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

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