On Saturday 28th May Steve Murray, Charlie Peacock, Claire Peacock, Jenny Drake and myself set out on an exploratory trip to find Smiths Armoury, OK it's where the water rises into OFD, but the route there from OFD top is the problem. On a 6 hour trip we managed to find the start of the traverses and a different route in and out. Wandering down the hill we were making plans for the next trip in and what we were planning for the next day.
When we got back to South Wales we heard that there was a rescue on, a girl had fallen off a traverse near the Smithy in Cwm Dwr. Offers were made to go straight back down, but there was a group already down. It was suggested that we head back to the cottage, eat, get some sleep and come back at 10pm. The cottage's 20th Birthday party was a very quiet and sober affair but Paul's dog, Luna, thought all her birthdays had come at once with spit roast lamb & BBQ'd sausages being thrown to her.
Messages went backwards and forwards and we (about 10 of us) finally got into the cave at 1am, expecting to haul the casualty from the top of the 90 foot pitch near Maypole Inlet. Most of us did not know where this pitch was, but the directions given were to follow the telephone wire. The directions were followed over the top of the Maypole normal climb down and to the void that I've looked down many times and wondered how far it went and where it went. I now know it goes down to the stream way and it's 90 foot.
We arrived in anticipation of the haul from the top of the pitch and were told to wait. During this time we got to know the others in the group and spent some time discussing our experience and what was expected of us. Communications at this point in time were breaking up and the message finally got through that we were wanted in the stream way as they had only got the casualty into the stream way a relatively short time before. Off we went down the Maypole and into the stream way, and started walking, expecting to see the hauling party at any time. We got to oxbow bypass and still nothing. On we went and met the party halfway between oxbow bypass and the confluence. The hauling team now numbered about 24. The haul started, it took us sometime to get used to what was required. The stretcher had 2 single air beds to make it float, this made it very wide and difficult walk with in the stream way. So we passed the stretcher from hand to hand until we got to the end of the line of people and then started to shuffle up the stream way until we could go no further and then stop. The rest of the team had to shuffle past and start all over again. Things were complicated by the numerous potholes in the stream way, trying to jump a pothole with a stretcher where the casualty was cringing in pain when the stretcher was jolted or the caused her spine to flex. Speaking of the casualty she appeared to be in very good spirits, but that could be the medication the cave doctor had given her for the pain. The millipede shuffle continued up the stream way and was slow progress. There was a short stop at the oxbow bypass and somebody found a scaffold bar to help bridge some of the potholes in the stream.
Nearing the 90 foot pitch there was a series of small waterfalls, easy when you are able bodied, but getting the casualty up them was a challenge. We had been in the stream way for about 9 hours by then and were tiring, but the team work we had learnt and the rescue leader meant we made easy work of it.
The rescue leader was excellent and made sure we were all warm and not getting too tired and he even ordered a couple of lads that had been with the rescues from the start out. We finally got to the of the 90 foot pitch at 10.30 am Sunday.
At this point I realised how cold and tired I was. Clambering up the climbs was hard work and my limbs only really started working in the crab walk. Somebody had thoughtfully put a ladder on the last part of the climb out. We made a quick detour on the way out to make sure we weren't expected to haul the casualty the rest of the way, but there was a large team of Mendip cavers ready and waiting.
We finally got out of the cave about 11am and wandered down the hill to South Wales hut, to be met with tea and sandwiches, which we all gratefully munched. After getting showered and changed there was more food, which had been donated from a party planned at South Wales that weekend. It was good to sit out in the sun and chat to other people involved in the rescue and swap experiences.
Finally we got back to the cottage for more food and catch up on sleep. Sunday didn't feel like it had happened. The planned Monday trip was abandoned. The rescue just felt like a very long Saturday and Sunday was a blur of eating, sleeping, drinking tea and gossiping.