People arrive at the NPC so early when there are no minibuses involved.
Due to a lack of humans and minibuses, i got a cheap train to Stafford to be lifted by Dave. The cheap train did mean I arrived excessively early but this left me many hours to read and Duolingo. I had with me a huge bag filled with two sets of caving kit which really was hard to carry (I couldn’t exactly lift it). I walked to the Tesco near the station at 6 ish and was relieved to be able to put my bag in a trolley, although it did fill half the thing and make it rather challenging to manoeuvre. I wandered around in a zombie-like daze picking up misc food until Dave appeared. Shopping ended and we drove to Horton-in-Ribblesdale to pick up a heavily laden Ana and her sister, Isabella, who had been hiking for some time before and just so happened to be close to the NPC this weekend. Highly suspicious.
As they got into the car, Dogging (by Fascinating Aida) started playing and we worried we may have traumatised Isabella. The verdict is still out on this.
We got to the NPC at a time and found the common room filled with NPC humans including Fiona. Some kitchen socialisation occurred featuring plum tomatoes and curry pringles before bed.
Gavel Pot: Alex Seaton, Dave Kirkpatrick, Fiona Hartley, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena
After a classic game of "what cave shall we do" we settled on Gavel Pot: apparently a cave which Imperial has never previously visited. My reward for winning the game with this suggestion was the additional novelty of booking the cave online. Next time I'm going to input fake names.
Two separate entrance pitches, both relatively simple, would allow Lucie and Ana to practice some rigging. For about half an hour we were to rig Short Drop as well, but we got sick of counting 20m ropes and dropped Short Drop.
We made a quick stop in Inglesport so Lucie could buy a new shock cord ("security link" sorry) in hot pink and I spontaneously bought an incredibly expensive Raumer HANDY braking krab. It's lovely, and indeed handy as I would discover on Sunday.
Leck Fell was very sunny and also full of other cavers, most of whom were the NPC so I'm not allowed to resent that they had all the parking. We plodded down the soggy fell to Gavel, which is a pretty large fenced enclosure full of trees and ferns. The path is vaguely alarming as it is impossible to see the ground under all the ferns and sometimes there is no ground there.
We had one copy of an old CNCC rigging guide. This is the first time that the bad photos of entrances that feature in these topos has ever been helpful, as somebody eventually realised we could identify what we were looking at by looking at the photos of what we were looking at. Anyway, Lucie was despatched to rig the Eyehole route to the left, which links with Short Drop if you rig an extra traverse and was very noisy due to water coming in from Short Drop, and Ana was sent to the "more usual" route to the right, which stays in daylight.
Waiting for the rigging was fun as it was warm above ground and I could back-and-forth between both groups and make pointless pronouncements about things. After both groups had to do some re-rigging, one to change a single hang into a Y hang and one to remove half a traverse in order to reach the floor, we regrouped in the sunlit shakehole at the bottom. This is well nice. It features an extremely attractive wall, and yes, I stand by saying such an odd thing. Ana rigged the second (first?) pitch while Dave and I precariously balanced our respective tacklebags under ceiling drips to wet the ropes.
The pitch got us out of daylight into a chamber that features a ledge covered in carefully placed bones. Mmm. Lucie rigged the third pitch, a handline down a narrow stacked boulder climb. At the bottom we crawled into a stream. As always I was annoyed by crawling and stooping with a bag but it swiftly got bigger – and prettier! We quickly got to a big junction with white straws all over the ceiling and a large stalactite hanging off to the right.
Dave had carried on down the main stream but under the misunderstanding that the others would be rigging the next pitch I went up the obvious passage on the right, next to the stal, thinking to fill in time. Alex joined me as this immediately turned into a low muddy crawl that went on for quite a long time. However it was nicely decorated with straws and even some lovely black stal and flows at the point where we turned around, so I disagree with the CNCC saying it's best ignored. Pretty sure this is the October Series.
We grovelled back to the main stream in order to be collected by Ana. We did a small climb that immediately popped us out next to everyone else, skipping a decent amount of streamway. A crawl off to the right here goes to a well decorated chamber which we didn’t know about so that's something to go back for.
We then reached another junction, where you can follow the water to the right, mildly traverse along a rift above the water straight ahead, or walk up a steep slope to the left over calcite flows. We all went left up the slope, except Alex went right and found a dodgy climb down a waterfall. After he returned we followed the nice upper passage (presumably Southbound Passage) until Dave inserted himself into something tight. The words "Brown Hill" were mentioned.
Back in the streamway we investigated Alex's twatty waterfall climb. It drops about 3m and being a waterfall it was well wet and awful. Nobody fancied it – at least I didn’t anyway – so we looked for a bypass on the left which Dewi had mentioned in the morning as being piss easy or words to that effect. This is bollocks, it's simply another climb that really isn't much easier, about 2m ahead of the original waterfall in the rift, dropping pretty much the same distance.
(As it happens, you can avoid a flat out crawl in the roof to this bypass from the water by simply taking the 'straight ahead' route back at the three-ways junction with Southbound Passage – and you can see some helictites by going this way too.)
Dave rigged up our next rope off a bomber natural taking the form of a small stumpy stal to do the 'bypass' climb. A 55m for a 2m climb is truly overkill, however falling is bad and having ropes there prevents injury if you do fall. I had a mild fright watching Dave demonstrate this and moronically asked, "Did you mean to do that?"
He returned with the news that the next pitch had some in-situ rope on it so he put in a backup traverse line on another bomber natural and we all nipped down to the next pitch, or in my case the corner before the next pitch. Some waiting occurred. I donated a sling to the alleged traversing ahead. Diss reported Dave had gone down the pitch. Shortly afterward she reported he was coming back up. Everybody reconvened above the 'bypass' climb and Dave confirmed the sketchiness of in-situ rope.
The way out was fast as obviously we'd not actually gone very far at all. Diss, Ana and Lucie had a look up the October Series. I think Alex de-rigged the two underground pitches. Ana and Lucie finished off by each de-rigging the other's entrance pitch.
I would like to go back to Gavel to bottom it, to see Glasfurd's chamber, and to do all this and then the connection with Short Drop again. A trip to the top of the big pitch would be a good SRT fresher/rigging trip or Sunday trip especially if you combined it with photography.
Breakfast cooking happened and I turned the oven on for the first time (terrifying). I was on eggy bread duty as is natural when there are no Jennifers to contend with. Ana cooked many vegetable things and we all ate outside in the glorious sunshine.
We then spent far too many hours trying to decide on a cave to go to. The levels of indecision were ridiculous but we eventually settled on Gavel. After much faff and so many cups of tea that needing to pee many times was inevitable, we set off for Leck fell. The parking space was jam packed as everyone else also decided to Leck Fell seeing as it is now accessible in the Summer.
The cave is fenced like Death’s head and full of vegetation with a path (sometimes steep, probably scary in ice/snow) down to two holes which are the two entrances to the cave (plus a third crawly hole full of spiders which dies). On the way down, Dave exclaims that one of the hand-hold trees is slimy. We ignore him and have the same realisation when we go by. A moist tree it is. The whole place is very jungle-esque.
Lucie and Ana wanted to get some rigging practice in so they were in charge. Lucie rigged the Eyehole route with DKP and Fiona whilst Ana rigged the other way, followed by me and Alex. Ana is good with the knot things and the traverse is rigged fast. The bolting of this route is weird though and there’s a deviation, which is both hard to rig and does not stop rope rub, from a ladder bolt. We um and err for a while and decide Ana should just descend and we’ll see how bad it is. She gets almost to the bottom and runs out of rope (damn!) so has to come all the way back up and derig the first traverse bolt, grumble. The rock isn’t sharp so the rope rub is fiiine we say and we get down to the bottom, an open shaft in daylight with much greenery. I second the attractive wall.
Ana is a keen human and she rigs the next pitch which starts on top of some boulders and we all convene at the top of a supposedly loose scaffold/boulder climb. Lucie rigs off the single thread available (who likes backups anyway) using a bowline with the help of Ana who is far better at explaining how to tie them than I am.
There’s then a crawl to an annoyingly low streamway which eventually opens out and the cave gets ridiculously decorated (I had not realised there would be pretties). Many stals and columns and generally attractive things. The trip to this point would probably be a great Sunday trip for freshers.
The sequence of events from here is a bit hazy, we do some very stoopy moving in the stream and eventually find a wet climb which looks grim. Supposedly there is a bypass - we find a sketchy climb and get confused as to what is what. Eventually Dave rigs the sketchy climb with a 55m rope (meant for a later pitch) on two bomber naturals. Not overkill. The first of the big pitches soon appears and is already rigged (presumably divers rope). The bolt placement makes it very intimidating, with a hanging traverse before the (also hanging) Y-hang over a large drop. Dave decides to investigate, a bit uneasy about the rigging and rope quality. We wait in anticipation until Alex says he thinks Dave is coming back up. Apparently there was some rub at a rebelay below and the rope had worn through a bit. With The Fear ™ already setting in, none of us were against turning back, especially with the thought of the glorious sunshine we would surely be returning to.
On the way back Lucie, Ana and I investigated a crawl which Fiona and Alex had apparently been down earlier. It was muddy and often flat out but with some nice formations including black stals and stals that had shifted so the mites and tites were no longer in line. It never really ended but we got to a point where it seemed we’d have to be flat out in more water than we’d been exposed to so far so we decided to turn back. This was vaguely reminiscent of parts of the crawl in Craig a Ffynnon but less flat-out. At least this time I was wearing my oversuit top and not just thermals.
On the way out, Ana and Lucie swapped so they could de-rig each others rigging. I went out of the eyehole route with Ana and the others went the way we had come in. The bolt placement here is much more logical and seems a far superior route to the other, but perhaps in worse weather this isn’t true.
We got back to the NPC to an Isabella who had been learning string theory because apparently that’s what you do when you’re bored in a hut all day. Paneer curry was produced and consumed and we were in the library til the early hours drinking vimto/wine and fighting over mouldy pillows. We almost watched Withnail and I (which Ana has not seen!) but were distracted by cave decisions which we figured would be good to get over with before the morning to avoid many hours of faff. We eventually settled on Penyghent which York were rigging.
Penyghent Pot: Alex Seaton, Dave Kirkpatrick, Fiona Hartley, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena
I actually rarely say the word classic unless it refers to caving or to literature. Penyghent Pot is such a cave as to deserve the word. Classic water. Classic streamway. Classic "I am scared of drowning and hypothermia" feelings. But bottoming the cave is a lot of fun; although, often type 2 fun, due to the aforementioned cold and uphill struggle.
Six is a sub-optimal team size for cold caves. I thrashed through the long crawl and emerged wide-eyed at the end, totally soaked and beginning to shiver already. Due to being well cold I was 'hot' on Lucie's heels all the way down, albeit happy with the handy on 9mm. Penyghent is not hard on the way down; you (I) are fresh for the crawl, you (I) can "think big" and shimmy down the rift (overtaking in the process), and if you are like us, you get some York cavers to rig it so only one of you (not I) has gear.
We reached the end of the rift, Pool Chamber. After two hours of relative dryness I disliked having to crawl in water again. So did everyone else and we turned around. If only I wasn't scared that the Yorkists would shank me in my bed for not derigging... I turned back in. Thankfully I trapped Alex while he was derigging our solitary Imperial rope and he 'agreed' to come further down and help me derig.
Two is a better team size as you are almost always moving. I finally started to warm up, or at least not be cold at all times. We met the Yorkists shortly after going through squeaky-depth water, bobbing around between the ninth and tenth pitches. Despite being encased in neoprene they still looked like the cave had been fucking them up for hours. Was Friday the 13th good? No!
We dashed onwards to the sump since we had done 90% of the cave already. The sump was gloomy and I didn't even get a great look at it. But better than 'having' to come back in the future. I was quite chipper to get there actually.
Alex hopefully said, "Out by 10?" and I cheerfully replied, "I doubt it, I'm only going to get weaker from this point on." Four hours in, the real trip was about to start.
Going back out actually wasn't bad, although being sodden I would get very cold within about a minute of waiting. Type 2 fun. As Alex was faster over the ankle-breaking floor at the bottom he led out first with me derigging the tenth, ninth, eight-and-a-half, and eighth pitches. The hardest part was probably climbing up the narrow rift between our rope and the bottom of the eighth. Tricky enough without a bag and more tiring with one! Though it was a small bag, it was still 35m of wet rope.
Will and Ali had waited for the bottom two bags. They seemed okay, or were too tired to complain. I ate most of an apple soreen while they zipped off up the rift. I only retched twice. Grim, but necessary.
We climbed up, Alex derigging, using combined tactics and every rope. Slow and steady. There are limited backups to the rift pitches and it surprises me how quickly I stopped caring about the lack of protection. I am normally very scared of lack of protection.
I thought we'd swap derigging at some point but that didn't happen in the end. At the big pitch, I elected to take the full bag out and let Alex keep derigging. Scared of the big Y hang to be honest. From here exiting became a largely individual affair. Steadily, steadily, we continued, a good pace and distance between us, but regularly in contact via lights.
The long crawl was another thrashing session. I promised the cave, as if it were able to listen, that I wouldn't ever be upset by hands and knees crawling again... an impossible promise. The crawl improved as I knew it would, but after 10m this was little comfort. My knees, shoulders, wrists and neck all became sore. Humans aren't meant to crawl for +300m.
But eventually this ended too as all caves must. After the final insult of the entrance where you (I) must lie in water one last time, I found two cans of beer chilling in the stream. Delightful.
With a great squeal (metal, maybe me as well) I exited the cave, eight and a half hours after I'd gone underground. Desperately I stripped off my harness for a long-awaited pee. Relief! I went back in and yelled both mine and Alex's head off as he was only 3m away by then. Both out by ten to midnight, ten minutes before our original callout. Huzzah.
I was and am very grateful to Alex for coming with me to the bottom, being good company and doing the lion's share of the derigging. My bag was not as heavy as his!
We walked down to Brackenbottom under the midnight sky. As we did I opened the beer and I drank that can of Red Stripe for the next hour and a half. Beer never tastes better than it does after an awesome trip. Probably due to dehydration. Classic.
As York were rigging the cave, we had agreed to leave 2 hours after them. This meant a lazy morning and Isabella made us pancakes which we filled with glorious things like Ben and Jerry’s and lemons. We left at 12.30, Dave and I via Inglesport to get some kneepads as some of us had forgotten them…(they would be greatly appreciated in the crawls later).
As is expected, I got bored of writing this after the trip and now have little memory of exact occurrences from here.
Penyghent is great fun, many waterfalls and short ish pitches rigged off of weird naturals, sometimes without backups. The first pitch is wet as hell and feels like you’re being punched by a very angry waterfall. On the way back up the recommended method is frantic prussicking and hood wearing to minimise drenching.
Some confusing things occurred with de-rigging and Alex and Fiona end up being left to de-rig without us (thank you!).
Jingling Pot: Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Lucie Studena
Today I went with Ana and Lucie to Jingling so they could get more rigging practice. Apparently i’m like a keen caver or something now.
Ana is an obscenely competent human and was left to rig the less complicated route alone whilst I stayed with Lucie so she could rig the lateral cleft route with some moral support. Both of them were well good and there were reassuring shouted conversations (as well as some singing) with Ana who did not kill herself. Lucie and I didn’t quite reach the bottom so Ana solo rigged the little pitch at the bottom as well as coming down some of the lateral cleft route before derigging her route.
Realised this was probably the first time I've ever been the most experienced caver on a trip. Fun!
Spent the night at the NPC by myself because the train the next day was somehow ridiculously cheap. Ate many pringles and listened to the scuttling of perhaps mice in the ceiling for some hours. Terrifying. Left bright and early the next morning and spent the next two weeks worrying i'd left the gas on.
A high quality bank holiday weekend with higher quality humans.