Friday, 15 February 2019

14th February 2019 - Alt Aquamole

Our first daylight change of the year

Beginning our descent as the sun sets

The head of the second alternative pitch

Derigging at the head of the first alternative pitch
Dick on the first alternative

Almost back at the surface

Out into the night air

Friday, 8 February 2019

8th February 2019 - One arm bandit

Browsing the forums on ukcaving, I spotted that a new route in Aquamole had been recently re equipped with nice shiny bolts.  As the weather was a bit wet for our other plans and it's one of my favourite bits of cave, a bit of investigation was in order.

80m of, as the Starless River website would put it, "nylon highway", brought us to what is described as a "gloomy crawl" in the description.  Not sure whether it says more about the current state of our lives, or the caves we've been going into recently, but we both thought that the fine streamway that followed was actually quite a nice bit of passage.

The second, short, water sprayed pitch brought us into a chamber with a beautiful white calcite feature and also marked the point at which we needed to start following instructions for the "alternative" pitches.

Beardy's description on ukcaving is completely accurate, but the oft quoted "not for the blind obedience of fools" is particularly apt in this case.  From the bottom of the pitch we followed the obvious stooping way on, until after a few metres you enter the chamber from which you can drop down into the streamway to the head of the usual final pitch.  Our instructions said, "a crawl straight ahead", so I headed off down a crawl which sort of was straight ahead, on the left wall of the chamber.  Within a few metres my brand new, shiny red caving suit was coated in the aqueous mud and I was questioning my route finding, this was about as far from the glitz and glamour of a Los Angeles casino as it's possible to be.  Fortunately the ever lower and ever muddier stream/mudway lead to a small terminal chamber in which I was able to turn round, reverse my route and explain to Tony that this wasn't the way on.

Back in the main chamber we went straight on and in the far wall found a slightly squashed circular hole, leading to an obvious squeeze a metre or so ahead, just like in the description!  A clue is definitely in the name and after a few botched attempts to align myself with the hole, I assumed the one armed bandit position and squirmed through.  Tony as is always the case, then glided through with no effort whatsoever!

A hole in the floor lead down to the One-armed Bandit streamway and we headed up it to find the head of the final alternative pitches.  We stared down into the gloom and looked forward to coming back with Dick, who loves Aquamole as it is and so hopefully will enjoy this variation too. It was then back downstream, passing the hole we had entered by until the streamway ends quite dramatically at a short pitch to the ledge on the main pitch of Aquamole aven.

As Tony descended onto the ledge, I began up the last few metres of the main pitch rope sprayed by exceptionally muddy water, the product of my earlier wallowing. A few metres later we were back in the starting chamber after a fascinating little loop.

A bottle of non-alcoholic beer served as a fine thirst quencher and allowed more time to be taken over a fantastic pint of red ipa, lengthening what is actually the most pleasant part of the evening.  The Marton Arms are making a real effort to entice cavers back, with a warm welcome (I'm sure given to everyone not just cavers), caving photos on the wall and a display of caving gear that is probably meant to hark back to some long forgotten era.  Worryingly it looks in better nick than our gear!

Friday, 25 January 2019

24th January 2019 - Lost Johns'

Rigging one of the fantastic traverses

Looking for the rebelay to avoid the water - Pinnacle pot

The sump pool - free diving not advised

Tony derigging Pinnacle pot

The horizontal sections are just as exciting as the vertical

No dragging of tackle sacks in here, plenty of room for them to hang free

Better not hang around too long

Dick stepping out into space on the superb Monastery pitch

Saturday, 12 January 2019

12th January 2019 - The morning after two nights before

Given our caving season and the times we're able to cave, we don't often go caving in daylight.
A sunlight visit to regular haunts therefore feels quite strange.  I didn't realise quite how windy the road up to Leck fell is nor that there's not actually a lot to see on the moors when you get there anyway, as they are covered in dense fog.

Once again it was back to counting steps to judge the 500m along the wall before a ninety degree right hand turn and a further hundred metres. Fortunately, dead ahead was not only the pot, but also our rope, still tied around the fence post.

I;m not sure whether it was being on my own, or that in the daylight you can see the depth of the pot, but I felt quite nervous as I set off towards the edge.  Calm was restored as the usual routine of passing rebelays kicked in and it seemed like no time at all before I was looking over the final pitch into the main chamber.

Having forgotten to tie the bag onto the end of the pitch rope meant descending the last pitch to collect it, before up, up, up towards daylight.

On reaching the surface it was nice to find that the fog had been blown away by the wind and the van (and now multitude of other vehicles) were clearly visible.  Despite the weight of the tackle sacks, the view made it a terrific stomp back across the moor to the van and gave time to reflect on Thursday's amazing trip.

Friday, 11 January 2019

10th January 2019 - The Iron Way

Satellite picture - Google. Surveys - New Northern Caves Guide
The via ferrata of the Dolomites were created using iron melded with rock in order to allow safe passage for troops through hazardous mountain terrain.  Diggers in the Dales have too being using iron (well probably steel) to shore up their digs, allowing tourists to venture safely in places previously inaccessible.  The trip from Death's Head Hole to the Iron Kiln Hole entrance of Notts II, makes use of three stunning pieces of engineering.  Tony takes up the tale...  

This was the piecing together of the two known ends and the unknown middle bit. Conditions were right and the moment had to be seized; cold symptoms were suppressed with a slug of Day Nurse. At the bottom of the big pitch in Death’s Head, Alistair noted the traverse line of bolts that would have avoided the precarious rubble where we landed. We stuck with what we knew for speed, and trod carefully down to the ‘Y' hang leading to the main chamber. Arriving at the bottom of the more recently excavated shaft, we set off towards the final descent into the streamway. Once down, drysuits were unpacked and put on over caving suits.

We set off on the walk upstream, and it wasn’t long before we were wading into deeper water, eventually up to our necks, with the roof not far above. There was soft collapsing sand underfoot, and we made for the shallower sides of the winding passage to keep our heads above the surface. Tell-tale fragments of grass stuck to the scallops above, although no reminder was necessary that there are times when visits to this site are not possible. Our movements caused gentle waves that made an unearthly ‘gloop’ sound as they hit the sides.After a couple of hundred metres the passage became increasingly more shallow and the roof got higher. We strode on until we arrived at a narrow inlet on the left. ‘Groundsheet Junction,' Alistair announced with a grin. It was almost exactly two years since we had reached this point via Lost John’s, and I wouldn’t have recognised it. I was heartened again by Alistair's route awareness and very reliable memory. Another 150m and we were at the start of the ascent into Lyle Cavern.

After the scramble up we stopped to take in the atmosphere and spectacle of this large chamber. There at the back was the in situ rope and our climb to the very beautiful Helictite Rift. We removed our drysuits and geared up for the ascent. Once up, we continued along the rift to the distinctive free-standing flake that marks the beginning of the 140m crawl - the last challenge of the evening.This was our third trip through this impressive excavation. I’d like to restate our admiration for the endeavour and commitment that created it. At times I find this contorted, corkscrew crawl bewildering. Pushing my tackle bag ahead, I got confused. ‘Alistair? Alistair?…ALISTAIR!' Nothing. 'It has to be this way.' I followed my bag headfirst down a drop and turned my head at the bottom to look along the horizontal tube. There was the reassuring loom from the headtorch of my speedier fellow earthworm. The route becomes easier as you get towards the exit, not withstanding a couple of wet crawls that allow the muddy water to finally find its way into your underwear. Emerging into the welcoming space of Sir Digby Spode’s Inlet, we had a congratulatory hug. What a journey!

After the precarious downclimb into the streamway, we splashed and tramped along to the Notts II inlet and made the final climb up out of the pot, burdened somewhat by the tackle bags. The evening still allowed time for a beer in The Royal Hotel in Kirkby, where we reflected on a very satisfying journey, a trip through richly varied and sensational caving terrain.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

28th December 2018 - The Faery Islands of Loch Sween

A holiday cottage on the Crinan canal for New Year inspired us to load up our boats and after a very hard work trip along the canal to Crinan, portaging for miles round the locks, it was nice to head to the other sort of loch.

Tayvallich was just around the corner and offered easy access to the pristine Loch Sween and it's resident black brittle stars.

Leaving one of the lagoons formed by the Faery isles

A few of the thousands of black brittle stars

Dick navigating through the islets

Looking back down Loch Sween, a change in the weather looming

After a lunch stop, dressed in everything I had with me for the return to Tayvallich. I love poggies! 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

20th December 2018 - The forgetfulness spell

My excuse is that it's the end of term, but I don't think we've ever forgotten as much on a single trip before.

Once again it was wet and as we're beginning to run out of wet weather options, I decided I'd like to go on a trip to practice taking photos on pitches. The most convenient place I could think of and a place I always enjoy going, Bull Pot of the Witches beckoned.

While changing Dick realised that he'd forgotten his helmet.  Fortunately though he had with him a prototype, kevlar reinforced, caving flat cap. Though the stiffened brim serves as a handy place on which to mount a candle, Dick also had a new headtorch he wanted to test and so eschewed the more traditional form of illumination.

After inspecting the fantastic new interpretation board at Bull Pot Farm, we took the short stroll to the pot's style and carefully traversed around and down to the entrance tunnel.

Free climbing the pitch saw us swiftly at the bottom of the open pot and heading down to the continuation pitches. Dick descended,  positioned flashes and partly reascended while I placed another flash and prepared to take a few shots. With the shot perfectly composed I pressed the shutter.  The flashes fired and for a split second the finest caving photo I've ever taken was displayed on the camera's screen. I had only just started to revel in its artistic perfection however, when it was replaced by a stark black and white message, "No memory card".

Accepting it was just one of those days and with the upside that all the pitches had been beautifully rigged by members of the CDG, we set off for an explore. The streamway was no place to be, so we visited the long gallery and had a bit of a ratch around before returning up the main pitch. I love the fact that I struggle to work out just how this cave is all connected.

The Barbon Inn was doing a roaring trade, a group who I presume had been young farmers a number of years previously were having a great night out and we're fully dressed for the occasion. As always we were warmly welcomed, but did quickly head for the quieter room, next to the fire.

On leaving, the party in the main bar was in even fuller flow and I hate to think what the gentleman stood on one of the tables was about to do with the stuffed (taxidermy not sage and onion) pheasant he was brandishing.

Merry Christmas to one and all.