'Hey Mags, fancy spending 6 hours underground in a cold and wet cave?' Why did I ever think that would be a good idea?
I must have been insane.
Early Sunday morning and there we were, James,1 our instructor, and his equally capable girlfriend, Laura, sitting in a cafe in Buxton. We were waiting for another couple, Alison and Peter, to join us so we could continue our journey to Swinsto Pot. They'd all be down there before, although Alison had only been once and she was very nervous, almost terrified - I started to wonder what I'd let myself in for.
After a two hour drive we arrive in North Yorkshire, it's a bit drizzly, but nothing to worry about we're told, the forecast wasn't that bad. We don our extra clothing, one piece oversuits and knee pads and proceed to walk up a hill. We arrive at a small hole in the ground and climb onto it. After a bit of a crawl we reach the first pitch. It’s rather long but fairly dry but there's another pitch afterwards after a rather long crawl.It's at this point it starts to get much wetter. After the second pitch, Alison starts to panic. We've not brought any ascending gear, so we can't go back out the way we came. That was deliberate, James wanted us for the long haul.We weren't going to need it anyway as there was another team that had started earlier and set up a ladder near the end. James, Laura and Peter have done this cave several times and are very experienced and I don't think anything of it. I'm here to climb through a cave and I think it's fantastic. Well, for the first four hours or so. But I skip ahead of myself.
It's actually a very big cave as you can see here Quite a few pitches and crawling, through wet stuff. I was really enjoying the abseiling which is just as well, because there are another seven of them before the end and they're, all wet. When we get to Kingsdale Master Cave and the water level was quite high up to our waists in fact well, my waist2 and the Laura was starting to worry a bit, which panicked Alison even more. James was confident that it wasn't that bad, he said he'd done it when the water was chest height. Nevertheless, I was starting to feel a wee bit anxious and the worst parts were yet to come.
At about four hours I was starting to flag, I was tired, in need of a fag and my legs felt numb and aching. We crawled through a narrow and very damp passage on our hands and knees the water level was up to our chins and our hard hats were scraping the top of the passage because we had to keep our heads up. My gods I was tired. Then the very worst thing that could happen, did. Five and a half hours in we reach my nemesis. In order to get back to the Valley Entrance there was a very long pitch where the ladder had been set up. I couldn't make it - my legs were all but giving up. It's rather embarrassing to say but, I had to have a rope strung around me, which was supplied by some other cavers at the top of the ladder and then I was literally pulled up by them. Phew. I was so grateful they were there waiting for us
Not long now, we were told. The final passages are quite mellow compared to what we had already been through and finally we see daylight again and after climbing a very small ladder we emerge from another hole in the ground not far from the van. I look up the hill trying to see where we'd entered the cave but it's raining so hard that I can't see very far and I just want to sit down and get dry.
After a change of clothes and a much needed fag we drove to a campsite. Our instructor was going to a cavers meeting the following morning so we set up camp and went to the pub. I was very tired but the food and beer revived me enough to enjoy the evening with other cavers and a folk band. Some of the cavers expressed a little surprise that we'd been first -timers in Swinsto Pot, but thankfully no-one mentioned the long ladder incident.
We got home on Sunday afternoon, flop on the sofa and vow never to do that again.