Perhaps it was my poor email writing skills, perhaps it was a symptom of the club’s gradual return to splendid isolation, perhaps it was just chance; whatever it was, only the four of us packed our things on the Friday and strapped ourselves in for the annual… networking event. Meeting Jennifer in Bath train station she drove us the rest of the way to Priddy Village Hall (many thanks) at a time shockingly early for Imperial. There was a bit of a walk to the campsite so we set off to pitch, chatting to various people we met along the way, particularly at length with the lovely people from Dublin Uni who had flown over for the event. We had a bottle of the finest club gin of unknown vintage, found in stores a few weeks earlier, which we expertly paired with bestselling lemonade from a multi-million international corporation, and the sweetest (highest percentage) barrel-agéd apple cider.
Unsurprisingly, a few hours later Chris had invented a game he called ‘aerial squeeze machine’. Kevin, however, had entered full dad-mode and refused to let me try it - so I caused the first destruction of the event, breaking the coat rack in protest. I got thrown around the room quite a lot that evening, very much by my own doing. Think I fully collided with someone at one point – sorry…
Swildon's Hole: Matti Mitropoulos, Chris Hayes, Leona Kouame, Kevin Sohn
None of us had training booked, so we decided to do the only Mendip cave – Swildons. I had been there only a couple weeks ago, but we had no surveys for anything, and I was in the mood for something chill I didn’t have to think about, so forced everyone else to join.
After getting changed very very slowly we walked the 30 minutes or so to the entrance from the campsite in mild drizzle. I assured Leona and Chris, who had never been, that the mild wetness that generated would not be something they should be concerned about. I myself was donning a brave wetsuit plus furry plus oversuit combo to ensure there was absolutely no chance of getting cold. Finally we entered and… immediately got lost. And then immediately found the way again. I just kinda went in any direction, figuring I’d hit the main streamway eventually. Chris had decided he would put every effort into keeping as dry as possible – I insisted it was hopeless (not least because of the sump), but he was determined.
We were fortunate enough to only wait a short while at the 20 – Lancaster were ahead of us but ultimately decided not to go down – someone mumbled something about not having the right equipment as they climbed past. The waterfall was quite voluminous given the rain the days before, but most of the ladder climb was out of the water so we were down in a flash. I had forgotten that the lack of handholds on the climbs below the 20 made them rather challenging despite their short length, but again, no major issues and we made it to the sump in good time.
Chris was on the fence for a while about going through, but ultimately his streak of staying dry was too good, so bailed out and stayed behind as I prepared myself. This caused me to have a poignant moment of reflection on free will as I knelt in the foamy water. Removing the element of choice makes life easier, but does it ultimately lead to a happier life? Does it remove the possibility of regret, since there was never a decision to regret in the first place? Is it a safe way to remove responsibility from your own head? Or is it a slippery slope into fatalism?
Anyway, back we went, leaving the deep thoughts in the muddy puddle. At the 20 there was some commotion – someone from Reading had become too cold to keep moving so they were preparing some hauling equipment. I chatted to a one-wellied fresher for a while who after a good chunk of exposition explained he had lost it in the waterfall. Eventually the frozen Readingite managed to get up through a combination of us pulling her belay rope and supporting herself on the ladder; we hastened out to prevent anyone else getting too cold. Kevin let his priorities shine by leading the group through the wet way. Here Chris and I were providing footholds with knees and shoulders to the freezing Readingite, and here Chris finally failed his quest – as she pushed herself up, the water cascaded gracefully over her shoulder and a beautiful laminar flow arched straight down the back of Chris’ oversuit. Safe to say he then got very cold indeed.
As the evening took hold the games began – Chris went straight for the sock wrestling and made a valiant effort, but was immediately thrown to the dust in the first round. Kevin and I put ourselves forward for pot and sling – I didn’t have too high hopes for us, as a rather large and inexperienced duo, however we managed to put up a fight until the sling couldn’t physically fit over Kevin’s shoulders and we had to forfeit. Table traversing took an unexpected turn near the end – it began as usual but eventually lengthways became too easy so people arranged two tables side-by-side to traverse widthways, gradually increasing the gap. By the end people were leaping insane distances, transforming the game into a dynamic affair. Finally of course, Chris did his very best in the Squeeze Machine but inevitably was bested by his flatter companions.
Once the games were completed the regular program commenced – however Chris managed to get a hold of the baby oil used for the Squeeze Machine, started a mosh pit, and squirted said oil straight into the crowd of people violently running into each other. As far as I know there were no serious injuries, but the floor became insanely slippery making dancing easier. Unlike the Friday I was able to stand up unassisted which meant papa Kevin allowed me to have a go at the aerial squeeze, which I completed with ease.
Its Sunday on a CHECC trip – a dedicated doss day. We stood around, walked around, chatted around, and cleaned around for a couple hours. Then Jennifer drove us to Bath again (many thanks), during which I tried and failed to string any coherent sentences together. Back at home I could finally clean the baby oil out of my ear canal.