Yorkshire Winter Tour
Will, Alex, Jarv, James KP, Jana, Tim, Tet, Martin, DaveW, Janet, PeteH & others
Large ( Andy + Alex + JKP)
It's not so large.
Alex and I had done the keen thing and arrived at the NPC a day before the rest of the crew. After the usual problem in choosing a cave (it was rather wet), we decided to go and visit Bernie's and go and have a go at Large.
Rigged down the entrance, zipped down and found myself staring at an improbably narrow slot. Narrow and bendy, I knew that this was best tackled feet first so I started to gingerly try a few different combos: turned one way, turned the other, face up, face down. Eventually I decided that there was no easy way through, riggled my legs around and heaved myself through to start rigging. Soon I was at the bottom of the next pitch thinking "Thank Jahve for that!" (or something to a similar effect). Alex behind me is younger and more supple but he still had a hell of a jamorama and required a tad of rescuing from Andy. This second pitch is particularly beautiful in my opinion, dark rock scooped in a smooth shape.
At the bottom of this second cave a free climbable drop leads to the pitch, rigged off some dubious ceiling protection.
From here on the cave follows a stream, until a chamber is reached where the passage splits: to the right it goes towards the red herring series, to the right towards Arcadia. Arcadia does not contain any grass and pretty virgins but is rather a nasty collection of crawling misery, none of it particularly hard, still though I distinctly remember my boots coming off at one point and I think Alex's SRT kit came on and off a few times at least!
The reward at the end of the cave is Colossus: a mighty fine pitch indeed! I rigged it as dry as possible with some creative use of mud and reached the bottom. Again this is a fine pot with plenty of stal, impressive mud formation and an sinister calm atmosphere.
The way out was pretty uneventful: Andy derigged, no one got too stuck, we got changed to Ace of Base. Ace start to the tour! Tic!
Gaping Ghyll And Drill Part1 (Drill Team: Tim O + JKP, Sherpas: Paul and Alex(?))
The mission: reach Avalanche inlet, gain some experience of bolt climbing, explore the unclimbed aven, out for tea and medals. We entered the system down Bar Pot. A pair of "seasoned" cavers was making their way out as we arrived so we patiently waited for their exit. They rewarded our patience with a carabina: nice!
Though most of us had been there before we seemed to make a hash out of the route finding: in particular we decided to rig the second pitch from a great distance and ended up short of rope: poor Tim was left hanging whilst Jarv and Andy - who had come down Flood and were gonna get out of Stream - took the piss out of him. Anyways, soon the way down was rerigged and we were at the bottom. On the way to the main chamber we bumped into Jarv and Andy and had a hilarious accident involving a spooked bat who kept fluttering up and down the passage.
The main chamber was very impressive: all three waterfalls clearly visible and flowing rather hard.
We did not dither and got to Mud Hall: Lord, I love that place. There's something majestic about those soft muddy floors and the scale of it is impressive, also the collection of ancient ropes, chains and other "safety" equipment is so charming. If I had to chose a place to live in underground, it is definitely Mud Hall. Anyways. We quickly reached the Avalanche series and split: team drill took the lead followed by the Sherpas. The idea here was that we did not want to be slowed down waiting for Alex. This proved to be a mistake as:
a) Alex is quick
b) Once me and Tim reached the top of the second pitch of the series, there was no way for team Sherpa to continue the exploration of Shark tooth aven.
The Avalanche inlet series is a very pretty place in its own right: the first pitch goes straigh up from boulder chamber and gains a narrow, keyshaped rift. After some thrutchy rift passage you reach a small waterfall with a fossilised copy of the Guardian date 197x (had news of war in Israel on it... sigh...). This can be climbed up and soon a most beauteous chamber is reached. The chamber sports a drip fed pool to one side with cave pearls and to the other a small wet inlet. A rope disappears to the top of the chamber 35 m up. At the top of the pitch the obvious way on is straight ahead toward shark tooth aven, but our mission was to traverse the top of the chamber to the right for ~5 m and gain the vertical rift which is visible from below.
The first technique we tried was to have Tim in a small alcove to the right of the pitch head belaying me. This proved to be most impractical: the top of the chamber is very narrow indeed and traversing over the top of the chamber is not only very exposed, but also lose, lacking sound rock for protection and generally unpleasant. Added on top of this our choice of belay was poor: I found myself crawling over Tim, tangled in rope, with hand holds coming off. It was therefore decided that I would rig a static traverse across. This was much easier, drill, fix bolt, clip in, continue. When I reached the calcite slope that leads to the start of the aven , I realised that drilling through this rock would not be possible. Luckily thanks to my long reach I could gain the opposite wall and managed to get a few bolts in. We decided that we would come back better equipped (we had run out of through bolts!) and that we would belay from the bottom of the aven, on the opposite wall.
We descended the pitch, left the static rope, dynamic rope in situ and made our way out. Way out unevenful: Alex distinguished himself by succesfully navigating out from the main chamber and before you can say "Gaping Ghyll" we were at the surface. Night was looming, it was extremely foggy, the walked back unremarkable.
Gaping Ghyll And Drill Part2
Next day me and Tim went back with a crapload of slings and dozens of throughbolts. We reached our project, I traversed across, improved the belay on the far wall significantly (turns out you actually need to screw the plates on thoughbolts!) and made myself as cumfie as possible while Tim joined me. As soon as he was under the aven we swapped gear: Tim carrying two etrieres, the rest of the throughbolts, some carabinas, a static rope to leave in place should the lead be promissing, the dynamic climbing rope, a hammer and spanner: he was pretty laden! Boldy he gained the rift, which turned out to be a rather muddy piece of ****. My hanging belay was rather drippy and I kept shuffling to keep the circulation in my legs going, but my woes seemed nothing compared to Tim's. I suppose this is the tough school of bolting, learning as you go and with not too many spares he managed to ascend high enough on the rift to realise that it leads to... a bedding plane about 5 cm high. Disappointed he fixed the last through bolt, clipped in and let himself be lowered by me. I followed him out taking everything behind except the through bolts.
All in all, even though it was disappointing for our first foray into bolt climbing to be unsuccesful we learnt several useful things: etrieres should if possible be proper steps, quality quickdraws are an idea, you will need tons of tape, especially if you plan on traverses. Also it was very satisfying to get the job done: well done Tim!
The trip out was a real Golgotha: we were both a tad tired and were carrying a lot of stuff. Still we got everything out and made it back to town without significant disasters.
Aquamole (James, Tim, Alex)
We gave Alex a rigging trip. He did fine. They made me carry an 11 mm rope WHICH WE DID NOT EVEN USE!!! It was an amazingly clear and beautiful day.
Aquamole is a nice cave. I'd like to go back. Tic!
Top Sink - Lancaster (Jana Jarvist and James)
My hope of the great Easegill traverse failed to materialiase as noone felt like thy could navigate Pippikin. I was all pumped on climb juice and was like: cummmmmmoooooon! In reality it turned out to be a super trip: Jarvist navigated through the cavern with great skill and the whole trip was the perfect Christmas day trip, challenging yet not too tiring and utterly beautiful.
Top Sink is a beautiful piece of cave: a heavily meandered meander with tuns of water and plenty of excitement! At the bottom of the first pitch we met Tetley and his Oxford pal Gavin. Tetley was not smocking and I think his chest was heaving with the breathlessness of trying to outcave his chum: haaaa the follies of age! Anyways soon we reached Nagasaki chamber and the eary rock of ages: an enormous boulder suspended by some mystical force.
The first stop of the trip is to visit Easter grotto an amazingly decorated grotto with scores of straws. This is where we sh are some festive satsumas: Merry Xmas Jana and Jarv!
Soon we are back to Assembly hall and climb down. Jana has some difficulty with the tall person route and is graciously transported down on yours truely's back: gnarly! We quickly gain the river and make our way toward Stop Pot via Holbeck Junction. From Stop Pot we zoom out towards Lancaster down the wet way. The stream is absolutely wonderful, I fall in a few pools and spend all my time thinking: is it better than the OFD stream? The verdict: no, better decorated but not as so sporting nor matching the quality of that fantastic black welsh rock.
Once at Lancaster we bump into a couple who are taking a wee trip down Lancs on Crimbo. I "help" them derig and we soon are out in the surface, in ample time to return to the farm and help cooking a festive meal. Tic!
Dale Head Pot: Tetley, Chris (OUCC), Dave and Binnie (RRCPC)
Dale Head Pot, Yorkshire, 29th Dec 2008.
Chris Sinadinos (SUCC, OUCC), James Hooper (ICCC, OUCC), Dave and Binnie (RRCPC).
Well, Mr Sinadinos, you had been hoping that the caving pedigree would soon warm up despite the dales ice, and here you go. I flex weary knees, doubled up in the rear of Dave's 4x4 and wonder once again whether my participation in this particular Real McCoy Yorkshireman's excursion is actually that sensible.
Perhaps not given the circumstances, but the edge-of-nervous-excitement junky-card takes precedence, so thank goodness for that.
Our destination, Dales Head Pot (DH) of Fountains Fell. 'Where?' I hear some of you less seasoned Yorks aficionados mumble with a scratch of the head. Well, yes, this is Dale's sleepy head if ever he had one and a cave long out of the limestone limelight. The pot was first explored by the North Pennine club in 1975. Once a 'classic' Yorks trip, I'm told that DH fell into disuse following some nasty stories about what can happen to the entrance and its stream immediately following sudden downpours. Over the years, the entrance shaft and following crawl became clogged with detritus - not surprising given that the 15'' high heartburn crawl is flat out for most of its 15m, and this immediately following from the foot of the silted, crumbly 10m deep entrance shaft. A pleasant little welcome, and made all the more enticing by the somewhat infamous story of a scout officer man who was trapped in the cave after a sudden deluge and drowned whilst attempting a hasty exit through the crawl. 'What an awful way to go', Dave had unnecessarily added regarding this ill-fated premature get-away. The harbinger of a tale hung in the frosty air as we neared the cave.
One hears of such ghoulish, nebulously distant past events from his or her earliest caving days, and that essential detachment usually kicks in, as now as we park the car. The gathering greyish clouds across half of the icy blue northern sky haven't gone unnoticed this morning, however, and I can't help wondering what that 'little' entrance stream may have in store for us. Not a trip to save for a rainy day.
Hmmm.. aren't I a silly billy? I re-check my gear without hope as I picture my semi-frozen oversuit, still hanging stiff in the changing barn* section back at the farm. 'No suit, no trip' Dave asserts, mumbling on about the wet, cold nature of the DH entrance section and subsequent pitches, down which neither he nor fellow Yorks caver on the trip Binnie had previously seen. 'You'd have to be a right fool' are the unspoken words hanging between us as I reluctantly plan to abort and walk the hills. Meanwhile, the three others begin to don their kit and prepare to delve down Dale's tapered throat. But alas, all is not yet lost. Our fool in shining meander presents himself as none other than the distinguished Mr Hooper, who kindly offers his yellow outer garment to me amidst an apparent sudden lust for a gentle hill amble in lieu of flat out grittiness and potential entrapment within an abandoned, long forgotten dark dank 15'' hole in the ground. Madness. With a shrug, I accept and my trip is back on.
I slot myself envelope-style into a slit at floor level in the soil-rich, sloppy shaft, reinforced with Birdy's recent scaffolds but requiring more work if the cave is to return to days of heavier traffic. After all of the cold, dry weather, the stream is but a trickle down the neck as I slither through. The crawl opens eventually but most is awkward, crawly passage, especially with my engorged tackle bag in the wake of Hooper's retreat. The two Red Rose fellas are way ahead, off to inspect some of the old rigging at the pitches. I take my time, grunting with the excursion, still feeling the effects of recent antics in Pippikin back nearer to the farm. Eventually I reach a wider shale bed, negotiate some shallow pools and reach the pitches. The guys are there, rigging the first shaft, quite impressively open and rather wet. Dave isn't particularly enamoured with the state of the old bolts in the rock. With the help of a handy natural and one tough old bolt thread, sheltered from the spray that survived the rust, we drop the first pitch.
I'm glad of the meander suit on the ledge below, even wetter than above. I'd forgotten how warm they can be in the wet, cursing my heavy duty beaver, waiting at the farm for colder trips left to come this winter. Then I hear the whistle, from above rather than ahead of me. Momentary confusion, somebody else on a trip down here today?. Wait a minute, no, stupid thought, this is DH after all.
Then I hear it again, followed by a bellow of silly song, and the realisation hits. Hooper, the crazy bugger, has followed without a suit. I had seen him at the entrance, apparently hunting for Dave's car keys as I had entered, and thought little of it. Something inconsequential left in the car, no doubt, a compass or water bottle or such like. Not a bit of it. Caver by nature, he felt left out and decided to botch it in the fashion that only the old boys can.
He whizzes on down the pitch to my level, swinging hastily out of the waterfall with a splutter. Couldn't say I blamed him as he was wearing little more than a Bernie's bag over vulnerable regions (arse etc), and a sodden, skimpy Helly Hansen thermal top stretched over soggy undersuit (see attached picture). The steam rises from him in waves as he greets us with his smoker's chuckle and grin. 'Cold?' I enquire, feeling only a brief pang of guilt at his shivers as he helps inspect the rigging for the next pitch. He had, after all, offered to swap. 'A bit' he answers through another laugh. Taking a front line role to keep warm, he helps Dave inspect. All agree that the state of the bolts are dangerously poor. Dave curses his lack of foresight in neglecting to bring a bolt kit. Binnie tells us ominously that he has lost some enthusiasm for the trip, Dave having told me earlier of his keen eye for the fine line between hard caving and stupidity. But Hooper won't hear of it just yet, not after that crawl in a furry! He delves into the problem, rigging an unconventional yet eventually safe drop off a huge boulder natural and extra loops of rope. And down we went again, so 20m through some now impressively open shaft, to yet another spray-lashed ledge below.
At this ledge, some half way down the vertical DH pitch series, our journey for that particular day ended. The bolts were bad, the next pitch head smooth. Even the irrepressible MR Hooper couldn't conjure up a solution for this sod. We left the tackle hanging high above the water, mindful that the recent dry spells may well not last the two or three weeks before Dave etc could return with bolt kit to finish the job. The news for the local cave clientele was, however, positive - diving bottles could indeed fit through the tight crawl at the entrance, and the promising sumps at the foot of the cave finally investigated. Northern caves tells us that this fine system 'lacks horizontal development at depth'.
The question now is, for how long will this continue to be the case?
*I hesitate to use the term 'room' for a frigid changing quarters sporting frozen puddles, although the all-new underground heating system for 2009 seems set to change all that. Hats off to RRCPC for continuing to put members first despite all of the club's recent difficulties.