02 December 2010

Facing your fears

"You should really go there, it'll be good for you!" Some people in the caving club know I'm afraid of traverses. I faced my fears in a Welsh cave, but there's some fine examples closer to home. What's a traverse? Basically a vertical fissure you can jam yourself into, and move horizontally, vertically or diagonally through, width permitting. I hate them, as they tend to be V-shaped in the bottom, and smooth and slippery on the sides; you can wedge yourself into a relatively stable position, but if you do slip (and that always feels like a very probable thing!), and not manage to extend your limbs in time to stop your fall, you will fall down in the V, get wedged, and probably die there. Rule 1 in a traverse: don't fall down. And the PCG trip would go to Afton Red Rift cave; by many standards the best cave in Devon, but "best" considered in the sense of "terrifying" and "exhausting". I like to overcome my fears, so I was determined to go. And for those who read this and get worried now: I have never heard of people actually getting hurt in there. Maybe people don't slip. Or they do just stick out any bodypart available and arrest their fall in time. Those not afraid of traverses believe in this emergency move, and I can see the point of it; just rationally seeing it doesn't help being afraid  though. And there are scarypants like me around!

Anyway. The organisation of this trip was a bit of a bugger, but in the end it all worked out. At some farmyard, in the cold wind, six eccentrics gathered, and changed into their kit. Three more were expected, but they were late, nobody had their contact information, and it really was cold, so we decided to make a move. (It turned out they had simply failed to let me know they couldn't make it after all.) We came to the cave, and went in. Only casting a glance already makes it clear why this cavern bears this name. We soon came to where Richard decided to fix a rope, and that's where the adrenaline started. I hate traverses I hate traverses! But I stuck to Rule 1 and made it over the first terrible bit.

We had an interesting scramble through the rest of the cave. Some bits were not scary; some were. There were a few squeezy bits that didn't get my adrenaline flowing, but that had a stronger effect on the more solidly built men. Being a small girl has strong advantages in a cave! But soon after the last squeeze we came back to the rope; this time approaching ot from below. And that was where it really became terrifying for me. I was quite exhausted after doing this very sporting trip, much of which I did using way, way too much energy, because I was scared. And now I had to wiggle my way up! That's not easy at the best of times. I slowly managed to ooze up, given some initial help by Annabelle, a caver I had not met before, and then urged on by Adrian; her boyfriend, who I'd met on three previous occasions, and who is great for that job. By a cruel coincidence, when I was hanging there in mid-air, sweating and swearing and cursing my decision to not just stay at home and have a beer, Ferret was in the squeeze, being about equally uncomfortable. That was one hell of a trip! We all made it, of course. All my limbs were somewhat wobbly when I came out (I came out! Alive! The bliss!), and my whole body hurt, but I had managed Afton. I had proved stronger than my fears! I never panicked, but blimey, it was NOT fun to be propped up there, after having scurried around above gaping chasms that really freak me out for quite a substantial part of two hours. But when I got out of the car, about to enter the pub for a bit of a non-alcoholic post-hell breather, I was laughing out loud. The elation of such a moment! Splendid. I have no idea if I would do it again anywhere soon, but the possibility can't be excluded!

Me about to make it up the terrible vertical bit. See the exhaustion in the sort-of-smile! And see me hold on to the rope; a good caver wouldn't. Pic by Adrian.


Unknown said...

Als je niet beter weet, dan ziet die foto er redelijk ontspannen uit. Maar als er een tijd niets op je blog verschijnt, dan is het wellicht handig dat de lezers een reddingsactie op touw zetten.

Margot said...

Misschien zie ik het alleen omdat ik het nog zo goed weet! En het zou een hartverwarmende reactie zijn, maar, ik ben er niet helemaal zeker van of de bloglezers een goed idee zouden hebben van waar het zoeken een aanvang zou moeten nemen...

Anonymous said...

Gewoon na een paar dagen met een stuk goede kaas gaan hengelen in random gaten in het Zuid Engelse landschap, toch? Horen we je vanzelf 'aanslaan' ;)

Ik weet zeker dat jouw lezers zo nog tig innovatieve zoekmethodes kunnen verzinnen!