24 April 2010

Caving taken further

On the website of the caving group sometimes suddenly “DCRO training” appears. And it doesn’t take much ingenuity to guess DCRO stands for Devon Cave Rescue Organisation. In the beginning I was not too sure what it did there. Then I figured that was possibly even more fun, and more useful, than normal caving. The first opportunity after that I skipped, as the same week also contained the Bedford United trip, and Baker’s Pit, and a committee meeting. And I have to sleep too, sometimes.

In the pub after the Liskeard talk I remembered that some DCRO activity in May was mentioned on the website, and I asked Lionel, one of the DCRO/PCG crossovers, when again it was. And his answer was “this Saturday”! That was not on the list, but I was quite excited. I verified I was welcome as a non-member, and even as the PCG rookie. So Saturday it would be! A search exercise in Pridhamsleigh.

Rupert drove me and Ali there. A whole group of tough people had already gathered! And some less evidently tough people and two dogs. We were briefed by the choreographer of the training. He had hidden an unknown number of artificial victims, in the form of laminated sheets of paper with information on them considering the state of the victim, and what they could tell us. If anything. He told us what the information was we had had from the imaginary police; a bunch of youngsters had been drinking in a nearby pub, had heard about Pridhamsleigh cave and the lake in it, and had decided to go explore. A taxi driver had driven them there, on the way seeing some real cavers, and had been asked to pick them up afterwards at a given time, but they hadn’t shown up. He had contacted the police and they had called us. And there we were!

We would go in in four teams. Four leaders were selected, and they could pick their minions. I was claimed by a guy called Mike I hadn’t met before, and my team mates were Rick, the head honcho of Wheel Russell, and the aforementioned Lionel. We got instructions to search a specific region of the cave. This proved a bit of a challenge, as we had to negotiate nasty drops and holes to get there, but cowardly finding an alternative route we managed anyway. And ended up where we had gone the very first time I had been in there! The squeezy bit Neil disliked so much. And lo and behold: our first victim. A cold, scared and massively confused character. We brought him back to the surface, where we found out about half of the victims (from the less confused specimens we had learned how many there were) had been found by now. In the sun at the entrance of the cave was our coordination centre; all groups reported back to them, so they could update instructions to every quartet of muddy, sweaty types. So we went back in again and again, searching the strangest and tightest corners and crevasses in the cave. And there’s many of them! It was great to see so much of it, and do so much unusual crawling and sloshing and wedging and climbing. And sometimes be rewarded with another laminated victim.

In the course of the exercise the picture became clearer. More victims were found and gave information. And unexpected finds were made! One guy had the brilliant idea to also check other holes nearby. Would a bunch of random drunks necessarily immediately have found Prid? Maybe not! And indeed, one was found behind the locked gate of Dog’s Hole. Joke from the choreographer; the idea was that the real cavers the taxi driver had seen had gone there, so the drunks found the gate open. Only one made it past the uncomfortable squeeze that gave the cave its name, and the rest abandoned the site. And the cavers had not seen the one intruder, and had locked up upon leaving...

Mike and Lionel with a victim in his hands

Having thus realised they were spread out further than initially anticipated, Mike and I set out to explore what’s called “little Prid” while Rick and Lionel went into some other auxiliary void. After about ten meters of belly-crawling Mike said that it was no use looking any further; the organising guy would never venture into such tight places so there would be no victims there. I thought that was a crap argument and I, very uncomfortably, crawled on, a bit at a loss as there were so many ways to go! But I just tried some. And what caught my eye? A victim! The last one, it would turn out. Good. I was getting tired and thirsty.

We debriefed. We talked all the victims through; how would we treat every single one? Some we could just lead out, but some first needed a medical check, and some needed to be monitored while more serious medical assistance could be fetched. One victim had a leg crushed underneath a rock... that’s beyond our expertise.

After debriefing we could refresh and regroup in the pub. The first stop was the river; an excellent place for washing out very, very muddy garments. We were all soaked to the waist anyway, so walking into the stream did nothing to ameliorate our condition. It looked like a scene from centuries gone by; people rinsing, beating and treading on textile in the village river...

We also washed the mud from our faces and arms. Then we were ready for changing and a pint! It was interesting to chat away with these guys, who tended to be rescue veterans. They had experienced many great and horrible things! And I look forward to training with them again. I cannot become a cave leader anywhere soon, but strangely enough a cave rescuer needs fewer qualifications...

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