Notts: Not for Me
Saturday, 12 November 2016
Just when I was starting to feel moderately confidant about my caving abilities…
Saturday morning dawned rainy and early, with myself waking up a full 15 minutes before I was supposed meet at the chapel, with with a hangover roughly the size of a polar bear.
Still arriving before half of the day’s cavers, who were equally as hungover as I but who lived further away, we assembled ourselves quite quickly and were ready to set off at a remarkable 9:30am…that is until we realized that keen fresher, expert (amateur) rigger Zoe Cole was no where to be found. After calling Sarah Connolly (who skipped the day to do work) for Zoe’s number, we called her 6 times, and texted her twice. Since I was the last to talk to her (at 3am the night before while discussing the next day’s cave), I was of course blamed for her absence. We then set off, and the 1.5hr trip sped by in a blink thanks to my nap on Snowball’s shoulder.
After a filling breakfast (where I actually got chicken pie and chips, because I am not a sensible human being), Zoe finally woke from the dead, and contacted us to let us know she was in fact alive. We almost convinced her that Mike Butcher was still waiting for her at the chapel, before we filled her in that, yes, we did actually chose to leave her behind.
While we had originally planned to do Irebey Fell, the water levels were too high so we visited Notts instead. Alice Smith, Luke Stangroom, Ben Snowball and I went on ahead to do some rigging (by that, I mean that the experienced cavers rigged while Ben and I supervised cluelessly). After walking up the dale in fog so think I could barely see our fearless leader Luke, we found the pretty, green entrance to Notts. I would show you pictures of this, but my camera decided to have a hissy fit and stop working…. This camera has survived 3 Canadian winters and being dropped off of a ski lift, but one measly month of caving and it chokes out. Technology, I tell ya.
Deciding down into the first pitch, I finally did a re-belay properly on the first try-it’s only taken me since September. At the bottom of the second pitch there are three directions; Alice and I followed the very fast-flowing stream, and the boys took the lower path. The goal was that we would rig two different paths, then meet in the bottom chamber where they reconnected again.
Attempting to prove my self-worth I carried two tackle sacks (Foreshadowing: Mistake #1) that were constantly filled with rushing water-there was nothing dry about this cave. After Alice rigged the pitch that went over a waterfall, we descended down this. At the bottom, I quickly tightened my leg loops a bit more (Foreshadowing: Mistake #2). We then realized we couldn’t find any more bolts and didn’t fancy free climbing down what appeared to be a very slippery wall. So we turned around and went back up. It was as I was going back up this pitch while unsuccessfully attempting to stay out of the waterfall that my first two mistakes came to head. My leg loops were now too tight and I couldn’t get a full range of movement, and the tackle sacks were really weighing me down. Instead of dealing with these problems. I instead pushed on, got to a re-belay that then required a sort of horizontal prusiking while also attempting to climb up a tiny crack. Instead of staying higher and drier, I managed to wedge myself into a crack-the crack where all of the water rushed into the abyss below. My hands were above the rock, and my chest and core were wedged in this crack-there was nothing to push off of with my feet and nothing to pull up on with my hands. There was no wall behind the waterfall to push off of, and my foot bizarrely was still in its foot loop so I couldn’t move my hand jammer. I was well and truly stuck. At this point, my too-tight leg loops were starting to cut off circulation as well.
With all of this, Alice was incredibly supportive and offering suggestions on how to get out, but everything was pinned in such a way that I couldn’t move, all with freezing water falling over me from the chest down. It was about this time that I forced myself to think logically, I knew other people would be coming along soon, but that wouldn’t stop me from freezing in the meantime. After felt like roughly the length of a Canadian winter (but was realistically more like 5-10 minutes), Ash came around the corner, and I have never been so happy to see another human. With her came Katy, who looked at my situation, put a sling around me, stood above me, and pulled. Somehow, Alice got beneath me and provided a shoulder for me to stand on, Katy pulled again with her her super-human strength, and out I popped like a cork out of a champagne bottle. I half rolled and half climbed my way over the ledge onto flat-ish surface, tackle sacks and all. What a wonderful time. At this point, I made my way slowly and labouriously out of the cave, proving defeated after barely getting to see any of the cave. The final pitch out proved difficult due to the fact that my muscles had decided to take a holiday, and completely forgot how to manage the last re-belay that was a mere 2 metres away from the sweet merciful ground outside the cave. I was so slow and struggling at this point that Alice managed to free-climb around me and come up to help me complete the simple process of re-belaying. When we finally ascended, I nearly collapsed on the ground with relief. The view was extraordinary; we could see the last bits of light from the sunset ahead of us, and the brightness of the rising moon behind us. We got back to the car and I have never been so happy to be an over-packer; I used every single extra warm layer I had, and still had an extra blanket to cuddle under with Natalie in the front seat of the van.
While my first experience in Notts was less than optimal, it’s not going to stop me from attempting it again in the future. If I can fall off a chairlift and still learn to ski, I can beat Notts instead of letting it beat me. Maybe next time though, I’ll attempt it with less water, less tackle sack, and more experience. We all need goals, right?