Here is a very incomplete list of some of the trips the Eldon have been up to recently.

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Team: Archie T, Jim T, Luke C, Chris H

Following a successful ‘first trip’* for Archie on which he left the old men in the dust on the Giant’s Round Trip, we were keen to maintain the momentum for Eldon’s youngest new aspirant with honing SRT skills being the order of the day, given that he can probably crawl further than us, climbs anything and fits through much smaller gaps, so no formal training required in that respect.

Only recently have I come to appreciate just what a super little cave Snelslow is. Straightforward access (if you take note of where to look and don’t spend ages wandering around fields in the dark in completely the wrong place) , lovely and dry, and everything needed for some more than just a straight up and down within 5 mins of the entrance, and it’s a really spectacular pitch with good visibility for onlookers.

It's also up the Giant’s track and given reports of that being covered in snow earlier in the week we did a bit of logistical leapfrogging that saw Archie and I plus kit in Chris’ car and the three of then being picked up at Perryfoot by our hero Luke in his awesome Hilux, lamenting the fact that he was running it on fumes and had severe range anxiety.

The winter sky was crystal clear as we stood chatting, with stars visible and a gentle moonlight sparkling on the snow around us. Chris pointed out a fast moving satellite, then another, and we realised a seemingly endless train of Starlinks was passing overhead. They just kept appearing out of the far horizon until, after what seemed like ages, the last one passed out of view. (n.b Wikipedia says there are 5000+ of them in orbit, and that a train may consist of 50-60)

Once our rapture subsided we looked towards the moon, with a really bright Jupiter peeping out just below it. Although it was absolutely freezing, being outside at night in this spot was the place to be.

We didn’t come for astronomy though so we all hopped into the Hilux and drove up to Peakshill where it was indeed 4X4 (or at least certainly not camper van) accessible.

The prebeers were frozen as soon as they were opened as was our skin. Questioning our life choices we got changed as soon as we could, but with Archie needing his new (kindly gifted by Chris) harness adjusting I soon lost the feeling in my fingers and wondered if they’d ever warm up. Fortunately Chris could vaguely remember the way to the hole so we shot across the fields and ended up only slightly off course sliding on our arses down the snow to get to stream level. We reached the entrance and Archie was straight down the ladder and in before we could even do a bit of a briefing. Chris set off after him and explained the couple of pitches and what to expect before heading off to rig them.

Soon after It was rope free and time for Archie to get on the rope. He’d managed fine with my close supervision on the Garland’s pitch head but now we were introducing a rebelay and deviation into the mix and it was a strange feeling seeing my own flesh and blood leave the safety of the pitch head and swing into a sizeable space where all I could do was talk him through any difficulties. Fortunately he’d remembered everything he’d learned and we’d drilled on the stairs at home and didn’t need any help at all. I breathed again and headed down to join him and once Luke joined us we all crawled towards the last pitch. Luke took the lead this time and quickly rigged, before calling up that it could hardly be called a pitch and didn’t think there’d be enough room for 4 of us down there. I had a look over and he was right. We opted to send Archie down to squeeze a bit more practice out of the evening and once he was down him and Luke did look akin to sardines standing in a little hole at the bottom.

I listened to Luke talking Archie through the mechanics of prusiking and dealing with a rope that refuses to run through a Croll, grateful that he was in safe hands, and once he was back with me checked that Luke was OK derigging the whole cave and we made for the rope, me having a little chuckle as Archie rather thoughtfully asked if Luke would be alright on his own… I didn’t hear much crying from below so guessed he would be.

I headed off up the rope demoing the two footed rope trap technique as I did and stood by at the pitch head again to wait for an Archie who emerged at the obstacles a bit tired. I observed that his harness was suffering from adjustment at the point after which my fingers seemed to have failed to operate so his leg loops were behind his knees and he was pretty much laying out horizontally with no support from his Croll. Still, he was unfazed and not moaning so it’s all part of the process, caving being the oft-minging experience we all thrive on enduring.

 

Soon after we all emerged on the surface feeling a warmth that stayed with us all the way to the car although it was still good weather for Polar Bears and I yearned for a fur coat as I bared my arse to the moon.

Keen to give Archie the full TA experience we swapped the cars and zipped off to the Anchor for pints and snacks, and were joined by Rob, Sam and Jon with a tale to tell.

*first SRT trip that wasn’t an ill-advised faff down Cussey that probably led to not wanting to try caving again for a year

Team: Jim T, Archie T, Chris Hibberts

The original plan for the evening was to go and look at the collapse in Makshill, but it didn’t take much persuading from Jim to sack it off and take Eldon’s newest aspirant, son of “….Legend and saviour of Eldon”, Archie T on a more enjoyable trip down Giants. Plan was to introduce Archie to SRT on Garlands and complete the round trip.

After meeting at the carpark and pre beers in a nice warm van it was time to brave the cold and kit up. Archie got a quick brief on his SRT equipment, and we set off up a very windy and cold valley to the entrance. Once in the entrance it didn’t take long to warm up and the trip to Garlands was pretty swift. I rigged Garlands and Archie followed, with instruction from Jim he was soon at the bottom of the pitch with no issues, mind you living with a legend who invented Alpine Caving Techniques this came as no surprise.

Jim & Archie bottom of Garlands Pot - By Chris H
Jim & Archie bottom of Garlands Pot - By Chris H

We made our way through the crab walk and Archie led the way, he was off like a whippet only stopping to check back to see if me and Jim were keeping up. I realised that although I’d done several trips into Giants with family and friends to the top of garlands it had been 10 years since I’d been in the crab walk and I was a little larger than the last time I’d been in there so some sections had to be passed by crawling in the lower wider sections especially at the Vice squeeze.

Having navigated to the end of the crab walk it was over to Jim to lead the way from the Eating House, I also realised that I’d never actually done the Giants round trip so it would be a first for both Archie and me. Following the way, we soon realised that we had missed a right-hand turn and ended up in Maggins Rift. Climbing back down we only then realised the size of the rift which was very impressive. Back on track we soon found the start of Giants Windpipe which was quite full with about 6/7 inches of space between the water and roof.

Archie Thompson Giants Hole - By Jim T
Archie Thompson Giants Hole - By Jim T

Finding the top of the crab walk the water below could be heard, with Jim giving Archie hints and tips on how to negotiate the climbdown we were soon back in the water and made our way to the bottom of garlands pot. We all made quick work of getting back up the pitch and Archie handled it like a pro. As we approached the entrance the temperature was starting to drop and the walk back to the car was even colder now with wet gear.

We changed and head to the Anchor for post caving refreshments only to find that they had shut early, we tried the Red Lion but this was shut too so called it a night and head off.

Archie was now keen to expand on his SRT training with plans to do a longer trip next week. Watch this space……

 

Chris H & Archie T bottom of Garlands Pot - By Jim T

Jim, Chris, Jon, Rob, Sam, Joe, Luke, Dylan

Following an eventful journey to Matienzo, via almost-Bilbao and ultimately Santander, that being the wrong airport in terms of intended destination but the right one in terms of the pilot actually being able to get the plane on the ground in one piece due to falling-out-of-the-sky levels of turbulence due to wind, rapid action from Joe and Chris who hired fresh cars before we’d even discovered if we’d be able to get off the plane, an excited Team Awesome headed to do a recce of the route and drop some kit at the end of the exploration objective for the week, Torca De Pena Encaramada

https://matienzocaves.org.uk/descrip/3380.htm

After a fun time changing in glorious sunshine surrounded by eucalyptus trees and some kind of giant hornet that we preferred to not inspect too closely, the team dropped the 30m entrance pitch and assembled in a chamber seemingly made for calibration of Distos. After the usual interminable sequence of turning and pressing we pressed on.

Bits of stomping interspersed with the odd squeeze led us to a 300m crabwalk in and above water more akin to a Derbyshire cave and not what I came to Spain for, but the whole time was joyous, I felt fully switched on and we were all bubbling away having loads of fun.

A lovely stroll along the ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ took us further into the system, past a stunning aven in the Long Road to Ruin that we eyed up as a possible climb, and eventually everyone paused at the I Want it All boulder choke, where the way on appeared to be in a low, squalid crawl under a boulder and into a tight looking squeeze. I preferred to let Rob, Joe and Dylan take the plunge first but once they were through and confirmed the way was on, decided that delaying the inevitable would only make it worse so grovelled my way through the muddy water and to the hole. The water wasn’t as bad as it looked, but the squeeze didn’t look great. I poked an arm and head in and it didn’t feel great, so I popped back out and had a better look at the shape of the hole and pushed in again. Back and forth four times with increasing insertion but ultimately and increasing feeling of getting closer to total stuckness led me to reluctantly back out for what I thought would be the final time and the end to my aspirations of pushing the end of the cave onwards to glory….

Cue the return of a calm and encouraging Joe at the other side of the hole, bringing assurances and kind words that I’d most certainly have no problem reaching the hallowed other side if I only applied the right fortitude.

Reinsertion commenced and immediately I felt better with Joe’s soothing tones coaxing me gently ahead. A bit of vigorous pushing and wriggling and through I popped with an elated whoop! I headed forward to meet Rob and Dyl at the bottom of a dark drippy aven full of fallen pillars of rock and the place felt ominous and immediately remote compared to the preceding friendly metres.

I decided to go and check on Chris’ progress as I knew he’d be having similar thoughts to mine and found him having a similar experience. Maybe my bedside manner is not what it should be but no amount of coaxing would get him to commit so I called on a no-longer-soulless, but now rather Gentle Joe. Chris is a tad broader than me and unfortunately even Joe’s powers couldn’t make him achieve the impossible in this case.

In spite of my elation at getting where I was in the first place, I’d had a slightly perturbed feeling that the feat may not be quite so easy in reverse, and not wanting to find out at the end of a grueller, and not wanting to abandon Chris to cave out on his own, I decided to go back the way I’d come. I decide to go with my preferred right arm forward like I had on the way through and the shape of the hole looked good for it. I got inside and applied some power like I had done on the way through and kept moving right up to the point that my hip bones ground to a halt on the rock. My ribs were a tad pinched too but the immovability of my pelvis was the primary cause for concern. Not a problem, I’ll just reverse out a try a slightly different position. At this point I realised that my earlier slight perturbance had a sound base.

Literally nothing I did helped, I couldn’t move backwards, nor forwards, up, down, nothing. I felt a panic rise but decided to supress it as a panicked caver is a bigger and more tired caver. Relaxing didn’t really help however so I had a little panic again, and then a bigger one that gave way to shame and sorrow as the realisation dawned that I’d really messed up on day one of the expedition and I’d been having such a great time and I wouldn’t be able to go caving again and wondered how long I’d take to starve to death as the cave didn’t even seem cold enough for hypothermia to take me away that quickly.

Gentle Joe had clearly sensed something was up, possibly because he’d heard my repeated cries of ‘oh fuck I’ve fucked it this time’ or words to that effect. He came and grabbed hold of my legs to try to lift my hips out of the narrowing at the bottom but it didn’t do much to relieve matters. Unfortunately for Sam he turned up at my head end and asked if I could move, so feelings turned to rage as a screamed that if I could fucking move I’d not be stuck in this fucking squeeze and if he didn’t have anything constructive to say he’d better shut the fuck up. I immediately apologised and asked him to grab my head to take the strain off my tiring neck. His presence did however have a calming effect as I calmed down and took stock the situation. I couldn’t bend my torso forward, but reaching my arm behind revealed a massive space behind my arse…. Unusable space due to the fact that my hips were being pressurised into the rock in front but it was space. Maybe I wasn’t trapped in the choke forever after all. For now though I wasn’t moving. The L shaped boulder above me and the narrowing below me had me held fast.

I managed to get an arm down to reach my belt and thankfully the buckle was right where I needed it so I wiggled it and millimetre by millimetre the buckle came undone and I pulled it off and out of the way. A few mm hip wiggle forward made me feel better until I got more stuck, however at that point Sam realised that my oversuit was rucked up behind my arse. I shifted a shoulder and felt material slip a few mm up my back. ‘Sam, grab my collar and fucking pull!’ cordura sliding up my back gave me the impetus to push as hard as I could and I shouted ‘Sam! Keep fucking pulling and don’t stop!’ As the fabric slid I went with it and forgot about the fact that it felt like my pelvis was being abraded against the rock. The next moment I shot out of the squeeze like a cork out of a bottle with an even bigger whoop than the entry whoop and dragged myself through the puddle before collapsing at the feet of Luke and Chris with looks of genuine concern on their faces. They rallied round and shoved some food and drink into me and I sat for a moment saying ‘fucking hell I really thought I’d fucked it’… Quick hug for Sam before he headed through the newly christened ‘Pug Trap’ and it was time to get the hell out of there.

The return trip felt great in the circumstances with no lasting trauma evident. 300m of flat out wet crawling felt a lot harder than on the way in and it was only after about 200m that I realised that it hadn’t been flat out crawling on the way in and stood up.

Chris and I lost Luke and Jon in the Disto chamber and had a little detour down the wrong direction until the lack of footprints highlighted our folly and we retraced our route and back to the entrance shaft.

As Chris prusiked up I sat in the dark and felt glad to be with such a mega team and pondered whether I felt fast and fit for the ascent. Just as I started to feel the cold Chris boomed out ‘rope free!’ and I stuck on my jammers and bolted for freedom. I was fast and fit and in short order was inhaling the amazing smell of a eucalyptus scented surface air in the utter darkness of the Cantabrian night.

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