Saturday, 17 October 2015

15th October 2015 - Something strange is afoot...

...given that it's before October half term and a Thursday night, the last place you'd expect to find 2 members of the TNC would be at the Devil's bridge burger van. But none the less, there they were.  Having had 2 weeks of near drought like weather, conditions seemed perfect for a trip around the Magic Roundabout Series in Easegill.

Despite delaying for a pre-cave brew (NB this makes for a very pleasant start to a trip), we were still earlier than the arranged 5pm rendezvous.  While we knew that we should wait for the other team members, we were too eager to get underground and headed off towards Bull Pot farm confident that they'd catch up while we rigged Lancaster.

Rigging in the light always seems a little unnatural
"WHEEE!", said Dick as he set off down the main pitch. "Yeah man", said Alistair as he joined him at the bottom.  "Please don't keep this up", said a poor reader.

There was still no sign of the others, but we knew that they knew the way to the Arson shaft and with us having to carry the ropes, we were confident that they'd catch us by the time we got there.

Whether it was the weather, or just the first trip of the season, I don't think I've ever sweated so much on the route past Fall pot.  I don't think I've ever slipped and slid so much either, the mud having the frictional qualities of verglas.  By the time we got to the entrance to the Arson shaft, we were both shattered.

Sweat filled our eyes by the time we got to the Arson shaft
It was even a real struggle to get the camera out of the box, I just wanted to lie down.  Oh the cruel hands of time, Dick was soon at the first rebelay and it was time for me to follow him up the rope.  Still no sign of the others, but they know the way on and the way I'm feeling they'll soon catch us up.

Dick about to swing out into the Arson shaft
Normally an ascent of the Arson shaft makes me incredibly nervous.  What state is the rope in?  What state are the hangers in?  The CNCC have done a truly superb job though and rebolted and rerigged the pitch with a shiny new rope, so for once I was able to enjoy the architectural magnificence of the shaft itself, it really is a great pitch.

At the top of the pitch the air seemed to be cooler and less humid than in the high level series, so we were soon along the Old Kent Road to the top of another nicely rerigged pitch.  While it was nice to be descending on a new rope, I think the descent was tinged with a little sadness for Dick as, up until recently, this pitch had been rigged with an old pink climbing rope that he'd put in at the end of the 1990s.

At the top of the 35' pitch
Next up was Aquarius.  I'd looked over this pitch once before in higher water conditions and I think it's definitely worth waiting till the water levels are very low, the only wetting coming when I slipped into a pool just below the bottom of the main pitch.  It was now decision time.  Pulling the ropes here would leave the others unable to complete the round trip.  Dick was convinced though that they'd be waiting, concealed in the main drain, to surprise us and so we pulled the ropes. 

Much to Dick's delight he found his old pink rope still protecting the couple of small cascades below, taking us down into Brass Monkey Passage and the final drop into the meandering passageway that leads back down to the main drain.  Only a few metres down this I remembered why I hate tackle bags, but before we knew it we popped out into huge passageway, just upstream of Stake Pot.  The others were doing a superb job of hiding as we didn't see them at all.

Absolutely knackered now, we made our way up the stemples and ropes back to the high level series and once again commenced an ice skating routine that would have gained us very few points.  It was  with real relief that I pulled over the concrete lip at the top of Lancaster once more.

Having lost so much liquid in sweat our Black Sheep bitter served solely as a chaser to the pint of water that was so desperately needed when we got to the Barbon Inn.

The pain from bruised knees and elbows, mingling with the aching of my muscles somehow added to feeling of contentment in having completed a trip that I'd been wanting to do for years and that had almost taken on a mythical status for me.  

Huge thanks to those that have worked really hard in replacing ropes and anchors in Fall Pot and the Magic Roundabout Series, making this a classic Easegill trip.

Time for bed.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

9th January 2015 - Return of the TNC

No conservation tape was crossed during the taking of this photo

An impassioned e-mail from Dick saw the largest turnout of the TNC for many a year and sharing a lift from Lancaster and meeting up at Devil's bridge did indeed give a flash back to the good old times.

The road up to Bull Pot Farm was a little wetter than usual and our plan of reacquainting ourselves with the bottom of the Aquarius series put on a back burner.

The path from the farm too was more like a stream than a path and the breeze blowing over the more made the light rain more wetting than usual.

Huge thanks to those that have put in the effort in creating the new Lancaster entrance, very nicely done.

The nice thing about a leisurely trip is that you have time to look round a corner and over an edge.  Fall pot really is worth a few minutes to take in properly and we discovered what, from the trench on the floor must be a real trade route, along the right hand wall of the pot with it's associated bolts, but somewhere we'd never been before.

With only a loose plan now of going to have a look at the Colonnades, we once again took our time getting back to Kath's way and so had a bit of a ratch around the Crater too.  

Up in the Colonnades we admired the work that has been put in cleaning up this area and had a bit of a look down the dig at the end, where a very talented mud sculptor had been at work.

The return up the pitch was really quite damp at the bottom and we huddled on the ledge waiting for everyone to be up the main pitch before once again making our way onto the moor.  Fortunately the breeze was blowing from behind us for most of the way back.

The fog had become thicker and the puddles deeper as we made our way to the Barbon Inn where a very warm welcome awaited us.  Unfortunately we felt it wasn't the done thing to squeeze three of us onto a single chair next to a couple of couples enjoying the fire, so we had to establish ourselves in the dining room.  The beer matched the atmosphere and was top quality.

Friday, 3 January 2014

January 2nd 2014. A New Years trip through a mountain

What trip involves headlights, caving gear and buoyancy aids?  The through trip of the Creosor -Rhosydd Mine.

This way to Sainsburys?

'Not sure about this one...'

'Oh my God I have split my trousers' said Kate.  

A fair way into the mine we were then faced with this bridge, little did we know that this was definitely one of the easier ones! Couldn't believe how clear the water was when crossing, amazing!

Steady as she goes...

From never having abseiled before and only having 3 seconds of expert instruction, I can't lie I was terrified.  As I plunged into the depths of the darkness, I found it fantastic.  Three abseils later, the last one  into a canoe, I had started to find abseiling easy!  The Bridge of Death brought back the fear as the return rope was wrapped around me on the second half and I had to be pulled back to unwrap it, all the time hanging on a thin wire for dear life.  Joe

Kate traversing around the third chamber and loving every second.

'Why is Sarah laughing so much'?   The team stop for lunch of traditional miner's fare - Welsh Pasties.

The end of the tricky bridge of death...

Joe with the first daylight since leaving Creosor at the West Twll in Rhosydd Mine having just enjoyed a whisky.

The team happy to be out in the daylight at Rhosydd entrance.  Only the walk back down the valley to the car left.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

21st December 2013 - Carrock Fell Wolframite mine

20th December 2013 - Pikedaw calamine caverns

Dick gearing up for the ascent.
It was wet, very wet.

Looking around the web most reports for Pikedaw calamine caverns start "With thunderstorms forecast...", or "Given the recent wet weather..."; well this is another of those reports as it's a quality trip for very wet weather.  The only downside was the wander across pretty bleak moorland in pretty grim weather.
Once we'd located the entrance, we gazed 23m straight down into the warm and the dry.  The people who'd capped the shaft had the foresight to install a ladder for the first 6 feet which made getting on to the pitch much simpler, although ladders that finish about 21m up in mid air are slightly unnerving.
At the bottom of the pitch we headed into the large Lord's chamber and began our exploration (a useful survey can be found here).  First we climbed a set of man made steps into what quickly became a natural meandering streamway.  Back to Lord's chamber and a climb up into a breakdown type chamber with some impressive formations.  Trying to make out what was natural and what wasn't became harder and harder.  We then wandered up into the large Cavern 84, before going in search of Cave Pearl Passage.  This was a little more hidden than the other routes out of Lord's chamber, but definitely worth looking at.  It does have cave pearls, but also some very impressive coloured walls.  Either someone's gone down recently with some blue and green chalk; Victorian miners painted their mines in bright colours or it's quite spectacular mineralisation.
Having explored the main passages radiating from Lord's chamber we made our way back to the entrance chamber before embarking along Cavern 44.  Here Tom had a go at a bit of archaeology, uncovering an old, old sherry bottle.  It's worth noting that there's some quite interesting graffiti throughout the mine/cave and if the dates can be believed, some of it quite old.
After a quick visit to a sump we carried on along Cavern 104.  As this closed down it soon became clear that the way on was along the streamway, before climbing up and over some spoil.  Here more traditional signs of mining were evident, with wood scaffolded passageways disappearing into the gloom.  These didn't look overly inviting so we made our way back to the pitch.
As I made my way up I found Dick just under the hatch, with a maelstrom audible above.  The pitch head was getting busy so we climbed out an crouched with our backs to the stinging hail.  Tom wasn't far behind and the rope quickly packed into the tackle sack, jammers still attached.
The journey back to the van was pretty speedy with the wind behind us and we were soon heading back over the moor road.
The Gamecock in Austwick provided a very reasonably priced and fine pint with some pate and crackers thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

12th December 2013 - Bull Pot of the Witches

It has been dry for ages and so we thought we were definitely on for the Magic Roundabout, but a pesky weather front was forecast to move in at just the wrong time and an alternative was required.
Most of the entries in the CNCC rigging guide have a warning about being an "active pothole, responding quickly to wet weather", but Bull Pot of the Witches doesn't.  (NB while the pitches may be dry, the lower reaches of the cave definitely DO respond to rain).
BPotW also has the advantage that the walk in is pretty short, handy for a late start.  Over the stile and the path round the open pot was carefully followed to the short entrance tunnel.  While the pitches are all free climbable, they also proved perfect for a bit of early season rigging practice.

Tom at the bottom of the first pitch
At the bottom of the first pitch, a large but short tunnel soon leads to the open pot.

Tom making his way to the open pot
Turning back on yourself then leads, almost immediately to the next pitch, which gave Dick a useful chance to practice his rerigging of my rigging to make it somewhat more user friendly.

Dick and Tom rerigging the rigging
The last pitch was rigged, though Tom took the opportunity to isolate the more worn sections of the rope.  At the foot of the pitch a short climb down lead to stream level and a short climb up to the aptly named Long Gallery.  This gives a  less aqueous route to the further reaches of the cave, which are much more considerable than I thought.

Thought this would be a dry underwear trip, it wasn't.
We first visited the downstream sump and its in situ dive line, leading into the depths before Tom managed to pull the route to the monolithic towers from somewhere in his memory.

The monolithic towers
While Dick and I took photos Tom disappeared to do a bit of ratching around and found himself at a couple of scaffold bars, the reason for which we unsure of, but:
offers an explanation.
On our return to the pitches we managed to miss the climb up from the stream on the first pass, but raising water and a lowering roof soon convinced us we'd gone to far.
It was quite late by the time we reached the pub, there's  lot more to Bull Pot of the Witches than you may initially think and probably a fair bit more still to be found.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

6th December 2013 - Ropeless in Easegill

Alistair promised lots, post trip steak and beer, a group of Thursday Night Club cavers re-united after a long lay off, and an exciting new round trip, but in the end it was just him and me trudging across the bleak moorland towards the upper reached of Easegill. In fairness to Alistair he didn't say there would not be any of the following
  • The need to swim/crawl through water with a temperature of about 5C
  • Continuous crawling for long sections
  • Very low sections of flat out caving
  • Semi blocked passages where large gritstone blocks had to be pushed aside to make progress
  • Hanging death blocks 
The list could go on but I don't want to be too negative! It was actually a great caving trip and unique we decided in that it was an Easegill "through trip" without the need for any ropes at all. There are we think another two through trips in this system where you don't need to carry ropes underground, submit a comment below if you think you can name them! (the prize would be something very disappointing so don't even ask!)

The initial entrance series is steady going, quite physical and varied, but never desperate. Alistair's description from Descent magazine seemed quite accurate, and after a few free climbed pitches we arrived at "The Manhattan Project". An impressive dig that connects this previously unconnected part of the system with the continuously increasing kilometres of passages.

Metres of scaffolding and wire fencing have been dragged through quite arduous passages to this remote location, and then used to bury through rocks and gravel, what must have taken 100's of hours to dig through just takes a few seconds to climb down! And after this short climb you arrive in the main Easegill system! THen on Through Hiroshima and Nagasaki chambers to the assembly room and then further on to eventually arrive at the master cave and Thackeray's passage before the none to easy escape via Depot Passages and Wretched Rabbit.

We took a few nice photos, but were still out the cave before 7pm so plenty of time to go and grab a comfy seat at the Barbon Inn. Too late for that we found out, and also we just made do with a beer and crisps due to the no show by those other TNC no-shows!

Unusual purple stalactites in Boundary Pot

Alastair climbing up to the grotto in Boundary Pot

Superb unspoilt calcite formations