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Marble Steps Pot - 18th Apr 2010

Sunday April 18th 2010

Members present: Chad B,  Marion Holloway,  Sam Briscoe,  Thomas Blakey

Report by Marion Holloway

Chad has often said to me that he doesn’t like being a passenger on caving trips any more. And after my first rigging trip, down marble steps, I think I can see why. Having de-rigged several caves, I expected rigging to be a similar challenge: fairly methodical work, some interesting balancing on traverses, but otherwise generally straightforward. Instead (and I think I mentioned this to Chad) I found it more of an art than a science. It combined all the slightly hairy bits of de-rigging but required a fair amount of thought and skill in balancing y-hangs and adjusting rope lengths, to make them as useful as possible both ascending and descending. A good way to distract me from the large holes I was dangling over....

The day started early after what can only be described as a terrible night’s sleep. The room was stiflingly hot, stuffy and dry and a cacophony of snorers kept me (and Tom and Chad) awake most of the night. We were up sharpish at 7 for a breakfast of porridge, toast and cereal, made arrangements with Kev in case he decided to join us later and headed off to Masongill. A fine change and a short walk later and we were sat around the entrance to the cave swapping tacklesacks.

I reckon we headed into the cave at about half nine. There was no pressure for time, so I concentrated on making my rigging accurate rather than speedy. The first traverse turned into a bit of knot practice, as I struggled to remember how to get butterflies and fig8s to sit right. My judgement of length was also pretty dodgy to begin with, but after some painfully slow progress I made it to the pitch head and my first Y hang.

Chad took a minute to explain how to balance and load the Y-hang but it didn’t seem to make too much sense to me. I always struggle when people describe things like this, so I decided to just give it a go, see how it went and learn from what went right and wrong. To begin with it was mostly wrong. It took several adjustments to get it anywhere near what it should have looked like. At this point I was thinking a bit too much about leaning over the pitch head. I generally feel comfortable when I’m clipped in, but it was a little bit disconcerting having the rope loose instead of taut. Anyway, eventually the Y-hang was done and after a short discussion over rope rub and getting the rope to hang naturally (again this made little sense until I’d gone down the pitch and could see what Chad was talking about) I headed down - a little too fast at first, having forgotten to lock off my rack!

The next challenge was finding the rebelay a few metres down. It was probably only a challenge because I was looking too close to where I was. The hanger in the wall seemed miles away. Chad suggested I climb along the folds in the rock to reach it and I was soon across, perched on a flake of rock tying my first loaded fig8. Chad explained how not to side load it and to make sure my weight was on both bits... I side loaded it. And couldn’t get the knot to sit right. But it was in, and there were plenty more chances to practice.

Deviation Time! A quick description on what to do and a choice between two P-hangers. In the spirit of adventure, I chose the further one but struggled to reach it. There was an alcove near it, but it was a struggle to get my leg round, and there was nothing for my hand to grip. On the way back up I noticed some footholds on the wall behind me, but on the descent I didn’t even think to look. I even tried clipping into the first p hanger and pulling myself across, but it didn’t really work and when I took the cows tail out I went swinging backwards into a rocky outcrop. Ouch. It must have looked worse from above because once the initial pain wore off it felt fine but Chad seemed concerned I’d hurt myself. A couple more attempts and I gave up and went for the easy p hanger, rigged the deviation and headed on.

I was looking for a Y hang, with one bolt in the roof. But I was struggling to find the roof let alone the hanger. I found a single one in the wall quite a way down and after a good five minutes or so of looking Chad suggested I might have passed it and got to the final rebelay instead. I agreed and went ahead, missing out the y-hang. After all the confusion, I completely forgot what I was doing and didn’t notice I’d done a butterfly knot, instead of a fig8. Another one for Chad to fix on the way down! Thinking I’d just done the last rebelay, I abseiled all the way to the bottom, unclipped and waited on a rock, planning what I had to do next. Chad went down after me fixing all my mistakes, but couldn’t find the Y-hang either. Turns out there was no y-hang and I’d missed the bottom rebelay instead. Doh!

With Chad and the second tacklesack down, we moved on to the next pitch. It was quite loose and I did send a couple of stones flying down in front of me as I rigged the handline. My rope lengths were a bit off again and I think Chad had to change a couple of them again as he followed me. One of the bolts was quite a way out of my arms reach and involved some interesting leaning out over a rock using my jammer on the rope to balance my weight. I honestly didn’t think I could reach that far and neither did Chad. He offered to do it for me but the threat of letting him take over was enough to get me to do it. I was determined to make it to the bottom of stink pot, having rigged the lot!

There was a short traverse on not much rock, where I did my best to concentrate on making my butterfly knots a bit neater, rather than the hole two inches behind me. I ended up with a very loose traverse that Chad promised to fix and I scarpered down the rope to the bottom of the main chamber. After waiting for Chad and the next tacklesack, we headed on, up over some rocks and a hole in the floor to the next pitch. After a quick scout for p-hangers we realised we were too high and shimmied down into the hole, under some boulders and back to the pitch. This was to be something of a handline and once I was clipped in, I did some interesting climbing, traversing and straddling for the few metres to the next hanger. I adjusted my knot and spent a bit of time getting the length right before trying to reach the next hanger. After a bit off faffing, I realised it was probably easier to just to go down on my rack and treat it as a mini pitch. The rope was only 10m and wasn’t really long enough to do what I’d being planning with it. With Chad down right behind me, we headed into the rift to the top of stink pot.

Again here, we ended up and the wrong height in the rift and had to go back and go up to the top and do the traverse. Sam agreed to carry my tacklesack, knowing how I get scared and Chad was already ahead of me, having climbed up mid-rift to find where we were going. He offered to rig for me, but I knew I could do it after all the climbing practice I’d had in Wales. I was a little bit wobbly and ended up clipping into Chad as well as the rope for extra protection, but the traverse rigging was worth it to get to do the y-hang. It had to sit through a tight hole, without rubbing on several rocks. It was even mentioned in the guide that “skilful rigging was needed”. Through some beginner’s luck I managed it in a couple of minutes with minimal adjustments, reducing rope rub to a small piece off smooth rock and the rope descending centrally through the hole. I was quite proud of that one! A very slight squeeze (I blame it on my recent biscuit addiction) and I was down into the next chamber.

I continued rigging, so Chad could follow and supervise the traverse across the intestines. The first hanger wasn’t too bad, but I had the bright idea of descending, swinging and climbing round the other side to reach the second one. Chad left me to it and I can see why – I’m sure it was amusing to watch from the top! Once I realized my mistake, I did a quick changeover, scrambled back up and decided to man up and do the traverse. It wasn’t as hairy as it looked and my rope length was judged pretty well, only an inch or two under. I unclipped, tied up the tacklesack and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d made it! I got a hug and congratulations from Chad before he went on to rig the ninety and below.

Now I was just a passenger again I could sit back, relax and enjoy the view down to the bottom. The slings at the top of the ninety were a big help going down, saving a lot of stringing up and messing around. The chamber opened out impressively bellow and to the side, and a slight haze of water in the air above me made the view looking up very pretty. I shouted rope free to Sam, but he was doubtful as to whether he would fit through the squeeze at the pitch head. I headed down the next pitch and relayed the message to Chad. In the end, Sam waited for us at the top, but to his credit it was after several determined efforts! Chad, myself and then Tom headed down the final pitch to the bottom – not as scrotty as Chad had suggested, but still nothing to shout about.

We headed out to meet up with Sam again, Chad leading up the bottom pitch and then I went ahead up the ninety while Tom de-rigged them behind us. I needed a hand from Sam placing my feet at the top of the ninety, but otherwise it was all fairly easy going. I kept heading out, knowing Chad would catch me up pretty quickly and waited for him at the top of Stink pot. Sure enough he wasn’t far behind me, and we headed back to the main chamber to wait for the others, splitting a Mars bar and discussing how much the place floods in the rain to pass the time.

Sam got the chance to do his first de-rigging, and seemed pretty speedy. We weren’t there long before we heard voices behind us and headed up the ten metre pitch to wait for tacklesacks. It was at this point that I realised how much easier this cave was when the ropes were there for you! And also how much better my confidence at climbing was that I’d managed to get across these traverses without rope (apart from a safety loop) on the way down.

Chad disappeared off up the bypass to the upper main chamber while I headed up with the lightest tacklesack. He beat me to it (surprisingly) and hauled his up after I was off the pitch. We stopped to admire the shaft of sunlight streaming down into the cave ad then I headed on up the final few pitches, having several jammer issues (they both kept slipping on the rope occasionally) but eventually made it to the top and detangled my tacklesack.

At the top a few families had taken their kids abseiling for the afternoon, so I was greeted by a few surprised but friendly faces as I clambered out into the sunlight. Chad and I shanked the ropes, sunbathed and admired the view of the sea until Sam and Tom reached the top. It was about half four, still warm and sunny, and time for a gentle walk down the hill to the car and a drive home.

I had a really brilliant time rigging marble steps. Thanks to everyone for having the patience to come with me and Chad for having the patience to teach me! It was an awesome feeling to get to the end and realise that not only had I managed some climbing and traversing I would never have been able to do even a few months ago, I’d also started to get some sense of the art involved in good rigging. I really enjoyed the different challenges it presented and I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to try again.