Having enjoyed the trip into Swildons on the Saturday, we split into 2 groups again on the Sunday. With Chloe leading a party into GB, Brendan, Keith, Mark and myself were booked to go into St. Cuthberts. On the day however, Brendan decided to join Chloe and co. as he had hurt his leg the day before, so only the 3 of us met with Estelle our guide.
Estelle pointed out the valve which cuts water flow off from the entrance of the cave, and we descended the shaft to the head of the entrance rift. “There’s lots of hand and footholds, just watch what I do” she said, and then proceeded to slither down the rift faster than the eye could follow! After we had also wriggled down (not as gracefully or speedily) Estelle proceeded to show us around the cave.
We were led down a series of fixed ladders into ‘Wire Rift’ (a steeply descending tight rift which was easier than it looked – at least on the way down. Once in the main cave we were overwhelmed by several things;
- the variety and number of fabulous formations, such as the Pillar, the Cascades, the Curtains, the Octopus, the Beehive…
- the diversity of “challenges” the cave threw at us in the way of climbs, wriggles, slides and thrutches…
- the array of passages and chambers in the cave (about 7km of passage in a 3-dimensional maze)
- our guide Estelle, who outcaved us completely! Keith described her as ‘like watching a time-lapse video – don’t blink or you’ll miss her!’
We regained a little of our dignity (and puff) when we stopped for a quick break and Estelle offered to show us more of the cave than is normally seen on tourist trips, as we were caving so fast!!! Dignity went straight out the window for me however as the first challenge was climbing a vertical water chute which looked impossible from the bottom and I squeaked like a girl.
The ‘extra’ tour completed, we arrived back at the entrance series, where I made very heavy work of ‘Wire Rift’, tiring myself out completely before even attempting the tricky final rift upwards. Estelle went first (fairly slowly!) showing me where the holds were, and I wriggled up slowly. At no time did I feel scared of falling, as the rift is so narrow that you only have to bend your knees and you’re not going anywhere. In fact that was the problem near the top – no matter how I wriggled, I wasn’t going anywhere! A final thrust and pull on the arms however and I was up and out, hurray!
While Mark and Keith easily followed me up the rift, Estelle and I climbed out of the shaft. I didn’t quite get to the valve in time to soak the boys unfortunately, but maybe next time – I’d definitely love to go back to this cave and explore it with a little more time.