Homecoming - Five and Flying
I managed to steal Oakem away from Harry, Charlotte and Becka just as they were preparing to depart from Top Camp. After a quick breakfast comprised of the previous day's couscous curry, Oakem's watery müsli and promising to take Becka caving sometime we were on our way to the cave.
In return for taking her caving, Becka had promised to teach me how to calibrate Wookey's DistoX. Unfortunately, the Disto was unwilling to connect to the phone and allow itself to be calibrated. Not wanting to be discouraged by this small defeat, Oakem and I followed the the other group into the cave. They were waiting at the top of of Radagast, since the ope had gotten stuck under the boulder at the bottom of the pitch and Charlotte was in the process of getting it unstuck.
The entrance series took us about an hour and fifteen, with about as much more to Swiss Cheese (PT10). From there we traversed for about 50 metres before dropping into Salamander Queen II. A small stash of rigging equipment and food (for a possible future camping trip) had been left there by the previous team. Following the rope took us into a respectably sized traverse (German Engineering), the first pitch into War of Attrition, which is where Chi and me had stopped bolting on Friday.
I rigged another 5m pitch and a traverse that reaches a section about 10 metres long with solid floor that can be comfortably stood on. Here Oakem took over the rigging to give him a chance to practice, as we weren't sure how long we wanted to stay. While placing his first bolt, I was passing the time by throwing rocks down the rift. Noise from the falling and rolling could be heard for about 15 seconds, meaning that whatever is down there must be incredibly deep, possibly large. Oakem's second bolt was a natural anchor, a sling placed around a piece of rock.
This is where Oakem discovered Salamander Queen. As I couldn't immediately get to him, he demonstrated the size of the chamber by throwing down a rock. The expected sound did not arrive for an uncomfortably long time. Not daring to bolt it himself, I had the honours. I placed one bolt just before the drop, to serve as a backup to the natural and the first bolt. Then, leaning over the drop, I placed two more bolts, meant for a Y-hang, a section of wall hanging over the pitch. The large pitch was rigged on a 10mm rope labelled 80m.
I abseiled down, but as I was about 3 metres away from the floor, I ran out of rope (thank you end-of-the-rope knot). The wall facing me was not good enough for a re-belay, so we went for a mid-rope knot bypass. Not having had the foresight to bring extra rope (we did not expect the pitch to be longer than 80m), Oakem clipped a short 11m onto the rope I was hanging from and let it slide down. The impact on my elbow was pretty painful.
When Oakem arrived at the bottom, we wandered around Salamander Queen to see what we had found. A small stream runs from on end to the other, mostly under the bounders that had accumulated on the chamber floor over the ages. We were unable to explore the downstream end of the chamber as there was a climb too large for either of us to attempt. Content with what we had found, we decided to turn around and head for the surface.
We left Salamander Queen at 16:50, about 10 minutes before we originally had wanted to be at the surface. When you are about to discover a chamber of this size, staying in for some extra time seems to be worth it. We reached Gromit at 18:53 and the surface at 20:00, just in time for the sunset. At the surface, Will was waiting for us. The poor man had been lost on the plateau all day. This story shall be told in his own logbook entry.