I am writing to you from a train on my way back from the ICCC may bank holiday weekend trip to the ?Yorkshire Dales. I'm aching, my hands feel so raw I have difficulty typing, I'm still mostly filthy but I feel satisfied in a mystical way, reunited with whatever part of me is made happy by caving. There have been aesthetic moments, like gazing at the reflection from my lights in the wet passages of king pot. There is the companionship of a strenuous trip, dividing food out and sharing the load. There are also moments of peace and quiet, begin alone in a passage with no sound bar water trickling down, and moments of exhilaration such as being in Rowten looking down at my companion's lights disappearing into the darkness and knowing with sickening certainty that soon it shall be my turn.
Changed in the sun at BPF, looked in through the window but the hut was empty. Shot to Lancs, rigged the rope (2 others already) and checked that it reached the bottom and everything. Then cross-country to reach Top, whose scaffold shoring really is on its last legs. Shooting underground on this familiar path, I noticed the occasional rub of water that seemed no native origin - someone was here recently! Rattle rattle from the croll going over the scallops as we approached Walrus, the swing into the crows nest and then clamber to the deviation, followed by a speedy descent through the inevtiable spray. Hiding round the corner with the pitch rope in my hands, ready to bottom belay. The further fettle to Penknife, now mostly crawling, banking through the constant turns below the worst of the squeeze. A quick zip down the tiny pitch, teeny bit more crawl before popping into the maze of little chambers. There many times before, we're straight down to the lovely pretty area with the cascade, the over-the-top climb alternative and a little waterfall dropping in, just right for lapping with a tongue. Almost immediately at Limerick junction, spiral into the ceiling and then ziz-zag through the fairy steps to gain the Rock of Ages. Carefully pick our way around enormous jammed boulders and the mud climb over the heap in the centre (want more footholds? smear a bit more on!). Along the rift and then through the rabbit hole onto the rather concerning climb down into the Assembly rooms (concerning as there's plenty of footholds, but they're all over hangs and it never feels very safe with muddy wellies!). Pop up into Easter grotto to eat our cheese pittas, miraculously unscathed inspite of their minimal protection thanks to Tim's deft tacklesac draggage.
Zip down the climb / abseil, and into the whiteway, through the stal curtain and onto Holbeck junction. Really quite low water conditions - strange as Top itself was fairly damp! Boulder hop, to that lovely little whirlpool going into Double decker, hop hop hop and hop to Stop Pot. Up and over, clambering over boulders, walking around boulders, walking on mud, then the strange Minarets, bear right and the mud slide to more hop hop hop, find the magic rock with the rope leading off to drop down into the stream. Now powering along with the water (fairly ample) behind us, we cruise to find ourselves at Stake. For a bit of a change, and since it avoids the waist-deep plunge pools, we headed up into Montague East. Tried to drop down rather too early into an exciting hole, before continuing to Fall, up the rope climb, and out to Lancs. Light up top, we were soon on surface and the cave derigged. Somewhere around 7-8hrs all in, not bad considering it was Leo's first trip!
Getting changed outside the farm, a 2-person (husband/wife?) team returned looking rather muddy - they'd just done Top-Pip, starting just in front of us.
Got back to the NPC to discover to our joy that the members had a surplus of Curry, and would we prefer to eat this rather than cook ourselves? I don't think we've ever managed to put some extra rice on so quick! The Naan was a particular treat, and the Dave W (?) concocted veggie curry a delight, though I offended the cook by topping with cheese (for the calories!).
On Sunday Leo, Andy and I ventured down King Pot. We were to form the advance rigging party for an all out assault on this fine cave. After finding the correct shake hole we dropped into the slot and quickly descended the first two pitches, Leo was having some difficulties with the tight pitch heads and after reaching the traverse he wisely decided that that day was not a caving day for him and decided to exit. We accompanied him to the entrance, left him precise directions for Ingleton, the NPC, Whernside and the Marton Arms and quickly descended again.
Soon after the traverse comes a short and straightforward squeeze in a rift which is negotiated at floor level. The second pitch is then reached, a drop through the floor to the bottom of a rift some 10 m away. We had a quick look see at the high level and were impressed by the fine formations that decorate this high passage. Below the second pitch some hands and knees crawling on a wet passage eventually leads to the T shaped passage. As soon as I saw the water I confidently announced to Andy "this is _the_ wet crawly bit", implying that no more such places were going to happen. Andy replied he did not remember any water at all in the cave. Our memory - alas - was completely off. The T shaped passage on the way in did not prove to be the horrible squeeze traverse I remembered, even with a tackle bag it seemed OK.
After the crawl traverse I awkwardly dropped in the chamber where the rift terminates, whereas Andy stylishly crawled over the top. We regained our breath and kept going. After the T shaped passage a long sinuous meander with no significant difficulties. Then a muddy slope leading to King Edward's Hall and Anne's pitch. It is interesting how quickly king changes character: from a twisting meander to a hall with severe straight lines to a passage with a far more.... horizontal feel to it. Horizontal and wet I might add.
At some point I told Andy that it would be hilarious if the team that was meant to relieve us of having to derig the cave did not show up. Andy reminded me that in that case we would have to leave the cave rigged and that the worst case scenario would involve Tim and Jarv coming back the next day to derig. In fact there was a worst scenario, which happened to occur. The derig team came down, but turned back at the T shaped passage leaving Tim as the only member of the derig team. Anne's pitch is where he joined us bringing some very timely pitta's with cheese and some falafels.
After Ann's and a small pitch we reach the meander which carries the water that falls down Elizabeth.Tim rigged this taking care to use the further spits in order to gain a dry hang. Andy amused me greatly by demonstrating how the glue on the P hangers had not dried properly and resembled mud in consistency. Ha-ha I thought tensely as I noticed one of them ominously turning and twisting. We all made it down safely and continued down a rift with an incredibly annoying chock stone stuck in the middle of it. Finally the passage leads to muddy slope with several ways on: to the right a short slopy walk leads to the most amazing crystal formation resting on mud. It looks like a waterfall frozen and encrusted in diamonds. Beautiful, but not the way on. To the left another muddy passage leads to a tight - too tight squeeze and what looks like someone's dig in the ceiling. Straight on, but surely not... is yet another flat out crawl over water. Andy decided that he had enough, found himself a stone and sat down. Me and Tim kept going. The passage becomes higher eventually developing to a hands and knees crawl. The floor alternates between pebbles, stones, rock and sand. After what seems like an eternity the stream we are in falls into the master stream, we follow it to the left to the terminal sump: a smelly, foamy gloomy place where neither of us cares to dither too long. Upstream the passage continues until the ceiling starts getting lower. I've had enough stooping in water for one day and suggest turning back.
The way back leads us in reverse through the same places, but they do not seem the same. Climbs appear in those bits of meander that seemed straighforward, short pitches are misteriously longer, annoying parts of the cave become desperate. The T shaped passage in particular seems to assume a personality. An evil personality. A voice appeared in our minds: "Relax your arms", "Let go", "Come into the rift: look there is a foot hold, of course you'll be able to get back". Luckily no one headed the call of the evil passage and we all make it out without getting stuck.
We got out of the cave by 11:30, 9 hours after we entering for the second time. The night was still and free from rain. The world seemed a calm and at peaceful place.
Urg! Too many times up that hill! We bumped into Leo in the top field (turned back after a couple of nasty moments stuck above pitches, the rather untensioned traverse over the pit being the final straw); he had Andy's car keys so after dropping my SRT + helmet at the entrance to King I stumbled back down past Braida Garth farm to retrieve the keys and keep them safe from the car thieves. Finally underground, it was gone three. I actually really like solo caving, at least when the stress is off and you don't have too many crazy climbs. You go at the pace you want, resting whenever you fancy without worry for the person trapped behind in the squeeze, talking to yourself without reproach and saying hello to the bolts... I also really like King. The squeezes aren't really squeezes, its more like some lovely acrobatic dance spidering your way down the climbs and reptating through the pitch heads.
Soon I had caught the whispering voices, and followed the boots down the grovel before the crawl to the little waiting chamber for the T-shape passage. As I popped out the far end TimO and James Berg were already inside its clutches. A quick shout to remind them to tidy their harnesses before engaging with the enemy, and I pause drinking gulps of the icy water from the little inlet. Then into the mouth of this little collector's piece. A shallow rift that slowly narrows, first one is merely hopping over the top up in the bedding plane for ease of access, before suddenly finding oneself wedged in the roof with legs akimbo, contemplating some crazy dog-leg backwards on your side, while the temptation to swing your legs down to find a little extra purchase is difficult to resist... Its not actually that bad, and I really enjoy it. With a year of UK caving under your belt it would present no problems. James Berg had a few trips in, and was not of the easiest dimension, with nice long inflexible femurs. About halfway through, with the situation worsening, he decided that it was time to call it a day and somehow found somewhere to do a quick 68-point turn and start heading out. Tim passed the car keys, we bid our adieu and parted ways.
And so the return, James and I took it nice and steady, bit of assistance on the freeclimbs, a few little wriggles on the pitch heads and the occasional peering under boulders to see what was off the beaten track. As we passed the pit I grabbed the stash of excess metalwork, a small token but something nonetheless that the derig party wouldn't have to drag out. On the surface once again, the weather was pleasent, and I did consider returning underground once more... but I'm not sure if I could face so many transits over overfamiliar ground, and instead walked down with James via the Bridleway, sharing some Ingleton chips and a quick drink in the Wheatsheaf before walking back to NPC on the old road to meet with Leo and get the chilli cooking.
Elizabeth my darling, I promise I will be back soon.
What cave provides a fast trip, with no special difficulties, is interesting and safe in the wet? Ah, also it needs to be less than a 20' walk from the car. The answer: Rowten. Andy and Andy formed the advance rig-team and the rest followed an hour later or so. I was barred from rigging since the last time I tried we ended up going through the waterfall... This time no such problems occured, we got down the first pitch and into the rift traverse that separates the new and old routes. A perfect hang down to the main chamber. Then the strange third pitch with hard rebelays. Finally a straightforward traverse and the last pitch leading to an extremely wet passage and eventually the sump. Tim joined us at the bottom of the main hall while Jarv visited the bottom of the cave. James B and Leo made it to the bottom of the main hall and got turned around. Rowten is a beautiful place, but not one where you want to spend hours staring at people prussicking! Anyways both of them got out quickly and with no trouble. A hassle free and satisfying closing chapter for a fantastic weekend!
Awoke to less than ideal weather, but to find a delish breakfast prepared by my rather less somnolent cave buddies. Munching chilli last night, our consensus was to find somewhere suitable for the varied levels of experience on this weekend, a trip that could be enjoyed by all. Somehow this became Rowten, one of the most 'impressive' open SRT shafts in Yorks. If you can control the vertigo on Rowten you're probably going to be ok anywhere. It is not exactly top of the list for beginners 'ease me in' SRT trips. Still, start as you mean to go on 'n' all.
Zipped across in the incessent rain, got changed into my powder-dry furry (new spin-dryer at the NPC ROCKS MY SOCKS) on the back seat, then put the rest of the gear on in the incessent rain. Walked up in the incessent rain, watched Tim disappear in the incessent rain, explained the theoretical concept of a Rebelay to Leo in the incessent rain, watched the little glint of humanity in his eye as he unclipped his long cows tail and walked backwards over the edge of the 60m drop trusting the just-checked descender (in the incessent rain), waited for the realisation of the theoretical (pretty similar, but with more grunts and swearing at your short cows-tail carabiner) while it incessently rained, and followed them down (in the incessent rain).
It was actually really nice on the rock bridge - sheltered from the incessent rain! The roar was impressive, communication very difficult. Followed Leo through the traverse. This is a rather impressive bit of rift, with a body sized crawl-way above the narrow (but passable!) rift that then fell directly into the ~30m hang. Couldn't hear a thing from the bottom, but as you had a perfect view of the just-descended unrigging their descender and walking off (such a long way below...) it was easy to coordinate. James and Leo decided to turn around at this point, while I continued to the sump (having never visited it). Passed Andy and James on the way heading out, and stole the tackle-sac from Tim to rerig down and contemplate the plunge pool below the final waterfall. Impressive place. Certainly not somewhere I start to think about free-diving!
Timings worked out really well. Tim was de-rigueur, a bag was passed to James to demonstrate his Pantin with, and I hauled another. Sitting above Rowten I waited in the incessent rain for Tim to finish off, we carted the four sacks back to the car and got changed in the incessent rain, soaking absolutely everything. Popped back to the hut for microwaved chilli before zooming back to London and the cold comfort of stores.