Friday 7 February 2020

6th February 2020 - Manc in Manhattan

Last week Mike and I had been turned around by a deluge in Boundary pot before the description said we'd even meet water.  This week, approaching the nick in the true left bank of the gill, there was no water sinking and I felt slightly more confident sliding into the entrance.

The incredible spiders in the first chamber were definitely bigger than last week, having spent 7 days gourging on their prey.  We slipped quietly past and were soon in the crawl leaving the second chamber. What a difference a dry week makes! There was no water at all going down the hole and I confidently wiggled down.

My current issues with water caused the first of my navagational hiccups of the evening, pressing on through a curtain of water definitely not appealing to me.  Through we went though and we were soon making the stunning free climbs down into Fusion Cavern.  I'd been reading the description out loud, but my voice wasn't going to carry over the roar of the waterfall so we pressed on to the downstream end of the cavern.

The streamway leaving the cavern is one of my favourite pieces of cave in Ease gill.  Delicate crystaline, false floor and myriad stal decorating the way through to the soaring Boxing Day aven.  Interspersed with the pretties, fresh foam indicated that this really isn't the place to be in wet weather and confirmed that our decision the previous week was the right one.

Stepping up from the aqueous passageway, we entered our first huge cavern of the evening, Hiroshima.  In the far part of this chamber is the stunningly engineered link that makes this trip possible. As ever we'd like to pass on our thanks to the diggers for the work they put in that allows everyone to enjoy the fruits of their labours.  In this case Sam Allshorn and Mike Cooper had also produced the fantastic description we were using to navigate through the link.

Once through the dig we dropped down into the Far East Passage streamway and were soon climbing up into the vastness of Nagasaki.  It was now over to Mike for navigational duties and unlike on my previous trips, he quickly headed off in the right direction towards the Assembly Hall.  White Way,  Thackray's, Holbeck Junction went by in a blur, the only pause being waiting for the ladder to be free at Stop Pot.

In my head, once we were at the Mainline terminus, we had Monster and Snail caverns to pass through before arriving at Cornes.  I therefore thought we'd have two "diminishings" of the passage before arriving at our destination.  Perhaps it was the speed we were travelling at, but seemingly after only a single narrowing we thought we were in the right place.

Now turning to the Braemoor route description I followed it to the letter and found myself in a sandy crawl.  The sand ahead looked undisturbed and I felt a long way from the others.  This couldn't be it.  I retraced my steps, had a moment when I couldn't find the way back, but finally emerged to tell the others it couldn't be the way on.  Mike went scurrying one way to look for landmarks we knew, while I went the other knowing that if I soon bumped into the Minnarets then we were definitely in Cornes.  This left poor Tony in the middle with everyone else disappearing into the gloom.

By the time I got back from the Minnarets, Mike was pushing down the crawl I'd abandoned with more confindence than I'd had and soon found the mud bricks that meant we were on the right path. Sorry lads.  As with the earlier Manhattan description, John Gardner's "Braemoor" description was absolutely superb, as Mike put it, "it tells you on a climb exactly which stal you'll find your right hand on."

Crawling was definitely the order of the day now and the vastness of the upper level series seemed an age away.  Suddenly, our horizontal progress was halted by a pitch!  An isolated 11m hole, dropping down Ease gill aven.

When we had met at Devil's bridge I'd shown Mike my neatly packed tackle sack with 20m of rope for a pull through down the aven and my SRT kit in.  He pointed out that even with these meagre contents it was still quite bulky and that he had a better solution.  At Bull Pot farm he assured us there'd be a rope in situ and produced 3 sets of Brook's Lite SRT kits.  Fully aware of cavers' aversion to flashy new gear, these had been designed to look like a 1980's sling teamed with an HMS krab.

It was therefore a cheery, unjaded team of 3 that arrived at Ease gill aven having travelled unencumbered and unfrustrated by tackle sacks. There had been a brief discussion over whether we should each carry a krab, or would just one do for us all, but personally I'd found the krab useful attach the sling round my body while travelling.  Kit donned, my hitch turned out to be of the Italian variety rather than the similar Clove and thus the obsticle was passed without a Further.

After a brief but very muddy section it was with some relief that we started crawling in the water again, a chance to wash off.  The water having passed through both Mike and Tony's suits by the time it got to me was far from crystal clear and even just trying to wash off the description met with limited success.

Suddenly we popped out into the County streamway with just a climb up and over a boulder choke separating us from Molluscan Hall.  Here it was once again into the water before the enlarging passageway brought us to one of the most recognisable junctions in Ease gill, Platypus.  I'd forgotten how enjoyable the stream way is via Toadstool junction to Broadway, the route maintaining its interest to the very end.

It was still and crisp back on the moor, our return illuminated by a large moon.  Arriving at the farm, the Thursday night diggers were just leaving.  Perhaps one day their current work will lead to a trip as superb as the one we had just completed.

Huge thanks to Mike and Tony for sharing a superb adventure.

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