaft I came from, hoping to be able to reach it from the side. They were not connected! Oh dear. The bag was some 3 metres down, and not even an anorexic dwarf could fit down that hole, The only way to get it out would be by fishing. But with what?

Word of my antics had reached the men. Sounds of "how on Earth did you manage THAT?" were heard. And someone was sent out to look for a pointy item for fishing purposes. We had a farrier in the team; you never know what these have in their cars! But we had a look around in the shaft where some months earlier I had tried to stash all sorts of caving junk away in a tidy fashion. And then I saw the piece of rebar with a sharpened hook! Perfect! It was only ~1m long though; we would have to dangle it from a rope. So we did.

I crawled back, and had a go at catching the karabiners or the draw string of the bag with my hook. It didn't go so well, and I decided it might be easier from the other side, so I slithered out the shaft to turn around. That was better! And Rich joined to see what the hell was going on. Which was good; soon I had the drawstring on the hook, and was pulling the bag up. But then it snagged, almost a metre down. Oh no! Way outside my reach. But not outside Rich's. He got hold of the karabiner and pulled. Out came the bag! So the whole photo session had not been for nothing!

With a torn suit and a dangling battery box, but with my camera bag I came out. Do I get clumsier when I suffer from job-related adrenaline? Probably! It had been a good day. And in my head I reserved some of the weekend for kit repair...

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