Present: Anthony, Julia, Jenny, Bob (Jenny’s Dad)
I should really of known better.
I was naïve to think that when Jenny invited me to going caving with her it was to strengthen the father-daughter bond or to enable me to gaze in awe and wonder on geological formations. The motive was, of course, revenge. Apparently, when I had taken her climbing all those years ago I had been less than sympathetic when she had to abseil and when she had to make scary traverses. I had thought that they had been character building experiences that had contributed to making Jenny the caring, considerate, sympathetic and charming young lady that she is today. (This is meant ironically – fairly obvious to anyone who has met Jenny for more than a few moments I would have thought).
I arrived at White Walls caving hut on Saturday evening. It was not dissimilar from how I remember climbing huts. There was Julia, Anthony, Andrew, Tom and Jenny from Durham (past and present) and some cavers from Cambridge. However, unlike when climbers meet, there didn’t seem to be any point scoring going on. There was some discussion of how Jenny and Tom got lost in their cave or, rather, how the description they were following did not exactly match the route they completed. I have to say I did not find this very reassuring. My big mistake though was to read the guide. Now I know caving guides, like climbing guides, are dual purpose. They are written to be read before doing the cave so you know where to go, and to be read after the cave to relive the adventure. Thus the descriptions tend to be over egged. This helps you get psyched up before and to feel good after. Now the description for Ogof Draenen had me a bit worried. There were just too many words like ‘crawl’, ‘wet’ and ‘squeeze’.
Any way Sunday dawned bright and clear and so Julia, Anthony, Jenny and I set off. Eventually we arrived at the cave entrance. Now I have to admit that I was expecting a fairly substantial hole in the ground perhaps a bit smaller than the entrance to Peak Cavern in Derbyshire, but not much. You can imagine how disappointed I was to be confronted with a small metal door secured with a combination lock. The number was tried. No luck. Jenny and Anthony were sure that there were two numbers in a particular order. All the possible combinations were tried. Still no luck. Then all the possible combinations of the four numbers were tried. Still it would not open. It is only right that I should confess the negative thoughts that went through my mind at this stage which were as follows: thank God I don’t have to go in there, the drive back to the hut will take some time so we will have to go down an easy cave. Anthony, being the experienced member of the group, literally hit upon the solution. He hit the lock with a rock and it opened.
Anthony and Julia entered the cave. It was now my turn. This was where my troubles really began. Perhaps you know the entrance. From my perspective it was a decidedly tight crawl. I was OK as long as I had part of legs or even just my feet outside. As soon as I was actually in the cave my stomach churned and for the first time for many years I knew what blind fear meant. I had to retreat out of the entrance to calm myself down. To cut a long story short, eventually I suppressed my whimpishness and crawled the short distance to where I could stand up. I achieved this mainly due to Julia shining her light back to me and giving words of encouragement. The next half hour was not the most pleasant of my life. There was a descent down scaffolding which was relatively easy, some wet crawling and, for me, a tight squeeze. At last the passage opened up and we could walk upright. The experience became more enjoyable. The straw like stalactites were truly amazing as were the stalagmites and other formations. I could say we turned back all too soon but that would not be true. I was, in fact, quite looking forward to getting out of the cave. I was assured by Jenny that all the crawls would seem much bigger on the way back. And they did. I was mightily pleased to see daylight again. Now I can understand why the Pope kisses I must, at this point, thank Julia, Anthony and Jenny for been so tolerant of my whimpishness and for encouraging me throughout the expedition.
As I write this two weeks after the event I can still see very vividly the entrance to the cave and my stomach twitches just ever so slightly.
Still, Jenny assures me that the first time is always the worst, that it will all seem easy the next time and that SRT is just like climbing so I’ll find it easy. Why am I not totally convinced?