Large -> Rift (Marble Steps): Clewin & Jo
Rift -> Large: Tall & Deep [Trip Slogan: The Putrid Perversions]
Walking due west from the entrance to Large, we soon came upon the Rift shakehole, with a clear cave entrance covered by anti-sheep wooden props. Entrance scramble was decidedly loose; nudged a largish boulder just before the shored pitch - flew straight to the bottom. Scaffold to P-Bolt traverse, followed by straight drop past rotten shoring. In chamber, obvious crawl way on takes one along chest-dipping static pooled rift, a few easy 2-3clambers, and a bit of blasted passage that pops out onto two climbs just before the pitches start again (attempt feet first, backwards scramble with tackle + srt sacs was awkward!). At the top of the pitch, an enormous profusion of P-hangers & bolts are found. Nice drop of ~12m onto large ledge, with choice of direct Y-hang off ledge, or tensioned traverse around to the right, followed by a Y-hang rigged from the opposite wall. ~15m below is a Y-hang rebelay, easier to rig if long armed :) Smooth drop down, suddenly popping into side of large chamber. Just rigged with 60m & tight alpine butterflies.
Large cavern pretty impressive, way through to Large is by a bedding plane slot in the SE corner of the cavern, a scramble down and then up boulders from where the rope lands.
Time was tight - 4:25 with a failsafe turn-back time of 4:30. Briefly looked at bedding plane but dismissed it as too wretched, so decided to enjoy a delightful candlelit dinner with Sandeep - bourban biscuits, creme eggs and apple juice. Amazingly, though the SRT-sac transported Tetra Brik of juice was truly spherical, and had the consistency of a saggy plastic bag, not a drop of juice was spilt. Incidentally, the teeth of a Croll make great strike-paper for non-safety matches!
Desperate not to have to go back via Large, Clew & Jo flew out of the slot and down to the feast. They looked particularly wretched; mud everywhere. Seemed that the Large exit was going to be fairly exciting!
After plenty of faff and biscuits; during which Clewin attempted to construct a replacement Croll out of two bootlaces and Jo's hairclip, Deep & I started along the bedding plane.
Passage beyond pleasent and large, beautiful stal. Coming upon a 1-2m diameter static pool, way on was via bouldering through a small side passage on the left that continued in the general direction of the main chamber, which otherwise ends at a unpassable squeeze. While attempting the squeeze, with my legs rather wedged, a sizeable lump of the cave plopped off the wall and landed on my thigh; Hmm - maybe this wasn't the way forward?
Muddy wallow was truly dire, surface water over ~0.5m deep clay-mud. My nose made a great plough as I crawled through. In the small chamber beyond, we found the guidebook left by Jo and looked for the way on.
Following the directions, backwards, was rather difficult - places were always described as 'you now find yourself in so-and-so chamber' with no description of how you enter it, or what it looks like from the other side! Two choices were a tight ceiling bedding plane, and a lower squeeze/passage. Both drafting, both with recent SRT-equip scratch marks in the mud, both in roughly the right compass direction.
Initially trying the bedding plane crawl, found it too tight for my chest, carefully reversing out on the out-breaths while my (closed) knife dug rather deep into the old sternam. Sandeep tried, got wedged with his hips. Decided to try the crawl - Sandeep got stuck for a far while on the right-hand corner about 3m in. Escape made by judicial pulling of the ol' wellies. I tried, happily zipping round the corner and on another few metres. In a region where one could just about turn around, draft sucked through what looked like a just-doable squeeze, but whose mud seemed distinctly untouched - still in those odd cauliflower-like florets rather than smooth, slid over clumps. An exit was sort.
Getting out of the right-hand bend was rather more exciting fighting gravity; it sort of forces your back to adopt a cork-screw configuration as you desperately try and make your legs bend backwards while attempting to get your shoulder over a step. After what seemed like a good 20minutes of increasingly desperate attempts, my back made a distinctly exciting popping sound; with that odd adrenalin rush of impending pain, I took stock of the situation and decided that cave conservation be damned, I was getting out even if I had to bring the roof down. Managed to slither back, and get my hands under the rock 'step' that my shoulder was struggling to get over; in a moment of sheer anger, I wrenched this paving-slab like segment out of the mud and shunted it ahead of me. Escape was compartively easy, it should be much easier now for future lost cavers!
We were at -100 in a 101m deep cave; it was now 7pm (we had been in the small chamber the Large-side of the wallow for an hour trying the squeezes) - with Clewin expecting us out at 9pm, speed was rather of the essence! After some struggling, managed to open the first-aid kit using slings as a chain-wrench to fight the slippery mud, a few Ibuprofens were duly gobled. With careful wriggling and breathing, the bedding plane was passed. Way on is continuing along similar passageway, open chamber to the right and associated boulder climbs are compartively unworn. Passageway is part crawl / part slither, followed by a small climb down into an obvious boulder choke and ~20m of choke until you pop out into a large chamber - Necropolis.
Skipping painfully along the chamber, a rope was eventually come upon - Colossus. Beautiful (but drippy) pitch over white-clay formations. Waiting as Deep prussicked, I sat on a rope sac with my eyes closed - when I tried to open my eyes again, I found my eyelashes stuck together by dried mud - pretty disgusting!
Navigation pretty dodge; descriptions in guide book (Selected Caves) were rather unhelpful and sometimes misleading, junctions were well described but distances + nature of passages were less clear. Infinitely better than nothing though! I must have consumed a fair amount of clay, in between licking the pages clean so I could read, and sucking the mud off the face of my watch + compass - a level of depravity that I'm none too keen to return to!
Navigation once beyond the otherside of the Pit was relatively straightforward, but time was very tight - no resting whatsover, except for occasional stop to repair the smashed battery case on my MigLight. Rift climbs were very tight and difficult to complete when so lubricated with mud. Finally, the entrance pitch series was reached, with a rather worried Clew shouting down the pitch at 11pm as Sandeep negotiated the last squeeze and I attempted the awkward spanner-reaching-between-the-legs derig. Just in time to prevent a rather embarrasing second rescue in one year!
It was only once back at the farm that I saw how muddy I was - my face was one grey slab, with a thin red line at the join of my lips and blue eyes staring back from the mirror. My hair was grey, with cemented rat-tails around my face where I had tried to pull it back from my face.
An impressive cave; but inbetween navigating mostly blind, a frightfully tight callout and injury - probably the most stressful, grim and painful 5 hours of my life! But hey, Epic trips are certainly the most memorable!
In between the painful prussick, disorientated dangles while derigging and sheer depravity of the mud; I vowed to never go caving never no more - two days later I'm already thinking of going back, though I'm not sure whether its because I want to have a chance to enjoy the cave properly myself, or merely force other people through the same depraved experience!
And alternative perspective on the same trip from Sandeep...
Assured that the Rift-Large exchange is an excellent trip on the previous Tuesday we headed up Marble Steps to find the entrances, Clew and the GI heading into Large and Jarv and I into Rift. The few steps down and the entrance pitch was negotiated with ease, the crawl wasn.t so easy especially with a tackle sack but it was all fun.
Next came a 20m pitch down onto a large ledge. This is where I saw Jarv rig a free hanging traverse round the corner between P-hangers 1˝ m apart using his mutant go-go-gadget arms while I took photos. This impeccable rigging descended onto a free hanging rebelay but with much swearing I was free of my short cows and descending again. It was a beautiful 30m abseil landing in a large chamber filled with boulder choke. Even though we had gone only a couple of hundred metres it had taken us 3hours.
After having a snoop around the neighbourhood for the way on it was 5 minutes from the fail safe turn around time, when Clew and GI shot out of some grotty hole in the side of the wall caked in mud form head to toe. I knew that the exit wasn.t going to be pleasant but that would be after our candlelight lunch. I produce a packet of bourbon biscuits that I had stolen form the car while the others changed and Jarv opened the apple juice that had somehow not exploded but lost all form.
After agreeing with Clewin that we should change the callout time to 10pm rather than 9, we headed through the crawl to a chamber where there were many pretty stals to take pictures with but we only took one because we knew time was going to be tight as it was. After the end of this chamber and a few crawls later we ended up at the passage that sumped in bad weather. Mud, glorious mud, was in store and this was just the beginning with 20cm of water on top of a further 50cm of, quicksand style, mud which had to be negotiated on all fours, none of which came clear of the mud until we emerged on the other side. This is where we found the copy of Selected Caves Guide left there by the GI and Clew.
A few steps on was the chamber that we ended up spending an hour in, squeezing and destroying backs. There were two exits out of this chamber, one higher up in the ceiling and the other in floor. The one in the floor looked slightly bigger from the outset so I headed down that, after one preliminary attempt we had another look around the chamber for a way on but these two were the only real options. So I dived back into the small hole in the ground, got around the dog leg and spyed a small crawl. I could have just got through if I didn.t care about getting out but I wasn.t there, yet. I tried to get out but this was easier said than done, I got back as far as I could with the aid of some welly yanking from Jarv but whatever I did past that point it felt like I hitting my head against a brick wall, unfortunately, it was probably a rock wall. Then, as was always going to happen, I got my helmet totally wedged and had to take it off before turning round and emerging superman stylee. Next was Jarv.s turn, thanks to more mutantism, he got a few more metres than me before deciding to return. Although, this wasn.t going to be as easy my exit, after much grunting and groaning he decided the only way he was going to get out was by dismantling the cave from the inside out, pushing a paving slab shaped rock out of the way, finally, getting out after finding some purchase by holding my hand. However, while doing this, apparently audibly, his back popped, perhaps a remnant of our little Christmas adventure. This meant more drugs for Jarv and the depressing acceptance of having to crawl the other way.
More crawling, until the next time we could stand up, Jarv explored a few leads, I had a piss. Yet more crawling, and we finally got into the Necropolis, a giant chamber, with a rope, securely fastened at the far end. Jarv was getting worried about the time as was I so he told me to keep going at the top as he would be a while derigging. Once off the pitch head I started exploring, seeing some truly pristine Gower pools in one direction I decided to leave them unperturbed. In another direction was a junction I had a look round but had to ask Jarv when he had got up and finished recovering from the pain of a broken back. He duly consulted the guide book and decided we were at Calcite Crawl so we headed on.
I went on first with the tackle sack and this experience I can only describe as horrific. The rift was just wide enough for the tackle sack; thankfully I was slightly slimmer than this but the oh-so sticky mud made it even worse. When it came to climbs it seemed as though gravity trebled. At some point I handed the tackle sack back over to Jarv so he could enjoy it. This rift felt like it went on forever until we got to the end and the entrance pitch series. By this time it had gone 11 and I thought I would probably emerge to see Simon (the guy with pocket dragon who found us at Christmas) with a big grin on his face and a suitably sarcastic comment. This meant I didn.t pay much attention to my surroundings until I got stuck, yet again, by the tackle sack which had returned like an albatross around my neck. A final burst of extreme swearing got me free and to the bottom of the very last pitch. At this point, an almost angelic, .heyaaaa.. Came wafting down from the surface. It was infact, Clewin and Jo, wondering if they should call the rescue but thankfully it was not to be. Once out, Jo decided she couldn.t keep the laughter in and split into hysterics as she saw both out faces covered in mud, it was only when we got back to the farm that we discovered its extent.
An experience NEVER to be repeated, well not by me anyway, I.ll push another first year down that wretched hole in 12 months though, no doubt.
Jingling: Clew & Jo
Having deposited Sandeep and Jarv at Bernies for some hard core bumming [Ed: I resent that insinuation], Clewin and myself set off sprightly for Jingling. Well ok, maybe sluggishly is a more accurate word. The aches and bruises from the day before and the alluring thought of tea and flapjack distracted us slightly from the prospective delights of caving. However, resisted Bernies we did, and drove off to the Jingling parking spot. Here the ICCC faffing ability was truly outdone by a nearby carload of MUCC. Unchanged on our arrival, they had just about managed to get into furries by the time Clew and I were dressed, packed and half way up the hill.
Clew started off by rigging the tree and swinging across to the cleft. I followed him down and after swinging round anywhere and everywhere I eventually clung to a bit of rock vaguely in the right vicinity, Clew hauled me round the corner and we did a little acrobatic swapping of places. Our apparent speediness stopped the moment I started rigging. Clewin had the patience of a ..erm patient thing. (can.t think of the metaphor) as he watched me create networks of tangles and then proudly produce midget alpine butterflies which would span the space of about 2 inches. I listened to his helpful advice such as "don't throw the maillons down the pitch". and, deciding that I needed to learn from my own mistakes, promptly dropped them. Thankfully Clew had a couple spare which allowed me to retrieve the feisty creatures and continue on down.
We managed to get about three-quarters of the way down before I realised that Jingling Pot is actually in a time warp. I.d been happily knotting away for half an hour of Jingling -Jo-time when in actual fact 2 hours had passed on the surface. We turned back and with Clewin derigging we left at a rather speedier rate of knots (ha what a clever play on words). On exit we exclaimed joyously at the inevitable midge attack, and jetted off back to Ingleton to collect the Bernies Bummers.
Bernie's: Tall & Deep
World Class faff.