Alex Herriott, Andrzej Dziadkowiec, Ari Whitby, Clare Tan, Clement Tremblay, Eric Seidman, James Kirkpatrick, Jarvist Frost, Jean Maillard, Jonny Hardman, Leo Carlin, Lim Kangyu, Mehdi Ben Slama, Niko Kral, Richard Evans, Zoja Nagurnaja
12/13 people using club kit meant we literally cleaned out stores on Friday, bringing almost every bit of usable SRT kit we could find! Still, wasn't as much of a nightmare as it sounds since most of the freshers had already packed earlier in the week. On the road by 7:15pm, Jarv commandeering the song selection (German electro?) in the absence of Kate and Jana.
Drive up was smooth, and we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the NPC to an empty hut. North Wales CRO gear fettling had called away some of the NPC regulars, and luxurious as it was to be able to stretch ourselves out fully in the hut, their presence was actually missed... Certainly felt weird without Dave there!
Ireby Fell Cavern: James KP, Nico, Eric, Richard, Jonny
Nico started riggin' down in style, following mysterious ropes labelled SMOG. The SMOG ropes headed towards the Shadow route,but we rigged straight down Ding. At the bottom of Ding we ran out of rope already, so I headed back up and tightened up the rigging piano wire style. I also took over the rigging, even tho Nico was doing a smashing job. Third pitch (Bell?) was fairlywet, but not scary wet. Fourth small pitch (Pussy) was prerigged, but i double rigged it anyway on a slightly wetter route with an acrobatic passage halfway. After Pussy came a rather beautiful piece of passage winding rift, just the right size, all sparkly and well decorated. Shame for the crawling-in-the-water bits!
On the fifth pitch we met Swindon MOuntaneering Group and waited for them to get out. They had been to Duke street II and didnot really entice me to it: apparently after the sump bypass a long crawl and finally a passage similar to Duke street. Basically sounded a bit s**t. The last of the SMOG team appeared, he was dirigging and was wet. Very wet. Groan. The pitch is sort of split in two and the second bit of the last cascade was in a jet of water, had a little think about it and decided it was going to be unpleasant but not dangerous. So we kept going. SMOG also advised that the very last pitch was pre-rigged, so I left most of the gear behind. The last pitch was not rigged the usual, wet way but high up and had a rather tricky traverse-rebelay half way. That might be interesting on the way down I thought.
The bottom of Ireby was amazing: Duke street is impressive! We walked down to the sump and had the satisfaction of following the cave to the end. Way out was OK. I figured the most significant bit of SRT difficulty was going to be the last pitch and the wet pitch from last, so sent Nico up first to supervise the passing of the rebelay from above while I checked out the situation from below. Everyone did well. Impressive. Gave everyone a pep talk about prussicking through wet pitches. Something like"never surrender, never look up, go go go". Needless to say from that point on I literally lost contact. The freshers were too fast for Nico and I to keep up and I basically saw them next outside.
We got out to a beautiful, starry night, Mission Accomplised!
Lost Johns' Cave
In Centipede: Al, Leo C, Zoja, Mehdi, Kangyu
In Dome: Jarv, Clare, Jean, Clement, Ari, Andrzej
After making sure everyone had all the gear they needed at the NPC, we drove up to Leck Fell, proudly displayed our LJ permit, and kitted up. This was my first time visiting Lost Johns', and I was amazed when Jarv stopped 10m from the road and announced that we were at the cave entrance! This sort of luxury is almost criminal, certainly obscene.. Underground at 1230ish.
The Dome crew set off first with Jarv leading the way. The entrance series is a fun walk in fairly fast-flowing water, and we soon arrived at the 5m cascade that marked the junction between the New and Old Roof Traverses. We climbed up into a bit of easy rift passage and almost immediately got to the No. 1 pitch. All freshers successfully negotiated their first deviation, with me inspecting from the top and Jean bottom belaying.
The pitches in LJ are encountered in fairly quick succession, with minimal caving in between. Rather inexplicably, however, it doesn't feel anywhere near as monotonous as one might expect... I suppose there's quite a bit of variation between the different pitches. There's a nice bit of traverse to the head of Cathedral - certainly made de-rigging more interesting on the way back!
Rejoined the Centipede lot at Dome Junction - not entirely sure what was going on, but I think the team had splintered at some point so a couple of them were now in front with Jarv, with the rest bringing up the rear of our 11-strong group. I left the daren drum of cheese pittas + other delish at the bottom of Dome Junction, continuing on to the curiously named Candle & Shistol pitches. Swapped Al some photo gear for the deep rope bag (Battleaxe - Final pitch), leap-frogged a couple of people and ferried the tackle to Jarv.
Due to some comedy miscommunication (my fault, mostly), everyone ended up going down Valhalla. Oh well :) Battleaxe itself was good fun - easy with the two slings Jarv put in at the bit with a shortage of good footholds. They were the perfect length for me, probably too short for anyone else... Valhalla was well impressive. The water was properly roaring and we had to use whistles to communicate.
Once I got to the bottom Jarv took a couple of people down the very wet Final pitch into the master cave, and I took over bottom belaying. It was quickly apparent that we were going to have a mother of all waits at the bottom, with 11 people (including 6 freshers) to prusik up Valhalla. So as soon as Leo came down with a flask of hot Ribena and malt loaf for the cold, I went up to supervise people passing the deviation near the top. Those waiting down below had a harder time of it, but it was nice and quiet and solitary at the top for me.
One by one the freshers came up, and I looked on in horror as they tried in turns to pass the deviation by completely unclipping the krab from the rope and letting it drop (good old Ari just used the wall to haul herself back to the sling - impressive!) , or by taking off their jammers. Shouted at them in time and all disasters were averted. Al arrived soon after and I think he took the first wave of 4 freshers out via Centipede.
Waited at Dome Junction with Zoja and Kangyu since I wasn't sure what derigging plans were.. Jean arrived shortly with orders from Jarv to derig out of Dome, so Jean, Kangyu and I started off, leaving Zoja behind to let Jarv and Leo know what we were doing.
I came to a conclusion that I really like derigging in a nice, straightfoward cave like Lost Johns. You get all the bonuses - caving at the rear by yourself, taking your time to unscrew maillons + pack the rope down, singing without anyone complaining - and none of the horrid, grim bits like dragging a lead weight up difficult climbs, through crawls or squeezes.
Got to the top of Vestry and realised that 1) there was no way I was going to get more rope in the tackle sack in its current state and 2) I couldn't be arsed to re-pack it. So I passed the fucker to Jean and started daisy-chaining the rope instead... All well and good, we were making decent time when we got to the top of No. 1 pitch. Since we only had the short entrance series left, I sent Jean and Kangyu off, saying I'd catch them up after I finished chaining up the rope. Tidied up the various slings hanging off me, then moved to chain the rope, only to realise the rope had disappeared... Looked down the pitch - ack! The bugger had dropped back down.
Grrr, got out my descending stuff, re-rigged the pitch (thankfully I still had the Vestry rope with me + all the metalwork), collected the dropped rope, and chained both of them up again. Caught up with Jean and Kangyu near the entrance and we headed out together, ~10.5 hours after we went underground.
Back at the minibus Nico was holding the fort, cursing us for coming so close to callout (again). James + Al + cooks had already driven back to start dinner.. We were getting a bit worried when there was still no sign of Jarv, Leo and Zoja, but they eventually came out at a reasonable time - think Jarv had a bit of flashback to his previous epic derig of LJ on 2008-11-21 !
Got back to the NPC with a lovely curry waiting for us; everyone looked a bit harrowed and comatosed, going to bed shortly after dinner. Some of us sat up for a while for tea and peaches + cream, but it was pretty late and crashed soon after as well.
Ah, Lost Johns'! Such a lovely friendly cave, there's a bit of stream in the entrance to be admired, a couple of easy traverses to limber up for, and then the meat of the SRT down to battleaxe is in beautiful short pitches, completely dry. It's a very friendly place - still air & no risk of getting cold on the ropes. With no falling water you can communicate, more or less, from the top to the bottom of a pitch, which certainly helps when explaining things to the novice SRTers.
It was pretty damp - but I've been in here in worse. It's really very flood proof. The start and end of Dome were filled with a rhythmic low bass whump of the water tumbling down the traditional wet route, like the thud of the sub woofas from a festival across down. I particularly like Dome pitch itself - a nice take off at the top from a y-hang, then swinging out into the spacious shaft to gain a rift leaving the pitch well above the floor. At Dome junction I left Ari guarding the tackle sacs and slithered my way up to Centipede (it's not that the free climbs are so massively difficult, it's just that you don't expect them to be there!) where I met Al the rigger and stole his Candle/Shistol rope bag. Back a Dome with a motley crew of random people from both routes I led the charge to Candle, and rigged our way down.
The whole of Centipede to the bottom was rigged on a mix of thick Edelrid and Equirrel, with rather minimalist use of number of belays, and explicably rigged on a mixture of the usual 7mm long maillons, and the most enormous steel screw-gate karabiners that I've ever seen out of the Mendips. It all seemed a bit perverse really. I was half expecting to meet these pirates, but found no-one - a partially complete through trip from Boxhead / permanent rigging for diving shenanigans I'd imagine.
The noise at the head of Battleaxe was pretty intense - I leaned over the edge to gaze down at a most impressive brown frothing river hurling itself down the original route. I popped along to the end of Battleaxe on the in situ rope and had a gawk down the pitch. It looked almost plausibly passable - the noise was intense though.
At the start of the traverse, I seized the recently arrived 'deep' rope bag, left a careful and considerate message detailing the use of whistles, the possibility of it being rather inhospitable down there and strict instructions on not ending up with too many novices waiting for each other. Best laid plans, though!
So I rigged out along the Battleaxe with use of rather more p-bolts, and a few strategically placed slings to lend assistance. If you've never been there - the Battle axe traverse is like a narrow 20m long corridor, with undulating rock walls. The passage of countless hordes of cavers over the years has turned the few footholds into mere polished dimples in the rock. Most people pass along it dangling on the tensioned traverse - not an option for the rigger! Instead of a solid floor there is blackness, from which the water cascades roars. Near the end it widdens out with a beautiful double-ended flake / pinnacle in the centre of the passage to standard on (perhaps why it's called Battleaxe?). A little climb up to the y-hang P-bolts and we were on the Valhalla pitch!
Rigging down took a while - extra checks to make sure I wasn't going to tangle people up in the other rope. Ended up tucking it out the way with a kind of negative / sideways deviation. The waterfall was impressive to look at - a massive white blur of flying water. The canyon where one landed was pretty blustery, with swirling drizzle in the air. Stepping off onto a ledge and just two steps around the corner + suddenly everything was rather nicer - very strange katabatic wind eddies.
Blew my little Fox 40 whistle like a trooper, no reply from above - but soon saw lights starting to trickle down. Turned out they had been blowing a standard club perry whistle from the top - but it simply wasn't keen enough to be heard at the bottom! With Clare down I set off for the bottom with Zoja. Started the traverse for the final pitch considerably further back than the bolts (nice thread in the wall), as the cascade down was clearly impassable without assistance. This required a bit of thinking about lengths and which personal gear to use - you never want to end up in a situation where you can slip + then be held under the flowing water by the rope that's designed to save you from falling. Once around the corner and into the traverse proper, things were more sedate. The hang was perfectly dry, though the chamber had three separate waterfalls and a few spigots landing in it!
Careful traverse around the deep pools and a few minutes of rift with the stream & we were at the master cave! Suddenly thinks were rather more sedate, the usual 2-3m wide river slowly drifting along over cobbles, the noise and fury of Valhalla left a long way behind. Went upstream to have a quick gape at the pretty chambers, met Jean on the way back who had just come down for a quick nose around, and derigged back to Valhalla with him. Arrived to count 10 cavers waiting at the bottom perched on the tiny little ledges like sparrows.
The 2.5hrs waiting to climb and then derig were spent more or less productively taking a few photos and a spot of video (until I decided that my camera was wet enough for one day - lots of flying spray!). Flask of hot squash was ace. Balaclavas and headovers dolled out to the most needy, people prioritised up the rope in order of shiver-i-ness.
Feeling pretty sorry for myself when I finally returned the whistle indicating that the rope was free and clipped on, I hadn't been able to feel my feet for the last half hour. Still, 20m of climbing and I had warmed up perfectly! Couldn't see much on the way up - too much spray at the bottom, only to climb above that and have it replaced by steam rising off my oversuit!
Steady derig out assisted by Leo and Zoja - didn't see anyone else, which implied that the timings were just about right.
Derigging LJ always seems more effort than it should be. I think a few factors contribute to this - we rigged, as always for LJ, on 10.5 and 11mm rope and dampened it purposefully to stop any cinder burns by inexperienced abseiling. Soft, strong, and thoroughly comforting with a massive safety factor. This was because we had, as always for LJs, a large mostly novice party. Due to the spreading out of cavers on the way out (so you can't pass bags forward), and the few cavers experienced enough to haul tackle, the net result is the few lucky ones near the rear end up carrying a lot of thick wet rope out on what should be a really easy trip with excess man power!
Note on Rope: The CNCC lengths are a bit short - Candle / Shistol would be more comfortable to rig on 35 rather than 30. The 30 we brought was actually a 27 when measured back in stores, and was just long enough to tie off to the final Y-hang (Doh!). Similarly, if it's wet you'd want more like a 40 for the final pitch (rather than a 30), so you can rig the chute/cascade + not die. I put a deviation on Vestry (single 8ft sling through thread). You want about 15 maillons for battle axe to rig it in a 'bullet proof' manner for novices rather than the 7 depicted. Conversely the 60 for Mud / Centipede seems a bit long, but I stupidly forgot to make a note of how much spare rope we had at the bottom.
Teashop cavers: Al, Nico, Leo, Jonny...
Yordas: Jarv, Jean, Ari, Clement, Kangyu
Ahh, a classic quick Sunday fettle. Bundled past a (school group?) equipped with matching suits and FX2s about to pop into the lower entrance & found the middle entrance just as two cavers (who obviously got started rather earlier in the day!) finished derigging. Jean rigged the first hang, then I slurped my way down the 2nd and got the photo kit out to take a few snaps. Lovely little water chute just around the corner, then a small bit of crawling + the connection with the higher entrance to gain the the start of the deepening rift and waterfall. Actually takes a bit of time to rig, and the SRT is not super simple - swinging onto a more-or-less free hanging traverse and then a rather severe deviation for a dry hang. As well as the in-situ cord, there's a P-bolt much further down + on the wall which I missed, but which should give a dry hang & should also be a lot easier to pass.
More photos taken, everyone bar me exited at the walk-out entrance (with the photo gear), I derigged + met Jean at the end of the traverse (who had re-entered the middle entrance after locating the hide + seeker), who then derigged the two little entrance pitches. I climbed out of the alternative first pitch for a bit of variation.
Bull Pot: James KP, Clare, Eric, Mehdi, Andrzej
Tired out from the previous days' excursions, people slept in till 11ish (though it was actually 10ish - thank god for daylight saving!), so I busied myself doing dishes, assisted by Eric halfway through. Bit of faffing around deciding what to do, eventually settled on Bull Pot and Yordas (who would've guessed?). We got underground pretty late, but still managed to squeeze in some decent Sunday caving.
Got back to find the hut more or less spotless - surprise, surpise: teashop cavers didn't just go to the teashop! Woohoo. Drive back to London was smooth and fairly pleasant, with Genevieve Tudor + BBC Stoke keeping us company a good bit of the way.
Overall a great weekend's caving; very impressive since LJ was the first cave for many of the freshers. Sorry for having to wait around + not doing much over the weekend apart from cave! Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves though - I definitely did.