Tunnocks - Camping in Tunnocksschacht - CHECC Grand Prize entry
It was decided that this year, the CUCC expo would establish an underground camp in Kraken Chamber, Tunnocksschacht, as pushing trips to the lower leads were getting to be around 18 hours, which was bordering on the unsafe in terms of fatigue in combination with navigating the nylon highway required to get in and out.
Having arrived late at expo, I was to be on the last pushing trip of the season, after which we'd start to derig. The plan had been to spend two nights underground, but heavy rain and flooding pitches meant we postponed our start and would only spend one night down there. This would be by far the deepest I had ever been - my previous record was a mere -280m, while the campsite here was at -600m, with the pushing front a further -300m below that. I am also not a huge fan of massive pitches, so after spending the morning trying to think of ways I could get out of the trip entirely, I made somewhat slow progress down the cave as I tried not to cry or have a panic attack. Very much type 2 fun at this point. I really felt like I had reached the edge of my comfort zone at -500m, but of course there were many more metres to go... at least I had avoided getting strung up on the knot passes. Some noodles upon reaching the campsite briefly restored spirits before we descended further into the bowels of the earth.
I became significantly happier upon reaching Song of the Earth, a massive steeply ramping railway tunnel of a borehole discovered only a week or two previously. This was mainly because I was not dangling precariously on a small bit of string. At this point we split into two teams: Katey and myself were to go on down and look at what we thought was the deepest part of the cave so far, while Peachey wanted to do a bit of bolt climbing, so Fleur agreed to belay him. Katie and I slithered for what seemed like miles across the muddy boulders and eventually reached the previous limit of exploration, just on the far side of a sandy dig called "Don't Stop Me Now". We'd been informed by the previous team that this had carried "a howling gale" - the gentle breeze wasn't quite what we expected, but it was blowing nonetheless - maybe the lower water levels had something to do with it. We whipped out the survey book and instruments and off we set, getting in two really great legs... before turning a corner... to find a climb of around 6m with no footholds and carrying a small stream. Katey volunteered to have a look up there and reported back that it was very muddy and slippery. We decided that we would really need to bolt this to make it safe - a small slip at this depth could have very serious consequences, but sadly, we'd not been expecting to need bolting kit and the expedition was running out of rope anyway, so we shot a final survey leg before reluctantly turning around.
We went to find Fleur and Peachey, who were on the far side of what Fleur described as "proper fucking horrible bouldery death". There was a mysteriously fresh dead bat. Got a bit chilly waiting around, then headed back up to camp for dinner and the newly invented camp cocktail, custard tea, before a nip of Kraken rum restored feeling to my toes and I jumped into the welcoming embrace of the world's largest sleeping bag.
The next morning we broke camp, but decided to leave a lot of kit there as there were still some very plausible leads for next year. I headed out first with a couple of tackle bags, including the giant sleeping bag (it had done a sterling job of keeping me alive in the 0C cave...) while the others derigged a lot of the rope with the PAELLA technique (Pulling An Extremely Long Length Alltogether, I think) ready for removal by hauling teams the next day. Katey and Peachey stayed back to do even more derigging while Fleur caught me up, then we headed back to the Top Camp bivi for some curry, which was the best meal of my life up to that point.
This trip (with many words of encouragement from Fleur in particular) showed me that I am actually capable of a lot more than I think I am, and though I'm a long way from being as fluid and quick as the others on ropes, I think I've moved past some mental barriers there. Right now I don't feel like I want to rush straight back to the camp, but give it time - I'm sure that by next summer I'll be ready to break my Bottom Inspector record once again.