ditzy 24//7

Active member
Went down a black marble mine the other day with a friend or ours and she used one of my old FXs. It was rubbish compared to our Fenix. Which we happened to have on a high setting due to the black rock. Our backups are fixed to our helmets. So it was a bit of a struggle. When we saw the spiders at the entrance she speeded past me then though I was going through the entrance gate!

ditzy 24//7

Active member
A few years back we went into Cwmorthin using our old FXs they were so good we could stand in a chamber and not see the roof or walls. Thought our lamps were dead but was the slate soaking up all the light as we stumbled around in the dark
Our new Fenix are much better

The Old Ruminator

Well-known member
I wonder if you can have too many back up lamps.

I do remember wearing two Nife cells in Daren Cilau. It was a 13 hour trip and one would never have made it. Very awkward in the entrance series. When doing the odd bit of photography ( for which I have a minor passion ) I would be carrying one or two Skyray hand torches. Supposedly waterproof but 5 metres of water in a mine shaft killed one. Of course in the old days it would have been a carbide lamp. I have a Scurion now with a spare battery though it is highly likely that I would expire long before the first one. The old caustic soda cells were lethal if they leaked. They gave horrible skin burns. I do remember an Agen Allwedd trip when I had charged all the Nife cells for the party. They started going out at The Fourth Boulder Choke. I think any sort of back up lamp might have been handy but on that occasion we had none. We came out on a single pilot lamp on one cell which failed just outside the cave. The charger proved to be faulty. I used to run lamp tests on the old Nifes recording the burn time in my caving log. They also had a nasty habit of degrading the cable from within so you could never be sure. Another story I can remember is somebody I know well taking the bulb out of his headlamp and promptly dropping it down a pitch. I did carry a spare bulb in a container taped to the lamp cable. Despite my rather inferior safety record I can relate no horror stories regarding spare lamps. Mind you I can always speak too soon.


Well-known member
One of the best tales about backup lights isn't mine but if you can find a copy of Is that so? edited by Rob Taviner, Bill Tolfree's story is hilarious.

I do remember a trip about 40 years ago  to Crag Cave in County Kerry with my old friend Ted Popham. We had heard about the new discoveries earlier that  year and having been given permission to camp in the grounds of the house outside the cave proceeded to do a lengthy trip into a newly found section of the system. It involved a  trip through the old cave followed by a shallow free dive into a wallow known as Diver's Disgust after which things improved. We were using Oldham conversions (ie containing Nicads), the cables of which were subject to subtle corrosion. We had just entered a section of passage that was clearly new and by passed the main route. Then an acrid white smoke began to billow from Ted's cell. As I had been a bit concerned about mine this wasn't good news. Fortunately I was able to pull out my trusty Swiss Army knife and remove the lid of the battery compartment. The wiring had shorted and after some fettling the lamp was returned to normal function. I named the passage Ted's Short (connoisseurs of OFD will recognize the reference) and we continued into the system ultimately exploring new territory and at one point getting worryingly separated. At last we headed out and my lamp started  getting dimmer and dimmer and dimmer until we were relying on Ted's suspect lamp. At last we got back to the entrance series at which point Ted's light failed. Time for our back up system - a  Cyalume. We crept along by the dim blue glow. At one point I asked Ted if he knew where we were going. 'Beetlejuice' he replied. 'What do you mean?' I asked. 'We're beetling along but deuced if I know where' was his reply. Fortunately the passage was linear and we emerged unscathed into a sunny June evening and a welcoming pint of Guiness.

Mr Dinwiddy

My experience of backup lights is similar to Pitlamp?s tale, only I was in part of the PSM and had a carbide generator set up rather than a stinky. The lesson is the same: think about your backup light before you need it.

We were on the final set of pitches, on the way out, and somewhat depleted after many hours underground. My mates were a pitch ahead of me and well out of earshot.  My battery was more depleted than me and long dead, victim of wet pitches below. As I slowly prussicked the final big pitch, my carbide flame became duller and duller until it finally snapped out and I hung tired on the rope. I knew I had a tub of spare carbide deep in my bag but for some reason I lacked the confidence to hunt for it mid rope. I cautiously prussicked in the dark until my hand jammer ran into the knot and I could clip cows tails into the beginning of a large pitch head traverse.

Separating the twisted lanyards of the rope bag and my personal bag required some choice cursing as I hauled up each bag to feel and untangle several times over.

Unpacking my bag in this position was tricky as it was obviously dark and there was no floor or ledge to put things on so most of it went down the front of my oversuit or was clipped by touch to my harness.

I eventually found the carbide and recharged my generator desperate to avoid dropping it down the long pitch but not having enough hands. My lamp failed to re-light (it was empty of water as well as carbide) and I faffed around in the utter darkness.  I was trying to get at my first aid kit which was now deep inside the front of my oversuit, along with gloves, a rescue kit, some rigging gear and other caving clutter. I eventually wriggled the BDH container out and proceeded to unpack the first aid stuff, again into the front of my oversuit. I was looking for a backup. At the bottom was a Petzl tikka. Tiny but bright.

With the LEDS seemingly blazing I could move all my gear back into its BDH and tackle bag. I think If I had dropped anything it would have stayed lost as I did not have the energy to retrieve it anyway. The glimmer of daylight soon met me, along with the warmth of the French mountainside. 


Well-known member
On an evening digging trip in 2005, back when I was occasionally helping with the P7 dig, I went in with Nick Williams to inspect a short section of cave we had found the week before which ended in a sump. This was located at the bottom of a relatively tight and technical passage that we had been banging to make just wide enough for me to get through.

Whilst Nick waited the other side, sorting out lots of miscellaneous equipment, I went through and followed the short meandering passage to the sump and set off on my evening?s task which was to freeclimb a small aven directly above the sump. A bit of wide back and footing got me up into a tiny ascending passage which to my excitement was taking a small draught and had a good echo beyond. Thoughts of master cave excitement pushed me ever higher and I was now a good 5m up. I was shouting back to Nick but I couldn?t hear a response and I had a feeling he was heading out already with a load of digging equipment.

The aven/passage got even smaller and I had to take off my helmet to make any further progress upwards. Unfortunately as part of the manoeuvre I managed to loose grip of my helmet and it dropped, rolling down the lefthand side of my body and I just managed to kick out and catch it between my foot and the wall. Oh dear. I then very carefully tried to reverse my body down this aven, reaching down with my hand, without moving my left foot but I failed and I heard the very memorable ?dink donk splosh? as it fell into the sump below.

Now this story is very relevant to this thread as I did indeed have a backup light, a newly bought, 2xAA hand torch which doubled up very nicely as a powerful spotlight to accompany my then top of the range FX-ion light. The only problem was that they were both attached to my helmet!  o_O

So in complete darkness I slid/dropped down the aven as fast as I could, landing in the sump below, trying desperately to catch up with my sinking helmet. I dived down a couple times but with no luck. I climbed out of the water and shouted for Nick but indeed it seemed he had left already. I then started my very slow and steady way back out of the cave. During this I learnt that old school Casio watches are not useful backup lights. I?d been digging down this cave for quite a few trips now so was pretty confident with the passage although in pitch black it was surprising how many bits i didn't remember. Thankfully Nick was waiting at the top of the electron ladder and his light shining down the pitch was very welcome. We caved out together and I?m sure he?s never mentioned it to anyone! 😉


Active member
Fortunately I can't offer any great epics involving lack of back up lights but I can recall an amusing trip to Swildons where one may well have take all the fun out of the day...

The cavers in question shall remain nameless.  The four of us set off to complete the short round trip, nothing unusual in that and a route we'd all done multiple times before.  Completely uneventful until the first of the troubles.  My opinion is to set the syphon, pop down blue pencil and by the time you're back the duck is bone dry.  On this occasion though I had no takers for blue pencil and so we bailed until bored - some would argue I got bored too quickly and as a result the duck was quite ducky.  3 cavers through, other than a bit of whining about wet hair no issues; with a splash and a splosh caver no. 4 appear without helmet.  Obviously we all fell about laughing but soon realise one of us had to go back for said helmet as caver no. 4 was not doing it in the dark!  If caver no. 4 had brought a back-up light it might have saved my hair getting more wet.  Well perhaps you'd think that was enough merriment for the day...

On to sump 1.  I give the usual instruction "don't wait on the other side, keep moving to warm up and we'll meet a bit further up".  I think I go second, soon catching up caver no.1 and as per the instruction we keep moving.  We get to somewhere around Tratmans temple and wait for the other two having warmed up a bit.  Time passes as we're chatting away.  Eventually one of us say "where the bloody hell are they?".  A moments silence and we hear faint voices.  I suppose I should go and look.  Retreating back down the cave nearly as far as the sump I find caver no. 3 with no light and caver no. 4 who was clearly intent on leaving his kit strewn throughout the cave with no wellies.  Now caver no. 3 is a dear friend who loves to create his own headlamps from all sorts of random stuff to varying degrees of success.  I guess it wasn't surprising the sump made the magic smoke come out plunging caver no.3 into darkness!  Caver no.3 also doesn't believe in backup lights (or at least not waterproof ones).  We've already mentioned caver 4's lack of backup light so he couldn't help and now with bare feet didn't feel inclined to move either.  Between them it didn't seem to register that swapping helmets so at least caver no.3 could go find the missing pair of wellies might have been a good start!  Anyway the wellies were retrieved bobbing around in the sump pool and a spare light (good job someone in the group had one) bodged onto caver no.3 helmet for the remainder of the trip.  I'm please to add caver no.4 managed the rest of the trip without loosing any more kit; we had been a bit concerned he'd emerge from the block house bollock naked.

A couple of lessons here...
1. The most memorable trips are those where things happen and so we all need these types of mates on our caving trips to provide the entertainment.
2. Caving in groups where are least one person comes prepared prevents this sort of merriment becoming an epic.  Having read some of the other posts on this thread I think my principle of not solo caving is a good one.




Active member
The scene is Pollaraftara in Fermanagh, sometime in the mid 80s. A couple of friends and I were leading a group of novice cavers on their 1st underground adventure. At the ladder pitch (not too far in) I lined everyone down and told my friends to carry on with the novices. I would self-line down the pitch and sort everything out nicely for our return. Before long I set off at top speed after the rest of the party. I probably realised fairly quickly that something had gone awry when no-one appeared ahead of me, but I chose to ignore the fact and carry on anyway. I can only suppose I was enjoying my 1st solo caving trip too much.

Now, as good cavers do, I was carrying some extra goodies, including a backup light (in the form of a "stinky" carbide) and some Mars Bars, all loaded into an ex-army ammo box. At the risk of spoiling the punchline, let me explain 2 important facts: (1) as well as being water-tight, the ammo box was also air-tight, (2) some kind soul had decided to save me a bit of time by pre-loading the stinky with both carbide AND water.

Some considerable distance into the cave I jumped down a short step and the ammo box must have knocked against the cave wall. Then... boom  :eek:. "My goodness" I said, although I may have pronounced it differently. I was knocked off my feet and everything went dark, which is strange as my main light was an Oldham - still not sure how that happened. I lay there in darkness for quite a while, not knowing what had happened or where I was. Eventually I decided that I probably wasn't dead after all, largely because I suspect the dead don't feel pain. On turning my main light back on, I remember 2 things about the scene: (1) an almost spherical ammo box still attached to me, (2) Mars Bar everywhere.

I'm sure there are lots of things to take away from this tale. The one I'd particularly like to take away is a backup light that won't cause an explosion.


Well-known member
Following on from my tale on Ted's Short I was amazed to open Descent this morning and find somebody had finally returned to those passages we explored all those years ago. I was amused to see that they seem to have found a really squalid short cut into Crag Quarry Passage, so Ted's Short remains virtually pristine.


Spin the Back-up Light Wheel of Fortune


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New member
A few decades ago before H&S, Crow and insurance were in vogue, I was out for a walk near Sleets Gill in Littondale when I happened to meet up with a couple of mates who were off down Sleets Gill. At that time I hadn't been in that cave before and they were telling me how impressive the main gallery was. Why don't you come and have a look. Well a complete lack of any caving gear, light or back up light(whats that?) might make it interesting, so yes, why not. A tree in the field provided a short stick that was put to use to "see" where the roof came down. Off we go, it is impressive and on reaching and following the main gallery for a short while a long deep pool would have over topped my walking boots. I told them I'd see them back outside. I had been remembering the route and was now following it back using my "back up light" stick. After getting to the near end of the main gallery, just needed to turn round and then the way out is low down under the now right hand wall. I'm going through this low section, when I hear voices and lights start to appear. "Turn those bloody lights off the're destroying my night vision i shouted out. These 2 strangers appeared and were asking where my light was, had to explain to them that caving with a light was boring and spoiled the experience and with that set off for the entrance slope. No problems getting out and heard afterwards the 2 had been telling my mates about some mad walker with no light in the cave. There's plenty of places where a light is essential of course but turning it off from time to time and listening to the underground sounds is worth trying. Just dont fall down a pitch! PS i did cave on a stinky for long enough. Portable darkness was another name for that.


Well-known member
Hardly a back-up light . . . but back-up 'technique'? Many years ago I was exploring a cave in Spain on a stinky and ran out of water in a very dry part of the cave (not much of a problem in the UK, huh?). So ? what to do? I did, indeed, piss in the lamp and got it going again (but it was even more stinky than usual).

Oh the joys of the good ole days . . . crap equipment, crap lights, crap techniques . . . makes me wonder why I bothered going caving!!!


I call this trip: Sunset Hangover with no Headtorch! ( My brain was the Vegetable matter)

In 2014 I was an active member of the Wirral caving group, along with other members such as Dave Tyson the president of the club, who has worked with Organisations such as the CCC,

Well the day before taking a trip to Sunset Hole, it was my birthday, That being Said as you can imagine Excessive amounts of alcohol was drank, having been celebrating my birthday with friends at a local Wirral pub,

When I got home that night I started to pack my kit for the coming Trip to sunset hole the next day, I was so drunk that I hadn't even noticed at this point I had not packed my helmet, which had my headtorch attached, but everything else I needed was packed, so I decided to camp behind my front door so that I didn't miss Dave Tyson knocking on the door to go on the trip,

Dave Tyson the next Day knocked loud and woke me up, I grabbed my kit bag and got in the car, and I remember thinking in the back of the car how much I had a hangover from the night before, and I hadn't eaten either,

The plan was to get to navigate the boulder ruckle semi helix twisting section to access lower series in sunset hole, which I had never been to,

so as we arrive in Chapel-le-Dale, park the car and start to don our kit, I had just got changed, this was the usual routine we all know, Undersuit on, then the oversuit, Then the wellies, The harness, then chest rig, then D-mallion and all your SRT gear,
I then pull out of my bag my hand-held torches, my headtorch battery, at this moment I notice there is no helmet in the bag  :eek:  I exclaimed quite loud, F*** SAKE!! 

Dave Tyson Replies whats the problem, to which I told him forgot my helmet with my headtorch attached whilst holding the battery for it in my hand, Luckily he had a spare helmet in the car, but it had no headtorch,

so with there being at least 5 of us on this trip, we decided that we would be fine to continue if I stayed in between those with head torches, and use my hand torches,

so we abseil down the entrance and then navigate through the cave to the bottom of the big pitch, a natural vertical shaft, that leads down to where there is a rope ladder going up to where you begin to access the lower Series,
Going up the ladder was no problem, crawling past the columns to get to the lower series was not an issue,

So after we'd reached the lower series we turned around and ascended back up to the upper series, and as I get to the rope ladder and if you've ever been there getting onto this ladder to get back into the natural chamber shaft is quite dodgy, and although you have a scaff bar to hold onto, the rope ladder sways away from you with your feet on it,
With no headtorch, you can't see it while your feet are on it, with the direction it sways, so as members of the club are ascending the main Pitch, I was stuck on this ladder frozen with fear because I knew if I fell it wasn't going to be cushioned there was a scree slope leading back into the main chamber under the ladder,

At this point in time, all I can think about is, if I fall or let go I'm gonna get hurt quite badly, and I needed a change of underwear, :confused: I felt like the air in my lungs had frozen with fear of possible outcomes, it took me about 10 minutes before I had the air in my lungs to scream, for help,

At that moment Dave Tyson turns and looks and in doing so Literally Shines a light on the situation, from his beaming headtorch, I could see the ladder, then I had to compose myself and get down safely, which took a further few minutes to do, my grip on that scaff bar was so tight I had to almost pry my own hand from it, which spiders were crawling over my hands, and I am terrified of spiders, it was the first time in my life that i didn't care about those spiders, i had to get onto the ladder,

once I exited the cave one of the members that had earlier Begun to Ascend had heard me scream from close to the entrance, this is something we had a good laugh about on the way home, I learned a very valuable lesson about caving with a Hangover, but still to this day It makes me laugh, I have never forgotten my Headtorch since  ;)  :beer: