It's not so large.
Alex and I had done the keen thing and arrived at the NPC a day before the rest of the crew. After the usual problem in choosing a cave (it was _rather_ wet), we decided to go and visit Bernie's and go and have a go at Large.
Rigged down the entrance, zipped down and found myself staring at an improbably narrow slot. Narrow and bendy, I knew that this was best tackled feet first so I started to gingerly try a few different combos: turned one way, turned the other, face up, face down. Eventually I decided that there was no easy way through, riggled my legs around and heaved myself through to start rigging. Soon I was at the bottom of the next pitch thinking "Thank Jahve for that!" (or something to a similar effect). Alex behind me is younger and more supple but he still had a hell of a jamorama and required a tad of rescuing from Andy. This second pitch is particularly beautiful in my opinion, dark rock scooped in a smooth shape.
At the bottom of this second cave a free climbable drop leads to the pitch, rigged off some dubious ceiling protection.
From here on the cave follows a stream, until a chamber is reached where the passage splits: to the right it goes towards the red herring series, to the right towards Arcadia. Arcadia does not contain any grass and pretty virgins but is rather a nasty collection of crawling misery, none of it particularly hard, still though I distinctly remember my boots coming off at one point and I think Alex's SRT kit came on and off a few times at least!
The reward at the end of the cave is Colossus: a mighty fine pitch indeed! I rigged it as dry as possible with some creative use of mud and reached the bottom. Again this is a fine pot with plenty of stal, impressive mud formation and an sinister calm atmosphere.
The way out was pretty uneventful: Andy derigged, no one got too stuck, we got changed to Ace of Base. Ace start to the tour! Tic!
The mission: reach Avalanche inlet, gain some experience of bolt climbing, explore the unclimbed aven, out for tea and medals. We entered the system down Bar Pot. A pair of "seasoned" cavers was making their way out as we arrived so we patiently waited for their exit. They rewarded our patience with a carabina: nice!
Though most of us had been there before we seemed to make a hash out of the route finding: in particular we decided to rig the second pitch from a great distance and ended up short of rope: poor Tim was left hanging whilst Jarv and Andy - who had come down Flood and were gonna get out of Stream - took the piss out of him. Anyways, soon the way down was rerigged and we were at the bottom. On the way to the main chamber we bumped into Jarv and Andy and had a hilarious accident involving a spooked bat who kept fluttering up and down the passage.
The main chamber was very impressive: all three waterfalls clearly visible and flowing rather hard.
We did not dither and got to Mud Hall: Lord, I love that place. There's something majestic about those soft muddy floors and the scale of it is impressive, also the collection of ancient ropes, chains and other "safety" equipment is so charming. If I had to chose a place to live in underground, it is definitely Mud Hall. Anyways. We quickly reached the Avalanche series and split: team drill took the lead followed by the Sherpas. The idea here was that we did not want to be slowed down waiting for Alex. This proved to be a mistake as:
a) Alex is quick
b) Once me and Tim reached the top of the second pitch of the series, there was no way for team Sherpa to continue the exploration of Shark tooth aven.
The Avalanche inlet series is a very pretty place in its own right: the first pitch goes straigh up from boulder chamber and
gains a narrow, keyshaped rift. After some thrutchy rift passage you reach a small waterfall with a fossilised copy of the Guardian date 197x (had news of war in Israel on it... sigh...). This can be climbed up and soon a most beauteous chamber is reached. The chamber sports a drip fed pool to one side with cave pearls and to the other a small wet inlet. A rope disappears to the top of the chamber 35 m up. At the top of the pitch the obvious way on is straight ahead toward shark tooth aven, but our mission was to traverse the top of the chamber to the right for ~5 m and gain the vertical rift which is visible from below.
The first technique we tried was to have Tim in a small alcove to the right of the pitch head belaying me. This proved to be most impractical: the top of the chamber is very narrow indeed and traversing over the top of the chamber is not only very exposed, but also lose, lacking sound rock for protection and generally unpleasant. Added on top of this our choice of belay was poor: I found myself crawling over Tim, tangled in rope, with hand holds coming off. It was therefore decided that I would rig a static traverse across. This was much easier, drill, fix bolt, clip in, continue. When I reached the calcite slope that leads to the start of the aven , I realised that drilling through this rock would not be possible. Luckily thanks to my long reach I could gain the opposite wall and managed to get a few bolts in. We decided that we would come back better equipped (we had run out of through bolts!) and that we would belay from the bottom of the aven, on the opposite wall.
We descended the pitch, left the static rope, dynamic rope in situ and made our way out. Way out unevenful: Alex distinguished himself by succesfully navigating out from the main chamber and before you can say "Gaping Ghyll" we were at the surface. Night was looming, it was extremely foggy, the walked back unremarkable.
Next day me and Tim went back with a crapload of slings and dozens of throughbolts. We reached our project, I traversed across, improved the belay on the far wall significantly (turns out you actually need to screw the plates on thoughbolts!) and made myself as cumfie as possible while Tim joined me. As soon as he was under the aven we swapped gear: Tim carrying two etrieres, the rest of the throughbolts, some carabinas, a static rope to leave in place should the lead be promissing, the dynamic climbing rope, a hammer and spanner: he was pretty laden! Boldy he gained the rift, which turned out to be a rather muddy piece of ****. My hanging belay was rather drippy and I kept shuffling to keep the circulation in my legs going, but my woes seemed nothing compared to Tim's. I suppose this is the tough school of bolting, learning as you go and with not too many spares he managed to ascend high enough on the rift to realise that it leads to... a bedding plane about 5 cm high. Disappointed he fixed the last through bolt, clipped in and let himself be lowered by me. I followed him out taking everything behind except the through bolts.
All in all, even though it was disappointing for our first foray into bolt climbing to be unsuccesful we learnt several useful things: etrieres should if possible be _proper_ steps, quality quickdraws are an idea, you will need tons of tape, especially if you plan on traverses. Also it was very satisfying to get the job done: well done Tim!
The trip out was a real Golgotha: we were both a tad tired and were carrying a lot of stuff. Still we got everything out and made it back to town without significant disasters.
We gave Alex a rigging trip. He did fine. They made me carry an 11 mm rope WHICH WE DID NOT EVEN USE!!! It was an amazingly clear and beautiful day.
Aquamole is a nice cave. I'd like to go back. Tic!
My hope of the great Easegill traverse failed to materialiase as noone felt like thy could navigate Pippikin. I was all pumped on climb juice and was like: cummmmmmoooooon! In reality it turned out to be a super trip: Jarvist navigated through the cavern with great skill and the whole trip was the perfect Christmas day trip, challenging yet not too tiring and utterly beautiful.
Top Sink is a beautiful piece of cave: a heavily meandered meander with tuns of water and plenty of excitement! At the bottom of the first pitch we met Tetley and his Oxford pal Gavin. Tetley was not smocking and I think his chest was heaving with the breathlessness of trying to outcave his chum: haaaa the follies of age! Anyways soon we reached Nagasaki chamber and the eary rock of ages: an enormous boulder suspended by some mystical force.
The first stop of the trip is to visit Easter grotto an amazingly decorated grotto with scores of straws. This is where we sh are some festive satsumas: Merry Xmas Jana and Jarv!
Soon we are back to Assembly hall and climb down. Jana has some difficulty with the tall person route and is graciously transported down on yours truely's back: gnarly! We quickly gain the river and make our way toward Stop Pot via Holbeck Junction. From Stop Pot we zoom out towards Lancaster down the wet way. The stream is absolutely wonderful, I fall in a few pools and spend all my time thinking: is it better than the OFD stream? The verdict: no, better decorated but not as so sporting nor matching the quality of that fantastic black welsh rock.
Once at Lancaster we bump into a couple who are taking a wee trip down Lancs on Crimbo. I "help" them derig and we soon are out in the surface, in ample time to return to the farm and help cooking a festive meal. Tic!
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