A trip into the hill

Yesterday was a busy old day. As well as running a DofE training day in the afternoon / evening that had been postponed due to last week’s snow, I was asked to run a caving trip for 5 teenagers and their staff from a special school near Bristol.

When running this sort of activity I try to focus on the team work, co-operation and enjoyment aspects and almost ignore the actual caving, treating it merely as a vehicle to achieve the end result.

As always form this school, the young people barrelled out of the minibus full of enthusiasm and smiles, chattering away to each other and myself, so much so that I struggled to keep up with the information overload. So many questions, but only in a good way. They wanted to know things and certainly had a good idea of where we were going and what the task ahead was. This is largely due to their fantastic teachers who seem to have a never ending pile of enthusiasm even though they have been doing the job in one case for nearly forty years.

As is the case with these groups, I was given a pile of medical forms describing this condition and that, some of which I understood and some that I certainly didn’t. as is fairly usual, some had forms of autism, Asperger’s and the like, but one lad had quite a severe physical issue meaning he had very limited (if any) use of his left arm and leg along with an implant meaning he could not bang his head.

As is my standard procedure, I had a little chat with the group explaining what the plan was. We chatted about everyone’s needs and how it was going to need teamwork to get the trip done. We discussed how caving is great and it requires team work more than football or any perceived team sport and that how if we all worked together, everyone would be challenged and we would all have a good time.

Jumping ten minutes forward, we arrived at the cave entrance having conquered streams, woods, steep steps an slippery slopes on the way. At the entrance, we caught the large group of primary school children. Now, my usual padder here is to talk about the history, a bit of geology and my favourite bit, the bats. What caught me a bit on the backfoot here was how genuinely interested and knowledgeable the group already were. We had really good discussions on how the limestone is created and therefore how the cave came to be. Bats are something I normally fluff over, more as a “here they are but don’t touch” type thing, but there were good questions coming on what they eat, why are they here and why and how are they upside down, all questions where the answer were absorbed as if it was the most important thing ever.

As we moved through the cave, the various impairments started to fade. There are points where even the most experienced caver will be sliding on their bum, so the fact your leg doesn’t work as well as it should drifts into insignificance. Caves are great levellers.

Through the cave, down drops, along narrow passages and up climbs, the shuffling continued as did the constant lovely chatting and questions.

Admittedly, we didn’t go that far, we didn’t do any tight squeezes and no big climbs. This doesn’t matter as the whole purpose of the trip was team work, a bit of exploration and most importantly fun.

Towards the end of the trip, there’s a slope to climb, about 5 meters, but with good steps and a rope (fixed earlier) to help you out. All the able body students climbed out with me spotting them and waited as asked on the outside. At this point, the group of primary children caught us with their instructors Tom and Neil. This is where the team work took a different turn. Without any prompting, Tome and Neil both got them self in the right places to help the lad with the mobility issues up the slope and out the cave. This worked amazingly as at no point was he ever unsupported or felt insecure, each one of us knowing where to hold, where to place his feet and hands without ever getting in the way of each other or more importantly, our young caver. Where we all work together so much, we know all of each other’s little foibles and can work together and in parallel almost subconsciously.

This is what I was explaining to the group at the beginning. Caving is a team sport, more so than football or similar. Everyone’s safety, enjoyment and success is in the hands of everyone else that’s tem work, and that’s how we work.

In contrast to this, my afternoon spent at a “normal” “outstanding” school was horrid. Constant bickering, arguing and complete disinterest in what they were doing (Duke of Edinburgh Award).

The group in the morning had a joy and enthusiasm for life and the activity that was completely lost on the others. Sad really, as imaging what could be achieved if their enthusiasm and zest was shown by those without their barriers and limitations physical and otherwise.