Saturday 22 December 2012

22nd December - Jingling all the way...

Our First Experience Potholing by James and Sarah
Dec 2012
So the Clothing?
I wrestled into my thick yellow suit which appears to be the standard caving attire! Another car of fellow cavers pulled up whilst we were changing and they were rather taken with my red wellie boots!

The Walk In
The sky was heavy with low lying cloud and as we walked up the sodden hill even the light drizzle did little to stop me overheating. My onesie fleece undergarment and caving harness equipment felt a little claustrophobic to begin with but that feeling disappeared when we came across this opening in the ground!

The Decent
A quick lesson from Mr Dick Gerrish using the descender, we found ourselves leaping across and down this traverse whilst Alastair was rigging the route ahead! More down, down and passing a deviation we found ourselves clipping in and out with more ease. 

The Bottom and The Ascent
There was the remains of a sheep that had come to an unfortunate end and the realisation that what we had just come down required climbing back up! Bouncing a little, I was able to establish a nice rhythm gradually moving up the rope in 6" increments!

Arriving at the top and traversing the tricky top section which was now under the cover of darkness we had come to the end of our trip.

A massive thank you to Dick Gerrish and Alastair Shawcross for a totally exhilarating experience! 

Guest editors James (Honey Bear) Outram (sitting in the middle) and Sarah Gerrish back at the van after their debut potholing trip.

Friday 23 November 2012

23rd November - A County Round

Classic trips are ones that you can return to, time after time and still think, "That was great".  The round trip from County pot via Platypus junction and Spout Hall is definitely one such trip.

Fortunately the icy hail storm that blew in while we were getting changed was short lived, though an ominous rumble of thunder while we crossed the moor kept us focussed on the weather.  It has been very wet of late, but Easegill was dry and we were soon at the hatched entrance to County.

The pitch allowed me to practice some of the skills I'd learnt on my level 2 training and even Dick was kind enough to let me clip him in, the comments about "ropes and blommin' belays, never had those back in the day..." becoming quieter as he descend the ladder.

From Broadway we made our way downstream to Toadstool junction where Kate and Joe found that cave photography can often take a little bit longer than photos on the surface.  Continuing to follow the water we quickly arrived at Platypus junction and decided that in actual fact the formation just above the "platypus", looks much more like a crocodile. 

Upstream now and passing Poetic justice we made our way up into Spout Hall.

It was then just a short distance back to Broadway, the small climb, pitch and thrutch up the final meanders.

The Barbon Inn is now back to it's very best, a roaring log fire with comfy sofas around it and pretty good beer too. 

Sunday 11 November 2012

9th November - It's crackers...

Update: Please don't be put off going to It's a Cracker by this post.  Cracker is superb. I'm a muppet. Having been back soon I've no idea where I went. On a recent return we went in the entrance, followed the obvious route and arrived at the point where most descriptions talk of a thrutch through the rift 1m fabove the floor. Rather than the thrutch we opted for the route with the water, at stream level. This way wouldn't even get a mention in a description. It's big enough to go through with SRT gear on if you wanted to and possibly even a tackle sack over your shoulder. We've now been through both ways on multiple occasions with no issue. It is worth noting though that in wetter conditions the stream rises and it becomes more interesting. This is when the thrutch in the rift would be necessary. The only thing I now need to do is find where I went on my first trip there!'s only November and advertising execs seem to have gone more loopy than usual, the shops filled with Christmas stock and every second TV advert having a Christmasy theme.
Well if you can't beat them, join them and so for our first trip of the season we headed to the "seasonally" titled It's a Cracker.
Whenever we're there a heavy fog lies over Leck fell, but this time we were armed with a GPS and soon found ourselves at Boxhead with the information that It's a Cracker lay close by slightly further up the fell.  Sure enough close by, just up the fell lay a shake hole with the beautifully crafted lid of It's a Cracker.  The craftsmanship carried on beneath the lid with a well shored, square shaft.  At the bottom we entered Waterfall chamber and began the "walking shuffle" downstream.  I don't know if we got to the "thrutch up into the widest part of the rift" as none of it seemed to be very wide and after a bit of hopeless thrutching we had to retire.
The night was still young, however, and a few minutes later we were making our way down the stunning pitches of Boxhead to the Kendal Flyover ledge.  From here a rope swung up into the darkness of NPC Aven and so we followed it upwards.  At its top we climbed up to the foot of a boulder slope that lead to more stable ground and the bottom of the Park Bench pitch and it's small shelter.  Here Dick took a short break for some photos before we headed back out through Boxhead.
I don't know whether it's because it's the first trip of the season but nothing seemed to flow; climbing the rope, rebelays, it was all very hardwork and it was with some relief we reached the surface once more.
The Timmy Taylor didn't flow either at the Snooty Fox as they had just run out, but the replacement wasn't bad at all.
As for next week, a slightly fluffier trip might be in order (if I've finished aching by then).

Thursday 17 May 2012

16th May - New Rift Pot

'Fancy looking at New Rift Pot?' said the text. 'OK' was my reply before I had checked on-line to see what New Rift Pot was. A quick Google and the first entry I looked at mentions 'Anyway with that little bit of drama out of the way I pursed up the next little bit of a pitch and headed out ... up the tight climbs' while the second entry from one 'Thursday Night Club' 10th Dec 2010 mentions, 'that even with moderate rain the crawl between the first and second pitches can become impassable ', and that Tom had not gone further than the first pitch and that Al had scared himself when the water backed up and flowed over his shoulders while he was trying to get out of the passage. Oh well, tight and wet, my least favourite caving activities, ought to go and give it a look!

So we walked  in the light (novel activity) and were soon descending the dug rift where boards and scaffolding bars bulged with the strain of 30 years of holding back rubble.  The modern techniques for shoring digs have come on a long way!  At the bottom of the first pitch the crawl beckoned so we took off our SRT gear.  The small passage was not too wet but the standing pools made for wet going.  A couple of sections required  the 'breathing out hard' technique to get the chest through narrow bits but the passage was never too constricted although the left bend did require some manoeuvring to position the body to go around it.  We had been given the nod that the pitches were rigged so didn't have tackle bags of ropes, throwing the SRT kit ahead was hard enough but Al also had his large angular tackle bag of camera gear to manhandle through the narrows.  Hard work!

In a tight bit!

The passage dropped into a slot and then descended through a tricky drop.  to this point I had been leading but a look at the next section was too much for my fragile confidence.  The tight looking corner and body shaped slot going downhill looked too much.  I gave the lead to Al who shot off down with a 'I'll just have a look'!  I sat in the dark listening to the sounds of his suit and strange rumbling sounds as he went through the constriction and on to the pitch head, whereupon he came back and announced that it was 'OK, just had to watch the hips as I came through the slot.'  Problem is my chest is bigger than my hips and I don't like it when the only way through is to breathe out hard and then push.  How will I get back?  Anyway, panic controlled we carried on to the pitch head, which although a bit constricted opened out into a huge chamber called Coates Cavern.

The advice was 'go down the slope then up if you want to see the pretties'.  Good advice as interesting caverns were explored that were huge compared to the tight way in.  An active dig in one of the caverns was seen, which followed a small stream and seems to be a promising way on and may explain the in-situ ropes.

The return journey was not as bad as feared.  Al makes a great stepladder and with combined tactics I got through the tight bits and up the climbs while he just seemed to come through them without problems.  The biggest problem he had was lugging his camera tackle bag back through the crawl.

Back at the bottom of the first pitch I was confused by an unusual optical illusion.  Above me was a bright light,   Was it a caver descending?  Was it the moon?  No, it was daylight at the top of the pitch and sunshine!  What an unusual way to end a caving trip - in the sun!

Too sunny for the camera

Sunday 6 May 2012

5th May 2012 - There and back again

Not many caving trips start with a walk up a mountain carrying a big rucksac but then not many caving trips involve 230m of fixed ladders and 1 mile of underground walking and also, this was not a cave but a mine.  Greenside lead mine to be precise, closed in 1961, reopened in 2005 by the troglominers of COMRU, CAMs and MOLES.  The ultimate through trip in Lake District subterranean exploration was our aim, knowing, however, that the chances of exiting the lower entrance was nil.  We couldn't get access to the key!

The route startes with a mile and half walk from Greenside Mine to the top entrance at the head of Glencoyndale

Changing into caving gear at the top entrance to the mine.

After crawling through the entrance series, wading through knee deep water and a left turn we reach the ladders.  From here onwards we climb down 230m of ladders placed in the mine in the late 1950s!  Fortunately the ladders are protected by modern bolts and caving ropes!

Ladder pitches are interspersed with platforms that are formed by wedging wooden planks across the shafts.  We were not too impressed by the fungi that grew on the wood!

The reason for the ladders was as an escape route from the mine in the vent of a fire.  The shafts go straight up from Lucy Tongue level to the exit in Glencoyndale.

And on down, followed by a 1 mile walk down an excavated passage to finally reach the entrance back at the car!

However, the Lake District National Park Authority are not forthcoming with the access key, so despite the fresh air and view (see below) 2mm of steel halted us from completing the through trip of the mountain.

So back up we went.

Relics of old mining technology.

Zig Zag ladders

Long ladder climbs

The final crawl to the exit

Escape into fresh air

Looking back at the entrance

Looking down at the Greenside Mine entrance where we saw the daylight but couldn't escape

The hobbit hole entrance where we sat and saw the daylight nearly 3 1/2 hours before.  We left one of our spare ropes at the entrence as we didn't need it.  We rescued it on our return.

Saturday 21 April 2012

20th April 2012 - Bull Pot Kingsdale

Growing up, it was all about reaching the top of things: the top of climbs; the top of mountains. Geological pedantry aside, these are fixed points. A mountain will be as high one week as it is the next. Later in life I was introduced to caving. While I now realise that it's normally the journey that's more important than the destination, one of the quirks of caving is that a cave, down to a sump, may be deeper one day than the next.

Top of the entrance pitch

Normally our caving season would have finished by now, but with it still being cold and wet outside, it seems natural to carry on. The only real difference is that as we met up in Kingsdale and began heading up to the cave, it was still broad daylight. Dick's satellite imagery inspired direction finding soon found us at the impressive entrance and not quite as slickly as usual (I was rigging) we made our way down the daylight shaft.

A short piece of passage then brought us to the second short pitch before a choice of routes. While the rain hasn't been continuous, there have been some pretty heavy showers and the water that's around is cold. We therefore opted for the "fossil" route rather than the "slot".

Rigging the deviation on the "fossil" route

Descending the "fossil" route

At the foot of the pitch a ledge intervenes allowing a sneak around the cascade from the joining water before a short climb, maybe just a couple of metres or so, takes you down to a slot cut by the stream. While only short, the volume of water and the possibility of more made us think twice about this obstacle. Though there was a Petzl bolt, it wasn't positioned quite far enough over to allow a dry hang, so we made a retreat back up the pitch.
Back at the junction we set off down the "slot" route, arriving after a dry hang just down stream from where we had been previously. We were soon traversing above the stream again to the head of the third pitch. The first deviation took us further from the crashing water but the second looked out of reach for a short person with limited climbing skills. A Petzl bolted deviation was closer so I took this option and carried on down.

There must be a moral about taking the easier option, for the chilling water was soon on top of me again and jamming myself in a corner out of the main current I swapped over my gear and reascended. A different approach to a problem, often makes it seem easier and from below I managed to reach the P-bolt deviation. Even so we were in for a bit of a lashing at the bottom of the pitch.
A great bit of passage then led to the narrow rift down which the final pitch makes its way. While initially this looked a bit daunting, initially once again we'd be very close to a lot of water, in the end it was a really enjoyable pitch.

From the foot of the pitch, two small passages led off, one flowing with no possible way on and the other a static sump, again with no way on. The guide led us to believe there was more cave beyond, but not on this day.

I was asked the other day what my favourite colour was and I'd replied that it was the inky blue of the sky after sunset, before it goes fully dark. As Dick unclipped the deviation at the top of the entrance pitch, he was silhouetted against the sky of this very colour. What a great trip.

Saturday 14 April 2012

14th April 2012 - Simpson pot

With Lee over from Germany and having just completed a walk across the Lakeland skyline, a caving trip in keeping with his hiking adventure was required. A through trip in Simpson with a guarantee of a soaking in its (currently) very cold water would fit the bill perfectly.

"Yellow suit, wellies, what else?"

Though the sun was shining the chilly wind ensured a brisk change and for Lee, a quick reacquaintance with putting on SRT gear. Not normally caving on a weekend the hoards changing next to the road came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately of the groups there, two were going into Valley entrance and the other into Swinsto. Kitted up, it was then of up the hill to find the entrance to Simpson.

Another classic Simpson pitch

Having negotiated the entrance crawl, the pitches soon began and as usual Dick was in his element, efficiently rigging them while Lee and myself bumbled along behind. Strangely the way on departs from the water's route but it's departure would not be long lived.

"I'm sure that's got deeper"

While the duck is only short, the dark peaty water doesn't look overly inviting and the temperature of the water we'd already gone through didn't make it's negotiation any more appealing either. Going through first in order to take pictures of the others resurfacing, I found the driest bit of ground to put my camera cases on, before gingerly getting out a camera and flash. It was only when Dick came through last that he noticed that my careful stacking had produced a rather fine dam, reducing the airspace for him and Lee by a good 6 inches.

Camera box "dam"

The slot pitch could not be better described, but with a pre-rigged deviation over the top of it, we opted for the easier option.

Going up and down the slot pitch

At the junction with Swinsto we met the couple just finishing their through trip and we set off down the final pitch. Unfortunately a slip for Lee left him in the full force of the water, the torrent bouncing of his chest into his face while he tried to descend the last few feet. I imagined the roaring of the water, but Lee said the only thing he'd been able to hear was Dick wetting himself laughing.

All the time in the water was now beginning to take it's toll and the final crawl through to the main streamway certainly didn't help matters. Ever the professional, once we were through, Dick happily returned to lay in the water to allow a photo or two to be taken.

Joining the main streamway

A warming stomp down the main streamway then soon brought us to the pitch up into Valley entrance.

The pitch up into Valley entrance

Despite being in easier cave it was once again back into the water, before popping out of the plastic pipe into warming sunlight.

It's great that the Marton Arms is back as it provided a handy stop for a post cave pint and Lee's worries about his dress (pyjamas - long story) were soon allayed by the person stood at the bar dressed as Bananaman.

Saturday 17 March 2012

16th March 2012 - Shuttleworth Pot

Sharon rediscovering the joys of all in one yellow PVC suits

Dick at the entrance

Dick and Sharon at the sump pool

(Attempt 1: Lots of (too much?) photoshop)

Dick and Sharon at the sump pool

(Attempt 2: No photoshop but not so sure about the water)

Sharon in the main gallery

Admiring some of the many features

Beautiful curtain

Saturday 10 March 2012

9th March 2012 - Cow Pot

Dick rigging the first pitch (in the light!)

Driving up the Lune valley on a pleasant afternoon, the murk hung in the distance over the hills of the Dales and Easegill lay invisible in the clag as we headed to Bull Pot farm to change. At least Cow Pot was easy to find and we weren't in for a repeat of our Boxhead experience. Rigging in the light for once Dick was soon heading down the open entrance shaft and by the time I'd arrived having tangled every bag with every bit of rigging, had located what he hoped wasn't the way on.

The "awkward" climbs leading down from the entrance shaft

Heading down the climbs wasn't actually too bad and we were soon in the great little crawl taking its sinuous route to the second pitch. This is a superb bit of Dales caving. It was going to get better though as the stream dropped away below us and the (rigged) traverse ahead became visible. Dick's shouts came thick and fast, "Rope free", "Whooo whoooooo", "Rope free"...

The view of Fall Pot, Montague East and West gained from this vantage point reminded me of being in an aeroplane for the first time, the difference in perspective from our usual passage through this bit of cave being incredible.

Landing at the bottom of Fall pot we made our way down through the boulders to the Main Drain before stomping down, through a surprising amount of water to the sump. On the return the waterfalls in the aptly named Waterfall passage were doing exactly what it says on the tin and returning to the drain, we continued upstream. Moving through the ever changing passage, I was reminded just how lucky we are to have such amazing places so close by.

The return journey, other than the terrific view once again of Fall Pot, passed without incident until we arrived at the foot of the climbs. While gravity significantly aids the descent on the way back up it causes slightly more of an issue. As Victorian climbers found, "combined tactics" will get you up most things and with assistance from ropes, jammers, knees and shoulders we both found ourselves at the foot of the entrance pitch once more.

Dick returning up the first pitch

Our thanks to the couple by the open fire in the Barbon Inn who, despite being there for a posh weekend, were happy for two muddy oiks to sit next to them.

Our apologies to the vast number of frogs, who thought it was their lucky night, but ended up under the wheels of our cars.

Friday 24 February 2012

24th February 2012 - County Pot

The pitch in the entrance series to County Pot.

Having just arrived back from a short trip to Europe and knowing that Al hadn't been caving for nearly a month, the decision was not too hard that there was the need to fit in a quick caving trip on Friday night.  Having been thwarted in taking the definitive set of Wetched Wabbit fotos for Descent we decided to go and try to capture the essence of County Pot.   

The meanders at Broadway

Toadstool Junction

The Platypus at Playtpus Junction

Spout Hall

What do you think?  Did we succeed?