The day started normally enough: a mild hangover; the usual argument about what gear should go into which tackle sacks; myself and the Andy Todd and Symonds driving over to Dan-yr-Ogof; and then fussing over where to get changed (due to the now maybe not so caver friendly Ashford Price). Ashford looked as if he had more things to do than have a go at sonic cavers this morning, so we got changed and slowly sweated our way up the hill to the entrance.
As I was attempting to rig the cave, as practise for my Russia trip this August, I was the first one through the entrance squeeze which leads almost directly to the first 20 ft pitch. As there seemed to be only 2 bolts at the top of the pitch, we decided to belay the rope to a large natural back up the passage and one of the bolts at the top of the pitch. I put on my descender and went down a few feet where it quickly became clear that, as it stood, there would be a rub-point as the rope passed over some rocks at the top of the pitch. A cursory look around for a suitable deviation point or rebelay revealed nothing so I carried on down to the bottom of the pitch.
Andy didn't seem to like the look of the rub-point and shouted down something to the effect that he thought that he had found a suitable point to deviate the rope to avoid the rub-point. Anyhow, I was down and on the small ledge which leads straight onto the next 50 ft pitch, so I started looking for fresh bolts and then in the tackle sack for the next bit of rope. I heard the sound of Andy swinging around above me and then everything was plunged into a greater darkness than the cave.
I came round a few minutes later to be told by Andy that the rock he had tied the deviation sling to, when loaded with his weight, had detached itself, fallen down the pitch, and hit me on the back of the head. I wasn't in the mood to argue. Waves of nausea swept over my body, and when I reached round to the back of my head, I felt blood oozing from my ear.
I was told that Andy Todd had gone to get the rescue out. I groaned a bit and said I would have a go at trying to prussik back up the pitch. I tried to stand up from my spread-eagled position, but it was if another rock had slamming into my head and I slumped back down again. Another go and somehow I managed to connect my ascenders to the rope and begin prussiking. After what was probably ages, I reached the top of the pitch and in a trance like state made my way out.
I lay on the surface with the rain falling on my face, feeling sick and wanting to go to sleep. The clouds scudded by in an unreal picture post-card landscape and I felt as if I was loosing consciousness again. Andy asked me if I felt well enough to walk down the hill and I was snapped for a moment out of my dream-like state.
I staggered down the hill, objects around me blurring in and out of focus. The walk seemed to take an eternity and it suddenly occurred to me that we might not be on the right track, but walking off the wrong way over the vast Black Mountain. A flashing blue light swam surreally into view and now I heard the whirring of an engine. It was Cave Rescue trying to get up the hill in their Land Rover.
In a short moment we were down amongst them, and I was layed in the back of the Land Rover and bumped the rest of the way down the hill. All the bumping made me the feel more sick and I asked for a box in case I was. Down in the car park I was ore transferred to an ambulance and whisked away to Morriston Hospital A&E in Swansea where I was given a scan, prodded and poked, and asked who I was on numerous occasions - sometimes a difficult question to answer.
The scan revealed a basal fracture to the skull, although very fortunately there was no damage to the brain. I spent nearly two weeks in hospital due to the cerebro-spinal fluid leaking from my ruptured eardrum and the consequent risk of infection.
I believe that the accident would have been a lot worse if I had not been wearing a Joe Brown Super helmet. This helmet possesses a very low back, unlike a lot of helmets used by cavers, which took most of the impact from the falling rock.
Finally, I would like to thank the Cave Rescue, the hospital staff, my mother, and the people from the club who came to visit me in hospital, in particular Graham Christian who came to visit me more than anyone else!