I arrived at Braida Garth early due to an unusual lack of caravans and milk lorries on the A65. Oh, I’ve got a text from Barney: “Running late”. Strange, that’s not like him…. As he was trip leader, and I the only other volunteer, I settled down to wait. Seeing a stranger sorting out some SRT gear, I asked where they were going. Down Vesper, was the reply !
An unlikely coincidence which was to turn to our advantage as the three, Dave Ramsey, our Darren (though I didn’t know it then) and another, offered to rig if we de-rigged. Deal!
So when Barney arrived, we were able to give the others a head start and make a leisurely way up to the entrance. As the guide promised, the entrance was an awkward sideways crawl, but it was ok provided you dived head-first into the cave. This was shortly followed by a low, but conventional, crawl, which gradually turned into some meandering rift passage. Tight and awkward, but again ok, provided you climb up to the upper, wider part of the passage when you can.
Before long we came to the short first pitch, now rigged, which had a somewhat tight and awkward take-off, but then gravity is your friend – on the way in. The guide describes the passage to the second pitch as a ‘tall and tortuous canyon’. This is true, apart from the obvious misspelling – it clearly means torturous. Turning the right way to negotiate one bend, you’re then wrong for the next one, and there’s no room to turn….
Reaching the second pitch, we caught up with the advance party going down the third which follows immediately after. The cave is roomier at this point which comes as a relief. Both pitches are around 10m and straightforward apart from a small deviation near the top of the second. It’s then not far on to the fourth, about 30m and nice. Unless – like me – you go and abseil past the deviation (about a quarter of the way down) – a good way of adding unnecessary interest to a pitch.
At the bottom of this pitch we found a cat’s cradle of traverse lines around the head of the adjacent 40m fifth (and final !) pitch – and a good deal of head-scratching going on. The pitch is hung from a pair of threads (oddly, considering every other pitch is P-hangered) impossibly far across the rift. Dave had somehow managed to reach them, but found the screws only went a half-turn before slipping. What to do ? It seemed a pity to turn round at this point. Barney noticed that the rebelay (about 5m down) was P-hangered, so the pitch was rigged direct from the take-off to here, protecting a rub point with a strategically-placed tackle bag. Hurrah. But our troubles were not yet over – a distant voice from below called “I’ve run out of rope!”. Arrgh! It turned out, that there was just enough rope – provided you land en pointe on a convenient boulder. So it was that we all gathered at last at the bottom of the Great Rubble Heap, originally of Spectacle Pot.
The rigging party set off, followed by me – fortunately Barney did nearly all the de-rigging (I didn’t want to spoil his fun…), but I was unable to get out of carrying a tackle bag. No longer on speaking terms with gravity, I found pitches 5, 4 and 3 tiring but manageable. Getting off pitch 2 was more of a thrutch, being yes, tight and awkward. Then there was the snake’s intestine of the passage to pitch 1, now made even less enjoyable by the tackle bag. I’d spent several minutes trying to force myself round a hairpin bend at the bottom of the passage when Barney’s voice drifted from behind “Don’t forget to climb up around there somewhere !”. Ah, yes, that’s why I hadn’t remembered it being quite this tight on the way in.
Finally to the first pitch, spirits rising with the end being (nearly) in sight. Another tight, awkward sod to get off, but at last it’s done – come with me, lovely tackle bag, we’ll be out soon…
Getting to the crawl, I can smell the exit, oh joy, round the corner and hallelujah, it’s daylight – only a few feet to go.
But then, almost literally within spitting distance of the exit, I find my hips wedged. Thrutch, wiggle, grunt, no movement. By this time Barney had brought up the rear and was patiently waiting for me to stop fannying around and get out. If only I could oblige….
After a while, I suggested he crawl over me and give my wife a ring as I knew time was marching on. As he did so, he laughingly remarked how embarrassing it would be if he got stuck at this point. The only reply I could give at that point was “gmmph!”. So – did I really want him to phone home to tell Teresa I was stuck in a cave ? I saw what he meant, but sent him off anyway. (Later, he reported that he’d used diplomacy and said I was ‘on my way’ out. Later still, Teresa’s version was the slightly less reassuring ‘there’s nothing much to worry about’).
Meanwhile, I’d decided to retreat to the low, but wide, part of the crawl to take off my SRT kit. After many contortions and a great deal of coarse language, I managed to retreat about a metre before getting wedged fast again. Perhaps I could go forward now …? No. More contortions, but no progress. I was starting to get bored. Eventually it occurred to me that I could (just) reach my chest harness buckle and undo it – then the next time I moved forward, the kit stuck – but I moved on without it ! Moments later, I was out, and happier than I’d been for quite some time – just tried not to think about the hour of my life I’d wasted by not getting the SRT kit off before the tight bit…
I met Barney on the way back – he was possibly even more relieved than me at not having to call out his new CRO chums!