Friday 24 February 2017

23rd February 2017 - Return to Gour Hall

With storm Doris on her way, I wasn't even sure if we'd get a trip in. A midday mail though from Tony confirmed that things weren't quite as bad as forecast and he was happy to make his way over from the Lakes. A lot of rain had come down though and so an all weather trip was needed. There was something about Mistral that was calling me back and I was pleased when Tony too was happy to return.

Even though we set off an hour later than last week, it was still light as we headed across the moor, the big difference being that Easegill was in full flow as we crossed it by Link pot. After the initial climb, Tony took over route finding duties and we were soon crossing through the Hobbit chamber on the way to Dusty junction.  Having to concentrate less on route finding allowed us to take in more of our surroundings and notice more of the lovely features that we had unwittingly passed by last week.

At the Hall of the Ten we briefly dropped down into the Pippikin streamway, but it definitely wasn't the place to be on this evening. At Gour Hall we dropped down to its end and tried taking a couple of pictures of the pools themselves.  Released from modelling duties and free to move again, Tony disappeared into the terminal digs, following the bang wire up a narrow tube. Once through we made only the briefest of forays along the two possible ways on. Tony quickly declared his option too tight, where as mine was too wet.

The gour pools in their eponymous Hall.

One of the pools.
Back in the main Hall I poked my head into what I thought was the way into Extreme Ways (reading up later it was), marvelling at the number of caps that had been required to gain just the first few initial feet of passage.  It was then back to the reps of stoop a bit, crawl a bit, all the time noting beautiful features, tucked away in inaccessible alcoves.

We've given up with the child lock on the gate and just climbed over, it's definitely beyond both of us.  We might not be able to cope with gate furniture, but we could definitely appreciate the now cleared skies. A myriad of stars shining down on snow dusted hills.  Every day's a learning day and it was great to be able to add another constellation to my limited knowledge courtesy of a sky map app. As a Leo, I'm not into things like astrology, but it's nice to be able to find the constellation.

Approaching the Barbon Inn our hearts sank as a gentleman in the doorway announced they were closed. We were just turning away when the air was filled with deep laughter and we were ushered into the warmth of the pub. There are some nights when it's a real pity we're driving, but even on lemonade the chat was superb. We reluctantly left the pub, both a little wiser, having been regaled with tales of race horse training, boxing and piglet suckling women.

Thanks to Tony for sharing the trip and John and the bar lady for rounding off the evening perfectly.

Friday 17 February 2017

16th February 2016 - Mistral to Gour Hall

Formations in Gour Hall
With the days starting to draw out and a slightly earlier start, we stomped across the moor in daylight, passing Lancaster Hole before heading up and over again.  The final gate leading to Easegill had been equipped with a child lock, but having figured this out we were granted access to the dry river bed.  Directly in front of us we noted the position of Link pot, knowing that this may serve as a useful waypoint on our return in the dark. Turning downstream we followed the true left bank of the gill until we came to the beautifully dry stoned enclosure around Mistral, a real improvement on the pile of planks that used to mark the entrance.
The description says to carefully down climb the 6m pitch and it is worth noting that the bar belaying the knotted rope that can assist the climb will take a downward pull, but definitely not a horizontal one.  Having regained my composure for a brief moment a wobbly hold saw me wobbling again too. Then into the blasted rift with its 90 degree bends, past the fallen block, over the boulders, enjoying just moving through the passageway. Little squirms were always followed by stand up and stretch chambers and before long we were in much larger chamber that I recognised, The Hobbit, distinctive with its large, flat roof.
Crossing the Hobbit, the detailed RRCPC route description constantly reassured as we picked up features, rope on the left, rope on the right, squirm over calcite, until we arrived at our next major landmark, Dusty Junction.  Here I'd pieced together two descriptions, one coming from the Hobbit and the other coming from Pip.  By putting the two together we were pretty sure our right turn was the right direction, though there was still some uncertainty.  The draught, mentioned in the description, that should have been coming down the crawl leading to Link was entirely absent.  This was not too disconcerting as I distinctly remembered a huge draft blowing along Mistral on my last visit, the name of the entrance unquestionable and this too was now non existent.  More worrying was the lack of an obvious cairn mentioned in the description.  I know there has been a lot of tidying up done in caves of late, but to remove a cairn?
Our description now became a little less detailed, follow "sandy tunnels" to Hall of Ten.  Taking the most well worn way on at each possible junction payed off though and despite encountering more smooth mud than sand, we soon entered the huge darkness of the Hall.  Enthusiasm to enter its vastness had to be curbed as a convex, muddy slope lay directly between us and its bottom, a good way below and a more indirect, but pleasantly slower route down was taken.  No sooner had we reached the base of the chamber but we had to climb back out on the other side, once again on smooth mud.  Turning right from our balcony we once again found ourselves alternating between low squirms and much larger pieces of passageway.  These larger sections being filled with beautiful formations.

On the way to Gour Hall
Ascending into Gour Hall it is hard to imagine the sight that greeted the original explorers.  Tucked away in alcoves lie patches of pristine mud formations, towered over by brilliant white stalagmites.  Liquid mud has though over the years been spread over an ever larger area, it's advance only now  stemmed by conservation tape.  Fortunately Tony had admirably dragged a tripod to this point and I was glad of it to keep the camera out of mud's way.
With only one slight navigational glitch on the return, leading to a hasty backwards squirm down a crawl which thankfully Tony had't followed me down, we had worked up quite a sweat by the time we reached the surface.  Rather than emerging into a stunning star filled night though, we ascended to thick clag, our torches' range only a few feet.  Noting Link on the way payed off and Tony spotting it in the murk allowed us to find the end of the path, a helpful arrow, and our route back across the moor.
Even though we weren't as cold as last week, it was still great to have a warm welcome in the Barbon Inn and a very tasty pint.  We are definitely going to have to return to this part of Easegill and spend a little more time getting to know our way around amongst some of the most consistently well decorated passages in these parts.

Friday 10 February 2017

9th February 2016 - Caverns measureless to man

Caverns.  Even putting aside Coleridge, forgivable for both poetic licence and the large amount of opiate coursing through his system, the word cavern is normally associated with a large, voluminous cave. Do cavers then have an over developed sense of irony, or is it that both of the caverns that I can think of in Yorkshire are still thought to have incredible potential.  Mossgill Caverns, a place I have never visited, is theorised to have much greater depth than currently explored and Aygill Caverns, is potentially the key to a missing link between the caves of Barbondale and Easegill. Cavernous is certainly not how I would describe the entrance series to Aygill, but perhaps on our brief foray we failed to reach the caverns measureless to man.

A chill was in the air as for the first time in my caving career we left the van and walked in the opposite direction to usual, away from Easegill and towards Barbondale.  Fortunately the walk in is short and there is a handily placed dig in which to exert a bit of energy and warm up, before the final 50m push up the stream to the boulder surrounded entrance.

A quick slither down and a very short crawl leads to a very polished chimney that is the way on.  A meandering, dry rift, with handily placed chock stones for foot holds then leads to a small chamber.  On the opposite side of this, behind a large boulder, lies the first pitch.  Fortunately this was rigged so Tony was able to leave one tackle sack where it was and finish the traverse unencumbered.

At the bottom of the first pitch, the description suggested that a stream would be met, but despite the sound of a stream it lay below, out of sight.  A small hole on the left though allowed a slither down into the chilly stream.  I was hoping to be able to dash ahead and see if the second pitch was rigged allowing the others could leave the second bag, but banging and crashing around with the camera box in the low and narrow passage, they soon joined me.

An old Elliot thread in the floor of the passage indicated we were near the top of a pitch and sure enough, just around the corner I could see a p-hanger.  Tony tied the rope to a choke stone a few metres back and duly protected I set up the hang from the sole bolt.

The pitch became ever more spray lashed but fortunately Dick had stuck a long sling in the bag which allowed a deviation from another natural and kept us out of most of the water.  With only a short amount of time available we headed off up stream, bridging over deep pools in the beautifully clean, water sculptured passage.  Tony explored till it became too low, while I set up a shot before a swift return to the rope.

Upstream from the bottom of the pitches
Perhaps it's because you're going the opposite way to the water, but pitches always seem wetter on the way back up and I was glad of the deviation.  While Yorkshire water is often refreshing, today it was deeply chilling.  You don't have to think for long at all to understand why they called this Cascade pitch.  Removing SRT gear made the return to the chamber at the foot of the first pitch much easier and following Dick, we went for a quick explore up a side passage, this time the water that had carved it absent, finding another route perhaps millennia ago. In places the roof looked precarious, thousands of small cobbles cemented together, defying gravity.

How's this staying up?
Back then up the short, Traverse pitch, through the small chamber and down into the entrance crawl.  Though the climb at the entrance is quite narrow, fresh snow had still found it's way to the bottom and we were soon out into the crisp night.

Back up the pitches

Out into the chilly air
Trying to park in Barbon we were unsure if there'd be standing room in the Inn, posh cars lining the road.  Fortunately the occupants of the cars must have been elsewhere (where??!) as the pub was quite and we were able to install ourselves in front of one of their fires.  It's only a small thing, but when the friendly bar staff let you feel free to throw more wood on the fire, it makes you feel very welcome.  The Old Speckled Hen was superb too.  Cheers to Dick and Tony for a grand little trip.