Ogof Tarddiad Rhymney
It was a very ordinary caving trip, until I ended up lying on the floor. Apparently I had slipped from a high tube in the roof of the cave. I don’t remember this. All I remember is lying on the floor and making lots of noise when the Cave Rescue medics poked my left shoulder, upper back and left hand rib-cage. They said: I was cold (one hand certainly was when my glove was removed for a circulation check and not replaced); slightly unconscious (but feeling ok for it); aged 28 (actually 29); had a next of kin called Matt (whoever he is), and that I wasn’t wearing contact lens (even though I was). Thankfully we were only about 20 minutes into the cave… it would hopefully be an easy journey out.
It took another 20 minutes for the stretcher to arrive; the Cave Rescue didn’t know exactly where we were and what state we were in, so they found us and then sent a runner out of the cave to order the necessary supplies; a stretcher, some hauling ropes, casualty comforts and the casualty bag. It was quite chilly lying on the floor in a heap waiting, but we certainly weren’t going anywhere.
Eventually the second rescue team arrived. The cave medic supported my neck with a neck brace and then I was lifted onto a spinal board and stretcher; these two actions resulted in much screaming. But after a while the morphine must have started to work and I became rather warm and cosy in the all-encompassing, wrap-around, casualty bag and stretcher.
The hauling began. About 10 men and 2 women carried, passed, hauled and dragged the stretcher. The cave medic tried to stay near my head at all times to make sure that I was still breathing and not in too much pain, but also to make sure that the haulers kept a look out for my nose (!). I’ve no idea how she managed it, given that there were so many obstacles to negotiate. There were a couple of flat-out crawls and a narrow, rifty section along the route. Through these, I was manouvered inch-by-inch, and often my nose was within 2 cm of the passage wall. At one point in a squeeze, I was placed on the floor for a short-time whilst rescuers got in position; whilst lying there, I suddenly felt the ground beneath me moving rhythmatically. There was a cave rescuer beneath the stretcher making sure that the journey through the squeeze was smooth!
For most of the time, all I could see was the ceiling, a few stalactites and powerful beams of light from the rescuers’ lamps. I couldn’t see much more because I was often looking through a murky layer of mud on the protective specs. They were essential though because every so often a rescuer would move past and I would be showered with mud dust (hence the tan).
After about three hours, we eventually arrived at the entrance. The rescuers had managed to get me out of the cave without having to extract me from the stretcher once. A pretty good effort. Unfortunately they made me walk from the entrance back to the cars. I could have easily stayed in the nice warm stretcher and snoozed longer.
I was thoroughly impressed by the smoothness with which the stretcher was handled by the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team (SMWCRT). I never once felt in danger of being dropped and even in the tight bits I felt calm and safe. I hope I don’t need to be rescued for real, but the whole event was a great insight for me, and hopefully good practice for everyone else.
Fine photos courtesy of Brendan Marris