Yorkshire Winter Tour
Ah Guan, Alex Seaton, Arun Paul, Ben Honan, Celia Tinsley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Dave Wilson, Jack Hare, James Perry, James Wilson, Jarvist Frost, Jim Evans, Larry Jiang, Pete Hambly, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Stephanie Ford, Tanguy Racine, Will Scott, Zoe Young
This winter tour was semi-live blogged on the wiki. The following report is adapted from that wiki entry.
A prompt escape from South Ken, enabled by some great preparation thanks to Tanguy and others, was sabotaged by a rather circuitous Google-enabled route via Hammersmith to the M4. We were also in a minibus with a disabled sound system, which also had the classic knackered Transit character of not wanting to get into first gear.
The weather was mild, the troops keen, and Tesco deliveries converging on the NPC. Things bodded well for a great week of caving.
My phone buzzed and I looked down at it. Jarv has started writing a trip report! How exciting I thought, reading it out loud for the benefit of everyone. Not wanting to miss out on the fun I started writing as well, and this is the result.
I think someone misheard me. I didn't want to go fogging.
Winter tour began with a reconnaisance trip to Morrisons in Leamington to prepare for the arrival of the minibus. Arriving with plenty of time to spare, I made a careful study of the arrayed port and stilton and quickly reported my findings to the inbound cavers. Thus prepared, the most critical part of the journey up went smoothly, and we were soon on our way to Yorkshire.
Winter tour this year promised to be exciting as usual and I was eager to explore more of the subterranean complex of caves underlying the Dales. In particular I'd been examining a survey of the Leck fell caves that presented several interesting options for caving trips and I hoped to attempt some of those over the coming days.
Some ungodly hour of the morning - Tanguy pops his head around the door to the Avery, the home of the deep sleeping NPC. Breakfast was ready, and it wasn't even nine.
Vespers - Dave Kirkpatrick, Jarvist Frost, Rebecca Diss
I had never done Vespers. Always when in East Kingsdale I had been going to King, and sometimes Brown Hill. So I jumped at the chance to go to see Vespers. We packed, leaving our frozen gear bags (left in the minibus overnight) sitting in the sun, and then... relaxed. Dave KP had a car. The NPC had a kettle. Much inevitable faffing was occurring as the minibus got ready, and the UBSS lot sorted themselves out. We sat at the core, drank tea, chatted; observed Dave W teaching knots by the fire. The hut became beautifully quiet. Another cup? Why not.
Trundling off, finally, at midday. The Kingsdale valley was beautiful, with the fog just lifting off Ingleborough, a tiny strip of rock pushing through the cloud like the prow of a ship. We parked, got changed, fettled, and dropped into Braida Garth to ask permission, and then clambered up the steep slope. We had a GPS, so checked that it had the gate, and then wandered over to the big pile of stones, and up the dry valley to the obvious entrance at the end of the stream sink.
Going was slow in the cave; but that was really fine. It gets almost immediately awkward, very much like Brown Hill. But it's only really the first ten metres or so before you drop into the flat out stream, which is tight. This is on-your-side, hip dragging along the floor, thrusting the bag in front of you.
The stream is quite low (I couldn't hand-and-knees for much) but it is broad enough to be able to roll the tackle sacks in front of you. Eventually this develops into a rift, where climbing up + staying high for as long as possible seemed to be the most pleasant route.
The first pitch is a very tight rift, two P-bolts (L-hang), which then opens out almost immediately. There's then the 'tortorous' rift. Again, go high where you can.
Then the pitch series; essentially continuous (all four pitches). It starts with, again, a faffy takeoff as there's little space. Traverse around the 'eyehole' and then across and down a nice chamber, a bit reminiscent of Notts I.
The final pitch is a Y-hang on the far wall, about 2 m away from the ledge. It's a bit distressing to rig, particularly as you are backed up to a single P-bolt which you are loading as to 'pull it out', and the cement doesn't look great, and the rock looks fairly shattered. I chose to take it rather tentatively, rather than lunge with my long cows tail, and instead walked off the slope backwards with a jammer on the to-be-a traverse line, and rigged the Y-hang over my shoulder.
Down in the main fault chamber; it was pretty interesting, but also wet and windy. I wandered up the boulder slope. It was well loose. Unfortunately the only vaguely dry and warm place was near the bottom of the pitch. I wandered back and sat on my camera Peli Case with my light out, glancing up at the beautiful shadows cast by the cavers on the ledge, before looking back down to present my helmet rather than my face to the occasional pebble of destiny that came crashing down. The great rift chamber would make for a great photo shoot, but there's a lot of spray and you'd need some serious light (large and heavily peat stained rock) - with my little compact camera & caving lights, there was basically nothing. Walkie Talkies for comms and flash slaves on the ledges, and it could be pretty wicked.
We bounced at 4PM (3 hrs in). A smooth exit; rock steady cruising. Dragging the tackle back up the slightly uphill tight rifts was definitely a good bit of exercise. I have stiff shoulders from the thousand or so times that I lifted up a sack of wet rope at full extension.
Beautiful walk back across a totally quiet fell, with a few stars and enough moon somewhere above the clouds to pick out the peaks around. Speedy change and zoom home in Dave's car, to walk into the NPC just as soup was being served.
Overall I really enjoyed the trip. Tony Seddon had recommended it as a club trip, but a bit better, not too crazy, but with a bit of interest. I quite agree. Nothing was ever too horrific, but there were lots of bits where you had to 'think' your way through. This was all stuff where you could communicate, and help each other with advice at least. The rigging was really interesting, a definite paucity of P-bolts (and flake deviations!), and due to the tight pitch heads, you had to think quite carefully for how to rig so that it was passable on the way back for the less experienced.
Definitely one to return to, and with great pedagogical benefit for members at very different experience levels. But I'd recommend going with an experienced rigger to oversee, as it would be very easy to self-inflict an epic by poor rigging (too tight to pass, or in the water).
Aquamole: Ben Honan, Larry Jiang, Tanguy Racine
Aquamole looked like a good choice for a first ever SRT trip, and an introduction to the verticality of Yorkshire, so I proposed to take Larry down, and Ben kindly offered to rig the way. There were another four trips happening in Kingsdale, each 3 people strong at most. When did that last happen? How much rope was left after our stock was depleted in all its short ropes (Simpson’s) and long ropes (Vespers, Swinsto)?
We drove up the valley, with clouds hugging the top of the Yoredale group, but otherwise dry weather. We parked at the Braida Garth driveway, changed to the lively tune of Sws Ffyn Bwch (most likely spelling? [Ed: Sosban Fach]) before climbing up along the Swinsto path. Following the Turbary road and the GPS indications we quickly arrived at the manhole entrance of Aquamole, where the 8mm divers’ rope was pre-rigged. Ben shadow-rigged it, while I gave Larry a last short rebelay run-through session. Happy that he remembered his training, I invited him to follow Ben on the descent.
Through only slightly mild incompetence from my part, I ended up taking two rope bags, one of which Ben needed quite early on. After a bit of faff at a drippy rebelay Ben took the bag down and continued the entrance series. The walls were slick with run-off most the way through the fault controlled passage but two large ‘Y’-hangs in succession took us away from the drips to the base of a boulder-floored chamber.
Down the boulder slope, a keyhole shaped stooping/crawling passage beckoned underneath the left hand wall. The floor dropped slowly, transforming the tube in a narrow, meandering rift leading to the head of the second pitch, a straightforward ‘Y’-hang rebelay followed by a deviation. At the bottom, Ben led the way down through boulders to reach another short meander which opened out onto a large ledge, with darkness off to our left: this was the takeoff of the third, 45m pitch. Ben carried on with his rigging down to a small ledge, and then onto the large, treble-dev hang.
We followed him down, Larry keeping a good pace, and negotiating the deviations with relative ease. This pitch was a cracker, mostly out of the drips, spacious and beautifully fluted. It was a shame the base was a flat boulder floor leading immediately to a large sump pool. We had some water, chocolates, hot squash and a quick photo session. Ben then carried my flash up some fifteen metres and stopped for a few more pictures. Larry followed up, again keeping a steady, sure pace. Then I went up derigging, disentangling the rope from
Swinstow (not to Simpsons): James Wilson, Rhys Tyers, Will Scott
Simpsons (not to Swinstow): Alex Seaton, Jack Hare
TL;DR - Take Swinsto Great Aven, or a very long rope for Silt Pot if you're planning to do the exchange.
Simpsons, Simpsons. The memories. Two years ago, when we decided to go in during torrential rain. The streamway was high when we went in, and it got higher as we crawled back out, the five steps in an impossible torrent. When we emerged, the beck had burst its banks. Or a year ago, when Fiona and I bonded over a terrible, terrible journey out. So when the possibility of a Swinsto-Simpsons exchange came up this year, I jumped at the chance.
We had loads of leaders so split up into tiny groups - just two of us going down Simpsons. The problem was that we had three tackle sacks between the two of us, and this quickly got grim. I rigged the five steps, and Alex took over, competently rigging the traverse over the Pit and then down Chandelier. The short 10 m pitches whizzed passed, but the CNCC rigging guide is full of lies, with very few backup bolts available.
I took over rigging just before the duck, which wasn't as bad as I remembered it, though we were very happy we wouldn't have to do it on the return. We'd packed for Silt Pot, and arrived in short order. I couldn't make the rigging work through the insanely tight rift - I inserted myself sideways at several heights and failed at all of them. Instead, I spotted the in situ tat and ascended to find another way down. I ran out of the rope a good 5 m from the bottom, and as I got back to the top Alex pointed out I had packed a 23 m rather than a 30 m rope. That makes sense!
So, we'd failed. We couldn't make the exchange. But we could yell abuse at the others, who showed up far below just as we decided to turn around. Back, back up, the tight squeeze, the duck, the fistful of maillons I'd thoughtfully left for the other group. Not actually that bad, until after the traverse over the pit when I offered Alex a terrible bargain which ended up with me carrying out two full rope bags.
The Five Steps are really quite tough with that much hanging off your harness. I had to tackle them pretty much as five rebelays, but as I hadn't rigged it for that it was very twatty. The streamway crawl was slow and arduous, and I stopped frequently to punch the wall and grunt. As I got out I collapsed onto my back, Cassiopeia twinkly above me as my vision spun.
Alex took down two rope bags, and we were back first at the minibus. Home for delicious soup and garlic bread!
The tour began with a large number of small groups attempting a variety of caves. I was part of the Simpsons-Swinsto 'verbal exchange' trip. For those unaccustomed with the verbal exchange concept, it is a variation on the conventional exchange trip in which the two teams avoid the tiresome and wholly unpleasant business of rigging final pitches and physically meeting. Instead they reach a point at which poor verbal contact can be established and shout incomprehensibly at one another. This ritual being complete they exit the way they came.
The team down Simpsons and consisted of myself and Jack, while the parallel team of Rhys, James and Will took on Swinsto. Since Jack and I were a smaller team and theoretically a bit faster, we decided I could do some rigging practice on the way down that would slow us to match the other team's pace. This was much needed practice and Jack made many helpful points. We also enjoyed the various thrills that Simpsons has to offer: navigating tight passages with heavy rope bags, the aqueous nature of the passage, the icy duck and so on.
Arriving at slit pot with time to spare before the others arrived for the verbal exchange, we decided to spend it figuring out how one would descend the pitch were they doing a physical exchange. We attempted a variety of methods, with Jack demonstrating a series of successively more exciting methods of trying to force his body through the slit with none giving success. I decided this was down to excessive intake of stilton cheese. We then attempted to bypass it by ascending further into the aven up some dodgy rope, but naturally having planned not to have enough rope we were unable to reach the bottom from there. Convinced at this point that we had successfully avoided any possibility of a physical exchange we took pride in our competence. At this point Rhys' team arrived below and we carried out the ritual by shouting at him before beginning our return.
The way up was far more enjoyable than the way down, and we observed that all of the cave's exciting features of the cave are better experienced the second time - especially upwards. The duck was particularly gratifying and Jack enthusiastically followed me through, which was fortunate as otherwise he would have missed the shower of water draining from my tackle sack. Finally we came to the last few pitches and we agreed that I would de-rig in return for Jack taking two of the three tackle sacks. I realised I'd accepted the short end of the stick as I enviously watched him force the two heavy tackle sacks through the tight stream crawl.
Despite the heavy sarcasm I enjoyed the trip a great deal. I treated the unpleasant sections as good practice in carrying tackle sacks and despite complaints the water levels were fairly low - considerably lower than the previous attempt on Winter tour two years go. It was also great to have a chance to do some rigging practice and get useful tips on doing this safely and efficiently.
Out of the cave we descended the valley side by an unconventional route, and found ourselves the first team back at the minibus. The others followed shortly and before long we were back at the NPC enjoying excellent soup with garlic bread and Morrisons' fine selection of beverages. With the meal consumed and an obscene amount of rope unpacked, thoughts turned to the following day's adventures. Leck fell was on the menu with groups going down Lost Johns'. I set about seducing any fool who would listen with tales of connections to the master cave and even a potential exchange with a Lost Johns' team. Tanguy seemed particularly susceptible to this, and excitedly suggested a Boxhead to groundsheet junction trip. I felt a shiver up my spine as I saw the twinkle in his eye. What I had got myself into?
Jingling: Arun Paul, Dave Wilson, James Perry
I woke up for no apparent reason because I didn't end up leaving to cave for quite some considerable amount of time. After breakfast it was soon decided that I would be learning to rig in jingling under the guidance of DW and curse of Arun. Arun's first trip in a while so he wanted to take things easy, and a start of a long week for myself so I too was up for a quick trip. We left around midday; DW, Arun and I all headed of for Jingling. Was a lovely drive over and a short walk to the open entrance series that ended up being a very open cave. You could almost always see some form of natural light. The rigging went well, I knew the knots well enough and DW taught me some handy techniques for positioning myself while rigging but also how to decide on knot choice and rope length. Everything went well and we were soon headed back out for my first attempt at derigging. A solid first trip of my first winter tour and has set me up well for the week!
|Guan, Arun, Pete
|Jack, Will, Diss
Centipede -> Bottom -> Monastery
Ah, Lost Johns'! I rigged down centipede as fast as I could, Pete, Arun and Perry feeding me bags of rope from behind. Rigging Lost Johns' kind of feels like you're stuck on repeat; tying yet another bowline-on-the-bite. I shouted up Dome Junction, but no reply. On to rig Candle. It was so dry there was barely a trickle going down the cascade.
At Valhalla, Pete H. passed over the fat 70 m, and I stepped off into the Battle Axe. It's really quite arduous to rig - 15 maillons later I was pretty warm! I deployed my fistful of slings to belay points, but I never really know whether it helps that much. At Valhalla, time for yet-another bowline on the bite, and a delectable as always abseil down that fine shaft, with just the single in-situ deviation made use of.
Rigging the Final pitch now with essentially no maillons left (other than couple Perry found stashed amongst his SRT kit), we switched to krabs. At the bottom of the final, a strange subset of the various groups had assembled; but with no sign of Jack's Monastery team. We decided to explore the master system upstream, and shouted down the various side passages for Tanguy 'not intending to do an exchange' Racine. Such japes! He obvious wasn't here.
Then, just as the way got a bit more stoopy, we heard voices! Tanguy was here! Ridiculous. We conferred, and decided that, hey, may as well attempt an exchange since everyone was here! Alex was quietly (as always) confident of the navigation, and so we swapped a Rhys and a Perry for a Tanguy and a Ben. We then turned and made good our exit.
Jack was waiting at the bottom of Shistol, so we discussed the derigeour situation, eventually deciding that James Wilson and I would head out first, via Monastery with no extra tackle, and they would collectively sort out Dome and Centipede.
This was a really nice trip. I forgot most of the Monastery route, and how nice a bit of cave it is. It's definitely an extra level of difficulty beyond Dome (particularly, awkward climbs in constricted wet rift), with some beautiful streamway - clean and spray-lashed is the most succinct way I can describe, with some pretty fossils in the rock. There's also a lot of it. And evidently the ropes did not match up very well with the cave! Some rather experimental conversion of rebelays-into-deviations and finishing of the final pitch with the tackle sack lanyard (turned out the '50 m' rope was actually '40.5 m' when measured by Dave Wilson later!). Jack had also run out of maillons; and there were a could half-dozen krab belays.
Monastery itself is a very fine shaft, a massive bore hole taking a fair stream even in these almost-drought conditions. It was lit up beautifully as James got off the top, went through the eyehole traverse and then swung out onto the main shaft for the last few metres of climb. The dismount from the last rope was scary - the ten metres of rope (marked, but rather subtly) on the CNCC Topol for a three belay thread traverse had been forgotten. There was a perfectly good set of ledges to walk on, but the 40 m drop behind was rather sobering! After very carefully packing up all the rope, tidying up my harness and dangly bits, thinking calm thoughts, I unattached my cows tails and carefully stepped my way to safety.
We surfaced to lights in the entrance doline - Tanguy! They had just come out Centipede with four bags between three, so we took the excess for the walk up the road. Jack was back five minutes later, having derigged Dome - perfect timing!
Really nice trip; I think about six hours again, but I essentially had something to do all the time, and was never waiting for more than twenty minutes.
Half an hour later, there was a loom of lights over the fell, and the three Boxhead crew came back. Quite apart from the fact we actually ran out of maillons; the twelve full rope bags that I helped unload from the minibus when back at Greenclose really brought home the amount of cave which we had simultaneous rigged! Every single part of the Lost Johns' CNCC Topol; and Boxhead!
Monastery -> Battleaxe -> Dome
Lost Johns'! The spiritual home of the ICCC, when we're not at the NPC. And what a trip it was - a four way exchange with the three routes in Lost Johns' and some doggers we found from Boxhead.
There was a surprising lack of enthusiasm for rigging Monastery, which suited me fine. Two years ago I'd rigged it as one of my first rigging trips, and it still made me shiver. The roar of the water, the terrifying traverses and the dark, somber rock all contributed to its image as a place of fear and danger in my mind. But we have to face our demons, and so, with a crack team of Will and Diss we plunged into Lost Johns'.
Things started poorly - I confidently pointed out the wrong way up to Centipede and Dome to them, only to meet the others teams deeper into the cave climbing up into the New Roof Traverse. I looked at the downclimb - it was sketchy and very wet, and decided that this could not be the way on. I followed the other teams up, and went to get info from Peter Hambly and Jarv, but they agreed that we just needed to go down into the streamway. Back at the streamway I took another look - it wasn't so bad after all, a cascade with a miniature rock bridge at the bottom. Plunging down the streamway we came to another ferocious looking drop, and here I went high and we traversed almost in the roof (The Old Roof Traverse) to the fossil passage on the far side. Down Hampstead Heath, a short 10 m pitch and then to the streamway again.
Here I made a big mistake. On the rigging guide there is a 10 m rope that's top be rigged of naturals for a traverse line. I didn't bring the rope, and so made my group do that first 10 m with no protection. It was sketchy and unpleasant, and not my finest moment. Eventually we reached the proper traverse, which was the crux of all my fears in my memory. This time, it was easy - I whizzed along, smashing out alpine butterflies at a furious rate. The dry oxbow just below is a welcome sight, and from there the big pitch opens out. It's cold at the bottom, but with only three of us we were soon moving again.
Plunging down, Piscine Pitch was easy and then to the final pitch. I rigged as conservatively as I could down the first y-hang, and then down to the broad ledge for the next hang. Last time I was here, I missed the top rebelay bolt, and I did the same this time, having to ascend back up to put the higher, dryer rebelay in. The top rebelay is very close to the first y-hang, but hidden round the wall on the right, looking down cave. This rebelay in, I went down the second and then descended to the bottom.
I just spotted the stopper knot before it hit my braking krab, and I grabbed my hand jammer and slammed it onto the rope. getting the chest jammer on wasn't too hard, and I stopped to get my bearings. I was still seven metres off the ground, with a feeling of deja vu from the failed exchange the day before. I shouted to Diss to climb back up, and started up myself. I had a plan, a cunning plan - the first rebelay was quite slack, so I re-rigged it as a deviation. The extra rope got me within 2 m of the floor, and with the aid of the donkey's dick on the tackle sack I could reach a ledge out of the spray just above the final pool.
The others came down to join me, as did DW, who appeared from the Dome side. Apparently we were rumoured dead, or at least mortally wounded. Diss went out Dome with DW, and Will and I went to meet up with the others at Battleaxe traverse to discuss derigging.
We met Jarv, Larry and James at the bottom of Candle and Shistol. They were very excited that Tanguy had made it through with his motley crew from Boxhead. Intense derigging discussion occurred, with Jarv going out Monastery with James. We waited for Tanguy, who was derigging Battleaxe. Ben, Larry and Tanguy headed out Centipede, and Will and I went to Dome.
Will popped down towards Monastery to derig as I sang the first verse of every Christmas Carol I knew. Fortunately he returned before I started on the dirty verses, and we were quickly on our way. Old obstacles that featured heavily in my mind as difficult for tired novices were easily overcome, and Will even took out two rope bags up the top big pitch. We heard the others on our way out, but they were ahead and we were the last group out of Lost Johns'.
Tanguy and ben went back with Dave to cook a delicious lasagne and we waited for the Boxhead crew. When they arrived they were less than impressed by Tanguy's overselling of two hours of grim, muddy crawls, but happy to be on the surface. An incredible day for ICCC - we worked together very well and achieved quite a complex series of exchanges without derigging on anyone!
Dome -> Battleaxe -> Boxhead
It all started as a fairly normal Lost Johns' trip. We split into three teams. Crack centipede to Valhalla, Mental Monastery and deranged Dome. It started well. Larry, in my Dome team, had a broken helmet. Luckily we had 3 spares. In cave we found team mental hovering around the drop into Dome, having been sketched out by a climb down into the stream way and desperately hoping that the way on was in the roof traverse.
Down, down, down. No problems. Followed by Jimmy Dubz (pretty pro at this point), Larry (suprisingly pro for a second caving trip), and DW (so pro it's ridiculous). At the split for Monastery, DW took the ropes to find team mental. I continued with J Dubz and L dog. We soon caught up with the back half of Centi-halla. Our groups merged and split and we ended up the Jarv, Perry, J Dubz, Larry and me at the bottom of Valhalla. I didn't even notice any rigging, Jarv was well ahead. I finally caught up at the final drop into the streamway that immediately joins the master cave.
We headed a short way up stream. Eventually the passage lowers. I declared that it looked grim and that I wouldnt do it. Then myserious echoey voices. They must be coming from down stream? Who is it? No, it's coming from upstream. Oh, Tanguy. Team Boxhead Baguette had found the way into the master cave. We all met up, merged (as is tradition) and a group of me, Perry, and Alex (who knew the way) emerged as those who would be heading out Boxhead. I was very pleased to be doing such a novel exchange. Ben and Tanguy (swapped into exiting via Lost Johns') were pleased for reasons that would become clear.
Perry and I followed Alex. A muddy climb up into a dry passage and then up some perfectly fine in-situ tat into a well decorated fossil passage soon detoriated into a crawl. This crawl would go on for two hours. There were climbs up and slides down. Big hempen fixed ropes, smaller, tattier knotted handlines. Big holes in the floor. It had everything. Notable moments include a very tight clinmb up that Perry got stuck in for a while, the climb immediately following that Perry fell down once before completing. The four ways chamber was very memorable. Alex introduced it by pointing out the leads to us in order of descending grimness. Apparently we'd come out of the least grim and were heading into the third least grim. This was a head down slide into a flat out crawl full of water. I dread to think what the grimmest lead was. Perry erupted into a fit of mad giggles as a mental coping mechanism. I found it quite nice. My new PVC kept the water out for a few seconds so my dunking was quite gradual.
Further and more crawling (there was very little that wasn't crawling). At times Alex would hesitate at a junction before declaring that the way on was always the grimmest way. This method only failed once where we arrived at a very expedition styley rope leading down into a rift that Alex didn't remember. A section reminiscent of the T-shaped passage followed, its difficulty mostly begetting from the slick mud covering every surface. We paused for a breath in a small chamber. We'd been crawling and climbing in this "connection" for nearly two hours. I asked Alex the question I had been dying to ask for much longer. How much further is Boxhead? He said half an hour. What beautiful expectation management. A short further crawl and a final flat out section brought us to the Kendal Flyover. We were well pleased with ourselves.
Alex asked to derig as he needed to piss and didn't want to do it whilst we were all perched on the small ledge. Perry went up first and I followed. All was well up the first two pitches (both ~40m) and Tanguy had helpfully avoided some of the rebelays that would otherwise have slowed us down. The final pitch is another ~40m hang from a loose boulder slope to the plastic tube that penetrates the surface. Perry was most of the way up by the time I got there and I realised that he hadn't taken a bag. I didn't think it was worth calling him back. Me and Alex would have two each it would seem. I waited for him to derig. Perry shouted things at me that sounded like "I. AM. STUCK." but the water made it very hard to parse. I tried shouting back and we had a very confusing conversation until Perry shouted "OKAY" a few times and I decided that meant he was okay. Eventually an echoey voice from below calls up "COME. BACK. . . BRING. A. Bag.". I shout back to confirm and then shout up the Perry "WE. WILL. BE. A. WHILE".
I bounce down. Turns out that the half empty bag of rope we've been carrying from the very bottom is for the third rope of Boxhead (WTF Tanguy). I pick up a full back and climb back up. Wait for Alex. He gets stuck for a while trying to derig a big, larks footed deviation. It's pulled incredibly tight and there are no hand holds, foot holds. I eventually convince him to cut the sling, hoping that will allow him to recover the sling. It doesn't. Alex swings away, the still tight sling attached to p-bolt, its other half cut in two. If we can't have that sling then no one can use it. Alex arrives at last and I help him haul rope up the pitch. Taking a bag of rope and a small bag of Tanguy's piss, I climb up to a potentially stranded Perry. However as I near the plastic tube it becomes clear the Perry is out and one the surface,
We chat and he tells me he was stuck in the tube for bit. To demonstrate how he tells me to face him and prussik up the tube. Because of our deep bond, I trust Perry and do so. Reaching the final Y-hang, which is half a metre from the top of the tube I realise what Perry was talking about. There's no way to climb out of the perfectly smooth tube. The rope is just attached to the side of the tube, and doesn't lead to the surface. After a forgivingly short period of time, Perry tells me to turn around and a series of steps cut into the tube becomes apparent. It seems he was in the tub for 20 minutes (whilst me and Alex were fucking around with bags and deviations) before he realised there were these footholds.
On the surface we wait for Alex and at wander across the fell, past Lost Johns' to find Will Scott and Larry smiling at the fence. All in all a really really really awesome trip!
Boxhead -> Battleaxe -> Centipede
The weather was still very dry on the Sunday, and this enabled the three-way exchange in Lost Johns’. Knowing that the Bristol group had bailed on their Notts permit for the day, we had Leck Fell to us. There was a laminate of the NFTFH description of a Boxhead and Lyle Cavern round trip which dropped into the Lost Johns’ master cave. I thought it would be great to try to reach the main streamway at the bottom of Lost Johns’ from another entrance, and recruited (or was recruited by?) the keen Alex and Ben as colleagues in this venture. Boxhead was described to me as a big hole in the ground, which would make the SRT down straightforward, leaving us plenty of time to explore the horizontal galleries at depth.
The minibus left ahead to drop plenty of empty bottles at Ingleton’s recycling bay and Alex and I jumped in Pete Hambley’s car, arriving at the Leck Fell lower parking spot just before Dave, and the bus. With this great timing we all got changed in pleasant weather and before long our trio left the group for a wander on the surface to find the entrance to Boxhead.
Past the entrance to Lost Johns’ we followed the clear path across the fell to the south, until, on a rise to the left, we found the enclosed Lost pot shakehole, with its audible waterfall. We were a bit stumped by the directions given on our laminate, but the Boxhead shakehole is past Lost Pots, on the left of the path, not 50m away. At the bottom we found the entrance drum and set about rigging it.
Inside, the SRT went quickly, pitch, deviation, drop on a boulder ledge before the main drop. Another deviation, then swing, ‘Y’-hang, and a couple more rebelays onto the Kendal Flyover at the base of which a conspicuous crawl led off. There the black book description really kicked in. A right turn, then a left turn along a crawly passage until a larger junction is reached, with holes in the floor. To the right, there was an unprotected traverse over a 10m hole, then more easy passage to a low junction.
Again the way on was to the right, onto the memorable ‘Cresta Run’, a keyhole shaped passage where the traverse is at the top, the rift deepening as we progressed. The drop down to floor level was an arduous, mud slick climb down to the stream. It was the first bit of passage that warranted its place in the black book, but not the last. The streamway began as a stoop, turned into a hands and knees crawl into elbow deep water, and climaxed with a refreshing wriggle through boulders into a small, but decorated fourways junction.
Onwards, there were a collection of avens connected by crawls with little actual route finding: the description is there to comfort you that you are in the right kind of passage. There was a sharp turn to the left, a drippy calcite flowstone and the beginning of a continuous climb back up into the higher passages, which culminated with a roped climb into a scalloped tube. At the top, we emerged from a boulder choke into a large, dry fossil rift named ‘Avens Passage’. It was the next biggest space since the Boxhead pitch and a very well decorated bit of cave so we decided to have some soup, some rest and then carry on to the Lyle Cavern pitch.
On the way, the milk white formations got better and better, and after a drippy, black aven, the going slowed down. We had to first traverse onwards before dropping down into a calcite dammed pool. Again, a wriggle in water before reaching the top of the pitch. It was pre-rigged with good gold rope, so we left our bag at the top before descending. The pitch opened as we dropped into the master cave, onto a pile of calcited boulders. There was another short 5m drop and a boulder ramp to the streamway.
As I hopped down the boulders to reach the sound of water, another melody rose from the depths. Voices! ‘Hé ho!’ I shouted down at the incoming cavers.. The vanguard appeared: James W and Larry, with whom I immediately shook hands, elated to have made the connection. Jarv, Perry and Rhys followed. Jarv insisted to take a photograph of Rhys and I to prove that we’d made it. Our thoughts turned immediately towards an exchange of people. Perry asked first, exchanging with Ben. I then proposed to exchange with Rhys so he could learn the way too. I probably also didn’t want to go back out Boxhead, but I made up for this by derigging from the bottom of Valhalla all the way out Centipede with a hundred tackle sacks of rope. We also wanted to prioritise the cooks (Ben and I) going out first.
The way out was eventful, with Larry deciding to unclip both cowstails at the same time when leaving pitch head. I kick myself for this one because I was a metre away and noticed (instead of prevented) the absence of attachment points. When this was sorted, we all climbed up, eventually meeting up with part of Jack’s monastery group at Battleaxe traverse and sorting out the derigging duty. My pantin broke on the way up, and finally I saw Ben tying an alpine butterfly in the middle of the Vestry pitch rope so Larry could traverse over the top.
As I passed over the pitch head myself I couldn’t work out whether that meant Jack and Will had got out of Dome and left the rope for people to traverse on top (this has never been done) or whether the two of them still hadn’t derigged it. I chose to untie the knot and leave the rope in case they were still down there.
We were a few minutes outside when Jarv and James who’d gone out Monastery made their exit of the cave, followed by Jack and Will. With this superb timing we walked back together to the van where DW waited to take Ben and I to the NPC.
Centipede -> Battleaxe -> Boxhead
Ahh, Sunday! Off for a nice bimble down Lost John’s ? I don’t mind if I do. I’d be following Jarvist down centipede with Peter, Guan and Arun. It was smooth sailing all the way down until some more interesting rigging at battleaxe seemed to leave us waiting for Jarv to clear the way ahead whilst we sat somewhere stable. Eventually it was time to move on and by this time we had been joined by Rhys, DW, Larry and Jimmy Dubz. It was decided half way along battleaxe that not everyone should do this if we are to not spend an age getting back out, so I shouted back some words of discouragement and managed to scare off all but the most foolish cavers.
Soon enough We had made it all the way down Valhalla and were bimbling about in the streamway. We being, Jarvist, Rhys, Jimmy Dubz and Larry. Along the streamway we stumbled upon a Tanguy, a Ben, and an Alex who had pushed a connection from Box head to Lost John’s. They were smiling, but were very muddy and wet and keen to exchange with some of us. Tanguy and Ben managed to convince Rhys and I to swap, and must have bullied Alex into showing us the way. With the excitement of leaving the fairly mundane cave behind us for an impromptu exchange out of Boxhead, we scrambled up a slippery mud slope and onto some tatty old rope. The formations were already stunning, Rhys pissed over the edge as he admired the white curtains that surrounded us. This was gonna be great (although my confidence was marred by Ben’s insistence on an exchange whilst ensuring me that the cave ahead would be really nice.)
The formations were stunning but my enthusiasm for viewing them became reduced as the crawling and squeezing went on. I got stuck in a rift due to my childbearing hips, and I slipped down a climb due to my cave worn toes. The crawling went on for about two hours, it was extremely grim aside from a bunch of beautiful formations. I shan’t dwell on it here as I feel that I already made Alex feel bad enough for dragging me and Rhys through muddy crawls, rocky crawls, muddy climbs, rocky climbs and of course a canal which you dip your chin into on entry.
Finally we made it to some friendly ropes. How far to go? I don't know I couldn't see the top. I lack a depth of SRT experience and so the climbing was exhausting, with about 3 pitches each around 30-40m. I got to the top of a pitch and stood up to unclip my jammers, As I stood up the rope slid through both jammers and wedged against the knot! After a bit of wrestling I managed to pull an inch of slack from the rope beneath me (it was caught on a rock) and feed that through the y hang to create some space above my jammers and remove them. Thank fuck! Rope Free!
I was instructed by rhys to stop at any bags I see, I saw no more so continued up the shaft until I reached an extremely narrow tube that reached the ceiling. I could very clearly hear Rhys and Alex struggling beneath me. I managed to worm my way up the tub but the Y-hang was rigged in such a way that it sat very low in the tube and I couldn't reach the edge. I struggled here for about twenty minutes until I eventually hit my face hard enough to spin around and see the holes cut into the tube behind me…
Eventually made it to the surface and soon everyone was out and heading back to the minibus!
Boxhead -> Lyle Cavern-> Boxhead
I awoke sleep deprived and aching and stumbled down to breakfast. I had not been dreaming, Tanguy and I were indeed going to go down Boxhead. But we needed to steal one final disciple from the Lost Johns' trips to make this possible. I'm not sure he realised what he was in store for, but Ben was signed onto our trip and we made our preparations. At some point it dawned on me that the rigging guide was from "Not for the Faint Hearted". This was not a good omen.
Nevertheless we set off for Leck fell. Leaving the Lost Johns' team we headed to Lost pot, our landmark from which to find the doline in which Boxhead resides. I find it quite remarkable how close together and obvious these features are (when you see them) and yet how tricky it can be to find them. Lost pot sits in a huge doline that is easy to spot - I seem to remember it being visible from Lost Johns' and has a fence around it. Boxhead is less prominent and it took a good quarter of an hour to find, despite being nearby.
Originally simply an uninteresting doline, the Boxhead entrance has been dug maybe three meters down to the pitch below and fitted with a long aluminium tube. Mercifully this has holes cut into one side for footholds and emerges into the top of an impressive pitch. Despite there having been no rain for the last couple of days there was plenty of water flowing down the side. At the bottom, past a false and mildly terrifying boulder floor, the shaft continued and opened out. Our route took us part way down this 70m behemoth and into the 'Kendal Flyover'; a route off the side of Boxhead into a rift that takes you onto a pile of boulders that separates Boxhead from what I believe is the Lost pot aven. We gawped at the impressive open spaces either side of us and prepared to move on. Tanguy took the opportunity to relieve himself into Lost pot, unclipping his cow's tails from the traverse line and muttering that he'd rather take the 10m fall than the injury he might otherwise sustain...
The route on was into a crawl off the boulder pile and this signalled the end of large open spaces. For the majority of the subsequent caving there were few places you could stand and progress was challenging. Nevertheless it was thoroughly enjoyable and had plenty of variety; each section of passage having its own character and unique challenges to overcome. One section was capital 'T' shaped passage requiring sliding along with hands and knees either side of the rift below to avoid slipping down, sounding like the infamous passage in King Pot. Another contained a series of large pits without much clearance either side for traversing, reminding me of Edward's shortcut in OFD. Yet another was shaped as a wide, smooth tube that made its way upwards at a severe angle, equipped with a hemp handline and not much else for support. Wretched rabbit? A deep muddy pool to crawl through, an irritating squeeze above a slight drop, and so on.
Tanguy lead the way with myself and Ben in tow, occasionally stopping to consult the guide and remark on exciting features of cave. I did my best to keep up while desperately trying to remember features for route-finding on the way back. There were multiple junctions along the way and it seemed to me that the principle at work here was to pick the passage that looked the grimmest.
Eventually we broke out into what I believe is Lyle Caverns. These were a series of spectacularly decorated galleries and was a well earned reward. We stopped a moment for a rest and some of the left over soup from the previous night. We considered the possibility of meeting one of the Lost Johns' team at the bottom. Would they continue down the final pitch after Valhalla into the streamway? Probably not. Would they be at the bottom when we arrived? Unlikely. Still, we'd try calling to them from groundsheet junction and even if contact couldn't be made it would be pleasing enough to see the bottom of Lost Johns' and know we had made the connection.
We packed up the food and continued on, marvelling at the abundance of calcite and enjoying the novel sensation of standing up. We shortly arrived at the Lyle cavern pitch and were pleased to find it pre-rigged with what looked like reasonable rope. Leading the way, Tanguy shot down and Ben and I followed. But what was that I heard? Voices? With great surprise I followed Ben down to find myself in the master cave confronted with one of the Lost Johns' teams. Not even realising we had been attempting to connect to Lost Johns', they had headed upstream from groundsheet junction to explore and were about to turn back when Tanguy arrived.
At this point, presumably due to light-headedness from the excitement a couple of peculiar things happened. First my companions decided they would switch with Rhys and Perry so as to leave via Lost Johns', assuring them that the Boxhead route was great. Second I must also have succumbed to this euphoria as I assured everyone that I knew the way back and proceeded to lead my unsuspecting victims into the dark labyrinth of horrors from whence I came.
We headed back up the Lyle Caverns pitch into the beautiful galleries. This was far too nice a beginning to the trip giving a rather misleading impression of the route back. Rhys and Perry soon learned of their deceit but by then it was too late. I took what could probably be described as sadistic pleasure in introducing each successive section of difficult passage, though oddly despite my efforts they coped remarkably well. I was also impressed with my ability to find the way back, easily recognising many of the junctions and otherwise relying on the principle of choosing the grimmest option. This worked surprisingly (worryingly?) often.
At some point Rhys finally succumbed to the torture and pleaded to know how much further we had left. I wasn't entirely sure myself, not remembering which crawling passage followed the one we were in. Tentatively I ventured "half an hour? Maybe less?". The reason for my confusion soon became apparent as a couple of minutes later we popped out into the blackness at the bottom of Boxhead. At least I hadn't underestimated...
With the crawling finished we were left with the ascent up the vast Boxhead pitch. Having filled my bladder from drinking plenty of soup earlier, I opted to stay behind to deal with the immediate concern and then de-rig. Perry led the way up, and Rhys soon followed. Soon enough my turn came and I started up the Kendal flyover. Pausing at the top of the first climb to pack away rope I quickly realised I had mistaken the order of tackle sacks: Rhys had the one I needed! Thankfully despite his speedy ascending he wasn't too far ahead and heard my calls to return with a rope bag. His arrival was announced shortly by the familiar sound of rope zipping through a descender. We quickly swapped bags and off he went into the blackness.
I continued on, and after some arduous ascent was almost at the top of the next rope when I encountered a rather extreme deviation. Helpfully there were no hand or footholds on the wall, with the only aid being the bolt and a part of the wall which dipped in. How had Tanguy rigged this? Surveying the situation I convinced myself I could wedge my feet into the dip to give myself some kind of hold. Having dropped a sling down Simspon's the previous day I was not keen to lose a second and spent a good while attempting this technique so as to undo the sling. Wedging my legs in to the dip gave me a few seconds hold before my muscles gave up and I slid out, re-tensioning the sling and undoing any progress I had just made. Rhys soon became impatient waiting, and urged me to cut the sling. "Give me a few more minutes and I'll have it free!" I called. "No, cut the bastard!" came his immediate response. Sensing that something wasn't right I grabbed my knife and started hacking away. But even with one loop of sling cut the lark's foot held! Damn the thing! I gave up all hope of retrieving it, unhooked the karabiner and hastily reached the pitch head. There I learned that Perry was having difficulty further up and Rhys was worried he was in trouble, but was waiting for me to ensure I made it up ok. Leaving me to continue de-rigging he headed up to see what the matter was. Soon enough the 'pitch free' call came my way and I headed up, along with two heavy rope bags. Tired out from the day's caving this wasn't what I needed. Feeling decidedly unhappy with the way things had turned out during our ascent I slowly completed the climb, and before long was struggling through the entrance tube.
Reaching the surface was a relief. It turned out that Perry's difficulty had been caused by ascending with his back facing the holes cut into the tube. Thinking that it was completely smooth he struggled there for 20 minutes before discovering the footholds - no doubt an incredibly frustrating experience. With all of the Leck feel teams out safely we headed back, where a fine Lasagne and huge amounts of wet gritty rope awaited us.
After dealing with kit and rope, I spent the evening relaxing and sipping at port. But with the following day devoted yet again to Leck Fell, my mind turned to contemplating the possible routes we could attempt. Finding a large printout of the Leck Fell survey in the NPC library (BCRA Cave Science Vol. 10(4)), Rhys and I examined the possibilities. Neither of us had been up to the northern part of the system so that seemed like an interesting target. Death's head and Big Meanie thus emerged as good options having a connection to the streamway to look at and also seeming relatively easy (by comparison to the distinctly novice-unfriendly Boxhead route).
Death's Head: Alex Seaton, Jack Hare, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers
This morning it was agreed that we'd all do easy trips in preparation for Gaping Gill the next day. So how the hell did we end up deciding to Death's Head, trying to make it through neck deep water to Lost Johns'? Well, it certainly helped me chill out, but I'm getting ahead of myself...
We set off from the car park, striding confidently west along the wall down to a dry valley. There are two fenced off shakeholes to the right (north) — Death's Head is the nearest to the wall. The first anchor is a sturdy looking fence post, which Rhys zipped down to a big tree. I followed soon after with the next rope bag, and replaced the standard club sling with a bigger sling — the standard club sling was very tight around the tree, so with a krab in it was effectively loaded at three points. This is frustrating — take a longer sling!
Rhys pointed out that rigging such a big shaft in the daylight is quite intimidating. I hadn't noticed this before he said it, and immediately had to sit down and sing to myself for a bit until I calmed down. There are a few short rebelays, and then a long drop with a deviation off in situ tat to a loose boulder floor. I caught up with Rhys and he rigged down a short pitch to the main chamber. I followed, confident that Diss was just behind me.
The main chamber is pretty impressive. You land on a loose boulder slope, and stumble down. On the right is the dig that leads to the Leck Fell Master cave, on the left is water coming in from an aven - possibly from the next shakehole from the wall? Next to the bottom of the pitch is a horrific muddy dig with thick, unpleasant mud which goes nowhere. Highly recommended if you have nothing else to do.
We looked at the dig down to the Leck Fell Master Cave, which was mental. The scaffold bars are about 1 m apart, and so rather terrifying for free climbing. There are nice big bolts above, presumably used for hauling up rocks and down scaffold bars, but we lacked a rope to go down anyway. After a while, it dawned on us that we hadn't seen Diss for a while.
I went up the long drop with the deviation so I could have a proper chat. She'd been there for about thirty minutes, with a variety of problems related to the difficult rigging. Alex went up to rig a separate rope down, so that he could descend and help her, but after having a chat with Diss she decided it was best to go up and wait in the minibus — nothing about the cave below sounded attractive! Alex went out with her and then joined Rhys and I in the cave. A bit of lumpy soup later and Rhys set off rigging down the terrifying scaffolding.
At the bottom is a slightly nasty crawl which quickly ends, followed by a free climb with a handline rigged off a stal. The in situ tat is rather shit cos it ends far from the ground but a 10 m handline is easy to rig. At the bottom the obvious way on degenerates into a flat out crawl in muddy water — fortunately the correct way on is back underneath to the right, down a short scaffolding supported climb that needs no handline.
This must have been the pay off for the original diggers — a beautiful Yorkshire streamway with lovely scalloping and a reasonable flow at the bottom. After a few winding turns it degenerates into a short crawl to a pitch head that overlooks the Leck Fell Master Cave. The in situ rope seemed good enough, so we popped down to have a look around. First we went down stream - it got a bit deep with a silty floor, but it's a lovely wide streamway that obviously floods right to the roof in wet weather — there is organic debris wrapped around stalactites 3 m above the floor!
The sump is grim and foamy, as you'd expect, so we headed back upstream, taking a few photos and pausing by the inlet from Death's head for a hydrological experiment — in dry conditions, a size 8 welly fills in eight mississippis. If you see more water than this, be prepared to get wet!
Upstream, the lake series quickly began. Alex lead the way, whopping excitedly as he sunk first groin, then nipple deep. I followed, sticking to the edges to try and stay a bit higher, and Rhys followed, making high pitched squeals that sounded suspiciously like the mating calls of some small, red-arsed primate. After a few twists and turns we came to an excellent obstacle - almost neck deep water with a low ceiling so that you had to tilt your head on the side to get through. If this is the streamway in dry conditions then it must be quite entertaining when it's rained! Rhys grabbed a few photos and we bailed before verifying the connection with Lost Johns'.
On the way out Rhys shot some good photos and we were soon back in the main chamber. The soup was solid, and needed some good licking to get it out of the flask, and Rhys grabbed some nice flash photos in the main chamber. We were out quite quickly and back to the minibus before the Notts crew. A really fun trip, which show how tough the Boxhead to Death's Head traverse would be — neoprene might be necessary, and probably advanced knowledge of the Boxhead to Lost Johns' route.
Inspired by mine, Alex's and Perry's traversal of Leck Fell yesterday I was keen to see more of the Leck Fell System. Alex and I had pored over a few maps in the evening and decided that Death's Head looked good. Not too hard and with a supposed connection to Lost Johns' and Boxhead on the correct side of the sumps in the master stream.
A relaxed start to the day saw a cheeky visit to Inglethief. Jack picked up some new wellies. I felt up some neofleece undersuits. We dropped off a collection of retrobates who wanted to spend the day buying milk from Ingleton and walking back to the NPC. Perverts. Fours of us continued in the bus to Leck Fell. Me, Alex, Jack and Diss arrived to find the rest of ICCC already there and changed, having been given a lift by DW and Pete.
We got changed and wandered across the fell, in the opposite direction to normal. Death's Head is a fairly obvious shakehole in a fenced off enclosure (see the cave page for more deets). I was tasked with rigging down. The first belay is a fence post and from there you are in quite an exposed position straight away. I choose to believe the farmers on Leck are aware of what their posts are used for and dig them suitable foundations. Then a tree belay to get you over the edge properly and into the big shaft. I had to wait a while for Jack to bring me the second bag of rope that I remembered I'd need. A y-hang and dev off in-situ tat gets you to a pile of loose boulders. A small traverse and then final little hang gets you to the traditional bottom of Death's Head.
I ended up here for a long time. Diss had some difficulties near the top of the shaft. Jack went up to check on her and some time later he was back. Diss decided to exit, not really feeling the trip. Alex dropped down and we contemplated the dig. A 10m deep square shaft descends into the rubble at the side of the chamber. It's wood and corrugated metal walls bulging against the pipes. Contrary to the Eurospeleo/CNCC description there are p-bolts. Despite there unknown provinence I rigged down.
A crawl, a climb down (see cave page for deets) and a wander a long a small streamway. A final little pitch drops into the master cave. This is also p-bolted. We had rope and maillons (and hangers) but the in-situ tat looked good enough for the 4m drop so down we went, ditching our last rope bag.
In the streamway we stomped down stream until the roof lowered and we decided we were at the sump. Ducking down the passage did continue for a while with some air space but we were unwilling to do it. There is a sump down there somewhere. Back upstream I took some photos and we passed Death's Head inlet and continued. We very quickly got into the deep "lake". Hysterical squeeling and screeching followed as we plunged forward into the icy water. At some point the air space was barely enough for a head. Eventually our courage ran out and we decided to turn round. We think looking at the survey later that we weren't that far from the end of the "lake" and thereafter easy walking to Lost Johns. I took more photos on the way out.
Jack derigged. We got out in the final wisps of light.
Conclusion: Death's Head to the streamway is a lovely, not too hard trip. The streamay really makes it worthwhile. Death's Head to Boxhead is definitely an epic trip to be done in the future.
With more exploration of the Leck Fell system to come, I prepared myself with generous helpings of porridge for breakfast. Then the trips and teams were decided. Rhys made suggestive gestures at me across the table and mouthed what I interpreted as 'Death's Head', so we looked for others to join us. Jack and Diss were soon signed up, and in no time we were zooming along in the minibus. Arriving on the Fell we were greeted with the strangely good weather which seemed to be a fixture of winter tour this year. Disoriented by this, I nevertheless managed to change into my caving gear.
Death's head is on the other side of the road from Lost Johns' and many of the other caves we typically visit. It is reached by following the wall leading away from the parking places for roughly 500m. On the right of the wall are several large sinkholes, each with a resident tree and strung out in a line that moves towards you as you move along the wall from the road. Death's Head is the sinkhole roughly 50m from the wall. The doline slopes steeply inwards and is 10-15m across, with half of this diameter occupied with an intimidating 65m vertical open shaft.
Rhys led the way, rigging off the least wobbly of the fence posts and down to the tree perched precariously on the edge. From there he disappered down into the depths, reassuring us with reports of how terrifyingly open and deep the shaft was. Jack bravely followed and reassured Diss and I with reports of how he was 'adjusting' the rigging. With a brave face Diss soon followed and I continued after her, navigating my way past the tree and trying not to knock debris down on the others. All was going well when Diss hit a snag at one of the rebelays 15m down; her short cow's tail was proving difficult to unclip. I peered down from just below the tree and tried to to guide her through the various techniques for tackling rebelays. With stoicism she attempted all of these and eventually managed to free the cow's tail, but unfortunately encountered another problem as the rope locking her descender had managed to bind itself down under her weight. Opting to turn back she headed out. So after ensuring she could get into the minibus safely I continued on down.
The bottom of the pitch consists of a slope of boulders, at the bottom of which is a 10m drop into a large chamber in which another boulder slope leads further down to a dark corner. Here a fearful sight meets the eye: scaffolding, boards of wood, the lot. All formed into a shaft puncturing 10m through the rubble and ending with a crawl.
On arrival in the chamber I found Rhys and Jack waiting patiently. After updating them on the events closer to the surface we decided to press on and sent Rhys down the scaffolding to see if it would collapse. Finding that it didn't, we figured it was probably safe and so followed carefully down the rope. The crawl at the bottom led on down a short handline climb into a walking passage complete with a stream. This we followed until it soon emerged 2m up the wall of the Leck Fell master stream passage.
Once in the streamway we opted first to go downstream and find the sump. The passage was easily navigable and we quickly made our way along. All too apparent were the sinister signs of flooding: walls coated with a thin layer of mud and small stalagtites protruding from the ceiling wrapped in bits of organic debris. Shortly we reached deeper water draped in a layer of scum that indicated we weren't welcome here. The passage didn't visibly sump but, not being especially interested in locating the precise point at which it did, we turned back and retraced our steps to the Death's Head inlet.
Back at the inlet we started our way upstream. The survey shows this obstructed part way along by a large feature referred to as 'The Lake'. Soon enough the passage dipped down and the water deepened. This would have been an ideal place for turning around while dry, but I was eager to explore as far as we could. Thus, I waded on in. The water was icy and quickly made its way up my body. I kept the others up to date on its progress though high-pitched squealing and it was not long before they added their own contribution to this surreal chorus. Wading through was a strange and disturbing experience. We were neck deep in murky water, and each step was taken not knowing how deep the floor would go. Further to this, the mud on the bottom formed a thick but ill defined layer. As your foot descended through the water the increasing density of mud added a gradually increasing resistance to its motion until half a meter later it reached the bottom.
We progressed through the lake for a while, following it around several bends but with no end in sight. Remembering vaguely from the survey that it went on for a long way I decided to quell my enthusiasm to explore and figured it would be sensible to turn back rather than risking hypothermia. Looking back later at the survey we realised we must have been most of the way through. Ah well.
So turning around we made our way back through the icy water and eventually to relative dryness. Eager to hurry out and avoid becoming too cold we headed back up quicky and reached the surface in time to see the last hints of light leave the sky before darkness took full hold.
Overall the trip was fairly straightforward and an interesting addition to our exploration of the system. Having now travelled from both ends of the master cave the possibility of a Boxhead to Death's Head trip (BoxDeath?) is a distinct and tempting one indeed...
I do love Notts! We fettled the rope, stuffing six tackle sacks of rope was taking time, so the minibus headed off earlier, and we went in Dave W and Pete's cars. A bag each, Dave led us direct to the entrance, and Will started off the rigging. I kept with him until the Central Route / Left hand split, and then left Will in Dave's capable hands rigging central, while I shot off with James into the Left-hand Route (Twilight), with James hauling the first 'deep' bag.
I really like Twilight, you just sort of drift up and up and up, p-bolt to p-bolt. And then a lovely hang down to a profusion of P-bolts, and rebelay into the next shaft. I tried to drop it directly, and ran out of rope! Finally getting around to consulting the rigging topol in my pocket, I saw I missed the swing into a window, so cracked out my jammers.
We dropped direct into the streamway, with some noise of the Central crew, but no lights. So set off with the first bag, and went hunting for the P-bolts. This took us quite a while, due to not climbing up to the crazy heights of the P-bolt traverse line!
Rigged out to the 'tri-hang', whereupon Will had caught us up with the 'Deepest' rope bag. In spite of spending a lot of time fettling with my tri-hang in rather restricted (on a lovely double Bowline), when I descended it wasn't that great to be honest. Y-hang and a deviation probably more sensible.
Swung in, clipped off, and Will soon joined with the next rope bag, did the rather spider-acrobat like rigging of the last traverse, popped up to the hang and then called the boys of summer over. Abseiled into the main shaft, deviated to the P-bolt, and found that I had enough left in the 60 m we brought to (just!) rig the final pitch as well. Everything down Notts was a lot smaller than I remembered; maybe those memories formed as a Fresher made it more epic?
We all had a little sit in the side passage to the static sump, gawped at the foam in the main downstream one, Will plunged to his hip into that deep rift of depth. A couple of photos to prove we'd been there, and then a speedily consistent exit with myself derigging the lower-stream pitches (and their enormous traverses, using my doubled-up jammers on cows-tails), and then James doing Central, and Will doing the entrance pitches.
Four bags between three, so we helped each other out the entrance pitches (hauling up the main-chamber pitch worked really well, and then passing up the short-climb), and then out for half six. A lovely 6.5 hrs!
The vis was pretty fantastic, the bright lights of Kirkby-Lonsdale (?) twinkling prettily in the distance.
Back to an empty minibus, a quick Grade II change in the lee of the minibus (the drizzle had let up), and then a drive home to find the rice just being put on for the dahl.
Lovely little trip!
Little Hull: Dave Kirkpatrick, Tanguy Racine, Zoe Young, Natalie, Lydia
There was a sense that too many of us had been down Notts 1 recently to warrant a full exchange there. To split the groups and keep the numbers down in each cave, Jack, Alex, Rhys and Rebecca went to Deaths Head hole, while a smaller rigging group planned a two-way exchange in Notts with the cavers who hadn’t done it in a while. With Lydia and Natalie of NUCC, Dave, Zoe and I drove to Horton in Ribblesdale to go down Little Hull pot. In the carpark I found out I hadn’t packed wellies, so Dave drove back to the NPC while we got changed, picked up a pair of size ten boots (not mine) and one of his own he’d forgotten and came back.
We walked the direct way to Pen-y-ghent from Horton, taking about 45min to reach the entrance. Once on the moor no time was wasted finding the entrance and in little time, we started the entrance crawl then streamway to the first pitch. I rigged the lovely SRT route to the bottom of the first pitch, and carried on to the traverse leading to the second, 35m pitch. Lydia and Natalie negotiated the pitches superbly. Zoe, having only done one more trip took a bit more time at the more challenging rebelays, but got down in the end. In the meantime, I whipped out my recorder as well as the two-person bothy I’d gleaned from Ben the day before. It was put to good use.
The last, and only time we’d gone down, we followed the cascading stream to a drippy, tight rift and an uninviting duck. This time, determined to avoid this experience I rigged a handline down to the dry, upstream continuation of the rift, away from the spray and draught of the large pitch. The passage was well decorated, and closed down where a large white calcite flowstone barred any further progress. This was as good a reward as any so we turned around there, making a steady way out as I took a few pictures, and Natalie derigged the entrance pitch.
After that we walked down to the car, and drove back to a full NPC, and a less full pot of Dahl, courtesy of Arun. Later that night, a large survey of Gaping Ghyll was recovered from what I assume is a treasure chest in the attic of the cottage, which led to an intense discussion about the ways in and out of the main chamber, the various crawls that led to it. Celia let me know that her only caving day the previous year had been to that system, and that she’d enjoy doing something else on the morrow. A vague plan to go to Rowten with Dave Kp was thus formed in the darkest corner of the common room.
|Ben, Perry, J Dubz
In the morning I was not feeling the walk up to Ghaping Ghyll. Over the course of the morning various novel entrances were suggested (Henselers? Car?) and a big laminated survey pored over. We gradually culled our list and settled on Marilyn as our novel new entrance, Stream as something exciting to rig and the old classic Bar.
I asked to rig Bar, feeling like a sightly easy day. I was also keen to try to take some decent photos in the main chamber and to that end Jack brought his flash as well. We had a vague plan that us Bar cavers would try and go up to where Marilyn drops in, locate that group, then the joined groups would wander down to Stream to find the Streamers (or meet in the main chamber).
The walk up was fairly pleasant, cool enough that I didn't need to strip excessively on the way. The farmer was about and confirmed that we should head up the way he told us to last time, to the West of the woods. At Bar we hid the key and everyone else dispersed. I started rigging. Larry began by having his helmet not working. As I rigged I walked him through wiggling various contacts and wires. It started working and down I went.
We got down to the bottom. I nipped off to rig the traverse round Flood whilst Diss descended. We then headed into the other aven chamber. On the left wall at the lowest point of the chamber is a disgusting muddy crawl. This is very definitely not the correct way to Hensler's Master cave and thereafter Marilyn. It is very definitely grim as balls. Slightly higher up the passage and again on the left is a smooth, well polished crack in the wall that leads immediately to a flat out cobbly crawl. This eventually increases to hands and knees as you pop out into a small stream. Supposedly the way through to the master cave is somewhere in here but I found it a bit labyrinthian and after forcing myself into three or four muddy tubes and wet bedding plains I bailed. Diss and Larry had followed me in and also did not seem like they were having a great time.
Back near Bar we sat, ate chocolate, drank water and contemplated our poor life decisions. Slightly reinvigorated we began on the usual route past Flood and into the, by comparison, very pleasant crawls. Diss and Larry both had a go following the draught. They did well, both having a nose for cold fresh air, or perhaps having a nose against the fetid air that quickly built up around us with our 4 day unwashed furries and wetsocks.
We got to the junction where Stream comes in and after a brief stop we went off to find Ben and his presumable bedraggled crew. I have apparently been in Stream a couple of times but I had no memory of the route. Only flashbacks to thundering waterfalls and vaguely inadequate deviations. Luckily I had been listening in to DW talking to Ben in the morning and remembered some of his sage advice. At the end of Sand Cavern (the large passage beyond the crawl) there are two climbs you can do. The one at the end of the passage is much nicer. Veer right in the crawl and then hug the right wall in the passage beyond. Eventually a large hole appears. Skirt round to the left and you'll find the stream of Stream. Up stream, ducking under a waterfall and then a second and a climb through a small hole brings you to the dry aven where the Stream rigging ends.
I shouted up but got no response. Diss, Larry and I turned round, preparing to go to the main chamber. Half way back we bumped into Jack. His group had successfully navigated the grim crawls beyond bar, had picked up the bag we left (forgot) and come to find Ben also. They apparently though we were somewhere in the Master cave thinking that the bag they found was a deliberate sign we'd left them.
A conversation later and Alex was heading with Diss and Larry to the main chamber and then I assume a bimble up mud hall. I led Jack and Will to Stream. As it happened an ayoh this time recieved a reply from a distant Ben. Jack, Will and I sang and screamed abuse at them for a while until Ben landed next to us angelically. Then, in the spirit of our amorphous blob of teams, Will led me and Ben to the main chamber. Jack, Perry and J Dubz following.
In the main chamber Alex's team returned from Mud hall jut as we arrived and Jack wasn't far behind. We drank an awful lot of soup carefully carried down in thermoses (a brilliant idea btw). I took some photos. Then we split amorphous blobally again. Jack and I were derigging Stream. We bombed it to the first pitch, and then sped up. We encountered Ben's first attempts at unsupervised rigging. It was interesting, adding a nice challenge. In the context of the airy intimidating traverses of Stream it was impressive work.
At some point I took the mega bag with maybe 120m of rope. This was severely unpleasant. I had a lot of trouble traversing with it. Even walking in the streamway was really awful. Lets not take these bags for anything again. The last pitch is a bit twatty and tight but thanks to my excellence I didn't have much tourble getting myself and the mega bag up through it. A final wiggle up the metal tube disgorged us into the darkest night for 500 years, or so the Guardian claims (new moon + solstice?). We meandered back via Bar, Jack nearly losing his wanky new wellies in a deep viscous swamp of mud.
We established audio contact with Diss, who said they were okay. We briefly considered checking on the Marilyn crew but decided to trust the competency of them. Down the suspicously long path to Clapham. We saw the usual weird lights above the gorge. We didn't hear the usual axe murderer by the river. Changed, got picked up by DKP.
Back at the NPC the Great Christmas dinner was, as Tanguy promised, great. Very very good. Gosh, what a day.
Gaping Ghyll is a great cave, but I've done the whole Flood-Bar thing quite a lot recently and wasn't feeling it. DW had produced an incredible laminated survey of the system the night before, and despite its age I began to be entranced by the sheer size, far more than I had ever seen going to the main chamber, especially the Hensler's Master Cave.
In the morning I perused the rigging guides, looking at Marilyn, Disappointment and Hensler's. Jarv and DW hadn't done Hensler's, and I was worried that it would be too hard for us, given that we wanted to do some exchanges. Disappointment looked a bit nasty as well cos there was a nasty duck, but Jarv remembered doing it and said that apart from being a bit loose it was fine. After persuading Rhys to go down Bar we were all set for a great trip, with Ben taking his debut leading trip down Stream (which I didn't appreciate at the time!).
Marilyn is easy to find — from the double stiles, follow the wall to the east (right looking at Ingleborough). There are a series of shakeholes close to the wall — the second one I checked out was the right one. There is a really cool metal grid about 1.5 m wide that hinges in the middle. The half that folds up has a metal bar attached that goes back at 45 degrees and is held upright by a thick pin. Terrifyingly, the first y-hang is off this upright lid.
Marilyn was still rigged from Eurospeleo, with nice orange spanset but rather rusted maillons. We hummed and hahed and decided to go with the in situ rope, leaving our 50 m entrance rope coiled up at the top. Will remarked that this was fine as I was testing the rope first — I feel he's really getting the morbid sense of humour that typifies the club.
It's a bit tight in the entrance pitch, and quite loose, so loose that Will dropped his pantin on my head. A couple of short rebelays and I was down, Will hot on my heels. The second pitch was rigged as well, so we left the rope bag at the end of the traverse with a healthy lashing of maillons and plunged down. This pitch is very very loose, and so, despite the rebelay, I waited until to the bottom before calling rope free to Will. He came down, dislodging some good size rocks, but Alex really excelled at gardening, with some terrifying thuds that we avoided by sitting in the downstream side passage.
The upstream passage looks grim and leads to Disappointment, but downstream is easy and we soon got to another pre-rigged pitch and left our final rope bag behind. The streamway developed nicely, with lovely scalloping and excellent formations, including helictite encrusted straws. None of the pitches were long or hard, and the final one into the Disappointment Aven had a hanging rebelay 2 m below the first y-hang that was a bit tough, but we were down to the bottom only 90 minutes after starting. Thanks Eurospeleo. Theurospeleo.
There are a few equally nasty ways to crawl down into the Hensler's Master Cave, but they all meet up into a low crawl over cobbles that soon opens out into a bigger streamway. There's a cairn that marks this tributary, and the way to Bar Pot is left, upstream. This quickly degenerates to a flat out crawl with a wet cobbled floor and a bedding plane above. Occasionally the stream rejoins, but in the general the trick is to go straight on and not get distracted by side passages. At one point the dry passage drops into the wet crawl and there is a stalactite and a stalagmite very close, which is a good marker to look for on the way back — it indicates that you should climb out the water into the grim bedding plane crawl.
Eventually you reach a clear choice of a wet awful crawl on the left and a horrific squeeze on the right. Take the squeeze — it's well polished and also scratched by SRT kit, and pops out into the aven next to Bar Pot. Here we found Rhys' thermos of soup. We concocted elaborate scenarios in which his team had passed us in Hensler's Master cave, but it turns out they'd got spooked by the crawl and abandoned their tackle sack. We spent twenty minutes building a beautiful clay phallus and carved DOGGERS into a clay surface we'd constructed just for the purpose so they knew we'd stolen their soup. We decided to push on and find the Stream team.
I'd not been to stream, but I had an old laminate of a GG survey that was almost completely useless, so armed only with an untarnishable self-confidence I lead Will and Alex deeper into unknown territory, occasionally pointing out landmarks that I had no right to identify. Soon we met up with Rhys, who had failed to find Ben's team, and Alex took Diss and Larry to explore the main chamber whilst Rhys lead us to Stream so that we knew the way.
After waiting in the Stream Aven for a while, we were about to leave when we heard a faint reply to our Ey-Oh. We waited for a while, singing many songs and teaching Will 'On Ilkley Moor' with all the frills. Eventually Ben arrived and Rhys and Will went off with him to the main chamber. Perry and Jimmy Dubz showed up soon after and we powered through at a manic pace. I got lost a few times, enthusiastically pushing myself through well polished flat out crawls that generations of navigationally challenged morons had pushed themselves through before.
We all met up at the right time, ate all the delicious soup and Rhys got some truly awesome photos with two flashes and some long exposure light painting. After a protracted fight about who got to go out the horrific crawl to Marilyn — I must be really persuasive given how awful it was — it ended up with Rhys and I derigging Stream. I'd never been in or out this way, so I was very keen to learn more about the system.
Stream is pretty tough stuff, and I was immediately impressed that Ben had managed so well. Some y-hangs could have been bowlines-on-the-bite instead of the standard fig-8 + alpine cos the traverse line needed to be easier to clip into, but the traverse lines were tight and otherwise the rigging was fine, just fine. I gleefully passed Rhys a huge tackle sack of rope that I'd been carefully curating for a couple of pitches, and I was gratified to see how much it slowed him down. The entrance climb is a bit twatty, but we were soon on the surface.
I confidently lead us SE using a compass, based on a half remembered google earth image from the morning, but after a while (and a deep bog where I almost lost a welly) Rhys decided to check the wanky GPS Ben had lent to us, and we corrected to go more East. Soon we were at Bar Pot, and we took the paper heart and the keys from the box. Diss responded to an ey-oh, so we powered down the hill, collected by DKP and whisked back to the hut for tea, medals and an extremely delicious Christmas dinner cooked by Tanguy, DW, Jarv and many others.
I really enjoyed doing two new entrances on the same trip — it made me appreciate the huge scale of the Gaping Ghyll system, and also makes me more useful on future trips. Marilyn is a bit tough, but not that much worse than Flood and probably comparable to Stream, and a worthy addition to the Gaping Ghyll oeuvre.
Tuesday was my last day of winter tour before returning home on Wednesday. We'd spent the previous evening looking at a large survey of Gaping Gill that DW had produced from a dark corner of the NPC and so had several parts of it we were keen to explore. Jack in particular was interested in Marilyn Pot, an entrance we hadn't attempted before, so I keenly joined him and Will in this endeavour.
The journey up the slopes of Ingleborough was tedious as usual but we stuck it out. Marilyn has a small entrance and while lacking a large doline has a distinctive entrance. This consists of a large metal grille which simultaneously acts as a cover and an initial belay. Jack quickly located it along with the welcome addition of some not-too-suspect rope which we figured was left over from Eurospeleo. Aside from a slight delay due to issues with Will's helmet we were soon on our way down, much hastened by the pre-rigged route.
Despite the relative speed at which we could travel I had little patience for the route. Tired from the previous days' caving the tight pitches, confined spaces and abundance of loose material wasn't much appreciated. Nevertheless after a few pitches the passage seemed to be improving and soon we entered some rather spectacular chambers.
But good things never last and soon enough the passage closed down and we were stooping, then on hands and knees and finally flat out crawling. It didn't help that this was through a stream. Pretty grim going, but thankfully it didn't last too long and we emerged into a nice streamway. We followed this along for a while until the passage again closed down and the crawling began again. It seems to me that crawling is never far away in Gaping Gill. Finally, through an especially tight section we reached darkness at the end of the tunnel, in the form of a large chamber that turned out to be right next to the bottom of Bar pot. Here we spotted a tackle sack containing the soup thermos flasks which had clearly been left by the Bar team. Why they had done this we couldn't fathom, but nevertheless we took it and figured we would see if we could find Ben's team who were supposed to be coming down via Stream. Jarv had cautioned us earlier about the maze of passages linking stream with the rest of the system so we thought it wise to make sure they were able to get through.
Will and I had been down Stream before, so in theory knew the way there. This knowledge proved unnecessary however as Jack appeared to have a sixth sense for route-finding and having never been that way before somehow led us there. Just before arriving we bumped into the Bar team, led by Rhys on their way back. They had apparently travelled that way and, not seeing or hearing any sign of the Stream team, had decided to return. Wanting to see this for themselves, Jack and Will persuaded them to try again. I wasn't enthusiastic about this myself, so I joined Diss and Larry to go and explore the main chamber.
Keen to take the pressure off my poor memory, I let Diss and Larry do most of the route finding there and aside from some obscure turnings they successfully discovered the way. While an impressive sight, the main chamber of Gaping Gill isn't a desireable place to spend much time as the spray and draughts from the waterfall make a good recipe for getting cold. Instead we opted to do a bit more poking around than normal. We had two leads of interest - Jack had mentioned that there was an interesting dig to see opposite the main entrance, and there was also the route into Mud Hall which we had spotted yesterday on the survey. After looking around for a bit we opted to find the dig, and went up an unstable looking boulder slope into a muddy corner. As promised the dig was impressive, complete with tracks for efficiently removing debris. Diss and Larry didn't seem too keen to explore this much further so we turned back and returned to the main chamber.
The next thing to look at being Mud Hall, we stared at a second unstable looking boulder slope in the far eastern corner of the chamber. From the bottom there were no obvious routes on, but I suggested taking a closer look. After exploring for a bit we realised that there was a dodgy looking ladder leading off from the top into further passage. Larry lead the way up this and we emerged into a reasonably sized passage featuring plenty of formations and a fairly strong draught. Following the draught we continued through the galleries and past a large amount of speleothem. After about 10 minutes, the passage widened and finally we emerged into Mud Hall.
In contrast to the Gaping Gill main chamber with its thundering waterfalls, Mud Hall is silent, dry and serene. We emerged into the still blackness on a platform about 20m from the bottom and gazed around at the distant walls. The chamber seemed to be divided into two large pits by a section of floor which rose up 10m. From the entrance a muddy traverse line leads off to the right along the wall for 10m to a bolt. Here a chain acts as a handline down a smooth mud slope to the raised floor. Diss and I gazed around at the chamber, while Larry keenly traversed along the line and looked down the chain. I didn't feel like attempting this with the risk of not being able to return so suggested we turn back.
On arriving at the ladder into the main chamber we spotted lights below and hurried down to meet the others, who it turned out had also just arrived. It seemed Ben's team had descended Stream without incident, meeting the others shortly after our departure. Glad of this good timing and of the warm soup, we stood around as Rhys took some photos with his flashy new flashes and we made arrangements for returning. Decidedly keen on avoiding Marilyn I opted to de-rig Bar and stay with Larry and Diss. Without further ado we exited hastily, not realising that we were supposed to take one of the tackle sacks...
The return journey was largely uneventful, with Diss and Larry ascending speedily ahead of me while I followed and de-rigged as fast as I could. The greasy slab didn't prove much of an obstacle when presented with extra shoulder footholds and soon enough we were at the entrance pitch which, following Rhys' advice, I ascended first to help the others with the squeeze at its head. Being fairly slim, the others made it through fine and I extracted this last rope before emerging on the surface. Here we attempted to deal with the lack of a tackle sack for it so Larry and I spent a while entertaining Diss by failing to tie various knots. Noticing that she was getting cold we gave up and Larry valiantly volunteered to carry it down. We spotted a couple of the Marilyn team who had exited already and hearing that all was well continued down the hill.
An hour later we arrived back in Clapham and changed by the van. Soon enough the Marilyn team joined us and we hastily made our way back to the NPC. There, a feast awaited us in the form of a huge and delicious Christmas dinner which was thoroughly appreciated and a fitting end to an equally enjoyable winter tour. Though it must be said that the dinner didn't involve quite as much crawling.
Rowten Pot: Celia Tinsley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Tanguy Racine
The plan to go to Rowten suited me perfectly: the day was sunny, the group small, the cave appealing. We would be out before sunset, in time to prepare the Christmas dinner.
Rowten is found on West Kingsdale east of the Turbary road, a massive two-part shake hole. The Eyehole route starts from a small pavement bordering the southern, smaller entrance, away from the water.
I rigged the entire cave, as one is always on the ropes going down the various big pitches, across the various pendula and along the various traverses. For the first time I noticed that the natural light penetrated to the far wall of the second, main pitch. I also spotted the P-bolts which help split this pitch in half (in two P20s). This was rigged on the way up only, as I did want to deprive myself from the great super abseil of the P40, away from all the walls of the shaft.
At the very bottom of the last pitch, as I readied my photography gear I realised that I had left my SD card in my Macbook in the NPC after a photo session the previous evening. Photos of the Rowten sumps would wait! The bottom of the cave is a small clean washed stream on very white, scalloped rock. The sump pool is deep, dark and red-brown, but otherwise clean and inviting. Only 8m to the Kingsdale Master Cave…
On the way out, we were treated to the beacon of Venus to the south, with the fading sunlight in the direction of Marble steps and Leck Fell. Whilst waiting for DKp to emerge with a stash of tackle sacks I wandered across the Turbary road in search for the Rowten caves, and found one of them: a 100m streamway cave ending for me at a grim duck. The stream carries its course underneath the road and down the Rowten scar.
On the drive back we were treated to the Moldau from Smetana on the radio, which finishes with a vomit inducing series of major chords. This is recommended before a large meal. Back at the NPC however we saw that Jarv and DW had spent hours slaving away at the kitchen with the help of Arun and Zoe. The roast promised to be memorable!
Rowten Cave: Tanguy Racine
This is my shameless attempt at getting another 'cave' added to my tally. Rowten cave was fine, just fine.
Rescue Training: Ben, Rhys, Tanguy, Jack, Will, Arun
The annual rescue training with Tony Seddon was really useful. The classroom was closed at Ingleborough Hall, so we spent the entire day outside at the SRT tower. Despite the rain and freezing cold, Tony kept us warm with lots of tough exercises.
First we practised taking someone down to the bottom of a pitch if they were stuck on a rope whilst descending. We began by rigging a second, rescue rope down from a strong point (A krab through both loops of a bowline on a bight), descending down and clipping the casualty in with our short cowstail, releasing the casualty's descender and then going to the ground. We discussed this and realised that it's unlikely that the rescue rope would be long enough to reach the bottom of many pitches, so we instead descended to the casualty, clipped ourselves into their harness with a cowstail and then used their descender to descend, ensuring we were on a rope that was definitely long enough to reach the bottom.
Along with this we practised increasing the friction on our descenders to account for two body weights - first with an extra krab clipped onto the rope above the descender and the rope coming out of the braking krab to form a little zig zag that provides more friction, and secondly with an S+C rig, rigging a standard S on the descender plus an extra C. We found the krab method quite difficult to get right at the krab would often move into a difficult place, but unlike the S+C method you can at least do it mid-rope.
After this we got onto something I've always wanted to know how to do — passing a rebelay with a casualty. We descended again to the casualty, clipped in and descended with their descender. At the rebelay, we clipped our descender into their harness and rigged it to the rope below. Then we descended such that the lower descender took our weight and derigged the higher descender, effectively passing the rebelay without cowstails - very efficient!
No session is complete without the annual sacrifice of old club rope. First we descended on a rescue rope, clipped the casualty to our harness and cutting their rope before descending to the ground. There was a lot of discussion about which way to cut to avoid stabbing either yourself of the casualty, so that's worth thinking about.
Tony had one casualty on the rope and another at the top. We rigged a descender to a strong point and put a rope with an inverted hand jammer through, which we pushed as far down the rope with the casualty on as possible. Then we cut the rope with the casualty and lowered them to the ground using the descender. A good technique when it's difficult or dangerous to get to the casualty, with obvious limitations on rebelays and rope lengths.
All of these techniques are great if you're above the other person or have a spare rope, but that's often not the case. This time we started below a casualty who was attempting to prussik up. We prussiked up until we could clip our short cowstail into their maillon, then removed our hand jammer and undid their shock cord. Using either our pantin or their footloop (their hand jammer is still on the rope) we gout our croll as high as possible, preferably touching. Then we rigged their descender to the rope below both crolls, and checked the cowstail was still clipped in. It was found to be best clipped on the gate side of the casualty's croll.
At this point things got a bit physical. By thrusting up with the thighs and lunging back with your core, you can generate enough upward thrust to release the casualty's croll. Loosening your chest harness is useful here. At this point, the casualty will slide gently onto the descender. All that's left to do is release your croll using the footloop of their hand jammer (the hand jammer is left behind) and slide down, connected by your cowstail to their central maillon and hence their descender. Then descend as before! Quite involved, with multiple changes of stance - first your thighs below, then above, then below again — it's like the karma sutra with more krabs.
We finished up with the Spanish Pendulum. Here you're above the casualty, but have no spare rope or pulleys. Rig a chain of four krabs from the strong point with the last clipped into the rope below. Clip your short to the rope between the lowest krab and the strong point. Load your short, then rig your hand jammer inverted to the rope below. Feed your footloop through your central maillon and put it on your foot — your central maillon acts as a pulley. This works best with dyneema footloops, and poorly with footloops made of tape with plenty of knots. The tough bit here is to 'break through' and get your short cowstail to pull a bight of rope through the lowest krab. With a bit more struggling you can clip your handjammer to the rope the normal way up and then put your croll on as well, effectively treating the final krab as a pulley. At this point you simply pull the person up, which is utterly exhausting. A good end to a great session, but a technique that I'd definitely hesitate to bust out in a real situation!
We didn't learn any pulley jammer techniques this year, possibly because Tony saw us practising them as he arrived and concluded that we were good enough. I think it's actually more reasonable to lower someone to the ground and reassess the situation there, as pulley jammers have many potential pitfalls with getting people stuck on the rope under waterfalls etc. if the rescuer cannot properly release the casualty.
Back at the hut we ate a now classic pilaf and prepared for our final day of caving.
County to Wretched Rabbit:Dave Wilson, James Wilson, Larry Jiang, Stephanie Ford, Zoe Young
Lancaster Hole: Jack Hare, James Perry, Rhys Tyers, Zoe Young
I'm bad at cave photography, despite having spent hundreds of pounds on peli cases and flashes. Part of the problem is that I never take the time to get good at it — when I'm caving I always want to get going instead of hanging around perfecting a shot. When I complained about this to Rhys he suggested a dedicated photography session, and on Friday it seemed like a good time. Plenty of tired novices, even more tired leaders and Leaders and we were headed to Easegill. Tanguy suggested the hard-to-spell Colonnades just near Lancaster Hole, so Rhys, Perry, Zoe and I popped down there.
After a bit of entertaining route finding (we went the wrong way (left) before Kath's Way, before doubling back to the Colonnades) we got to our main goal, only five minutes caving from the bottom of Lancaster Hole. The Colonnades are impressive, 3-4 m high white calcite pillars, around five or so, up a short free climb from Bridge cavern. There's plentiful tape and a passive aggressive sign, as befits formations of such beauty and importance, and I was eager to get started. After spending a few minutes with the firefly on the wrong way round on the hot shoe, I finally got a blinding burst of light from the flash and we were away.
Perry was holding the flash in a thick ziploc bag to keep out the mud, and he patiently positioned himself as I tried to line up some good shots. The tape is quite restrictive, so there aren't many angles to choose from, which was actually helpful. Rhys suggested using a large F number to avoid focusing issues, and the lowest ISO possible - the exposure time is irrelevant with a flash, so there aren't actually many dials to twiddle. I got the settings right quite quickly and bashed out a few dozen shots from the same stance with minor variations. I moved myself and Perry around a bit, and was quite happy with the results.
Half an hour later, it seemed like time to go. We plunged down Kath's way to Fall Cavern, found a dodgy in situ rope to the bottom and were soon in the drippy chamber there. Rhys and I went to scout out the streamway so we could find our way out later, and the corkscrewing climb was quite easy to spot from the polish. At the bottom I built a small cairn on a sand bank and we noted a jet of water coming in from left-down-stream and a lot of water coming from the ceiling as our major landmarks.
Back above, and we climbed into the high passage and went along to Stake Pot. On the other side, Rhys took loads of photos of the Painter's Palette formations. We both have Yongnuo Speedlite III or IV flashes now, which have built in radio receivers, so Rhys was triggering them with his radio transmitter on the camera hot shoe. With both Perry and I as flash operators he had a lot of parameter space to explore, but it looks like he got some nice shots.
We went back to Stake Pot and climbed down into the streamway. After only a few metres it was obvious that there was a lot of water, and we proceeded slowly, trying to ensure no one was washed away. At one point the water jets out into a deep pool. Rhys went first, swinging to left-down-stream and found a shallow spot, only chest deep. He pulled us sideways as we came through one by one, and so we avoided having to swim. Tanguy's group apparently missed this and got fully immersed.
Quite soon we were back at Fall Pot, and my cairn was now 10 cm under water - in only an hour the water level had risen dramatically, considering the stream is about 3 m wide at this point. Here Tanguy's group caught up with us, and we began to exit Fall pot together. They went for a bimble to the Colonnades to keep them moving, and my group exited and got back to the minibus.
Back to the hut for delicious Tanguy made pizza (Stilton and roast cauliflower, anyone?) and everyone was in bed very early, a testament to how tired we all were.
Top Sink > Lancaster Hole: James Wilson, Jim Evans, Larry Jiang, Tanguy Racine
Top Sink weighed heavily on my mind since the beginning of the tour. It looked like we had enough leaders to wrangle a pull-through trip from the uppermost entrance to the system but I’d never rigged such a thing as a pull-through before. After asking advice around the more experienced leaders I felt confident I could lead and find the way to Stop pot in the main system, one of the more memorable waypoints of the Easegill traverses I’d done before.
Jim, Larry and James W volunteered to come with me on this adventure, so we were eager to get started and packed the ropes for the pull-through. This last day of caving the weather turned for worse, with showers coming and going across the fells to the north. I eyed Casterton fell warily as Jim drove up to Bullpot farm but told myself that since Top Sink is active from the start, we could always double back before the pitches if the flow of water was higher than we were confortable with and enter through the other sinks.
As it happened, the Fell beck sank between Wretched Rabbit and County so the water level was still lower than the day before James remarked as we walked up. We then passed Pool Sink, spotting a plunge pool , which probably gave its name to the entrance. After that, the bed of the river widened, with broad flat terraces on either side. We spotted the entrance, on the true right handside of the beck, 80m upstream of a ruined sheepfold. Looking around, we could only see grassy hills rising in every direction and this entrance has a very remote feel about it.
Inside, crawling past a drippy chamber led to a nicely decorated meander until the stream disappeared into a tight meander on the right hand wall. Following at stream level, the passage twisted and twisted until the first pitch was met. There was a pre-rigged traverse line helping the swing into the crow’s nest, an alcove overlooking the dryer part of the pitch.
I rigged the pull-through rope, sent Larry down first, and descended last after testing the set-up. The rope fed through without any glitches, and at the bottom, Jim, Larry and James sped ahead to the second pitch, which was much shorter. Unfortunately I had the 50m rope on top of the bag and rigged the 5m drop with it. Cue more packing of the rope at the bottom, and then the fun of real navigation.
I won’t bother to describe the way to Stop Pot as it was a joy to do with the black book description for the Easegill traverse. With very little waiting around we ‘reached’ the bridge of sighs, then Nagasaki cavern and the Easter Grotto (which really is far upstream of Stop Pot: my suspicion is that there is a closer Easter Grotto-ish passage people are happy to stop at). Following that a lovely bit of streamway (Thackeray’s passage) leads to the main boulder strewn passage, which connects, with Stop Pot.
When we arrived at the ladder, we had a bit of hot squash and chocolate and carried on towards Lancaster Hole via the Minarets. This was easy going and in what seemed very little time, we faced Oxbow corner and the boulder ramp to the Main Drain. We picked our way through the boulder choke and started the sporting progress down the flumes and clean washed meanders. The going was very good until we reached Stake pot, where we had the option to climb back up onto Montague East passage, which was completely dry. We carried on at stream level however, and reached the deep pools, which had a churning current going round: the stream progressively got louder and stronger. We ploughed on until I started looking for the signal that we were underneath the Fall pot boulder choke.
There was no need for looking around too much: first we caught up with the other team (who’d gone in Lancaster hole for a round trip to see pretties), second the drip from the ceiling had turned into little streams spouting from all over the mess of boulders. I struggled through the choke with my big red tackle sack from the cold and exhaustion after a week’s worth of caving and the gallic accents of my combat against the rock led to much amusement above me.
The photography team decided to head out first, leaving us some time to bimble around the entrance and see the Colonnades for ourselves. Thankfully there were two ropes going up Fall Pot into Montague West, so we treated ourselves to a bit of exercise immediately after our streamway dunking session. As we kept moving inside the cave we never really warmed back up, waiting at the foot of the entrance pitch. The Colonnades were as impressive as the first time I’d seen them (though my attention span was reducing severely due to the onset of hypothermia).
Somewhat selfishly I volunteered to de-rig the entrance pitch of Lancaster Hole, therefore staying inside the cave for as long as possible. As I exited, I noticed a bothy bag neatly stashed by the concrete tube. Jim, James and Larry had got even colder, not noticing this delicate touch. We got back to Jim’s car anyway, where we changed out of our damp caving clothes for the last time this week.
I believe that the last time (and only) time I’d done the Top to Lancaster traverse, we had taken the wet way all the way to the Fall Pot boulder choke, but somehow avoided full immersion in the large pools of the stream, which made the exit easier. Going in Top Sink doesn’t add too much more technical caving: the SRT down is definitely very easy and short (a 20m followed by 5m), all the height lost comes from the long, shallow gradient streamways, which get progressively deeper, larger, stronger.
It is definitely a very good (hydrological) trip, starting off as an unassuming tight meander, which would be perfected by continuing the journey down the Main Drain to the master sump of Easegill. I’d very much like to see part of cave downstream of Fall Pot in the future, but I’d do it in drier weather.
An relatively early morning start to ensure that a certain Frenchman was voluntarily deported on time via Manchester airport. We were away even earlier than expected, well before 10am. Just 5 of us in the bus on the way back. We listened alternately to smooth jazz and Tim Minchin and, after everyone enjoyed a steak bake at the Knutsford services, discussed the possibility of an M6/M40 service station Greggs crawl.