There comes a time in every man's life when he is suddenly faced by a question of just what in hells name he is doing. For me this came as I abseiled down the Steel pipe entrance shaft to Stream. We had wandered over Lekk fell for a good hour, over-taking the fell wanderers with their polystyrene seats as we slogged along with our heavy rope. The view was glorious, with the Yorkshire peaks dotted around & fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky. The main Gaping Ghyll drop was beautiful, with a far old stream running over the lip & down the 80m shaft. With such a pleasent sunny winter day, seeing the perfect circle of sky shrink to a pinprick as I abseiled down something barely bigger than my shoulders belayed to a rotting wooden post all seemed rather perverse - why on earth was I going underground again?
But of course, a few minutes later I was back into my stride. There is something very particular about leading at the front of a trip, though the caves in the UK are extremely well explored, you can't help but think you're finding this for the first time yourself. For the most part you still have to trust your nose and poke your head down cracks in the floor & around boulders to find something likely. After more than a few minutes of solo exploration, I tutted to the waterfall and climbed back up the entrance pitches to shout at 'Brokeback' Lyndon & Sandeep to get a move on. This was going to be a faff-tastic trip.
Next pitch was easily found - follow streamway, suddenly find yourself presented with a BLOODY BIG HOLE after executing a few exciting clamber downs, backup & find the roof-high traverse over the top & to a nice Y-hang. I rigged to Y-hang, Deep dropped the pitch. Around this time, we were caught up by the abortive Diahedral party, who had picked up a NPC/CUCC member called Mark, found wandering around Lekk fell looking for a bit of underground action.
Pitch series obvious; some nice formations on way back up. Middle pitch was distinctly wet on take-off. Rope was a little short for last chamber, but by swinging around & standing upon a boulder, a way to get off the rope was found. Once freed of a cavers weight, the elastically nylon statched it back up, leaving it just within jumping distance - a close call!
Next chamber consisted of a gauntlet under multiple waterfalls, plenty of practice in underground sprinting. Waterfalls are depicted so romanatically, always beautiful sheets of water with damsels behind them. The reality is rather less pleasent, cold water falling from such a height is going pretty fast & hard by the time it reaches you, inevitably forcing itself down the back of your oversuit & jarring you to the core! But I guess after all those damsel daydreams, a cold shower is called for.
Quick dash to try and meet Bar Pot lads, when in a chamber faced with either sliding between rocks to your right or continuing along what becomes an ever deepening canal, go for the rock - the canal leads nowhere & will merely fill your wellies with rather unpleasent brown water! Ahem. Got to the main chamber with no sign of Bar party; so marvelled at the constantly-snaking waterfall crashing down from the heavens, stood in a dead sheep before retreating to eat a Christmas pudding at the far-warmer Bar T-junction. The main chamber is truly impressive; the largest in Britain and with a beautiful boulder-strewn floor. It gives off the feeling of intruding on some Suburbia-living giant's tacky water feature, a bug clambering over gravel while dodging the torrential trickle from above.
Exit in two 'pulse trains' (ahh, you can tell we're IC cavers..) of three & four cavers, smoothly done except for the lack of a derigging spanner! Not an enormous issue, as cave fully P-bolted, but some of the loaded Maillons were pretty unpleasent for Tom to undo by hand.
Emerged into a beautiful clear-skyed night, the stars looking splendid to our darkness-adapted eyesight. Tom had a bottle of some delicious exilior from which we all sipped. It may have only been lemon squash, but after the dead sheep put oneself off drinking the water, it felt so nice. Moor was scrunchy underfoot, the puddles shattering as our heavy wellies clumped home. Long bimble back to Clapham was euphoric, Owls hooting as they hunted around the lake - stars fantastically clear. Back in time to quickly change beside the frozen-up minibus, before rescuing the others from the pub & attempting an ad-hoc defrosting of the windshield before returning to the NPC.
Curry was on the menu, and everything was going so well until Lyndon made the mistake of taking counsel from Sandeep on the subject of how much chilli powder to add. It was barely edible for the rest of us, though we struggled on regardless! Probably the first time ever that there's been slop left over...
If you thought that you knew what faff was, it was just redefined by this trip.
Disgusted at the horror of having to pay over three quid each to walk the Waterfalls with car-loads of fat Americans for whome the walk truly was 'Warning: Extremely Strenuous', we set off up a footpath towards Kingsdale. Investigating the fields we usually zoom past in the Minibus, we found ourselves (entirely by chance) wandering in the direction of the Waterfalls past quizzical sheep. Finding ourselves at a rather challenging gradient, we clambered down in our walking boots & rather shockingly found ourselves deposited on the disgustingly manicured (concrete layed down on top of the bare limestone - yuk!) Waterfalls path. Stumbling back towards Ingleton, we scowled at the unfortunately empty ticket gatehouse.
Back in the safety & comfort of Bernies, we finalised what to spend our equipment budget on, while quaffing pints of tea. Left Yorkshire as dusk fell - with 10'000 strong swarms of black birds circling above in amazing ever-changing patterns.
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