Saturday 13 December 2008

Bubbles down Ireby Fell Caverns 12/12/08

Bubbles ... soft, light, colourful, floating on a gentle breeze... who the hell named a narrow small stream passage 'Bubbles Route' someone called Bubble I assume. Well, this recently opened route led Tom and I down into Ireby Fell Caverns on a wet, cold night. Descending the bottom pitch of Bubbles we turned right to go down to the mainstream way and Dukes Street.

'I don't recognise this' said Tom after we had crawled for a few minutes through a muddy though well decorated passage (it turned out later to be an area called the Glory Holes) that ended in a dig. A few photos later we decided to return to the main passage to find another way on when below us through the rift we heard voices, we were in the roof of the stream way in a fossilised stream passage.

Tom in the Glory Hole area

Dick sitting over the rift where the voices carried up from the lower stream way

A couple of minutes later we dropped down where we had previously gone on and were in the stream way heading for the large passage of Duke Street.

Just upstream of the sump in Whirlpool Chamber (previously reported and photographed in the annals of the TNC) we caught up with the other cavers as they were ascending the electron ladder to the roof entrance of the newly opened link to Ireby ll (bypassing the sump). This had been broken through last Sunday following an epic dig led by the Misty Mountain Mud Miners. Easy crawling through well excavated passage led to a closing down of passage size as markers on the walls showed progess towards Ireby ll. When the breakthrough area was reached the ferrets who opened it showed their size as it was a bit squalid and small and lacking moral fibre I called Tom to a halt and we retreated vowing to return another time when we would bring more courage to push on with.

The return was quickly completed, the decision made to come out via the main route (which was rigged much to my relielf as I didn't want to go up Bubbles thrutch!) Getting to the bottom of the first pitch was interesting as we could see the rope but the way on was a slot that was quite snug! We climbed over the top and did rock moves rather than the squeeze, only to find a cobble crawl under the wall that we had missed in the streamway!

A while later and we exited the well engineered entrance pitches into the rain once more. We will return soon to explore Ireby ll (when Ali gets out of his Bubbles Route bed duvet and joins us once more! Get well soon mate!).

Sunday 30 November 2008

Kerplunk 27/11/08

-2 degrees, frost getting harder and light snow on the ground. Must be time to go caving again. A reduced team Sharon, Tom and Dick changed in the gathering dusk to make a descent of Notts II.

The two minute walk to the well engineered shaft entrance was bitter but as soon as we dropped below the manhole cover the temperature rose to a balmy 8 Celsius. For those of you who have never been down Notts II the first 150 feet is a dug shaft expertly glued together with a mixture of expanded foam, concrete, breeze blocks and scaffolding bars.

The bottom of the excavated pitches brings one out at Mincemeat Aven where my namesake Dick Gerrish made the famous breakthrough into Notts II after years of digging (read about it here) where a short walk bring you out of Inlet 13 into the mainstream way, previously only accessible to divers from Notts 1.

Walking upstream we arrived at a muddy bank, the start of a crawl to Estonia. Who would have thought that such a small, muddy crawl would bring you to a pristine chamber with beautiful flowstone formations. Long may they remain such spectacular formations and not befall the vandalism that so many Yorkshire Caves have suffered by foolish cavers who destroy the very features they go to see :(

Back in the mainstream way more wading upstream led us to Curry Inlet and more spectacular formations that the TNC had visited earlier in the year .

At the far end of Curry Inlet we followed a muddy tube that is obviously being pushed by those troglodytes of the caving world, those strange beings who spend the twilight hours between the end of work one day and the start of work the next day digging in the mud. Through gloopy liquid mud, through a flat out section in said mud we arrived at a vertical tube up into the the floor of a mud chamber. Technical bridging up the muddy tube led to a flop into the mud chamber with a small muddy passage leading off under the wall. Tom's sandbag was that the formations were as beautiful as Estonia, we fell for it!

Once back into Curry Inlet the water ran muddy as we tried to clean our gear and then take a photo of a beautiful thin white fin of calcite that ran off the wall only centimetres from the mud bank.

The return down the stream way was accompanied by the muddy water we had made. Several side passages were explored but no new pretties were found so at Inlet 13 the turn out was made to start the re climb of the shaft know to the TNC as Kerplunk (you know that game where balls are held up behind bars wedged across a cylinder ... see the imagery?).

Back on the surface, out from the balmy warmth of Notts 2, well, enough said, the temperature was even lower! A quick change and then off to warm up in the Snooty Fox in Kirkby Lonsdale.

Saturday 22 November 2008

21st November 2008 - Where there's a worm, there's a way

Ray en-route to 88' pitch

In preparation for a traverse of the Easegill system later on in the season, this evening we made a return to Link pot.

There's something I like about snow flurries lit by the beam from your headtorch. It's possibly as it reminds me of when the Millenium Falcon makes its jump to hyperspace, the stars flying past at unimaginable speed. Soon though the real stars crept through the clouds and we made our way across the fell under a nothern winter sky, Orion just rising over the horizon.
While half the resident bat population of Hilton hall has decided to settle in for the winter, the other half was still very active, navigating its way at high speed around the complicated nooks and crannies of the chamber.

We dropped down through boulders into an awkwardly sized vadose rift, before another skwirm through boulders brought us to more solid streamway and the pitch in Echo aven. While the pitch seems to be permantly rigged for those completing the traverse, Tom thought he recognised the rope from when he had done the trip 15 years previously and so we rigged our rope too. Some of the older bolts and the karabiner on the deviation are certainly showing signs of having been underground for a good number of years.

As Tom arrived at the bottom of the pitch, the warm, soft glow of Ray's carbide lamp appeared at the top. Caving with LEDs is a bit like central heating; efficient and economical, but it does make you miss the glow and crackle of a real fire.

The way on lies under a shelf in an innocuous little streamway that Dick was quick to remind us, "fills to the roof in even moderate rain". There are signs of flooding everywhere, foam in the roof and every surface covered in mud deposits in which the eponymous worms of the Wormway live. An aven gives brief respite from the streamway. The colours in the formations a stark contrast to the omnipresent mud of the tunnel. Tatters of bang wire evidence of possible further exploration and clawed scratch marks on the walls evidence of more sinister activities?

In the Wormway

Back in the sewer a right and then a left brings you to another aven, which in turn leads to the bottom of the 88' pitch, our goal for the evening. Once again we found this rigged and though it held Dick and Ray's combined weight, we're probably going to have a trip to see what it's attached to at the top.

The 88' Pitch

The return took Ray in search of a waterfall down one of the previously unexplored passageways only for him to find himself at a sump, the sound of falling water being the sound of him crawling through the passage!

Once again Tom, our directeur de photographie managed to convince members of our party to lay in cooling pools of mud in his continuous search for the shot to epitomise the sheer joy of caving (it will have to have John in it).

Dick enjoying the Wormway

Throughout the whole of the return journey I was thinking about the last few awkward meanders and weaving the tackle bag back through them. It came as a very pleasant surprise therefore to be moving easily through a high bedding plane, looking down on the trench that had previously caused such grief.

On the way out

Out on the moors once again, the skies had cleared and we made our way back to Bull Pot farm under a stunning array of constilations and a lone shooting star, streaking its way across the sky.

Saturday 15 November 2008

14th November 2008 - Buy one get one free

Not one cave this week but two. Getting changed on a cold windy evening by the side of the road in Barbondale came as a welcome relief for Dick. For most of the last year he's been staying in a series of luxury hotels ("I'm sure it said hostel" said Sharon) on his round the world trip. We were planning a trip down Crystal Cave, roadside caving at its best, lying only 91m from the road. After about 500m making our way up a streamway we realised we must be in the wrong beck.

Returning to the car and driving about 1km back down the valley, we headed once again up the hillside and soon arrived at the cave entrance.
If you were to ask a child to draw a picture of a cave entrance, they'd probably draw something fairly similar to the dark opening now in front of us. They might not include quite so much water pouring out of it though. Not wishing to share its home with three damp cavers a tiny dipper flew out of the cave as we entered and we were left alone with the spiders and streamway. After only a few metres the cave roof begins to descend and we soon found ourselves lying prone in a babbling brook with no way on for mammals unable to hold their breath underwater for prolonged periods of time. Having only been underground for less than ten minutes we decided we hadn't yet deserved our pint and so returned once again to the car.

Driving ********* ** *** *** *** ***** *** *** **** **** *** ******. ******* ** *** ****** ** ******* ***** ** and arrived at the now beautifully engineered entrance to Cave X.
Making our way through the sporting entrance series we soon arrived in the large chamber offering a choice of ways on. We headed first of all upstream admiring the stunning helictites that were so fine they looked like moss.

Helictites in Cave X

For the second time of the evening we were halted by sumped passageway and so after retracing our steps began the journey through jumbled boulders, following the water deeper into the cave.

Dick at pitch head - without ladder :(

With no ladder on the pitch we briefly explored up another streamway before Dick was given a lesson in using the camera and a return to the surface.

Dicks first go at "proper" cave photography

Phil now has this caving lark completely worked out and he was just moving onto pudding as we joined him in the pub.

Saturday 8 November 2008

7th November 2008 - A new season begins

The clocks have gone back and there's a chill in the air so John has declared the TNC caving season open.
As a nice opening trip we decided upon a gentle, SRTless return visit to Notts II.

First trip of the year

No matter how many times you descend through the patchwork of building materials that make up the dug entrance to Notts II, I don't think you can fail to me impressed by the commitment and tenacity of its instigators.
The scafolding, breeze blocks and ladders soon bring you into the natural passageway of Inlet 13, which inturn connects with the main streamway. Heading up stream following the deeply cut vadose trench we meandered up to the Tay Bridge which, not heeding McGonagall's advice, seems a little short on butresses as it spans over the down cut trench, just before the nick point.
Leaving the trench the passageway takes on a much more open appearance and the fast flowing stream is replaced by more slowly moving water that requires wading in places.
Having safely negotiated Vlad the Impaler, we took a brief but worthwhile detour to see the fantastic formations in Curry Inlet (Inlet 6).

Beautiful cascade in Curry Inlet

Continuing up the main streamway once again soon brought us to the junction with Inlet 5 which begins as a 190m tunnel which almost seems as though it was mined. It's worth keeping an eye out for the pockets in the roof, some of which contain small groups of helictites.
Though the sump at the end of the passage way looks inviting we chose instead to turn right along a short crawl into a chamber with some fine and unusual formations.

Unusual formations in Inlet 5

The way on lead up a short climb with an in situ rope. None of us having been to stay in a Spa hotel before, we couldn't be sure, but from the passage beyond we felt we had idea of why people go to them. Under subdued lighting, fine mud oozed into every pore and our bodies were massaged by the stumps of stalagmites hidden within it. All the while we were surrounded by truly majestic surroundings. Tom had even torn open the seat of his caving suit to allow the theraputic mud to penetrate even deeper.

Just like a spa break

As with all good things though, the passage finished to soon at another, larger chamber, the limit of our evening's exploration.

The furthest point of our exploration

Back once again in the main streamway, the crystal clear water was soon muddied as we washed off the acumulated mud. Tom even produced a sponge!

View a 4 minute video of the reality of this trip! Click Here

Click here for full screen slide show

Sunday 4 May 2008

Friday 21 March 2008

20th Mar 2008 - Stop Pot , Minarets

The last trip of the official TNC season saw Phil, John Tom and Alistair make a quick dash to the classic photo location of the Minarets before Phil's 50th Birthday meal.

Phil at the Minarets

Thursday seems to be getting a popular night for caving as we actually had to wait for a team of two to come out of Wretched Rabbit before going into the cave, and several other groups were chalked up on the board at Bull Pot Farm. As we were limited for time we just took a few photos today, as we passed Eureka Junction, and a few in the large silent caverns of Snail and Cornes Cavern before reaching the Minarets on Phils time limit. It only took an hour to get back to the entrance from the Minarets, and that included 5 minutes searching for the connection at 4 ways chamber/depot passage. So this is the last post until the Autumn Equinox (is it John?).

Watch for a variety of summer activities!

Click here for full screen slide show

Thursday 6 March 2008

6th March 2008 - Cave X

One of the fine chambers in Cave X

A real treat this week as we were lucky enough to find the location of a newly discovered cave. Although only short it had a bit of everything. Small entrance passages, large chambers, ladder pitch, streamway, waterfall, beautifully decorated chambers, a duck (that made John happy!) and a dirty sump (that made Alistair happy!)

The route finding always felt like it was going to be tricky, especially after the rather small entrance passages and the horizontal tube that had been enlarged/excavated to gain access to the main chamber. In the end you could go far wrong, although care was needed through an area of huge boulders, where you had to clamber under, over, and around to weave a way through to the fine ladder pitch.

Dark rock below the ladder pitch
The nature of the cave changed here with very dark rock and a fine waterfall. Then just around the corner a fine chamber with curtains and straws. (see above).

Through another chamber with unusual calcite formations was a cold "duck" where you had to avoid sucking in the cold water! (watch video to see John sampling the water!) Some more great formations made it worth the discomfort though and just a short way further was a dirty foamy sump, that even put Alistair off.

On the way out of the cave we briefly checked some of the other passage ways leading off the large chamber: a wet rocky passage with a gravel floor and fine helictites, a rope leading up to a small inlet amongst others. Then back up into the entrance series and our exlporation was over.

Thanks to the guys who gave us permission to check this cave - we trod very carefully!

Click here for a full screen slide show

Click here for a 7 minute video of the trip

Friday 29 February 2008

28th Feb 2008 - Rumbling Hole

Phil on 2nd entrance pitch
At last we (full team turn out!) made it to the bottom of the final pitch of Rumbling Hole! After a few goes in recent years where we ran short of gear on the last (8th) pitch. Today was also very dry so virtually no water anywhere in the cave.

Sporting new tackle bags quick progress was made to the tricky squeeze on the 4th (?) pitch. Then to a rather smelly section of cave and onto the final pitches which come in quick succession. The final pitch of around 20 metres is in a large chamber, but all exits are rather torturous apparently so we headed straight back out from this point. Phil and Alistair de-rigging all the ropes on the way out.

We didn't have time to look at the new series of recently opened pitches (accessed via a traverse from the main pitch) which is a lower series under the main route. Although by the reports from the Misty Mountain Mud Miners who we met later in the "muddy fox" I'm not sure that we want to!

Click here for a video of the trip

Click here for full screen slide show

Thursday 21 February 2008

21st Feb 2008 - Rumbling Hole

With Tom in Spain and Phil not caving because "no one else wants to", a rather diminished team set off for Rumbling Hole. Many TNC members have tried on many occasions to get to the bottom of Rumbling, but to date none had succeeded. This was going to be the night.

With the rope securely belayed on a fence post we descended the steep grass slope to the edge of the open pitch and the first of the p-hangers. As I began to rig the first of the Y-hangs on an undercut ledge John dropped down to the first bolt and turned on his lamp.

Unfortunately no light was forthcoming from the main bulb but all was not lost as the back up lamp did work. To make life brighter John decided to swap the back up bulb into the centre of the reflector, but turning the bezel resulted in a tinkling noise as the rotating reflector decapitated the one good bulb. Carrying a knife is regarded as a neccessity on SRT trips but we didn't relaise that this was to enable you to unscrew the remanents of a bulb from your lamp.

A ledge next to the traverse line served as a handy work bench for John as he tried all possible combinations of bulbs we had spare and switch settings but to no avail. Feeling there was no need to go in seach of an epic trip we erred on the side of caution and made our way back to the van, for once dry and warm. Once again Rumbling had repelled the TNC.

Friday 15 February 2008

14th Feb 2008 - P4 Castril

A Spanish treat for one of the regular UK members (Tom) who was making a visit to Andalucia, Alistair was making his 4th visit to the cave. We made our way down the dry stream bed to the well hidden cave entrance just marked by a small aluminium tag. After a few initial boulders a nice entrance chamber with bats. (see video) Stopping every few minutes to photograph some of the amazing formations, we made our way steadily through the large chambers, connected by climbs, short ladder pitches and the odd easy squeeze. The cave seems to follow a huge fault line, imagine yourself inside a Toblerone box with a slightly undersized Toblerone in it! The sloping side wall was an almost permanent feature, and sometimes you were forced up the to triangular roof by huge boulder collapses. even a few 100 metres into the cave there are tree roots coming into the cave, so it must stay close to the surface for quite a while.

formations in P4

There is evidence of their being pools or water a few metres deep in places, although perhaps not in the last couple of years, although it does get damper further into the cave. We turned back at the far end of Easy Street, with still several kms of cave beyond apparently. It would be an exciting projet to try and get into this cave at the far end and make a through trip, surely a possibility!

This trip certainly made up for a frustrating couple of hours spent earlier in the day wandering around a cold windswept hillside looking for another cave, and failing!

Thursday 7 February 2008

7th Feb 2008 - Trident Series

Upper Trident Series

Due to limited equipment we made a trip down the trident passages in Easegill. These are a series of active stream passages leading into the master cave streamway at Eureka Junction.

We only had one camera flash, and that gave up after a while so we only got a few photos, and failed to get one of White Line chamber, a spray lashed chamber with the waterfall shown below falling into it. Eureka Junction showed signs of recent flooding and the water was cold. For once it actually felt warmer outside the cave due to a very mild and calm spell of weather.

Oddly there seemed a lot of activity in the caves. A big group had been down county and on the board at bullpot farm the "Lesbogay" cave club had chalked up their entry into Bull Pot of the Witches.

Monday 4 February 2008

3rd Feb 2008 PB4 Spain

Don Alistair and Don Bruce returned to the thin electron ladder that stopped forward exploration last week. Now armed with a rope forward progress resumed down a short slippy climb that lead onward along comfortable rift passage until another home made ladder appeared heading upwards.

Climbing this lead into a maze like jumble of huge boulders. Some squeezing and trutching rewarded us with another large chamber bedecked with a fixed rope traverse high up on the left wall. Obviously the original way on before the sump pool it bypassed dried out. The obvious way on through the dry sump soon brought a halt at a norrow rift with another home made ladder hanging from it. The effort to climb up and exit the narrow rift was well worth all the huffing and puffing.

"Calle Facile" is full of the most astonishing formations. Huge columns stretching over 20 m up into the darkness above, fangs of countless stalagtites decorating the roof and white crystalised flowstone seeping down the walls. "Fantastic"

It was time to return from this point. The way on for next week continues on along good sized walking passage. No problems finding he way out this week. Usual dos cervaza's serveed with tapas of pork cracking and mince on bread. Not the ideal veggie feast, but Don Alistair made the most of it.

3rd Feb 2008 PB4 Spain

Don Alistair and Don Bruce returned to the thin electron

3rd Feb 2008 PB4 Spain

Don Alistair and Don Bruce returned to the thin electron ladder that stopped forward exploration last week armed with a rope. A short slippy climb down lead onward along comfortable rift passage until another home made ladder appeared heading upwards. Climbing this lead into a maze like jumble of huge boulders.

Thursday 31 January 2008

31st Jan 2008 - Notts II

Phil admiring the main master cave in Notts II

A biting cold wind made us rush into the relative warmth of the cave, although the water in the main stream way was pretty refreshing! We explored one of the recently excavated inlets which took us to some amazingly pristine formations.

Enjoying the rewards of a rather muddy crawl!

The chilling water leading to the upstream sumps was enough to make us turn back, pausing to photograph the big stal of "Vlad the Impaler", and then back up the chaotic scaffolding of the entrance shaft. There is plenty of cave to come back to again, in many places there are ropes leading of into side passages and avens, and I'm sure some good photographic opportunities.
Click here for a full screen slide show.

Click here for a short video sequence showing a variety of passages in the cave

Sunday 27 January 2008

27th Jan 2008 - PB4 TNC(spain)

Sunday saw the Spanish branch of the TNC heading back into Cueva PB4 hoping to find where they got to last week. This week Alistair has brought enough lighting power to see where he was going so it was easy to follow the obvious fault with it's complex levels through boulder chokes into various impressive chambers. All containing majestic formations.

The nature of the cave very reminiscent to Lancaster hole, only drier and warmer. A perfect place for this little fella to hang out for winter

From last weeks furthest point the cave continued like a quality rock route, obvious passages interspersed by cruxy route finding leading on to more caverns full of unique formations. Eventually the way on lead down a rift equipped with a short length of rope with a ( very old and thin) electron ladder tied to the end. Though enticing enough, consensus was to return next week with a rope for further exploration.

We only got lost twice this week on the way out. Still managed to get to the pub for the obligatory dos cervazes and tapas of squid and sardines. No pickled eggs and Canadian ham crisps here.

Saturday 26 January 2008

25th Jan 2008 - Notts Pot BT Route

Only when reading the description in detail as we were about to enter the BT passage did Alistair find out what BT stood for - and it wasn't Bacon and Tomato, or Big Tube. I'm sure you can guess!

Alistair enjoying BT crawl

Although it is not apparently tight by moderns standards (whatever that means) it is just a bit awkward more than anything else. The big problem however was that after hauling all the gear to the top of the main pitch in BT route we found that it was still equipped only with spits (Elliot Bolts).

Elliot Bolt in BT Route - would you trust your life to this?

Apart from the fact that these bolts are 30 years old, rust and stripped, we didn't have any hangers for these. So we made our way back through the BT passage, taking a few photos of the grimmer, grimier side of Dales caving. Short video clip here!

Full Slideshow here

Sunday 20 January 2008

20th Jan 2008 - PB4 Castril (Spain)

At last the Spanish Branch of the TNC is up and running. Comprising of Bruce and Alistair (Hon TNC member). The project is to explore a local Castril cave known by the imaginative name of PB4. PB4 is a system over 3 km long with numerous levels, many still unexplored and undocumented . At present the total number of people who have been to the end of( the known) system is less than 20. Below is the most up to date survey of the system. Note the ? marks at the end !

Our object on this trip was to follow the main way. First though we had to find it. As to true TNC form this took some time. However after much traversing the rocky hillside the entrance was eventually discovered. Our main aim of this first trip was to find the main way on. This lead to the second route finding problem within 30 metres. After much furkling around a narrow slot lead down to a phreatic passage then on to a hading rift terminating in an impressively decorated cavern. From this point there were several ways on. The most obvious way lead into another huge cavern. From here various dead ends forced us to climb a slippery wall into another narrow muddy tube. A straightforward squeeze opened up into another large passage with huge prehistoric formations. Another cavern gave us a number of option for the way on so we decided to leave that till next week. Our estimated distance travelled into the cave was around 300 m.

On the way back we managed the find the down stream sump. Luckily Phil was not there !

Friday 18 January 2008

17th Jan 2008 - County Pot

John on the Poetic Justice pitch

A very wet evening with water pouring of the fells saw us head to the relatively dry venue of County Pot. Showerbath Passage was impressive, as was Spout Hall. John "enjoyed" the struggle up "Poetic Justice" and we turned around at the main trident streamway, a roaring turbulent flow of brown water. Probably safe enough but the photography had taken us a while. The ladders give pictures an extra perspective, perhaps we should use them more!

On exiting the cave we met another couple of cavers on there way in. Apparently they are keen Thursday night cavers to!


Wednesday 2 January 2008

1st Jan 2008 - Costa Blanca Caves

We were invited to explore some seldom visited caves high above Finestrat in the Costa Blanca area of Spain, and ended up exploring some new passage ways with potential for further exploration. The caves were mainly vertical faults, with big formations and lots of flow stone.

The second cave had seen very few if any previous visits and eventually the way on was pushed by Alistair, Javi and Paul who descended a narrow vertical tube between tufa walls to enter a large rubble floored chamber. Approx 40 metres below the surface.