OUCC Proceedings 9 (1979)
Thoughts of Brummie Expedition Guests
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Sometime last year, Winnie asked me if I might be interested in an OUCC expedition to Spain. Keen caver that I am, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. Skunk was also enthusiastic, he being the type who would rather have a muddy weekend in Yorkshire than a dirty one in Brighton.
I fondly imagined Spanish caves to be nice warm places full of enormous chambers and free-hanging pitches just waiting for someone to throw a rope down them. Skunk, however, being of different mentality, fondly imagined them to be tight and wet, full of technical difficulty and yielding their tremendous depth after many long arduous trips. I sometimes think that Skunk enjoyed the trip more than I did.
My only worry (apart from the prospect of sharing a tent with Skunk for 6 weeks) was of how well we'd get on with all those university type academics. The only OUCC caver I had ever been caving with was Winnie, and I hoped they weren't all theoreticians like him who design SRT systems of incredible complexity, requiring 15 minutes of assembly plus two volunteers at each end of the pitch. This is done purely for the technical satisfaction of knowing that your system is unique, and that you don't need to carry 6 spare krabs, harness, bits of elastic, lengths of rope and tape, auxiliary ascenders etc., since they are already incorporated into the system.
I was also worried about Winnie's disconcerting habit of falling off things at regular intervals, and hoped the rest of OUCC weren't like that. I needn't have worried; OUCC turned out to be as typical a collection of warped individuals as any caving club could boast of.
Since Skunk and I had done lots of SRT, I got the impression that we were regarded as supposedly being good at it. In my case, however, pride came before a fall: I found that my rope-walking system that had worked almost perfectly for years in Yorkshire had been affected somehow by the journey to Spain. Where previously an ammo can on the end of the rope had provided ample tension for a good prusiking get away, I now needed a couple of heavies to swing on it. Despite cam modifications, stronger elastic etc., the situation did not improve. Switching to Winnie's home-made imitation Lewis rope-walkers did not help either, lowering my opinion of him further.
The other problem was my brand new super shiny Goldlock rack, bought especially for the enormous pitches we were going to find. This turned out to be as controllable as Skunk's bowel habits. Attempts at modification resulted in 32ft per second per second abseils or alternatively stuffing the rope through by hand to get anywhere, so this was eventually discarded and I went back to my trusty figure of eight.
Having shattered my hoped for image as a competent SRT man, salt was rubbed into my wounds as the inexperienced sit-stand men nonchalantly climbed everything with ease, raining scorn and derision on rope-walking systems.
One slightly worrying aspect of OUCC's behaviour was the tendency of some members to drop things down pitches. I noticed that these members were always careful not to go up last so they would always have somebody to aim at and never have to redescend to fetch anything. In one trip alone I found myself the ungrateful recipient of a rope, a krab, an ascender, a stinky, and last, but not least, nearly a cubic metre of the lip of the pitch.
As for Skunk, he seemed to enjoy it more the worse it got. The more physically unpleasant, tiring and arduous the caving got, the better he liked it. As the rest of us grew tired of marathon trips day after day, Skunk stoically looked forward to each trip like a junkie waiting for his fix, never complaining as he held the rope for the rope-walking cripples, sometimes doing wet pitches several times to relight stinkies for poor unfortunates who had no piezo electric lighters on their carbides.
It was a great expedition, I look forward to the next one almost as much as Skunk.