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A Rescue in Swildon’s

By Bill Combley

Do not involve yourself in the affairs of Dragons!

(Or how the just how wrong the Swildon’s Short Round trip can go)

We were without our regular caving partner Steve as he was off “doing other things” on this particular Wednesday, so it was just the 2 of us (Tony and myself) – we had many plans in place, depending on just who turned up at the Belfry, but by 7pm it was still just the 2 of us, so we decided to venture into Swildon’s and have a go at the short round trip. I knew the route pretty well (but not well enough as events will tell).

We arrived at Priddy Green and rapidly kitted up, leaving an estimated time out (ETO) with my beloved down on the Isle of Wight. A.N. Other body turned up from S.B.S.S.  he asked us where we were going to which we replied “A Scrot about!” and duly set off across the fields.

Entering the cave was as usual, uneventful, as the water levels were particularly low. We rapidly made our way to the 20’ and set about rigging the ladder and descending. Continuing down the stream way, I found the turn off to the Short round trip (Tratman’s Temple). We burrowed our way through the mud sump – about 6 inches of water (I did explain to Tony how it’s not possible to back bail because of the nature of the cave) we meandered around finding the Double Troubles (no need to bail or set the siphons).

Its surprising that considering you’re away from the main stream way just how cold one can get passing the Double troubles, Tony and I have differing methods of passing water obstacles and I must grudgingly admit that his “laying flat on your back” method is far superior to my “scrabble through on my belly” one!

Passing the double troubles, we made our way to Birthday squeeze (best attempted on your back with helmet off) and shuffled through that, Tony managed it with a good deal of huffing, puffing and a fair bit of cussing!

Some-how at this point I got a bit stymied on the route and ended up towards Vicarage passage, We came to Vicarage pot, and I decided that this was obviously not the way on, I’d spotted a hole in the floor that looked as if it went down to the landing a little way back from Vicarage pot, and, as time was inexorably ticking away towards pub time we decided to use it to gain the Landing and stream way in Swildon’s 2.

I began to carefully descend said pot and was doing ok for the first few meters, gently easing my way down, with my back pressed against the wall and my feet and arms moving slowly, when all of a sudden Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity took a hold, net result I landed on the Landing with a crunch, “OH bugger, that’s broken my collarbone!” (I’m understating the pain and language used here), I sort of half slithered/fell into the stream way and took a few seconds to realise just where I was. Tony meanwhile had seen my fall and had gingerly followed me onto the landing.

Realising that we were now in a rescue situation we made a decision to get as far out of the cave as possible, I got Tony to re-rig my belt as a makeshift strap around my collarbone. Pain and adrenalin took over as we made our way upstream to sump 1. I had to get Tony to push my legs as I went through sump 1 and again he was a tower of strength aiding me over the rocks as we slowly made our way out of the cave.

Having gained Swildon’s 1, I knew what lay ahead in terms of obstacles, and was thinking to myself “Right, if we get above Tratman’s, MRO won’t have to search the short round!” – well, we achieved that aim and came to rest at the Inclined Rift. I parked myself out of the water and took off my elbow pads to sit on to insulate my bum and put on my hood to keep my inner core temperature up and stave off hypothermia. We did discuss the possibility of Tony returning to surface to raise the alarm, but, as Tony said, “I never bug out on my wingman!” so he stayed put.

I’d expected lights to appear from in front of us (the arrival of recue!) but we were both surprised to see lights coming from behind us, a party of 3 (SBSS) had also been on the short round, they stopped and we explained our situation, they then headed out to raise the alarm as well (by this time we were way beyond ETO, and were hoping that best beloved had done the right thing, apparently she thought we were in the pub enjoying a post caving pint), a second party of SBSS then appeared from behind us and stopped, fortunately one of the members of this party is a paramedic and had some basic 1st aid kit, namely painkillers and a space blanket. Dosed up with painkillers and wrapped in a space blanket we 5 sat and waited for the now inevitable rescue to arrive.

Lights appeared at the top of Barnes loop, Whoop! the cavalry, in the form of Mark Helmore, Rich Marlow and Sarah Payne, closely followed by Dany and Bob (Cork?). Rich gave me a quick once over whilst Dany and Sarah got the Heyphone set up. There was talk of what the 1st aid kits used to contain, as by this point both Tony and I were gasping for a fag (no longer in the first aid kit! -along with the medicinal brandy!) – Dany made some quip about “How’s about each time you want a fag, I smack you in the face.” To which my reply was “Ok then, I’ll wait until we’re out!” having ascertained the extent of my injuries and what pain relief had already been administered, Rich the team and myself decided that the stretcher was not an option “You’re not a time critical injury” seems to stick in my mind, Some Morphine was administered to me and my now useless arm was immobilised in a sling and we waited for that to take effect.

Caving on a cloud of morphine is wonderful, it takes away the pain, whilst leaving one with faculties enough to deal with the rest of the cave, I was put on a “donkey dick” rope and with assistance all round, got up the stal boss and through Barnes loop, actually the climb back into the stream way was relatively (or so it seemed to me by my now fuzzy mind) straight forward, a step here, a hand there, and down we go. Next a quick traverse round the double pots (I normally wade into the pots and climb straight up) and onto the twenty. At this point the full body harness was made available and with a few strong bods (cheers Stu and Mark) I flew up and was quickly out of the harness and onto the 8-foot waterfall, a few tugs and heaves and that was dealt with, before long we arrived at the penultimate obstacle – Jacobs Ladder, again soon disposed of and only the entrance to deal with. Normally I enter and exit the cave via the little rift to the right hand side of the entrance, but this time I went under that huge slab of hanging doom above the new hole in the floor that takes all the water.

We then trudged our way back across the fields to Priddy Green to rescue control, and for some at least, hot drinks and biscuits courtesy of the Prewers, I got a slurp of much welcome coffee, but alas no more “Oy, no more for you!” and cadged a fag off one of the rescue team, that was well earned; thanks young lad. By now the rest of the rescue team were emerging and depositing all the kit that had been taken over to aid me out (fortunately the “Little Dragon” and dreaded stretcher had not been used) and the troops made their weary ways home leaving me with Rich and Ali Moody to await the arrival of the ambulance.

The ambulance had been delayed on another call and when it did turn up, the crew were a little incredulous as to the events that had led them to Priddy Green in the early hours of the morning, even more so when I began to strip out of my caving grots, “Ere fellah, grab that sleeve and give it a tug will you?” even stopping to towel my feet off and change into civilised dry clothes, as Rich did his casualty hand over. Another dose of Morphine and a quick discussion about the best way to get to Weston General “Its your call Bath or Weston.”, “Well we’re pointing to Weston, Down the Gorge and I expect your sat nav will take you the rest of the way!” and off we went.

My heartfelt thanks to all who came to my rescue, there WILL be beer for all involved when I see you at the Hunters! I’ll close just there and not bore you all with what went on in the Casualty department.

Net result and lessons learned:

One broken right collarbone and no caving for a while.

Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and go well with ketchup.

Only your true friends will help you out of the pooh and will mercilessly take the mick whilst so doing.

ALWAYS leave a call out.