Ben Honan, Bogdan Galilo, Celia Tinsley, Christina Picken, Isha Kaur, Jack Hare, Jarvist Frost, Jim Evans, Kenneth Tan, Rhys Tyers, Saber King, Tanguy Racine, Will Scott, William French
Ireby Pot: Jack Hare, Ben Honan, Celia Tinsley, Bogdan Galilo
Large Pot: Rhys Tyers, Tanguy Racine, Will Scott, Kenneth Tan
Morning breakfast, tea, conversations. The plan for the day was to explore the Marble Steps area, with two trips going down that cave, another group in Ireby Fell and a last group visiting Large Pot. We drove up Masongill lane and parked by the barn, where we changed into our gear. Kenneth, Rhys, Will S and I had elected to go to Large pot, and quickly we were all ready to go, with Darren drums filled with flapjacks and chocolates.
We walked up the dirt track heading north till we reached a bend in the path. Following the description we carried on up, keeping the stonewall to our left until the steep ascent gave way to a more level fell. Little Pot was fenced off, and the entrance to Large Pot was found nearby in a shallow sinkhole. We lifted the lid off and Kenneth set about rigging the first pitch, backed up on naturals.
At the bottom, some ten metres below a mixture of iron tubes and bars were bracing the excavated material, preventing it from choking the tight continuation. A S-bend, with an inclined floor led to the constricted head of the second pitch. The shaft enlarged slightly towards the bottom, enabling one to turn-around. Landing on a platform overlooking Thornton hall, we carried on to the bottom of the roomy chamber after two easy drops.
From there, going downstream in a stooping but spacious rift led to a junction. The obvious continuation of the rift, the Red Herring series is given ample attention in the Black Book. On the left, a short dry crawl leads to the ‘the Pit’, a short descent/ascent into the continuing crawly passage. Will rigged two of our ropes to limit the wear on the in-situ ropes and led on, following the description. We passed Anal Inlet on the right, and carried on in the Secret Seven passage until we had the option of bypassing a tight sideways rift by a slightly damp crawl. I opted for the crawl, the other three the rift and rejoined five metres afterwards at a crossroads. Downstream on a pebbly and well decorated crawl was the way on. The passage twisted and turned until we broke into Fissure Aven.
There the description specified two options: an awkward roof tube and a sideways crawl. As the tube was the most obvious way on I encouraged Will to go there, promising to help out with his bag which he dragged behind him. Head first: the tube bent towards the right until it intersected the continuing rift at a right angle. The tube broke onto a tight pit. Passing this obstacle involved some contortions, in order to avoid plunging headfirst in this pit. After backing out a little to put my knees in a better position, I was able to put both feet in first and carry on sideways.
The rift became much muddier and draughtier in this section. Tight calcited squeezes, interspersed with ‘quickmud’ pools. Little standing room on the way, until we reached a large junction. We climbed down into the descending, widening passage until walking on angular boulders coated in moomilk where the water cascaded down. Around a corner, the black space of the Colossus pitch awaited us. The moonmilk formation was scarred where the ladder and thick ropes had once provided the descent into this fine pitch. The water wept down those deep gouges.
After a flapjack stop, Will Scot started rigging the monster drop (42m, straight hang), placing the traverse to the top of the pitch first under Rhys’s supervision, then under mine as the latter took photos. With the rope secure, Will started the descent, slowly swinging and rotating. I followed him down, bridged the drop at the top to release my cowstails, and descended.
At the bottom, the rather cylindrical drop breaks into the Necropolis, a large boulder strewn chamber. Rhys stood a the top of the pitch, Kenneth in the middle section, carrying the flash for a quick photo session. Soon, both came down and looking at the time, we decided to start turning around. I went up first, followed by Will. Rhys came after, letting Kenneth derig. We waited at the moonmilk cascades until all together we tackled the muddy rift.
One by one we tackled the obstacles: mud pools, roof tube, pebbly crawl, ‘the Pit’. Will took over the derigging at Thornton Hall, I staying just above him. Kenneth and Rhys waited for us at the top of the second pitch. It was important to ascend the pitch facing the wall where the anchor was, as there was not much room to turn around at the very top. This being said, Kenneth and Will managed it through involved acrobatics. Will did a wonderful job at derigging this awkward Second Pitch, and at around 5pm, all four of us were out on the surface.
I’m not sure I would do this exact same trip again: anything done below the Second Pitch is committing. Exploring the Red Herring series is an option, though it is not fitted with Eco-hangers all the way down according to the 2008 Black Book.
Marbles Steps (Sidewinder): Jim Evans, American#1, American#2, Chicken
Marble Steps (Direct / Gully): Jarv, William, Maniesha, Saber
“I have never been to St. John's Wood. I dare not. I should be afraid of the innumerable night of fir trees, afraid to come upon a blood red cup and the beating of the wings of the Eagle.” - GK Chesterton
I have a very vague memory of having been to Marble Steps many years previously on my first ever SRT trip. It was wet, very wet, and the club kit was shit, very shit. Clewin rigged down past a booming waterfall, adding a deviation from a patch of mud to make it safe. I followed up the rear, inexperienced and frankly petrified. I abseiled down to the height of the deviation, clumsily locked myself off, and inelegantly started pulling myself in. The deviation failed, hung for a road-runner like moment in space, before whistling on its carabiner down the pitch rope; and I was suddenly flying so gently, as I pendulum'ed across the shaft inextricably towards the waterfall. The waves parted and took me in. The situation was bad, very bad. I remember forcing my eyes open against stinging rivulets of water, and seeing nothing in the dim glare of my FX3 other than a sheet of water running off my helmet. Chilled and breathing through a gaping mouth I held open and down to avoid inhaling water, I abseiled down as safely and as quickly as I could managed. I stumbled out of the waterfall and found myself alone in a chamber, shocked and disorientated with an ice-cream headache. I caught up the other fresher, and Clewin, who was busy rigging the next pitch. We decided to abort, and bottom-belayed Clew as he climbed the waterfall to reattach the deviation. On the way back to the minibus, chilled to the bone and very very thankful to be outside inspite of the rain and the wind and the dark, I walked home with short painful steps, not knowing to loosen my confining and back-bending chest harness.
... In the intervening years, when discussing Marble Steps in Greenclose as a possible club trip destination, Dave Wilson had often started muttering something dark about 'The Intestines', while squinting slightly with a grimace and suddenly developing a tick. Stories of prior trips fighting their way out Stink pot against a flood pulse were also sobering. ...
Between these two aspects I've never been massively motivated to return. How wrong I was though!
Marble Steps is a fantastic club trip. By comparison, it's essentially a better version of Jingling with multiple routes down; and then interesting pitches (we didn't visit) at the bottom, following a small and flood prone rift. So there's a lot of string to play with, and exchange trips to make while collecting SRT experience, with some fun at the bottom for a more experienced subset of those on a trip. The description as to location is a bit vague; the cave is simply in the near edge of a little copse of trees, in the field to the left of the Masongill pumping station. There is a stile just beyond the pumping station, which (Sept 2016, after Eurospeleo) follows an absolute motorway of a footpath past Rift Pot and to Marble Steps.
Multiple SRT routes are present in an open shaft with takes the (dry) river flowing through the trees. It obviously responds very badly in the wet, with the rift leading off the main shaft (+ sidewinder pitches etc.) showing flood debris. I wouldn't mess with it in the wet. That said, even when it's raining you could probably have some fun dangling on string down the Sidewinder, and making use of the vast number of in-situ tat for deviations on the far wall of the 'main chamber'. The 'main chamber' is in quotes, as it's not really a chamber - just a small area of boulders at the bottom of the open shaft; so don't expect to arrive at anywhere impressive!
However, this Saturday was dry, and though a storm was forecast for 6PM, the morning was clear and windy. Changing at Masongill, a slight problem was discovered. Namely that I didn't have a helmet! This is where 13 yrs of club caving experience gets you.
I wandered over to Jim, who had separately driven up in his van and brought our two American visitors. His van smelt suspiciously of petrol. He had a spare helmet! Also, he had a desktop computer and a unicycle in the back of his car, a few bike helmets and much miscellany. Oh - wait a second, they didn't have a spare. In fact, they were a helmet down too! So Jim and I drove back to Greenclose, liberated a fistful of helmets, and brought our bag of spare kit. Back to the minibus in not much time at all, the non-Marble-Steps A-teams had all departed for their grim and dark holes. Saber was partially dressed, and welcomed the arrival of the spare kit. Unfortunately - fools! There wasn't a pair of size 11 wellies between all the bags. He had one on his right foot, but couldn't find the matching lefts, only more rights.
Even more curiously, I couldn't find our third rope bag. The two entrance ones were where I'd left them after fettling and checking this morning, then loading into the bus (el Pres Ben had packed all the rope during the week - wicked!). But the third? Also - even more curiously, there was a massive pile of assorted rope sitting on a minibus seat. Slowly, oh so slowly, I put together what must have happened.
One of our sister trips had obviously realised our predicament. If we went to the bottom of the cave, we would overexert ourselves, leaving little time for evening frivolity, which is where the true enjoyment of caving resides. They had liberated our tackle sack, thereby preventing us from from experiencing the horror of Stink pot, and saving the majesty of the final pitch for another day. Their generous and selfless sacrifice will not easily be forgotten.
Setting off with our two rope bags, we ambled our way to the entrance. It's the most obvious place for a cave in the field, right at the end of a little track of forest, which carries a dry stream. We rigged our way down on the many P-bolts, Jim teaching the Americans SRT while I chatted with Chicken about the rigging. I continued off down the main shaft (Gully route), barely needing to use the deviations. Some of the bolts were just sole Ps, too-slackly rigged as L-hangs, where a couple of plates (hangers) would be really useful to make it a much more elegant Y-hang. The main chamber was not massively impressive, other than to look at the deviations for Jim's route, and to look back up to the day light echoing off white walls. The lower main chamber has a nice little drop into it, and then a careful freeclimb (you may as well stay low rather than traversing) to get to the head of the next climb / pitch, which we rigged of a Chockstone and two P-bolts (the guide calls for 10 m, 20 m would give you more flexibility and protect the traverse off the climb). There was an in-situ rope leading off and up (into a dig?). And hour and twenty since we started, and we were out of rope. Hmmph.
Everyone down, we set off along the obvious (currently dry) rift. This clearly gets to be quite a scary place in the wet; a large open shaft seems to funnel everything down here. At the head of Stink pot (which is really quite narrow - spot the P-bolt in the ceiling!), we doubled-backed and went down to a mud-sump. There was flood debris everywhere, clearly this backed up by +4 m and then flowed down Stink. There wasn't much else to do other than turn at this point; we met Jim's group at the main chamber. They'd had a scary bit of fury 9mm packed for them (brand new, but canyon'ed on the recent trip), so had minimally rigged off their backup rope to get down. We swapped some partners, and William derigged out of Sidewinder while I led the Americans out the direct 'Gully' route. Back on the surface eventually, and having collected up tackle. Just Jim and Chicken with the last ropes and bags. But wait a second, had another tackle sack disappeared? A conference and a double count, and unfortunate news: there was a bag missing. We thought it was Jim's, not noticed in the lower chamber after having swapped caving partners. Chicken and Jim very nobly immediately started rigging their way back down.
With time to kill, we sat on the edge of the woods; looking down to the coast, across the sea and to the hills beyond. It was really quite pleasant in our caving furries, the dales just turning to autumn. Saber kept us entertained with his many crazed and expansive plans. His car, which when the ABS was on the blink, limited him to 40 mph. His suggestion that we get a caving club dog; to be kept in stores and fed on old Mars bars, and brought up to Yorkshire for moments apres-cave like this. While inspecting his feet, Saber had figured out the mystery of the wellies. He was wearing the left on his right, and the right on his left - he had started by putting the wrong welly on his right foot (or is it the right welly on his wrong foot?).
We wandered back to the van, and were just finishing getting changed in the light when the other teams returned, leaving the Americans to await Jim, Chicken and the missing tackle while we returned to Greenclose to cook.
Just before going to bed Chrissie offered me to go to Gaping Ghyll with Aleks and David, both visiting US cavers. She had ropes packed for the Small Mammal entrance, one I had not done yet. I accepted, and so woke up at 7am for a quick breakfast.
By 8am we were ready to go, Rhys kindly gave us a lift to Clapham, where we changed into our caving kit. Aleks and David kept their hiking boots and coats on, carrying the SRT in a bag to the cave entrance. As we passed the reservoir a slight drizzle started coming down, but it was a short spell, as soon blue sky appeared from the south and the rain stopped. We walked up the nature trail, a first for me. Seeing Trow Gill in the sunlight, climbing up along the winding valley until the mass of Ingleborough appeared above the stone walls was a gratifying experience. On the fell a sharp nippy breeze picked up, washing the sky clean.
I started rigging the entrance pitch while the rest finished changing. A traverse kissing both walls led to an open ‘Y’-hang straddling the pitch. As the lights appeared I descended into a boulder chamber. I explored for the way on, finding a well trodden route underneath the chamber to a series of connected, muddy and pebbly spaces. The most obvious way on stopped at a large calcite flowstone. Once we were all down, I climbed up the formation into a roof crawl. It was rather snug.
Aleks found that the way I had gone in was too tight for her, so she backed out, and after David had found an alternative way to negotiate the crawl, followed him. The crawl popped into another rabbit warren of ways through boulders. Slipping underneath a boulder led immediately to the Greasy Slab. From then on, we followed the same route as the usual Bar Pot. Christina rigged the rope for the second pitch into South East? passage. We traversed across the landing of the last pitch of Flood entrance, and crawled to the Main Chamber.
When we reached it there was an eruption of cries and shouts: light streaming overhead, a dancing waterfall, sunlit drizzle, the usual roar. David took a few photos while we ate flapjacks on the sandy bank. Sadly it was soon time to turn around and we made a swift exit of the cave.
We arrived at the crawl, where Christina remarked that David had not attached the little blue camera bag to himself while going over the crevices. Sod’s law was verified soon after as a loud curse, repeted many times was heard across the crawl. We decided to regroup in the following chamber to take a course of action.
The calcite flowstone was separated from the rift wall by a human sized space, in which the bag had fallen some six or seven metres. There were plenty of natural back-ups to rig a rope from. Rigged as a pitch, the drop would have been as tight as the take-off of Large Pot, hence doable but intimidating. By climbing down as far a reasonable I had been able to see the bag, stranded on a ledge, so I secured myself to the rope, descended, grabbed the bag and ascended the improvised pitch. Doing it felt far easier than first considered and soon we were on our way out again.
Back on the surface, golden sunlight dappled the fells, a beautiful sight. We walked down the hill to Clapham, in high spirits. Arriving at the end of the Ingleborough nature trail, we received notification that Ben had been unable to leave Peterson’s pot. We walked to the NPC which we reached shortly after 5pm. The minibus arrived a couple of hours later.
The drive back was uneventful, being shared by three drivers, and we reached Beit Quad by 3:30am.
Link to Mistral: Jarv, Loads of people [Jarvist Frost, Will Scott, William French, Saber King, Celia Tinsley, Isha Kaur
Rhys drove us to Bullpot Farm. It seemed obscenely early, and I didn't feel like I'd had enough sleep. I had a vague plan to take a few people down Mistral with some rope, and look at the lower-pitches of Pip (below the Hall of the Ten). This was looking slightly difficult as the club hadn't brought any plates to Yorkshire; and nor was there a single one in the NPC tackle store (they'd just had a club trip to the Vercors, so fair enough!). Also, having left with some haste in the morning, I wasn't entirely certain who was coming with me. As Rhys and Jack shot off to Peterson with Ben, I was slightly aghast to count and realise that we were a group of seven. Maybe it would have been nicer to have a trip down Aygill with such a group - and get some SRT practice in for the less experienced members, but - arghh - we didn't have any extra rope in the minibus!
So, having given time for everyone to put their gear on, we set off across the fell. It rained, and then was sunny; very much summer on the turn. I pointed out Lancs and the route to Cow, we walked over the last bump and the new stile, then across to Link. We also didn't have any laminated guides this weekend, so I'd photographed the relevant pages of NFTFH for the trip description on my camera. 200 m down the beck from Link, should be Mistral. Fine. I had carefully remembered to bring my GPS on this trip, and ensure it had the Northern Caves waypoints ready on it. However, due to an arrogant wish to refresh the memory of where all the entrances were without assistance, I had left it in the minibus. So I led a wild goose chase. Not very far down from Link there was a massive dry stone wall, and a shaft with an insitu rope rigged on a scaffold bar wedged across the drop. It was quite an impressive construction - but definitely wasn't Mistral, which I remembered as being almost a rift in the side of a cliff that pops out. (Actually, this was Mistral - they've built a dry-stone wall around it larger and more impressive than Link, which somehow makes it seem more like an SRT pitch than before!) I was certain it was some exciting new dig or interesting other cave. So continued down the valley. We were soon wading through Bracken that wasn't there in the winter months, while we looked for entrances under the still green trees and on the cliff edge. After having done more like 400 m (and nearly being at Kirk Pot!), we turned around, looking for Mistral but planning to go down Link as an alternative. On the way back we somehow collectively managed to miss Link, and end up all the way at the crashing of Cow Dubs! We returned down the valley, and this time found Link. God knows how we missed it. But, to be fair, other than burning through an hour of time, it was a beautiful walk and fun to have a look at the little digs and blown up rifts! This also saved us from going caving before midday.
I rigged Link, clipped off the bag and called the others down. We were taking a while to assemble, so I took some time to explore around the Link chamber back and forwards, and orientate myself relative to the trip description. Usually you pass through Link at such speed on your way to somewhere else, there's little time to enjoy the actual cave nearby.
Once all down, we set off in the vague direction of Mistral, the joy of Link Crawl. We had a brief discussion about how to cave in large groups: namely always wait for the person behind (until you can see each other's lights), particularly if you are at a junction or in anyway unsure about the route, never rush to catch the person in front, as you can assume that they will always wait up. The crawl continued and started to get low as we approached the Wet Wallows. There was a fair stream flowing through here, after the heavy rain during the night.
I chatted to everyone I was in contact with, as to whether people fancied giving it a go. Everyone seemed quite up for it, and so I set off on my back, moving some of the cobbles as I went and only getting one ear wet. I was pretty soaked - but the water wasn't too cold. I had a pretty nasty experience here a few years ago. I was caving with Andy and Tetley; we were an extremely experienced team doing Top->Pip (though we ended up going out Mistral, as we weren't certain we'd found the bottom rope in Pip and didn't want to end up in Bye George / Peterson). It had been a lovely day of caving, but it was December, so wet and cold. We were surprised the Wormway (under Easegill Beck) was open. I led into the Wet Wallows, and didn't really notice them particularly; I just headed off on my front, mentioning to those behind that it was getting a bit wet and low. It looked more than large enough, but I hadn't reckoned on the little cobbles under the muddy water. Thrashing through, I suddenly realised I was stuck, my Croll grinding to a stop. I also now had my mouth, nose and one scrunched up eye under water. This was not a good situation. But to be fair, nor was it particularly bad - I had a full breath of air, could probably twist to breathe, could probably back out, and if I started moaning, I'm sure Tetley or Andy would be dragging me out by my boots before you could say "drowned in a puddle". Still, I thrashed my way forwards with the grinding of aluminium on limestone and scampered up into the cross rift. The icy cold water was shocking, and I was still buzzing as Tetley and Andy turned up, cool as cucumbers having wriggled through on their backs.
I was therefore fairly concerned about the less experienced cavers considering how I had managed to screw it up myself, so after shaking a bit of water off, backed down to the main rock arch of the Wet Wallows, and found I could insert myself into a dry-ish side passage, and so offer encouragement and direction as individuals came through the rock arch (on their backs! Carefully! Calmly!). I also busied myself moving a few cobbles and getting the wallows to drain a bit faster, but I don't know whether it actually made any difference. The rest of the cave progressed in a speedy blur. I had forgotten the elbow-deep crawl just before Dusty junction. A quick stop for a group photo at Dusty, and then followed our noses out of Mistral, picking up the exhalation of Easegill and following it to... the dry-stone walled climb we had ignored twice earlier! Back to Link, and I did a little dance where the tackle sack was happy to shuffle back into the pitch and be hauled up. Derig, and off we headed back to the minibus. It was obscenely early, about 2PM. I was looking forwards to a nice chill time, a spot of food at Greenclose and an early return to London. As we climbed up onto the hill, I looked back towards Leck Fell house and noticed that the sheep in an intermediate field were scattering, disturbed by some wolf or caver. I wondered what the kerfuffle was about.
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