Arun Paul, Ben Richards, Cecilia Kan, David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, James Perry, James Wilson, Rhys Tyers, Ana Teck, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Jan Kożuszek, Julien Jean, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn, Jergus Strucka
Still without minibus, we split into teams and made our ways north in a variety of vehicles. I went by train to reach the FionaCar in Bradford. Jergus enjoyed FionaCar so much he asked why we don't always get Fiona to take us to the NPC. He was disappointed to learn that Fiona is not a professional taxi driver.
The NPC was very hot and loud on Friday night so some of us took refuge in a cooler and quieter room while the various travel teams appeared. Everyone was in before 12am, possibly a record early arrival. It was good to see DW in attendance with North Wales Caving Club.
FOUL Pot: Arun Paul, Ben Richards, Fiona Hartley, Ana Teck
FOUL was to be a FAAB trip. I decided I would like to do FOUL because of three reasons: the forecast for rain, the fact I've done it before, and the pursuit of a higher cave count. I sold the cave in a way that meant nobody was interested except Ben and Ana - I am not good at selling caves, but also you don't want a big group in FOUL. The existence of this uncomplicated, already-packed-rope plan had the bonus of luring Arun in later on in the morning as well.
Although the atmosphere at Dale Head was uncharacteristically still, the cloud was quite low as we finished changing, so the usual ominous ambience of Fountains Fell remained. Off we trotted along the mostly flat path to the cave. 1.8km and 24 minutes later (I tracked it on my watch) Ben started his day of rigging with a nice handline for the entrance sink (not on the topo, a 10m is more than enough) and then we dived into the thrutchy entrance, befouled as always by a dead mouse.
The flat out crawl was lower and more puddled than I remembered. Still, it was over soon and we got to the actual tight bits of FOUL below the second pitch. Ana quickly wiggled through the rift fault, bag in hand, and Ben followed with the second bag and handed it off before committing to the slither. I'm trying to get better at becoming liquid and oozing through tight sections of cave, but I'm still not good at it so I removed all my extraneous SRT as is usual before hnnngghing my way between the walls, giving my right shoulder a good weight-bearing workout (and giving Ana my SRT bag as soon as she offered to reach it).
I helped Ben as he ascended through the next tight section (another rift squeeze, more upward than horizontal) pulling the bag behind him, by willing the tackle bag to not get caught on anything. It obliged, which was fortunate. Arun wasn't vibing with the tight bits so we decided Ana would accompany him out and then return to us. This left me to manhandle the smaller tackle bag through the second tight bit, something I thought would be impossible, but via very slow positioning and end-on-end rolling ahead of me I eventually got it through to a wider spot where Ben could pick it up. I couldn't apply the same end-on-end roll to myself so just had to become one with the rift until I was free.
We climbed down the end of the rift and Ben took photos at the first formation we really liked in the following crawl, neither of us realising that there were much better formations literally around the corner. Freed from bags, which are the only things that slow Ana down to something resembling normal speed, she was back with us not long after we reached the head of the big third pitch, Man O War.
Ben rigged a humongous Y-hang and descended out of sight. For this trip I had packed a rope long enough to rig the second, drier route of the pitch (utilising two rebelays and a deviation), which swings off onto a ledge into a parallel shaft midway down. Unfortunately this swing can easily result in rub partway down the top hang so I ended up taking a long time to rerig at the pitch head attempting to obtain a better knot position.
As our swift speed had slowed a bit I was feeling a bit conscious of time and the incoming weather front at the bottom of the big one. It didn't put me in a great mood regarding the insitu rigging on the next pitch, a confusing horizontal Y-hang traverse across open space through a keyhole to another bolt, with the end of the rope hanging down the following rift only to die midway. I'm not entirely sure what the intention of the rigging guide is compared to this monstrosity as it suggests a simple Y-hang descent. I used the insitu in the end, bitching about it.
The last pitch involves climbing up a slippery af slope then descending down another slippery af slope to the pitch head, where I was relieved to finally just be simply descending rather than trying to get purchase on slidey rock. Ana got about 3 metres into the continuing muddy and loose passage with the intention of finding the sump before deciding she couldn't be arsed. Ben and I instantly agreed so after communal cheese consumption our pantins were deployed and the ascent commenced.
Ben very keenly derigged all the way up. Combined tactics by Ben and Ana saw me and all the differently-sized bags safely through the tight sections, and then we each went back to handling an individual bag. In the entrance thrutches, I failed to push mine ahead of me with enough energy, and it rolled back into my face to kiss me with mud, punishing my waning effort. FOUL is a good day out for me, not my limit, but by the end I’m ready for it to be done, what with all the entrance thrutching. On the surface, after saving the exercise of caving as a hike on my watch, the Garmin immediately told me I shouldn't do any hard exercise for the next three days. Figures.
We discussed various types of hot and cold cavers on the way back to the car (30 mins, 5 minutes more because of the uphill). To be lizard is to be a cold human (Una, me, Ana), and the opposite is to be mammal, a warm human (DKP). However, you can be an uninsulated mammal as well, which means you get cold in water despite being a mammal (Ben). Arun had tuned the radio to Smooth FM so various crooners serenaded our rainy change and drive back to the NPC.
Honestly I can't compete with Fiona's trip report but FOUL was a grand day out indeed. Keen to do some proper rigging for the first time in a while, I jumped at the chance to rig the first pitch/handline and continued the rigging for the rest of the cave, all the way down to the muddy dig sump thing at the bottom. Once we reached the bottom I was having such a great time that I volunteered to derig all the way out as well, much to the delight of Ana.
Fiona didn't really sell FOUL that well, and so the entrance of the cave which immediately forces you down into a wet crawl came as no real surprise. After this came a surprisingly sturdy wooden ladder of unknown age, but which looked pretty bomber so we all stomped down it regardless. Great stal next to it as well, very red.
Later on came the thrutches, squeezes and rifts which I won't repeat, but beyond these I was shocked at how nice this cave actually turned out to be. While Ana was busy going through the squeezes for the second and third times, Fiona and I both oooo-ed at a small calcite formation and so decided to stop and photograph it. Little did we know that 5m ahead of us the formations became even more impressive, with straws well over a meter long, stals all over the place and even a few spiky helictite things here and there. Naturally I didn't photograph any of these, the previous photo would do just fine.
The fourth and fifth pitches beyond the actually-quite-impressive Man-O-War (the cave beyond this isn't really worth it tbh) were actually-really-bad. The fourth pitch was a completely horizontal y-hang across both walls, which made absolutely no sense and was followed by an unnecessarily bad handline afterwards. Much of the bolt placement and in-situ rope was of a similar vibe. After negotiating the horizontal Y hang of confusion, the final pitch was a bizarre climb up a mud slope only the descend down the other side into a big pitch. Fortunately this wasn't sumped to the roof, as had been warned, with water not even covering the bottom of the chamber. Derigging this would have been awful had the cave not been full of dubious in-situ rope, presumably from diggers. Come to think of it there were also many weird dams and water features which seemed completely useless. Very strange.
We returned to the surface to find the rain not quite as bad as anticipated, and made a quick change before heading home. Given all the rigging and derigging I was pretty knackered by the end of the day, but still mustered up enough energy to come joint first in pot and sling with James, against the fearsome Ana-Cecilia combo (if there had been another round James and I would have inevitably admitted defeat, but luckily there was not).
County / Wretched Rabbit exchange: Cecilia Kan, James Perry, James Wilson, Ellie Pizey, Jan Kożuszek, Laura Temple, Jergus Strucka, David Wilson, Rhys Tyers, Chris Hayes, Julien Jean, Kevin Sohn
I got a headache while underground. That's about it.
Boxhead / Cracker exchange: David Wilson, James Wilson, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Jan Kożuszek, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn + Jergus Strucka made it to the entrance before turning back
Every time I go caving, I swear to myself I will write a report, and inevitably I never do. Now finally, on the car to Wales and almost a month late, here it goes:
The morning was wet and foggy, like so many in the Dales, and much time was spent discussing what trip could be done in the time available and what our callout should be. Jergus, meanwhile, was hyping himself up: he was finally gonna do a Sunday cave. Eventually a decision was reached and we departed reasonably swiftly.
On the parking lot, a lone elder caver warned us we were in for a very wet experience before disappearing into the mist. A bad omen of things to come? Perhaps. We got changed and after a short walk across the fell, we found a simple metal pipe pointing vertically into the grey sky: the entrance to Boxhead.
Davey and Chris disappeared down the pipe to rig, leaving me, Laura and Jergus to sit around and ponder what we were doing with our lives. Jergus in particular seemed miserable, cold and wet, competing with Laura over who could complain more. ‘It’s fine to complain now’ he says, when I try to offer a more positive outlook, ‘you just need to stop once you’re actually in the cave’. Sure. Minutes passed slowly as we listened to the sounds of water sloshing below, and at least half an hour went by before the long awaited ‘rope free’ came echoing up the pipe. It had begun to drizzle again and I was eager to start moving. So eager that I somehow managed to get myself tangled in the rope and had to detach and reattach all my gear again before finally heading down. Despite all the complaining and ominous warnings, Boxhead turned out to be perfectly pleasant, with only a small drizzle in the first pitch. On the bottom I found Davey who let me go ahead and descend the long pitch all the way down to Kendal Flyover (with two fairly comfortable rebelays along the way). Not much time passed before we saw a light descending from the other side of the abyss. It turned out we were perfectly in sync with the It’s a Cracker team. Meanwhile, the rest of our group joined Chris and me from above, with one conspicuous absence: Jergus had managed to talk himself out of caving completely and gone back to the car. His first Sunday cave would have to wait for another trip.
For the way out, I was told to beware the wrong rope leading up to Lost Pot. Perhaps luckily I did not see that rope at all, and the rest of the way through It’s a Cracker went reasonably smoothly. I did, however, manage to get myself stuck on the bottom of the last pitch, which required a bit of a sideways squeeze while on the rope and right by a waterfall. With a bit of encouragement from Davey, who arrived in the meantime, I braved the squeeze on my second attempt and emerged on the surface not long after. Confusingly, it was It’s Cracker that had a box at the top, not Boxhead. As Davey was climbing out, he discovered some loose rocks at the bottom of the scaffold, much to his dismay. But all made it out safely and in good time we were back and warm at the hut.
As is the norm, I was against caving on a Sunday and encouraged everybody to join Ingleton climbing wall instead. Us lags spent the afternoon playing on the wall, with frequent trips to the local shops for refreshment.
When I drove Ellie, Chris, Jergus and Ben to Shipley for their train, we arrived a bit early, so to fill time I gave a somewhat panicked tour of adjacent World Heritage Site Saltaire. This basically involved leading them to various signs for them to read and providing punctuation in the form of anecdotes about things what I've done in Saltaire in my life. I then got to enter my own house within 10 minutes, while they had hours of travel ahead of them. London isn't the best as far as cave proximity goes. But IC makes up for the distance with enthusiasm.
Wow why does anyone actually go caving on Sunday, being a lag is so much more fun. Also since I've now like actually graduated for real, I guess I'm a lag of sorts? Odd.
Morning came and due to austerity measures under the Ellie regime we had porridge with available toppings such as berries, syrup, peanut butter and ground up crickets. I actually love porridge so thought this was amazing. Others disagreed.
Having not dried any of my caving kit the night before and having hardly slept, I was not really in the mood to put my kit back on so climbing sounded like a lot of fun. Fortunately Rhys had a spare pair of shoes which I managed to squeeze my feet into for a few hours before they hurt too much and I just went bare-foot. Even did some top roping with Ana Fiona and Dave which was a lot of fun. I even belayed people without letting them descend at high speed into the underworld. Tremendous success. Things then quickly descended into chaos as we attempted bat hangs, front flips, handstand press ups and all sorts of other non-climbing related activities in the climbing gym. Ingleclimb was great for this, as we basically had the whole place to ourselves and it was completely un-staffed. The decadence was also completely off the scale, with an Inglespot second breakfast to start, a coop food break in the middle with an additional milkshake break towards the end of the climbing. We then stopped to acquire even more food on the way back. Luxury.
Fiona completely undersold her tour in her trip report. Having stopped at the coop to buy some dinner in Shipley before catching our train, I asked whether we could fill the time by getting a tour of this random small town in the middle of nowhere, fully expecting to do a few laps of a local Tesco. To our surprise, Fiona instead replied that across the road was an enormous world heritage site and proceeded to take us on a really quite impressive tour of Saltaire, explaining the back story of Titus Salt, and the history of the area. Highlights included a ginormous factory building, that one restaurant Fiona went to a birthday party in aged 16, an octopus sitting beside an incredibly picturesque canal, the park where Fiona goes for park runs, the bar where Fiona first drank aniseed, the list really goes on and on. Having been blown away by this actual tour, we proceeded past the garage where Fiona's last car died and onto the station, which was bounded by train tracks on all three sides which was quite exciting, not to mention difficult to navigate. Clearly the moral of the story is to always get a ride to the station with Fiona.
We also bumped into Ana and the gang from DavidCar on the train on the way back as Ellie had managed to accidently book us all onto the same train in adjacent seats. Chris also carried the red dox box all the way back to London as it wouldn't fit in James's car, as it was full of Laura's wellie water.