Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hardcore at Hardraw….

Trip Date: 3rd - 5th February 2017

Most of the team arrived on Thursday evening to stay in the very comfortable Old School Bunkhouse at Hardraw, just north of Hawes. As the one and only pub didn’t open until Saturday evening the team happily started on their stash of wine and beer, catching up with club news and gossip well into the small hours.

There was a good mix of cavers with a wide range of SRT experience, from the beginner and intermediate through to the very hardcore experienced SRT rigger. This meant there plenty of options for everyone.

Day One - Friday 3rd February 2017

Lost Johns Cave, Leck Fell, Lancashire.

Friday 3rd February 2017. A long drive from Hardraw, giving plenty of time for the car heater to warm us all up nicely before we had to step out, onto the arctic tundra of Leck Fell, and take all our clothes off. Nothing like a bit of exposure, shivering and hypothermia to get the morning off to a bracing start.

All changed and wrapped up in SRT kit the ‘Dome Route’ team (Helen, Jill & Malcolm) plunged underground to enjoy the fabulous entrance series; the high traversing above the streamway makes this one of my favourite northern caves.

Jill descending the Dome route

The ‘Centipede Team’ (Andy, Brian & Dave) came powering past at the head of the initial Dome route pitch, down the first pot in the fossil passageway. This pitch used up one of the two slings we’d planned to use.

We rigged Vestry and Cathedral together, using one 50m rope. This pitch used a sling we hadn’t planned to use, for the narrow thread round the back of a flake at the top of Cathedral. There was a bit of tat in place, but it looked as if it had been left by the original explorers and didn’t inspire confidence, so a sling was used as well. This meant that by the time we reached the deviation part way down Cathedral the team was clean out of slings; the donkey’s dick off the bag was therefore pressed into service. Officially the next pitch, ‘Dome’, needed a further sling for a deviation, however we rigged this as a rebelay, thus avoiding the need to knit a sling on site.

Malcolm and Jill at the base of Centipede

The teams re-united at Candle and Shistol, which Brian rigged, and then we were at Battle-axe. Malcolm ended up rigging this, very slowly, and the traverse to the y-hang used up all our remaining rigging hardware. The topo indicates 9 bolts along here; somehow we managed to use 15 assorted krabs and maillons. Time was ticking on as well, so after everyone had had a look at the y-hang we beat an orderly retreat, with the teams swapping routes for the de-rig. Time underground over five hours.

After more naked hopping around in the dark, with the polar breezes of Leck Fell whistling round our goose-bumps, we discovered that the Station Inn at Ribblehead does a nice pint and has a warming open fire…

Long Kin East <> Rift Pot exchange, Allotment, Yorkshire.

Not written up.

Day Two - Saturday 4th February 2017

Cow Pot - County Pot

Team: Ali, Jules, Malcolm, Josh and Lilo

SWCC had a Saturday permit for Cow Pot. It's got to be the most spectacular entrances into the Easegill system, emerging out of the roof in the cavernous Fall Pot. A party of 7, comprising 4 ageing SWCC members and 3 youthful York Uni students, who we acquired at Ribblehead Station, headed over to Bull Pot Farm. The plan was to explore the western end of the system, entering and exiting via Cow Pot. Like all good plans, that went out of the window when we bumped into Fleur and a few Irish cavers at the farm. They were doing a County to Lancaster through trip, so we joined forces to do a more exciting and challenging Cow Pot to County Pot exchange.

Malcolm in the Manchester Bypass
By the time we'd reach the bottom of the final pitch in Cow Pot, we'd lost a student who managed to painfully insert his thumb through an eco-hanger during a crazy dive across the surface pitch and a nameless SWCC member who turned back at the notorious Cow Pot slot. The magnificent 7, I mean 5, set off to traverse the Easegill system making good progress through the high level passages above the main drain.

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Ali in Minarets Passage, Ease Gill
We all had different levels of knowledge of the system, but none of us had done a through trip in the past 20 years. Which incidentally happened to be the average age of the two York students!! The lack of knowledge added a certain edge to the trip. Fine passages were traversed, based on nose following and an aborted through trip that Gareth Davies and I had attempted last October. The not so fine, Manchester Bypass, was not one of Malcolm's highlights. Reaching the end point where Gareth and I crashed and burned last time, Fleur's quality directions and a bit of student Josh's local knowledge, got us to the bottom of Fleur's County Pot rope and we were out. Another excellent trip (5hrs) on an excellent weekend.

Boxhead Pot

Team: Gary, Richard, Helen, Jill, Martyn, John, Brian, Dave and Andy

After a very successful caving day on Friday, followed by a curry in the evening with a drink or three...we started to make a plan for the following day’s activities. Various routes were discussed, CNCC guides read, and referred to again, until Gary made the final move to the white board and entered Notts Pot 2 and Boxhead Pot onto it; for the people who had not added their names to Simpson or Cow Pot.
Another look at the Rigging Guide, and descriptions and yet more wine, I still couldn’t decide which to do, so my name was added on the board in-between the two of them, and left to ponder over; along with a couple of other people's indecision until the following morning.
Morning tea was much needed, along with the normal ‘faff now – cave later’ syndrome until the plan was hatched.

The group had formed, ropes were packed, transport organised and reorganised and finally we were off. The Sun had begun to shine and we were on our way to Boxhead Pot and towards a dark and ominous cloud on the horizon.

The team kitting up at the layby 
We arrived at the car park, and with perfect timing, started to change just as the wind was picking up with a light shower of rain coming down on us...brrrrrrrr it was cold. No messing, SRT kit on, and we were on our way to find the small shake hole with a plastic tube coming out of it, just off from Lost Johns.

I stayed above the shake hole, while Gary rigged, (well volunteered Gary..... thank you!!!), to wait for John. Thankfully I had my thick yellow suit on, it was bitter cold.
Gary disappeared along with Richard; whilst Helen and I were left peering down the plastic tubing to the lights below; Martyn became the official photographer.
The rope for the 1st pitch starts at the top of the pipe, which then opens directly onto an impressive 26m descent down the middle of a large chamber. At the end of the pipe, on a shelf, a Y Hang re-belay starts the abseil, followed by a deviation and a hanging re-belay. Not my favourite move, why aren’t my legs longer, I thought. A short scramble down a boulder slope reaches the main Boxhead pitch, to a stunning 70m deep shaft.

Richard almost ready to abseil down the first pitch
Here, the order of descent was finalised, Martyn and John being perfect gentlemen to let the girls go first, and then me being kindest to let Helen go next.. (shhh...more dutch courage required by me). It had been a long time since zipping around on ropes during ‘Speleo’ whilst the previous day having a tangle up on a hanging re-belay.

I met Helen and our team again at the top of the main pitch, and again looked down, wow...what an awe inspiring sight; we could see Richard’s light which had veered off to the right, we waited, and then a distant shout of “rope free” through the other sounds of the cave.

Helen disappeared and I waited for my turn, then heard her shout and I was on my way, heading towards Kendal Flyover and not the direct 70m single hang descent.

Such an incredible journey abseiling down, I was extremely privileged to experience the true scale of the shaft, Richard had reached the absolute depth of Boxhead Pot and was in the parallel aven to where the direct hang route enters. He was shinning his head torch up at me, down, down deeper and down I went; deviations, Y hangs, and re-belays which could be tackled while standing on rock protruding out of the shaft walls. One in particular, more exposed than the other, which both Helen and Brian tackled at the same time on the ascent. Not sure how, but they did it, and must be congratulated on; thankfully it wasn’t me in that position!! The hanging rope traversed a penultimate drop to a broad ledge. A further short abseil took me to meet both Helen and Richard who were coming up from the final pitch.

I descended thinking I’d find Gary, nope, not here, I thought; after exploring the area, to return back to the rope where I found Martyn.

Gary and Brian at the Kendal Extensions
“Where’s Gary, dunno” we both said, not realising where the start of the Kendal Extensions were, so Martyn went off to explore and locate him. I returned back up the rope to find Gary sitting opposite the Kendal Extensions, which I’d missed. It turned out, he too, had been exploring; whereupon he waited for the return of explorer Martyn.

I returned back up to the ledge above Gary, and waited for Helen’s “ropefree”call, heard it then ascended the rope on my way up to the first re-belay. Huffing and puffing somewhat due to the way the rope was traversing off to the right, eventually getting to the next re-belay only to find Brian also arriving at the same time as me from above. A well balanced manoeuvre was made by Brian, and then we were both on our way in different directions.
I can remember thinking at this point, that he must of met Helen on the next re-belay, it turned out he had; I continued ascending and arrived at the sloping boulder to the friendly faces of Dave and Andy waiting.

On the final pitch up, Gary right behind me (moving at great speed!) I reached the entrance tube with Helen announcing warmth, blue skies and sunshine; what a difference in the weather compared to the descent.
One final heave-ho out of the tube.... then finally I was out.
What a brilliant trip, we waited for Martyn to appear and then headed off, looking forward to a quick stop over in Ingleton to taste the delights of afternoon tea; teacakes, scones, and a very indulgent hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows (consumed by Richard).

Richard enjoying a hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows 
With the sorting of ropes back at the hut, and assisting Gary with his delicious supper, we ventured to the pub for a well earned beer and to reflect on a super day. A big thanks in conclusion to Brian, Dave and Andy for de-rigging the system.

Gary hard at work…….

Day Three - Sunday 5th February 2017

Sunday morning meant most of the team emerged from their bunk rooms bleary eyed having drunk copious amounts of beer at the local pub the night before. However, most were soon up and out of the door divided up into 3 parties. A caving trip to the Bull Pot of the Witches at Bullpot Farm, a group to Hagg Gill and another group to have a go at Simpson’s Pot...

Spaghetti Rope Techniques in Simpsons Pot

Sunday morning finds myself and Ali stopping off for a pull thro' trip in Simpsons hole prior to the return journey home to Cardiff. In the past I'd only ever come up Simpsons pot, and that trip was via the Great Aven Pitch not the infamous Slit Pot route. This was also proper caving trip number three in three consecutive days - a feat I hadn't managed to replicate since seriously twatting myself by falling down a big hole in France in the summer of 2014. So why does the desire to hang on ropes above big holes continue.....?

The advantage of just two of you is a reduced faff factors, and an efficient change, quick jaunt into Valley Entrance to rig the exit pitch, and stomp up the hill virtually straight to the entrance ensued. Armed with two ropes - one to rig with and one in case of a hang up - we made good progress traversing 'the pit' down a series of short pitches which quickly refreshed our minds of pull thro' techniques.

Looking through the slit at Ali rigging Slit Pot

Once down a wetter Storm Pot it was thro' the duck for extra refreshment, with the caving continuing in fine Yorkshire Pothole style with classic pitches and some fine awkward thrutchy rifts testing for approaching 'middle age spread' before arriving at the crux of our trip, Slit Pot. There is a bit of rigging in place that takes you up and over the top of the slit, but it looked doable, and neither myself or Ali can be described as particularly fat! Thus out came my 60m 9mm Edelrid, a veteran of the SWCC Annecy trip a few years back, which was doubled up and sent down the pitch. However a ledge and some reasonable quantities of water prevented confirmation of touch down to the bottom. I assured Ali it will be fine and off he went fitting snuggly thro' the slit.....

Touch down was not as smooth as expected as our rope was short by a few metres. Ali tagged on a spare few metres, did a knot bypass with the added refreshment of the waterfall, and shouts up something I can't make out but know means 'rope no long enough'! Thus out comes the spare rope and a re-rig of the pull down is sorted. Now my turn for the slit arrives. Various attempts are made to almost successfully jam myself in the slot as the descender keeps jamming my chest. After a few attempts it's obvious this isn't working so I put the ascender on the short cows tail to keep it clear of the chest and pop thro' the slot to joint Ali below. We'll be out in no time.......

Sadly not. The pulldown does not go to plan and a visit from the spaghetti monster ensues. Essentially my old 9mm was a bit too wiry and twisty, and we applied a little too much brute force and effort trying to retrieve. The result a well twined rope - oops! Some slightly creative rope acrobatics and we did fully retrieve the pull down rope at least, but after an hour pratting about under a waterfall we decided to abandon the rope to irritating someones elses thro' trip, through it will be very clear from the top what the problem was!

Half hour later and we are out of the cave and at the car. A fantastic trip despite the hiccup and my body well and truly thrashed by a quality weekend of caving with good company.

Hagg Gill Pot

Team: Andy, Brian, Dave, Gary, Helen, Jill, John, Josh (YUCPC), Lilo (YUCPC), Malcolm and Martyn.

Gary, Gill, John and Martyn set off early with the YUCPC students to rig the pot while Malcolm and I took it easy and had our last cup of tea. We left the bunkhouse and travelled south on narrow country lanes gingerly making our way on un-gritted roads with a light dusting of snow. Recognising Gary’s van we pulled up in a lay-by and got changed. However, finding the pot without a GPS became finding a needle in a haystack, made worse when the local farmer yelled abuse at us across the valley when we climbed over his fence! Feeling pretty guilty we made our way across and upwards trying to find a gate….. What we thought was the farmer walking up the hill towards us, to give us more verbal, thankfully turned out to be Gary! He’d forgotten his helmet and hadn’t gone into the cave with the others and luckily for us was able to point out the location of the pot. We were a long way out!

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Josh and Lilo
Sliding across the lid to the pot we made our way down some scaffolding to a y-hang. We descended the tight squeeze to the bottom (around 15m) and removed our SRT gear.

We decided to go upstream first as this was meant to be the best bit. We followed the stream, walking and crawling passing some imposing flowstone formations along the way. We met the rigging party at a slippery boulder climb aided with a rope. We headed up a boulder slope to a narrow rift passage with helictite walls. Passing up another boulder slope and a further calcite slope, with few handholds we turned back.

Malcolm in Rift Passage
Back beneath the entrance, passing the party exiting the pot via the pitch, we headed downstream, over pretty cascades, joining a larger stream and eventually reaching the sump. Returning we headed off up the adjoining stream over and up some impressive narrow cascades for a fair distance, before making our way back to the pitch. To our surprise we met Dave, Andy and Brian at the bottom of the pitch, who had just descended and were happy to de-rig after their tour around the cave. Back at the car we changed, trying to keep an air of decorum as plenty of Sunday drivers found our attire interesting; a few were even happy to stop for a chat!

Malcolm looking happy….
It was a great weekend, everyone enjoyed themselves doing some challenging trips. Some of the other caving trips included SRT training in Bull Pot of Witches and Long Kiln East to Rift Pot. Special thanks go to Gary for organising the trip, Gary and Jill, who both cooked filling and tasty meals, Andy and Helen who provided the very comfortable accommodation.

Contributors to the blog: Malcolm - Lost Johns; Ali - Cow Pot to County; Jill - Boxhead Pot; Jules - Simpsons; Helen - Hagg Gill Pot. Photos were provided by Helen, Martyn, Jill, Jules and Malcolm

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