base camp - Expo recap - A mature view of Expo

Thu 09 Aug 2018



[from https://ukcaving.com/board/index.php?topic=23424.msg299639#msg299639]

We've already had posts from first timers so, to balance that out, here's my old-timer's perspective on this year's Expo. This summer I did a lot of my caving with George because, at the start of Expo, it was clear that he was lacking direction and, whilst not green (this was his third time out) that he'd benefit from my experience, constructive advice and tactful supervision.

For the avoidance of doubt, and for those of you don't know us, that's utter bollocks. George is a far better caver than me at SRT, rigging, finding and sticking with a project, navigation (not hard), climbing, carrying heavy bags, derigging, patience, surveying, conservation and scooping (yup, it's out there, sue me for defamation if you dare!). Don't be running away with the idea that list is comprehensive though: I have the edge on him at squeezes (despite him being willing to try harder, sleep deprivation (my, don't young people sleep a lot?), I'm far bossier and, though I haven't tested this properly, I reckon I've a greater bloody-minded capacity for enduring misery (I suspect it would take around a week of 10 hour trips in small, cold, wet, muddy, boring caves to break him and you just wouldn't believe how full my diary is right now so that'll have to wait).

Anyway, we (us two, Luke, Olly, Adam, Rachel, Nadia, Jacob, Philip, Wookey and Max) had a series of fine trips including finding what we think is the deepest shaft in the SMK system (Mongol Rally at 200m deep), two connections between Balkonhöhle and Tunnockschact, a sprout and a sump at -720m, many, many bat bones and over 5km of passage including the monster Grand Prix (incidentally, I agree, what's with the names? My carefully crafted puns were all flat-out rejected so we're stuck with a notable chamber called Big Lad - it should have been Raisin' Hell - and both Hangryman Pitch and Hangeryman Pitch are still up for grabs). Also, after 5 weeks of training I've mastered an alternative way to the tie a stopper knot and learnt the industry standard way to tie knots in the end of a rope (thanks, guys, for that fine use of my strictly limited long term memory).

After 220 hours underground this summer with CUCC I've skipped derigging (obviously I'd have loved to have helped out but unfortunately the timing was against me) and I've decamped to spend a week with the local Austrian club (VHO http://vho-caving-news.blogspot.com/) on their Plankamira expedition. This made for quite a culture change - there's only 5 of us and we're all around a half century old. Now, at last, my rigging suggestions are listened to attentively (rather than being firmly squashed) and nobody passes comment about the volume of food I get through (George eats like a grasshopper). I've also escaped the unending put-downs - "if you're going to rig that pitch don't do a half-arsed job of it"; "that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't placed it in a flake"; "you and your slopy shoulders"; and "no, you can't lead us out, you're so bad it's just not funny" and so on. Also, it's relaxing not having to tell everyone what to do :-) Best of all, I'm now the fastest prussiker (yeah, yeah, of course it's not a competition).

On the down side VHO are agonisingly slow to get going (how can anyone spend more than 9 hours in a sleeping bag? It's mental torture when you're camping underground and you're too polite to start loudly crinkling plastic bags and accidentally shining your light in people's eyes. Not that that worked anyway, you idle sods). And then, once they're up, there's the coffee to drink then the second coffee then breakfast then herbal tea and a second herbal tea before anything might happen. Hmm, thinking about it, George would have done better here instead of me (his favourite thing: sleeping; his next most favourite thing: sitting around doing nothing).

I did struggle on skills transfer ... this summer I heard someone claim that thru-bolts (as VHO use) have fewer modes of failure than Hiltis (that CUCC uses). Well, not in my hands, I can tell you. Of my dozen none went in easily (I must have been given the wrong diameter drill bit, goddammit) and there was horrible flaking with several, whilst one cracked out altogether with the rock it was in (I blame the Petzl hammer they gave me, it made all the rock sound shit so, since the good-looking rock made the same sound I deduced that all the rock was good. Then it fell apart). Most distressingly, on three of them the sleeve thing split and refused to go into the hole, just rucking up on the outside. Please, can I give up and go home? VHO rigging is typically spare, no Y-hangs unless there's a big swing and no deviations (there wasn't a single sling on the expedition). However, I was so worried about my lousy thru-bolts that my section was backups and Y-hangs all the way.

On the first day we got out in the dark from a new cave with over an hour's walk back to camp and big bags. The other half of the team set off confidently but then, 30 minutes later, he pointed at least 90 degrees off when I asked him to show where he thought camp was. Foolishly I'd not saved it as a waypoint on my phone and he was struggling with a new app on his phone so all we had to go on was the outline of the peaks around us. I persuaded him I knew which one to aim for and, 15 minutes later, hurrah, someone at camp saw us and left their light on so we slogged towards it. But then the light went out and we were reduced to navigating towards the sound of the generator reverberating in the huge rock bowl we were lost in before it was switched off. Then my companion, dressed in the shortest of hip-hugging racing shorts, refused to follow me through some prickly dwarf pine. I'll go round and meet you, he says, then disappeared. So now I'm by myself, three hours walk from anyone bar us few cavers so I shout his name. Eventually he shouts back "Don't cry unless it's an emergency". Then silence. Grrrr. So I hang around looking for his light and eventually spot him beetling off towards camp without a backward glance. I'll be damned if he gets there first so I stumble off and we arrive together. Two hours on Karren karst on a moonless night and I barely glanced up once so I caught just the one shooting star on the best night of the year for the Perseid shower.

Now I'm back down the hill in time to fix my broken tooth (note to self: don't eat rock at underground camp). We (well, the Cambridge University Caring Club, which tickled me) have just been awarded a certificate for our 35 years of service by the Mayor of Bad Aussee, Hilde made us delicious doughnuts to celebrate and I'm signed up for a final top camp carry tomorrow so all's right with the world.

Becka