OUCC Proceedings 12 (1986)

Gleam in the Eye

Pushing 'Eye In the Sky' and Beyond (Cave 2/6)

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by Gerhard Niklasch

This is one of the moments when I feel no gratitude at all for the Spanish noon sunshine or for the magnificent panoramic view from the Ridge. I've just clambered across the deep bouldery Jou west of Top Camp, changed into furry and Troll suit, and crept into the only corner offering a little bit of shade for an uneasy drowse. Even so I'm being baked. 'A shallow warming-up trip' had been my declared desire this morning and I'd kept pestering Ian with it until he joined me to rig the 2/6 entrance shaft. Martin Laverty, having completed a double share of sherpa-ing and cast a glance into the abyss, has decided to abstain from a descent. Ian is already some 35m down bolting up a rebelay. We hear the faint echo of his strokes.

Last year this place had been suffering from chronic lack of tackle. This year, a week ago, Steve Roberts had rigged a 100m rope, abbed down to the knot and found himself still dangling above blackness, at which point he abandoned exploration. So far no one has entered 2/6 more than once: today I'll be the first to descend a second time.

The hammering has ceased. Ian is down to the knot and is heard asking for me and the second 100m rope. I clip on and descend very slowly. I've been down enough shafts not to feel giddy, but still there's this irritating phobia of dropping one of my boots. The choughs nesting somewhere in here are now circling above my head - oops, I've forgotten to turn my carbide on. Easy to overlook in a shaft bathed in daylight!

Gradually the air gets cooler. I pass the rebelay. The side shafts end on a snow-covered ramp and join the main drop. One wall is beautifully, evenly fluted, a monumental relief eight metres across and thirty metres high. Still blackness below, nor can I see the far wall.

I join Ian on a tiny ledge and he ties on the second rope.'This won't be a real mid-air changeover', he explains, 'because you can always pull yourself over onto this ledge and pass the knot here'.'Well, let's call this the pull-over then,' I suggest, just a bit intimidated by the prospect. Ian is already below me, looking for a place for another bolt. While he is hammering away I have plenty of time to cool down and think up exotic ways of folding my legs to prevent them from going to sleep.

Eventually Ian is on the rope again, preceded by tons of pebbles and followed by my shivering self - this time to the floor! A bit of murky snow, a few chough feathers, torn bundles of grass, a long patch of faint daylight on the scree slope, a black space in the left hand wall. I stop to look up: a dazzlingly bright blue speck of sky, a yellowish one of reflected sunlight next to it. 'The Eye in the Sky'!

Ian is off exploring the black space, noisily descending a steep loose climb. 'Guess what I have here,' he shouts back.'A dead sump pool!' My face lengthens.

Ian scrambles back uphill, kicking off an avalanche of boulders and scree, and disappears round a corner. 'Inlet aven... this bit chokes...' Then the sound of rocks falling, with a good echo. 'This might be a way on. Come over and have a look.' I hate the loose unguarded boulder slope traverse, but muster my courage. (Four weeks later I will be here on a solo derigging trip swearing at the most f...ing useless traverse line ever to have existed!) 'Watch this', says Ian and hurls another big rock over the edge. Whizzzz BANG. Two seconds, and a fine solid overhanging wall to give a free hang.

Right-handed bolting isn't Ian's cup of tea so he leaves me to finish the job, and I bang my first underground bolt in place.'Prime Time':'I had a premonition, it's gonna be my turn tonight'. Ian volunteers himself once more for the first descent.

A splendid 30m pitch, free-hanging, the knot just a few metres above the steep boulder floor downhill chokes again, as I can see even before I land. But there's Ian uphill behind an enormous boulder, on his knees, trying to lift a pebble half his own weight. His eyes are gleaming. A last effort-

BangabangwhizzBOOMrattlerattle! Two and a half seconds. And no rope left! 2/6 is on its way. Less than four hours caving have taken us to -150m, already 80m below Ridge Cave entrance - 250m to go to Dinosaur Beach, or less than 300 to the Big Crunch, if our luck runs that way, and already we've covered a third of the horizontal distance to the Ridge Cave chambers.


The next day Ian is determined to do something harder so it will be up to me to sort the messy rigging out. Jonathan Cooper,on his first expedition, and medicine man Paul Cooper, The One With Experience, join in. We rerig the main hang together before getting changed. Paul had tried to place a bolt to ease the take-off, but the brittle, weathered surface rock had foiled his valiant attempts. He doesn't seem to like the primary. The rope sling is going to rub on an edge. Paul takes a last suspicious look at the whole arrangement, then suddenly turns away, green in the face, leaning on the rock wall, holding his stomach, moaning 'Oh I'm so sick...' ('You should see a doctor about it', will be Steve Roberts' sympathetic comment back at Camp.) On every trip here one person out of three drops out and I'm going down for the third time, and like it! What's wrong with me?!

The rerigging goes smoothly and soon Jonathan and I set about bolting the third shaft. He has never placed a bolt before and I've never placed one on my own - let's see whether Team Incompetent can cope. Where to put the bolts in is obvious enough: the hang will be from another overhanging wall. The 100m rope is tied on and I set out on my first virgin shaft descent. I don't like the wall in front of me. To begin with it is too close. It's also extremely loose. The rock is all shattered and cracked - it must have been an impressive bang indeed when one day, many thousand years ago, that enormous boulder had dropped from the roof and crashed onto the pitchhead...

I can feel the rope touching the rock above me. Well, so much for a free hang. I pull out the hammer and start tapping. Fortunately I've tucked my legs well out of the way as immediately a fifty pound pebble falls out of the wall. WhizzBANGrattlerattle. Oh bother. I don't feel quite up to this. A few more futile attempts - no, nothing solid in reach. I'm about to give up when I spot a hand-sized overhung recess, where the rock at last rings vaguely solid under the hammer. Lots of calcite veins crisscross it, cracks surround it, but heavy blows and strong prodding don't seem to move anything in the immediate vicinity - let's go for it, then.

At last the rebelay is in its place, and on I go into the depth. From the wall on my right a big triangular promontory sticks out, its edge neatly following the rope for several feet. Once below this obstacle I see that the rope will miss it by just a couple of inches, provided you don't swing about. This shaft is going to be the 'Bladerunner', then, 'cos the rope runs past this blade, if you follow me.

The landing is, yes you've guessed it, on a steep loose boulder floor leading down to a blindlooking chamber. I move myself and the remaining rope out of the target area of things falling off the pitchhead and shout for Jonny to follow. The only way on is up the boulders, round the corner, down more boulders to a tall narrow rift. The approach is loose, lots of ledges below make a free-hang impossible; it seems to call for a ladder, which we happen to have left behind on the surface. Sod it we'll do it anyway. A flake and a bolt will give a nice Y-anchor, another chance for Jonathan to practice his new bolting skills. His turn this time to go down first. An uncomfortable descent, judging by what I'm hearing from him. You keep banging into ledges and checked boulders and showering sand and gravel onto yourself with the rope.

Jonathan sets off exploring and calls me down after a short while. Again that gleam in the eyes when I meet him! He directs me round a sharp bend into what looks like a blind corner with an inlet coming down.'There's an eight second drop here', he says.'Just climb up this wall and look over the edge'. The wall is a bit lacking in footholds for my taste, but I get high enough to reach the edge with my hand and ding a little rock down. It keeps going for ten seconds, hitting the walls a few times.'I've managed to throw a pebble so that it doesn't hit anything for eight seconds', says Jonny.

Once again we're left with only 25m plus 19m of rope, which doesn't seem to be enough for eight seconds. So we wistfully throw a few rocks down the continuation of the rift, another good rattler to be followed up, and turn our backs on it.

We're both running out of light when we reach the Eye in the Sky: no water anywhere except some unimpressive drips on the walls. But who needs a light on this entrance shaft, while the sun is still in the sky! Paul has missed out on a brilliant trip, one of the finest I've ever had.