Saturday 19 June 2010

Stal Cleaning in Otter Hole

As a talented cave photographer with thousands of great pictures to his credit and whose pictures have appeared in books and magazines, Brendan had never photographed Britain's best decorated cave, so this was going to be his big opportunity.
Also at almost the eleventh hour it was dropped on us that 2010 is a conservation year for Otter Hole and all over-tide trips were expected to help with stal cleaning.
Over-tide trips are long trips without a cave photographer in the team. Over-tide trips are very long trips without stopping to scrub stal. So with photos to take and stal to shine this was set to be an epic. Epic trips require a decent brekkie and much discussion took place about where to stop. Eventually those of us who like a good breakfast before a caving trip, i.e. Brendan, Chris and Keith, chose the recently re-opened Pencraig Diner. Out genial host asked if we would like toast or fried bread. For a trip of this magnitude there was only one possible answer, but we won't make that mistake again! The fried bread consisted or two thick crusts each and we all had to admit defeat which prompted out host to ask if anything was wrong with the meals.
We met with Andy, Mel and our guides on the Otter car park where for reasons that Andy himself cannot explain he decided that in spite of Otter being on his 'must do' list for over a decade he wouldn't be coming into the cave with us.
Over-tide trips in Otter are strenuous without carrying tackle. Carrying a large Pelican Case loaded with a heavy camera and flash guns through Otter's tortuous squeezes, climbs and rock-strewn passages must be purgatory, but such is Brendan's dedication to his art that the case was transported without complaint, although the look on his face told another tale.
We made good time through the muddy entrance crawls, through the very muddy tidal sump (which was empty with the stream free flowing when we passed through), through the first choke, across the traverses and to sump two where we stopped to scrub the caked mud of our over-suits before proceeding to the extensions. We made slow progress though the magnificently decorated passages leading to and through the Hall of Thirty so that we could stop and admire the formations. Brendan was anxious to start snapping but decided to wait until the way out when we would be stal cleaning and he would have more time.
After a short break at the camp we made our way on through Long Straw Chamber towards Tunnels Junction.
Just before turning back we visited a well-decorated grotto on the left of the passage. Brendan could resist no longer. The camera box was flipped open and he reached for camera and flash guns, however as the box was opened Brendan's face dropped. There was water in the case. Undaunted he dried off the gear and started the ritual, "Stand there", "Hold this", "Look at me", "Let me focus on your lamp" and so on, but the damp flash guns stubbornly refused to cooperate so no photos were taken and the box had to be abandoned. Brendan was not happy! He went very quiet and it was the closest any of us have ever experienced to Brendan having a sulk.
We turned back at Tunnels Junction and I took a few minutes of video on the very back to Long Straw Chamber.
Back at the camp we filled water sprayers and spent the next hour or so cleaning mud of the formations.
The way out from here didn't seem so long as on the way in and we got back to the tidal sump before it had completely emptied.
From here the pace of the party slowed considerably as the tired team made its slow way out through the muddy entrance crawls.
I was first out and it was about twenty minutes later that Chris finally surfaced. He was completely spent, totally knackered, done in, and the famous grin was conspicuous by its absence. I thought that there was a real possibly that we had broken him at long last but the following week he was off again caving.
Finally the walk uphill back to the car park nearly finished me too.

The Video

Present: Keith Edwards, Brendan Marris, Mel Wakeman and Chris Webb

No comments:

Post a Comment