Run to the Mill

Team:       Wot Dabney, Bryce Bolton and Steve from VPI

It had taken us some three and a half hours to reach our destination on a very cold December day. However, we didn’t mind as we had some fireworks and a case of Busch lager, needless to say most of the fireworks went off in the van. Rockets, bangers and firecrackers were pointed and hurled. Nobody escaped getting burnt but a good time was had by all. It had not been the best of weather that day and I was conscious of any rain because this cave entrance was low, directly onto the first pitch and at the end of a large river bed.

Bobs (not caving today) two-wheel drive van got us some good distance up the four-wheel drive track but now it was getting ridiculous. Only Steve and I wanted to go caving and getting some impetus into the others was a battle and a half. I had to resort to shouting at Bryce, who is at least twice as big as me, to get his kit on right now or I was going to have a complete and utter personality failure. After kicking all of the gear about (something I learnt from Mr Newton) and a few carefully chosen words Bryce said he would get his gear on.

We all tried to warm up before we got to the entrance but it was no use as it must have been at least six degrees below freezing and all the water was frozen up. Even the water in our carbide lamps had frozen solid. There was no problem in finding the entrance as I had been there before and as I had the first three ropes I left them to fettle the carbide lamps and trundled off to rig the next two pitches. We were soon standing at the bottom of the fourth pitch when Bryce spotted that the pool that I had filled my lamp from contained a dead corpse. The poor fellow had survived the first three pitches but fallen to his death on the fourth. He was some kind of giant rat of dog sized proportions.

By this time Bryce was having fun but this was not to last for long as we had a 150ft deep canal with its thick foaming scum to follow. I had to swim most of it being short while Steve and Bryce were up to their necks in it. Some great stream passage was to follow then through a collapse to a deep pool. The last pitch could be heard from here and a strong draught blew. This is a 163ft pitch in water where a well known caver (Buddy Layne) lost an eye whilst placing a bolt. As with most pitches in the US the bolts are usually well back from the edge and the rope just rests on the lip of the pitch. However this pitch had very sharp flakes both on and underneath the lip which is why I had to bring some carpet.

Steve tied the carpet onto the rope and descended but when I passed it and retied it the carpet started to slip towards me. I told Bryce and he said that he would sort it out.

“Off rope, Bryce.”, I shouted.

“On rope.”, he replied,

Then all of a sudden we saw a huge black thing come hurtling down towards us. With a great boom it hit the bottom. Steve and I just looked at each other and said “Oh Dear”. Together we both decided to tie the carpet on to the end of the rope and get Bryce to pull it up. Easier said than done. Not only did it snag on the way up but it got caught when trying to lower it down. After 15 minutes of shouting up and down we told Bryce to come down anyway, which he did. Now someone had to climb out without the protector. “We’ll sort it out on the way out.” I said. “No, I’ll do it now!” said Steve. We told him to climb smoothly but he knew that anyway.

Right, let’s go romping into the big stuff. So off we went towards the stream which took us through the only classic, scalloped (Yorkshire) stream passage I have seen out of the 42 caves that I visited in the States. Bryce and Steve were suitably impressed while felt right at home. It was soon over and we walked out into a huge chamber with what can only be described as a large river flowing through it. The shock of seeing such a sight caused my bottom to explode without warning and after a Speeded up Indian dance I was able to sort myself out, much to the amusement of Bryce and Steve.

Dan had told us that all of the pretties were downstream so we walked as far as we could along the sand banks of the river. These soon disappeared as the river took over the whole of the passage (about 30 feet across). At this point the only feasible thing to do was go back upstream but Steve was determined to get across. This was a brave attempt and after a little swimming he made it across, then after getting his breath back he dashed back like a possessed goldfish.

“Well done Steve!”, we laughed The short time we had spent in this chamber was not enough to take it all in. Time was moving on and we had to think about the return trip for we had been soaked on the way in hours ago! Back at the bottom of the pitch we got our kit together while Steve climbed up, closely followed by Bryce and finally me. The water was raining down on me and I was not getting my usual sweat-on. I felt cold so to aid my climb (the rope being of some imperial thickness) I coiled the rope up at the bottom. My chest jammer was still pulling the rope up and because it was against the wall, in a waterfall, I could not trap the rope in my wellies. I vented a lot of aggression in that 163ft. and it did my mind the world of good.

Of course, the rope snagged again when I tries to pull it up and I was all for going back down again when it released. Bryce and Steve coiled the rope before we made our way back to the canal. Here Bryce gave me a piggy-back, it was funny as hell. Back at the first pitch we were all feeling the cold, and delay in this passage could be Potentially serious due to the wind chill. Ice had formed all around the entrance passage and pitch. While Bryce and Steve climbed out I tried to keep warm. Our suits had already frozen when tried to derig the rope, the knot had frozen solid, a thread belay at that!

Five minutes later we were walking back towards the van. We were buzzing our socks off, this had been an excellent trip. I myself will be going back again. Anyone want to come?

Cheers Bryce and Steve!!

Jason Pitman

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