Ari Whitby, Clare Tan, Mike Rogerson (Goaty), James Kirkpatrick, James Roberts, Jan Evetts, Jean Maillard, Kate Smith, Lim Kangyu, Martin Anderson, Mehdi Ben Slama, Nathan Daniels, Nia John, Niko Kral, Rong Kai, Thomas McCarthy-Ward
Oxlow->Maskhill: Clare, Nico, Kai, Charis and Kate
Maskhill->Oxlow: Goaty, Jan, James Roberts, Nia, Kangyu
Headed by the danger trio of Clare, Nico and myself we were dropped off by James KP 'driver extrodinaire' along with the wonderful freshers left in our care, Kai and Charis. Our mission: to go down Oxlow, exchange with the other group and leave through Maskhill without death/serious injury. We quickly found the entrance on the cold and snowy hillside and after vast quantities of faffing began our task. Clare with the assistance of Nico bravely took charge of the rigging whilst I took up the rear. After waiting around in the snow and freezing winds we descended into the familiar mine shaped pitch of Oxlowe.
Thankfully our frozen hands quickly warmed and became mobilized in the shelter of the friendly cave. We soon ran into a group of Mendip cavers going the other way and whilst waiting for the groups to pass each other we exchanged words regarding ladders and horror stories of 2nd year led trips. After smoothly passing the first few straightforward pitches some confusion arose regarding the direction of the way on, Clare's thorough exploration of a humungous chamber revealed that it was just behind the bottom of the pitch.
This led to a slopey passage requiring a 55m hand line that caused much annoyance for the rigging duo as the rope we had brought wasn't long enough. Turned out they started it too high up the passage. They tried every combination of knots and arrangements but we ended up using the old permanently rigged hand line on the last section, which was fine. The last pitch, rigged by Nico, was quite nice with another lovely deviation. Whilst descending I am harassed by Clare 'Hurry up!' she shouts, we had found the Maskhill team.
Chocolate, a piss and a potter were abruptly followed by the ascent of Maskhill. This was the part I was not particularly looking forward to, the 150m of pure prussicking with a bag filled with bulky 11mm rope. The two freshers were in front which left Clare, Nico and myself to have a good laugh, reflecting on the ridiculous situation we were in. Clare (my hero) took it upon herself to derig and we went on our way. After the first pitch an entertaining swing pitch provided some fun, with no one managing an elegant execution. Then came an adorable traverse before a large series of small to medium pitches.
Not sure if it was because it was my second visit or because the cave is spacious and dry but the cave felt very friendly and comfortable. Lots more pitches. Fun fun fun. Didn't want to leave the lovely snuggliness so waited around and had a singsong with Nico. When the presence of Clare was felt at the back we hurried on out into the bitter cold. To the van we went, cookies and apple pies we found. Clare stole items of clothes from everyone and even had the courage to nick Nathan's super coat [a brand spanking new down jacket...]. Nice walk through Winneti's Pass back to the TSG where Thomas had prepared fantastic Bolognese. The result: a nice nostalgic Oxlow-Maskhill trip without death or serious injury. Not thanks to Nico though as it turns out he rigged his pitch with a double overhand. Let's just hope the adults let us do it again some time.
Nico, facebook correspondence:
MYYLEEEEEEEEEES! caving was actually surprisingly pleasant.. it all worked out at the end and man clare me nd kate lead a trip..:D prity insane..:D it was quite nice a little bit of alternative rigging cos we wer short of 10 m rope but well.. it was all alrite ..:D was fuckin cold in derbishir..:D and man james nd nathan took freshers down for epic trip they came back at like three in the morning and poor freshers man, mehdi (dnt kno if u hav met him) was properly raptured man..;D but well watever they love it rly..
JH wave 1: Nathan, Ginger Martin, Mehdi
JH wave 2: James KP, Ari, Jean, Thomas MCW
The plan was for me to pick up the late stragglers and follow Martin, Nathan and Mehdi down JH. We wanted to visit the white river series from JH. Ari, Jean, Thomas and I reached the cave at 3pm. We got changed in the minibus and wizzed down the first pitch. I warned folks not to go swimming in the submerged works, soon enough we got to the top of bitch pitch, where we met Martin. Apparently the rope was a little short for the very bottom and we needed to transfer onto a reasonably healthy looking permanently installed rope that we had been told about by a member at the TSG. At this point Thomas was not feeling too well, so I escorted him back to the entrance. I rejoined the party on Leviathan which was swiftly descended. Then the fun started.
The canal towards speedwell was cold. We tried to avoid the deeper parts and ended up on a pointless detour upstream of a small tributary [Ed: suspect this was whirlpool passage? reports of wading up to chest deep, except for Ari who was up to her neck!]. Soon enough we retraced our steps and embraced the cold cold water. Soon we reached the bung: a ladder in a waterfall. Nice. Immediately after this was block hall, a dry oxbow with a rope hanging down. Nathan was first up and we all followed. It was taking ages to get up this bastard, and what with its pendulums, hanging rebelays, considering the time and looking at the faces of my companions I made an executive decision: back out!
So started the long way out, eating chocolate bars and freezing in the cold cold water. Got out to a crisp night. The weather was sufficiently cold that the [cave pad]lock was frozen shut. Seriously? Got back to the minibus to inspect the damage. Mehdi was asleep. Nathan was in a sleeping bag and hogged the heater. Time to get back. The hut was deliciously warm the food tasty (thanks Thomas) and everyone was asleep. Good times!
Sunday JH entrance rope (+ frozen key!) collection: Jan, James KP, Thomas MCW, Nico
Nico on facebook again:
story continues: basically it turned out to be a pleasant, tiring and nice..no one went caving on sunday instead james me thomas and jan went back for rope (cos they ddnt derig the first rope) and on the way back climbed a cliff to the back of the little castle just to realise that front was kinda closed. so basically lil tresspassing here nd ther but well watever..it was all prity cool man..and man leadin trip is insane..u r either like checkin freshers out or rigging or carrying bag or generally tryin to keep a good atmosphere and tis fun but man..i kinda have feelin that these freshers are way more competent than we wer.. it was basically rly cool
The mystery of the overhand...
So there I was, down stores again for an evening (procrastinating from writing up? me?). Unpacking a rope back, I come across a curiously dense knot. Ten minutes of aggressive wetting, pushing, pulling and scrunching, and I have it loose enough to see what it is. It was indeed a simple double overhand knot. That someone abseiled off. Mmm.
Other than the age it took to undo, the rope was actually fine underneath it, the core not kinked at all. It would be such a curious knot to use intentionally, that I haven't actually been able to find any recent rope test data to see how weak it is. But it certainly is difficult to undo, and the much chastised learner rigger will never be forgetting how many turns to put in the double figure eight!