Wednesday 25 December 2013

21st December 2013 - Carrock Fell Wolframite mine

20th December 2013 - Pikedaw calamine caverns

Dick gearing up for the ascent.
It was wet, very wet.

Looking around the web most reports for Pikedaw calamine caverns start "With thunderstorms forecast...", or "Given the recent wet weather..."; well this is another of those reports as it's a quality trip for very wet weather.  The only downside was the wander across pretty bleak moorland in pretty grim weather.
Once we'd located the entrance, we gazed 23m straight down into the warm and the dry.  The people who'd capped the shaft had the foresight to install a ladder for the first 6 feet which made getting on to the pitch much simpler, although ladders that finish about 21m up in mid air are slightly unnerving.
At the bottom of the pitch we headed into the large Lord's chamber and began our exploration (a useful survey can be found here).  First we climbed a set of man made steps into what quickly became a natural meandering streamway.  Back to Lord's chamber and a climb up into a breakdown type chamber with some impressive formations.  Trying to make out what was natural and what wasn't became harder and harder.  We then wandered up into the large Cavern 84, before going in search of Cave Pearl Passage.  This was a little more hidden than the other routes out of Lord's chamber, but definitely worth looking at.  It does have cave pearls, but also some very impressive coloured walls.  Either someone's gone down recently with some blue and green chalk; Victorian miners painted their mines in bright colours or it's quite spectacular mineralisation.
Having explored the main passages radiating from Lord's chamber we made our way back to the entrance chamber before embarking along Cavern 44.  Here Tom had a go at a bit of archaeology, uncovering an old, old sherry bottle.  It's worth noting that there's some quite interesting graffiti throughout the mine/cave and if the dates can be believed, some of it quite old.
After a quick visit to a sump we carried on along Cavern 104.  As this closed down it soon became clear that the way on was along the streamway, before climbing up and over some spoil.  Here more traditional signs of mining were evident, with wood scaffolded passageways disappearing into the gloom.  These didn't look overly inviting so we made our way back to the pitch.
As I made my way up I found Dick just under the hatch, with a maelstrom audible above.  The pitch head was getting busy so we climbed out an crouched with our backs to the stinging hail.  Tom wasn't far behind and the rope quickly packed into the tackle sack, jammers still attached.
The journey back to the van was pretty speedy with the wind behind us and we were soon heading back over the moor road.
The Gamecock in Austwick provided a very reasonably priced and fine pint with some pate and crackers thrown in for good measure.

Sunday 15 December 2013

12th December 2013 - Bull Pot of the Witches

It has been dry for ages and so we thought we were definitely on for the Magic Roundabout, but a pesky weather front was forecast to move in at just the wrong time and an alternative was required.
Most of the entries in the CNCC rigging guide have a warning about being an "active pothole, responding quickly to wet weather", but Bull Pot of the Witches doesn't.  (NB while the pitches may be dry, the lower reaches of the cave definitely DO respond to rain).
BPotW also has the advantage that the walk in is pretty short, handy for a late start.  Over the stile and the path round the open pot was carefully followed to the short entrance tunnel.  While the pitches are all free climbable, they also proved perfect for a bit of early season rigging practice.

Tom at the bottom of the first pitch
At the bottom of the first pitch, a large but short tunnel soon leads to the open pot.

Tom making his way to the open pot
Turning back on yourself then leads, almost immediately to the next pitch, which gave Dick a useful chance to practice his rerigging of my rigging to make it somewhat more user friendly.

Dick and Tom rerigging the rigging
The last pitch was rigged, though Tom took the opportunity to isolate the more worn sections of the rope.  At the foot of the pitch a short climb down lead to stream level and a short climb up to the aptly named Long Gallery.  This gives a  less aqueous route to the further reaches of the cave, which are much more considerable than I thought.

Thought this would be a dry underwear trip, it wasn't.
We first visited the downstream sump and its in situ dive line, leading into the depths before Tom managed to pull the route to the monolithic towers from somewhere in his memory.

The monolithic towers
While Dick and I took photos Tom disappeared to do a bit of ratching around and found himself at a couple of scaffold bars, the reason for which we unsure of, but:
offers an explanation.
On our return to the pitches we managed to miss the climb up from the stream on the first pass, but raising water and a lowering roof soon convinced us we'd gone to far.
It was quite late by the time we reached the pub, there's  lot more to Bull Pot of the Witches than you may initially think and probably a fair bit more still to be found.

Saturday 7 December 2013

6th December 2013 - Ropeless in Easegill

Alistair promised lots, post trip steak and beer, a group of Thursday Night Club cavers re-united after a long lay off, and an exciting new round trip, but in the end it was just him and me trudging across the bleak moorland towards the upper reached of Easegill. In fairness to Alistair he didn't say there would not be any of the following
  • The need to swim/crawl through water with a temperature of about 5C
  • Continuous crawling for long sections
  • Very low sections of flat out caving
  • Semi blocked passages where large gritstone blocks had to be pushed aside to make progress
  • Hanging death blocks 
The list could go on but I don't want to be too negative! It was actually a great caving trip and unique we decided in that it was an Easegill "through trip" without the need for any ropes at all. There are we think another two through trips in this system where you don't need to carry ropes underground, submit a comment below if you think you can name them! (the prize would be something very disappointing so don't even ask!)

The initial entrance series is steady going, quite physical and varied, but never desperate. Alistair's description from Descent magazine seemed quite accurate, and after a few free climbed pitches we arrived at "The Manhattan Project". An impressive dig that connects this previously unconnected part of the system with the continuously increasing kilometres of passages.

Metres of scaffolding and wire fencing have been dragged through quite arduous passages to this remote location, and then used to bury through rocks and gravel, what must have taken 100's of hours to dig through just takes a few seconds to climb down! And after this short climb you arrive in the main Easegill system! THen on Through Hiroshima and Nagasaki chambers to the assembly room and then further on to eventually arrive at the master cave and Thackeray's passage before the none to easy escape via Depot Passages and Wretched Rabbit.

We took a few nice photos, but were still out the cave before 7pm so plenty of time to go and grab a comfy seat at the Barbon Inn. Too late for that we found out, and also we just made do with a beer and crisps due to the no show by those other TNC no-shows!

Unusual purple stalactites in Boundary Pot

Alastair climbing up to the grotto in Boundary Pot

Superb unspoilt calcite formations 

Sunday 1 December 2013

29th November 2013 - Return to the Borehole

With the weather having been dry for the last couple of weeks and with unfinished business from last season, Dick and I set off back to Easegill and the Borehole.

Fortunately the trip to have a look at the pitch earlier in the year was still fairly clear in our minds, so while navigation wasn't a problem, tackle sacks definitely made the trip harder than before.

At an "over or under" decision point I went under despite Dick's misgivings and soon arrived at the pitch with one small problem, the bar to rig the rope from had gone.  I tried continuing, but the way on is blocked.  Returning the way we had come seemed the only option.  Wriggling around to reverse I looked up and there lay the bar, a few feet above, "over" in hind sight would have been the best option.

At the bottom of the pitch we double checked the description and our memories before pulling the rope and heading down the rift following the calcite band in its bottom.  For a short section this becomes almost tubelike, before popping out into a larger piece of passage.

Dick exiting the tube leading from the bottom of the pitch

Feeling pretty smug that I'd managed to get ahead of Dick and unpack camera and flash in order to capture the moment he came round the corner, I pressed the shutter.  Nothing from the camera flash but a sickly whining sound.  A few minutes of faff and it was back to the old open the shutter and fire the flash manually routine.  Not the best way of capturing any "moment", especially not helped when, perhaps to make up for the camera flash not firing, the slave flash decided it was going to flash twice when fired.

With Dick released from modelling duties we continued down the passageway ticking off landmarks both in our memories and in the description.  After another brief photo stop to see some beautiful stal growing from what looked like a bed of straw, it was on to the final piece of crawling before arriving at the foot of the well leading up to Green and Smelly.

Pretties on the way back to Spiral Stairs

With just one set of SRT gear between us, we opted for the free climbable route up into Spiral Staircase which brought us surprisingly quickly to the superbly built dry stone wall at the beginning of the pitches out of Wretched Rabbit.

The haul out of Easegill and up onto the moor felt like hard work, really hope it's a case of not being cave fit at the beginning of the season.

John, Tom, Phil, it's worth noting that Friday night in the Barbon Inn is steak night and it looks pretty good.  It has the added benefit that we'd have to be at the pub by 9!