Volume 37 Number 1 Article 4
A Case for Re-Training
(Alum Pot - 18 March 2000)
I had been looking forward to getting back into circulation so that I could experience again some of the spectacular places underground. It's taken two years.
I was finally on a date for a complete hip replacement, and a week before the appointment I had a trip with Sam through Heron Pot, managing to crawl and exit without too much twisting. It took ten months to recover from the operation and get underground again, in Kingsdale Master Cave.
Unfortunately, I found myself in the same hospital shortly afterwards with a very serious operation, which curtailed further activity to simple visits and easy climbing.
When Sam and Andy decided to do a quick trip down Alum Pot, I overheard their plan, got out the old rucksack, and tipped the gear out on the garage floor. Sam sorted through it and added some ropes from the cupboard. I noticed one was a 65 metre going into the tackle bags - the last time I dangled on that rope was on the north side of Alum taking photos of Sam. That was quite an experience, but I thought I was strong enough to cope again, given time. This time, it was to be the south-east three-pitch route.
When one is rusty, extra care is needed to avoid putting others at risk, and re-training is a good idea. I say this because I made four mistakes in all, although I didn't tell them until after we had returned to the vehicles at Selside.
The first mistake involved my weight. I am only two-thirds of my normal weight, and although taking up slack on the belt and loops, the unexpected happened. We had donned all the gear when leaving the cars, but after 300 metres my belt fell around my feet! A good safety start, you might say. Actually, it turned out to be very comfortable when I was on the ropes, both going up and down.
The second mistake came at the top of the first pitch. I used a breaking screw-gate to the first rebelay, thinking it would be an extra safety aspect with a shortish loop. Yes, I forgot to remove it and the descender wouldn't go down. A quick recovery was required before anyone noticed, and on down to the bottom of the pitch at the level of the bridge.
I watched Sam rig the second hang round the corner below the bridge. He said "pull yourself round the corner when you come back up", and he left it rather tight. No problems going down, and I didn't hold anyone up. After the third pitch I squeezed through the hole to the bypass oxbow instead of climbing the last waterfall, and went to look at Diccan waterfall. There was a lot of water coming down there. Of course, we had to take a photo with the foam on the sump. Some pictures appeared three days later on Andy's web site.
During the return I made the third mistake. At the top of the second pitch, the ascender went too high, and I couldn't pull round the corner onto the shelf. So I had to go down a little, and gauge it better. But my strength is poor, even after twelve months convalescing. I requested a loop next time, to which both Andy and Sam agreed that the arrangement was awkward. An under-statement.
Me on the Bridge Pitch
The amount of water going down Diccan was causing a very cold up-draft on the pitch, with vapour boiling out onto the pot surface. Despite gloved hands, I suffered with freezing fingers and cramp in the hands, and I took time to warm up for the big pitch, where I made my fourth mistake.
After transferring on to the top loop at the rebelay, I came to a sudden stop within a couple of feet. You've guessed it - my ascender loop to the belt was below the lower rope! More recovery moves only took a minute, but this time there was an audience looking over the wall next to the waterfall. It turned out to be Matt, whom I had met at the farm the previous week when he had joined Sam, Andy, Alan, Simon and Gary in Pool Sink. I climbed the wall to look over while Sam and Andy were de-rigging. Matt doesn't need to climb walls to look over - he had recognised Sam when coming off the fell and stayed to talk.
I put some extra time on the trip for Sam and Andy, but they didn't seem to mind, and went off for another trip up from Horton. I sat and recovered in the car, well pleased with my effort that day.
I have booked the camp site with the Red Rose group in St. Girons in July / August, but I shall not be underground. The insurance wont accept me as I am years over the 70 age limit. But that doesn't stop me looking forward to the expedition. Someone will find me a job, no doubt.
Me and Sam at the Bridge