Tuesday 11 April 2017

10th April 2017 - Team effort

Over the years we'd slowly been piecing together the parts of the traverse and with the final part, out through Pippikin, now recced it was time to put it all together.

Having done the traverse back in the day, Dick didn't feel it necessary to repeat the experience, but kindly offered to support our attempt.

So it was that the two of us set off across the moor laden with rope on a pre rigging trip.

First to Lancaster. Having the pitch rigged here would provide us not only with an escape route should we need it, but would also allow Dick easy access to the high level series where he planned to meet us the following day at the entrance to the Stake Pot series.

Then it was down into Ease gill to rig Link pot. Again this would give us bothanother escape option and another place for Dick to meet us. We also cached a stove and some goodies before a quick squirm down to Echo aven to make sure there was a healthy rope in place.

Finally we climbed steeply up and out of the gill to make sure we would be able to get out of Pippikin, before heading back across the moor to the vans. Normally we would start getting tea ready, but instead we sat down and relaxed with a beer. A little while later a set of headlights began making there steady way up the valley, accompanied by Tony and due to his impressive skills, our still hot fish suppers, as well as more beer. 

The idea of a BLT has always puzzled me, the L and the T seeming utterly superfluous when all you need is a bit of brown sauce. The morning saw me a convert as Tony once again excelled himself and put a gorgeous bacon sarnie, with lettuce and tomato into my hand. I envy the guests at his B and B if this was the kind of food on offer.

As I munched my way through my second sandwich, Pete arrived. We now had in our team someone who actually knows about caving, a handy person to have about on this sort of endeavour.

Task one, find Top Sink. My 'it's somewhere near a sheepfold', not being particularly helpful. With a bit of help from multi million pound satellites, we retraced our steps and prepared to descend into the darkness.

I quickly began to realise that I'm quite selective in my memory of caves. The pitch isn't, 'just round the corner' and I'm sure the others were cursing my advice to put SRT gear on from the entrance as we scrapped and scratched our away through the meandering passageway. 

Fortunately Mike Cooper's descriptions in NFTFH are first class and I wouldn't have to be relying on my inaccurate memories. I was also pleased when Pete followed down a rope I'd rigged,  I was half expecting him to spend a few minutes shaking his head, before re rigging it. It may be that we've a vague clue about this caving lark after all.

One of the things that has always amazed me about Ease gill us how you the passage way changes in magnitude as you pass along it. The route opening out into the vast Nagasaki Cavern, before once again shrinking down to a meandering passage at the end.

We made good time and the cave became more and more familiar as we made our way along the high level series. Then ahead, a glow of a light and the welcome sight of Dick with a stove already almost at the boil.  I'd tried to theme the food, so at the entrance to Stake Pot inlets we 'enjoyed' steak pot noodles amongst other delights. All nobly carried in by Dick from Lancaster.

Fed and watered we disappeared behind the boulder into the inlets, while Dick would negotiate Stake Pot itself and return to the surface via Lancaster. 

I was exceptionally grateful of the excellent description in this part of the system as it was definitely the part I was most hazy on.  After so much horizontal caving the 88' pitch proved a welcome distraction before the nature of the cave drastically changes on entering the well named Wormway. 

After crawling through what seem to be the bowels of the system, the rope dangling down Echo Aven allowed escape back up to higher levels and a few minutes later we arrived at our second pit stop in Hylton Hall. Once again a banquet had been laid out for us by Dick, the main course being duck pot noodles in an exceptionally tenuous link to the more aqueous passage ahead.

Through no fault of the description it took a couple of minutes to find the way on up Pybus Bypass. Squid junction was too quickly passed and we were soon into the highly appropriately named Wet Wallows, the 'warm up' to the Muddy Wallows, which were actually more gravelly than muddy.

At Dusty Junction I put the description away, as we were now in passage recently visited by Tony and I. Being able to move quickly also helped rewarming after our wallowing. 

While following well known passage can be reassuring, it also means you know what's ahead and it was with some trepidation that I dropped into the streamway below Hall of the Ten. We don't have big tackle sacks this time I thought, another part of my brain quickly countering with the fact that we'd already done a fair bit of caving compared to the last time we were here.

Once again we fell into our Pippikin routine: gear on; pitch; gear off; squeeze. Our individual techniques in the tighter bits providing the only variation. I would chuck tackle sacks through and then get myself stuck as tired arms could no longer prevent me from sinking into the tighter bottom of the rifts. Pete's otherwise smooth transits were only hindered by the need to extricate me first (a task I am truly grateful to him for) and finally Tony would be right behind, as though gravity had been turned off for him.

Passing through the final tight bit without getting stuck, I clipped all the tackle sacks to the traverse rope, preventing them from falling into the blind pit but also ensuring one more that Pete wouldn't have it easy, the weight of the bags pulling the rope he was trying to pull on tight against the rock.

Then the smell of fresh air, Dick's voice and daylight. Only a short, easy pitch separating us from the outside world.

As with our earlier trip through Pippikin, I know people regularly fly through not only this traverse, but also the longer and harder version out of Bye George, taking in desperate variations on the way. For me though I was absolutely chuffed to complete this classic trip, especially in such great company. My only regret being not able to stop for more than one pint in the Whoop Hall with those that had made it possible.

Post script. The following day was a significant birthday for Pete, which he celebrated by...

...going caving with his family!

Happy birthday!

Sunday 2 April 2017