Yorkshire Winter Tour
Arun Paul, Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Dave Wilson, David Wilson, Ho Yan Jin, Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, Jacob Puhalo-Smith, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Louise Ranken, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Zaeem Najeeb, Solomon Roach, Huang Guan, Ella Al-Shamahi, Lucie Studena
We left Beit at 10am, hoping to reach Yorkshire early enough to do an evening cave. Plans were still underway, right until we drove up to the hut and saw the icy floor and the Brown Hill team (Diss, Jennifer, Cecelia and DKP) who highly advised against going out. The power also tripped so we had the fire in the dark, and the kitchen was lit with DKP’s helmet lights.
Arun wanted a hair cut and had faith that we could cut it better than his 15 year old sister. Rhys took a razor while I took small scissors, and each of us took half of Arun’s head. We both quickly came to the conclusion that cutting hair was harder than it looked, and had the dubs bruvs join us in our quest. Arun made us swap around halfway to ‘even it out’. By the end of it, it was clear that his sister did a way better job than us, and the only reason why it didn’t look that bad was because Arun had a face that could pull off anything.
I took a lovely fast Virgin Pendolino train to Lancaster and a very slow Pacer train to Clapham. Dewi gave me a lift to the NPC. Apparently some caving happened?
Aquamole Pot: Arun Paul, Ho Yan Jin, James Wilson, Huang Guan, Ella Al-Shamahi
Rowten Pot: Cecilia Kan, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Lucie Studena
Bull Pot: Dave Wilson, Jennifer R, Solomon Roach
Vesper Pot: Christopher Bradley, David Wilson, Jack Halliday, Zaeem Najeeb
After having a chat to Jennifer in the morning, who described the cave as ‘quite nice,’ we got directions from Rhys, and found the cave quite easily (walk diagonally along field from stile on way to King until finding a hole in the dry valley after the rocks). We got through the entrance squeeze by shouting at it (except Zaeem, who didn’t appear to touch the sides). Some pleasant crawling followed, including a pretty section and the water then dropped down a short wet pitch. Missing the backup bolt I used a natural 1m below said bolt and then rigged the drop down, letting Jack overtake me with the rest of the rigging kit at the bottom. We followed the water down to an awkward streamway and, while the rest of us had a sing, Jack competently rigged the twin 45m pitches, including a scary hanging traverse with very few foot holds. Unable to spot any bolts for the traverse to the last pitch, Jack handed over to me, and using a natural round a bollard, I could lean over the 50m pitch to reach the Y-hang. Again I managed to miss a bolt, this time for the rebelay (about 10m down from top on same side of rift) and landed on the damp bottom of the shaft. As the others made their way down I tried squeezing down the last ~10m pitch, but decided it wasn’t worth it, and we made our way out, with Chris derigging all except the final pitch. I gifted a large tackle sack to Zaeem on the way out, which he took gladly and after grabbing Chris’s bag, we made our way out into the lovely Yorkshire fog, getting back to the minibus ~8hrs after we left.
David ‘Davey Dubz’ Wilson Jnr
Bar Pot: David Wilson, Ho Yan Jin, Jennifer R, Solomon Roach
Jennifer, Solomon and I went down Bar Pot, with Jennifer rigging. The first pitch was a little tight, and especially awkward with a tackle sack, but at least we weren’t going up. We heard a ‘heyo’ from behind, and David appeared after incompetently failing to find Flood Pot. After some faff at rigging the traverse, we got down the second pitch, meeting a group of cavers behind us who had no permit to be there but just saw the cave rigged and decided to go down (very rude). I rigged a short traverse, and met up with the Marilyn team and went on to the main chamber together.
The main chamber was more magnificent that I remembered, with its vastness and amazement beyond what I can process. We spent awhile wandering around the chamber, and it was nice seeing random small moving lights in the distance from people’s head torches. Jack Hare suggested we crawl around to keep warm while waiting for the Flood and Stream teams, and we wandered to the old railways tracks. Beyond the tracks was a small (but not awfully tight) crawl opening to a small side passage that was tall enough for us to stand and reorientate ourselves before crawling back out. We finally saw the Flood team, and Jennifer, Zaeem and I headed out Flood. I got up the first long pitch with a tricky and wet deviation, and knowing that I would be waiting for awhile, I made myself comfortable, switch off my lights and went to sleep. I got woken up by Zaeem’s voice that went something like “Yes” then “Ahh oh no” then “No wait, it’s okay”. Turns out he was happy that he finally passed the deviation, panicked bit when he swung out, then calmed down when he remembered that that’s normal. Jennifer derigged that pitch, while I derigged the rest, void of any panics or terrible situations. It was a long day and we were all tired.
Marilyn Pot: Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, Zaeem Najeeb
Gaping Gill. It’s a long walk. If you’re going to do it, it may as well be fun. So the night before I cheekily booked a fourth permit for Marilyn. Quick as a flash, Geoff emailed me pointing out we already had three permits - did we really need another? I promised we did - we had fifteen people and wanted to stick with small groups. He was pretty happy with that and we digitally received a fourth permit.
The weather was fine for once, with glorious views over Ingleborough and its limestone pavement clad flanks. For once that farmer was not there to tell us which was to go round his wood, so we trundled up the more typical right side and up onto the plateau. It takes a surprising amount of walking to eventually get to Bar, but there we divided into smaller teams and I went off to look for Marilyn with Zaeem and Jackhal. I was very confident I knew where it was, though as we strode further and further away from Bar pot I became less and less sure. We doubled back and found it quickly - if you can’t see Bar pot and the double stile, you’ve gone too far.
In situ rope looked a bit manky at the top, so rigged down on our rope with krabs. It’s a bit tight down the first pitch, and I sheltered from loose rock waiting for Zaeem. At the top of the second pitch I carefully explained that he should wait until I was fully down, due to the lose and terrifying nature of the pitch. He did this very well, and once I was safely tucked away he came down, showering the cave below with shrapnel. When we were both safe, Jackhal came down, unleashing some truly huge rocks and screaming warnings in a panicked voice. I assured him he couldn’t hurt us where we were, and fortunately he didn’t take that as a challenge.
After this pitch, everything was rigged with in situ rope. Last time I’d been in Marilyn, this rope has been left over from Eurospeleo in 2016, but this rope was even newer than that and in good condition. We left our rope behind and made rapid progress through the final few excellent pitches.
Down the boulder choke and into the streamway, downstream and then left, turning upstream into New Hensler’s Crawl, as the ceiling came closer and closer and forced you down into the mud and water below. The crawl really rubs your face in it, alternately in flat out sections in mud, then low crawls in water, back to mud, water again and then finally a flat out crawl in water followed by a boulder choke up into the identical twin of Bar pot next to Bar pot.
I didn’t find all of this as bad as the first time I did it, as I had a clear idea of when it would end, but judging by the noises behind me not everyone agreed it was a walk in the park. Just as we popped out, Jennifer showed up with her merry band of Bar-ites. I took Yan Jin to rig the SE aven traverse with a hand line - she’d never rigged before apparently but did a good job. We could hear the Flood team above us, but knowing how long it can take to pass those big deviations, we left them to it.
As one group, we headed towards the main chamber, lead by Zaeem, who expertly followed the breeze that turned into a low rumble and finally brought us out into the always impressive main chamber. The flow in the waterfalls was not as high as on the previous winter tour, and by walking between them, one could look up at the bruised blue sky, the sun having set scant minutes ago. We gawped and wandered around for a bit - I pointed out some good digs and extensions to look at, and then we settled down for some long exposure photos. These were going really well until the Flood group turned up and ruined everything with their bright lights.
There we were, three groups underground. We had set a turn around time, and the clock ticked down without Stream or Hensler’s arriving. I agreed to go out Bar, but to make the trip more interesting for Lucie we decided to go to the bottom of Stream first, and see if there was any sign of that team. Halfway there, we heard voices, and managed to hail them before they went the wrong way. They’d all had a great trip, but had no real desire to derig. So for the third Winter Tour in a row, I ended up on the derig team for Stream - I’ve never actually rigged it, and I’m always in awe of those that do, what with the huge y-hangs and airy traverses.
We waved good bye to the others, who would now go out of Bar, and headed to the base of stream, skirting the big hole in the ground, clambering up the muddy slopes and heading upstream. I put up my hood before dashing through the waterfalls, and stayed relatively dry. Jackhal was derigging, so I prussiked up as fast as possible to get us going. Lucie was soon, followed closely by Jack and we made good time out. My least favourite part of Stream is the top pitch, with its tight constrictions, so I took two bags up and carefully posted them through each gap rather than struggling with them attached to me. This worked well, and soon I was on the surface.
I was glad for Rhys’ waterproof cave phone, which lead us straight back to Bar. There was some confusion over whether the Bar group had got out (we’d given them our rainbow krab as a token), but the bus keys were missing so someone was out at least. We powered down the walk at high speed, listening to lots of tunes with a solid marching beat. Another glorious day in Gaping Gill!
Bar Pot to Henslers: Davey Dubz
In the morning while people were being allocated to different Gaping Gill entrances I heard Jacob whispering the word Hensler’s. I pressed him on this and, after recruiting James a plan formed. Jacob and Louise would go down Hensler’s and rig, meeting James and I, who would go in other entrances, meet each other, then meet them in Mud Hall, with us going out Hensler’s and them out Bar pot.
We were late leaving in the morning, and behind the minibus so missed everyone walking up the hill. We found the entrance to Hensler’s with very little trouble (about 20m past Marilyn where I said goodbye to Mr Jack) and then I walked off to find flood. After inserting myself into various different holes but then double backing (later found out to be Flood, Wade’s and Corky’s) I gave up and went to Bar pot. Slithering down the familiar entrance I soon caught up with Jennifer’s group, although unsure of where to go she was rigging competently, until I suggested rigging a different higher traverse which wasted some time when it didn’t work (sorry Jen). I had a nice chat at the top of the Bar big pitch with some old guys who’d just been down Hurnell Moss and then zipped down as Yan Jin rigged the south east aven traverse, with Dr Jack (from Marilyn) supervising. Our supergroup made its way to the Main chamber, which had multiple waterfalls and was quite pleasant, and busied ourselves by looking at the train tracks, and the rift up the boulder slope at the not-mud hall end of the chamber. Photos were taken and completed just as Rhys’s group (flood) turned up. Some discussion was had about exits and because Arun and James’s group (stream wasn’t down yet) with plans hatched, I got into a bothy bag at the stream-bar junction and waited for ~1hr until either Dr Jack came back, or James arrived. Luckily James arrived with Arun and we went to the main chamber, with me and James then heading off to mud hall. We tiptoed along the traverse line, especially the new last section where the collapse had been. After the obligatory mud sculpture was made, we waited till 6:15pm when Jacob and Louise turned up, covered in mud. After a brief chat and some warnings about the thrutchy rift they pointed us into the crawl into Old Hensler’s and we set off. There were two easy ducks and some muddy slithering but 10min later we were at the bottom of the impressive Hensler’s High aven. This ~40m pitch follows the waterfall upwards but is pleasant enough in PVC, there are also loads of metal stemples in the wall from where it was aid climbed many years ago. The pitch head was awkward but also very pretty, with lots of lovely untouched formations. A section of awkward T-shaped passage followed and soon relented to a 15m pitch with a really awkward pitch head with no foot holds, congratulations to James for derigging it. Here follows the hardest 50m of cave I’ve done: The bedding at the top of the pitch becomes a tight rift. With your SRT off (if you’re my size) or on (if you’ve never eaten any pies), we thrutched along the bottom until a pile of metal wire, here you thrutch to a higher level in the rift and the difficult bit begins. You have to maintain height in the rift by extending your forward arm downwards, but also holding your SRT kit, and pull the tackle bag with your backward arm (while James pushed) all while doing a chest level squeeze. This was about 30-50m long and took us half an hour, and made James and I curse a bit, though luckily its separated in the middle by the now christened mars bar chamber, the most beautiful 1x3x2m space that exists. After this ordeal the rest of the cave blurred together, there was some relatively pleasant thrutchy streamway, although with some lower sections, followed by Haigh’s bottom pitch, then a short easy free climb and then Monica pitch which were quite close together and relatively pleasant pitch head wise. A little bit more thrutchy streamway followed and then we had Buzzy pitch which was pleasant enough. Some low streamway followed this with a duck at the end (which forces you to get wet although has loads (~1m) of airspace). We then did a little more crawling and climbed out the glorious metal entrance ladder. At the top of the ladder (now outside) we turned right and walked straight to the wall, turned right again and made it to the bar pot stile. I would do it again, but only as part of an exchange :) . For future reference: Bar to Main: 2hrs Mud Hall to Hensler’s entrance (derig- David and James): 3hr50 Hensler’s entrance to Mud Hall (rig- Jacob and Louise): 6hrs Actual length of trip, including waiting- David: 9hr20
David ‘Davey Dubz’ Wilson Jnr
Flood Entrance Pot: Christopher Bradley, Rhys Tyers, Lucie Studena
Stream Passage Pot: Arun Paul, Cecilia Kan, James Wilson, Huang Guan
Notts Pot 2: Cecilia Kan, David Wilson, Ho Yan Jin
Panic in the morning when we ran out of Yorkshire tea, and people disapproved of PG so an emergency run to the shop was made. Weather was looking really grim, and I didn’t want to do a long cave after yesterday’s exhaustion. David, Jacob, Cecilia and I went down Notts 2, leaving the hut at 2pm (so late!). We got changed into our oversuit before leaving, and Jacob didn’t mind because his car was already pretty wrecked (his only request was to not smash the cheesecake). The walk to the cave was thankfully short.
The entrance man shaft was lined with scaffolding poles and ladders. The ladders, although short, moved a lot and I relied more on holding the poles than using the ladders. The water level was higher than the previous time David and Cecilia went, coupled with the rain forecast in the afternoon and Jacob’s conversation with an old man that morning who said ‘Don’t go into Notts’, we paused to have a think. We decided that we’d go on for another 15 minutes but would be good to turn around soon.
The stream way was beautiful with many pretty things to see, and a nice and cold waist deep pool. We spotted the flood bypass route by the side, and the bottom got quiet. As we were about to turn back, David and Jacob thought it’d be a great idea to swim in waist deep water for the fun of it. Cecelia and I stood by the side, watching and laughing.
We came back at 5pm (leaving late, coming back early - what a day!) and were treated to a Christmas spread, made even better with chicken instead of turkey. I still don’t like brussels sprouts, but it was interesting seeing Jack cook it with diluted marmite because he ran out of soy sauce. The mulled wine that Arun made was amazing too.
With quite wet weather, a poor forecast and a Christmas dinner plan, our teams split into Valley entrance and Notts II teams for a short day. Having changed at the NPC, we hopped into Jacob’s car and drove up Leck Fell. After competently finding the entrance ‘honest’ we zoomed down the scaffolding and into the streamway. The water was mostly calf to knee deep, which was surprising considering how wet it was on the surface. We zoomed upstream to Curry Junction, and went up the pretty inlet and had a look at the lovely formations, before I suggested to Jacob that we go a little upstream to the waist deep section and have a swim. Having fallen for my somewhat daft plan, we had a little swim then quickly went back out and back to the scaffolding. Although Yan Jin and Cecilia struggled with one of the roped climbs, they soon managed to get up after finding the small person route, and we were back to the surface ~2hrs after we went in.
David ‘Davey Dubz’ Wilson Jnr
Valley Entrance: Jack Hare, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Rhys Tyers, Zaeem Najeeb, Ella Al-Shamahi, Lucie Studena
It was a quiet day. The forecast wasn’t great, and we were all worn out from Gaping Gill. Still, Ella was keen to cave again (I hadn’t realised she wasn’t staying for the entire tour) so I suggested Valley Entrance, with a plan to rig the CRO traverse. With 90 m of rope stuffed into Bryony (who was swiftly becoming my favourite tackle sack for masochistic trips) Rhys and I piled into the cave ahead of the others.
Rhys went down to set up some photos as I started on the traverse. Six bolts in, I was sweating profusely. Rhys wandered back and called up cheerily that the Tyrolean traverse I was aiming for was still about forty bolts away, right at the far end. Well, bugger this for a game of soldiers, I thought. I’d rigged the Malaval in May, an epic traverse over a river that went on for hundreds of meters of rope - I was quite good enough at rigging traverses not to need the practice. I derigged and was down the little pitch before the others caught up.
I went upstream and started rigging the CRO traverse from the other end, a few widely spaced bolts until the in situ steel cable Tyrolean. This wasn’t as easy to get across as I’d thought, but a bit of swinging and shoving and I made it. I rigged a few more bolts on the other side and the dropped down back into the streamway. A mini assault course for anyone who needed more SRT practice. Everyone went across, then Rhys went back to try some hilarious and misguided techniques for cross the cable involving his braking krab. We all bailed back out in time to help with Christmas Dinner, which was raucous and wonderful in the best traditions of the club.
Jennifer, David, James, Jack Hal, Chris and I headed for rescue training. It was a very early start and I made the mistake by not having a cup of tea and was half asleep for most of the morning. That evening, under Janet’s recommendation, we watched The Lair of the White Worm. It’s one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen, and the best I can describe is that it involves a worm and an evil snake lady. Withnail and I came next, and I only managed about half the movie.
Had a bright and early start, then Tony arrived to lead us to the Instructor training barn, which was relatively warm, and complete with two dummies decked up in caving gear on the wall. We practised making pulley jammers and z-rigs for hauling, and rather topically, how to quickly help someone with their hair stuck in their descender (counterweighting using a spare rope). The dummies and ourselves were hauled up and down the tower multiple times and I left the session feeling more confident about what to do in an emergency.
David ‘Davey Dubz’ Wilson Jnr
Cow Pot: Jack Hare, Zaeem Najeeb, Solomon Roach
Our leaders had all left to go to rescue training with Tony Seddon, and so Rhys and I rubbed our hands with glee at the thought of all the mischief we could get out novices into. We had permits for Easegill, and it’s never hard to find fun things to do there. Rhys was eyeing up Maracaibo and the Bloody Thigh Rift, but I had my heart set on Cow Pot, an excellent bit of SRT I’d only ever derigged, when I was much less experienced. Memories of James O’Hanlon squirming through a tight upwards squeeze were still enough for me to flinch, but surely that couldn’t happen again? [this is called foreshadowing]
We set off, and the trip started well. Louise was feeling ill, so Jacob bailed on our trip to keep her company, and I had forgotten my wellies. I had put them to dry, and hadn’t picked them up again, which has taught me a valuable lesson - a wet welly on the foot is better than a dry welly in the hut. I managed to work out the code to the Farm by incrementing years from the end of WWII, and was soon inside. Curses! No wellies in the lost property, or anywhere else. But we did find a club member pottering around who lent me some from the back of his car, for which I was very grateful, and so I headed off with my two novices, Zaeem and Soloman across the fell.
The first pitch is easy, even the rebelay having a generous ledge. At the bottom I waited for the others as the way on is not the obvious one, and then we slid one by one down the tight rift. It’s easy when gravity is with you, at least! [foreshadowing] The crawl isn’t as long as I’d remembered, but I spent a little while looking for the bolts to start the traverse to the top of Fall Pot, hidden as they are in a rift.
The rigging was fun and I dropped rapidly into the immense darkness of Fall Pot. The others were quick behind, and we set off into the high level passage towards Stake Pot. Down, up, and then into the “hidden” but now increasingly well worn route towards Cape Kennedy. We moved quickly, but it was clear that Zaeem’s small frame was better adapted to the boulder chokes than Solomon’s broad shoulders. After attempting one particularly commiting squeeze, he decided not to continue and we doubled back, enjoying the feeling of not being stuck in a cave.
Back in Fall Pot and I set up my camera for some long exposures, which were disappointing - it’s hard to get the light source far enough away from the camera to get the excellent up shadows I like. Instead I have a long exposure of Solomon prussiking, just a blur of limbs like a cartoon fight scene.
Finally it was time for me. I prussiked up, enjoying every minute of it, swinging around and looking at the walls far from reach, as I hung in the void. At the top I screamed “I LOVE CAVING” at Solomon and Zaeem, completely terrifying them. They set off at high speed out of the cave, so I shouted “I’M COMING TO GET YOU” after them for good measure. They moved fast, but I met them just as we got to the tight climbs up.
Zaeem was up quickly, but Solomon had more trouble. After a few failed attempts free climbing, he tried prussiking on the tatty handline and found it worked well. Next was the sloping upwards squeeze. I went out first to help from above, and sent Zaeem up the top pitch. Solomon struggled to find handholds or footholds, and made agonisingly slow progress up. At times we did a fireman’s grip (gripping each other’s wrists) and I tried to pull him up, resulting in a scant few inches of progress each time.
I called up to Zaeem, asking him to go see if there was anyone back at the Farm who could help out. Then Solomon and I really set to work. With a titanic effort, he got through the crux, and, exhausted, pulled himself out. We sat for a moment, pondering what could have been, before heading up the ropes. Rhys wandered over and we waited together whilst Solomon got to the surface, and then Rhys walked back with him as I popped down and derigged. It was an exhausting trip, both mentally and physically, but we’d come out alright in the end.
County Pot: Rhys Tyers, Huang Guan, Lucie Studena
Ireby Fell Cavern: Ho Yan Jin, James Wilson, Rhys Tyers, Solomon Roach, Huang Guan
Rhys, Huang Guan and I headed down the Shadow route of Ireby Fell Caverns, while James and Solomon went down Ding Dong, with plans to meet at the bottom. The entrance was very wet and the only deviation was there to stop rope rub and actually just brought you into the water. Rhys decided not to bring his camera bag down because he figured he’d be preoccupied with hypothermia more than anything else.
The shorter pitches at the bottom were prerigged, allowing us to go faster. We considered waiting for James and Solomon, but it was cold and wet so we decided to go ahead first. The passage was large and pleasant, and ended with a sump. It was odd because instead of a thin diving line, thick ropes with alpine knots were used. Rhys told us of the option to climb up a pitch to do a long and muddy crawl to get to the other side of the sump, but it didn’t sound very worth it or pleasant.
On our way back, neat knots were tied to our rope bag, so we figured James and Solomon came and left. It was unpleasant to prussik up a waterfall, although Huang Guan went up quite fast. I was derigging and struggled to get the sling out of the deviation, when Rhys helpfully pointed out that I could stand on a ledge. I tried my best not to drop the sling and thankfully didn’t!
Rhys was a very nice moral support as he watched me derigged. This was especially important at the traverse where I clipped my short cows tail into the bolt and the long into a loop which I then derigged. I didn’t realise I was only on one point of contact until Rhys commanded me to put my hand jammer on the rope and my long cows tail in the next alpine knot (you know Rhys is terrified when he tells you what to do). He told me to carefully take out my short cows tail and ‘don’t fall’. Thankfully all went well and we pretended nothing happened. I was exhausted but happy because it was a good trip.
Marble Steps: David Wilson, Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, Jennifer R, Zaeem Najeeb, Lucie Studena
Marble steps is a cave I've often heard of, but never done. I leapt at the chance to get to the bottom (literally) of this famous Yorkshire Classic. Not tempted by the Intestines, I packed the rope for the Ninety instead, and set off with Jackhal and Lucie, planning to meet up and swap over with Jennifer's team at the bottom.
We made swift progress down the Gully route, then the short free climb into the lower main chamber. For some reason I had decided the 200 foot rift was going to be hard, but it was a lovely walking and then only slightly crawling passage. A nice tight pitch head and then down, swinging across to traverse over the route to the Intestines.
The pitch head of the Ninety is a bit tight, and I went through and came back a few times to check I could do so. I left lots of slings as foot loops on various bolts and these apparently helped a lot. The pitch below is excellent, and the rest were soon down behind me as I rigged the last pitch, a rather exposed y-hang with only a natural as a back up. At the bottom I saw the final rebelay, down a narrow wet slot. I dropped quickly into the low crawl at the bottom and derigged just out of the water.
We scrambled around, going upstream, and found a dry bypass that brought us back to our rope, avoiding the tight wet final rebelay. Sadly I'd forgotten to tie the rope bag on, so I went down again, tied on the bag and then did the dry bypass to get back up. We decided not to wait for the others as we'd seen no sign of them and it was a bit wet and drafty down at the bottom.
We piled back out, Jackhal generously allowing me to derig the Ninety before taking over, and the pitch head was not nearly as bad on the way out. Back up the tight pitch above and we heard the others coming down. They'd been delayed rigging Sidewinder, a tougher proposition than Gully. They decided to rig the Ninety instead of the Intenstines, so we gave them the bags with the already knotted rope and took the Intenstines bags out.
The Sidewinder route is tremendous fun, lots of airy traverse and dangly rebelays. Jack derigged swiftly, but I made the mistake of powering out to the surface instead of waiting in the cave, so I got quite cold. The other group were a while behind us, and in that time Gully apparently became a waterfall, which required many additional deviations from Davey to make passable.
A good day out, I would return to Marble Steps and try the Intestines.
Woke up to a slightly overcast day, with the minibus going up to Marble steps with trips to Ireby and Marble steps. My plan was to go down Sidewinder and do the intestines of Marble steps with Jennifer and Zaeem. We got to the cave as Jack’s group started making their way down the gully route. Jennifer started rigging the sidewinder route and after we dropped down the large hang due to the rope lengths being pretty tight we took a while to get down to the lower main chamber, with some alpines being used instead of fig8s for the last small hang, landing on a ledge 1m up the wall at the end of the rope, phew (+5m in future). We made our way down towards Stink pot, where I bumped into the other group coming out, with Dr Jack suggesting we go down the 90 pitch with the pre-knotted rope, and they would take our rope out. We happily agreed to this, said goodbye and kept heading down. Having not done the 90 before, I was impressed at how it had been rigged at the top and how impressive the shaft was, although it was a little drippy. When I got to the bottom of the small pitch following the large one, the water was flowing down a slot in the floor with a bolt just above it, the intended route, instead I climbed over this slot, using the bolt for a traverse and, using a convenient natural, hung the rope down the next, dry, slot. I was very quickly joined by Jennifer and Zaeem and we went for a trip to visit the dire downstream sump and then upstream to look at where the intestines route came in. Feeling adventurous, Zaeem and I decided to have a brief thrutch up the upstream dig. It started off as a thrutch above a grim muddy canal for 50m, becoming dry and after some more thrutching entering a mini chamber with waterfalls pissing out of the roof. Here the way on was a scaffolded hole in the floor, but the only way to get through was to do a u-turn with your face in one of the waterfalls, after doing this rather unpleasant move, and seeing the hole in the floor continue, I turned around as I could no longer hear Zaeem. On the way out I ended up crawling with my face in the first 50m of wet canal and looking like a mud monster much to Zaeem and Jennifer’s amusement. We headed out using the bypass to the slot pitch (a muddy crawl), and Jennifer surprised me by derigging the pitch before the 90 then telling me her chest jammer had broken. Giving her my spare jammer I let her head off and followed derigging the 90, which was a little drippier than I remembered (the reasons for this would become clear). Meeting Jennifer at the top she told me she’d fixed her jammer so I gladly went off with the 90 bag to find Zaeem who was waiting at the Pit pitch. Upon my arrival he told me he didn’t recognise the rope going up from the lower main chamber, so I went to check it out with him. The reason for his confusion became clear as we were now looking at the gully route rope (as planned with Jack) as they had taken the sidewinder route out. More concerningly though there was now a significant waterfall flowing down the gully route, luckily missing the rope on the last pitch. We waited for Jennifer to catch up derigging and formulated a plan, I would head out first with all our slings and deviate all the pitches appropriately on the way up, in case there was a flood pulse, Zaeem would follow me and Jennifer would derig. On the way up I put in ~4 deviations to keep us mainly out of the water (except on the dead sheep hang). Despite my rather unorthodox rigging Zaeem and Jennifer made it up the pitch safely and we exited the cave into thick fog. We made our way to the wall, climbed it and made our way back down to Jack and Jack who met us on the path, reporting that it had been quite damp on the surface. ~7hrs.
David ‘Davey Dubz’ Wilson Jnr
Boxhead Pot: Arun Paul, Ho Yan Jin, James Wilson
Despite careful and advanced planning, plans had to be reworked given the heavy rain the night before. We sat in the bus ready to leave, but slowly one by one left and never came back. Eventually I found everyone huddled in the hut to discuss plans given the possibility of sumping between Notts 2 and Lost Johns. There were too many people on the Centipede route in Lost John’s, so I ‘volunteered’ (of sorts) to join Arun, James and Jacob in Boxhead Pot. I didn’t think much of it and didn’t know what to expect (on hindsight should have at least realised it was in the black book), but I thought it’ll be chill and nice since it’s a replacement for the Lost John’s and Notts 2 connection, which are both very pleasant caves.
James rigged down the first pitch, which was nicely dry despite the wet cave. He went down but came back up the second pitch because he couldn’t find the next bolts, eventually finding it after Arun read out the description. Jacob decided to turn around at this point (it was 2.30pm) since he had a long drive home. On hindsight we should have reminded him to drop a note to the rest of Imperial, since there was some confusion later on where Jacob’s car was gone but the rest of us weren’t around.
We descended the last 30m rope, only to realise that we’ve gone too far down and went back up the last pitch to start the extensions. I don’t remember the order than things were in, but I remember long and low wet crawls, a terrifying traverse worse than Edward’s Shortcut in OFD given the small ledge with slippery mud and a larger and deeper hole, and an T-shaped passage that was a little too wide and muddy to baby crawl properly without the deep fear of falling.
The passage follows a series of three hard, awful and terrifying climbs. The first climb down was muddy with a foot loop that was mildly helpful - I slipped down that when my body didn’t wedge in well, my foot was still in the loop and my hand was pinned between the rope and a rock. The second climb down had a hand line with knots, and follows an awkward slide down with the best step being a loose but wedged rock.
When I thought that the worst was over, the next free climb was horrid. The handline was thick and nice to grip, but didn’t have any knots in. The first part of the climb was a rough slope that had good grip and allowed me to pull myself up. The next bit required moving to the side and continuing the climb, without visible good foot holds. I panicked because I didn’t trust myself to have enough arm strength to pull myself up, and there was a real fear of me dropping and hurting myself because the drop is significant (James reckon the climb was 10m). I ended up wedging myself up all the way and got really tired. I was very tempted to bail halfway when Arun suggested it, but getting down seems more terrifying than continuing up.
After the awful climbs, the passage opens to a large and beautiful Aven with many pretty things. There were many deep holes in the floor and the ‘puddles’ were easily more than waist deep. It didn’t seem possible that we’ll make it to Lost John’s in time, so we poked around and turned back.
Back to the climbs, the handline on the 10m climb was too thick to rig any part of my descender on, so Arun recommended ‘rigging’ it of sorts using two crabs which worked really well. I struggled a lot up the last two climbs and at some point shouted to Arun ‘I’m stuck’ at a squeeze where some part of my SRT got in the way. I think he chuckled and said nah you’re not stuck, and gave me a foot to push off.
As I crawled and traversed, I tiredly told myself I’m never coming back here again. But as I prussiked up, the pitches were actually pleasant (except when my arm cramped up and I briefly couldn’t bend it) and I changed that to I’ll probably not come back here in awhile. I think I looked quite shaken given the many hugs people gave me when they saw me (or the mud on my face). It took me a cup of tea, some pea soup, shakshuka and three hours later to recover. Reflecting on this 24 hours later, I think I might go back to Boxhead given its potential to connect into Lost John’s and the pretty things below, which might even make the awful bits worth it.
Lost Johns' Pot:
I'd not done the Lost Johns' to Notts 2/Boxhead exchange, and I was keen to try. On the day, the weather conspired against us and we were worried it would be very wet. As it happened, it was not actually that wet at all, but it's good to be cautious.
Rhys, Davey, Zaeem and I set off at high speed down Centipede, a tremendously good value route of large, well sculpted pitches. I rigged at such speed that I left behind a rope in a bag at the bottom of Centipede,and Rhys kindly went to retrieve it. I rigged Battleaxe Traverse with great enthusiasm - it'd be many years since I'd last done so, and I remember being drenched with sweat atthe time. This time, with krabs and more experience it was all over quite quickly, leaving me to an enjoyable descent of the spray lashed Valkerie.
At the bottom the water was flowing fast in the narrow stream, and I almost slipped down the Final pitch. Davey improvised a handline down the steepest section which Rhys converted to a rebelay using some new IC anchors high on a ledge - take an extra 5 m of rope to make use of these, they are well worth it. Soon we were down in the surpringly placid master streamway, and Rhys lead us upstream and pointed out the fixed ropes up into Boxhead or Notts 2. To give the Boxhead team the best chance of making the connection, we thoroughly photographed all of the streamway, but eventually had to admit that they weren't coming, and we headed out.
It had been ages since I'd got to the bottom of Lost Johns', and it was still a great pleasure to revisit such a classic cave. I'd complete the connection to Notts 2 over NYE with the NPC only a week or so later.
Plans had been hatched the previous evening for multiple combinations of trips involving most of Lost Johns’, Notts II and Voldemort hole, however, due to the poor weather, these were simplified to a CentiDome extravaganza and a trip into Boxhead. After eating an inhuman amount of bacon, we travelled up to Leck Fell. I followed Jack down Centipede, while we tried to resonate with the cave, which turned out to be a very pleasant pitch series, and we promptly left the rope for Candle and Shistol at the bottom of Centipede. After Rhys went to retrieve this I rigged down and then let Jack bounce past me to rig the Battleaxe traverse, so time efficient. We were quickly along the exciting traverse and down Valhalla which was exciting as I got blown around on the rope in the draft at the bottom, impressive. With the high water one of the climbs in the streamway just before final was quite exciting, so I rigged an extra bit of traverse to Jack’s rigging which Rhys tweaked after me. We landed at the bottom of final and made our way to the impressive master cave. Strolling up the pleasant streamway we made our way to the bottom of the Boxhead fixed ropes, ate some bacon, and gently made our way back to Lost Johns’ with lots of photography and faff in case the Boxhead group decided to turn up. Eventually we made our way back up, with a modest amount of flash slave action happening. Jack and I got quite chilly waiting at the bottom of Valhalla (in future if group larger than 4 will take a bothy bag), but we soon warmed up on the big pitch, and I happily derigged all the way out. I even managed to show Rhys DW’s easy way to do the climb in the streamway on the way out. We then waited for the Boxhead team in the minibus, using our lights as a beacon to bring them home, turns out they’d had quite a trip…