Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Upper Oxbow in OFD II via the Midnight Traverses (and other interesting bits)


When Chloe turned up at the club one Thursday for the first time and was asked why she wanted to try caving, “I want to find something that scares me” was the answer she gave. Since then she has been caving regularly and has gone from strength to strength, so when she asked for a caving trip to celebrate her birthday, Mark thought he’d sort out a memorable one – the upper oxbow in OFD II, with a choice of the easy route up the Skyhook pitch or the more challenging one across the Midnight Traverses – guess which Chloe chose? 

Going via Edward’s shortcut, where Chloe demonstrated a ‘dive-bombing’ caving move, cushioned by Mark who didn’t get out of the way in time, we first went to the Skyhook pitch, where Mark rigged the rope and we attached our SRT kits to it. We then arrived at the Midnight Traverses in good time. “This is the worst bit, if you can do this, you can do anything” said Mark.
All went well until we reached the corner, where Chloe had to be coaxed down the rift like a kitten from a tree, one inch at a time. “Maybe this is the worst bit!” said Mark. He then ascended the rope ladder. Ladders have never been Chloe’s favourite, and on seeing the ancient ladder declared “I feel more sick now than I did when I had to perform an enema with a hangover!”  
Mark meantime was ‘sorting something out’ at the top of the ladder pitch, and once we got to the top we found that he had discovered that  one of the ropes between the rungs of the old ladder was badly damaged, so he had reinforced it with a sling so that we could climb safely. 
“Yay, you’ve done the worst bit now!” said Mark, just before we came around a corner to see a rather intimidating climb up. “Oh, I forgot about that” said Mark. He whizzed up and down to show us the way, followed by me and then Chloe. I found that there were enough hand and foot holds to manage without help, but poor Chloe’s legs were still doing the Elvis shake. However she didn’t give up, and with more than a little moral and physical support from Mark she got to the top. “Actually, maybe that was the worst bit” said Mark. 
After a few more awkward moves that Mark had ‘forgotten about’, we could finally relax in the Upper Oxbow and take some photos. Mark pointed out the three ways that go to the oxbow – a traverse round a hole, a tight crawl or the way we went. He said he didn’t think he would fit through the tight squeeze, but Chloe dived through, and with a bit of wriggling she disappeared into the crawl, so of course we had to do it too. Once we’d all got in, we had to wriggle back out again – easier said than done! With nothing to push against, it was a case of using upper body strength to pull ourselves out…   
After a lot of grunting and squirming with no gain, ”Just leave me here!” said Chloe.  I popped back in again to get behind Chloe to give her some purchase, and with her wellies squishing my helmet onto my head she was able to push herself out.  
The only obstacle left was the skyhook pitch, which in typical South Wales caving style involved a suicidal climb down to the pitch head itself. “I did remember that”, said Mark, “But thought I’d better not mention it!” Using a couple of slings we safely gained the pitch head and were swiftly back down and ready to head out.  
All in all a really enjoyable trip and one which Chloe says definitely fulfilled her caving ambitions and gave her a birthday trip to remember!

 Present: Mark Burkey,  Jess Harding, Chloe Burney

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