18 August 2021


Hiu Yan Cecilia Kan (Cecilia)

Photo: I was never aware of the existance of cave formations in Gaping Gill. I decided these were my favourite during our trip down Whitsum Series. I climbed up to stand next to them, lighting them up, so the cameraman of the trip could not ignore them.  credit to Rhys Tyers

Just below the top deviation. The two cavers peering down from the pitchhead may have lost interest and left after I shouted my mate should come up before they try to descend. Other people's curiosity pricked irksomely for me when I needed undivided attention for a stressful task, so I was glad. Now I could focus better. First, I needed to move my jammers further up. Do not let go of the rope in my left hand. Execute. Good. This time I should have enough rope length to tie an alpine butterfly at the correct place. Wrap two loops around my right hand...I needed my left hand free to allow my muscle memory to guide me through this. I looked down at the rope again, and my eyes naturally followed it far down into the mist shrouding Gaping Gill main chamber. It was a lot of luck that the rope held my weight all through my ascent, for it looked as if it could give up any moment under nothing but its own weight, which was not a small weight. My imagination by reflex conjoured up an image of the rope impishly slithering out of my hand. The fear drove me to decision. I pulled the rope up to my mouth and held it between my teeth. Now I could focus better. Alpine butterfly.

The descent of Dihedral began with a bit of waiting in a small rock tunnel filled with dull roar of water, rather familiar to any caver. You watched each of your friends rigged his (or her or its; Insert pronoun as you see fit) descender, with exclamation whenever he glanced at the well below his feet. Within that well, the rope clinged to one side with four deviations. On the other side, the wall opened up to a bird-eye view of two waterfalls, one spouting out below your feet and freefalling into the main chamber, the other cutting around the far wall of the main shaft in multiple cascades, to almost join the first before they plunge into darkness together. The magnificance was surreal — surely this view belonged in a Planet Earth episode, accessible to a handful of people, least expectedly me. Yet there we were, first group to descend the freshly rigged pitch, in perfect morning light.

The main chamber was the spectacular final terminal of any Gaping Gill trip in my impression. Travelling in "reverse" direction, I discovered there was far more variety to the cave system. We did not venture down to look at the clay sculptures in Mud Hall which I was curious about (there could be room and material for an extra tiny addition), instead went straight for Whitsun Series, but on the way back we decided we would return so that could be in my agenda for the next trip. Fiona and I would like to go beyond the canal which had put Jack and Rhys off, understandably as those two had more mass than I to drag through the generously stal-ed yet crawly passages, fueled by less enthusiasm than Fiona, which was hard to match. She was undetered by the quicksand mud in the drained sump, which absorbed her wellies with each step, and left a broad brown band on her skin above wetsock level she revealed when we changed out of our oversuits. Rhys might photograph some exquisite draperies we only found right after he had packed away his camera.

Along the way back, I redistributed the mud in every clear pool of water, eventually in the circle of feeble light at the bottom of the main shaft. This mud added a very good laugh to our journey, but it must stay where it belonged. Clive was starting his climb up Dihedral, and behind him a rope had appeared down Rat Hole during our adventure to Whitsun. Fiona described a fun imagery she had of Craven members crawling all around the cave system, poking in and out throughout the day, then magically a pitch was rigged. Very good work of Craven Club which provided a great day of caving for many. Rhys and I chose to go up behind Clive as we would unlikely rig this route ourselves in a future trip.

Hauling tackle bags up Diheral would be slow; a massive queue for traffic both ways was probably not faster. I wondered how many enthralling conversations have taken place on the ledge, as cavers waited and waited for the shout above. The ledge was a comfortable place for this purpose, with splendid views and spacious enough to accommodate at least six, the number when I reached it. Some of those discussion must surround the frightful climbing route around the shaft. Clive traced out this out for me and Rhys. We tried capturing some photos, some of Clive swinging out. He had dressed in his bright red PVC oversuit for the occasion. We waited. Rhys huddled me as I started shivering. When I leaned out I could see the helmet light of a caver above. It had been an hour on the ledge. Rhys was contemplating the Rat Hole route already, when a caver descended onto the ledge, much to our surprise and slight frustration for me. But at last I could go up.

I prusiked the hardest I could. I did not try to rotate myself for the view or stop to catch my breath. It took much less time than I expected to climb back into the darkness of the well. I turned on my helmet light. Each deviation krab encouragingly provided an intermediate target to work towards, and I was glad when I was approaching the top deviation. I had my eyes fixed on the krab, but within my vision field I caught an suspicious shadow. A dark thin line on the rope. My alarm was raised but my brain had yet processed what possibilities that implied. By the prusik inertia, my limbs carried on and within the second I could see the naked strands of red, white, and green behind the shadow. There was no difficult decision to make here: my life was dangling by some lines and all I had to do was get above with good clearance. Fear caught on only after I had to engage my brain to analyse the situation. As I isolated the sheathless section, I could not help but worry senselessly for any other cuts or scruffs on the rope. Regardless, I gave Rhys the signal to climb, watched him eventually reached safety, and relaxed.

When Rhys dropped the news he was informed about the rope damage by the caver who last used the rope before me, I was dumbfounded. Then fury started to boil. What absurdity for that caver to prioritise informing me about their long wait above the pitch over the hazardous condition of the rope! Swiftly we exited Jib Tunnel. Rhys led the way back and explained the situation to the Craven members and the cavers waiting around to descend. From afar, I saw Jack and Fiona waving at us next to other groups of cavers, all lazing in the grass in front of the colourful tents of the riggers. It was a cheerful sight. All the agitation I was experiencing was mostly swept away. While we were walking down the hill, we ran into another team of cavers as they emerged from Bar Pot. Looked like everyone had a very good trip. This "Winch without a winch" meet had convinced me Gaping Gill was well worth the long walk on a good day, perhaps especially if in a surplus of rope-carriers.