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Following the excellent Red Rose summer barbecue, Iím sitting in Bernies with Sam Lieberman and weíre wondering what to do with a gloriously bright Sunday.

I havenít been caving for 5 years, mostly as the result of an ill-advised decision to ship myself and all my possessions back to New Zealand in 2006. Even before that my activities have been mostly surface digging with Jim and Lionel. For various reasons the gear is still in NZ. However itís been in my mind to perhaps dip my toe underground to
see if its still there. Iíve mentioned this to Sam and heís willing to risk it, so Iím running out of excuses. I ask Sam where he suggests we go. He says Valley Entrance. OK I ask, how far is the entrance from the road? ďAbout 30 yardsĒ That sounds good so I try on the over and undersuits and they fit. Off we go avoiding GIs, Tommys, and Nazis all playing at WWII. Weíre just doing a different kind of dressing up. Weíre kitting up in Kingsdale when I notice a distinct lack of footwear so we have a short drive back to Ingleton which is still pullulating with GIs, Tommys and Nazis. Gumboots obtained we drive back up Kingsdale, and this time thereís no avoiding it. Samís right: the entrance is very conveniently located.

Here I have to mention the steak. It hasnít been cooked at the Barbie, and we need to keep it cool. The obvious thing to do is take it with us, so we stash it in a cool nook with the car key and carry on down the passage. Thereís some bitterly cold water in that passage, which is an unwelcome welcome back to caving. The crab walking to avoid the crawling is easier because Iím thinner than is used to be. The crawling is only hands and knees rather than flat out so it isnít so bad. Some thicker kneepads would be nice. Close examination of the ceiling of that passage reveals little helectites which is rather good. Its all good so far.

We reach the short drop to the streamway. Sam says why donít we descend and have a look. Having not SRTed for about 10 years, and only once used a Stop I Ďm a bit reluctant, but the streamway looks inviting, so why not give it a go. Squeezing into Samís harness is a bit of a comedy; but I do it lying on the floor like a girl squeezing into stretch jeans. I then have to work out how to thread the stop. I eventually achieve this as well. Now the moment of truth. With a bit of coaching from Sam, it all comes back and I find myself standing in the stream after a more or less controlled descent. I Ďm barely off the rope before Sam joins me via an Italian hitch on his belay belt. Nice.

A quick look at the sump then its off up the stream. A really nice clear, clean bottomed
flow.
This is more like it. We continue until it starts looking a bit lower, and I run out of enthusiasm for the water as Iím wearing cotton rather than neoprene socks. We have a short sit down because for various reasons Iím wobbling a bit.

Now its back down the stream to the rope. This will be interesting. Again getting the harness done up is a serious comedy, but at last it is and Iím reminded how uncomfortable a properly fitted chest harness can be. With Sam swinging politely on the rope I manage to get back up and off the top without jamming an ascender or being inappropriately unclipped.

Its nice to know I can still do it, well sort of. Then its back to retrieve the steak and pop back up into the bright hot sun. What could be nicer. Weíre out in time to return the gear and have a cup of tea. The soldiery have gone for another year.

Thanks to Sam for an excellent reintroduction. Iíll be back.

Hamish Balfour

 

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