Saturday 24 December 2011

23rd December 2011 - bis Ihre Brustwarzen in kaltem Wasser

Mince pies and brandy at Groundsheet Junction

Lee's mellowing with age and he no longer needs pitches of Titanlike proportion to fly over from Germany to go caving with us. Thus we found ourselves on Leck fell with three bags of rope and a pile of maillons for a trip into Lost Johns'.

Despite it's accessability I realised recently that I'd never been to the bottom of the pitches, trips over the years having involved different exchanges but never going further than the cross over points, well above the master cave.

Water levels as we drove up the Lune valley were high and the entrance series was definitely "active". While traversing the first big hole in the floor of the entrance passage felt a little airy it at least separated us from the water and we found ourselves in near silence. Near silence in that while the noise of the water had abated, we were left with a low frequency, almost subsonic, ominous, beating rumble.

At the first short pitch, Dick was at once in his element. While my maillon tightening and knot tying speed are best measured on the same time scale as cave development, Dick fluently passed bolts, leaving a thin yellow line in his wake. All the more impressive considering a later, over a pint admission, that without his glasses, it's all done by feel!

I was looking forward to the Battleaxe traverse and wasn't disappointed. Back and footing along the top of the meandering rift, with occasional glances of the stream far below really is impressive and the Valhalla pitch at the end of it is no anticlimax. Reaquainted with the stream in the form of a fine waterfall, the volume of the cave once again increased and we headed quickly for the final pitch.

Here we found ourselves having to traverse above the p-hangered route down in the maelstrom, a couple of older Petzl bolts providing the security that then allowed us to rejoin the normal route a little further along the streamway.

A short section of meandering stream then finally brought us to the master cave at Groundsheet Junction. A stomp down railway tunnel size passageway always feels the right thing to do after so much verticality and we headed downstream. As Lee pointed out, 10 minutes of walking along a stream like this would soon cement where the deeper parts of a stream are found at bends for any budding GCSE geographer.

The water level slowly increased and the roof level slowly decreased until I began to fear for my car keys which don't like cold water. Dick and Lee looked almost disappointed at this and only reluctently turned around. Walking up stream is definitely harder than walking down, but mince pies and brandy set us up nicely for the return up the pitches.

Lee discovered that it's also much easier to prussik up pitches if you leave behind rope filled tackle sacks for the poor sod behind you!

Would you like a hand with carrying that rope?

Actually it's easier without it.

Saturday 26 November 2011

25th November 2011 - Descent Part III

So technically it should be part II, given that this was only our second trip to the abandoned copper mine workings above Coniston, but someone's already used the name for a high concept film exploring the human condition using a caving trip as a metaphor for a search into the parts of our psyche usually deeply hidden in the shadows, oh and it has monsters and lycra clad, ice axe brandishing girls in it too.

While we didn't actually see any monsters, something had definitely been knawing at the rope leading deeper into one of the veins. At least it was anchored to a bomb proof railway line.

Though the vastness of some of the stopes on the Hospital level gave witness to the riches that had been found in these hillsides, lengthy tunnels to nowhere reminded us of the days and weeks of hopefull toil, following a thin, mineral vein that yeilded no viable reserves of ore.

Reading Paul in awe of the ore.

Emerging into a wild night it was off to sample the wares of the Black Bull, a great pub with the further advantage of it's own en suite brewery. Fortunately they also do carryout, so after a pint we could relocate to our campsite for the night at Tilberthwaite.

The Met office warning of high winds and torrential rain had the softer members of the TNC scurrying home to write blogs, while those hardened to the elements set off with Reading Paul for a day's mountain biking at Whinlatter.

Saturday 19 November 2011

18th November 2011 - Miss Marple Investigates

Given that the season has only just begun, alibis seem to be arriving ever earlier in the week.
John's arrived on Wednesday, which allowed ample time for the alibi to be fully investigated. incredibly it appears to have been genuine, or John has set up a call and e-mail response centre solely to back up his excuses.
Phil's arrived on the night in the form of a doctors note, but Tom left his 'til the very last minute with the classic quote, "I think I've left my SRT gear at home." Unfortunately he'd forgotten to clear a spare pulley jammer, assorted krabs and all the old bits of tat out of his bag. Thus a few minutes later he was fully equiped and ready to go.
Dick was keen to be rigging again and set off down the pitches with a 10 out of 10 for his skills and a massive improvement on my efforts a fortnight earlier (given 5/10 and more tellingly re-rigged by Tom before he set off down).
As with reaching a summit on a mountain, it's always nice to reach a sump in a cave and even better if there are two. The dive lines disappearing into the murk a testament to divers being a different breed.

A few pretties completed the trip before Tom ably filled in for John by declaring in a headmasterly tone that it was time for the pub.

Friday 11 November 2011

Grotte Du Guiers Vif, Chartreuse. Friday 11th November

Les horloges ont repris, après la mi-Octobre a passé (nous avions un bon moment à Swanage) et une semaine a passé depuis ce qui pourrait / devrait / aurait dû être le TNC première compétition de la saison 2011/2012. Mais ... après une semaine sans blog a été prochain afin de l'hypothèse doit être faite que la saison n'a pas réellement commencé et a donc été laissé au membre de l'équipe voyageant en association avec le CSFdTNC (fédérée août 2007) (Club Français de Spelologie Jeudi Nuit Club) branche à la clandestinité et le blog du voyage réclamant ainsi le premier voyage de la saison.

En France la spéléologie n'est pas seulement une courte distance de marche de la voiture, mais une expédition d'alpinisme suivie par la grotte avec une descente Via Ferrata à la voiture. La promenade jusqu'à la grotte a commencé avec une équipe de 4 le plan en cours pour deux de la partie pour visiter la ville aux cascades et ensuite travailler leur chemin de retour vers le bar. Les deux autres (Dick et David) porterait sur la montagne escarpée jusqu'à la grotte, puis descendre explorer cette cascade de la route de retour à la barre a aidé par la bien équipé par des équipements ferratta. L'autre chose à propos de spéléologie En France était qu'il n'y avait aucun besoin de poids des vêtements, oversuits, bottes en caoutchouc et des casques. Les larges passages, marche facile et sec grotte chaude répondant aux critères pour un 'voyage de moelleux 'avait pas été pour l'ascension et la descente de montagne alpine.

Une fois trouvé (il ya de nombreux détournements sur le trajet ascendant de la montagne) l'entrée de la grotte fit signe d'approcher l'autre côté du couloir d'entrée très vaste. L'eau de la grotte émergents cinquante mètres en dessous de la série d'entrée fossilisés dans le visage du cirque. Exploration des passages important dans la grotte nous a conduit via un arbre de 80m avec de l'eau d'entrer, vers le puisard où les photos ont été prises et la sortie a été effectuée par une autre voie de passage fascinant dépôts stratifiés retourner vers l'entrée.

La descente pour revenir à la barre a commencé par une ruée vers le bas d'une ravine en passant sous une arche de comparaître à la résurgence, qui est tombé sur une chute d'eau pour les rochers en contrebas. Câbles étaient en place pour protéger la montée à travers les rochers au fond de la cascade, où plus de photos ont été prises. 

Quelques éboulis opérationnel rapidement conduit à la cascade suivante où le brouillage a conduit à la piste touristique et un sprint rapide retour vers le bar où les membres des équipes d'autres (Sharon et Christine) attendaient avec de la bière prête.

Friday 26 August 2011

21st August 2011 - A lesson in determination

July's visit to the Cupcake had taken place on a blue sky day with temperatures nudging into the mid twenties leading to accusations of madness from some members of the TNC. Luckily for Tom as another blue sky day dawned and the thermometer this time headed towards 30, he was on a plane to Spain and therefore had a watertight alibi for not caving. Two years ago while enjoying the Mackrill's superb hospitality on the Vercors plateau, Paul had taken us to visit his dig which at the time had reached -23m and was beginning to make its way into the side of a boulder choke. Now it was time to see what progress had been made in the intervening years.

Even though much of the walk to the dig is tree covered, it was still hot. Fortunately my PVC suit was hung up at home as even in shorts and a T-shirt I'd soon worked up a sweat. Arriving at the dig, the plants round the base of the covering tent trembled in a chilling breeze eminating from the entrance. I've often read of cave discoveries being made by the witnessing of twitching vegetation on still days, but this was the first time I'd seen such a strong draught.

Making our way down the initial climb the draught continued blowing up my trouser legs and sleeves. We soon arrived at the previous deep point and were greeted by a beautifully cast concrete lintel, where once there had just been boulders. Beneath the lintel the way on lay open and the passage led around the corner into an open rift, leading both up and down. The pullies above and spoil filled cavities acted as reminders that even though this rift appeared open now, a lot of work had gone into making it so. Our work for the day was to install a number of stempel steps in the lower part of the rift, to allow easier access to the digging "face" and also to see if we could make any further progress. Paul swiftly installed the new steps with an efficiency born of years of experience and it was soon time to try making his dig a little deeper.

Paul demonstrated his technique for capping, highlighting the importance of each step in the preparation process and the need to be methodical. A dull thud then took off a large chunk of rock at the bottom of the rift. Paul systematically prepared a new hole, before it was my go. This time the dull thud was accompanied by the tinkling sound of the firing screwdriver dropping down into the boulders below, a little more practice is required. Having loosened a fair bit of rock it was now time to shift it up the shaft and store it in a large alcove. I was quickly reintroduced to the hauling system that I last remember being employed to take material to the surface, unfortunately all my triathlon training had left me at lithe race weight (I wish) and Paul had to send up half loads to prevent my dangling ineffectually in the air. After a good few bucket loads we'd lowered the dig by nearly a metre with a draught and beckoning blackness that would excite even the most pessimistic of diggers. Huge thanks to Paul once again for the superb hospitality, the capping lesson and another look down his dig.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

25th July 2011 - The Cupcake

It has to be something pretty special to get the TNC underground in the closed season, especially if it's the day that coincides with the English summer. An invitation from Dave Ramsay to be given a guided tour of the Cupcake and take some pictures of a new Panasonic drill in action was just enough incitement though.

Once down the finely crafted entrance pitches, the eponymous cupcake soon comes into view. Moving on into Pool chamber further collections of formations adorn small grottos too. But this isn't what the Cupcake is about and once down the Mud pitch we headed quickly for Sludge Crawl.

If you are unfortunate enough to be the first person through the crawl, then you will be disappointed that the liquid mud is covered by a centimetre or two of crystal clear water. Better to wait 'til one or two people have been through and mixed the water and mud into a homogeneous soup reminiscent of sadly odourless, slurry.

Cupcake doesn't just do horizontal liquid mud either, some of the pitches are made entirely of mud, that by some miracle of the fundamental constants of nature, allow its viscosity to be such that it can form almost vertical walls.

Close to the connection point with Notts II, the mud even goes as far as to take on a beauty of its own, forming a city of towering skyscrapers, each capped by a small, protective stone. Sadly, I need more practice with my new camera and their architectural grandeur eluded my memory card.

Dave then got into position with his drill and hopefully, despite not having a "DIY tools" setting on my camera, we hopefully managed to get a usable shot.

Huge thanks go to the diggers for creating the access to this particularly muddy part of Yorkshire and to Dave especially for also showing us around.

Tom realises why John doesn't answer Alistairs calls any more

Alistair "enjoying" himself

Saturday 9 April 2011

7th April 2011 - Swinsto to Valley Entrance

"Well, the water from Rowten runs into Valley entrance and the water from Swinsto does too, but joining a bit further along. If Valley entrance is in line with those trees and it must run generally in that direction. Now it can't be as far as Aquamole because that water runs into..." It had turned out lovely again and our objective for the night had been switched to Swinsto, which unfortunately we hadn't brought the description for. Luckily Dick's logical assessment of the hydrology of the pots above the Turberry road soon found us at an entrance he recognised. We left the rope on the first pitch in place 'til he was sure we were in the right place and then he was off down Swinsto's long crawl. I'd almost have preferred it had it just been a long crawl, the constant changing between hands and knees crawling and stooping putting me off my stride. At least it wasn't painful on the knees, the cold water numbing them quite effectively. The roaring of water grew louder and louder until the sight of Dick's light once again confirmed we were at the next pitch. As soon as I arrived he was down the pitch, the pace helping to keep us warm. It would have been nice to say that we then got into a steady rythmn of one person derigging the previous pitch while the next was being rigged, but Dick's fluid rope work tended to be heavily punctuated by my less than fluent efforts. "So if I'm abbing on this end, then the knot needs to be....". Still I suppose it's better to get these things right. One thing that did remain constant however, was the excitement of descending each of the spray lashed pitches, the water being the perfect temperature to provide maximum exhiliration. The through trip really is one of the Yorkshire classics, an active streamway, followed through constantly changing cave to a master cave, with the added benefit of a thirty second walk back to the car at the end. To top off a great evening we needed a good pint of proper beer, a large packet of crisps and an open fire to sit right next too. These three were amply provided, along with a very warm welcome at the newly opened Marton Arms. As with calculus and rural post offices, suppose you either use it or lose it.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

1st April 2011 - Sunset Hole

With the end of the season rapidly approaching, Sunset seemed an aptly named cave to visit. Driving up the Lune Valley, large ponds of water in the flood plane gave testament to how wet it had been recently, but we hoped it had stopped raining long enough for a trip down this very active system. In all our memories it's just a wander down fine meandering passageway with a couple of little, free climbs before arriving at the main pitch. How different a place can be with a bit more water running down it. Both "free climbs" were rigged, the second especially, well clear of the water.

Having dropped down the main pitch, a rope ladder hung enticingly from the opposite side of the chamber, offering a way on into parts of the system I'd never visited. While the cave leading to the main pitch had been walking down a streamway, in this side of the caving we were crawling through what appeared to be washed out shale beds, almost from the off. A second in situ rope dropped us down into another bedding at the end of which lay a "final" chamber. On the return to the rope, Tom took a slightly different path and discovered the not so inviting corkscrew squeeze that leads further into the system. Fortunately none of us felt like even giving it a try, as we later discovered that it leads straight on to the top of another pitch. At the top of the squeeze lay a good number of chocolate bar wrappers. Evidence of someone spending a little longer in the squeeze than anticipated?

Emerging into daylight we made our way to a packed Craven Heifer. John's alibi for not going caving with us next week - he's going caving.

Monday 28 March 2011

25th March 2011 - Ingleborough Cave

With sick notes coming in thick and fast from the majority of the team, a rather reduced party made its way from Clapham up the track to Ingelborough cave under clear blue skies. Even with only the background lights on, caving in a show cave is a peculiar experience. You turn your lamp off and it doesn't go dark. We quickly made our way through the opening galleries of what must be one of the prettiest show caves in Britain and stopped for some pictures at the first Gothic Arch. 
First Gothic Arch

At the end of the show cave lies the pool of reflection and again we stopped to try and get some good shots. Beyond this point the lights and concrete floor are left behind as you make your way through elegantly shaped passageway, floored with sand. John, Tom noted that this would make excellent building sand.

Beyond the show cave

A short pool led to the show caves flood defence gate before the sandy passageway continued, leading to a bend, which once rounded, revealed passage way adorned with curtains and the second Gothic Arch.

Second Gothic Arch

Up until this point the cave had been lovely and fluffy, but with a downward sloping sandy crawl the cave's nature changed dramatically. Comfy walking passageways were soon replaced with low bedding plane crawls and the comfy sand replaced with knobbly rock. Things could have been even worse, were it not for the nicely padded ladders over the wetter bits.

Beyond Giants Hall

Returning back up the sandy slope our hearts went out to egg laying turtles the world over. It's not easy to crawl up steep sand. Whether flippers improve or further impede progress is something we're left to ponder.
Huge thanks go to Sue and Bob Jarman for making this trip into their fine cave possible.

Sunday 20 March 2011

18th March 2011 - Lost John's in Derbyshire

Shares in British Airways have plummeted as John has found he doesn't have to travel all the way to South America to have an alibi for caving, Derbyshire will do just fine.
Those of us unable to make it to exotic destinations, however, found ourselves walking across the moors on a stunning spring evening towards a portal to the underground realm. So keen was Phil to once more be among caverns measureless to man, that he was 10' down the first pitch before it was suggested that he may wish to follow the time honoured tradition of attaching a rope to the pitch head and using this to aid (impede?) his descent. The initially restricted pitches soon opened out and we found ourselves descending down the side of a large chamber. Though the pitches carried on down to the roaring streamway below, we set off to explore the chamber and the passageway leading off from it.
After a good few stops for pictures during which the models and lighting technicians showed remarkable patience, it was declared time to head to the pub. The undescended last pitch serving as an excellent excuse for a return trip.
The Moon loomed large over a bank of cloud illuminating our return to the cars. Hopefully we'll still be wandering over the moors on crisp, still evenings such as these when the Moon is once again as close in 2029.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

The 2011 Christmas Party - March 12th.

The annual Easter Christmas Party was organised by John this year to be a trip down Browney Mine in Nenthead near Alston, followed by a meal at the Miner's Arms Nenthead.

The usual TNC team was swelled by a number of groupies keen to experience a fluffy trip and the party.  In addition to Tom, Phil, Dick, John and Ali, we were joined by wives Sharon, Rosie and Val and friends Brian, Holly and Anita.

The mines were fascinating, the over riding impression being of the skill the miners had in their underground world.  The sight of vaulted stone roofs, drystone walls and expertly carved tunnels made you wonder at their workmanship.  Still it was good to get out into the rainy, snowy night (not nice snow, more like slush) and to the pub for a great evening followed by a stay in the campervans and an excellent breakfast at the Miner's Arms before we split up for various Saturday activities.

One issue of note was the annual TNC Christmas quiz superbly organized by Phil.  The winner is not of importance as the quiz is just for fun but one couldn't help remembering the reaction of a certain member from last year on not winning see last years report here.  A year of swotting up on the lengths of every underground pitch in the Yorkshire Dales, the names of every cave in the Three Counties Guide and the terminal air speed velocity of the swallow were of no use when it came to this caving club quiz.  The excuses for poor performance were due in the end to the rigid thinking and inability to think 'outside the box' of the member who once again was left feeling that he had been robbed.

Saturday 12 February 2011

County Pot and Trident Series - 10th February 2011

As usual, to get a pint and of pack of crisps in one of the local pubs, we had to meet at Devil's Bridge, agree a plan, execute it, and collect evidence. The beauty of taking phtographs is that we can allow ourselves to go back to areas we have been to before. Even so, as we set off down County and headed for White Line Passage, it was still easy to imagine what it must have been like to have been first to explore the section of cave we were in for the first time.

Descending the County Pot ladder pitch

Dropping down the entrance series, it seemed friendly enough with the short pitch in place to keep out the faint hearted. Then some devious route finding through to the waterfall guarding the entrance into the trident series. We took about 15 attempts to get the lighting right for the photo here and then dropped under the wall to the left and into the streamway.

Waterfall above Trident Series

What a great sight to lean around the corner and see the thick white line shining up at us. The Trident area seemed quite complex but easy enough to navigate in fact. Back out, the rain had set in but the air was warm enough with a following wind back across the moor. We set off for The Barbon Inn hoping to find the big lady with the plate of sandwiches there again.

One of the many Trident passages

Stunning formations in little explored passages

Bizarre  'hanging' passage
She had kept them all to herself last week but there were four of us tonight and we would have her outnumbered. We had the regulation pint and a half and then started to think of the end of season bash which John is organising when we can push the boat out a bit more. A good trip which filled the day which included one incident I can't say anything about (this did not involve the big lady and the sandwiches). The possibiity of the TNC guiding a nice French lady on an evening trip was also floated. This appeared to have a good effect on morale.