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.


Tom Phillips said...

what no pics?!

Alistair said...

Strangely didn't feel like taking a camera box through with me. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be and definitely worth doing. A perfect antidote to too much Spanish warmth and comfort!