“Making Plans For Nigel”   Quaking Pot - 16 May 1992

Pete Hall,   Neil Pacey,   Nigel Jennings


We’re only making plans for Nigel,    Nigel just needs a helping hand.

The trip started, as many a good trip does, in the public bar of the Hill Inn. When Toby mentioned that he and some pals were going to do Quaking pot the following Saturday. I’d had this particular delight on my hit list ever since the previous aborted epic when we had reached The Crux but had burned ourselves out retrieving a tackle bag from a tight rift where it had fallen (see May ‘91 Newsletter ‘The Chronicles of Quaking Pot”). Neil is always a glutton for punishment so we said we would come down afterwards and decide.
The next day, Sunday, Neil arranged a trip down Crescent Pot with Dalek of the BPC on the Friday, the day before we were due to go down Quaking. He decided he couldn’t manage the two pots on consecutive days and would only go down Quaking if the Crescent trip was off. I heaved a sigh of disappointment (or was it relief?) and forgot all about Quaking. Arriving by thumb power at the Barbon Inn the following Fnday, I found Neil there and he hadn’t been down Crescent Pot Dalek had phoned to say he couldn’t make it between two consecutive night shifts (must be going soft in his old age!). This meant there were no excuses.
Presently the ‘Wendy team from Cardiff arrived and we retired to the Farm. When Nigel arrived at about midnight Neil immediately tried to persuade him to go with us and to everyone’s surprise he agreed. He’s quite an experienced caver having done all the decent trips in South Wales and a few good uns in the North. Naturally enough (in our beered-up state) we thought it’d be reet.

Early in the morning, a bright and fine one, we were up and shovelling a huge farmhouse breakfast down us necks and after a quick brew at Bemies we stomped up the hill and set off down the pot at about 12.30 pm. With no tackle and a good knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the pot, we made very fast progress towards the bottom, arriving at the Crux at about 2pm. I experienced the most difficulty with my long legs and slightly larger pelvis but we were soon through. All the while Nigel had been moving a little slower, which is not surprising as we were ‘match fit” and somewhat more experienced at rift squeezes than him.

Beyond the sixth pitch the passages generally become wider with a refreshing little soaking at the Wet W-bends followed by the damp but easy Fly Crawl. Little did we know that this would have a serious effect on Nigel on the way out.
We met the rigging team on their way out through Fly Crawl and after a little persuasion and some jubilation, they agreed to let us borrow the tackle and de-rig. We carried on down the Fly Crawl climb and along the final stoop to the last pitch. We arrived in Gormenghast Chamber at the creditable time of 4.30 pm and after the token root round for a dig we set off out. Nigel went on ahead as he was the slowest while Neil and I dengged and followed.

We made reasonable progress back to the sixth pitch but at the top Nigel announced that he felt rather strange and that ‘all the energy seemed to be draining out of him.’ He was also starting to need help finding his way through the squeezes, as his brain was slowing up. Neil and I had never experienced hypothermia before and assumed that because Nigel kept saying that he was boiling hot, he actually was boiling hot. So we just kept helping him and pointing him in the right direction fill we got to the Crux.

I went on below the Crux and pushed two tackle bags up towards Coitus Corner before backing out and squeezing up through the Crux at the correct point. I had told Nigel to watch me and do as l did without realizing that he was already a little delirious. Once into the Crux I was unable to turn around to help or keep an eye on him so I carried on through and got the tackle through. Then I went back to see what all the fuss was about because Nigel didn’t appear to be making any progress at all and indeed had followed Neil the wrong way at stream level. Neil was having difficulty seeing the way Nigel should go and I was reluctant to come round the corner to help as I knew that I would have to reverse out round a corner that required me to bend my knees back the wrong way. However things were getting desperate and Nigel was quickly running out of steam, so I went for it and got round the corner to find that Nigel was far too low and was attempting an impossibly tight rift. At this point morale was very low and I was starting to panic, as were the other two I think However I could see what Nigel needed to do now and Neil and I were in the best possible position to help him with one on either side of him. I was fairly sure Nigel wouldn’t be able to pass the Crux without a fairly
serious rescue incident but we felt duty bound to do our utmost to avoid this.
So gathering as much grip as I could muster and fighting down the rising panic, I put on my most confident voice and told Nigel exactly what he needed to do. Neil provided footholds below by allowing Nigel to tread painfully on his back and shoulders. Inch by inch he squeezed up through the narrow rift until he was level with me, although several times he relaxed with exhaustion and lost maybe ten or fifteen minutes progress. I felt like a football coach as I shouted encouragement and set small targets for him to achieve. All the while Neil was down below with his foot against Nigel’s arse to prevent him from slipping down or for Nigel to use as a hand hold. After a supreme effort on everyone’s part we emerged from the Crux and allowed ourselves five minutes jubilation before carrying on. It had taken us nearly three hours to negotiate the Crux and Nigel described it as the hardest thing he had ever done in his entire life. By now Nigel’s batteries were in a similar state to his NiCad cell - a fag end - so I gave him my second fresh FX2 and carried on with his lamp. We were unable to give Nigel anything to eat as he was the food monitor and unfortunately he had left all the chocolate in the call
For a while he went well to the fourth pitch but he was gradually sinking into the serious delirium of hypothermia. Neil and I didn’t really know what to do but felt that we should carry on without stopping too much which, as it turned out, was the right decision. After this point Nigel had no more memories of the ordeal until he woke up in hospital ten hours later!

As we moved along the relatively easy passage to the third pitch, Nigel was unable to manage any climbing or traversing maneuvers by himself and would stop unless he was given constant encouragement. He could only understand if you put everything in the simplest of terms. At the third pitch (80 foot) I went up first while Neil put Nigel into his prussicking gear and clipped him onto the rope. Then he set off up on automatic pilot and I fetched him off at the top, making sure he was dipped on all the time. Our progress was painfully slow and it wasn’t at all difficult for one person to derig and ferry the four very heavy bags while the other helped and encouraged Nigel.

The last really tight section was at the top of the third pitch and I made a right balls-up of it with my two bags and began to feel my own strength waning a little, but we got through. With a similar routine to the third pitch, Neil dipped Nigel onto the second pitch rope (30 foot) but he was getting really senseless by now and didn’t know what to do. However when Neil told him we were going to get the rescue, his pride brought him round a bit and he climbed up. I then set off with the tackle in front of me and Nigel following to the original entrance, only a 40 foot crawl away. Meanwhile Nell derigged and made his way out via the first pitch and the new entrance. By now it was gone 6 am and the daylight shone into the entrance chamber, but Nigels eyes didn’t see it as he struggled along. Three feet from the end of the crawl, he became seriously caught with his lamp cable round a projection and his cow’s tall wedged between two large cobbles. He couldn’t understand what was happening and was unable to understand the simple command “Move back”! Eventually I had to push him back with my feet on his shoulders before diving head first down the hole he was emerging from to free off his jammed ropes and cable. Then his helmet came off and his glasses fell into two pieces (not that he was seeing much by now anyway.) Neil was outside all the while but couldn’t come in to help because the unstable rocks in this little-used entrance would have fallen on top of us. He had to wait helplessly outside and listen to my frustrated shouts and Nigel’s slurred gibberish.

However with his gear un jammed I was able to manhandle him out of the hole get him onto his feet and help him out into the shakehole. We had been stuck for an hour and a half within sight of the entrance. As we emerged, several hundredweight of cobbles rolled down into the hole where Nigel had been, confirming Neil’s reluctance to enter as prudent. We dragged him up the steep side of the shakehole and sat him in the sun to try to warm him up a bit. While I ran down the hill and drove to the Hill Inn to call the rescue (even though there is a phone at Crina Bottom ten minutes walk awayl), Nell put Nigel in a survival bag and waited with him. Paul Wilkinson and Natalie rolled up and I gave them the news• before driving down to Storr’s Common to wait for the rescue ambulance. I had been a bit concerned that we had done the wrong thing in forcing a hypothermia victim to get himself out of the cave. Such bullying tactics have killed potholers in the past, but I was glad when the rescue team praised us for etting him out, although l think it was only a resutt of relief that they
didn’t have to get the bugger out themselves! Nigel was, by this time, completely hat stand and was bundled into a fancy fell-rescue sleeping bag and stretchered off to the ambulance at Crina Bottom. Richard and his family, the people who live there, invited us in for lots of tea and jock. Later two rather wiser potholers set off back to the farm to take a rather more spectatorial role in the second rescue of the day when a lad fell down Cow Pot.

Pete Hall.

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