Saturday 15 November 2014

Getting Stuck In To The Crystal Maze

Keith and I are unsure how exactly the weekends trips were decided upon, but for Mark-2 and Crystal’s first trips with Dudley, an adventure in to the maze like passages through the Sand Banks in Cwm Dwr Quarry Cave was decided upon. We were both a little wary of taking two ‘unknowns’ on a trip that we wouldn’t have normally considered novice, but figured we could always amend plans as we went to suit the capabilities of the group.

As ever we began the day with all but Mark-2 meeting at Luigi’s for breakfast. Unusually for us we actually arrived at the SWCC on time and after 'collecting' Mark-2 we were kitted and ready to go under ground by 11am. Our fears proved unfounded as our groups made swift progress through the entrance series of shafts, crawls, walking passage and boulder choke to emerge in Big Shacks 1. To this point Matt, Chloe and Loz had been leading the way in to the system, but here was where Keith would take over the navigation. The route we were to take Keith had not visited in over a decade and is a maze of passageway.

With not a single senior moment arising, Mr Edwards swiftly led us through the passageway to a tightening route that would take us through to the Sand Banks and connection to the route to Upper Smithy. Keith had warned this route would be snug and awkward for both the larger of us and the taller, so it was decided we would keep the ‘Big Boys’ at the front of the group so they could help each other if they became stuck at any point, the girls would bring up the rear.

Soon Keith was calling back……’Right, I’m now at the tight, awkward bit’…….Bugger I thought and pushed through a slightly awkward bit of passage. As I emerged Keith called back……’Actually now I’m at the tight awkward bit!’………Bugger I thought as I reached an awkward thrutch up a level to post myself in to a tight piece of keyhole passage. Jamming myself in the larger top half I thrutched forward until through and then called back to Rob that it was more awkward than tight.

Soon Keith and I were joined by Rob, Matt and Mark-2. Keith had just begun to explain where we were in relation to the route to the Upper Smithy when a call came from the girls that Crystal was having a little bother. Keith and I called our usual stock words of encouragement down the tube to them, but when there was still only grunting coming back after a minute or two I decided I’d better go investigate. Crystal, being far smaller than the rest of us, had trouble staying up in the wider part of the keyhole and had slid down in to the slot and could not move forward or backward, nor could she push up to free her hips.

We first put a sling through her belt and Mel tried to pull her up whilst I did the same with her arms, but it quickly became apparent this was not going to work. The leverage had to come from Mel’s side as there just wasn’t room my side and I couldn’t see how I could get over Crystal without trampling her, so I called to Mr Edwards to come join us. I covered Crystals Head and torso with my upper body and Keith scrambled over me toward Mel.

It’s hard to describe just how delicate an operation this was as at one point the 3 of us were sandwiched between each other in a passage which was only really big enough for one person! The next problem was that there was not enough room even on Mel’s side of the passage for Keith to turn around. He called for Chloe to move back, but she was at the point past the first ‘tight awkward’ manoeuvre and was unable to either reverse or turnaround herself. Fortunately Mel managed to squeeze herself backward just enough that Keith was able to contort himself and turn back to face me. Again we tried to heave Crystal, but there seemed to be no movement at all no matter what we tried. It was becoming obvious we would need to get more strength on the far side. The problem was that the girls behind Keith could not turn around and could not reverse, so the only option was for everyone to continue. As Keith clambered back over Crystal he found some purchase for his knees and at an angle directly above her decided to have another go at lifting her. Grabbing her by the belt he put everything he had in to it and Crystal moved upward by a quarter of an inch. So as not to lose this advantage Keith grabbed a leg before she could slip back down, apologising as he did so.

“You can grab whatever you like as long as you get me out of here!” came Crystals reply.

With her hips free it was then straightforward to assist her back in to the keyhole. I have to just say that if it had been me who had just gotten wedged on any caving trip let alone my first; I would have been a quivering wreck!
Crystal had remained calm throughout and said afterward that she had completely trusted us……the mad fool!

Asked if she wanted to head out after her adventure she replied No Way! So after a short diversion to show me the route to connect toward the Upper Smithy, Keith led us through the sand crawls and down to take a look at the confluence and sump.

After this he passed the route finding reigns over to me to lead out a route that Brendan, Jess and I had discovered on a previous trip. Keith had led us faultlessly through a route he had done 12 years before, unfortunately I managed a couple of wrong turns before I recognised a route I’d only done 12 months before!

After this the exit went smoothly and we were soon gathered around the tea pot telling tales of our adventures - Miss-adventures! and planning our next days trip.

Present: Matt, Chloe, Loz, Crystal, Mel, Rob, Keith, Mark1 & Mark 2

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