I have been caving for 14 years; I started when I was in Year 6 at primary school. Having a real interest in outdoor pursuits like caving is the reason why I chose to take up a degree in Outdoor Education, and in the UK I am a member of three caving clubs, The Cerberus Speleological Society (Mendip), the Red Rose Caving Club (Yorkshire) and Liverpool University Potholing Club (LUPC). LUPC is open to all Liverpool University and LJMU students to meet like-minded people, practise and go caving. I have also been to Andalusia in southern Spain, to caves such as Sim Del Republicano and Sima Del Cacao, which I enjoyed immensely.
In my final year at LJMU I completed my dissertation on Single Rope Rigging Techniques (SRT) used in America and Europe. While undertaking an online interview as part of my research I was told 'the caving out here is awesome and you just have to come over to experience it': I was keen but I had no idea how I could fund a project like that.
As fate would have it the day after the interview I received an email from my lecturer Barry Forrester, suggesting that people on our course should apply for Go Global Funding, which for me covered flights, food, camping/accommodation and Expedition Caving Insurance.
This seemed to suit what I wanted to do, so I set about completing the application process, which took some time as I needed to show that I knew where I was going and what I was going for. I put days into making all the contacts in America, investigating flights and especially looking at insurance, all things needed to make this project go ahead.
I never dreamed the university would ever give me this opportunity, so when I got the email to say I had been accepted I was extremely happy!
After being accepted there were a number of compulsory and non-compulsory meetings to attend. All Go Global students had to attend a departure meeting with the Go Global Team, who gave us information about staying safe while abroad, as well as providing information about health and vaccines.
There were three main aims to my project:
- To experience American caving culture by not only caving alongside the contacts I had made but also by immersing myself in their communities and socialising with them
- To provide me with the opportunity to travel to America to cave and experience the similarities and differences between SRTs used here in the UK and in America at first hand
- To engage in a project that would expand my experience and that could change my career prospects for the better
This project was designed by me and the individuals who I planned to be caving with. So far upon this project I have been caving with members of the National Cave Rescue Council, Eastern Region and The Germany Valley Karst Survey team (pictured).
I have also been caving with YouTuber Derek Bristol in South Dakota, who filmed our weekend as below.
Lastly most recently I been rappelling with Extreme Rappels (XTR) off the side of Whiteside mountain which is 700ft high free hang – free hang just means where your body does not touch the face of the rock!
Photo by Alexa Simmons
During that weekend I proved to XTR that I was competent in doing Bridge Day, which is a 850ft rappel: this is a big deal because if there were an accident on the bridge potentially the whole team gets told they can't come back, so making sure I hit the standard is important to XTR.
Bridge Day is a one-day national Festival held at the New River Gorge where they shut the bridge down, and for the whole day rappellers and BASE jumpers can go off the bridge – the rest of the year it is highly illegal to jump or rappel off the bridge, which is why loads of uutdoor people flock to the bridge for this one day. For the public, the road has hundreds of food vendors, shops, activities and views over the New River Gorge.
During the trip I planned to be caving alongside Chris Higgins who is a cave photographer, and I believe a Petzl Ambassador as well now.
At BAT's Grotto in Maryland it was planned that I would demonstrate European Single Rope Technique and teach other cavers, some of whom I had already met, who are keen to see the European way. It was intended that I would not neglect to take the opportunity to see Washington DC and New York City and all they have to offer as major cities, as they were not too far from my sponsor's house in Maryland.
Upon return to the UK it is intended that I will complete my Level 2 Cave leader in Yorkshire and then go straight onto the Cave Instructors Certificate, which enables me to coach Single Rope Technique and be a technical adviser for caving in the UK. This is something I really enjoy doing and have been doing for the last three years as part of Liverpool University Potholing Club.
I hope in the future to seek to be invited onto other caving expeditions and even potentially get sponsorship which would be an amazing opportunity. The idea of working with any of the major equipment companies like Petzl, Mammut and National Geographic is really a dream I would like to make possible.
It goes without saying I will stay in touch with all the individuals I will meet in America and if possible host them in the UK and take them caving here.
Photo: Alum Pot in Yorkshire/Alex Anderson