To my surprise I was first at the agreed meeting point of the Hunters Lodge Inn car park last night. I'm not sure I've ever been first before so my immediate thought was that I'd missed a change of plan, but thankfully I just turned out to be early!
Jim, Steve and Duncan F soon arrived and we decanted ourselves and gear into Jim's motor to limit the number of cars at Eastwater Farm. Steve and Duncan had to get a little friendly in the back as Jim had left in his daughter’s car seat, whilst I got to ride upfront proving that just sometimes there are benefits to being the fattest member of the troupe.
Goodwill fees paid, we quickly got changed in the dark and drizzle and made our way across the field to the entrance. A reasonable stream was flowing in the top of the entrance shaft promising a chilly and blinding passage down through the boulder choke.
It's usually at this point that I bemoan the lack of water proofing remaining in my evenings chosen suit, a Warmbac cordura jobby of 1997 vintage. Originally purchased by Jim to fit his 6'3" frame it was laughingly christened the "Pav suit" after our favourite Italian tenor. In my memory it's always been massive, so I was a little disappointed when it recently had to be pressed back into service after I split the arse on my other suit, only to find it a rather good fit around the gut.
Anyway, the boulder choke was passed and before long we were down through the Canyon and joyfully sliding our way down towards the Crossroads. Jim had a good look into the S-bend bypass before bailing out and following the other three of us on the more usual route. On briefly inspecting the bottom end of the bypass he proclaimed that he thought it was doable for a man of his stature and wanted a better look on the way out – rather him than me!
Onwards we went with an interesting bridge across a pit to gain the 1St Rift Chamber, followed by enjoyable but all to brief section of walking passage before the crawling connection through to the 2nd Rift Chamber. Steve had done this trip before, and confidently identified the continuation here that involves a rising traversing bridge up between the walls of the chamber. The chambers tall – too tall for my underpowered light, and the traverse rises by maybe 5m above floor level with the roof still seemingly out of sight. Jim went first towing a rope for the bag, followed by Duncan leaving me and Steve chewing the cud on the floor of the chamber. The cheeky bugger suggested that I might like to go third in case I got stuck! Hrumpf! Actually it was pretty funny so I waved him on his way before I set of to follow.
By this point Jim was well established in the vertical upwards thrutch fest that is the chimney at the back of the rift. Entry is by an eye hole and upward progress is mainly made by a combination of footjams, kneebars, armbars, a couple of chockstones and lots and lots of grunting thrutch… His turn to complain this time – apparently his limbs are too long, aww bless!
I don’t recall Duncan making a sound, seeming quietly competent as ever. Steve too had little trouble and I once I had made the rising traverse (great friction) and squeezed into the chimney (no one else noticed the squeeze
) I thoroughly enjoyed it in a perverse kind of way. Steve seemed genuinely surprised when my panting announced by presence at the top, where a little tight spot sees you gain access into the sloping tube that opens out on the drop into Unlucky Strike Chamber. Travelling head first down the sand and gravel over flowstone bottomed tube is slightly unnerving, but thankfully there’s a bolt and hand line before things get too serious. One flying angel abseil later and I’m back with the others on the floor for the chamber.
The large curtain here is quite impressive for the bits of Eastwater I've seen and it’s a shame about the damage at the base. Kind of understandable though as the floor of the chamber is a downward sloping combination of flowstone and a loose mix of sand, gravel and cobbles. Every step needs careful attention. A few nice helectites can be seen at the lower end of the chamber, the walls of which show some nice en-echelon calcite filled fissures.
I maintain my position at the rear of the party through the continuation which is a feet first squeeze down another calcite floored sloping tube. The top end of this has been blasted and the tightest point is the (for me) body sized connection point. Not bad on the way in, sure to be fun on the way out. Arriving in the next chamber (Steve thinks Mellow Chamber?) I see that Jim has dropped doe to a stance at the head of the pitch and is industriously rigging a ladder on the pitch, using an in-situ hanger and a natural up on the left. One 7.5m ladder is just enough to reach the floor of the chamber below from this point and we all descend to have a look at the crystal pool, terminal sump and a number of pretty fine curtains.
This point marks the furthest end of the trip, so we head out again. I go last to de-rig, and there are no occurrence of note until we are back at the S-bend below the Cross Roads. Time enough for an appearance at the Hunters before closing, so Jim commits to having a good go at the “academic” tube. I was observing from the top end of the tube and I’m going to try and recreate the experience in sound on the page so bare with me.
Thrutchety thrutch…“Hmm, I think I need to take my belt off” thrutch, thrutch……thrutch “urgh, Urgh” thrutch “URGH” “Gosh! It’s jolly tight on my shoulders” (or at least words to that effect) thrutch, thrutch, thump, thump, thump.
Steve – “What’s that noise?... Is it Jim’s heart?”
Oh yes, we can actually hear Jim’s heart beating out of his chest in the constriction! – amazing, but only just less amazing is that Jim actually made the squeeze (pretty much) on his own. I proffered assistance, which was eventually accepted and it took just the lightest of tugs on Jim’s outstretched front arm to pop him out.
Duncan, slight as he is, was not perturbed by the proceedings and also opted to try. To be fair it didn’t even really slow him down and he stormed it. Steve mumbled something about making progress with the bag, and nobody even suggested that I should have a go, and so it was up the Canyon and out through the Woggle Press. The boulder choke was even more unpleasant on the way out, “like being water-boarded” was one of the more polite comments, and the short trek across the field was just enough to feel like you should be warming up, and then notice that although the night is mild, the wind chill is chuffing cold.
Expert quick changing followed, including whipping my jeans around to make a perfect job of emptying the change from my pocket into the blackness, and we were off to the Hunters. Unfortunately playing at the S-bend bypass had cost us a post caving pint so as Ruth (Bagpuss) would say, this trip was non-ethical, but we are keen to return before too long with talk of completing the Dolphin Pot/Twin Verticals exchange.
One casualty of the evening seems to have been the Pav Suit, as thanks to the fantastic friction there is now very little of the arse remaining. Perhaps it’ll return to fight another day, only time and finances can tell.