Friday 30 November 2018

29th December 2018 - But smart old blue, he took the Milky Way

With the tail end of storm Diane passing over the country it was wet.  One of the descriptions I'd read of where I wanted to go for this evening's trip read, "You might not drown in wet conditions". I prefer better odds than that so a change of plans was in order.  I'd like to say that Tony turning up in a brand new, blue caving suit was the inspiration for the choice, but unfortunately it was purely chance.

First stop was Valley Entrance.  The comparative warmth inside the entrance was short lived as we soon found ourselves stooping in bottom edge of boxers deep, not warm, water.  My memory must be very selective as, what as I remember as a quick stomp along the roof passage, is actually quite awkward stooping for much of its length.

The very aqueous entrance to the Milky Way didn't look overly enticing so we left our harnesses and carried on down the tunnel with the hope that we might feel more inspired on the return.  Looking down into the master cave we were quite pleased that this wasn't our way on, as there was quite a lot of water running through it.

Trying to put off the inevitable even further we stopped to set up a photo of one of the prettier bits of the roof tunnel, but were still soon back at our bags and the inevitable wet crawl.  Fortunately the cold water numbed the pain in my knees from crawling over cobbles and the white deposits that give the Milky Way its name also provided further distraction from the cooling effects of the water.  Occasional avens provided brief respite from the crawling, but the standing up almost made it worse when the crawling commenced again.

At a T-junction a rope, just visible through the waterfall filled rift on the right, finally signalled the end of the crawling.  It didn't though end my struggles.  While the first part of the climb up was lovely, the narrower rift with its in situ rope proved my nemesis.  I opted to try climbing the knotted rope with my jammers, conducting half a dozen or so "passing a knot" procedures and getting myself in a proper tangle, which only putting on my pantin alleviated. Tony though climbed the rift stylishly, using his cows tails in the knotted loops only for protection.   

Tony making his way up the Toyland climb
Emerging from the climb into a small chamber, two ways on seemed possible. The one at ground level looked tight and while the one 'over the top' looked more spacious a rope signalled a further pitch ahead.  From what I had read prior to the trip I felt this meant that we were in Toyland, our destination for the evening.  The sound of rushing water from beyond definitely didn't feel enticing and so we descended back down to the Milky Way.  Tony kindly took the camera case and my only excuse for my poor performance on the climb up away from me and I proceeded to show that it really was just my lack of skill that had caused such issue, adding in some extra bumbling on the descent.

Now knowing how long the crawl was, it seemed to pass much more quickly on the way out and sopping wet through now, even the return to Valley Entrance along the roof tunnel didn't seem so long either.  This really is road side caving at its very best and seconds later we were back at the van, pouring wellyfulls of water onto the road.

As well as Valley Entrance being convenient for the road, Kingsdale is also very convenient for the Marton Arms which, with its new owners, has been a bit of a hit this season.  Straying from our usual "packet of salt and vinegar and a packet of cheese and onion", Tony went for the wasabi nuts and spicy bar mix, which turned out to be a master stroke. As we sat, huddled over our pints in our grubby duvet jackets and with our mucky faces, it's great to know you're made to feel just as welcome as the other clientele, dressed to the nines and drinking gin cocktails.  

Saturday 24 November 2018

22nd November 2018 - Got to get yourself connected...

...the writing's on the wall and what it said was "Far away".

Long before I had even set foot in Pippikin, I felt I knew each of its pitches and squeezes intimately. Whether from reading and rereading guides and descriptions, or watching the classic Sid Perou film, it had become in my mind a pot, the navigation of which, would be an important mile stone in my caving journey.

Similarly, hearing Dave Ramsay in Inglesport talking about his digging exploits with a quiet and yet deep passion, as well as pouring over the pages in Descent as the ever more final pieces of the three counties jigsaw have been put into place, the new, dug connections on Leck Fell have held a magnetic draw.

As with Pip though, the single and yet very major stumbling block separating fantasy from reality is that, in my mind at least, these were the realms of proper cavers. Inhabited by multi week night enthusiasts and possessors of multiple washing machines. Definitely not the place for Thursday night tourists.

The draw though was strong. If we researched and prepared well, taking small steps, would our impetuous incursion be overlooked and safe passage be granted? It was time to take our first baby steps.

Dave had told us that the navigation through the connection between Notts II and Lost John('?)s('?) was considerably easier from the Notts end. So, having read and combined the knowledge from multiple descriptions, reversing them where necessary, Tony and I began our trip down the scaffolded entrance of Iron Kiln Hole.

Entering the natural cave we met up with Dick and Andrena who, having set off a bit earlier, we're kindly waiting for us and headed down to the main streamway. I know I'm very guilty of stomping through passage, eager to get to the destination rather than enjoying the journey and so it was great to have Andrena on a first visit, pointing out the many formations that I'd normally race past with my blinkers on.

Dick stopped at the knotted rope allowing easy access to Bruno Kranski's above and with expected return times exchanged, while they carried on up stream to visit the stunning formations beyond, Tony and I made our way up the rope.  Very quickly we found ourselves at the 'muddy puddles' and just beyond we caught our first glimpse of the scaffolding that would guide us for the next 140 metres or so.

Lying in the first puddle and looking ahead I decided that what lay beyond looked like warm work and made use of the space to take off my hat and readjust my clothing. With no more excuses for inaction it was then onwards into the dig.

It really does have to be seen to be believed. Each foot, in a resonant echo of the Committee pot entrance, singing a song of human determination and team work. While the going was on occasion awkward I knew I had no cause for complaint when I compared my situation with the tribulations of the diggers. The last corner might well have been a bit squirmy, but at least I wasn't attempting it while transporting a pile of scaffolding and the sides and roof of the passage were well shored, rather than constantly trying to entomb me.

Now in scaffold free cave, three tricky little climbs had me waving my feet, unseen below, in the search for a foothold to allow a final udge up into the small chamber above, before finally the cave once more began to open out.  My first navigational blunder of the evening saw us heading past some bang wire under some huge boulders. As I descended a few words of Ramsay wisdom rose from the depths of my memory, "just don't follow the bang wire into this old dig, it's death on a stick." Slowly and gently we reversed back out and descended a few metres to the right instead, dropping down into the magnificent West passage.

Before heading on, we looked carefully at the view behind us, a prominent, club shaped rock marking the way for our return journey. Straight on at the T junction, where right would take you to Boxhead, the aptly named Helectite rift just gets better and better. In many caves, passageway like this would be festooned with conservation tape and it must have looked staggering to the original explorers when the calcite floor was pristine. The descriptions I'd read mentioned holes in the floor and it is true, there are. Abyss might be a better term, the bottom of the rift visible through them metres below. We stayed high in the rift, enjoying the spectacular speleothems, too high though for the way on, the head of the Lyle Cavern pitch appearing 10m of unclimbable rift below us.

Well aware of our limited time we turned around, noting places where we thought we could climb down and hoping that the route would be even more obvious from below. Back past the T junction and very pleased that we had taken the time to look back at where we had left the choke previously. Finding the entrance to the connection from this side would be much harder on first acquaintance.

Gravity assisted, the return journey felt much faster, especially with the added amusement of tackling bits which should probably be tackled feet first, head first. On the last section of descent before the sump, on a yellow band supporting the roof, someone had scribed in the mud "Far away" and while physically only tens of metres away from huge passageway, that's definitely how it felt at times in the connection.

Perhaps it was just my angle of approach, but the drained sump felt deeper on the return and I definitely came out wetter. Glinting on the rock ahead though I could see light at the end of the tunnel, Andrena and Dick having climbed up from the streamway after their explore  further upstream. Team reunited, I was glad of the stomp back down the meandering master cave to warm me back up before we encountered the cold air sinking down the entrance climbs.

The spot with the arm chairs next to a fire in the Whoop Hall had been taken by the only other customers so we made do with the other fire, the seats though being just a little too far away. We were though very close to a speaker, the soothing music almost drowning out conversation.

Thanks to Dick, Andrena and Tony for sharing the adventure, but especially to the now generations (?) of diggers that have made this trip possible. From the opening of Notts II to non divers, to the more recent three counties connection, your work is greatly appreciated and we now can't wait to try some of the longer through trips you've made possible.

15th November 2018 - Bull Pot

With Tony paddling Scottish rivers, it was just Dick and I that returned to Kingsgale and made our way through the Yordas gate and up on to the Turbary road. This definitely isn't the best way to get to Bull Pot as we now realised we'd walked further up the hill above the pot than it lies above the road. Having wandered along the road for a bit, we dropped back down the fell and to the entrance.

It could be my memory, but I'm sure the bolts were in a different place last time we were here and it felt a lot easier rigging from a handy natural to the first two bolts than the previous setup.

A short traverse took us to a y-hang, a pitch and a swing onto a ledge. Last time we were here I remember stepping over the slot and continuing to a pitch before being stopped by water and having to retrace our steps. This time, with no further a do, we headed directly down the slot. From the landing ledge we dropped into the stream and to the traverse for the forth pitch.  I could tell it's still the start of the season from the number of times I had to untangle myself from tackle sack leashes or found myself on the wrong side of traverse ropes. Bolt by bolt though things began to run more smoothly.

I'd love to know how tall some of the people who bolt are, they're definitely an inch or two taller than me and it was only by holding a krab in the very tips of my fingers that I was able to clip the first deviation.  Fortunately the water levels were fine and I didn't need to attempt to reach the second. At the foot of the pitch we dropped into the streamway again before ducking down and under to follow it's course.

With getting to desperation point, taking snap gate krabs off tackle sacks we sat chatting at the start of the traverse before deciding the pub was calling and began heading back up the pitches.

At the entrance we took a more direct route down to the road and as per last week stopped off in the Marton Arms, a darts match in full flow in the adjoining room.

While I don't think I'll ever tire of pouring through my hard copy CNCC rigging guides, the new topos and descriptions on the website are absolutely superb, perhaps we should start looking at their great maps and descriptions of how to get to the caves too!

8th November 2018 - Yordas

For the first outing of the 2018 season we wanted to brush up on our skills for doing pull through trips involving traverses.  Yordas, with its easy access seemed the perfect choice.

It didn't bode well when I initially couldn't even find the entrance to the cave, finding us too low in a small dry valley.  I'm using the excuse it was dark. Entrance located we crossed the main chamber to have a look through the window to inspect the water levels. It was wetter than when I'd last done a pull through, following the water down. That was definitely not going to be an option today and there was quite a bit of should we/shouldn't we as we headed up the side of the valley to the middle entrance.

After looking at the water entering just above the entrance we decided the trip was on and set up the first short pitch for a pull through.  At the bottom, as I pulled 40m of rope through the bolts rather than 10, I was glad we were having a shake down trip that wasn't too committing. The second short pitch was slightly trickier to rig, but at least I'd got my rope management sorted this time and with the tackle sack quickly repacked, we were heading down into the main streamway.

Fortunately we'd gauged things right and the water level was fine as we headed to the main pitch.  I set off rigging and Tony followed a few bolts behind derigging. After a short traverse, an abseil was required to reach a further bolted traverse on the opposite wall. Rigging this as I normally would it was only when I was safely belayed that I began thinking about the options Tony now had. I so hoped that there would be enough rope in the derigged 'tail' of rope for him to perform his own mini pull through. Once again I was glad we'd decided to have what was quickly becoming a much needed 'practice' trip. Communicating anything to Tony was impossible,  the roaring of the waterfall in the confined chamber was deafening, but he's a good few tricks up his sleave and he was soon making his way down to me.

Even with closer proximity, conversation was difficult and this definitely wasn't the time or place for a discussion on the relative merits of different techniques.  Rechecking I was on the right end of the rope, I unclipped and swung into space.  There was no point in rigging the deviations as Tony wouldn't be able to make use of them, but fortunately the hang meant a wetting only in the final metre or so before the chamber floor allowed a sprint out of the water and onto the drier window 'sill'.

Tony followed down and to our combined relief the rope ran smoothly, landing in the plunge pool in front of us.  With the bag quickly packed we crossed the main chamber once again and climbed the short bank to the entrance. Outside there wasn't a sound but our ears were still ringing as we dropped down to the road.

Even warmly ensconced in the 'under new management', more welcoming Marton Arms we became aware we were probably still shouting at each other, or perhaps it was just our scruffiness that drew glances from the much better dressed members of clientele. Still the beer and crisps were good and their prices a bit more reasonable than previously.

A grand evening out in a cracking little pot with superb company, even if we couldn't hear a word each other were saying.