Christopher Bradley, David Wilson, Jack Halliday, James Perry, Tanguy Racine, William French, Alex Lipp, Steven, Max Stunt
Bar Pot: Christopher Bradley, Jack Halliday, James Perry, Alex Lipp, Steven
Hurnel Moss Pot: David Wilson, Tanguy Racine, William French, Max Stunt
'You won't be going into Washfold today' said the old beardy Craven member, sitting opposite the coffee table. Horton in Ribblesdale, outside the window, a gentle drizzle clouds the horizon.
'I don't want to do Alum on a Saturday' added Jack. 'It will be extremely busy'. Fine. Drink some tea.
I go back to the kitchen to fill the mug from the kettle. I'd never been to the Craven hut before. Ivy Cottage is adjacent to a pub, and two narrow bridges with poor visibility. Naturally, the drying room and tackle stores are on the opposite side of the road.
'You might be able to get to Hurnel Moss'. Beardy is back next to me. 'Where is it?', I then ask.
Hurnel Moss is one of those caves I've never got around to do: a combination of long approach walk and descriptions including 'ends disappointingly' made sure it was never on top of the list of caves to do in the Gaping Gill area. In fact, the only time I'd heard it described was a couple of years ago when discussing photogenic pitches in the Dales.
We move to the OS map board and look up the cave entrance. I get the necessary indications to find it from the usual approach to Gaping Gill. Clearly it was not a cave for a 9 person group: there would be too much waiting around. A solution arises then, when we realise we can look up which permits are up for grabs on the online CNCC booking system. Bingo, Jack has never visited Gaping Gill before, and Bar Pot is available on the day.
I quickly book the permits, and we move on to packing the necessary ropes, while the breakfast washing up takes place. I watch amused as David struggled with Simon and a 90m rope with high degree of rigidity. My own rope is quite stiff, so I wet it in the Ribble. There we go! The drizzle relents a little as we set off towards Clapham.
The car park there is near empty, so we find a suitable spot and get changed. It surfaces that Jack has forgotten his undersuit. No matter, he puts thermals and fleece top, and then the PVC oversuit. We eventually set off, bags bulging with rope and metal, now eager to get underground.
'Are we there yet?' 'No'. 'Are we there yet', 'NO!'. 'Are we ...' 'Look, we cross that field, go up that little hillock and then we'll be close'. The usual long approach, through Clapdale farm and around the woods, finally leads to a relatively featureless moor. We continue in the direction of Gaping Gill until the very last shallow valley before the one where all the entrances to the system are located.
There we split up: David, William, Max and I veer left and vaguely upstream, while Jack, Chris, Alex, Steven and Perry continue on to Bar Pot. We wish each other good luck, a happy trip and all that goes with it, and part ways. For us going to Hurnel Moss, the first challenge is of course to find the cave entrance; a cave entrance to which none of us had ever been before.
Relying on the surprisingly sparse but tremendously good value instructions from the beardy caver of the Craven, we go upstream to a vague step up in the landscape (which represents the start of the - oh no you're not going to do another geological interpretation are you? - fine), and find several shakeholes. One has a bit of scaffoling, but looks relatively abandoned, the next, appears to be a properly active dig (which was mentioned by the Craven caver by the by). Armed with the knowledge that apparently the dig is a couple hundred metres of the entrance to Hurnel Moss, we start looking around that area.
A deep and obviously blind valley catches my eye, I hop over soon discovering the sound of a sizeable stream sinking below the cap of - you won't do another geological comment, now will you? - anyway, there is the cave entrance.
The rushing stream goes off under a bedding pl... - well at the time it was impossible to follow more than three metres in, but on the other side of the shakehole and beyond clear evidence of not so recent collapse a rectangular entrance beckoned.
David wants to rig, so he dives in with the tackle sack and reports the presence of another rope. Pirates! We all follow suit, getting down the constricted first pitch head without too many tangles and drop on a fairly loose cobble slope. Water pisses out of every crack. Clearly, the entrance stream is only diverted on the first pitch!
But David goes on and finds the start of the first traverse. We look in awe as he spiders his way on the minuscule ledge and progresse out and away from the water to the far side of the shaft where the walls come close together again. He rounds a corner and soon shouts 'Rope free'. Now Max follows on the acrobatic traverse and also starts the descent.
Bridging the shaft, I look down and see David starting to rig the second traverse a long way below. Max joins him and it's my turn to descend. Delighted at the beautiful Y-hang David rigged, I go down, peering at the massive waterfall next to me. Unfortunately, the water hits a very small ledge and sends spray down the last five metres or so of the hang. Accelerate, touch down, jump away from the water nimbly, aah, that's drier.
Max passes the second tackle sack to David for the next big hang. Since the start, David's been rigging under the other groups ropes, and all of it is done very conscentiously. He continues in this style with another beautiful Y-hang. Down he goes. Both ropes suddenly go taught, but it is too late for us to see what just happened.
David's rope loosens. I peer down and see an ascending caver. So we wait, and after a not-unreasonable time a man between two ages, wrapped in glistening PVC emerges at the pitch head. Not very talkative, he shouts rope free and a second caver ascends. This one also doesn't speak much (apparently they both completely ignored David and refused to talk to him at the bottom). This man, the designated derigger has a very damp looking cordura oversuit, and somewhat intriguing distant look in his eyes. He tricks me into derigging his Y-hang for him. I'm too good.
After Max, I go down: same story, beautiful first section of the pitch, roaring waterfall to the side, extremely wet second section, with a ledge sending copious amounts of water in our direction. I accelerate, touch down and make my way out nimbly. There's a loud noise, and a rope bag makes its way down the pitch; later that evening, we realise that William had 'accidentally' kicked the deriggers rope bag down the pitch. For my part, I like to think there's justice in this world.
Anyway, at the bottom, David's already in below boulders to rig the final drop into a short section of streamway which should take us to the sump. The CNCC rigging guide suggests a 20 m rope is enough, but there are no bolts to rig from. Armed with a variety of slings, David rigs creatively and adds a rebelay here and there to the mix.
At the bottom, we reach a 3 m climb down with the water continuing. There's a local rope which goes directly through the water, and most of the boulders in the streamway are loose. We give this a miss and start turning back.
Back at the bottom of the big pitch, I decide to have a wander in the other direction and find a dig within the shale band. Where does it go? Max reappears from the boulders and we decide that one of us will provide an anchor and pull the ascending caver out of the water for the bottom section of the pitch. Max and William go up, and then David agrees to go out last. From the top of the pitch, I see him pull up as much slack as he can away from the spray lashed boulder floor, and then swing in and out of the water for a while before he finally emerges and continues the prussick at a more leisurely pace, his PVC dripping wet.
As he leapfrogs on the way out, we hear the shouts of rope free from above, and continue. Without any particular trouble, we derig the traverses and get to the first pitch, where by that time, fitting the 90 m of rope back in the bag is becoming a problem. But we're out, there's a faint drizzle and we're all quite pleased with the trip.
Now for the trifling matter of walking back to the car park. There's no topography, a visibility of 10 metres at most, and none of us have a compass. This was a mistake. We pick a likely direction to head over to the Gaping Gill valley and walk in a line. David is at the back, shouting if I stray too much to the left or right as we struggle to dead reckon our way to back to the path.
There's ups and downs, lots of skirting around shakeholes but no path. After a while, we hear the sound of water: is that the Gaping Gill stream? Nope, just a 10 by 10 metre tarn. We're pretty sure of the quadrant we started in, and decide there that we can't have gone too far to the north, else we would have started climbing Ingleborough. We agree on a slight change of course clockwise. Again, we find a stream and follow it, but soon this sinks at a very small lake. We carry on and reach a large path.
This is a relief, but having lost some of our bearings, we decide to recce the path in both directions. I go left and after a hundred metres or so, hear a great roar. Now, that must be Gaping Gill! And it was; I check the direction of the beck against the path we just found and realise we must go the other way to reach Bar Pot.
We follow the main path for a while, but suddenly, the cobbles run out and we find ourselves on unfamiliar terrain, trudging through ankle deep muddy tracks. This goes on for a while, until we briefly loose even that track, turn around and double back towards the main Gaping Gill track. By that time, we're all quite anxious to be done with the fell wandering, when David points out a fork in the path we had missed.
We follow that and reach the familiar grassy limestone pavement near the entrance to Bar Pot and Small Mammal. And sure enough, on our right, the large shakehole beckons. I hop down to the entrance and see the ICCC ropes still there. I shout. Voices answer. The other group are at the bottom of the entrance pitch. We converse and I recount briefly our recent ordeal.
Then we pick up our bags again and start the so very long walk back to Clapham via Trowgill. To make up for the dismal experience of wandering the fell, we elect to go the new inn pub in Clapham for a drink while the other group extracts themselves from the clutches of Gaping Gill. David soon spots the bobbing light of the returning Perry. Back at the Craven, we all indulge in cheesy shakshuka, beer and mulled wine. What a trip!
Sell Gill Holes:
Paprika. Mother of all spice. We decide to have paprika eggy bread, paprika mushrooms and paprika beans for breakfast. I manage a double sailor's trick to put all the bacon on the grill. The upshot is, Jack and I have cooked breakfast early, and most people are only beginning to get out of their snug sleeping bags.
We vacillate and caving plans come and go with the rain lashing out at the windows outside the hut. 'Who's going caving today?'. Jack, Chris, David, Alex and I it turns out. We settle on packing the Sell Gill Holes ropes, get changed and walk up.
Chris and I lead the way with a five minute headstart on the team to start rigging the fossil route. The wind picks up, funneled within the small and normally dry valley which leads to the first pitch. Just before we go there, we check out the raging river sinking in the wet route. The ground is so wet a small stream even goes into the fossil route pitch, which Chris rigs. We practise rigging knots in the process and drop down.
By this point, David, Jack and Alex, who have caught up with us, are keen to get underground also; they have decided not to rig the wet route but to follow us instead. After a twenty minute wait, they yearn to get out of the wind. There's also another caver group pressing behind. Chris lets me continue the rigging.
The second pitch is just as wet as the first, but there's a handy deviation on the far side; I only get mildly wet swinging for the reach. The last pitch is unavoidably wet, despite a very short, natural deviation on a flake we put in, but it is short anyway, so it is not much of a concern. Chris joins me at the bottom and we amble down towards the main stream in the high, main chamber.
The water from the Goblin route drives a phenomenal draught, but the main chamber is large enough for us to scramble over boulders on the far side, quite away from the spray and wind. We share a Soreen, as Jack, Alex and David join us. We follow the underground river to a fairly low crawl and a decorated little chamber before turning round and starting the way out.
Rather suspiciously, the other group of cavers haven't caught up yet, but we're not concerned. We find them at the top of the second pitch, as they emerge from a side crawl we had not spotted: the Calcite way. Alex, David and I have a quick explore while Jack and Chris derig. The crawl enlarges at a stream junction, there's a neat little squeeze under a calcite boulder and little climbs down where the water goes to a boulder floored pitch. We look around from the top and decide to turn around.
By the time we come back to the first pitch, Jack and Chris are pretty much done derigging the traverse, so David and Alex head out. I follow them and we rejoin outside, where other groups of cavers are waiting. Not too long after, Jack and Chris emerge, so we head down the hill back to the warmth of the cottage.
Fortunately, Perry and the other group have got a headstart on cleaning the hut, so there's minimal amounts of faff. By 4.30 pm, we're ready to head back to London. The rain has picked up again.