264 Balcony - Cathedral Chasm

Sat 02 Jul 2016



First 7 hours of the trip went relatively smoothly, despite David forgetting to bring a pencil for surveying. We made our way to Cathedral Chasm, which included getting past a particularly awkward climb, requiring removal of SRT gear and much swearing on my part. Traversed around a rather large pitch and put in an extra bolt at the end of the traverse before continuing onwards to the possible lead. David put in some bolts to rig the traverse, but was unfortunately cut short after he dropped the setter down the pitch. I did some exploring and found an alternative route to the chasm which opened around 3m into the traverse David was rigging. Since the loss of the setter aborted the trip, we decided to head back, although David remains optomistic that his lead will be fruitful. We made it to the series of entrance pitches, and then it all went wrong. The pitches were wet, but we foolishly decided to attempt going up regardless. I went first, got up to the first rebelay point, started up the second but only got a couple of metres up before deciding that continuing upwards would be a terrible idea - the pitch was around 30m and at this point the water was falling hard, heavy and cold. Oh so very very cold. Down prussicked until I hit the ground, but then managed to get my hand jammer stuck, essentially tethering myself to the rope under a waterfall of freezing doom. Alternated between tring to free myself, which required going directly under the water, and standing to the side to avoid the water. After about 10 minutes David came up and unstuck me. We went back down the pitch and back into the cave. At this point I was fairly slow to respond and lost some motor function. I recall having some very weird thoughts. At this point it was about 8pm, and the start of a very long, cold night. Tried to warm up as much as possible without much success, while waiting for cave rescue. Mostly it was boring - time seems to drag so 10 minutes feels like an hour. Conversation between David and I was forced - included pineapple trivia. The survival bag did work though, we were alive when Mark arrived at 11pm.

There was some miscommunication between David and Mark which delayed rescue by 15 minutes or so; neither could hear the other over the water, whch was incredibly forceful at this point. After that faff, Mark finally got down and from that point things moved pretty efficiently. Got into a bivvy, consumed some soup and then we waited for about 5/6 hours. It wasn't the most comfortable night. That said, going from incoherent to somewhat functional was a definite improvement in condition, so I won't complain too much. Misery levels were high, but not so high as they would have been had we died of hypothermia. I suppose dead people can't feel miserable, but it would have been a hassle for everyone else. Around 5am, the condition of the pitch had dramatically improved, and Mark made the excecutive decision to get out then. Again, it was a very efficient operation. Mark and I tandem prussicked out, and David followed behind. By 6am we were officially out of Balkonhöhle.

There are several lessons to be learned here. The first is to avoid wet pitches - don't be swayed by hubris. Secondly, appreciate cushions, try sitting still on unforgiving limestone for several straight hours if you don't. Thirdly, you don't need to take drugs to experience altered states of consciousness. Just get really cold. But at the end of the day, it was an experience, albeit not a fun one. We live to cave again.