Saturday 24 January 2009

23rd January 2009 - Destination damnation

Easegill again ... but this time it was to be one of the many caves that link into the main drain via miles of small passages and sumps. This trip saw us dropping down another RRPC dry stone walled shaft into the tortuous rift that is called Mistral Hole. Twenty minutes of crawling and manoeuvring around left and right angled bends leads one to Dusty Junction, where a left turn leads to Link Pot and straight on goes towards the HALL of TEN.

Hall of The Ten

In there we dropped down into the Pippikin Streamway and followed a meandering passage back towards the last pitch in Pippikin for a while. Retracing our steps to Hall of Ten we ascended the south slope to a silt balcony and a junction of tunnels. To the left a route descended into the fantastically gloopy mud of the HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING where we found an amazing piece of mud art!

We then followed the Wellington Boot Traverse and a scramble up a mud slope to gain the high level passages of GOTHIC SERIES and the HALL OF THE DAMNED with a huge fill of boulders and avens.

Back at the junction the main route continues straight on from the wide chamber as a wide and low passage into the vastness of CROSS HALL where an aven inlet sank in a mass of boulders. At this point we thought we were in Gour Hall (but queried why there were no gour pools!!). We hadn't actually got there so ... we will have to return again! Alistair descended a hole down in the bottom NE corner of the hall which lead through a squeeze to a 7m pitch followed by a 3m climb, then an unstable boulder slope and 4m pitch into a small chamber. It was a bit grim and 'out there' so he came back out!

The return journey was tiring as the passage consists of a lot of flat out crawling through sticky mud but once at Dusty Junction the out trip through the Mistral was quickly over, enticed as we were by the breeze blowing in our faces (that is why it is called the Mistral) and out into a fantastic starry night.

Monday 19 January 2009

16th January 2009 - Another fine evening in Easegill

11 years ago in 1997 the TNC had an 'exciting half an hour' misplaced somewhere below Easegill Aven and underneath Molluscan Hall ... could we find the way through ... well we must have done because I am telling this story now (read about the 1997 trip here). The plan tonight was to start to re-explore the two ends of the trip with a view to linking it again.

We set off in slightly wet and muddier conditions than last week when the ground was well frozen, across the moor to County Pot where the familiar passages soon gave way to the ladder pitch that leads to Broadway. A quick trip down the classic streamway led to Spout Hall where a climb up into the roof gives the way into Ignorance Is Bliss, which is a bypass leading into Pierce's Passage and the route into the main drain at Eureka Junction.

In the main streamway there was evidence of very high water levels (froth in the roof up to five meters!) that must have happened when the snow and ice melted in the rain earlier in the week. A cold duck through Stop Pot saw us heading up the ladder into the High Level Route and eventually Main Line Terminus. From here the next twenty minutes were a bit frustrating because although we found the Sideline Passage where we wrongly went back in 1997, we could not find the way into the Mancunian Way and the route to Easgill Aven (just like the last time!).

A rest in Carrot Chamber in absolute silence and darkness was broken as we retraced our steps to Mainline Terminus where the Manchester Bypass was taken back to Battle of Britain Hall in County Pot. An exciting route and a useful one to learn as it affords as escape route out of the high level series if Stop Pot is flooded.

A quick return out of County and the soggy plod back across the moor saw us changed and heading towards the Barbon Inn for a pint.

More research needed on Mancunian Way next week I think.

Sunday 11 January 2009

9th January 2008 - A fine evening in Ease Gill

Not only are the Red Rose busy above ground, renovating their Bull Pot Farm Headquarters (or are they creating a direct access from the changing rooms straight into Bull Pot of the Witches?), but they've also been busy underground too. At the bottom of the Wretched Rabbit climbs there now sits a dry stone walled entrance into the upper reaches of Spiral Staircase passage. Descending through it we were almost instantly met with the first formations of the evening, a series of pristine straws.

Spiral Staircase Passage

Photos taken, we carefully continued down via a couple of climbs with fixed ropes into Green and Smelly passage, another climb and finally to Lower 'T' Piece passage. Dick and Tom were now in terrority they recognised from years previously and trips down through the Borehole or up to Top Sink. Instructions such as "follow downstream" were harder than usual to follow as most of the water that usually flows down through the Ease Gill lay frozen on the surface. Despite the drought like conditions not helping navigation we soon found ourselves at Holbeck junction, a point we would be returning to later in the evening. We were once again surrounded by impressive decorations as we made our way up the Thackray's Passage streamway and up into the White Way.

White Way

This opens out into the Assembly Hall and the first of the climbs that lead up into Easter Grotto.

Easter Grotto

While the floor is no longer pure white and some formations have been destroyed since its discovery back in the Easter of 1951, it is still an impresive place to visit and the rusty, pineapple like features on some of the stal were a new sight for me.
The taped route takes you through into a parallel and slightly less well decorated passage before an ominous looking hole appears in the floor. Dropping through this, the way on is via a 30m long crawl. The crawl is not overly high and a couple of stalagmite stumps restrict movement further. Its floor however is made of calcite and with a bit of water on top of it, progress can be made quite easily by sliding your body along. Over enthusiasm for this means of propulsion needs to be curtailed before the end of the passage however as it appears from a slot about 2m above the floor at the end of Gypsum Cavern. Tackling this obstical headfirst would probably hurt. The cavern is higher than Easter Grotto so its stalagtites hang a safe distance above cavers' heads in all their glory.

Gypsum Caverns

Climbing out of the cavern up another fixed rope soon brought us back to Holbeck junction and the route through to Stop pot. From here it's possible to return directly to Wretched rabbit but we took advantage of the low water conditions and made our way down the trickle of a stream to Eureka junction. Standing with the water barely lapping over our feet it was sobbering to see froth on the roof of the passageway.
Then it was 'just' back up Wretched Rabbit to the frozen moor.

Thursday 1 January 2009

31st December 2008 A Yorkshire Classic

One of the wonders of our technological age is the speed with which news can travel around the globe.
Barely had the dust settled from the Skylight Passage breakthrough before word had made it across the channel and members of the overseas contingent of the TNC were heading from the cave bereft Vercors to Calais and the first ferry to Yorkshire.
After driving through freezing mist, Ingleton was reached where a recent copy of Descent and a pair of Wellingtons (obviously given the person they're named after they can't sell these in France) were quickly purchased. The survey was then hastily photocopied (it's worth knowing that the very pleasant lady in the Ingleton post office has a copier for these sort of occasions) before we headed up and out of the fog onto sun drenched tops.
The walk over the fell was superb with just the tops of the Marble steps trees poking out of the fog with the shapely summit of Ingleborough behind. Cresting the hill, the majestic Lake District fells too appeared island like above the sea of cloud.
Dropping into the depression that surrounds the cavern we said goodbye to the sun for the last time this year and made our way down through stalagtites and columns of ice before reaching the first of the pitches.
With Ding, Dong and Bell behind us we passed the bottom of Bubble's route before packing away the SRT gear and climbing up into the Glory Holes. The crawl leading away from these had a sauna like quality and a brief break in the Lounge allowed us chance to adjust clothing before pushing on through the Turtle crawl and its green, half shelled inhabitants.
Struggling with a tackle sack along, first Cripple creek and then Numpty rift, Paul cheerily reminded me that not far below us was the huge stomping tunnel of Duke street - not much consolation. This was however provided by the formations and generous dimensions of Womack chamber.
Beyond this point is a true Indiana Jones style adventure with in situ rope ladders taking you up and down through a series of relatively tight crawls before the final fun and games of the breakthrough point pop you out at a traverse across a wall high above the passage floor. A final climb down then drops you into the vastness of Jupiter cavern.
After a brief explore it was time to drop down into Escalator rift and finally a piece of passage way I recognised from our previous visit to Ireby II. Paul stepped into Duke Street II finally fulfilling a long held dream of visiting this side of the sump.
The Skylight passage crawl felt far more spacious than previously, though I think this is in comparison to what had gone before rather than further excavation since our last visit. The passageway to the bottom of the first pitches seemed longer than ever and by the time we passed the entrance to the Glory Holes once again I was beginning to feel the effects of the journey and happily passed derigging duties over to Paul.
Under clear skies the temperature on the surface had dropped even further and Paul's bare hands stuck to the first rung on the metal ladder in the entrance pipe. Avoiding touching the higher rungs we emerged onto the moor to a stunning display of stars and a sliver of the moon, having completed what must become one of the classic yorkshire caving trips.
Huge thanks have to go to those who pioneered both the dry routes through to Ireby II making this trip possible and to Dave in Inglesport for his helpful advice on completing the trip.

23rd December 2008 Through to Ireby II

As previously reported the epic dig from Whirlpool chamber in Ireby has now gone so it was now time for the TNC to see what lay beyond. After a visit to the sump we retraced our steps and headed up into the aptly named Skylight passage.

far side of Ireby II sump

Fortunately in the week or so since the breakthrough, substantial further widening had taken place and Dick was soon climbing down the ladder into Ireby II.
Making our way along the canal brought us into the magnificently proportioned Duke Street II which joins the small number of sequels such as the Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part II which are actually better than the original. Arriving at the sump we finally got to see the other end of the blue pipe that took water from behind the dam in Duke Street and allowed it to drain back through the sump, a truly ingenious solution. Passing incredibly stratified mud banks we then followed the streamway up through the continuation of Duke St. Had our flash guns recieved a little more tender loving care we would probably have been able to capture the fantastic proportions of the tunnel, but my neglect left Tom very little light to work with.

Duke Street II

At the end of the large passage way there are two obvious ways on. To the right led to a low crawl who's aqueous nature soon put me off and to the left the way on to Escalator rift. After a short recce we retraced our steps to the canal and the short climb up to the Skylight passage. Then back up the ropes to the entrance.

Ireby Fell Cavern Entrance

19th December 2008 Lancaster Hole

While the end of the Autumn term is always worth marking, today also marked Dick's retirement so it was off to Lancaster hole to celebrate. Dick's a popular man but I don't think even he could believe the number of cars already parked at Bull Pot farm and the number of teams already chalked up on the board. This on one of the wettest days we've had.

Bull pot Farm Changing rooms - now being revamped

Sheltering under the eaves of the farm house we debated our options, standing waiting at the top of Lancaster on an evening such as this, as lots of people make their way out isn't a very pleasant experience. Our indecision paid off however as one by one groups came and rubbed their names off the board and we decided to change and head across the fell. Timing it to perfection we arrived just as the final member of a party was coming out of the entrance on their "last caving trip" (if you reconsider and go again and would like the items you left at the top of the pitch back, please leave a comment).

Wet day in Lancaster Hole

The normally dry pitch was in full flow and it was with relief we headed into Bridge Hall and down into Kath's Way.

Kath's Way

With the amount of water about we had decided on more modest objectives and after a trip to the edge of Fall Pot, made our way into Wilf Taylor's passage.

Wilf Taylors Passage

After visiting the water coming through from Bull Pot of the Witches we made our way back to the ropes with a short Champagne stop on route.
Heading up the ropes when we arrived were a party who'd made their way from Top sink, an impressive achievement given the amount of water about. The climb up allowed sufficient opportunity to clean all our gear, as the spray exploding off the ledges fired water at you from every direction. From the top of the pot we set off to enjoy the rest of the Christmas holidays and for Dick the start of a new chapter in life- here's to you.