Monday 22 April 2013

History repeats itself - April 21st 2013

Fifteen years ago when Al was just a fresh-faced post-grad (and wearing glasses unlike today because of advances in lazer eye surgery) the TNC were exploring Easegill, much as we still do today.

Caving late 1990's style.  Dick, Tom and Bruce at Bull Pot Farm.

My activity record for 1998 showed that on
  • 23/1/98 - Caving - County, Eureka Junction, Green and Smelly Passage looking for the way into the Borehole.  Tight squeeze but then found the 'easy' way in!  Return.  Tom.
  • 31/1/98 - Caving - Tom/Phil.  The Borehole down to Green and Smelly Passage and link with last week. Returned back up the pitch.
  • It then took us until December the same year to complete the through trip: -
  • 4/12/98 - Caving - Tom and Ray.  The Borehole, Easegill, Eureka Junction, Wretched Rabbit.  Slow trip but good.

How the memory fades and so this week in April 2013 saw Al and I walking across the moor from Bull Pot Farm on our way to Easegill with the plan to explore the way into the Borehole from the bottom again.  My recollection of the bottom end of the Borehole was of a passage behind a fallen block somewhere (that missed out the tight squeeze) near the main drain of Easegill leading after some more blocky passage to the pitch and the Borehole ... how wrong can I have been!

As we were in the vicinity of the entrance of the Borehole in Easegill we decided first to go down and have a look at the pitch head first.  The entrance was an unlikely low bedding in the right wall of the stream but the  passage dropped steadily to the top of a 2m climb into a small chamber of clean, polished limestone. At the bottom we dropped into a T section stream passage and  knee deep pools of freezing water were met meaning wet feet and soon a junction is reached where another stream comes in on the right leading to more deep pools and a tight squeeze through a block. After a a low gravelly bedding plane, 30m of crawling and some more pools we arrived at the 15m pitch and the scaffold bar at the head of the pitch.  So after looking down to the ledge near the bottom, we returned to the surface, passing head high flood debris that didn't look too old.  Not a place to be in a flood!

So off down Wretched Rabbit we went but unlike the 1998 trip there was no need to go to Eureka Junction as Spiral Staircase has been opened up, which leads directly to Green and Smelly Passage.  A quick trip down here saw us at the junction with the Borehole off to the right and GandSP straight on. The route description is spot on for the Borehole but our interpretation was not.  As the passage we entered lowered to a flat out crawl and Al took off his helmet to progress I was trying to fit the image of this awful looking place to my memory of this 'walking size passage'.

Eventually, after admitting defeat and retreating to our last known point we found the way on to be underneath where we had been looking.  There followed what seemed like an eternity of crawling, flat out bedding, scrambling up and over mud slopes and through boulders until after a winding passage we suddenly saw a ledge on the right and up above in the light of Al's powerful Scurion head torch, the scaffold bar that we had been to earlier that evening.  We had linked the parts of the cave but not as my memory had recollected it, a quick walk up a passage with blocks!

Coming out of a cave never seems as long as going in, possibly because one is surer of the route.  Back at  the rift that led directly to the floor of the low wide chamber below Spiral Staircase Passage we knew that we were back just a few tens of metres from the WWP entrance.  Heaving ourselves up the fixed ropes at the top of the Big Rift was hard work as we were tired  from two quite strenuous trips but we were soon out in the dusk and the walk back to the cars in the light for a change.

Back in the Barbon Inn we enjoyed a pint in front of the open fire that the landlords have replaced the old gas fire with and discussed how in the next dry period we would link the two trips together and drag the camera kit down there for some photos for the blog.

Sunday 14 April 2013

11th April 2013 - Tactical nuclear penguin

First of all this was a light and lucky, fast and free trip so you'll need to have someone read the following to you, while you close your eyes and imagine the trip...

To go caving you need your caving gear and having had a great few days away, Dick offered to take me
 home to pick up my stuff on his motorbike.  Spending most of my time driving a heavily laden van, acceleration isn't something I'm used to and so it was with slightly fraid nerves we arrived at our house.  For some reason my key had let me lock the door behind me when we left, but it was not for being unlocked.  I've now a strong feeling that some of the things you see in films aren't actually true.  Whereas in most films, locked doors fly open with one kick, this just doesn't seem to be the case in reality, or perhaps it was just the tight leather trousers I was wearing.  Finally having gained entry and picked up my gear we headed back to Dick's.  Despite all the protective clothing, I still felt very exposed in the outside lane of the M6, though the available acceleration does make joining the motorway north of Lancaster slightly less fraught.

A chill wind was blowing as we headed over the moors from Bull Pot Farm, where a couple of tents in the garden signalled the presence of a few hardy folk.  The gill was dry as we dropped down to the County pot entrance and only a couple of short sections further up stream, had water flowing.  A great set of instructions from Descent soon saw us at the surprisingly snowy entrance to Boundary pot and for the first few metres we could make like penguins and slide on our tummies over the snow floored passage, so much better than crawling.  A daylight shaft brought a change to more conventional caving techniques, but the excellent guide continued to allow us to find the way on without any difficulty.

Fortunately the last few weeks of dry weather meant the passges of the entrance series were almost completely dry and the first real water encountered was in the impressive chamber, just before Fusion cavern.  Stepping across in front of the cascasde is quite exhilerating and the climb down into the chamber that follows maintains the interest.  After Fusion cavern the way on became slightly more aqueous before we imerged into the dry, silent, vastness of Hiroshima.  Crossing this, we soon arrived at the very impressively built Manhattan connection and the way through to the main Easegill system.

The short traverse and walk through Far East Passage led to our only navigational glitch on the whole trip, with me first beginning the scramble up to Nagasaki to early and then when we got there turning to speak to Dick and futilely arguing that "left" was in the opposite to his "left".  The description really is incredibly clear and you have to be a bit of a muppet to make either of these mistakes.

With each passing footstep now the route became more familiar, Easter grotto, the Assembly Hall, the White Way, Thackray's passage, Holbeck Junction and finally Stop Pot.  Now we just needed to return to the surface by Wretched Rabbit.  No matter how fit I'm feeling, this always seems hard work and I always head up the wrong inlet, so it's great when the smell of fresh air reaches your nostrils and today this was accompanied by the glow of daylight too.

Caving in the day definitely has it's downsides.  First of all the walk over the moor seems to be longer when you can see what you're doing and secondly it was too early for a pint.

Huge thanks to Sam Allshorn, Mike Cooper and the others involved for making this trip possible through their digging efforts and also for the truly excellent description.