Gerardo Ocana-Fuentes, Hannah Heyemann, Janet Cotter, Jarvist Frost, Jay, Marc Labuhn, Quiet Tim, Rik Venn, Sammy, Sandeep Mavadia, Sarah, Tim Wright (Shed)
Pridhamsleigh: Quiet Tim, Sam & Hannah, Deep, Jay and Gerardo
A beautiful day did not deter the hardcore of ICCC freshers eager to get muddier than they had ever been, Pridhamsleigh was chosen and the six of us were dropped off at the entrance before the minibus sped off to Afton Red Rift. Tim had been here before so finding the entrance was trivial even if his last visit was 7 years ago, a quick snap and we were underground. The encounter with the mud was almost immediate and utterly liberating as wrists and knees disappeared below the surface and returned in a very familiar brown colour, lubricating the short boughts of crawling.
We headed on into this maze like cave, the perfect place to play underground hide and seek, and explored every single lead we could find often ending up in blind crawls which had to accessed by mudslide. At one point I was coaxed out of a section of rift in the floor by a harmonious rendition of Help by The Beatles.
We decided that was enough monkeying about and we were going to make a consorted effort to find the elusive underground lake; we headed down an as yet unexplored passage, which after a few greasy climbs turned into a streamway. Progress, you might think, but this streamway kept getting deeper and deeper as the shrieks from the girls came echoing backwards as the water passed levels 1, 2 & 3!* I went forward to investigate, and found Sam and Hannah wading up to their armpits in cold water, this wasn't ideal to say the least so I hoisted Sam up into the rift and sent Hannah back to find refuge. This definitely wasn't the way that we were meant to be going so we turned back.
After a few minutes, Jay caught sight of a solo caver tried to follow him to ask for directions, it turned out that he was a diver and was planning to dive the underground lake, alas some of his equipment wasn't working as it should so he had to retreat.
We exited in just 10 minutes confused with how it took us 2 hours to find the underground lake. This was a fun fresher cave, something to get new cavers into the sport.
- Level 1 - wet feet, Level 2 - crotch, Level 3 - nipples, level 4 - sump diving time!
Afton Red Rift: Jarvist, Marc, Rik & Sarah
After a bit of excitement finding the damn cave - scrambling over some random scrub-land looking for a cliff-like entrance, the rather warm rift was entered. It was incredibly slippery - lubricated with a rather greasy feeling bright red mud. Not the most fresher friendly place in the world to be, but Marc coped amiably. Breaking out into 'Flower Chamber', a well deserved rest & strip was enjoyed, it was truly sweltering underground! The formations were less than impressive - clumps of 'popcorn', the red colour lost below the coating of mud.
Met up with the guys from Reading in 'Cascade Chamber' - which was indeed as impressive as the name implies. The Reading Crew (with a rather pleasent A3 survey!) zoomed out to go cliff-diving, leaving us to attempt the roundtrip. After a bit of confusion with the selected-caves survey indicating non- bisecting passages where a crossroads was found, we found ourselves in Mud Hall. What we thought was the way on was a suicidal climb in the roof; after looking at other possibilities we reversed our steps and headed out the way we came in. Speaking to someone (I forget who) later, the way on was apparently in the floor.
Jarvist Frost G+
I was very pleased to find that a complete misfit like myself seemed to fit in so well that I felt like an old lag on my very first trip, and was mistaken for one by several people there.
The caving itself was a lot of fun, and I was surprised how different the three caves I visited were, and how different again they were from a cave I had been to in Derbyshire. I felt very elated, and exhausted, after negotiating the many traverses and climbs in Afton Red Rift, with plenty of help from the rest of team keen (Jarv, Rick & Sarah).
There was plenty of fun to be had outside of getting hot, bruised and muddy, too. Camping in a field in the middle of Devon, having BBQs, skinny-dipping in the river Dart and much more were almost enough to make me forget that I was still in England.
If there is a downside, it is that I will now have to wait until October until the next trip.
BBQ by the River Dart:
Joining us in a non-caving fashion for the weekend was The Shed, Em & Janet. During the day they had scouted out, with Janet's local knowledge, a fantastic spot for the BBQ. Just by the banks of the 'no agricultural run-off or pollution along its entire length' and extremely swimmable River Dart, with a minibus sized carpark and Scotish Highland cattle grazing around the local pushes. Shed had boules with him - but no jack, so many games were played with a shallot. In case Lyndon asks, we most definitely did not build a pyramid camp-fire on top of his beautiful chrome BBQ.
Skinny-dipping by dark in the Dart (the waterproof nature of the FX3 was a definite bonus), extinguishing the BBQ coals and then a rather exciting drive over super-narrow one-lane bridges with the tee-total but not so experience 'bus driver Jarv. A lovely end to a day of caving. Why isn't it always June in this country?
Dog Hole & Prid: Rik, Marc & Sarah
Team keen, consisting of Sarah, Mark and myself set off on Sunday's only caving jaunt. Meanwhile the others went off to drink cream teas, give confession at the local Abbey and cuddle some otters at the local wildlife sanctuary. We got the key for a cave called dog hole, which is right next to Pridhamsleigh.
Much like the other caves in Devon, dog was very muddy and consequently slippery. We set off with the intention of quickly reaching the main chamber, then opening the gate to the pretties which lie beyond. Upon looking at the gate, it was decided that it was probably some sort of trick as we couldn't see anywhere to put the key. A farce ensued, as we attempted to find another gate-type thing elsewhere in the cave.
There was a moment of excitement when I got a bit stuck coming back through a fairly involved uphill squeeze leading out of a chamber with a couple of digs. Luckily Mark was close at hand to take my helmet and battery belt through before helping me get out. After that little trauma, I also performed a very schonky, slippery climb involving use of a sling foothold and a fair few meters above the ground. Unfortunately there was nothing up there and eventually we realised that we had to investigate the unlikely metal plate we'd discovered earlier.
Mark discovered the padlock, which was behind the plate and proceeded to attempt to open it. Obviously, such an awkwardly placed lock in such a muddy cave had long since become completely filled with mud and stuck. We all had two attempts at opening the lock before giving up and going for a bimble round nearby Priddam's Leigh.
Pridhamsleigh was a bit more complicated to navigate and I lost the other two briefly when I went up to ask directions to the underground lake from a local chap guiding a tourist trip. Luckily, the two routes we took re-converged after not very long and we managed to find each other. We stormed onward to a drippy climb down which looked like the way on. However, it was getting rather late so we decided to retreat back to the van. We had ample time for a dip in the nearby stream before getting changed and going for a tasty kebab. A fine few hours worth of caving were had by all, even if we didn't get to see what lay on the other side of that mysterious gate in dog hole or even the lake in Pridhamsleigh.