We had a very specific selection of ropes; We had maillons; We had to optimise for doing only the necessary travel to get ourselves underground. All hurdles, but we identified our cave candidate nonetheless. The weather god was impressed, so he granted us weather with the strongest caving vibe. Come what may. Our plan needed no mercy from him, so we would be the ones laughing till the end. Except at the parking bay, we saw two other cavers had already changed into bright orange PVC and fabric oversuits.
"You want me to run and ask if we could follow them?" Perry repeated his question. Behind him, the rain swayed only to unfeeling wind, not any word man could utter. Rhys and I stared back in silence. We were dry and comfortable in Perry's car, whereas Perry was already in his waterproof, prewashed from when he got the info the pair of cavers was heading for Oxlow Cavern too. Moments later, Perry dashed out. I watched him disappeared, then began to feel uneasy as minutes ticked away. Perry had always been an excellent companion. He had even brought us a Fredo each for this trip. I did not wish to lose him to the rain. One of the three tackles Rhys and I packed was particularly heavy as well. At last, alas, he came running back with good news.
Half an hour later, I was bawling "Tragedy" (by Bee Gees. A tragedy if you are still listening to the Steps cover version) while I took out as many screw-gate from my gear as I safely could, which was not many. Through combined effort, we counted 8 maillons we could leave behind. Better than none. A stone's throw away, Mam Tor was a solid drab grey, yet some friendly hikers passing by seemed baffled we should choose to spend an adventure in a dark place. How to let them understand? "It's not raining down there!" was our reply.
Oxlow was no dank gritty grim hole. If not for the wooden scaffold poles littered around the floor, or half wedged in ceiling or walls, one might even forget this was a mine. The flowstones in Oxlow were smooth white, layering themselves along the ramp that made a perfect spectator stand to admire the East Chamber. This vast space captured all of Rhys' attention. Took the time I switched twice between ascenders and descenders with unpractised fingers before he figured out the way to West Swirl Passage. An even purer colour in the formations at the bottom of the fifth pitch. Playful water washed them clean, then splashed down the entrance of the small passage leading to the sump. Perry got lured in. He came back — he always did — to proclaim the beauty of the sump, that the jolly spray was nothing to fear, as water dripped from his helmet rim. He must have been in a trance! Rhys slithered down the passage next, wearing scepticism on his face. But agility only for going down was no use, for the catch was on the way up. I went to see the sump too, and it was indeed crystal clear water, but of course I waited till after we had had our Wensleydale with cranberries.
Perry derigged the bottom half of the cave, I the top half. I changed my mind and no longer wished to take on the task alone. Rhys worked out the logistics for that, subsequently worked out I was optimising for only carrying a filled tackle sack for necessary distance. Derigging maillons was a slow task. I joked Perry was sluggishly rolling around while he worked at the pitch head, so he actually performed a backward roll, tangling himself further in the rope pile. By the time he reached the top of the West Swirl Passage, he had no such energy. He dumped the tackle at my feet, so I carried on. Was a very heavy bag, with a stupid straps arrangement and ridiculously long donkey stick so the bag caught on everything. I did not miss derigging maillons. The only way out was to sing, sing more. Fine fair day for us underground.