Thursday 30 December 2010

December 30th 2010 - Lancaster Hole to Wretched Rabbit

The Collonades Chamber in Lancaster Hole
A team of five assembled early at Bull Pot Farm for this classic through trip. Just a few icy patches where left on the paths, and most of the recent snow had now thawed. Lancaster Hole had several ropes down it already, but with everyone abseiling stright down from the top with no re-belays we were all down in about 30 minutes.

After a quick detour to see the Collonades we headed to Fall Pot (seeing some other cavers leaving up the far slopes as we arrived). With two young cavers in our team (Andrew and Matty) we protected the slippery fixed rope descent with a top rope.

Heading into Montague East we briefy stopped to enjoy the spectacular formations at Bob's Boss and Painters Palette before carrying on to Stake Pot.

The Painters Palette in the Hight Level Series
Once again we top roped the youngsters across the exposed descent and re-ascent at Stake Pot, and then continued past the minarets before stopping for a bite to eat. Ian was overheating and briefly stripped down to his undies much to everyone elses amusement! I won't put the photo of this on here, but you can see it on the slideshow!

The Minarets

Exiting the Minarets

Passing through the silent Cornes Cavern and Monster Cavern soon we were at the fixed ladder leading us down into Stop Pot and everyone had a drink of water from the river. A cold section in quite deep water in the Stop Pot boulder choke took us downstream to Eureka Junction.

Mark tackling the boulder choke in the main streamway at Stop Pot
All that remained was the long twisting passages of Wretched Rabbit, always good entertainment, everyone seemed to have plenty of energy left to tackle the awkward climbs and crawls of this classic bit of passage.

In the Wretched Rabbit Meanders

After roping the lads up the last climbs we arrived on the surface at twilight, 6 hours after starting. A very good effort for a team of 5 including two novices annd two 13 year olds! All that remained was to walk back across the moor in the fading daylight and then return to Lancaster Hole to get out ropes.

A happy team back on the surface

Map showing Location of Lancaster Hole

Lancaster Hole / Easegill Survey showing Route - click for large image

Saturday 18 December 2010

17th December 2010 Diccan Pot

The Awesome last pitch of Diccan Pot

A very cold night saw Lawrence breaking ice as he drove up the track to Alum Pot (Lawrence is a VW campervan).  The temperature when we stepped outside was well below freezing so the change into caving gear and sorting out the ropes was conducted quickly.  Just as we finished packing, the cream team arrived back at their bus, cold and wet from their day of training for their level 2 cave leaders award, TNC member Ali having been there learning new techniques to speed up our trips underground so we can arrive at the pub quicker.

The entrance to Long Churn was icy and icicle festooned as we slipped underground, the air temperature difference immediately noticeable. The water level was quite high despite the freezing conditions outside and the water temperature was low.  Our feet were wet by the time we reached the top of the first pitch of Diccan Pot.

Descending the main pitch

The first pitch was spray lashed but quickly dispatched once the third re-hang was rigged.  Once at the bottom of the second part of the pitch in the dry away from the spray it was time to watch the water lashing over the rocky ledge in the backlight from Tom's Scurrion light.

The second pitch was passed in the dry followed by the final awesome pitch that requires a traverse above a huge chasm leading to a technical descent that involves pendulums to catch deviation slings in the sloping roof in order to guide the rope away from the thundering water falling down the back of the pitch.  A single re-hang off a ledge led to a final icy-spray lashed pitch landing in a pool about 5 metres away from the terminal sump of Alum Pot.

A quick look at the sump pool and then off up the passage towards Alum Pot and the daylight (now dark as it was nearly the shortest day) shaft where we had heard from the cream team that icicles were falling  down the shaft.  We were brought up short by the short pitch leading up into the open air where ice pearls were forming on the rocks, formed from spray splashing off the rocks.

Ice covered rocks at the bottom of Alum Pot

Back at the foot of the ropes it was Tom's turn to de-rig.  The awesome pitch caused some wild swings  as the rope was freed from the deviation slings, the light from above and from Tom's Scurrion showing that he swung into the water falling  down with the stream.

At the last pitch Tom went up first as his hands were really cold and the rope was spray lashed for 3/4 of its length.  Climbing the pitch brought us soaked and cold back to the re-hangs, which were fortunately above the spray.  Once back the head of the pitch the 80m rope wouldn't fit back in the ropebag so it was  coiled on top but with the water in the bag and weight of the rope the final 50m back up the stream passage was hard going.

Returning up the main pitch

Once back on the surface the cold hit us.  Wet gloves froze to metalware, the rope bags formed hard ice carapaces and our suits froze hard.  

Back at Lawrence a quick change led us to the warming drive to the once famous caving pub of the Craven Heifer in Ingleton where generations of cavers have drunk the night away.  If only we could say that a warm welcome awaited but .... well that is another story.

Sunday 12 December 2010

10th December 2010 - New Rift Pot

In the description of New Rift it mentions that even with moderate rain the crawl between the first and second pitches can become impassable. It hasn't rained in weeks but the cold snap had ended during Wednesday night and with temperatures rising by the best part of 20 degrees what effect would the snow melt have had?
With neither of us ever having visited Rift before, there was only one way to find out...

As we drove up the lane to Mason gill we could see that a lot of water had come down recently with gravel strewn across the road in a number of places. Just before the water treatment works the sheet ice started and Tom skillfully turned the car around before parking on the most ice free spot we could find.

Finding the large shake hole in which the entrance sits, our worst fears were becoming a reality. The remaining snow was melting fast and all of the melt water was making it's way down the wood covered opening. As we geared up we heard an ominous rumble from within, a lump of ice making its way down the first pitch.

From within the entrance we began to get an idea of the amount of material held back by earlier explorers using wood shuttering. Neither the state of some of the wood, nor the water filtering through it filled us with much confidence, still there were some nice ice formations. An in-situ rope soon saw us at the bottom of the pitch and a first look down the crawl leading to the next pitch.

The water seemed to be confined to a very small trench in the crawl, so removing my SRT gear I set off to have a look. A couple of shallow pools were no match for my brand new, tailormade undersuit and so I kept going till a slot in the floor allowed me to stand up. Nice and cosy and working on the principle that the melt rate should be decreasing as the night set in, I set off down into another crawling section.

Unlike the wider passage that had gone before, this was more tube like. Another drop in the floor beckoned so I kept going until I had the disconcerting feeling of water coming over my shoulders. Though the drop in the floor was only a couple of feet away I crawled backwards as fast as I could, trying to let the backed up water run underneath me, rather than over. Standing once again and lesson learnt I made way back to Tom and the climb back up to the entrance.

Tom making his way out of the entrance (exit?)

Tom accepted my apology for possibly not the best choice of cave and the forshortened nature of the trip with unparalled grace. It was almost as though he was happy to be making his way back to the pub so soon.
As we approached the water board building, there was something not quite right. On leaving the car it had been neatly parked by the side of the lane next to one of the walls. It now sat nearly right across it about 6 feet further down the lane. The handbrake was still on and there was no sign of outside interference. Spooky.
"I'm sure this is where I parked the car."
John would have loved this trip, we probably spent longer in the Craven Heifer than we did underground and still got home at a reasonable time.
My thanks go to Dennis at Jumpsuits for a fantastic new undersuit and my apologies again to Tom for about the shortest trip of the season so far.