Having watched the fantastic Sid Perou film on YouTube and done a bit of reading, I shared with Tony as we crossed the moor, that I was feeling quite nervous. Tony too let me know his thoughts and we agreed that we'd take it step by step (or squeeze by squeeze), each of us having the power of veto.
The first thing I'd been worried about was finding the entrance, but helped by the longer evenings, in the end we almost tripped over it. A rope anchored to a rock leading into the dark taking away any doubt as to which hole we needed to be heading down.
I can't remember the last two wee trip I'd been on, but just as I was putting my harness on, I needed to go again. Definitely nervous then! Clipping onto the traverse line brought me back to the task at hand.
Here we go.
A short crawl at the bottom of the first pitch and a traverse over a blind pot, aided magnificently by an in situ scaffolding bar, brought us to our first obstacle.
Lying on my right side I timidly began udging into the polished tube. On the upside, I could almost immediately see the end of the squeeze. On the downside I couldn't see a floor and the only holds seemed a long way away on the other side of the chamber. At full stretch now, I was hoping the squeeze would be long enough to allow my body to bridge across the void. With not an inch to spare, my hands made contact and I could extract my legs. In what was to become a general theme of the evening, Tony then completed the same manoeuvre, but in about half the time and with genuine style.
We checked that we were both happy carrying on and then popped through a perfectly sized window and down a short climb to a small chamber.
Laying on my side again I began wriggling my body into the gap. My head was in a bit of a funny position and with my helmet on, I couldn't change it. I eased back out and with my helmet off, my second attempt felt much easier. Tony too went for the helmet off approach and, once body was properly aligned, was through.
We were getting into a rhythm now: pitch, gear off, rifty bit, squeeze, check we’re both happy, pitch…
The second pitch and it's associated rift were both short, but that of course meant we were soon at…
With feeling much happier in the last squeeze without my helmet, I took it off before even trying this one and we were soon both through and putting our gear back on above the third pitch.
All the pitches so far we had found rigged and we had been leaving our ropes at the top of each pitch head. The temptation now, to dump the rest of the ropes, was becoming ever stronger. The thought of having to go back unnecessarily through any of the squeezes though and also the satisfaction of knowing we could do the trip carrying our own gear just tipped it, but only just.
With pitch three we felt we were back in a 'normal' cave, abseiling down a typical Yorkshire aven. Normality however was to be short lived.
This was it, the main event, Stemple Rift. Slightly longer than the previous squeezes and once again with an awkward drop beyond. Helmet off and once again on my side, I began the wriggle, trying as hard as I could to stay as high as possible. Soon the stemple across the drop ahead was visible and once perched on it, we man handled the bags through. I'd only just started taking my SRT gear out of a sack, before Tony was through and hand over handing down the knotted tape to join me.
The fourth pitch seemed fairly unique in that, rather than being followed by a rift and a squeeze, only a short piece of streamway intervened before the short fifth pitch. Though I didn't say anything at the time, in my head I was quietly pleased to have made it here, with no more obstacles before the Hall of the Ten. I'd missed an 'awkward' in the text though and when the 'awkward 2m drop into a pool' arrived, I suddenly found myself unstuck, or more to the point, stuck. With legs waving in the air, the only thing I had to be thankful for was that Tony was still further back in the rift and not able to see my flailing efforts.
With order restored we dropped down into the pool before climbing back up into the continuation of the rift, keeping high to avoid its narrower lower reaches. Fortunately our sacks were now light and didn't impede us too much as we made our way along the strenuous traverse. After a few minutes we dropped down into a decorated chamber. Here we left our last rope and dropped down yet another narrow rift to the final pitch. Seeing the final rope, I headed directly for it and once again had a bit of a moment. In extricating myself I happened to look up and see a far easier route to the pitch head.
Down the last pitch, we abandoned our SRT and began what felt, comparatively speaking, like a stomp along a main drain. Only interrupted by a short slither over some slabs, the streamway took us to somewhere we finally recognised and I scampered up the boulder choke into the vast silence of the Hall of the Ten. I wanted to shake Tony's hand, but I knew our journey wasn't over yet. I also had to stop myself from draining the water bottle he proffered. Now it was decision time. We knew we could gain the surface easily through Mistral, but it was this return journey that we had come for.
We'd better get a move on.
Rift by rift, pitch by pitch, squeeze by squeeze. Gear on, gear off. Packing tackle sacks with the previously abandoned ropes. Obstacles passed, but harder obstacles becoming ever closer, the bags becoming more and more cumbersome.
On the stemple once more, Tony clipped the bags onto the end of the tape and once I'd pulled them up, threw them as far as I could into the rift. Trying to urge them forward and make progress myself definitely wasn't the easiest thing I've done in a while and in the end I moved over the bags and extricated myself from the squeeze. Turning round, the bags lay just out of easy reach, Tony giving them the final required push before coming up effortlessly through the rift as though on a travelator.