Winter Tour 18-24th December
Jarv, Andy J, Alex, William, Jana, Nathan, Ste, James, Dave W, Martin McGowan, Tet, Clare
Coming up via Nottingham and Manchester, and enduring the 50mph roadworks, it was well after 2am that we arrived at Greenclose, swinging out along the A65 and coming back via Clapham to avoid the snowed in side roads. The snow didn't seem too heavy... yet.
Before the tired students had so much as raised their heads, an NPC team was off with our Notts I permit. Our caving plan, quickly discussed from the bunk beds, was to attempt to follow the 4x4 up onto Leck fell, catch up the NPC team and rig an additional route in the first section. Others of us would pop down LJs as far as the Battleaxe traverse for a more gentle introduction to Yorkshire SRT.
This plan started to come unstuck when we realised the van couldn't really cope with the gradient. After fiddling with snow chains and a fair bit of pushing, we got ourselves about halfway there. However, in view of the conditions and the possibility of everything icing up by night, we decided to turn the van around where we could and park back down near Leck village. By the time we were changed and heading back up it was starting to get dim - two miles of uphill walking carrying personal gear + rope bags doesn't do much for one's underground enthusiasm!
The most dangerous moment was probably reaching the entrance pitch - slippery snow steps directly above the drop until one could clip into the rope! The prerigged pitches were quickly dropped, and we started the search for Adamson's route, while Andy rigged Central.
Failing initially to climb up & turn back at the right point in the rift, we found our way into a boulder collapse somewhere near the service. Turning back we heard mutterings from up and in front, which found us us the derigging NPC party. Liberating their rope bags and saying our goodbyes, we started the rerig down. Timing with the central party was almost perfect, and we regrouped in heading down to the big pitches.
These were rigged by Andy with ease and a few slings, and we found ourselves on the comedy traverse to the large pitch next to the sump. I climbed up into the little passage on the left (as it was getting rather crowded, and it's rather warm up there). I thus had a particularly amusing perspective of Dan plunging up to his shoulders in an innocuous looking patch of water between the stones directly below the sump and the boulders around the lip of the sump.
Everyone was super quick on the way out, and we were timed nicely together meeting again at the head of central, and then bunching up for the entrance pitch which delivered us to the still air and snowy landscape of Leck fell. The visibility was absolutely stunning - the lights all the way down to the coast standing out clearly. We followed the GPS back to the road agian, finding the snow covered heather rather easier on the way down.
Back at the van, the LJ crew were already changed and perhaps only moderately shivering. As we were clean and rather dry, we simply belted up while wearing full caving gear and were driven home by Dave. Martin had excelled himself in the NPC kitchen again, leaving us racing to change in the back room in order to get our dinner in.
Jarvist M Frost
What actually happened:
Spending our snowed-in Sunday wisely we prepared for an obscene collection of megatrips. The trip planning got so complex that the 'G2 2010 Calendar' was put to use to construct a truth table of cave trips. The first version contained a 4x4 matrix of trips (including Flood) which then swelled to include Hensler's, before finally being reduced to a more sane 3x3 as Dave and Martin dropped out.
The minibus was slalom'ed in the vague direction of Clapham, initially misdirected (by Tetley) into a cul-de-sac before being freed and skidded into the carpark. While getting ready it transpired that Andy had decoupled the two meticulously packed Stream bags and just taken one. So Martin did sterling service as taxi driver in rescuing the tackle, and the long arduous slog through the snow began.
The view was absolutely stunning, with a break in the snow and bright skies as we trudged through the snow and wandered past the icicles in the gorge. The going got rather more deep up on the Fell itself, with Clare and Jana sinking into their waists. The Thermos' were dispersed to the three cave entrances, and the Stream passage slogged off through the drifts.
Stream - Dis: Dan & Jarv
The entrance tube was issuing forth a warming fog of air. Quickly wriggling into a harness, we bombed down the entrance and into the warm bowels of the Earth (controversially, rigging the entrance tube with a rope - see Winter Tour 2008, the Tet incident). Rigging was pleasant on 9mm, slinging maillons between the interesting mix of Petzl stainless hangers and P-bolts. The traverse to gain the 2nd (underground) pitch is right up high in the roof, one of our comedy 16ft dyneema slings was put to use making a rope ladder for the following to use. From the bottom of the pitch and up on the large traverse ledges, a massive 2m y-hang (rigged with an alpine butterfly to allow easier gaining of the high traverse on the true left of the rift). Just 5m down is a comedy 'inverting' deviation with in-situ tat (arguably better as a free hanging rebelay), which pulls you one way to pass it, holding the rope clear, then turns over to prevent rope rub when below the massive sling of the lower rebelay.
From here, a clamber over boulders (kind of above a 30m pitch) is passed. Having only the suggested 36m rope, initially rigging this with a traverse line off the obvious p-bolts resulted in a rope too-short incident & a quick bit of prussic'ing while the following cavers salvaged length from the traverse. As suggested by Andy, instead of using the pitch bolts to rig another comedy y-hang, a hang from the right hand wall followed by a 8ft deviation to the other p-bolt allowed a pleasant descent. Starting with a 45-50m and rigging the traverse might be more pleasant for the less sure on their feet.
Finding our way into the main system involved a bit of head scratching - it looks like you're walking along an enormous cavern, but the truth is rather more complex with lots of muddy sidechambers and places to loose ones way. Pushing down a particularly tight crawl, I came to a little chamber with something like: "BRADLY POT - REDISCOVERED 1984" written in stark angular carbide letters. We back-tracked, refound the draught, and quickly found ourselves along the dry muddy crawls and to the only well defined junction, with the digging skids still sitting there looking rather forlorn.
We yomped our way to the main chamber, tripping over William and Alex who were sitting in a little oxbow slightly out of the breeze nonchalantly munching sweets. Their progress down bar had been entirely without incident, except for the realisation that William did not have a croll (but a second 'basic' hand jammer instead), and William getting his long golden hair caught in his descender. Alex leant him his knife so that he could achieve a mid-rope trim, which only necessitated him loosing about half his pony tail.
We back tracked as far as the bottom of Bar Pot, where the pretty young things kept warm in the nice still dry air, while the gluttons for punishment threw themselves down the body-sized slick tube exiting the other half of the bar pitch on the left hand side. This immediately gained a pleasurably low streamway with dark waters gently drifting over flat cobbles. Initially we headed 'Right' upstream (in as much as it can be determined with such low flow), but were turned back after about 15m as Andy found himself properly grovelling in a flat squeeze and not seeing any way on nor particularly liking it. He backed himself out slowly via pull-ups with his toes, and we progressed in reverse order downstream.
DanG grumbled that the way on wasn't very pleasant, but it was certainly continuing and after ten minutes of crawling we could hear voices! Andy, who was heading back to Bar anyway, decided to stop in a little chamber. Dan and Jarv, egged on by Tetley's mutterings pushed forwards at water level, which soon turned into a flat out crawl in water, and then into some rather curious passage where one's chin scoured out a groove in the mud for one's chest which then scooped out sufficient space for one's hips. Surfacing the other side rather worse for wear (and with horrible gritty mud in every glove, oversuit pocked, srt gear and orifice), we tripped over the stone barrier indicating not to go down there, and were faced with Andy's voice issuing from the obvious dry crawly bypass to our left. Amusing, on the small scale survey back at the NPC, the wet section we had passed wasn't even joined up.
It turned out the Disappointment lot had been wandering around down here for quite some time. They had originally been at this junction an hour ago, but had decided that both ways looked too grim to be the way on. Being enterprising, they had then spent the last hour crawling down almost every bit of Hensler's horror sections, turning back each time just shy of the breakthrough into other parts of the system, or when the going got unpleasantly tough. However, they did report that Hensler's stream passage was rather nice.
At this point we said our goodbyes, and Dan and I headed out Dis. The climb up to the right at the big boulder was fairly obvious, leading quickly via a small climb to the first rope. These bottom two pitches followed each other quickly and were in a really very nice high chamber, connected via a narrow bit of sinuous streamway. Looking back down from the 4th pitch head was pretty cool - nice place for a photo!
The rift connected the 3rd and 4th pitches was quite long and fairly slow going with tackle. The obvious climb up from the water level reached a boulder-rubble filled chamber, which then lead on to a rather disappointing aven. From here on the going was rather more crawl tastic, flipping the tackle bag in front or dragging it with twisted shoulders. The 3rd pitch was another nice little number, and was followed by more rift until reaching the 1st/2nd cascades. At the top of the first pitch, the tackle was stashed and we mentally prepared ourselves for the ducks. In an odd way these had been hanging over our enjoyment of what is really a very nice bit of cave - each pitch derigged took us closer. The walking passage from the top of the 1st quickly degrades into a stoop and then the water, quickly reaching the portcullis. Tackled head first on one's back, with arms along side, this was a spacious and quick little wriggle with plenty of air space. Tobacco and cameras were carefully passed through, the main bags floated on, and then the frigid winter water enjoyed.
The experience wasn't really bad at all - quite refreshing really. The wet crawl guarding the entrance was more of an ordeal - rather choked with rubble and with little airspace, I went through with helmet on one side getting an earful of freezing water. The ceiling is a slab of rock that dips down before finally passing on the far side and arriving in the graffiti filled entrance cave. Quickly wringing out the chests of our furries, we powered our way out through the lovely rift, finding it rather tough with the weight of our clothing and sheer slipperiness of our water lubricated wellies and oversuits. The climb was surpassed, and the rather useless bit of 9mm rigged off the p-bolt removed. The little entrance chamber was actually a bit chilly, as Dis seems to either slightly suck in, or at least have so little draught that the air mixes in the entrance.
At this point we found our thermos of hot blackcurrant squash, which was mainly sipped by Jarv as he watched Dan prepare a freshly rolled cigarette - "Not because I want one, but because after having taken all this gear so far I feel it deserves it". This was a rather long winded process as wet fingers saw goodbye to a good few rizlas, then extraneous drips of water destroying successive rolling attempts. Particularly amusing was a single drip off the helmet destroying a nearly perfect attempt by blowing a hole in the Rizla. Then the attempts to suitably dry out and get sparking the cigarette lighter began, which after much flint, cursing and disassembly resulted in a successful smoke.
We then shot off for Clapham, scrunching our way across the snowed in landscape. It was rather chilly, and being absolutely soaked we didn't have time to stand around. Back at the bus we were rather surprised to discover that we were the only team back. Cracking the ice off the stalwart UZX, we were getting changed in the back when a pickup truck cruised up alongside in the deserted carpark and a jackbooted figure climbed out, coming up to drivers window. We were expecting a dogging enquiry, but it merely turned out to be Martin offering his services as 4x4 driver. Fully changed, we were back at the NPC ten minutes later, warming our frozen toes in front of the fire while enjoying a delicious curry.
The Bar team (swelled to 5 members) and Stream (down to 3) got back to Clapham simultaneously, and were both back within the hour.
1 As remembered in the famous caving nursery rhyme:
In Bar, Out Bar,
How was your trip?
Yes Tetley, it was,
Pretty damn awful.
One way down and
One way out
And one weary little fresher
Slowly going insane.
Thank you said the master
Thank you said el tet
Thank you said the freshers slowly taken home.
Jarvist M Frost