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.

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