Monday, 16 March 2015

Losing myself (with Sid) in Langstrothdale

I still remember how I really enjoyed writing this piece. I also remember cursing myself at the time for not writing a lot more about my experiences in the past than I did. Originally posted on UKCaving Feb 2014.

Losing myself (with Sid) in Langstrothdale
Two winters ago i introduced a mate of mine Sid Rayner to caving. Sid was a very accomplished rock & ice climber but had done very little underground stuff prior (if any).
Sid was diagnosed with scoliosis in his late teens and the ensuing operations left him partly disabled. During this time he was also told he only had one working lung. But none the less Sid continued life as normal and climbed at levels on rock and ice that most of us can only dream of.
His first underground trip with me was Dowbergill passage, his 3rd trip with me was the Langstroth Pot/Cave through trip. Sid had never done any free diving before and even though I assured him he'd have no problems with it, it none the less showed what a brave chap he was.
Some months later Sid left his home in Addingham on his KTM adventure 990 motorbike, bound for Mongolia and Siberia, a trip he had spent a considerable amount of time planning. Twelve days later he was found dead on the side of the road, two days inside Kazakhstan. 
We still to this day do not know what happened to him. The initial police report claimed he ran into a cow, but neither his body nor his bike suggested such an end. The official report relating to his accident seemed to be altered and manipulated over time, although this could have been down to a poor translation. 
Foul play seems a very real possibility, but we'll never know. It's taken one and a half years just get his stuff (minus the bike) back in this country.
Bidding farewell to one of your best mates prior to him setting off on the trip of a lifetime, then visiting him, laid in a coffin, in the chapel of rest less than a month later is, well......a pretty damn hard thing to swallow!.
The last time i did the Langstroth pull thru (prior to today) was a few months after his death. On that trip and while traversing the muddier sections of the entrance series, it occurred to me that Sid's footprints would still be here somewhere, lost among all the other boot marks, at exactly that moment I caught sight of a very unique, and distinctive boot print and remembered that during all our trips together Sid had insisted on wearing wetsuit boots, something I scolded him about. As some of you may know, wetsuit boots have a moon boot like print, and I spent the rest of that trip searching for and triumphantly finding the relics of his passing. I think even Ian, if he can remember, will testify to how weirded out I became on that day, due to my find.

Getting back to the day in hand, aside from the fact that today I just wanted to get out and do the trip on my own, I also intended on scattering some of Sid's ashes. I also wanted to check what the score was relating to a recent report of studs and missing hangers.
Due to taking more equipment than I would have preferred, a spare rope(for once) and an assortment of stuff to replace the supposed missing hangers, I decided at the beginning to deposit a Cylinder and regulator in Langstroth Pot and free dive back out. This saved me the awkward job of trying to remove all my gear (ropes and other stuff) while free diving at the end of the trip. Which although would only have entailed me free diving the sumps with the end of a rope in my hand, this rope would be attached to all the gear which would then be pulled through the sumps, but in the past I've had a few problems with stuff getting snagged, so avoid this when I can.

After the initial gear caching it was then back to reality for the hump up to the top entrance, a reality which I lost completely, for quite a few hours to come.
I don't ever recall on previous lonesome trips ever being quite so indifferent to my objective, goal or destination. The goal on this day being to get to the other side. I didn't revel or marvel in my surroundings necessarily, but merely existed among them and made neither fast nor slow progress.
I think a part of me of me was also trying to elicit memories of mine & Sid's trip here, almost two years ago.
I scattered his ashes in the pool at the foot of the second pitch (3rd pitch if you count the step at the entrance) and due to the turbulent air I didn't avoid the face full of Sid.
I have no memory of what followed and days may have well passed between here and there. Miles away I was but there all the same.
It was kind of like a day in the office, who remembers every minute of them or the previous day or weeks worth.
The pitches that followed were a rude awakening. Then on arrival at the 5th pitch I was flabbergasted to see the bolts, complete with hangers & beefy Maillons, exactly as we had placed and left them more than a year prior.
I'm not quite sure which studs in a previously discussed trip report were so inconveniently endowed. There are some studs on the 3rd or 4th but are completely unnecessary due to the abundance of naturals.
Anyway I'm drifting off again and catch myself disappearing into the gin clear depths of the goat inlet sump, how I wish I had the Breathing Apparatus necessary to once again visit the wonderland beyond. 
Back to work once again, the fairytale canals then precede the final pitch, where once again I am not surprised to find a pair of very well endowed bolts and hangers.
Getting into my earlier cached diving gear feels a bit like getting in the car after a shift and driving home, via the sumps.

© Simon Beck, 2014. The copyright for this article remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.

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