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Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1

Thursday March 22nd 2012

Members present: Chad B,  Mark Sims,  Toby Buxton

Report by Mark Sims

I won’t write about most of the trip here, since Toby’s described it so well. It was a brilliant way to fit all of OFD together and to provide a real appreciation of the scale of the place.

I’ll pick up the story from Cwm Dwr on the way back…

When we reached the Confluence I think we were all feeling pretty good. We had a chocolate bar or two each to top up the energy levels, plenty of water, and cracked on towards the Diver’s Pitch. Toby asked why I went up to the left of where the rope was, to which I said something along the lines of, “I prefer trusting the wall, rather than some hawserlaid rope of unknown vintage”. Perhaps in hindsight I should have kept my mouth shut…

Pleasingly we still hadn’t looked at the survey, and didn’t need to for this bit either, despite my prediction that the return section between the Letter Box and The Connection might be where we’d go wrong.

I had the tackle sack at this point, after I’d agreed to take it as far as OFD I. Pleasingly though, I felt pretty fresh, so figured I may as well keep going with it through the choke. Approaching the 5 m climb down I wondered where the climb bypass was from this direction – I’d only ever come through it once, and that was from the other direction. It was all a bit academic though, since I didn’t really fancy the flat out section with a bag, when there was a nice easy climb as an alternative…

On the climb I let the tackle sack hang from my belt before grabbing a couple of likely looking handholds on the left. It crossed my mind that they weren’t the biggest holds I’d ever used, but I was satisfied that I could comfortably hold myself on either one of them. Aside from that, I’d probably used the same ones on my way into the cave. As I lowered myself down, smearing on the walls with my feet, the hold in my right hand suddenly gave way. Immediately my weight went on to my left hand, only for that hold to come off in my hand too.

With two hand holds, or even just one, I could comfortably share my weight between my hands and feet, but with both holds suddenly gone I immediately fell. I frantically pushed out against the walls feeling them racing past as I completely failed to get any grip on them with my feet or hands. At the same time I looked down to see the tackle sack hanging below me and the floor racing up towards it, as I heard Toby shouting something from above me.

As soon as I hit the ground I looked down at my right ankle. It had taken a hell of an impact. But what did a broken ankle feel like? I hadn’t got a clue. I looked up to find Toby somehow immediately beside me unclipping the bag – he must have got down quicker than I had! He said something about the emergency kit before I interrupted to say that someone just needed to get out to get help. Chad was down by this point, and they decided that Toby should head out and Chad should stay. Toby set off saying he’d definitely know his way once he got to the connection, as I sat on the ledge halfway down the climb.

Once the shock had subsided a bit I lifted my leg up and tried moving it a bit. It was pretty uncomfortable, but I seemed to be able to move it without too much pain. I remember Ade saying about how he’d broken his ankle in the OFD II streamway several years previously, but he hadn’t realised the extent of it so had hobbled out. A light appeared ahead as Toby came back having missed the crawl to the connection. I lowered myself down the last bit of the climb, saying that I might see if I’d be able to get out under my own steam. I put my foot down and it was immediately in agony combined with a horrid crunching feeling. Walking certainly wasn’t an option. As Toby set off again, I had a look around for somewhere to sit. With the pain from just hopping across to a flat bit of ground, it was clear I’d need a fair bit of help to get out. Chad got the survival blanket out of the emergency kit and gave me a couple of ibuprofen.

The next couple of hours were pretty bad. I had no clue what I’d done (broken ankle? broken leg? it certainly felt bad) and was cooling down fast in spite of the blanket. Chad was absolutely brilliant though; he kept me talking pretty much non stop, especially when he saw my eyes starting to close! He was clearly getting chilly himself, but he just kept on distracting me, providing me with food and talking away.

It was hugely reassuring when we heard voices of rescuers coming our way…but I hadn’t guessed that it would actually be Ade and Cat! They immediately gave us extra food and gave me another survival blanket. Ade gave me some pain killers and started splinting my leg as the next few people arrived and set up the HeyPhone. We had a brief chat about how I was going to get out, but it was clear that it was a case of getting myself through the connection and the choke. It would have been an incredible faff with a stretcher.

Progress through the connection was slow and steady and before long I was through to the top of the slope down to Dip Sump, thanks to the help of the guys holding my leg off the floor and directing me as I shuffled along backwards, offering me the encouraging words that if all was to go wrong, at least they were in the artificial limb business! Here we met Clive, Jonny, Steven and Alex who gave the welcome offer of a cup of coffee. I gratefully said yes, and Clive rummaged in his bag, soon realising that they hadn’t actually brought the coffee in with them! Water was gratefully received though, and it was time for the choke.

I had been pretty worried about this bit, but it was more spacious than I’d remembered, and with someone ahead to guide my leg, it didn’t feel like it took too long at all. After a brief rest at boulder chamber we had a chat about what would be best for the streamway. We figured that having the stretcher there in case would certainly do no harm, but we set off down with me hopping along with help from people either side. A special mention certainly has to go to Jonny for his continuous jokes and encouragement all the time he was there. It made a huge difference hopping down the passage with a smile on my face! Having said that, it was pretty strenuous, and even more so when the passage got too narrow for three abreast so by Lowes Chain I was already knackered.

Rather than stopping after the bulk of the water joined the passage, it was suggested we waited where we were for the stretcher, at which point the coffee arrived. Good timing! Before long the stretcher was there and after some more painkillers Steff strapped me in, and I was soon being moved downstream.

I never imagined that being in a stretcher would be an enjoyable experience, but it was really pretty unpleasant. In this case I think it was mainly because it gave me time to lie there and think about the pain etc. rather than being busy getting on with leaving the cave. I certainly can’t fault anyone who came to help. I feel like I owe a lot of people a lot of pints…

The journey out to the entrance was pretty dull from my perspective, aside from overhearing a conversation about how concerned people were about the scaffold poles over the pots in the floor. I thought nothing of it until afterwards when Jonny was saying that when he was stationed on the first pole, the water started off ankle deep, but when I’d passed it had bent enough to make the water knee deep!

At the entrance there was a brief debate as to how I was going to get up the ladders. I’d had enough of lying in the stretcher so I was keen to go for it myself. With the help of a belay from the top and some support on my leg it wasn’t too challenging, and I emerged about 9 hours after my fall to about 30 head torches looking at me on the surface. After being strapped to the somewhat less secure feeling rigid stretcher I soon found myself in an ambulance for the first time, breathing more than my fair share of entonox.

I can’t thank the guys from SMWCRT or the other YUCPC members enough. Everyone was so helpful and encouraging, even at 3 am after having been carrying the stretcher for hours. It was a real reminder of the reliance that we all put on cave rescue every time we go underground. I wonder how many of us would think twice about caving at all if they weren’t there…

Sitting here with my leg in plaster, I can’t decide if I’m lucky or unlucky. I’m sure those holds must have been used a load of times in the past, so for them both to come off while I was using them was undoubtedly unlucky, but I guess it could easily have resulted in something much worse than an ankle injury…

As of 07/04, it turns out I fractured my leg just above my ankle. That would explain why walking wasn't comfortable.