Friday, 29 April 2022

28th April 2022 - No mere gill


Dick's photo of the fantastic third pitch. Mike on point.

Having spent years dangling off well maintained bolts, found using excellent topos and cave descriptions and more recently attending superb training at subsidised prices, it felt like it was time to try and give a tiny bit back to the CNCC. Signing up to their volunteer scheme was easy and it wasn't long before a request to remove some wire from the bottom of Meregill came through. Unlike building dry walls or stabilising cave entrances, this didn't sound like it required much skill so I volunteered and roped in Dick, Tony and Mike.

As well as a bit of Wombling, it also meant a trip to what has to be one of the finest pots in Yorkshire and one that I'm now pretty sure I'd never been to before. Unfortunately my head was focused on retrieving wire rather than the trip itself and I hadn't quite realised how big a trip it is...

Tony somehow caught wind that due to the number of bolts involved, Mike was planning on bringing a pile of maillons and so quickly planned an alternative trip to Heron, rigged with shiny krabs. So it was that Dick, Mike and I along with numerous tackle sacs headed along the well worn path up Ingleborough. A right at the style along a less well worn track, over a further style and we were approaching the first of many holes dropping down to the elusive mere. 

Dick quickly located the bolt to protect the approach to the belay tree, which while I was assured was not an ash, still didn't look particularly healthy in its horizontal rather than, the more usual for trees, vertical position. At the bottom of the pitch we had a look for the wire we had come to collect but to no avail and so we headed to the next pitch.

Mike, taking over rigging duties, climbed up the an in situ line higher in the rift and began the long traverse to the second pitch. I hate to imagine what the stream way can be like to necessitate the traverse being this high. Tony, it's worth noting that in low water like on this trip, there's a lower route which we might have enough krabs for!

The third pitch also requires a climb up to begin a traverse but, with no in situ tat, we ended up at an alternative set of bolts at the pitch head before retracing our steps. As Mike descended I tried shouting down, "Rehang at 10 m, rehang at 7 m". Instead of following my instructions though, he leaped like Super Mario this way and that across the shaft collecting quality gear from other bolts on the descent, I could almost hear the sound of coins falling into a jar! The description describes this pitch as, "...almost certainly amongst one of the finest and most dramatic pitches in Yorkshire." and I couldn't agree more. I'd love to return with a bigger team and some flashguns.

With his bags depleted, I leap frogged Mike for the fourth pitch and Dick, struggling without his glasses, began his return towards the surface. With a well rigged guideline in place, the descent from the y-hang to the first rebelay was nice and dry, again I can't imagine what this would be like in high water conditions. My concern about rigging the next rebelay was unfounded, older in situ tat making the job of rigging our sling around the chockstone straightforward.

At the foot of the final pitch I unclipped from the rope and udged to the side to allow Mike to descend, but not fancying the, at least waist deep, wetting that would ensue moving further away from the rope. On his arrival though he insisted that, as I hadn't been there before, the next 500 m or so of stream way really were worth a look, so we plunged into the pool. The rock turning almost black, whispering, "You're deep now", the sharp ridges emanating from it reminiscent of the lower sections of Pen-y-ghent pot, again adding to the sense that we were a long way from the surface, but what a stomp! Where the passage began to lower we stopped briefly, allowing me time to convince myself that grovelling for a further few hundred metres would not be in keeping with the trip. 

As I ascended the second pitch a light glimmered in the ceiling. Dick had been to explore where the mere normally resides, a dive line hanging in the air reminding him that he'd normally be metres under water. He'd also located the wire and while Mike derigged we bagged it up and Dick began hauling our now burgeoning tackle sacs to the surface.



The wire at the bottom of the first pitch


All bagged up



Dick hauling away and taking photos!



At the surface

9:30 pm! With the moor still to cross, getting changed and the drive back down the valley, there was a very good chance we were going to miss the pub. For the first time ever I'd also forgotten to tell my wife where we were going and though others did, I knew she'd be getting worried - we always make it to the pub.

Sure enough, by the time we were changed and the car loaded, there wasn't a hope of finding anywhere open. After such a cracking trip, it's always a bit of a disappointment for me to not be able to relive the adventure over a pint, parting company in a cold lay by a bit of an anticlimax.

Huge thanks to Dick and Mike for a quality adventure and if anyone would like a large bag of wire...

Saturday, 9 April 2022

7th April 2022 - Big team turnout


Celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary at one of Dale's finest viewpoints

Ten years ago I'd had the pleasure of taking some photos of Dick and Sharon in Witches II on their 30th wedding anniversary trip:






So ten years later a big team set off to Alum pot to try and get a shot for their 40th. The plan was for Dick, Sharon, Tony & son and I to head down via the Dolly tubs while Mike rigged the big pitch in Alum before joining us to rig the normal descent.

As it turned out there was a lot of water about and the descent down the Dolly tubs had us all chilled. Hanging around while I faff with flash guns doesn't aid rewarming, so when Mike joined us it was to assist a heroic retreat to the pub.

Need to start thinking about 50th anniversary locations now...


31st March 2022 - Boundary to County

 With just two of us available a quick trip around one of my favourite Ease Gill routes seemed appropriate. The big attraction of this trip is that it normally requires no tackle at all and neither of us particularly likes carrying tackle. With Wetchedy Wabbit currently out of action though, our first port of call was into County to drop a ladder down the pitch so that we didn't need to carry our SRT kit through with us. Then off up the fortunately dry valley to the Boundary entrance.

We're starting to get to know Boundary quite well now and we were soon through the more grovelly bits and dropping down one of my favourite free climbs into the more spacious parts of the system. A slight navigational hiccough as I tried to follow a more aqueous exit out of Fusion cavern was soon corrected by Mike who'd found the much more pleasant way on and we were soon passing the amazing false floors on our way to Hiroshima.

Through the Manhattan connection and again I was on a roll with Mike having to rein me in as I carried on climbing higher and higher in Nagasaki, completely missing the way on. To avoid further navigational issues, Mike now took the lead and with a swift peek into Easter grotto we made our way through the Assembly room, White Way and Thackray's before the quick shuffle at Holbeck junction through into Stop pot.

At the main line terminus we had a brief rest before Mike was once again off through the Manchester by pass. Knowing how familiar he is with the passage, I undid all my zips and removed my hat. Had I been able to I'd have put on shorts and a t-shirt. Trying to keep up with Mike through passage he knows well is a full on sprint!

The brakes came on briefly for the climb up from Broadway and for the ladder ascent but we were soon making the final moves up into daylight. This is a terrific little trip with a little bit of everything. Cheers Mike for a grand evening, though we're going to have to slow things down a bit if I'm going to avoid paying for parking in Kirkby.

Monday, 21 March 2022

17th March 2022 - Held up by Sylvester

Almost 12 years to the day that Phil and I had made a visit to Sylvester pot to go and see Newton's Wonder, Mike, Tony and I headed off across the moor to enjoy a quiet round trip. It's probably best not to think too much about the entrance. Not only does it have a definite u-bend in a drainage system feel to it, it also looks like it's held up by, what in other places would count as, balanced rock art.

Unusually, the first pitch of Sylvester also still requires the use of spits. I'm always a little disturbed by how far these don't go into the rock and it's definitely mind opening about how little material you need to dangle off.

At the bottom of the first pitch we went on a minor diversion to go and see Newton's Wonder before retracing our steps to the second pitch. I was now in new cave too. The "small spike at the pitchead", looked awfully like a little nubbin of rock, but a barrel knotted loop seemed to grip it sufficiently to allow a protected descent, though I did try and keep my weight on the rock rather than on the rope.

From the main chamber we located the 2m drop into a loose, wet rift and sure enough 8m ahead, below a cascade of (very cold and wet) water, the rift enlarged. 3 1/2m above us we could see what looked like the entrance to a crawl, but "awkward" isn't the adjective I'd use for the climb. While I succeeded in getting very wet in the cascade of water, Mike actually made progress up towards the hole, approaching from the left with a lassoed tape offering some protection. I have no doubt he'd have made the last move or two, but I was definitely feeling a lack of motivation and Tony seemed in agreement.

Not wanting to get into an argument over fixed aids in caves, it does seem a bit bizarre that elsewhere in Ease Gill bits of tat and ladders abound for what seem like much more trivial obstacles. It's also the first time I've ever disagreed with a description in NFTFH. Have things changed since it was written?

I don't like unfinished business so I've a feeling we'll be back, once I dig the step ladder out of the garage...

Friday, 11 March 2022

10th March 2022 - Quick nip through Pip

Mike's thoughts:

Pippikin Pot – Type 1 caving fun

At first thought or acquaintance Pippikin Pot can be somewhat intimidating; a series of tight squeezes, some awkward pitch heads, srt gear to don and remove numerous times and a return upward struggle to consider; a reputation for occasional rescues adds to a serious atmosphere and if done at the end of an Easegill Traverse expect to be more than a little fatigued. 

However, a minimalist evening approach can lighten the experience. With a little familiarity the squeezes lessen in intimidation; relax, stay high and let gravity do the work. If it’s prerigged (I’ve never known it not) then little kit is needed to be carried and if confident with route finding then just a sling and krab allow a lightweight approach, easily carried, popped on at the top of each pitch and off again for the next squeeze. A stroll through the lower passages and an exit from Mistral avoids the return journey and ensures a gravity assisted trip. An excellent short excursion, doable in all but the wettest conditions and guaranteed to bring out a smile. 

The traditionalist will of curse deplore such an approach, but early evening beers assuaged our guilt!


My waffling:

With my brain numbed by work I was struggling for inspiration for a trip so asked the others if there was something they wanted to do. Mike wrote back that he'd like to do something in East Easegill and suggested a Pippikin-Mistral pull through.

The last time I'd been through Pip was coming up it at the end of an Easegill traverse so initially I was slightly perturbed, how can a fun, evening trip ever involve Pippikin? Someone once came up with the life advice of doing something that scares you everyday so, as 4:45 pm on Thursday rolled round, I was waiting for Mike at Devil's Bridge.

Being late in the season it was a daylight wander across the moor from the Leck fell carpark and despite the haziness of my memory, it wasn't long before we were at the entrance, the tell tale orange Euro speleo rope now bleached after years under a hot Yorkshire sun.

Donning my sling and krab, I noted that Mike was spoiling us as he'd brought not just one figure of 8, but one each! Still pondering where the best place to attach the tackle sack was, I set off into the dark. I'd forgotten how smooth a ride a figure of eight gives, but not the superman dive at the end of the first crawl. Unfortunately, in the intervening 5 years (almost to the day) since I first went through on a trip with Tony, my arms seem to have shrunk a bit and I was at full stretch to allow a controlled descent.

The routine of pitch/squeeze, SRT kit on/off, was made much faster and easier with the sling/krab set up and we were soon down the pitches and making our way along the streamway to the Hall of the Ten. Clean washed rift was soon exchanged for slippy mud as we passed the decaying remnants of once great mud sculptures.

With only one small navigational hiccup (hiccough!) just before Dusty junction, we made our way through the Hobbit and to the bottom of the final climb. Here the strong cool draft that had accompanied us through the final crawls was joined by the last rays of daylight filtering down the shaft. 

Mike's homing skills proved to be well honed and while we were hoping to bump into either the wall or road to handrail us back to the layby, we managed to arrive directly back at the car. As ever the Royal Barn in Kirkby served up a superb post trip pint and I was even home in time to see eldest heading to bed.

Thanks Mike for a superb trip.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Friday, 4 February 2022

Sunday, 30 January 2022

27th January 2022 - Going with the flow

A rare alignment of the planets meant that both Mike and I had an afternoon off during a prolonged dry spell. As they say, it's not the afternoons in the office that you're going to remember, so 1pm saw us meeting at Devil's Bridge.

The drive across to Kettlewell reminded us that we live in a truly stunning part of the world, swathes of green grass criss-crossed with limestone dry walls shining in the sunlight. Malham tarn, nestling in a moor peppered with outcropping rock. The steep sided valley of Cow Side beck revealing some of its treasures with waterfalls spilling between scars, but hiding the marvellous tuffa pools in its dark depths. Finally we turned into Wharfdale and its archetypal Dales villages.

Parking just outside the village on the Park Rash road to shorten the return walk, our changing was interspersed with supping tea and eating the fantastic banana loaf that Mike had brought with him. Changed, we headed down the hill, a couple of cyclists passing us asking, "Are there any caves in Kettlewell?" The next finger post suggested there were, "Providence pot 1 1/2 miles".

A narrow valley, the kind you worry about being ambushed by Wargs in, led us away from the village, the navigation beginning a theme that would persist throughout the trip, follow the water. The only difference with this part of the journey being that we were going against the flow.

Unlike our recent experiences with Grey wife, there was no missing the entrance to Providence, the walls of the dug entrance shaft raised a few feet above the stream. Once in the shaft I pulled the heavy steel lid back across the entrance. A final glimpse of blue sky, before turning to the way on, illuminated only by the pool of light from my lamp.

It was then straight into what has become a well practiced routine for us, my reading a couple of lines of the description while Mike finds the relevant features and the way on, stopping at the next landmark to repeat the process. 54 Cavern, July Grotto, Terminal Chamber and then up into the Blasted Crawl (choose your meaning and it applies).

In the vanguard Mike had the dubious pleasure of being able to see how deep the water was, but we both had the joy of not knowing how deep the underlying mud was. At one point it was deep enough to allow me to crouch rather than crawl, but it was still a relief to climb up into the Palace. I'm glad the Staircase currently has a banister of a well belayed handline as, without it, the descent into the Dungeon would have felt very committing. Even with its support I was glad we were going down rather than up through this section. Passing through Depot chamber and the short crawl beyond we met the Dowber Gill water for the first time at the aptly named Stalagmite Corner. Once again, we now just need to follow the stream... 

Lovely caving took us through Skittle Chamber before a dosey doe into a parallel rift via a couple of slits in the wall is required to continue forward progress. Apprenticeships in the Ease Gill high level series served us well as we moved over the slippy boulders in Bridge Cavern. Mike pointed out the jammed boulders in the rift above us, but I tried to keep my eyes on the ground in front, Vitalstatistix's fear of the sky falling down on his head seemed all too possible in this chamber.

With some relief we dropped down off the boulder pile and were once again surrounded by the solid, water carved walls of the rift and a return to fun caving: follow the stream until an obstacle then either over, under or round it. Progress was steady until a boulder that looked like an easy climb, but the rift was just a bit too narrow near the top. It looked so doable and I felt like I was wasting significant time on not doing it. Admitting defeat, Mike fortunately said he could see a rising traverse to the top of the block and reversing a few metres allowed onward progress to be made again. 

At every pile of boulders now I started wondering if we were in 800 Yards Chamber. Looking at the Braemoor guide though, Mike noted that we still needed to shimmy into another parallel rift before reaching it. Almost immediately after consulting the guide, the slot appeared and shortly after, the unmistakable chamber. Some of the reports we had read mentioned that this spot had become a bit grim, courtesy of resting cavers enjoying a well deserved picnic. Massive thanks are therefore due to whoever it was that has taken it upon themselves to clean the spot up, there wasn't a single bit of litter.

It felt that we were bound by tradition to have a rest at this spot as countless other cavers must have done and we shared a chocolate bar while eyeing the way on ahead. 

A whiff of steak and black pepper signalled that I had ruptured my Ginsters, the first squeeze after the chamber proving too narrow for the treat stowed in my chest pocket. To compound matters the squeeze was followed by a canal and the expanding packet sucked in the muddy cave water. I was down to a single chocolate bar.


An up and over of another choke brought us to the Brew Chamber climb. Mike made his way, initially over, then up into and finally out of the choke between boulders.  I was glad when I was able to follow him through as the hand lined alternative climb over the choke didn't look too inviting.

Leaving Brew Chamber I thought we were making good progress at first through the narrows but then Mike stopped. He normally never stops so when he does I worry. Lying in the cold water I knew I needed to be moving to keep warm and I started a reverse shuffle back to the last foot looped rope I'd seen dangling from higher in the rift. At the top of the climb, on quite a pleasant traverse line, Mike soon joined me and we were moving forward again. Meeting another boulder obstacle, I took the over route and the guide book suggested dropping down to the streamway at the earliest opportunity. The only problem was the stream way looked an awfully long way down.  I hesitantly began descending, alternating thinking thin and fat to control my speed. Below me the rift narrowed and I brought myself to a halt.  Further ahead the rift widened and after a few metres of traverse I recommenced my descent. It was with some relief I dropped back into the stream with a solid floor under my feet. A short distance ahead a lovely knotted rope hung from the rift offering a much more pleasant means of dropping from the traverse level and to add insult to injury this was closely followed by another.

Rapid progress again through pleasant rift until my light reflected back off mounds of foam at what at first sight looked like a terminal sump. Focused on the dead end it wasn't until I was right next to it that I noticed the Rock Window, once again a parallel rift offering the way on. Sitting on the window shelf we had a read of the description before dropping into the dark, Stygian canal beyond. The water lay still, absorbing both light and sound and we edged forward taking care not to disturb what must lurk beneath. After another obstruction we came to the jammed flake and had only our second wonder about the best way on. Once again the Braemoor guide filled in exactly what we unsure of in NFTFH and we ducked beneath the block and carried on until an easy climb out of the water brought us to the bottom of two ropes. One "clean" offering an easy abseil descent from the Gypsum traverse above, the other knotted in all the right places affording a straightforward ascent.

Enjoyable caving along the traverse was interrupted only by Mike's discovery of a stick that looked like it had been left by a dog on a lovely afternoon walk. It must have left some mushed dog biscuit on it too as it sprouted fine white tendrils of fungi. A pair of ropes once again offered aid to parties travelling in either direction, but below I could see a huge void between boulders. Surely we needed to stay higher for longer to avoid this abyss? Staying at this level didn't seem to be an option though and so I lowered myself down onto the boulders. Edging slowly towards the bottomless pit, I hesitantly peered down into it, to be met by my reflection just inches below. This was no entrance to Hades, merely a reemergence of the black watered canal. Embarrassed, I stepped across and fortunately Mike was more taken with the lovingly engineered rungs up into the continuation of the roof tunnel than my making a chasm out of a puddle.

Dropping back to stream level again, once more on a drop I was more than thankful for a rope on, I stopped to read the guide. "15 minutes of easy caving to Dow Cave entrance". Had we really passed all the major obstacles. I missed out the first sentence, surely we couldn't be nearly there could we and skipped to the detailed instructions as I read aloud to Mike. Progressing down the canal the rift suddenly opened out and once again sounds reverberated around us. Looking up the Buddhist's temple towered above us and lower down our view was dominated by possibly the largest flowstone formation I have ever seen. At it's far left corner we ducked under and after a little more wading we popped out of a small hole into the expanse of Dow Cave. How the lofty Dowber Gill rift can end at this tiny exit I couldn't comprehend.

The change in scale brought with it a change in mindset too. The pent up doubts over whether we would be able to complete the traverse, pressed deeper into me by the towering walls of the rift, suddenly evaporated into the yawning space around us. The vacuum left behind quickly filling with elation. The stomp along the streamway a fitting finale to an incredible trip.

Approaching the entrance to Dow, an eerie glow appeared. Not a reflection from our lamps, but the last glimmer of day. Completely absorbed with each obstacle and the next part of the description, I'd given no thought to time and I couldn't have told you whether we'd been underground 3 hours or 10. The sky suggested closer to the former.

With a spring in our step we began the return journey to the car, unaware of a final obstacle not mentioned in the guide. Crossing the style onto the Park Rash road, the tarmac disappeared beneath us into the gloom, no mention had been made of the need for a rope to descend into the village. As we side stepped down the road my heart went out to any tired cyclists that had found themselves at the bottom of this wall of tarmacadam.

With the red lights of the car reflecting in our torch beams we decided that any true round trip should bring you back to the car from the opposite direction to that which you left it. I also decided that Mike's packing of a flask of tea, sandwiches and banana loaf was also a terrific idea.

After last week's trip we'd found ourselves in Kirkby too late to be served in our usual haunt, this week I was worried that at just after 7 pm, the pub might not be open. Fears were soon allayed and it turns out that arriving earlier also meant that the fire is still properly lit too. The earlier tea meant that our pints could be enjoyed rather than downed and with each sip we began to replay what must be one of the finest trips in the Dales.

Arriving home at the most reasonable time ever for a Thursday night and still buzzing from the trip I opened my monthly beer delivery that had arrived earlier in the day. It seemed that the planets' alignment had one last surprise in store, a can of Yorkshire Parkin stout, tasting notes: ginger and custard. I can't think of a finer way to end such a perfect day in God's own County.



As always, thanks to Mike B. for the adventure and to Mike C. (NFTFH), Terry Trueman and Ian Watson (on the Braemoor site) for the guide. 

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.

Friday, 14 January 2022

13th January 2022 - Grey Wife Hole


Mike's thoughts:

The secrets of the Grey Wife revealed (13/01/22)

The Grey Wife is not to be subdued, vanquished, battled into submission, overcome or mastered, but rather treated with care and thought; an awareness of the diverse situations and a measured approach best access an appreciation of her delights.

The entrance itself (a small manhole the same colour as the bog, overgrown with turf) needed quite some finding and then some gardening before allowing admittance. The flat-out gravelled crawl required a little attention and excavation to allow through passage, the following winding streamway was constricted enough to slow progress and a pitch head that needed a thoughtful approach (especially on return). The Pond a Paradox indeed, the way on looking blocked but with surprisingly easy passage given under the far arch to the continuation streamway beyond. Further delights and increasingly impressive formations only accessible by the devious and airy Jim’s Traverse, once again more straightforward than first sight suggests, till the climax of the final chamber - Poet’s Corner -in this case a place of pilgrimage for subterranean rather than literature lovers. The sting in the tail, a low airspace duck merely an acceptable and suitable payment for disclosure of the secrets to the Grey Wife.

Al's ramblings:

Another high pressure has come to dominate our weather, so a trip to make the most of two days without rain was required. Flicking through NFTFH, Grey Wife Hole seemed to fit the bill perfectly, being a short (3-5 hour) trip that suffers from flooding in wet conditions.

While I've been caving for 20 years and hope I've picked up some skills in that time, NFTFH trips still fill me with trepidation: "None of these trips are suitable for inexperienced, unfit or unwary cavers". Despite the fact that we'd only gone to the sump and back, I still felt that our recent 6 hour time for Pen-y-Ghent pot meant that we were moving through cave well and if we took Grey Wife steadily, one obstacle at a time, I'd be ok.

First obstacle: finding the pot. Not a problem, with GPS satellites and posh phones we know where we are on the surface of the planet to within a few metres. Standing in the indicated spot we looked around.  We were definitely in a shake hole, but there was no sign of the concreted entrance and lid. We widened our search and then Mike, returning to where we'd started, shouted that he'd found it.  This was no Aquamole or Lancaster Hole entrance, but a small metal lid recessed into the ground, partially covered by grass. As Mike prized open the lid, I felt like we were urban explorers having discovered some long forgotten bunker.

Second obstacle: crawl at the bottom of the entrance shaft. "May need some excavation", read the guide. I wouldn't call it excavation, but I pushed aside some of the bigger cobbles and the crawl was definitely more comfortable for it.

Third obstacle: Cable passage.  A winding, ever narrowing rift.  Most of the 60m of passage passed straightforwardly, succumbing to a steady, thoughtful approach. Only in the last few metres, just after a stashed ladder, did I need to climb up in the rift and continue a metre or so above the floor before dropping down to the head of the pitch.

Fourth obstacle: bolts. NFTFH says a mention of "bolt" can mean anything from an 8mm spit requiring a hanger, to bits of rusty old angle iron. We'd thereore taken some hangers with us.  Currently though, there's no need for this as everything is hangered.

There's plenty of room to put on SRT kit at the pitch head and once on the pitch, while narrow at the top, it didn't prove an issue on the way down.  I'm not quite sure about "the" big flake for the deviation, but I found "a" flake and it kept us out of the water, landing right next to the appropriately named sump. 

Fifth obstacle: Paradox pond. While a thin, black dive line led from one bolt down into the froth and debris (it looked like pine needles?) covered sump, on one wall; a cheery, yellow rope stretched it's way along the pool and under an arch before disappearing out of sight on the other. Not being able to find the underwater ledges, I was glad of the rope, a mixture of back and footing and its support seeing me back onto dry land. The last time I'd been covered in this much froth was collecting glasses at a foam disco back in my student days.

Mike was then off, moving rapidly through the varied passage, following the water upstream. We heard the waterfall before we saw it and a final corner revealed it, issuing 8m above us from the roof of the chamber. Turning back on ourselves, we climbed up 2m onto a sloping ledge where I readied the climbing rope for Mike. As we wouldn't pass this spot on the return, I threw the emptied tackle sacks down onto the main chamber floor. The initial boom was followed by, what I at first thought was an echo. Unfortunately the deep rumble continued as the waterfall steadily pounded down onto the bags. Sorry Mike, it's going to be noisy.

Sixth obstacle: Jim's traverse. The overhanging wall above us leading to a threaded piece of tat was reminiscent of a "classic" Lakeland diff. While the traverse itself looked unlikely, Mike flowed across it, pausing only to place slings for protection. Though the first hand hold I pulled on did part company with the wall, once on the traverse itself, the rock seemed more solid and I almost enjoyed the airy few steps across to Mike, belayed at the top of the waterfall. Here we deposited our SRT kit and the rope I had derigged as I seconded across the traverse.

Crawling along in the stream I saw Mike, first able to stand up and then uttering an audible, "Wow!" Just before I entered the small chamber to join him, I glanced down to my left and saw a low, aqueous passage with froth adorning its gently arched ceiling. Standing with Mike looking at the incredible 2 m long straw stall above us and the fine helictites around us, that glance was pressing on my mind. If I was going to do this, it was now or never and had it not been for Mike I would probably have thrown myself head long into the duck, hoping it would all be over in a few thrashing seconds. 

Seventh obstacle: the 3 m low airspace duck. "On your back, feet first", assured Mike and following his sound advice manoevered myself into position. The more I lay down in the water, the more the buoyancy of my wetsuit offered reassuring support, my legs weightlessly leading the way on. This wouldn't be too bad after all. Leaning my head further back, my bald spot submerged into the water and an instant ice cream headache began. I breathed more deeply and the foam on the ceiling was drawn into my nostrils. "Just keep it steady", I firmly told myself, fighting the urge to sneeze and thrash about. My feet were now in open, black space but it was a good few more seconds before I was able to lift my head out of the chilling water, my headache instantly receeding. Mike's wellies were proceeded by comments about some "silly idiot" and he was probably right. The grass was definitely not greener on this side of the duck. The stunning decorations of the chamber before it replaced by a dark, forbidding boulder choke. 

I'm always wary of the sections of the guide in italics, often they describe even more esoteric sections of passage. It was therefore a fairly half hearted glance I had down a short sideways squeeze before following Mike back through the duck. Happy to be reunited with my hat which, not wanting to get it wet, I'd left in the stal. adorned chamber, we continued retracing our steps. Rather than repeating the traverse however, we were able to ab. directly down into the chamber using the in situ tat belayed to a natural and a bolt. Removing the bags from the bottom of the fall the deafening booming was replaced by the more natural sounds of water spraying from rock and the noise level reduced further as we made our back down the stream way.

Obstacle 8: the pitch head on the return. This was purely a personal obstacle, Mike having passed it as smoothly as on the way down. Stuck between a rock and the tension on the rope, I squirmed, tried to get Mike to release my foot jammer and squirmed some more. Finally, resigned to the fact that I'd properly cocked this one up, I relaxed and was instantly released.

Obstacle 9: the entrance shaft. Again this was purely a personal issue. It's worth noting that if you cross an old shovel lying across the passage, you've gone to far. A couple of steps back and the draft from the innocuous looking hole leading to the entrance was felt. Trying to rush through many parts of Grey Wife will see progress grinding to a halt. Taking it steadily, you can move your body in harmony with the passage, where as trying to force your way forwards, you soon strike an off chord. While I laboured through a lengthy cacophany of grating tunes, Mike once again gave a short and sweet virtuosso performance.

The couple of metres of remaing climb out onto the moor gave time for the grin to spread across my face and Mike too was smiling as he joined me. It's difficult to imagine a more varied trip that could be had on a work day evening and still allow plenty of time to get to the pub. There's definitely a correlation between quality of trip and the speed with which Mike's first pint of Monumental goes down and today's must have been a very good trip.

Post script. Laying in bed, aching muscles and bashed joints preventing the finding of a comfy position in which to sleep, I realised that there was still a smile across my face and have a feeling there will be for a few days to come. Huge thanks to Mike B for joining me in the adventure, Mike C for the superb guide and Tony, hope your presentation went well.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

6th January 2022 - Rediscovering a gem: Wilf Taylor's Passage


The first trip of 2022 saw us making our way along an icy path from Bull pot farm. Crossing the style by the gate the reflective posts lead, like runway lights, across the moor to Lancaster hole.  With Mike and Dick on the main hang, Tony began his descent to the first rebelay. He was just swapping over his descender as a grim hail storm hit and I wimped out, throwing myself into the concrete pipe.  Unfortunately I forgot I had a couple of tackle sacks dangling from me and the impromtu beating round the head probably didn't help Tony's change over.

Joining the others at the base of the pitch we headed off to Bridge hall and the scaffolded route through Kath's way.  Climbing over the awkward boulder towards the end of the passage I reminisced on my caving journey.  20 years ago on first aquaintance I found the step up and over this obstacle nearly impossible. How are you meant to stick to anything in wellies?  Now sometimes it's on arrival at the step across the chasm that I realise I've passed it.

As we approached Fall pot we met the owners of the rope down the entrance pitch, another set of "Thursday night" cavers! Coincidently they had just finished coming out of the Crap trap, our choice of descent for the evening. After a brief catch up we began our descent.  I don't know how many times I've walked over or passed under the Crap trap, but this was my first time down the pitch.  Don't be put off in anyway by the name, it's cracking. Unlike the rigging guide, after the first deviation and rebelay, we just used the following bolts as deviations (all had in situ tat). This gave a very satisfying and beautifully curving descent to the main drain.

Mike descending the Crap Trap.

A very short stomp brought us to the down stream sump. The height of some of the foam on the walls, as ever, most humbling. At this point Dick generously offered to derig the Crap trap allowing three of us to make our way back up to the high level via Wilf Taylor's passage. Dick rattled off the directions and Mike looked confident so off we set. It's a truly superb piece of passage. Not only is it visibly attractive, it's also a joy to move through. Ascending rather than descending requires a little more faith in some of the ropes and on reaching the belay, some were definitely in worse condition than others (on the second climb, with the undercut base, the yellow rope with footloops tied in it I personally didn't trust with my weight).

It was all going so well, flash backs to old memories keeping me on track until I decided to completely ignore a passage on the left with a well worn floor and lots of tape round formations and instead opt for the next crawl along.  As the roof lowered I quickly began to think it was the wrong way.  Mike though, a little way behind was "99% sure" it was right.  A few metres later I struggled to take my SRT gear off, but Mike was still at "98%". Another metre and I started to think about taking my helmet off and Mike's confidence in my route choice plummeted from 98% to "definitely not". While Tony and I began the turning around manoevers, Mike made a quick exit from the tube and by the time I had extracated myself he was sat by the obvious way on and the asscociated trappings of a trade route.

Motoring once more we made good progress, my final route finding wobble being quickly averted by the sound of Dick's voice from the bottom of possibly the shortest fixed ladder in a cave. Back then onto the well known path to Bridge hall and onwards to the bottom of the pitch.  Mike and I expected Tony and Dick to be well on the way back to the van as we emerged, but it had turned into a pleasant evening and they were still chatting at the entrance.  

The van made it up the one slippy bit from the farm and we were soon back in Kirkby. While the Royal Barn has always done a good pint, at the moment they're serving fantastic beer.  Just wish they'd put the real fire on a bit more, the silly TV "fire" by the door just reminding you what they're missing.