Report: Club trip to Eastwater Cavern.
Friday 6th August
This was a “last minute” trip, attended by Steve Lodge, Danielle Gorman, Andy Morgan, Melanie Lloyd, Andy Sparrow and Chris Binding. While the others parked their cars on the roadside verges where tall grass gently swayed in the early evening warmth I went to deliver the goodwill fee to the landowner - the farmer's wife grinned in her usual kindly fashion as the six shiny fifty pence pieces were smuggled into her grasping palm. Within a short moment and back at the cars who should stroll along other than Mr. Richard Long, of BEC fame; he was meeting his digging buddy and they were off to make big bangy noises down the cave. We would be keeping out of their way; that was certain. Kitting up was done without much ado and it was time for the challenge - “An introduction to one of Mendip's slightly more demanding caves”, was how Andy S put it to the newbies. Eastwater has a reputation for being a sustained and arduous undertaking but the fresh faced innocent lambs-to-the-slaughter were entirely unaware of what they had allowed themselves to be drawn into. I called it “A difficult Goatchurch”.
It begins gently enough with a pleasant ramble down into the steep-sided valley to the cave entrance; a simple climb down among steel girders to a small opening into the beginning of the sixty foot descent through not entirely stable boulders using the piece of old polypropylene rope as a guide line. This is a gentle and friendly warning to visiting cavers. We reassemble in the steeply descending chamber; the walls are a harsh and ragged array of sharp edges and protruding razor-like fossilised shells, all eager to snag and tear at your overalls. The rock is so dark it seems to drink in the torch light, the air is dank and the abyss ahead generates a feeling of gloom. Great! Just what we came here for….
We read the warning sign placed at the beginning of the “380 Foot Way” by the BEC “Danger: go no further - active dig - explosives being used regularly etc.”. Our way lay to the left… the Upper Traverse. The Upper Traverse is a delightful obstacle which lures one into a false sense of adequacy which later turns into a delusion of capability and finally a weeping realisation of desperation. Imagine a smooth-sided and very narrow rift on an angle of about forty five degrees along which you need to make horizontal progress to begin (while avoiding sliding down-slope into a confined gap) and as you continue it is necessary to make progress uphill towards a narrowing eyehole. This is oppressive, sweaty and demanding work. Despite having a bag to negotiate alongside me through this section I still found plenty of time to take a photograph of the next attemptee. Under the circumstances, the language being used was entirely moderate and reasonable. It was possible to hear oaths being taken regarding the likelihood of returning to this fine cavern.
Andy S thrutching his way backwards up and along towards me in the slippery Upper Traverse.
On completing the Upper Traverse the going continues in a similar vein; uphill, following a narrow groove in the limestone with a low ceiling as company. Eventually we find relief in a small chamber nearby Baker's Chimney. Andy S suggests the Chimney as the next way on but I suggest short legged people take the bypass with me; hence Mel, Dani and I take the non-frightening, but darn narrow, route while the two Andys and Steve get all shakey-legged. We regroup at the top of the Canyon. It is possible to stand up here. Going down the Canyon is fun. Coming back up isn't. Anyway, for the time being we were going down so that was that. We wend our way lower, sometimes climbing, sometimes sliding, first left and right, then right and left; then left. Then up on the edge of the Canyon and towards the slide - similar in design to the Upper Traverse but we go down - so much easier.With its profound drop away to the right, the slide towards the Crossroads is quite invigorating and then we turn left and pop through the hands and knees crawling tube to the head of the thirty foot deep Dolphin Chimney. A suitable belay is found for the rope and we all climb down this fun obstacle. Fun, if you like that sort of thing. It begins narrow but opens out for the last twelve feet or so - hence the need for rope. At the bottom it is possible to stand up - another brief and blessed relief.
Andy M and Dani in the lower Canyon- named after the Grand Canyon for obvious reasons…
Regrouping once more Andy S leads the way down through a nice elliptical squeeze followed by yet another squeeze and an awkward sideways crawl to the head of Dolphin Pitch - a fine 30 foot ladder climb down which we are not going. By this time we had been underground for an eternity and it was Friday night - “One day, this caving trip's gonna end”. So, we all ascended Dolphin Chimney (many using a jammer to self line) and grovelled our way back along the tube and sweated our way back up the Canyon to the place where it was possible to stand up.
Mel thrutching back up from the approach to Dolphin Pitch.
Here was the “Relatively Easy Way Out” option - the so-called “effortless” way is out through the infamous rocky mausoleum which is aptly described as the Woggle Press, so named after the strawberry jam remains of a Scout many years ago who had dislodged a boulder while attempting a similar route, or alternatively (“Dah, Dah DAH!!!” - haunting fanfare of full orchestra)…. we could go back the way we came in. Obviously there was no choice - going back along the traverse didn't score highly on the “things to do list” of those present. So, through a short crawl into a chamber liberally strewn with fallen boulders the size of cars (with a not too reassuring ceiling of fractured rock containing similarly sized ammunition) and a simple climb up leads us to the Woggle Press - a hellishly narrow, sharp and jagged, dog-leg squeeze into the bottom of the boulder choke which leads out of the cave. This is one of those obstacles where it is possible to rediscover a long-lost fluency in Anglo Saxon.
Finally, when exiting the cave, it is worth remembering that it is a piece of cake to get lost among the boulders despite the guideline - especially if your light fails and you are relying on a backup lamp which is as dim as a bimbo. Anyway, no mishaps later, we all pop out to the comfortable evening tranquillity and the joys of being continuously stood upright.
Mel, Andy S, Andy M, Dani and Steve all enjoying being stood up, for a change.