Saturday 5 April 2014

Hanging around and chillin out in Longwood Swallet

Jess and I were awoken by a gentle rocking of our van…..Oh crap is it an earthquake, perhaps fracking had begun in the Mendips…….nope we had overslept and Brendan was eager for breakfast so was shoulder barging the van in an effort to wake us!
As it turned out we still managed to get everything cooked and served up before everyone arrived.
After quite a bit of faffing we had finally managed to sort all the permits and grab a couple of keys. Splitting in to two teams we headed off. The other group were off to GB whilst Brendan, myself, Mel, Carl, Tony and Rob headed off to Longwood Swallet.
After a slight smirk when the others got their kit out of the car and asked where they changed we kitted up at the side of the road and followed the stream down to the entrance. Brendan led with Mel diving in behind, but shortly Mel popped back out as another group were exiting and there was not enough room in the entrance rift for people to pass.
The guys exiting looked soaked to the skin and they explained that the water had been diverted after the floods in Cheddar and that August was now taking all the stream and it was a little more than sporting via that route at the moment.
After thanking them we made our way in through the 12m entrance chimney to a narrow rift. At the letter box squeeze Rob hadn’t positioned himself very well and struggled a little to push through, first removing his helmet, then his belt, then a drink and then a single glove?!?!?
Being a larger caver myself I know exactly what its like to be confronted by chest crushing rock and I have to say Rob did admirably, there wasn’t a single lip quiver or whimper to be seen or heard.
Next Brendan rigged the ladder and line from a stal for the awkward 5m pitch and everyone made short work of the awkward take off before climbing down the second climb to Water Chamber. Here we popped for a look at the start of August Hole and there was indeed a roar of water hurtling down the passageway. Continuing on we headed along a rift through an awkward chimney down to emerge on a balcony overlooking Great Chamber. At this point we decided a hand line may be in order so I popped back to the ladder and grabbed our belay line. Mel rigged this and again we were soon all down safely and hunting for the way on. Brendan and Carl led us through Wet Way, but found the passage choked with too tight rifts, we then began hunting around until Brendan and I found Christmas Crawl and the other end of August Hole. There was a single ‘P’ bolt in place and Brendan was pretty sure this was a climb down to continue to the Stream way, so I popped back for the hand line once more whilst Brendan gathered the others. Putting an Italian Hitch through my belt Krab I descended the climb through a torrent of water to find I couldn’t find any further hand or foot holds. No problem, I’d just AB’ in using my Italian Hitch and spot people down once I could see the holds I’d missed because of the waterfall I’d been descending through. The only problem was that upon reaching the lower ledge I still couldn’t see any holds. Communication was difficult because of the fast flowing waterfall, but I eventually managed to convey to Brendan that I didn’t think this was actually free climbable and was there another way out? Unfortunately Brendan wasn’t sure, he was last in Longwood 9 years ago and his memory of the system at this point was failing him…. well he is knocking on a bit now!
Reversing the Italian Hitch I began to belay myself with one hand and try climbing out with the other. I had climbed as far as I could and the next move would be somewhat dynamic, so I decided to tie off my Italian hitch just in case. 123…. lunge, miss, drop in to the main flow of the waterfall. I yanked the knot free to abseil out of the water but nothing happened. The water was fierce and my hands were getting numb quickly, the freezing flow was everywhere and I couldn’t open my eyes. I began to pendulum myself out of the water and kick off of the rock till I could look down and see; because I was using an oval krab rather than a pear shaped one, the Italian Hitch had caught and not flipped to allow descent. Rectifying this I abseiled down and out of the water, but this had given me quite a ‘moment’.
When I looked up I saw that Brendan had the same experience watching me from above.
He called down to ask if he should go back for the ladder and I nodded.
Looking at the impossible climb the spray of water was chilling me and I could see how you can loose strength quickly in these conditions.  Shouting for Rob to come to the head of the climb I had an idea. I again climbed as high as I could, but this time passed the tail of the rope to Rob and told him to take in as I climbed and that he could lower me down if something went wrong.
Again I got to the dynamic move, this time having two hands I managed to lunge across, slip, recover and get up on to the ledge with Rob.
Brendan meanwhile had met another party coming in and was on his way with their ladder to assist me and was quite relieved when he saw I was already out and ok.
It was at this point we discovered what we had thought was a free climb with hand line was actually the 5m Swing Pitch to the stream way!
The other group rigged their ladder to continue to the steam way and offered us the use of it but they were not using a lifeline and we figured it would take quite some time to set up and lifeline a group of our size and so the decision was made to saunter back out and see how the other team had faired under the guidance of Becca.
No-one had any troubles with the awkward passageways and squeezes on the way back up and we were soon dry, sipping tea and eating cake awaiting the others return :)

Main Chamber - Longwood Swallet
Main Chamber - Longwood Swallet

Present: Mark Burkey, Brendan Marris, Carl Knott, Mel Bell, Tony Ferrun and Rob Campbell

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