29 April 2021

Don't look up. Go up.

Hiu Yan Cecilia Kan (Cecilia)
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Glorious day. We entertained the idea of white furries for caving. (Photo credit: Rhys Tyers)

Where do you lay your eyes when you are dangling in the middle of a great big pitch? Dave said he closed his eyes going down and only observed the space while he had plenty of time on the way up, whereas Rhys looked around both ways. I try to absorb every detail during the descend, as the laborious climb always disperse my focus. To each his own way to derive pleasure from a void underground. Caving is the most accommodating sport for all fun-seekers, a conclusion we all easily agreed upon at the end of a conversation where once again Dave would not be inveigled to better types of cycling.

It is even possible in some sense to enjoy the sunny weather through caving. If one opts for a trip through a dark cold cave such as Black Shiver. I had not been before, but from the tameness of water in Swinsto where I went later in the week, I surmise the water level was relatively very low in Black Shiver. The cave was wet and its water glacial. Not enough young keen cavers had been sent through its crawls to scrub down the sharp ledges, thus my shin suffered. Surprisingly, for the top part of the cave, whenever I was not on all fours in water, my body had stayed a mostly comfortable temperature, even without thermals. Dropping the association to its name, the cave looked nothing ominous in my eyes. Glitter danced in the lake below Black Dub Pitch as Rhys waded through with caution. Up above, Dave and I sang "How Far I'll Go".

Black Rift was terrifying to descend on "danger mil". I carefully coordinated my two hands, eyes kept watch on the blazing orange snake below me. This pitch could have been rigged on sturdier rope. The bottom of Black Rift was rather drippy, so waiting around there was a bit cold. The solution, in our specific circumstances, was to commit to the crawl below the arch. To readers who might be mildly disgruntled that we were not getting the full Black Shiver experience, it should be some consolation that I was very submerged here. I did found it warmer to be in the smaller space beyond even after the soak.

Whether as encouragement to those who had made it so far, or to lure cavers who might otherwise see no reason to enter Black Shiver at all, the description changed its voice 360 degrees to a very positive tone for the passages that followed. If there were any "slightly sharp and awkward streamway", we only saw 10m of it. We were not fooled to consider an improvement from the knee-tiring low wet crawls to be "excellent" by its own nature. From a stooping position, I could admire every marble white formation I had to navigate. If Rhys still believed in promise of "splendid, gloomy and atmospheric passage" midway to North Chamber, the refreshing feeling of standing upright in the chamber must have woken him up. Dave and I, being smarter, were dubious earlier on. Being the smartest one, I offered to derig to stay warm.

"All pitches should be rigged on 6 mil, even if I would have to replace all my jammers." The rope limply hanging below me was weighing me down; the rope taut above me extended into a vapour cloud. I tried to focus my attention on the wall of Black Rift directly in front of me. Long straight lines had been combed in the smooth grey rock, which my sight climbed every time I pushed to stand up. For the three days to come my quadriceps would be hurting from this motion, but right now they were making progress. Good, good, I was moving up the smooth grey lines. I looked up again. The top of Black Rift was nowhere in sight. These miserable quadriceps had completely forgotten how to cave.

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