Friday 21 January 2022

20th January 2022 - Rounding the square

Finally some quality writing on the blog with Mike's thoughts about Boxhead...

Boxhead – appropriate apprehension (20/01/22)

Boxhead Pot, what a delight! Whenever I go here there’s always an extra sense of excitement and apprehension in equal doses. A splendid pot hole and main shaft in it’s own right; direct, deep and uncompromising; yet leading to a cornucopia of entertaining excursions – a quick exchange with Cracker without ever leaving the rope, a tour of the Tate Galleries to provide a challenging horizontal experience, the round of the Lost Pot inlets and Lyle Cavern via the Tube, access to the Leck Fell Master cave, Lost Johns in one direction and Notts II  in the other, with all the endless possible variations of connections, pull through or exchange.

When I stand on the edge of the main pitch there’s always a level of subdued apprehension; I’ve retreated a couple of times in wet conditions with an impressive spout pouring over the pitch head, the boulder pile I’m stood on always seems a little lower (I can’t reach the P-bolts on the left wall any more), an awareness of the vast pitch lurking in the darkness, the essential immediate deflections in wet conditions and the difficult to spot bolts in the rift leading to the Kendal Flyover; I chuckle at myself as I make myself safer than required on the rope whilst rigging the Y-hang. In my mind I’m recollecting my first experience of Boxhead, bizarrely from the bottom up. Soon after it was made passable and bolted, we went one evening after work to rig the first pitch, dropped a rope down the main pitch (with a rock in the bag in the hopes it got to the bottom), went back out, pulled through Lost John’s to the master cave and continued upstream through to the Lost Pot inlets, very relieved to find our rope dangling to the bottom of the pitch. Oh the confidence of youth!

Then, far too quickly, back to Al's ramblings...

With the dry weather showing no sign of abating and Tony having been unable to join us last week, another quality trip was required. Time to get flicking through the pages of the black book. While these trips might require a bit more commitment, for me it's a line about the trips in the introduction that's the most important. "If it didn't keep us smiling for several days and invoke a desire for a return visit, it didn't get in the guide." Double year 9 on a Friday afternoon, not a problem after one of these trips the night before.

Having spent a few trips wratching round in the Lost John's/Boxhead system recently, but having still never visited the Tube, there was only one choice for a dry day with low water levels, a descent of Boxhead and the round trip through the Tate Galleries to Lyle Cavern and a return through the Tube. As it was and knowing there was a rope in Lyle Cavern, we opted to go in the opposite direction. The Tube was pressing on Tony and I's minds and this way it would be over and done with early on, allowing us to enjoy the rest of the trip.

It was a truly stunning walk across the moor, the moon just shy of full, the sun just setting. The trees around Lost pot visible almost immediately allowing a much more relaxed approach, no step counting or bearings needed. Mike rigged the first rope to the pipe and still needing to get his gear on, signalled for me to get going with the rest of the pitch. I'm not sure if "bolt blindness" is an actual medical condition, but the two obvious bolts for the y-hang just below the pipe remained invisible to me until I was a few metres below them, resulting in a quick change to climbing rather than descending. While the rest of the pitch passed without incident, it's worth noting that all the tat that used to be in situ for deviations has now gone.

Tony joined me at the bottom of the first pitch and I began rigging the second. On Mike's arrival though I quickly passed on the baton. If I couldn't find 2 obvious bolts there was no way I was going to find those in the rift off the main aven. Without my bumbling, the trip now took on the usual steady away feel, regular shouts of "Rope free", ringing up the shaft.

At the bottom of the pitches we made our way under the arch linking the two avens and the left hand turn into the smaller passage leading to the Tube. A couple of interesting free down climbs and I was there. The only sign of Mike a tackle sack just visible at the end of low, dripping passage and Tony shedding his SRT gear. Having negotiated the Tube Mike turned himself around and pulled our bags through, allowing both Tony and I to progress unencumbered. To both our surprises we seemed to just pop through and I was soon lying in a muddy puddle in the Lost pot inlet.

Following the water, we made good progress until boulders seemed to prevent further easy passage with the stream. At this point we began hunting for the passage to take us over to the Lost John's Master cave (on the true right, a few metres back from the boulders). A short crawl and the rope leading down the calcite half pipe into the Master cave appeared, back into know territory for Tony and I.

The top of the Lyle Cavern pitch with its little calcite grotto is a beautiful place and the passage beyond doesn't disappoint either, with both interesting free climbs and lovely formations. A left turn at the turn junction took us along Avens Passage before one of my favourite pieces of cave, the unlikely, corkscrew tube that takes you into the guts of the system. While enjoyable going up, it's even better going down, the old hawser rope allowing you to control your speed of descent. 

At the next junction I could vividly remember turning the wrong way before Mike set me straight the last time we were here, but which way it was that I'd turned I couldn't recall at all. Fortunately, Mike was as sure as he was then and we continued down the ever more aqueous crawls to the foot of the awkward climb back up into the Cresta Run.

I'm sure there is a better reason (such as being able to pull through at Lyle Cavern if there wasn't an in situ rope), but we all felt that the trip would be better the other way round as you'd be clean by the time you returned to your ropes, rather than caked in slippy mud. The water oozing out of every item of clothing I was wearing adding unwanted lubrication, I slithered my way along the Cresta Run and past the deep holes that guard its entrance.

In stark contrast to the muddy, dull surroundings, our clean white rope shone at the exit of the Tate galleries, our round trip was complete. As the others put on their SRT gear, I pulled up the rope from the bottom of the aven and then began the magnificent ascent myself.  At the top of the main pitch, the tackle sack was becoming heavy so I tied it onto the first pitch rope and enjoyed climbing with only my own body weight to work against, though I wasn't looking forward to the inevitable haul.  I needn't have worried. As I collapsed over the tube rim, Mike and Tony grabbed the rope and before I'd detangled myself from my SRT gear, all the ropes were out.

Illuminated by the bright moon, we returned across the moor with not a care in the world. I can't believe the amount of time I've spent wandering aimlessly in this area looking for cave entrances or the Lost John's style in the mist and dark. The car's clock read 10 o'clock, a late one. Last orders is called at 10:30 in the Royal Barn these days, it was going to be tight.

Transferring to our separate cars, I said to the others to head off without me, it requires a long time for the van windscreen to clear and there'd be no way we'd make it if they waited. As I loaded my sodden gear into the van, Mike began trying to clear the ice from my windscreen to speed things up. Unfortunately it's not the ice on the outside of the windscreen that's the problem. Tony sped off in the vanguard and I covered the dashboard with white snow as I scrapped the inside of the windscreen clear of ice, the blast of freezing cold air from the van's heaters not helping the situation.

The doors to the Barn were closed and the Royal itself was shutting too, but a warm welcome was had in the Snooty Fox. A different pub meant different beers and Tony was left with the dilemma of ordering the equivalent of 2 pints of Monumental and a pint of Mild. He chose well and we were soon ensconsed in a warm corner, recounting our favourite moments from a superb trip.

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