FGH - "FGH Derig"

Wed 15 Aug 2018
Christopher Holt

Derig was going to be a big job. Tonnes of rope still down several holes, and most people had already buggered off, and a fair few of those still around had buggered themselves in some fashion! So we had maybe 6 decent cavers to do maybe 20 bags worth of rope from 3 different entrances in two days. The real hard nuts had done most of Balkonhole on a camp/push/derig the day before, and half of that group were quite deservedly taking a day off. Ruaridh's broken arm had mysteriously 'Got better, honest' until we made him prove it by climbing into the Animal house, so he was out. Fishface/Fischgesicht was the next biggest project, with ~300m depth and vague rumours of a drill left at the bottom for the "unclimbable" leads.

I'd always known it was goin to be a little bit cheeky turning up just for the end of Expo and still hoping to get a chance to push something, but as it turned out I wasn't even the most jammy of the lot! I'd had a couple of days to acclimatise to camp life and reacquaint myself with the hypothermic delights of Alpine caving when Radost finally arrived (Actually, he had been there earlier, but was just showing his Dad around and wasn't caving), making two of us who hadn't pushed anything. So, the priorities for this trip were to be

  • Derig a metric tonne of rope.
  • Retrieve the drill
  • Check whether the sod who left the drill hadn't left other vital equipment too
  • Show me (Christopher) and Rad how to bolt, and do a little bit of surveying
  • Maybe do a rigging guide to speed things up next year

Anyway, after the standard intrepid hike across the plateau, all looking super-cool if I don't say so myself, we change and Luke and Rad zip down while Max waited for me to get changed. Max and I had already been all the way to Ulysses earlier that week, so he assumed I remembered the way and shot ahead. I have a terrible memory for complex junctions and my light casts a very sharp throw-pattern, so I still got lost a couple of times and found them all taking a leisurely rest at that nice picnic spot, below the free-climb pitchy thing, where left goes to the way on and right to that disgusting traverse across Ulysses (which Max had derigged two days before and left 70m in a pile in case people wanted to bolt leads below).

There was a brief discussion of what we should expect, and we settled on the priorities listed above. Luke declared 4pm(?) to be our turnaround time. He wasn't keen on taking more rope deeper into the cave, but given Rad's and my keenness to push the two of us decided to pack it anyway once Luke and Max went ahead. It was only ten minutes later that the shout was relayed to us "Guys! There's more rope down here anyway! DEFINITELY don't bring that other rope!" I duly returned the bag to its original position and retrieved the survey gear, which I had of course forgotten to put back in the bag.

The lower shaft of Fischgesicht is a truly marvellous black hole - One of those can't-see-the-bottom, can't-see-the-top ones. In stark contrast to the rest of the cave above, it was extremely poorly rigged. Well, I suppose it could have been worse, but even on the way down I was thinking "Should I retie that knot? It really looks like it rubs. No, it's probably just me being a wuss and it's like that for a reason". This was looking at a lop-sided, 2-metre wide Y-hang that required a sort of acrobatic climb down to access. New rope, at least, though it was quite dry and required a lot of patience to avoid glazing. Plenty of time to look around the blackness and ponder the geological mysteries of metamorphosed Carboniferous sediments.

We needn't have brought in a drill battery, as together with the drill there were 3 high-capacity ones already there. Rad informed me that Luke and Max had gone up the slightly more obvious (right turn at both junctions) of the labyrinthine passages in this new horizontal level to check that the dead end really was one - apparently the small climb Max did crapped out very quickly. We met back at a junction, I picked up the survey gear from the previous junction, and we headed off (left at second junction) to check the other end of this slightly-larger passage. Everyone agreed that this was a cracking horizontal level. Very nice walking-sized!

The previous group (whose identity remains to me as nebulous and vague as their cave descriptions) had apparently concluded that "you'll need bolts and rope to push any of the leads". Total bollocks. We did find a quite sketchy looking climb overlooking the virgin passage floor, but there were two different crawling ways to bypass it! After this initial reccy we reconvened and distributed survey gear. I was to get to grips with the CHECC disto, entrusted to me by Luke that morning. Rad wanted to do the drawing. I had forgotten to pack any station-marking stuff, but luckily Luke had some nail varnish in his pocket. We reckonned we had an hour and a half to push, and with no bolting necessary, the excitement of potentially hundreds of metres of 3x3m phreatic tube became evident in everyone's voices.

So, on to the description itself. The phreatic tube trends uphill, with a vadose trench in the bottom taking the water gradually deeper and out of sight and earshot. Where the passage jumps up a dodgy climb, the safer way on is through one of two little holes down and to the left - the leftmost a low crawl, and slightly to the right of that a narrowish slot. After these, a small chamber with boulders on the floor

Crawl. We managed to shoot the lazer straight through a tiny window, avoiding the need to survey the crooked oxbow crawl round the right. Now in another small chamber, but open both forwards/left up a slope, and vertically/right into the big tube, where we were later able to survey the loop (seems to be a near-oxbow of the phreas, which was undercut to make this 3-way big junction with a fourth crawly way that we had just come through). We progressed forwards up the slope, and the 3x3m tube meanders around for m. The floor of the tube is covered with sandy mud that seems to have a darkened crust. Very easy to follow the path established by the first person. About halfway along Luke dropped his nail-varnish, so we resorted to scratching in the mud on the walls. There is a bit of a climb up before a steep slide down a sandy slope. Take care to avoid falling in the hole at the bottom - it looks like a soft landing because of the pile of sand, but I've no idea how you would get out of that chamber - it looks a bit like the whole tube has a false floor in that area. Anyway, the tube continues, eventually changing in profile to more of a tall 2x5m elipse. The noise of the stream can now be heard again - far below, but I suppose cascading more steeply and so making a louder sound. Eventually we reached a sloping-sided hole in the floor, obviously wet at the bottom, QMc, with the same old tube heading up to the right, QMa, and a bottomless traverse on the opposite side of the hole, QMb. All of these will require either bolting of a traverse across the hole or a spiderman-like grip and balls of steel. I would prefer the bolted traverse option.

We still had over half an hour to go, so we returned ot one of the side passages we had noticed earlier. Climbing back up that steep sandy slope was interesting - everyone had a different method; running full pelt, desperate scrambling, chimping up the wall, etc. Rad was about to zoom off when I called him back - "You do know I won't be able to do anything from up here, don't you?" he observed. "Yes, but I don't want to die alone!". Cautiously attempting to disturb the sand as little as possible, I delicately levitated myself to a position of safety.

It was only a couple of legs into the side passage that it started going crazy. A-leads to the left, A and B-leads to the right, leads below - way too much to do any justice to in the time we had left. Clearly the polite thing to do was to leave it for some lucky bastard next year. There's enough down there for two simultaneous survey groups.

Derig - I was to go up the big pitch with one bag of rope, Radost to follow with the drill and batteries, then pass it to me to put in the top of the 70m bag at Ulysses. I was so mentally beasted from prusiking with a palpable twang on every bounce, at least until I passed the rub-point, and then He-Manning it past that rebelay, that I completely forgot about Rad's bag until I was about to go past Ulysses. I backtracked and hauled his bag up the little pitch for him, packed it in the top of the rope bag there, and with two heavy bags proceded up the free-climb. I had a bit of a sense of humour failure at the top, and having overheard Max "so how many bags do you have, Rad?" "At the moment, precisely zero!" I foisted the heavier one back onto him, selfishly thinking that it would be better for the first person to travel light and quick. Even one bag on that traverse was troublesome, and so when at the top of the next pitch I heard Rad swearing his way through with two, I decided to redeem myself and took back one of them.

It was slow progress up the rest of the cave, barely keeping ahead of the deriggers (Luke and Max). At another free-climb I reaslised after >10 minutes of struggling that it was much easier to just throw the bags up and then chimp up after them. At the surface, I debagged and lay looking at the stars for a couple of minutes, before returning to the first pitch to take Rad's bag. He was decidedly less talkative than usual, and had the look of a man who needs a break - "it's just quite a heavy bag for a first trip" - I was inclined to agree. I saw another 3 meteors in the space of 20 seconds before going back to sketch a rudimentary diagram of the entrance traverses and take one bag from Max, and then back again for another. Realistically, it was the easiest bit of the bag carry, but it was hard thinking of Luke and Max doing all that work and not trying to help out.

The decision to leave all the tackle sacks at the entrance was endorsed unanimously. I poured myself a large Schnapps and followed everyone in double-curry dinner and falling asleep immediately.

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