CNCC Guide quotes rather short rope lengths (only had ~50cm spare on most pitches) and vastly underestimate number of maillons for a comfortable traverse of battleaxe.
After an alpine start (breakfast at almost 10.30 am!) we split into three groups: I and Dave would rush to Lost John's and start rigging the Dome route and the pitches below it, Paul, Ben and Alex would follow us down Dome while Jarv, Jana and William would rig down Centipede. Hopefully we'd all catch up somewhere near Battleaxe for the trip to the end, a spot of lunch & then an efficient escape.
After a bracingly cold and thankfully short walk to the cave entrance, the sight of the rift and the warm cave had an allure which is hard to convey: ahhhh back in the underworld after three weeks of confinement to the surface!
I had been to Lost John's on one of my first trips last year and was looking forward to rigging it: I remember thinking how the hell Andy could possible have rigged Battle-Axe traverse. The first section of the cave down the Dome Junction is a twisted rift which initially follows the course of the surface stream. The rigging did not seem to present any major difficulties and it was very useful to be able to pick Dave's head for "good practice" tips on how to measure out, adjust and set knots. Dome itself has an entertaining deviation and rift window in it. Dome Junction takes you down the last few metres to join up with the Centipede route.
Soon we descended the misteriously name "Candle and Shistol" and found ourselves at Battle Axe traverse: a canyon high above the streamway with a reputation for "airyness". It turns out that if you are 6' 6'' this section of cave does not actually present much of a challenge, especially since Dave's advice on the "twist twist" method of butterfly proved particularly efficient.
Once the traverse was tightly rigged I descended Valhalla: a very impressive chamber with a good (i.e. minimal) quantity of water and spray in it. It turned out at this point that the Ben+Paul+Alex team had caught up with us, so I let Dave finish the rigging for the sake of rapidity. The master system is somewhat different in character to the entrance series, or maybe the luxury of wandering around with no load and without the worry of rigging to slowly improved it for me!
Anyways after a well deserved fag break I had a wee wonder about upstream and downstream, taking in the odd upside down key shaped rift and observing the pretty formations. In both direction the water soon becomes deeper than my boots, which convinced me to wander back. By that point Jana Jarv and William had also made it down and we had a nice little picnic: malt loaf, real coffee (!) and sweeties all round.
At this point the teams split again: Dave and I decided our talents would be best spent "preparing dinner" (i.e. getting pissed and chopping veg), whilst the other two teams would ascend going the different way they came in and derigging.
At this point a tactical error was committed: Jarv decided to stay back to take some pictures. This meant that Paul, Alex and Ben would ascend via centipede (the shorter route) and have just two pitches to derig, while Jarv, Jana and William would have to drag out of the caves the 100+ m of comforting 11mm rope from the bottom two pitches, all the photogear and most of the food and drink. So while everyone else was wondering out at pace (my personal problem was to cool down enough after prussicking double speed - Mmmhhh Pantin!), Jana was hauling her weight and twice her volume in nylon.
So at 18:30 the three groups were either drinking beer in a centrally heated hut, getting frozen in the minibus (ice from breath condensate on the inside windows! -- Ed) or dragging tackle sacks. I feel that leaving with Dave was my best piece of decision making that day :D.
Dinner at NPC was particularly delicious and the company particularly good: it's nice to have the hut to oneselve's! After dinner we started a long discussion on how to tie and how not to tie knots. Alex in particular seemed to be rather keen on learning as many ways as possible to tie a Y hang (thankfully none suggested: thread the rope through both bolts and make a bowline!).
The other passtime was to decide what we wuold do the next day after waking up at 8 am. The suggestions ranged from King Pot, to Boxhead Lost John through trip... That night I fell asleep with my head throbbing from the number of wrong ways to tie everything, my stomach heaving from the monster quantities of beer , and my heart palpitating at the prospect of an alpine start and a full on sunday trip.
Lost Johns' is exactly the kinda of cave that I wish I had been taken to more as a fresher. Absolutely gob-smackingly impressive, but with kind SRT, a dry and secure exit and with no chance of getting lost on the Moor in a paper-thin furry. As a cynical old hand of weekend meets, I still really enjoy it - its still absolutely stellar, though this time I get to carry the rope!
Jana rigged down while Will and I loitered at the back. I had the better deal as I had plenty of photo gear to fiddle with, and an MP3 boombox in my Meander pocket to keep me entertained. I had never really appreciated Centipede by itself (generally being merely irritated by the 30m slog on the way out), but it really is quite nice.
Valhalla was super impressive as ever, very low water generally but still booming like anything. Took a few shots with my flash slave (Paul). The real coffee in the master cave (thanks to the club's battered Vango thermos) was luxurious! Jana and Will went exploring up stream, only to be turned back by an awful stench ('do you think a dead caver could be stuck in the sump?').
The rather heavy exit was... character building. It was only after reaching the top of Valhalla that we realised the predicament. Jana derigged till Dome, where I took over whilst she wrestled with her nemeis - the tackle sac containing the 'comforting' 11mm we had picked for Valhalla / Battleaxe now mixed with maillons & wet! Swinging out on Dome with two tackle sacs, and a midi sac with the photo gear, I attempted to prussic... something was caught... I look down for the offending flake which had clearly snarfled my footloop on caught on the bag... and see only empty space and the two Dragons.
LJs has many places that I want to poke my nose... the entire original route for starters, the rift leading off from halfway down Dome, the bottom of dome, Tate Lyle, considerations of scaling etc. Certainly requires a return soon.
I think the 'middle' team which waited in the minibus for an hour had it worse. We were low on fuel so they used the bare minimum of heater - there was ice on the inside of the windows at the back, with the engine thermometer reporting '-4C'. Many thanks to William for patiently waiting while we leaders swore, Jana for hauling a sac bigger than her and Kate Bush for keeping the spirits up on the grinding exit.
The view from the Leck fell car park was stunning... our wetsocks were freezing to the ground, but we could see the lights all the way down to Morecamb bay, and a lighthouse flashing across the way... Grade 3 (subzero, but little wind)
The tall speak of saturday night ended up in only three of us going caving, while everyone else visited Inglesport. We guesstimated the rope lengths required for Yordas from the ladder lengths required to two 30 metre ropes. Dave described in great detail the cave for me and we set off. I immediately forgot every word I was told but somehow reached the entrance.
The entrance follows a crack to the side of a river, after a short traverse in the crack, a clear hang is reached over the shallow river below, a few metres below another short drop reaches the end of the opening series. We rigged both these with a 30 m rope, though in retrospective two tens would have been better. Also the second drop could have been rigged off an odd P bolt in the ceiling affording a perfect hang, and testing the bolt in an... err.. unusual way.
Paul's mind had unfortunately been fried by Dave's "how not to tie a knot" session the night before and I found myself rigging again. After a stoopy crawly wet section of passage we reach the start of the second pitch: here the water collect into a steep sequence of cascades, two routes are immediately obvious: one follows the water and a line of P bolts traverses above.
The route through the water is clearly suicidal and only suited to horny salmon, so I started rigging the higher traverse. This route is actually quite interesting: the bolts are rather well spaced and the walls - though full of features and holds - are not too close together. After 4-5 bolts the line of bolts ends, leaving a clear hang over the first waterfall, so I start descending beconing William to follow me up. Unfortunately the pride of a beatifully rigged traverse line made me blind to the fact that after a first waterfall, a second one came in right over the rope. I quickly glanced for bolts (there was a line with 4-5 of them behind me) or for a deviation (endless potential, shame I had run out of tapes!) without fining any.
I decided that a few meters of watefall could not be soooo bad. Soon I found myself hit by a powerful hose of liquid ice and descended the last few metres at pace, hoping that 30 m would be enough. Soon I got out of the water and observed William and Paul following through the stupidly rigged, freezing route. Apologies all round.
At the bottom of this pitch we explored a little in the main chamber at the bottom, a strangely square room with ancient looking formations and some horrible, muddy passages. This room is also open to the outside world, so we decided that Paul and William would get out and wait for the minibus while I derigged.
For some unfathomable reason I decided to prussick up through the waterfall and derig rather than walking up the hill and derigging from above. On the positive side I learnt a useful lesson on why one should never ascend though freezing water, on the down side the derig was singularly unpleasant, but thankfully short.
James Kirkpatrickrequire('../footer.php'); ?>