Yorkshire Winter Tour
Arun Paul, Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Wilson, David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, James Perry, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Max Stunt, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Luca Mehl, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Astrid Rao, Yi Yang, Tony Hu, Flora Wu, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn, Eric Lee, Edwin Fernando, Mikael Liu, Emily Haynes
The day we realised there’s no heating
As we're on our way to the NPC, those already there sent us a worrying text – the central heating isn’t working. A quick glance at the weather forecast confirmed our fears – bloody cold. I’m sure it’ll be fine…
As we packed joyously for the winter tour, a drawer full of chest harnesses sat silently in the corner, out of sight and out of mind.
I was already sick for a few days, thought about not going but decided that I wanted to see more snow (and caves). I tried to keep the sickness from spreading by wearing a mask at first but failed miserably and almost everyone ended up catching the cold at the end of the tour. Though I hope I’m not the only one responsible and the lack of heating definitely played a part, still, sorry.
Attempted Notts 1, ended in Notts 2: Arun Paul, James Perry, James Wilson, Matti Mitropoulos, Astrid Rao, Yi Yang, Tony Hu, Flora Wu, Laura Temple, Edwin Fernando
The day of faff
I wake far later than I had hoped – either my alarm didn’t go off or I slept right through it. Whichever it was, I got to the kitchen as things were moving forward and it wasn’t much longer to go. The fire was going to compensate the lack of heating. There was some debate over Notts 1 vs Lost John’s but I made the decision to go to Notts 1 – somewhat a mistake, as it would transpire. Quick snowball fight, all into the van, and off we speed to Leck Fell.
At the car park we realise – literally no one had chest harnesses. How could this have happened? While Chris had carefully laid out 12 complete SRT kits using all of the tree training kit during the day on Friday, he didn’t include chest harnesses in these assemblies. We all knew this… but didn’t then make the connection to actually bring chest harnesses to the bus on Friday. Big faff ensues: I decide we should try to use our slings we have as makeshift harnesses, Tony Seddon rolls by, we beg him for harnesses, he leaves, it transpires we have just enough slings to get by. Finally the first group go ahead and begin the walk up the hill to rig the entrance pitches. We have another snowball fight, during which I take care to dodge all snowballs and throw none, and eventually start our journey up the hill as well.
On the walk up I was looking forward to sliding swiftly and easily into the cave and out of the cold. Unfortunately, we actually found the other group rerigging the rope they had previously rigged because the approach was too icy and a traverse line was required (should have chosen Lost John’s…). At this point it was past 4pm, it was getting dark, someone had just lost their central maillon (…?), it would take at least another hour or so to get everyone underground and people were starting to get cold. There was also a huge snowball fight happening right next to a huge drop which was slightly unnerving. Ultimately we decided to screw it, one group would go in to Notts 1 and the rest would walk down the hill to Notts 2. No SRT, but at least we would be able to move at a reasonable pace.
Into Notts 2 we go, climbing down the scaff. Down the crawl, down the sketchy climb (which was wetter than usual, I was told), and into the stream. Along the stream, and (as per usual) I stay behind before the water gets beyond knee height. I sing to myself and stomp around a bit to keep warm, and once the others return we climb back out. No epic, but a salvaged day given the problems. ‘Ironing out the kinks’, as Perry kept saying. Davey said he didn’t trust me to drive the bus on the icy fell road to get back… Unbelievable…
All down Notts 1, changing in snow was first fun, then cold, very cold. Halfway through kitting up, someone asked “where’s all the chest harnesses”, none was found attached to the SRT kits. Oops. At least we got tons of slings.
Snowball fight before setting off made me forgot to check if a 7-meter handline was left in the minibus because it was tossed on top of everything else separately, and it was. Thankfully it wasn’t a necessity but probably slowed people down.
An hour passed and half of the group was still snowball fighting outside the cave, sun was going down when decision was made that half would trek downhill to Notts 2 and have a chill non-SRT trip. Notts 2 was wet and pleasant, with a very unusual entrance with 50 meters of scaffolding climb that led us down to the cave. The rest of cave I struggle to remember, probably because that very night I managed a first-time-ever black out.
Notts 1: David Wilson, Luca Mehl, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Kevin Sohn, Eric Lee
We set out fairly late, only arriving at the top of Carnforth Leck around 1pm. The winter landscape was amazing, with the Fells covered in several inches of warm snow (which had thankfully not become ice overnight!). We all setup quickly until realising we forgot the chest harnesses! After a moment of panic the veterans quickly fashioned makeshift chest harnesses out of a sling attached to a crab, which ended up working fine in the cave. Next up was finding the entrance: led by Matti, we trekked through the (now mushy) snow and after about half an hour we miraculously stumbled across the cave entrance. After a good snowball fight, we started setting up the entrance pitch; the path down to the first bolts was covered in snow, so Ellie made the good call of rigging a handline using large rocks further up the crater. However, when the rest of the group showed up we realised that it was getting too late in the day for everyone to go down, and so 6 of us went down Notts 1, and everyone else took a Notts 2 excursion.
The entrance pitch was super cool, with massive icicles hanging around the rim of the entrance, and at the bottom a little frozen waterfall. After crawling through the first passage Ellie went on ahead to set up the Main Chamber pitch. Meanwhile, Eric navigated his first rebelay (a tricky one!) and the rest of the group made their way down. Once everyone had made their way into the main chamber, we decided that given our rope situation, our best option was taking Adamson’s Route and stopping there. Since none of us had taking this route before, it took quite a bit of searching and eventually I found it recessed in the back of the chamber (confusingly, right above an unnamed passage). The climb up to the first bolt was 20 meters up and completely unprotected, but Ellie did a great job of climbing it safely and rigging a handline for the rest of us [see attached photo]. Finally, after much traversing, we went down the last pitch and grouped up to discuss our next steps; since the time was already 6pm and we were pretty much out of rope we decided to head back for the day.
Once outside the cave, the warmth from ascending quickly dissipated and after collecting all our gear we started the cold shlep back to the van where the other were waiting of us.
All in all, a very good day of caving.
No caving. Jennifer was ill and coughs were starting to take hold in other chests, including mine. I also helped fetch massive gas cylinders from Settle Coal. When Rhys and company came back early from Leck Fell because Rhys had a back complaint, we roused ourselves from cold stupour for Inglesport lunch. I undertook some light Christmas shopping in the village also. By light I obviously don't mean doing all my Christmas shopping. Nope. I'm definitely more prepared than that...
A gravy-soaked lunch later we went to Settle to source a hot water bottle to fight the eternal winter inside the NPC. The craft mill in Settle is one of my favourite destinations because it's so strange. Nowhere feels more elderly, except perhaps your grandparent's bedroom. The first time I went, pre-pandemic, DKP and I managed to both find gloves for an upcoming skiing trip. Oh, the heights we reached. Every time I've visited since I think "this is the day I'll find something I need in here." But it's always entirely tat, even in that section that always sells outdoor clothing, because it's always the clothing you're not looking for.
I honestly have no memories about the rest of this day.
Fing Hopeless Pot: Arun Paul, Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley
Ingleborough hike: James & Rhys
Low morale: everyone else
The day of the lost minibus key
We all prep for a Kingsdale Extravaganza, everything going to plan – a little slowly but nothing unexpected when:
‘Who’s seen the minibus key?’
Raucous laughter. We joke about how losing the key would be really problematic. Horror gradually sets in as we realise literally no one knows where it is. Davey and I check every pocket of every item of clothing we own (literally everything I was wearing at the time). We begin to unpack the bus, and check the floor. We check the bunks, we check the kitchen, we check the car park; nothing. We realise even if its found that day, it’d be too late to go caving anyway, so we begin preparations for Christmas Dinner.
James and Ellie headed the Dinner preps, which turned out superlative as it always is. Many thanks to everyone who helped – I did very little, mostly spent the time stressing about what we were going to do if the key actually wasn’t found. Ana was coming up from London the next day, so in theory she could go the Union in the morning and ask for a spare, but I had very little faith the Union would cooperate with us so didn’t think it would result in much. Even so I began contacting people.
Rhys tries to cheer me up by making a line of nutmeg and encouraging me to snort it. "12 hours of sexual bliss, I’m telling you", he promised. Well, no time like the present, I figured. Turns out, snorting nutmeg does nothing at all – who’d have thought.
Sometime in the evening Fiona comes in screaming – everyone rushes out. I’m on the other side of the room, discussing the aphrodisiac effects of nutmeg with Chris. Suddenly everyone comes in cheering, Kevin triumphantly holding the minibus key high in the air. Thank fuck for that. Time to crack open the sloe gin that had been brewing in our living room for 3 months.
A very merry evening ensued, where insane quantities of insanely good sloe gin were consumed, and Fiona was toasted to many a time.
There should be a new annual award called "Where are the keys?" given to the caver who causes the faffiest pre-caving event of the year. The award would be an old car key / Stores key / minibus key etc. This year it would be awarded to whoever lost the minibus keys for this entire Sunday. The culprit is unknown. But the keys were lost for the whole day. Hours. And hours. Caving didn't happen because they were lost. I eventually found them on the ground outside between bags of building sand at 11pm, because apparently I needed to be tipsy to scour every inch of the car park.
The award could also be called the Incident as it was reminiscent of the time the minibus keys were binned after a trip. At least the lost keys didn't prevent caving in that case, though.
How did they get there? Nobody will admit to even being the last person to hold them. But someone did it. We'll just apparently never know who.
The one clear memory I had of last night was this word, a code to check how much memories I had left of last night. The word was remembered distinctly, but the context forever lost. I was later told that it was because I ate a crumpet, no recollection at all.
Miserable all morning, I was torn between caving or not, so it could be me who decided to chuck the minibus key outside the window and into the snow so that none of us will cave today. Cavers of the day surprised those who decided to stay on the surface by barging into the living room and turning it inside out. Every inch and corner of the hut was inspected (even the bin and fireplace) and minibus emptied, still the key was nowhere to be found. From time to time Fiona would exclaim the discovery of a previously unknown plug or interesting items under the couch, every time I thought it was key. As night approached and those who went out in their own cars returned with no minibus key on them, our last hope died.
“I think I found the key”, Fiona announced.
Whaaat? We followed her outside and, sure enough, the key was lying silently between blocks of presumably building material, right in front the hut. We stormed past the blocks countless times during daytime not noticing it and Fiona found it at night. Saviour!
Apart from the minibus key drama, Christmas dinner occurred as well. During preparation lots of cutting, grinding and peeling happened, at some point James said something like “I don't have to decide the shapes of all the vegetables”. Unfortunately he had to. Christmas dinner was brilliant, thanks James, and table traverses lasted till late night. No alcohol was consumed by me that night, wise decision.
County to Lanc: James Perry, James Wilson, Yi Yang, Edwin Fernando
Lanc to County: Dave Wilson, David Wilson, Tony Hu, Flora Wu, Laura Temple
Rescue Training: Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Astrid Rao, Kevin Sohn, Cecilia
I woke up, witnessed the continuation of faff, and went home, whereupon I called in sick to work for the next two days. I don't like caving anyway...
The day of the long trip
Well it wasn’t a long trip for me – I was doing rescue training with Tony. I awoke far later than I should’ve (Think I slept through my alarm… again…) and realised I was still drunk from the night before so wasn’t able to drive the minibus (sorry…). Davey drove us there instead and drove back. The session was excellent - good fun, very informative, and nice and chill; we learned how to use pulley ropes successfully and did some mid-rope rescue.
Once we were back at the hut, however, it gradually transpired that the other groups were getting dangerously close to their call out. What should, in theory, be a moderate trip was taking much longer than expected, so I asked Rhys if he could kindly drive a couple of people to Easegill if it got closer. At around 20 minutes to call-out we received a text saying one group was out, they will take over the call out. Stand down, all calm again. Sometime later we get a text saying all out, everything fine, just took longer than expected. People begin drinking. Shortly after we get another text – the bus is stuck, driven by a certain someone who didn’t trust me to drive the bus on the fell road only a few days earlier… oh dear...
We were asked to come with shovels and muscles so we make preparations to leave, gathering people together, finding various digging tools. Just as we are about to speed out of the car park a text arrives – bus is freed, they’re on their way. Nice.
Sometime later Perry, James and the others stumble through the door, looking slightly traumatised. Perry immediately opens a can and rolls a cigarette. No words. Gosh, what a trip that must’ve been. It was explained to us how the novices seemed to get tired quite quickly (somewhat unsurprising, given that some slept for all of 3 hours…) and there was some underestimation of fitness. Everyone was safe though, and we made sure to learn from it… (haha…)
Rope rescue training day. Learnt a lot. Will write about it at some point. Minibus got stuck on its way back, a few of us were just about to drive to their rescue when a shout of “they’re out!” summoned us back to the hut. Gah, I was quite excited about it.
Valley Entrance: David Wilson, Ellie Pizey, Tony Hu, Flora Wu
Alum: Cecilia Kan, Rhys Tyers, Chris Hayes, Mikael Liu, Emily Haynes
Death's Head (almost -> Big Meanie...): James Perry, James Wilson, Matti Mitropoulos, Astrid Rao, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn, Edwin Fernando
The day of Big Meanie’s Revenge
I was desperate to make the Big Meanie –> Death’s Head connection to make this a successful winter tour. I assembled a crack team and gave them the required pep talk for the connection (“its shit, but its fun…” “Dude what the hell”). Admittedly sending freshers down Death’s Head as their second SRT cave was daring, but they seemed competent so I wasn’t too concerned. I was to make the exchange with Astrid, switching with Kevin and Perry, who would rig Big Meanie. I assured Kevin the Big Meanie entrance pitch was tight, but doable on the way down.
‘Fuck. Big. Meanie. Dude. Fuck. Big. Meanie.’ ‘What?’ ‘Fuck’ ‘Why?’ ‘Big’ ‘What happened?’ ‘Meanie’.
At the bottom of the Death’s Head shaft Kevin stumbled down the scree slope in a fury. As it transpired, Kevin had been slightly too three dimensional to make it down the Big Meanie entrance pitch and had succeeded in fully wedging himself in there. Perry started setting up pulley jammers and such to help winch him out, and the combined effort eventually got him out. Both were slightly traumatised, and came to join us in Death’s Head instead. Whoops… Sorry…
At least Death’s head is an excellent cave to make up for that. Into the streamway we went and we succeeded in getting to the master streamway before turning around. We blasted some hype music through the dreadful speakers of the cave phone to keep us motivated which echoed up the entire entrance shaft.
Kevin derigged, largely successfully, but getting caught up near the top. I waited around in a divet for him to return. Eventually he made it out and we made our way back, by which point he was quite exhausted and I was quite cold. Then I made it worse by trying to walk to the farmhouse instead of the van cos I didn’t have my glasses. Getting lost on Leck Fell is quite an impressive feat given the only instructions are ‘walk right until you hit the wall, then turn left and walk until you hit the bus’. Kevin was understandably quite annoyed with me about that, and Perry made sure to take the piss out of me as much as I deserved.
Ultimately a fairly successful day for me – not the trip I had hoped for, but enjoyable nonetheless. Apologies to Perry for yet another unsuccessful day.
Finally, the rigging trip promised on Sunday but cancelled due to the lost key was here. The plan was a Death’s Head and Big Meanie exchange trip, I would rig the former and Kevin the latter, and of course, things didn’t go as planned.
Everything was a bit chaotic, but for a first-time rigger it was probably inevitable. Halfway through descending, I realised with astonishment that my helmet was just sitting on my head with the strap open, blimey. Every rebelay I rigged ended up with intertwined ropes that needed to be untangled by undoing the maillons, so it took me a significant amount of time to reach the bottom as people froze in the winter breeze. At the huge chamber we waited for the Big Meanie team, hoping to see a light somewhere above our heads when they appeared behind us, descended down the same route as ours. Turns out Kevin got stuck at the top of Big Meanie (“Fuck Big Meanie”) and with the help of Perry’s pulley and pulling he got out after half an hour. He was fine, but his welly was not. It was almost decapitated and its back sliced open. Brutal.
We then continued down the cave, reached the mainstream and back. Return journey was fine, except that I accidentally dropped a light down the entrance pitch, it bounced off Kevin’s helmet (sorry) and presumably fell to the bottom of the second pitch. Ah well, mental note to look for it next time, I really like that light.
Back on the surface I got so cold that I decided to leave for the minibus alone. Since I wasn’t paying attention when we hiked to cave in daylight, a blinking light in the farmhouse far left to where the minibus was parked confused me into thinking that it was a signal sent by the bus people to guide us. Without hesitation, I headed for the light, singing “Vincent” at the top of my lung but just couldn’t recall the second line of the lyrics. All of a sudden out of the darkness behind me came a shout, “Hello?” “Sorry?” “Who is it?” Shit that sounds like an angry farmer, did I just trespassed a private property? Turning off my headtorch, “sorry?” “Who is it?” “Who are you?” “Astrid?” “Perry???” Fate made Perry and I meet in the middle of a snowy field surrounded by darkness, just in time for him to stop me from wandering off into the distance. Back at minibus and I wondered aloud if Matti would be heading for the farmhouse with Kevin as well since I told him with confidence to follow the distant light.
“Matti knows where he's going” was the answer I got, phew.
Two lights soon appeared, bobbing up and down, though not from the direction of the cave but down the road from the farmhouse.
They made it, the long way round.
Valley Entrance, Swinsto: Cecilia Kan, James Wilson, Ana Teck, Ellie Pizey
Jingling: Cecilia Kan, James Perry, James Wilson, Ana Teck, Ellie Pizey, Chris Hayes, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn, Emily Haynes
Bull Pot: Dave Wilson, Rebecca Diss, Astrid Rao, Edwin Fernando, Mikael Liu
Bull pot again! after visiting it just a month ago but this time as a rigging trip. I rigged and DW followed, patiently answering all my questions about rigging and the cave. The rigging was not difficult but tiring, and there were a few bolts I struggled to reach. At the fourth pitch I mistook a ledge for the cave floor halfway through the descent and detached myself entirely from the rope and yelled rope free. Just as I was about to take a step forward I realised it was at least 10 meters up in the air. Never again.
We didn’t do the fifth pitch because according to DW it’s just not worth it. We then wandered around, visited a muddy sump and back (though it didn’t look particularly muddy) and, inspired by DW’s stories of discovering interesting items under rocks and in the stream, I found a 2B pencil. David Bowie made our waiting more enjoyable with his music and we had two competent freshers, Edwin and Mikael, who were just as speedy as I could get at prusiking. Soon enough we were out of the cave, big thank to Diss for derigging, I probably wouldn’t have the strength left to do it.
Back at the hut it seemed like we finally managed a normal day with successful caving trips, then Laura went missing. She set off on her own from the cave and headed for the minibus but wasn’t found there when the rest of the group arrived. Well she wasn’t quite lost since she just got to the wrong parking space and waited there thinking everyone else had left. Not knowing that, Diss and I drove to their aid, discussing tactics to look for her and what could’ve happened. She was found before we reached them, shivering behind some blocks that shielded her from the wind, “she was hiding from us!”. All was fine, back to the hut and warmth.
The day of the lost fresher
I wasn’t really feeling any caving today, just wanted to chill. James was concerned: “are you ok?” “Yeah don’t worry, all good” “Are you sure?” “100%...” So I joined Rhys who was dropping Chris off at Dave’s for his journey home, and said hi to Dave’s cat Tom. It was as uneventful as was expected – I introduced Rhys to more good jazz, who slandered it as ‘open transport tycoon music’ again, and we got back to the hut before dark. I began to separate sloe berries from sloe meat, but didn’t get as far as I had hoped before cars began trickling into the car park again. Then near the end of the evening, just as dinner was coming to a close we got a text – Laura had begun to walk back to the bus alone from the cave entrance, but once everyone else was back she wasn’t there; it was requested we drive a car with people to help search the fell for her.
A team of 4 were dispatched in Diss’ car, under the assumption they would receive a text whilst they were on their way informing everyone she had been found. Sure enough, shortly after, a text was sent to everyone announcing that she was fine, just a little cold. Everything fine, relax again.
In the late evening everyone was quite tired, but I began bossing people around a lot to get the hut cleaned up before the morning as we needed to leave early, making me rapidly very unpopular. All of (Most of) the things did eventually get done however before we went to bed.
Back to London. I was fully healed from the cold but pretty much everyone else was sick.