Friday, 29 April 2022

28th April 2022 - No mere gill


Dick's photo of the fantastic third pitch. Mike on point.

Having spent years dangling off well maintained bolts, found using excellent topos and cave descriptions and more recently attending superb training at subsidised prices, it felt like it was time to try and give a tiny bit back to the CNCC. Signing up to their volunteer scheme was easy and it wasn't long before a request to remove some wire from the bottom of Meregill came through. Unlike building dry walls or stabilising cave entrances, this didn't sound like it required much skill so I volunteered and roped in Dick, Tony and Mike.

As well as a bit of Wombling, it also meant a trip to what has to be one of the finest pots in Yorkshire and one that I'm now pretty sure I'd never been to before. Unfortunately my head was focused on retrieving wire rather than the trip itself and I hadn't quite realised how big a trip it is...

Tony somehow caught wind that due to the number of bolts involved, Mike was planning on bringing a pile of maillons and so quickly planned an alternative trip to Heron, rigged with shiny krabs. So it was that Dick, Mike and I along with numerous tackle sacs headed along the well worn path up Ingleborough. A right at the style along a less well worn track, over a further style and we were approaching the first of many holes dropping down to the elusive mere. 

Dick quickly located the bolt to protect the approach to the belay tree, which while I was assured was not an ash, still didn't look particularly healthy in its horizontal rather than, the more usual for trees, vertical position. At the bottom of the pitch we had a look for the wire we had come to collect but to no avail and so we headed to the next pitch.

Mike, taking over rigging duties, climbed up the an in situ line higher in the rift and began the long traverse to the second pitch. I hate to imagine what the stream way can be like to necessitate the traverse being this high. Tony, it's worth noting that in low water like on this trip, there's a lower route which we might have enough krabs for!

The third pitch also requires a climb up to begin a traverse but, with no in situ tat, we ended up at an alternative set of bolts at the pitch head before retracing our steps. As Mike descended I tried shouting down, "Rehang at 10 m, rehang at 7 m". Instead of following my instructions though, he leaped like Super Mario this way and that across the shaft collecting quality gear from other bolts on the descent, I could almost hear the sound of coins falling into a jar! The description describes this pitch as, "...almost certainly amongst one of the finest and most dramatic pitches in Yorkshire." and I couldn't agree more. I'd love to return with a bigger team and some flashguns.

With his bags depleted, I leap frogged Mike for the fourth pitch and Dick, struggling without his glasses, began his return towards the surface. With a well rigged guideline in place, the descent from the y-hang to the first rebelay was nice and dry, again I can't imagine what this would be like in high water conditions. My concern about rigging the next rebelay was unfounded, older in situ tat making the job of rigging our sling around the chockstone straightforward.

At the foot of the final pitch I unclipped from the rope and udged to the side to allow Mike to descend, but not fancying the, at least waist deep, wetting that would ensue moving further away from the rope. On his arrival though he insisted that, as I hadn't been there before, the next 500 m or so of stream way really were worth a look, so we plunged into the pool. The rock turning almost black, whispering, "You're deep now", the sharp ridges emanating from it reminiscent of the lower sections of Pen-y-ghent pot, again adding to the sense that we were a long way from the surface, but what a stomp! Where the passage began to lower we stopped briefly, allowing me time to convince myself that grovelling for a further few hundred metres would not be in keeping with the trip. 

As I ascended the second pitch a light glimmered in the ceiling. Dick had been to explore where the mere normally resides, a dive line hanging in the air reminding him that he'd normally be metres under water. He'd also located the wire and while Mike derigged we bagged it up and Dick began hauling our now burgeoning tackle sacs to the surface.



The wire at the bottom of the first pitch


All bagged up



Dick hauling away and taking photos!



At the surface

9:30 pm! With the moor still to cross, getting changed and the drive back down the valley, there was a very good chance we were going to miss the pub. For the first time ever I'd also forgotten to tell my wife where we were going and though others did, I knew she'd be getting worried - we always make it to the pub.

Sure enough, by the time we were changed and the car loaded, there wasn't a hope of finding anywhere open. After such a cracking trip, it's always a bit of a disappointment for me to not be able to relive the adventure over a pint, parting company in a cold lay by a bit of an anticlimax.

Huge thanks to Dick and Mike for a quality adventure and if anyone would like a large bag of wire...

Saturday, 9 April 2022

7th April 2022 - Big team turnout


Celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary at one of Dale's finest viewpoints

Ten years ago I'd had the pleasure of taking some photos of Dick and Sharon in Witches II on their 30th wedding anniversary trip:






So ten years later a big team set off to Alum pot to try and get a shot for their 40th. The plan was for Dick, Sharon, Tony & son and I to head down via the Dolly tubs while Mike rigged the big pitch in Alum before joining us to rig the normal descent.

As it turned out there was a lot of water about and the descent down the Dolly tubs had us all chilled. Hanging around while I faff with flash guns doesn't aid rewarming, so when Mike joined us it was to assist a heroic retreat to the pub.

Need to start thinking about 50th anniversary locations now...


31st March 2022 - Boundary to County

 With just two of us available a quick trip around one of my favourite Ease Gill routes seemed appropriate. The big attraction of this trip is that it normally requires no tackle at all and neither of us particularly likes carrying tackle. With Wetchedy Wabbit currently out of action though, our first port of call was into County to drop a ladder down the pitch so that we didn't need to carry our SRT kit through with us. Then off up the fortunately dry valley to the Boundary entrance.

We're starting to get to know Boundary quite well now and we were soon through the more grovelly bits and dropping down one of my favourite free climbs into the more spacious parts of the system. A slight navigational hiccough as I tried to follow a more aqueous exit out of Fusion cavern was soon corrected by Mike who'd found the much more pleasant way on and we were soon passing the amazing false floors on our way to Hiroshima.

Through the Manhattan connection and again I was on a roll with Mike having to rein me in as I carried on climbing higher and higher in Nagasaki, completely missing the way on. To avoid further navigational issues, Mike now took the lead and with a swift peek into Easter grotto we made our way through the Assembly room, White Way and Thackray's before the quick shuffle at Holbeck junction through into Stop pot.

At the main line terminus we had a brief rest before Mike was once again off through the Manchester by pass. Knowing how familiar he is with the passage, I undid all my zips and removed my hat. Had I been able to I'd have put on shorts and a t-shirt. Trying to keep up with Mike through passage he knows well is a full on sprint!

The brakes came on briefly for the climb up from Broadway and for the ladder ascent but we were soon making the final moves up into daylight. This is a terrific little trip with a little bit of everything. Cheers Mike for a grand evening, though we're going to have to slow things down a bit if I'm going to avoid paying for parking in Kirkby.

Monday, 21 March 2022

17th March 2022 - Held up by Sylvester

Almost 12 years to the day that Phil and I had made a visit to Sylvester pot to go and see Newton's Wonder, Mike, Tony and I headed off across the moor to enjoy a quiet round trip. It's probably best not to think too much about the entrance. Not only does it have a definite u-bend in a drainage system feel to it, it also looks like it's held up by, what in other places would count as, balanced rock art.

Unusually, the first pitch of Sylvester also still requires the use of spits. I'm always a little disturbed by how far these don't go into the rock and it's definitely mind opening about how little material you need to dangle off.

At the bottom of the first pitch we went on a minor diversion to go and see Newton's Wonder before retracing our steps to the second pitch. I was now in new cave too. The "small spike at the pitchead", looked awfully like a little nubbin of rock, but a barrel knotted loop seemed to grip it sufficiently to allow a protected descent, though I did try and keep my weight on the rock rather than on the rope.

From the main chamber we located the 2m drop into a loose, wet rift and sure enough 8m ahead, below a cascade of (very cold and wet) water, the rift enlarged. 3 1/2m above us we could see what looked like the entrance to a crawl, but "awkward" isn't the adjective I'd use for the climb. While I succeeded in getting very wet in the cascade of water, Mike actually made progress up towards the hole, approaching from the left with a lassoed tape offering some protection. I have no doubt he'd have made the last move or two, but I was definitely feeling a lack of motivation and Tony seemed in agreement.

Not wanting to get into an argument over fixed aids in caves, it does seem a bit bizarre that elsewhere in Ease Gill bits of tat and ladders abound for what seem like much more trivial obstacles. It's also the first time I've ever disagreed with a description in NFTFH. Have things changed since it was written?

I don't like unfinished business so I've a feeling we'll be back, once I dig the step ladder out of the garage...

Friday, 11 March 2022

10th March 2022 - Quick nip through Pip

Mike's thoughts:

Pippikin Pot – Type 1 caving fun

At first thought or acquaintance Pippikin Pot can be somewhat intimidating; a series of tight squeezes, some awkward pitch heads, srt gear to don and remove numerous times and a return upward struggle to consider; a reputation for occasional rescues adds to a serious atmosphere and if done at the end of an Easegill Traverse expect to be more than a little fatigued. 

However, a minimalist evening approach can lighten the experience. With a little familiarity the squeezes lessen in intimidation; relax, stay high and let gravity do the work. If it’s prerigged (I’ve never known it not) then little kit is needed to be carried and if confident with route finding then just a sling and krab allow a lightweight approach, easily carried, popped on at the top of each pitch and off again for the next squeeze. A stroll through the lower passages and an exit from Mistral avoids the return journey and ensures a gravity assisted trip. An excellent short excursion, doable in all but the wettest conditions and guaranteed to bring out a smile. 

The traditionalist will of curse deplore such an approach, but early evening beers assuaged our guilt!


My waffling:

With my brain numbed by work I was struggling for inspiration for a trip so asked the others if there was something they wanted to do. Mike wrote back that he'd like to do something in East Easegill and suggested a Pippikin-Mistral pull through.

The last time I'd been through Pip was coming up it at the end of an Easegill traverse so initially I was slightly perturbed, how can a fun, evening trip ever involve Pippikin? Someone once came up with the life advice of doing something that scares you everyday so, as 4:45 pm on Thursday rolled round, I was waiting for Mike at Devil's Bridge.

Being late in the season it was a daylight wander across the moor from the Leck fell carpark and despite the haziness of my memory, it wasn't long before we were at the entrance, the tell tale orange Euro speleo rope now bleached after years under a hot Yorkshire sun.

Donning my sling and krab, I noted that Mike was spoiling us as he'd brought not just one figure of 8, but one each! Still pondering where the best place to attach the tackle sack was, I set off into the dark. I'd forgotten how smooth a ride a figure of eight gives, but not the superman dive at the end of the first crawl. Unfortunately, in the intervening 5 years (almost to the day) since I first went through on a trip with Tony, my arms seem to have shrunk a bit and I was at full stretch to allow a controlled descent.

The routine of pitch/squeeze, SRT kit on/off, was made much faster and easier with the sling/krab set up and we were soon down the pitches and making our way along the streamway to the Hall of the Ten. Clean washed rift was soon exchanged for slippy mud as we passed the decaying remnants of once great mud sculptures.

With only one small navigational hiccup (hiccough!) just before Dusty junction, we made our way through the Hobbit and to the bottom of the final climb. Here the strong cool draft that had accompanied us through the final crawls was joined by the last rays of daylight filtering down the shaft. 

Mike's homing skills proved to be well honed and while we were hoping to bump into either the wall or road to handrail us back to the layby, we managed to arrive directly back at the car. As ever the Royal Barn in Kirkby served up a superb post trip pint and I was even home in time to see eldest heading to bed.

Thanks Mike for a superb trip.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Friday, 4 February 2022