Celia Tinsley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Isha Kaur, Jack Hare, Kelvin Choi, Kenneth Tan, Miriam North-Ridao, Rhys Tyers, Tanguy Racine, Will French, Will Scott
Spectacle Pot > Vesper Pot: Celia Tinsley, Isha Kaur, Rhys Tyers, Will French, Dave Kirkpatrick, Kelvin Choi, Tanguy Racine, Will Scott
I hit the dough with an iron fist. With a thump my hand disappeared into the bowl, sinking. 1.5kg of flour, and half a litre of water. I grabbed the ball of yet-to-proove pizza dough, lifted it into the air and hit it again vigorously. After ten minutes, I sprinkled flour on it , and put it in a deep pan and placed a lid on top.
I turned my attention to the upcoming trip, and in the common room the teams for Vespers and Spectacle pot were assembled. I wanted to enter via the latter due to its infamous crawl near the entrance, which being passed would be no more than a traumatic memory, rather than an anticipated ordeal for the rest of the trip. A third party to King Pot would be led by Jack, so after packing the ropes for this, we were all but ready to make it happen.
On the Kingsdale road, we were denied the space to about-turn at the usual double passing-place, forcing us to drive to Yordas farm further on to manoeuver. Outside the air was dry and mild for this time of year, and made a stark contrast with the low whisps clouds hugging the crest of Whernside and Ingleborough. Sparse snow patches could still be seen below the cloud base.
Soon, we set off in our groups to Braida Garth, seeking permission to enter the caves and ascended the steep hillslope to the top of the Great Scar Limestone. After the break in slope, we headed due east, with the King party to our right. Reaching the top of a local rise we then aimed for a broad chaotic pile of stones where paths for Vespers and Spectacle split. My group headed north in search of a specific shakehole around a plateau completely riddled with small dolines. Spectacle’s entrance was found in a very shallow N-S oriented oblong depression. At the northern end, two P-bolts invited us down.
Following the description from Not for the Faint Hearted, I attached a back-up to a thick squat nodule of rock, then rigged a single hang followed by a rebelay further in. All too soon I reached the end of the rope, two metres short of the bottom. Seeing that the floor was only a ledge giving in to a deep rift, I decided to rerig completely to reach the ledge at the very least. This meant getting rid of the nodule back-up. The first bolt became the back up, with a traverse leading to the second. Once that was done, two free-climbs down the rift got us down five metres deeper. The rift quickly intersected a small aven before resuming it’s northward course. The passage was thrutchy at best and soon a narrow slot attempted feet first saw me drop in a very small chamber. At the bottom Splutter Crawl led off.
I crouched down to get a measure of it’s cross section. It looked to me like an onion flattened three times over. The widest part could just about accommodate the shoulders, with one arm in front the other by the side. Using the tip toes, cheek in the puddle at the bottom one edges forward inch by inch. After two metres, the ceiling rises slightly and allows one to look forward. Further in, the floor gives way to a tight rift, before a small opening which looks onto a laddered drop. With both arms in front holding on to the rungs and a little gravity assist, this obstacle is passed without much difficulty… provided the approach is controlled. With hindsight, getting rid of the SRT kit would have helped greatly.
With great teamwork we passed all the bags forward as soon as I passed the crawl, and Will and Kelvin joined me at the small landing where I started rigging the second drop, about six metres deep. At the bottom an immediate dogleg led to a flat out crawl, with a small stream joining in from the right (this is Onion Inlet) which emerged in a chamber of very small dimensions with pristine sediments. As I looked at it I noticed the calcited fault planes which guided the streams towards the S-E. This was our way towards Vespers, straight on!
A short stooping passage with a pebbly stream then lead to Moorhouse aven, a fine 15m high circular shaft with small boulders strewn on the floor. The continuation of the fault plane could be seen on the far SE side of the aven. We stopped there for chocolates and water, rested for a short time and anticipating a ‘6-8 minute Wet Crawl’ we stuffed our SRT gear into tacklesacks.
It began… well, it began as you might expect. In a hole in the ground there was a puddle. It was not a clean, dry hole such as hobbits live in, it was a caver’s hole, and that meant discomfort, a dirty, wet hole, full of cobbles and oozy smells, deep pools and tight doglegs. By the end, my body temperature had dropped slightly and I could feel the effect of dehydration settling in: it came in the form of a pounding pain in the forehead. The crawl emerged into Dryden Chamber, which still sported straws underneath side ledges. We put on our SRT kit again, and traversing over a large fallen boulder, a squeeze led to a constricted take off to the third pitch, the largest of the whole descent.
Two bolts formed a traverse, a single bolt for the take-off hang followed closely by a rebelay farther out. This enabled a fifteen metre descent to a ledge about a third of the way down. Facing the opposite wall, a stubby flake provided a natural anchor for a deviation. This in place I abseiled towards the far off floor at an exhilarating pace. All too soon I felt the tug of the tacklesack to which the rope was tied at the bottom end. I stopped two metres short of the floor, and cursed. That would teach me to pack exactly the right length of rope, no room for error!
I prussiked back up as fast as I could, and had help from the team at the pitch head to rerig it tighter quickly. Soon though I was going down and my feet touched the bottom of the chamber. Will came down after, but the deviation popped out of place as he passed it. I gave him the best description of the flake to use, and he put it back on after some time. As he descended he gave me the next rope bag, which I used to rig the last drop. As I put the knots in the rope, I heard the singing of the team coming from the Vespers’ side of the great chamber. It was all the same fault plane, which had been enlarged somewhat at the meeting of the two cave streams. The Vesper team had come straight from the SE, while we’d come from the NW in a straight line.
Rhys and I were both rigging the last hangs of our respective routes, though mine was noticeably shorter, since it dropped at the top of the Great Boulder Heap. From a distance I could just about see Rhys’s light moving up and down, then a leg stepped over the chasm and Rhys bridged the 2m gap. Rhys’s acrobatics entertained me for a while till the whole team met at the bottom of the boulder slope, taking great care not to disturb the precarious balance of rocks. Soon the eight of us stood there, and decided Rhys and Will French would go out Spectacle on their own, while the six others would go out Vesper’s, Dave derigging. Before going up I took a few pictures – to prove we’d been there, done that more than anything else.
I started the ascent up the gold rope, ropewalking as fast as I could to warm up a little followed by Celia and Isha. Vesper’s SRT was airy and challenging. The pitches were finely sculpted, and the rigging kept one out of the water all the way. The very first rebelay we passed was very memorable as the rigger must have stepped over the void (or jumped maybe?) to get to the ‘Y’-hang on the far wall!
The last of the SRT by no means heralded the end of the cave, as a long twisted crawl separated us from the open air. It was never uncomfortably tight, nor flat out, but the last leg before the climb out to the surface narrowed down significantly, and punished me for carrying stray loops of rope out the tacklesack. Isha and Celia followed me out, while Dave derigged underneath Will and Kelvin.
I dived back in the crawl, SRT free and crossed their way, to find Dave and his bag near the head of the first pitch. I assured them the end was nigh, and we all got out in the night, it was nearing 9pm.
As we walked towards the bridge over Kingsdale Beck two lights came to meet us. Jack and Rhys had driven a splinter party back towards the NPC to start the chopping of onions. We changed quickly and drove back, with minutes to spare before 10 o’clock. At the cottage a hearty meal of pizza was made, and the headache from dehydration ebbed away amidst the merriment of a trip well done.
Vesper Pot > Spectacle Pot: Celia Tinsley, Isha Kaur, Rhys Tyers, Will French, Dave Kirkpatrick, Kelvin Choi, Tanguy Racine, Will Scott
Where It's a Cracker and Boxhead are characterised by their long wet pitches, Spectacle and Vesper are characterised by their long wet crawls. And like their East Kingsdale siblings, King and Brown Hill, they are for the most part quite tight. I was leading the trip into Vesper and hopefully then out of Spectacle. With Isha, Celia, and Will by my side what could go wrong?
Vesper is probably the easier of the two caves to find. The description describes walking up the fell from the farm towards a big pile of rocks which sounded like a dubious landmark to me but it turns out to be quite a large and noticeable pile of rocks. From there heading a short way up a small dry valley and checking all the holes by the stream sink brings you to the inviting entrance to Vesper.
Much like Brown Hill, Vesper begins immediately with a sideways crawl. I wiggled my way in feet first, unable to see where I was going until a few meters later I found a turning spot. I shouted for Celia to follow to be told that she had wandered off onto the fell to look for her gloves which she had left somewhere. A good start. I waited in the crawl becoming ever more aware of the number of spiders quite close to my head. Isha joined me and started demanding that I kill all the spiders. Luckily before I had a chance to commit any arachnid genocide, Celia returned with gloves (apparently she had put them down just outside the cave).
The sideways crawl continues, though not for long, maybe a body length, and opens out a little allowing you to crawl more normally. Gradually it turns to stooping passage and then walking before you arrive at the first pitch. It's an easy one if a little tight at the top. Following the first pitch is a streamway that the guide describes as "Tortuous" and I think its fitting. The passage is extremely twisty and never wide enough to be anything other than sideways. Little knobbles and constrictions at various heights force you to duck, and climb and wiggle your way through at many different levels. It's quite fun on the way down, on the way up I imagine it's a little harder.
I was in front and found the floor rapidly dropping away beneath me. I climbed down a couple of ledges before encountering something that was definitely a pitch. The streamway has meandered round a corner and dropped straight down and also in the past has cut through the corner leaving a large person sized hole. I looked around for bolts and saw one on the far wall through the hole, and another directly above the hole, but on the other side to me. I concluded that we had to approach from higher up and got Isha and Celia looking for bolts or naturals further back in the passage. They found none, but by traversing over a very scary exposed bit high up in the streamway I reached a bolt. It was above the hole in the wall but on the correct side at least. As I rigged the first bolt I gave a generous 'end' to the rope and tied a double fig eight in it instructing people to pass it to the person behind them so they could clip into it as they did the dodgy traverse. I don't know if that is really any safer but psychologically its nicer. I rigged round, making a traverse to the bolt over to the other above-hole bolt. The traverse functioned more like a zip line as you essentially just had to swing around the corner trusting the rope.
A reach got me to the bolt on the far wall and I was off down the pitch. Reading it later, I think the rigging guide says you go through the person sized hole but I can't work out how you would do that or what the other bolts are for in that case. Oh well. The rest of Vesper is all pretty much one big pitch, so you just keep heading down. The nature of the bolting doesn't change much. Whoever put them in must've been a very tall gecko or something. One of the hangs involves a ~5 metre traverse in the top of an upside down v-shaped rift, with few footholds, and the pitch directly below you. Rigging it was particularly scary as the bolts were quite far apart meaning an exposed, knees wedged, shimmy out, conscious that slipping would have you pendulum-ing into the wall.
The top of the final 'pitch' has some of the most bizarre bolt placements I've ever seen. The previous pitch drops you onto a ledge (or near enough). Directly in front of you is the pitch, with a wall about 1.5m further out. On the left is a single bolt. About 5m away, over that 1.5m gap and on the far wall of the pitch are the bolts for a y-hang. I dithered for a long time trying to rig this. My position for reaching the bolts was to have my feet on the edge of the ledge and to lean backwards at like 45 degrees on the rope. I opted for a tight traverse line to the left-most bolt and then an alpine butterfly y-hang which didn't seem to cause anyone too much trouble in the end. Whilst I was rigging, Tanguy appeared, far off across the rift having his own rigging difficulties.
We met at the bottom at almost the same time. Tanguy and I waited for our groups to come down. His group were cold, throughly soaked and clearly traumatised by their trip through Spectacle. So bad was it that Tanguy had decided that no freshers should go out that way and instead just Will and I should go out to derig. After everyone had congregated we went our separate ways.
Will went up first and I followed. The bottom two pitches of Spectacle are perfectly pleasant. Relatively dry, quite long hangs. As we reached the top I said to Will that it's not so bad after all. But then we got to "The Wet Crawl". I found Will desperately shoving himself into a tiny rift unable to believe that the way on was in fact the small, mostly water filled gravelly crawl beneath. Will went ahead, occasionally asking if this really was the way on. At one point even declaring that it looked impossible to go any further. I had the benefit of Will's light to guide me but the burden of a full tackle sack. Push, wriggle, splutter, grovel, push, wriggle, splutter, wait, breathe deeply, splutter, push, wriggle. It was not very long but it was very tight. No turning your head tight. This made the end quite unpleasant. A puddle deepened such that half my mouth was underwater. Will had taken his helmet off to avoid this.
We popped out into a small chamber. Will asked me if I wanted the good news or the bad news. I said I wanted no news. The bad news turned out to be the crawl continuing for several more meters. I never did find out what the good news was. Following Tanguy's excellent directions (Bear right in the crawl after the chamber. There's an inlet that looks tempting straight ahead but you should go into the adjoining crawl on the right and then again right at the immediate junction despite this looking like the grimmer way) we found the 2nd pitch.
At the top the entrance to Splutter crawl is a climb up a ladder into a King-esque t-shaped passage. The floor quickly joins together and you are left with a merely unpleasant flat out crawl through water. At the very least the rock is smooth here. There's another pitch and then freedom. Will and I emerged into a light fog, just as the daylight began to fade. We walked (in the direction we faced as we exited the cave, thanks Tanguy) straight into the fog and a few minutes later we were scrambling down the hill to Braida Garth.
Jack and his group had been out for some time. "Where are your freshers?" he asked. Hahaha.
We changed, dumped a load of people at the NPC and then Jack and I returned to watch the horizon for Tanguy. An hour or so later he emerged. All his group safe and sound.
King Pot: Jack Hare, Kenneth Tan, Miriam North-Ridao
I don't like King Pot. There, I said it. I know that it's ICCC's favourite cave, the undisputed pure caving experience of Kingsdale, the greatest of all Yorkshire valleys. But I don't get what the fuss is about.
Admittedly, I did insist on going. Despite concocting the Vespers-Spectacle exchange, on the day I realised I'd quite like to try King again. The first time I went I got through the T-shaped passage, and the second time I didn't even get that far. Stories about the wonders to be found deep underground lured me back, and with an elite, hand-picked team we were the first to leave the minibus. Sure, it was Miriam's first SRT trip, but Will Scott had managed the same feat on Winter Tour and I was confident in her abilities. I'd optimistically packed all the rope and loads of maillons, figuring that Kenneth could just carry anything I couldn't be bothered with. This was a terrible mistake.
Up to the farmhouse, knock on the door, pleasant chat with the lady of the house, and then up the ridiculously steep hill. Kenneth was leading, and after one false shakehole we found the right way down. Kenneth dropped into the rift and immediately knocked his helmet, disabling the light. He called for help and I joined him, carefully wedging the battery case in wires down to pin the loose connection in place. Kenneth began to rig and Miriam joined me in the rift. The first pitch on King is a bit tight and an interesting introduction to SRT in caves that I'm sure Miriam appreciated.
Kenneth was still in the lead, but had found a grim crawl instead of the less obvious and slightly grimmer crawl that was the real way on. Some heavy thrutching later and we got to the traverse line, which is a lot easier than I remember. We'd brought rope for the traverse, but foolishly didn't leave our rope there, and instead opted to take it with us. This was the last thing in the cave that was easier than I remember.
So far, so grim, and we pushed our way through the sideways rift. I educated Miriam on the finer points of tackle sack passing, which helped Kenneth no end as he'd decided to dive into the rift with the rope bag behind him, and had become firmly anchored. He got to the second pitch and began to rig, and I took a few uninspired photos with the camera and flash Miriam had lugged for me.
The second pitch is straightforwards as well, and at the bottom we pushed on into the tight and wet passages below. It took longer than I remembered to reach the start of the T-shaped passage, so I entertained Miriam with tales of the rescue on the previous trip. She responded stoically, becoming slightly paler as the T-shaped passage approached. Kenneth hurled himself into the passage, thrashing his way through at a good rate of knots, until I asked him to slow down and wait to give Miriam some advice on the trickier bits.
I followed behind, humping my tackle sack into the alcoves on the left and right, finding the cunning places where the bag can go one way whilst you go the other. Miriam had a minor slip and I had to rescue the camera bag, so after that point I had to coordinate two bags, which was really quite tough. Exhausted, sweating profusely and with the beginnings of a headache from overexertion, I made it through to find the other two similarly knackered. It had taken thirty minutes since Kenneth entered for us all to get through.
After a long break we pushed on, further into King than I'd ever been. But wait! Where were the magnificent stals? The soaring caverns? The unicorns pissing lemonade from high ledges? It was just a measly streamway, unimpressive, undecorated, uninteresting. Why do people like King so much? If there's a payoff, it's not in the Queensway. We looked at the time and made a decision not to go into Canute's Canal and continue, but to stop and photograph the well decorated chamber at the end of the Queensway. This plan was foiled somewhat by my camera refusing to work. I'm glad I carried it through the T-shaped passage.
So out, out we went. The Queensway went quick, but the tension was building as we go to the start of the T-shaped passage. Knowing I'd probably end up carrying the camera bag, I carefully helped Kenneth stuff his tackle sack with as much stuff as possible, including the spare 25 maillons I'd helpfully packed for him. At this point we'd used three of the seven ropes we'd carried into King. Kenneth set off into the T-shaped, and what followed was reminiscent of a slaughterhouse run by particularly sadistic butchers. The noises coming from the passage, the mad flailing of Kenneth's wellies, the grunts of exertion and horror were almost too much to bear. Miriam and I sat quietly, horrified, barely able to move, until I finally plucked up the courage to timidly enquire "Are you okay, Kenneth?".
"No. The bag is too heavy." came his entirely accurate reply. He retreated back to us and I tried to pick up the bag. I couldn't even do it standing up, so who knows how he was supposed to heft it at arm's length onto a ledge. I took the maillons from the bag, and cleverly clipped them to my hips so that I didn't have to lift them with my arms. Kenneth set off again with rather less weight and quietly slipped through the start of the crawl. Miriam followed, and despite a small slip that left her standing vertically, was quickly through. Now for me, with a heavy bag and a fistful of metalwork on each hip.
I began to superman, stretching to become horizontal and pulling myself through on whatever handholds there were. I got the bag onto a ledge, and then focused on getting my body through. It's quite tight and also very high right at that point, and I pulled hard hoping to pop through in one go. Instead, there was an excruciating pain as the maillons on my hips dug in, wedging me into the rift. I tried to back up, but it was clear that I was stuck. I paused, and considered my fate. Another experimental tug, and more pain, but a little motion. Ah, I thought. I know what this is. It's a squeeze machine. So I ulled again, and the pain got worse, and I kept pulling and every time I thought my pelvis would snap in two or my hips would dislocate, but with one final pull I was through, the tightest squeeze since I came into this world, agony flooding my legs, but it was over. It being the first metre of the T-shaped passage. Fuck.
From ahead, Miriam called for help, but again all she needed was encouragement. Inch by inch I rept forwards, sweating and huffing and grunting, my head pounding, until eventually we made it to the far end, and Miriam and Kenneth sat in the small chamber whilst I lay panting on the cool rock. Again, only thirty minutes, but it felt far longer, and I was beat. We sat in silence, sipping the last drips of our water, until finally we continued on.
The journey out was a blur - nothing was particularly hard, and on the surface there was still daylight, and thick fog. We made it back to the minibus, surprised and somewhat concerned that we were the first out, but half an hour later Rhys arrived and told us what had happened.
Maybe the payoff in King is further than we got. Maybe the bit of cave I did is the payoff - perhaps I just don't appreciate a good cave. I'm not sure. But I don't feel the urge to go back to King any time soon. I'd rather go to Brown Hill.
Alum Pot: Isha Kaur, Jack Hare, Kelvin Choi, Kenneth Tan, Miriam North-Ridao, Rhys Tyers, Tanguy Racine, Will French, Will Scott
The sun was shining brightly on Sunday morning which helped us settle our views on Alum pot, and its open shaft. I’d never done the trip before, though the club had managed to go there twice in my absence. It was with great anticipation and all my photography kit that I boarded the minibus.
Zeugma count: 1
We drove off the NPC car eagerly and took the road to Chapel-le-Dale, circumventing Ingleborough. The Great Scar limestone was beautifully exposed on both sides of the road, and soon a house promising to host all the caves we could possibly want was seen by the side of the road. Much to my disappointment we did not stop, and carried on our north-easterly course, past a viaduct.
For a brief moment, to our left stood Whernside, to our right, in the distance loomed Pen-y-ghent, while Ingleborough cast its shadow upon us. We turned right and right again before parking on badly tarmac-ed bit of path. It was not very long before the group set off in the general direction of Ingleborough, where a group of trees huddled at the head of a dry valley. The path lead to a stream which hurled its waters down the open shaft of Alum. Due to the overhang, it was impossible to make out the cave underneath, so I waited for the big reveal.
The morning light bathed the eastern slopes of the mountain with crips winter hues, pale golds of the windburnt high grass leading to the charcoal grey summit. On top, a host of sheep on a blue pasture. The air felt warm though, like a promise of spring whispered in the breeze.
The entrance to Long Churn cave was found in a small enclosure, where a spring fed a sink twenty metres downstream. One by one, we walked along the slippery pavement and entered the cave proper. After a crawl so small I won’t talk about it, we joined a separate streamway, smaller this time which nicely led to a 2 metre clean washed climb down, at the bottom of which a bottomless pool swallowed the scouts who dared venture this far into the depths. Traversing along the pool, we approached the first pitch where a number of other cavers were busy rigging or derigging. There were two routes down the rift through which sunlight streamed from high above. Will Scott rigged the one, while Jack descended the other. I followed and landed on an uneven rubble floor.
The sun shone almost directly ahead, through a small waterfall, but the greatest surprise was the amount of greenery. Moss had grown on the shaft walls wherever sunlight touched them, and I ecstatic.
Zeugma count: 2
Where vegetation gave way to bare rock, a flat topped boulder offered a natural bridge between the two walls of the oblong pit. Underneath it, taking off from a hanging rebelay provided a 30m descent to the stream level.
I certainly felt more impressed by the drop I could see than I had been over the bottomless pits of real caves. From the vantage point, it was easy to contemplate one’s precarious situation, more so than when the bottom of the drop is shrouded in shadow. There was another thrill which I rarely enjoyed before, as the floor rushed towards me.
I was the first down this hang, and waited for the others to come down the two routes we rigged. I sat on my kneepads, which I had put on a convenient rock ledge by the water. It rushed down to the final drop into the cave proper, which connects with Diccan pot. Without the prospect of an exchange though, the very last section seemed worthless, so we left it at that – in fact we hadn’t brought the ropes in the first place.
Smoothly, we all ascended towards the fleeing sunlight. As Kenneth, Miriam and Kelvin were with me towards the head of the column we took Jack’s advice and explored the headwaters of the small streamway we’d joined above the free climb. Traversing over the Dolly Tubs, we soon found ourselves back into the main stream. Though I had no recollection of that part of the cave I assumed we were farther upstream than the resurgence in the entrance shakehole. I was proved right as sunlight could be seen not far away. We exited on our bellies, floating out of the cave to the delight of a very young caver and his dad.
Out in the sunshine we waited for the rest of the group for a few minutes, and decided to do a through trip, albeit a short one. By checking out the next shakehole upstream, we found another sink, which very quickly led to the junction we’d been standing at earlier. Another exit on our bellies, and we had our fill for the day!
Not long after, the rest of the party joined us on the moor, so we walked back the Alum stream, took a souvenir photograph and reluctantly made our way to the minibus, our hearts swollen with longing, so our wellies … with water.
Zeugma count: 3