Mark Richardson, Tim Hale, Jeremy Griffiths
Sunday 10th June.
I was thrilled when Mark suggested a trip underground just two days before. I thought I had to give it a go as I had never been caving during my 55 years on this earth. I was drinking after a friends birthday party and was very very drunk when I agreed.
The day started well..I was boosted in the knowledge that Tim was also going to join us for our decent..First stop Marks house. After packing various big bags we were off..Calling in at a Climbers and Cavers shop in Bamford to hire two hard hats with battery lights attached.
We arrived at 9.27 to find Tim already there..Mark advised us on clothing we should wear and as I am a little deaf I had brought shorts when he actually said jogging bottoms...Ooops :) Tim must have been even more hard of hearing as he looked as if he was going on a sporting shoot..The only thing missing..A deer stalker hat...I put on a T-shirt, Shorts, Sweatshirt and Wellies..Mark then kindly lends me a rather old smelly and damp cavers suit..I put it on thinking if only there were some blocked drains to clear I would of earned a few bob today as well..Hat on and we are off.
The three of us set off on the 250 yard walk to the cave entrance leaving my son Alex to look after the fort..I asked him if he wanted to join us for the experience and after thinking carefully for a second said “ No thanks Dad I’m afraid of heights “...Tim takes some pictures at the entrance and then at 10 o clock we start what I hoped was going to be a nice easy stroll..And that’s the way it started..Very easy going walking in a fast flowing stream for the first ten minutes or so..As we get further along I start to hear a dull roar..Its already hard to hear what the other guys are saying due to the flow of water so when Mark tells us what it is I thought he said its water going over a small drop..We continue to the source of the noise to find what to Tim must of thought was the Niagara Falls...Mark opens his bags and starts to take out various bits of equipment..I get a little closer to him and the falls..Not because I am brave. But just to make sure the rope was in good condition and not worn...Above the noise all I hear is Tim saying over and over again “ I`m not going down that “ Mark and I try to assure him that its safe and that the jagged rocks at the bottom were actually made of rubber and in the unlikely event of a slip would cushion a fall. It was when Mark connected the second ladder to the already long piece that Tim finally wet himself...He didn’t tell us he had but the flow of water coming towards Mark and I suddenly increased...Mark and I were a little worried as Tim left us to return to the surface..I was not sure he would make it but we felt a 50 50 chance was enough. Anyway we were coming back that way later and the two of us would be able carry the body out.
My attention now turns to the task in hand. After ten minutes the safety lines and ladder are fixed..I am to go first and Mark stays on top to hold a line that will stop me falling if I slip...I go down gingerly and find the bottom after a few minutes. I then wait for Mark who arrives a few seconds later..”What a guy” I think to myself...I am feeling rather pleased with myself having got down what I thought was the hardest part of the cave. I find out very soon this was untrue.
We leave the ladder in place and I thought its a good job its Tim who turned back and not me as my sense of humour would have meant that on return it would have been rolled up and left at the top.
Mark shouts Crabs to me and I start looking around and see none..He shouts again and then I understand we have to walk like a crab though a slot. Its a shame I had to walk this way as only the other week I had learned to walk like an Egyptian.. Old song but I liked it. This slot seemed to go on for a bit and Mark then tells me the bad news..We are going to walk like crabs for 30 minutes or so. After hearing this I plan a pincer manoeuvre as this was starting to get uncomfortable. I got stuck about 3 times and on some of the sticky`s forwards and backward movement was nil. I was thinking how sad it would be for other cavers to come across my body stopping them from going further down and ruining their day.
After the crab walk we have a short rest whilst I return my leg joints back to their sockets..Its was at this moment I ask myself how is it that Mark who is bigger than me seems to glide through the rock and I just smash against it. Mark explains that as you get older bones are not as pliable meaning my chest cant reduce as his did. Its at this moment I think if I do this again I will prepare better and get my ribs broken before hand to make it easier to get through.
I had brought a rather fancy Cree torch down with me and find its now missing..Bugger. Must of dropped out of my trouser leg as I was drowning just a minute ago when I had to dip under water to get through a gap my body couldn’t .. I go back and with a smile on my face I find it submerged in a pool..The sales spiel is correct and it is waterproof. Phew :)
We have now been underground for about an hour and I`m wet, cold and getting weary. But the false smile on my face makes Mark think all is fine and we stride on. We come across a hole in the floor with water rushing down it..Mark says its best if you go first..My mind is numb as I start to drop through and its at this moment he hauls me back and says “ See I can also make up jokes “ I am so amused with his joke I die laughing and plan my revenge.. Paint balling springs to mind..He’s a big lad and must make a great target.. I will post the date we are going soon..
We arrive at the bottom and after looking at the point where the water sinks have a short rest.. Mark asks if I want to do the loop or go back the way we had come..I ask is it easy or hard.. He says “ Well.. Its not to bad and takes less time “ My mind is made up. I think best to go on as I hate crabs anyway.
We start to scramble up a low roofed passageway. Its even dry.. Hope its like this all the way back I think..Damn..Soon there is water coming towards me again and so soon after I had just blow dried my hair.. :(
A little way on and we come to a junction..Mark hesitates and puts his finger up in the air..This way he says after some deliberation..We walk about 72.3 yards and turn back as its the wrong way..I get my penknife out to cut the offending finger off at first chance..
More low rock and its hands and knees stuff for a bit..Feeling pissed off now as Mark had knee pads on and had not offered them to an old man..I thought. “ bet he never gives his seat up to old people on a bus either “ Then we come to a sheer wall. Another wrong turn as its a dead end..But no..I see a gap at the top and a knotted rope dangling..Mark goes up first..He makes it look easy..Its now my turn..I start my accent and get to base camp and start to put up a tent for the night..I am feeling tired and all the strength has gone from my legs,arms and fingers..Mark sees my plight and asks if I would like a push up..At this point I am thinking I will feign death. I reason that the rescue team will at least put me in a body bag for my return to the surface..OK..So Mark comes down and with a lot of pushing and grunting I find I have made it up..
Easy for a bit and quite dry.. I knew it could not last..We arrive at a river flowing through a hole in the wall..There is even a sign to say don’t attempt to go this way..I ask Mark which way do we go now and he points at the sign..My heart sinks as I start to follow him through and hope my head stays afloat.. I have about 8” of headroom..This is not nearly enough for a head my size but after about 50 yards with one ear under water we make it through.. I wonder if I have lost my fingers as there is now no feeling in them and am amazed to find them albeit bloodied with nails missing still attached..Well so it looked to my now numb brain :)
I decide a rest is in order..Mark allows me 2 minutes and we are off again..I now realise what an unsociable sport this is as most of the time Mark is way out in front and waiting for me to catch up..Don’t wait for me I suggest.. I have never been afraid to die alone..A good job I am not afraid of the dark either as Marks helmet light starts to dim..Correct me if I’m wrong but is it not a good idea to make sure you have nice new battery’s when going underground for a few hours?..At least bring some candles..I smile as I lend him my torch and he spends a few minutes attaching it to the side of his helmet..
I find I now have loads of headroom and sigh in relief as I can now stand up straight and allow my back to recover from the cramp that had set in..Mark shouts to me.. “through here Jerry “ I poke my head in a tight hole and look down a 40 foot drop on the other side..At this moment a very naughty word escapes my lips and a wetness dribbles its way down my left leg..But to keep up the appearance of being a brave man I crawl through..Not before I write my will and say a short prayer to Mohammed, God, Buddha and any other Gods who might be awake and listening. Its as hard as I thought as I get through..I look at Mark and ask what I do now.. I am hanging upside down and wonder if I let go will I bounce as it hit the floor and will I get a head ache :) “Put your foot on that bit of rock sticking out “ Mark suggests.. The bit of rock is smaller then a pubescent nipple and was miles away..No help there then eh. Anyway after hanging around for a bit I flip over and climb up to where Mark is standing..
“Last bit now Jerry” Mark says as he again scampers off. The last bit is what scared me the most..We are above the crab walk and must walk forward with one foot either side. Trying not to slip. This is the moment I wished I was a fat git..As it was I knew that if I fell I was sure to drop some 10 to 20 feet and then get wedged. But no I continued on with a face that showed great fear and was happy Mark was as per normal way out in front and could not see the beads of sweat dripping from my grimacing face. Phew I make it to the end. Now only the ladder climb to do and the finish will be in sight. That’s if the battery’s last :)
Mark flies up the ladder just using his arms and for the second time that morning I think “What a guy “ Me? I’m hoping he is going to start work installing a lift or at the very least pull me up by rope..Not a chance. “Just climb as fast as you can” He shouts down. I slap my arms and legs willing them to wake up and to my amazement find myself at the top. I decide this is a good time to do my bit and help. So I shine my light to make it easier for Mark to pack his bits away. That done we start our short walk out..I start to find a second strength return to my body and we joke about what we will do if we come across the body of Tim..Mark tells me I will start to smell the air change as we approach the end. Strange as all I smelt was the Garlic from the last nights curry I had eaten.
I get excited as I see some light in front of me. Even more excited than Xmas morning as I don’t expect to die the night before as I did today. Who should greet us as we leave the hole behind us. Tim. We dance happily in the stream. Tim had survived. And for the last and final time I thought “Tim. What a guy “ It was then fatigue took its toll and I collapsed and lay down in the stream as Tim took pictures and said “You took your time “
Well after that we all merrily returned to the vehicles to eat egg sandwiches and drink hot coffee. I changed into dry clothes and ask my son Alex what he had done in the 3 hours and 20 minutes we had been away..” I slept dad “ No change there then I thought.
So with a feeling of relief and achievement we set off home..Back to Bamford to return the Helmets. The guy in the shop gave us the batteries back. Obviously I offered them to Mark to use on his next trip down a hole in the ground. :)
I would like to thank Mark for this challenge and had I found out that a guy had broken his back just a few weeks earlier and had to be rescued or seen the video on Youtube of this round trip he would have been alone down there.
Thanks again :)