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.

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