Trou Bernand. Belgium. May. 87.

The RRCPC/YSS drinking expedition to Belgium was, inevitably I suppose, occasionally interrupted by a few diehards who wanted to go caving instead of concentrating their efforts on the main objectives. However, I suppose every major foreign project will have a few team members who just canít hack it.

Fortunately the caves in question were usually short and to the point, not too arduous, and probably served a useful purpose as taste-bud rejuvenation and head clarification exercises, so all was not lost.

One day, however, as I was getting changed into my by now quite odorous furry suit, I dimly perceived through the veil of my hangover, that all were not with us. In fact I had lost the main expedition force and somehow got sidetracked with only three others. Not only that, but they were unpacking ropes and things. This looked serious. I rummaged in my bag and noticed some once familiar, but long disused equipment shining back at me from itís recesses.

Arg! SRT gear! I thought I had given that up years ago for Lent! Clearly my loved one, Lynda, had been whiling away her few spare moments polishing and cleaning it ready for just such an occasion. I then noticed that she wasnít actually with us! A minibus full of people arrived and this spurred the team into action in case they were going down the same cave, and before I knew it down I was.

The first bit was easy, the drop was easily negotiated with only one wobbly at a tightish section when perspiration caused by the onset of withdrawal clouded my eyelids. But in the next bit, after Bob had cursed his way to the bottom of the chicenes, I performed like a real wally (remember Wally?). I threaded my descender three different ways, got stuck each time and finally had to discard it altogether and descend Batman-like without daring to look down.

Once safely at the bottom DTís began in earnest but fortunately I had a chance for resting and steadying myself against a rock, whilst the rest of the team, encouraged by my performance, wallied about a bit as well.

Over the worst of the DTís it was time for the digestive system to awaken and take itís toll of the purity of the atmosphere in the cave. Fortunately after a devilishly awkward tight pitch-head the cave actually opened up a little and the going was a little easier for everyone.
The precise number of pitches is a little vague in my mind, but I remember one of them was supposed tobe quite long and in fact was quite short. The bottom of the cave was a disappointment.I was expecting a large passage with a stream leading to a sump. The stream was wishful thinking brought on by my dehydration - those Trappist monks have a lot to answer for. The passage was tight and unforgiving to the end. The sump was black and uninviting at the bottom of a deep and slippery well. We left well enough alone and decided to come out. (There are some avens to climb for the more intrepid but everyone made some plausible excuse not to bother. I canít remember the details but it was something to do with consideration for the other members of the expedition who might have to go drinking without us).

Coming out however was not as simple as it sounds. All the tight bits were successfully negotiated with various degrees of grunting and groaning until we got back to the chicenes. Bob went up first, didnít mention any difficulty - and denies any to this day. We then had a mammoth tackle hauling exercise to get the tackle from below to somewhere above and Bob went out. Following on was Carl. Now Carl is quite thin. Some may even say skinny. Heíll be up in a flash, I thought, visualizing the difficulty I was likely to have on that bit where I had to breathe out on the way down.

After about twenty minutes I felt a photo coming on but unfortunately we had passed the cameras on in the tackle, so we chatted about the weather, caving in S. Wales, S. France, Gaping gill, and similar topics - like drinking - for a while.

Carl shouted down that he was going to put on his chest jammer now ó ďgood ideaĒ we shouted back. After a few more major systems had been discussed, along with the plight of the British brewing industry, Carl was through the chicanes and Amanda set off up. I decided I didnít want to be left on my own in such a nasty cold damp place, so I followed her feet. This was probably a good thing as when she got stuck I was able to provide suitable extra footholds. This was a trick I had learned when I was younger. In those days I always went caving with people taller, wider, and stronger than myself. This way I never got stuck in tight bits and always had an extra foothold or two along with me f or that awkward climb up a smooth vertical wall!

Finally I got stuck too and wondered why I had let myself be conned into coming out last. Thoroughly sober by now and sweating profusely I imagined the far off pleasure of a glass of Trapiste Dix. This did the trick, along with a good pull from Amanda and about two hours after Bob had emerged, out came the last man. Carl. I donít know how he managed that! I think I must have remembered a few old tricks and lumbered him with the tackle!

Well I had enjoyed it after all, but itís definitely TICKED. The deepest cave in Belgium.
(Since then I have descended the deepest cave in Yorkshire too!)

Stu Johnson.

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