07 August 2012

Throw your bloke off a cliff

When do you find a rope hanging down a cliff, where you can practice your abseiling- and prussicking-back-up skills? During a caving trip. Is that a good time to practice? Maybe not; trips involving rope work tend to take enough time without people going up and down the rope unnecessarily. And if you're practicing something that may hurt you severely if you get it wrong, you had better not feel hurried up by people who want to get underground. Do we have training sessions? Well, yes; there have been two in my time at the caving club, which boils down to less than one a year. So when Hugh wanted practice, I had a rope, and we knew there are probably anchor points in the abandoned Dartmoor quarries, we seized a free Sunday to go and give it a try.

The weather was very Dartmoorish: grey skies and wisps of fog. We walked to the quarry where we had seen the Dutch army train; that had given us the idea there must be anchors to fix your rope to. But imagine our surprise when we got there: the UK army had picked this much more English day to train! The quarry was all rigged, and a score of heavily packed, knackered-looking young men just marched into the quarry. I don't think they'd enjoy it as much as we expected to. They looked like they wanted a hot chocolate and a warm bed.

This encounter didn't faze us; there is another quarry. We went there, and rather soon we found anchors above a cliff! Perfect! So I made a beautiful Y-hang and attached the rope to some of the stakes while Hugh got into his harness. And in the pouring rain he started descending. All went smoothly, although he did notice near the bottom it pays off to try to go down as straight as possible, as otherwise you might find yourself swinging sideways at some point. And he landed in a thistle.

My spiffing rigging.

Rain evidently doesn't stop this man.

Goin' down!

When he was down I hadn't even had the time to put my knee pads on. So he came back up, and then it was my turn. It was a nice descend! I went down slightly straighter, which meant I didn't do any swinging, but of course there was a big thistle where I touched ground as well.

Hugh came down again, and I suggested he might try a change-over, go up a bit, and then do another change-over to come back down again. All very useful practice! Then I went back up, so he could see how I did it; he had a decidedly different technique, and I wondered if mine wasn't more comfortable, but it helps to have seen it.
Hydrologist dwarfed by large quarry

When he came up he decided his own technique was still the best. And then we were hungry and quite wet, so we called it a day, packed up, and walked back to the car. When we walked past the other quarry we could still see the silhouettes of the soldiers against the leaden sky...

Walking back along the water-logged Moors

We went for a nice meal plus pint in the Princetown pub. It had been a good day! And when we drove back our comfort was again accentuated by the silhouettes of the soldiers, also marching in the direction of Princetown, but by my guess not in the direction of a cosy, food-serving pub...

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