Andy Jurd, Arun Paul, Ben Honan, Ben Richards, Clewin Griffith, Colm Carroll, Dan Greenwald, Dave Kirkpatrick, Dave Wilson, David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, Mike Rogerson (Goaty), James Perry, James Wilson, Janet Cotter, Jennifer R, Jim Evans, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Úna Barker, Max Stunt, Ana Teck, Simon Seward, Phil Hay, Rob Chaddock, Mark Evans, Dave Mountain, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Johannes Girsch, Astrid Rao, Bronwen Ley, Joe Rogerson
A truly epic club trip into Gaping Gill.
|Goaty, Joe, Johannes, Clewin
|Ben H, Ben R, Arun
|Rhys, DKP, Diss, Ellie
|Ana, Jennifer, Phil, Fiona
Dihedral to Bar
Having arrived late the previous night and stayed up chatting away till the early hours, I was barely awake and nibbling on only my third or fourth piece of eggy bread when Matti asked what trip I wanted to join. Not having caved for some time, I opted for what I hoped would be the easiest trip on offer - Dihedral to Bar. I'd also wanted to visit Dihedral for ages. A surprisingly small amount of faff later, Colm, Perry, Max and I piled into Colm's car for a carefully choreographed delayed departure, hoping to time our descent in to main chamber perfectly for the group photo.
We stopped off at the Clapham village shop for provisions (energy drinks and pasties) then prepared to head up the hill. Perry said he'd meet us up there, as he didn't want to wait around up top/had some chapters to get in, so Colm, Max and I set off at a leisurely pace. A token effort was made to pay for the walk as we passed through the cafe, but no-one seemed very interested in taking our money and we sidled out the back, our small change in tact.
We slowly made it up to the main entrance, and were struck on arrival how amazingly dry the stream bed was. Almost all the water was heading down Rat Hole, and the main waterfall had no more than a garden hose's worth trickling over it. This was reassuring, as Perry had told us of his only previous attempt to do Dihedral, one that had been hastily aborted half way down the first pitch due to high water.
We sat around in the sun, chatting to the walkers and waiting for Perry to arrive. He did so not much later, having taken the cross country route. Colm and I then decided we should probably try on the oversuits kindly packed for us in South Ken earlier that week. Colm's was more rip than suit but he managed to get into what was left of it with little trouble. Mine had not a single hole in it, but despite describing itself as an XL, valiantly resisted going over my shoulders and doing it up was a non-starter, even once I was in. We both agreed we were glad not to have tried them on earlier, as we might never have made it up the hill had we known what was in store. However, if you fail to turn up and pack kit, you get what you get, and the ventilation was probably a plus.
Perry set off first into the entrance, and made it round the awkwards traverse to the top of the first pitch. Colm and Max followed, and I brought up the rear. The descent was truly majestic. Daylight poured in through the main entrance, and the minimal water meant the view of the shaft was breathtaking. The stream from Rat Hole entered a little way down but easily missed the ropes, allowing us to arrive at the ledge more or less bone dry.
The final re-belay of the last hang proved a little bit of a challenge for each of us. I managed to get tangled in three separate ways, before eventually making it down to the floor, the last to arrive of all the teams. We were unfortunately too late to enjoy any of the tinned hotdogs James had brought in his SRT bag.
A few photos later, we rearranged for the ascent and Perry, Astrid and I set off for Bar. James had been due to come up with us, but he and David were unable to resist the thought of all the prussiking and so defected to team Dihedral. James did however agree to show us to the bottom of Bar, no-one else being sure they knew the way. Astrid in fact did know the way, better than James if anything and we made it without a single wrong turn. I was very glad of this as I found the crawling around utterly exhausting, probably due to the tight oversuit and not my atrocious level of fitness. We stopped briefly to chat to Clewin and Johannes who were waiting at the bottom of Flood before heading up.
The way out was largely uneventful, although I did spend several tiring minutes thrutching through the squeeze at the top of the entrance pitch, questioning as I did so the wisdom of all those pieces of eggy bread earlier that day. Nonetheless, it was still daylight when we emerged, something I am sure has never happened to me in Gaping Ghyll before.
We got back to the hut a little later, to find find delicious food including industrial quantities of not one but two desserts on offer. Large helpings of both rounded off an excellent day nicely, and I fell asleep in a comfy armchair in the sitting room several times before eventually making it to my tent.
Flood to Dihedral
After reaching the not-NPC late the evening before having basically only bought butter and crispy onions on the way up in the minibus, when Saturday morning arrived I eventually woke up and wandered downstairs to watch the wedding. So far, so normal. For some overly complicated reason Max Stunt was not at his sister’s wedding, but was instead watching the event unfold over zoom, on a phone propped up by a mug of tea. After the ceremony and eggy bread had both finished, I proceeded to the next scheduled event of the day - faff.
Initially, I put myself down for a random combination of easier entrances, however I then had the realisation that today could be the day I finally do dihedral - or at least give it a try(hedral). Deciding that the view would likely be better on the way out, and given Slov wasn’t all that long ago, I put myself down to go in flood, and out dihedral. The weather was also looking perfect for it - it was certainly more dryhedral than cryhedral.
After no further faff opportunities could be found, we eventually had no choice but to head on up the long walk to flood entrance. Once there, Arun, Astrid and I took in some final rays of sun while Ben H headed down to start rigging. After Astrid had clambered down out of the day light, she commented that her headlight wasn’t very bright. Passing it to Arun for him to have a look, he diagnosed the problem as being battery related and promptly dropped the battery down the first pitch. Whilst it’s not clear whether this had any positive effect whatsoever, Astrid’s light did seem to work fine for the rest of the trip, after the battery’s retrieval.
Carrying on down a further few pitches was a breeze, with Ben H’s rigging including one Y hang measured so perfectly on the first attempt that he couldn’t help but turn to us with a signature Ben H grin. A pitch or two later however, and he called up that the rope was about 3 m short of the floor. Looking around for some spare slack, we fortunately found a convenient 3 m long stopper knot on the y hang backup. How handy.
Dropping down besides bar entrance, we heard voices beneath us from another of the groups. Heading down after them we eventually made it to the Gaping Gill main chamber (despite crossing over what was definitely a “don’t cross this wall” wall) where we found, to our amazement, all of the other groups! The last of the dihedral group were just descending out of the ceiling with someone tangled in the final rebelay above us, but they too were soon down for the group photo. The first time I visited the main chamber back in winter tour 2018, the spray from the falls was so strong that walking across to meet a waiting group felt like the sand storm scene from The Martian - this time by contrast was the driest I’ve ever scene it, requiring only minimal shouting.
To our great disappointment, a very mud covered Davey had already eaten the entire tin of cave hot dog sausages without waiting for our delivery of a large candle to cook them over. Typical. Enticed by the prospect of dihedral, both dubz ditched their previous plans and joined us for the outwards trip. This then meant that Astrid and rest of the team exiting from bar had no members who knew the way; James headed off to show them the route, before promising to head back and join us.
Ben H headed up the dramatic first rope into the ceiling, followed by Davey. I followed next, with Arun the designated de-rigger. Climbing up into the ceiling of the chamber was just as impressive as I’d hoped it would be, and definitely lived up to the hype. Although the waterfall was not particularly large, rope free calls were still somewhat challenging given the number of similar sounding people directly above each other. Upon reaching halfway up the incredibly bouncy final hang, I heard an “eh-oh” from Arun below me, who had ascended to the ledge. “James” “is” “not” “here” echoed up from below, immediately followed by an “eh-oh” from James to Arun. Interesting. It later turned out that James had arrived at exactly this moment, causing great confusion. I replied “o-kay” and left the confusion to figure out their derig plans.
Upon reaching the surface, (the first time I’ve done so in daylight from Gaping Gill) Ben H tried to convince me to relieve myself upon a loud sheep. I managed to resist. After all of us were out, we went over to find Davey wrapped in a survival bag outside bar entrance. His plan had been to wait there until everyone had passed him by, and then to derig bar. However, given his covering in mud from disappointment, he was absolutely frozen. After convincing him not to follow through with his initial plan, the dihedral group headed off down the long walk back to the minibus, so that we could get a head start on the other teams and grab the best cave pies. This immediately backfired.
Perry had assured us that he’d hidden the keys in “the usual place behind the wheel”. This was deemed not to be the case. After half an hour of looking in every possible place on, under or in the minibus we found nothing. Looking around the cars other groups arrived in also gave no results, and so we decided to sit and wait for Perry to arrive, who we presumed must have the keys on him by accident. Luckily the dubz cave-sausage supply was somehow still not exhausted (even after finishing the entire tin of hot dogs??) as James produced a whole chorizo from his SRT bag. Incredible. Sitting around sharing this and the last miniature chocolate bars between us, we waited. Eventually Perry and the gang returned, and he reached so far behind the front wheel that I can only assume he hid the keys directly in an engine cylinder, only to produce them triumphantly and unlock the van, after convincing us of our on ineptitude.
After changing and ransacking the bag of cave pies, we stood around the remnants of the hot dog cooking candle and shared handfuls of crispy onions. Ben H, naturally in an enormous down jacket with shorts and flip flops, occasionally heated alternating toes over the tiny flame to stave off both frostbite and boredom. Despite the large quantities of butter in the minivan, and murmurings of using it to double fry the crispy onions over the candle, a nearby cow of ungodly volume thankfully distracted everyone enough for nobody not to try. Eventually all the groups returned and we headed back to the not-NPC to enormous quantities of delicious food and for me to convince Fiona to invest in my next caving related venture - a cafe on the ledge halfway up dihedral serving all-day breakfast with a view: “Fryhedral”, of course.
Marilyn to Stream
Well, this was a great trip, until the slight matter of dehydration and exhaustion at the end. But first, the descent…
I had my heart set on a Marilyn/Stream exchange in either direction, and divided the ropes up with the exchange as the priority while breakfast was cooked. Two crack teams formed, and in the end it was myself, Ana and Jennifer plus Phil heading up to Marilyn to start caving.
I’ll spare you my typical complaints about the Gaping Gill walk and merely remark it was thirsty work. I quickly located Marilyn near Bar, and we then took turns in the piss shakehole next to it, as it is the only place that provides shelter from the eyes of hikers.
Ana rigged off the impressive metal grill covering Marilyn’s tubular entrance. The first pitch is a bit narrow but happily we were descending so it was easy. On the second pitch (Niagra), we all had a crack at placing deviations to avoid rope twangs and were eventually satisfied.
While Ana was rigging the fifth and final pitch, Jennifer found a rock to garden. More for a laugh than anything, we called ey-oh to check nobody was at the bottom of the pitch, and to our surprise were met with an immediate reply. Thankfully it had come from above us, where Team Disappointment (James, David and Andy) had just arrived at the prior pitch.
We slipped down through the boulders at the base of the final pitch, rejoined a larger streamway passage beyond, and then joined the even larger Hensler’s Master Cave at the Disappointment inlet junction. The cave was incredibly dry. On other occasions I’ve gotten absolutely soaked in the upstream New Hensler’s crawl, thrashing through the low tunnels with my chest submerged in cold water. This time, the crawls were full of mud, and occasional still and silent brown puddles. Rather than dwelling on how annoying this part of the cave is, I stressed about whether I was remembering the way correctly. Jennifer eventually pointed out that there were arrows scratched in the rock if I would only look at the ceiling. Despite not using these helpful, stress-reducing markers, I did find the way and eventually shuffled through the squeezy tube/crack into South East aven beside Bar.
Once we’d regrouped, we headed for Main Chamber. Everybody’s timing was excellent. We all reached the Main Chamber within about an hour of each other. Dan dropped down gloriously from the final Dihedral rebelay to complete the achievement of twenty plus cavers in a well-lit photo in the Main Chamber. Not bad at all.
I was eager not to get stuck in a queue in the crawls out of Main Chamber and legged it out to the T-junction where you turn right for Stream and left for everywhere else. Phil asked what the Stream pitches were like here and I answered to the best of my memory, which probably didn’t give an accurate impression of the amount of prussicking ahead. Stream is a big rift passage with three large 25-30m hangs in it, only split with deviations.
It was not too hard to find the way between Sand Caverns and Mud Pot; it really should only take about five-ten minutes. Unfortunately, every part of it is filled with the footprints of the navigationally challenged fools who have been caving before you. Just don’t commit to anything too low or small and it should come right, especially if you have a Jennifer with you to point out the nicer way when you dive into a low crawl.
We didn’t have very much water left at the bottom of Stream and should have just drunk out of the waterfalls and streamway here. Phil said that he was tired but didn’t need to stop or go first in the queue, so Ana headed up first, relieved from derigging duty due to her earlier rigging efforts.
At the bottom of the next pitch, which is the biggest, I noticed that it was taking Phil a long time to climb. Once he was off the rope I prussicked up and at the pitch head saw Ana helping him onto the next rope. By the time I’d traversed to them, he was performing a changeover a metre up to come back down to solid ground. He was exhausted.
I helped Phil into his survival bag, keen that he stay as warm as possible, while Ana prussicked up the second pitch to regain warmth. By now Jennifer had arrived at the head of the third pitch and I went to discuss the situation with her. Once I’d helped her get the awful, awful tacklesack onto the traverse line we all reconvened by Phil, who felt colder now. We didn’t have any food left, nor much water, and it didn’t seem like Phil would be able to make his way out under his own steam without them.
So we discussed the various options available to us. In the end we decided that Jennifer and I would head out to the surface while Ana stayed with Phil, because Jennifer was the only driver in the group and I knew the way out and the surface topography of GG best. My understanding of the plan was that if we didn’t run into one of our teams above ground and find food and drink (which we felt was unlikely given the time, but we did hope for), we would walk down to Clapham and call the CRO. We loaded Phil up with our spare buffs, left all the spare survival bags, and I also left my emergency candle and lighter from my first aid kit.
We left Ana and Phil at about 19:30 I think, though I’m not sure (should’ve checked). We reached the surface without incident and the main path shortly after. We checked Flood, Bar, Marilyn and then Dihedral for cavers – no luck. It was beginning to feel hopeless. Then Colm appeared in the darkness, and suggested he had a phone in his surface bag. Sadly it wasn’t the case and once we learned this we left him to wait for Johannes and Clewin exiting Flood and marched down to Clapham to start the rescue process.
Even though it should’ve been obvious to me since we’d seen Team Flood up top, it never occurred to me that the minibus folks would still be in Clapham waiting. Instead we planned as if Jennifer and I would be the only ones managing the situation. I didn’t hand over any of the responsibility of calling the police or liaising with the CRO, but I was very appreciative of everybody’s support at the car and then in the CRO depot, which is conveniently located a brief stagger down the Clapham road when one is caving in Gaping Gill.
The next hour felt very long to me as the CRO sprung into action, but at least there were many forms of water available for rehydration. Abruptly, a Facebook message arrived from outside that claimed Ana and Phil were out and back. For five minutes everything was deeply confusing. My brain had completely short-circuited from some combination of relief, shock and embarrassment by the time Phil and Ana walked in, safe and sound.
I’ve really flown through the series of events here for the sake of not writing a total epic. Rest assured I’ve done a lot of reflecting in the meantime. All’s well that ends well, but I needed a bit of time to myself back at the BPC – time, and a large helping of cream via crumble to replenish my energy levels.
Stream & Bar derig: James Wilson, Astrid Rao
Sell Gill: Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Ellie Pizey
The next morning, I was knackered. Never having been one for Sunday caving, this didn't have much of an impact on my plans. What did was the car to Ingleton being full and Andy somehow guilted me into doing some exercise instead of heading straight for the nearest tea and cake emporium. As such, I headed up Pen-y-ghent, opting for the direct route from the hut. The return took me down the other side and back through Horton, where I happened past the Golden Lion. A large sign posted over their door proffered a Sunday Roast, so I did the only sane thing and stopped to rest my weary legs. A pint, some roast ham and a Yorkshire pudding the size of my head later, I felt much revived and returned to the hut for a last few bowls of bread and butter pudding before heading home.
What a fine weekend, thanks to all involved :)