Hidden Earth 2006

It's late September once again, and that means it must be time for another annual cavers' get-together: a weekend of camping in muddy fields, consuming copious amounts of beer, and catching up on what everyone else has been down to.

I scrounged a lift up with some folks from the WSG, and arrived late on Friday evening, Dave Wilson was already there, drumming up business for his 'Bison' (ex-MigLight) LED caving lights.

The next morning things kicked off at the painfully early time of 9.00am. I helped set up the Austrian expedition stall, which was largely a vehicle to display the huge and meticulously crafted map of the cave we'd discovered on the summer expedition to Austria. I'd done a lot of the drawing for this map myself, and I was profoundly glad to see the whole thing in print at last. I made sure to enter it into the annual competition for "best cave survey", which we'd won the previous year for an earlier version of the same survey (minus the 1km of new passages we'd discovered this summer).

Soon it was time for the talks to start, and we were regaled with tales of exploration all over the world -- from Yorkshire and Wales to Belize and New Guinea. The Hong Meigui Caving Club caused a stir with a two-hour marathon talk describing their discoveries in Tian Xing, Hong Chi Ba and other even less pronounceable areas of China.

For a little light relief, I borrowed an SRT kit and had a crack at the prusiking race -- frantically prusiking up a 40m rope suspended from a pulley while a guy at the bottom let more rope out through a descender, so I prusiked until I was red in the face without actually getting far off the floor. When they finally let me come down again I was somewhat chagrined to discover that my time of 4 minutes 37 seconds put me precisely last in the rankings! Some bloke from Sheffield (?) came in top with an unfeasibly slick 1 min 35. I had slightly more luck with the Speleo Olympics -- an obstacle course consisting of narrow pipes and artificial squeezes that me and a team-mate had to dash into and then come back out of carrying two tacklesacks.

Later that evening, I elected to skip the "stomp" and wandered into the town of Leek with a mixed bag of student cavers from the Cambridge, Durham, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield uni clubs. We managed to find a pub that served remarkably fine beer; before long we were singing toasts to speleology at the top of our voices, which miraculously didn't get us thrown out.

Awaking the next day with a somewhat sore head, I followed the throng of similarly hung-over-looking cavers to yet more talks, and visited some of the other club stalls. The Red Rose caving club were there, with the long-awaited third sheet of the Easegill survey. Since getting lost in Easegill is something of a bad habit of mine, I invested in a copy, realizing as I did so that my hopes that the Austria survey would win the surveying prize had just evaporated; it was a foregone conclusion that the Easegill guys would win. Resisting the temptation to enter a tacklesack-stuffing contest, I browsed the displays of underground photos. Soon it was time to dash off; my friends from the WSG had jobs to go back to the next morning, and they were keen to get going, so we skipped the closing ceremony and hit the road.

David Leoffler