Monday, 16 March 2015

Return of the Wet Rubber Fetish

This article was originally posted on in November of 2011. I have made some corrections to this piece, so it does differ slightly from the original.

It is now more than a year since my brief, albeit none the less intense and eventful, return to potholing. I'd just returned from London at the time, and vowed I would never leave the dales ever again, and pretty much sold my soul to the underground related ambitions i held at that time. 

The selfish needs that had instigated my return to the potholing mecca of the uk, and my lifelong home, had also created some pretty severe personal problems. 
Without going into too much detail, the ambiguities inherent in my wants and desires, and my aspirations for the future, were so contradictory and averse that I suffered, badly! as a result. 

My choice of trips during this period were testament to that suffering, although very little in the way of respite was ever forthcoming. 
Going to the bottom of Langcliffe pot for the 2nd time in my life was the highlight, but surviving that trip at the time was regarded as a pity. I'd been working as a bicycle messenger in London prior to this, so i was very fit but not cave fit (i.e hard and irrepressible). I began to suffer physically long before we reached the bottom. This was mainly down to my thrown together costume of over tight wetsuit bottoms, lotsa t-shirts n jumpers on top and some crappy hi-tec boots. The return back through the entrance series (this trip was undertaken via the harder main Langcliffe entrance) was hell! I swore at the cave and myself. Actually I could be wrong but my partner on this day may also have done a little swearing by this point, but i won't hold him to that.

After a few weeks of recovering (I'm getting old!) and the day before starting a new job, we undertook (same partner, Ian)  the pull through of Rowten Pot in flood conditions. 
This was the last caving trip I did during this period, but what a corker to end on! I recall chain smoking a few cigarettes before facing the free dives through to KMC. Ian, who dived first, was brought to an abrupt halt in the first big sump by a small boulder, which he calmly trundled to one side, in his usual sanguine manner. My arse was obviously in my mouth while he was doing this, when the 100metres of rope I was part feeding to him, and part fighting the savage current for ownership of, suddenly stopped dead.
Fortunately the air spaces downstream were still accommodating enough to pass, and we were back on the surface not long after.

The next day I started my new job, vowed never to cave again and got back into rock climbing instead.  
I actually finally believed this nice civilised clean lifestyle would last.

I've been back at the Potholing now for a few weeks, but I've spent many months fighting the urge to return. 

I'm now back to fantasizing about Wetsuits, Wetsuits, Wetsocks, Wellies, Regulators, Diving Cylinders, Sumps, Flooded Caves and Dark Horrible Grim Forbidding Places..

My favourite type of trip are the ones that include a bit of free diving, mainly because it's such a fun simplistic approach to overcome quite a severe obstacle. 

Since my return I've been keen to repeat some of the classics that require such techniques, Langstroth Pot been the main contender. The previous weekend when I'd hoped to do this, my esteemed colleague had been leading a Meregill Hole club trip. So instead I passed quietly through Simpsons Pot and almost made it out without seeing a soul.

The following weekend eventually arrived and so did the typical dales weather, making the aforementioned venue decidedly wet! But regardless of conditions we were doing it. We'd tackled it in far worse conditions in the past, although on that occasion we had a pile of diving gear waiting for us at the bottom.

Before we headed up to the top entrance, Ian dived into Langstroth Pot from the bottom entrance and deposited some lead and our masks. This was to save us carrying them on the trip. Which is never a great hassle anyway. 
He did this with his 3 litre cylinder, which he left beyond the sumps for the dive out later and free dived back to me. 
While Ian was doing this I sat marvelling at my re-introduction to real darkness again, this was while conserving the batteries on my temperamental Petzl Duo. I also jealously wished I still had some diving gear enabling me to join Ian with the initial lead and mask caching. 
Once Ian had returned we jogged up the hill with our fairly minimalistic load of one 3metre 8mm rope and a harness and belay device a piece. Ian must have been boiling in my old semi dry suit which he'd worn so I could borrow his wetsuit top.

From the moment we entered Langstroth pot I just knew it was going to be a wet and wild trip. The last time I'd completed the through trip in it's entirety was to remove the unsightly telephone line that has run the entire length of the cave for many decades. The trip in question occurred nearly 3 years ago. Funnily enough the tackle sack full of Telephone Line in question still inhabits the out building of my old flat in Skipton..

I may have been out of the caving game for a while, and even longer since i'd done Langstroth Pot last, but nevertheless once the trip was under way, the years passed since I was last here ceased to be of relevance. Non caving related memories are of little relevance here anyway, and aside from the wisdom gained in-between, the clock had only just begun to tick again.....

The pitches were nice and wet all the way, the thin rope pulled through without protest on every one, and in no time at all we had arrived at goat inlet. Here we reminisced briefly about our past dives at this site. Goat Inlet is a short but awkward sump leading to a short section of very beautiful and rarely visited cave passage. 
The head of the pitch prior (penultimate pitch) to goat inlet surprisingly still sported the very old and rather lethal bolts, which have been threatening to fail for years now. Considering the frequent UWFRA rescue practices that occur here I am shocked and dismayed these have not been replaced!

The ferocious cataract falling down the final and tallest pitch was an intimidating and exhilarating sight. The descent though turned out to be surprisingly dry due to the distance the water was being thrown out from the top
Conditions in the final chamber were wild! to say the least. Within minutes of standing around while kitting up for the free dives i had become very cold.

We both dived through the 2 metre sump to Highham Hall. Then Ian, diving with his 3 litre went first dragging the rope through behind him. Once the end of the rope had vanished from my hands I waited a minute then joined him quickly on the other side. The dives were bliss! the most significant factor of them being the sudden peace and serenity gained in the airbells after hours of chaos.....

© Simon Beck, 201
1. The copyright for this article remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.

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