Alas, the oversubscribed trips in the Autumn term and hordes of once-keen freshers yielded just the one lonely fresher for the winter tour: Nia. Having started Friday morning with 8 people in the 9-seater minibus, Jarv and Clare watched in helpless horror as people started dropping out all at once, citing illness, family business and general lameness. For a dark couple of hours where bitterness reigned, it even looked as if we might be the only two going up in the minibus! Come 6 o'clock, however, a hardcore core of spluttering, ill cavers straggled to stores, determined to go caving no matter what.
Despite advice from Pete H, Kat and co. at the NPC to do otherwise, we decided to risk the M6 since we needed to pick Tim up from Preston. Weather wasn't actually too apocalyptic, and we were making good time when disaster struck a junction away from our Leyland/Preston turnoff: a jack-knifed lorry had shut down the motorway. Midnight, 1 o'clock, 2, 3... hours idled away in a low fuel (and therefore cold) minibus flipping through radio stations trying to get traffic updates.
At least we were relatively comfortable in the minibus. Poor Tim, waiting for us at Leyland, was refused even the warmth of Tesco, which had closed (despite us phoning ahead to make sure they would be open!) because drunk bastards were fighting outside in the snow.
Got moving again at around 530 in the morning, did the Tesco shop in a daze, arrived at the NPC to daylight and a thoroughly bemused Clive (Westlake).
I woke up at about 11, but caving that day was out of the question having gone to bed just two hours earlier at 9 that morning.
Tetley, who with his usual foresight had cleverly taken the train up the previous afternoon, had unsurprisingly managed to tart his way onto a Pennine Aquamole jolly with Clive, Neil and Rachel.
(Jarv: Perhaps more importantly, he also tarted his way into their Roast Beef that evening.)
With the others still fast asleep, I opted for some teashop caving/shopping in Ingleton + Settle with Kat, Dewi, and Pete.
Back to bed at 3 in the afternoon, only to be woken up by Jarv (of all people) at 5. Chilli for dinner; joined later by Hugh Penney, who showed up with a couple of GUPA cavers in tow.
Having done a GG massive just 5 weeks prior as a club, there wasn't a big push to visit Gaping Ghyll main chamber, so the traditional GG feast was forgone in favour of a Grange Rigg-Christmas Pot exchange.
Parked in Clapham and walked up via Long Lane, which proved to be a good choice and very pleasant, without the earnest shouts of children excited to see Santa that one gets on the nature trail.
With Grange Rigg blowing out, we hurried underground to the comforting warmth of the cave. Easy caving quickly led to the first pitch, where Tim started rigging and Jarv and I lazed at the back.
Don't really remember the details, but I think the 2nd and 3rd pitches were encountered in fairly quick succession with slightly awkward take-offs at the pitch heads. Easy for Jarv and I following behind, but interesting rigging for Tim at the front I think!
Below the Fourth pitch is where the bulk of the caving is. A low but roomy crawls over cobbles soon enlarges to standing height, bringing one to the 'egg-timer shaped passage'. The higher level Anemolite crawl-traverse in the roof is definitely much easier than the low level crawl, which is fairly constricted.
A bit of varied, well-decorated passage later and we found ourselves at a big chamber that marked the start of the difficult but supposedly free-climbable fifth pitch. We quickly realised we must have passed the Christmas Pot aven without noticing... oh well. After poking around the chamber for a bit we sat down for a chocolate bar and Jarv whipped out his fancy Zen Stone mp3 player with in-built speakers for some muzak.
Some phaffage later we decided to go back to look for the Christmas Pot connection. Slow retracing of steps and Jarv soon spotted a nondescript aven not far from the fifth pitch. There wasn't any rope down it, so we sat down again, put on the music and chillaxed a little in between whistling and shouting for Tetley.
15 minutes, 30 minutes.. surely Tetley would have come down to give us the bottom rope even if they were turning back? Let's wait a bit more... 15 minutes later of more shouting and whistle blowing and we decided to call it and head out. Jarv derigged, Tim went out first with instructions to visit Christmas to make sure the other team wasn't still underground, and I followed behind. Exit was smooth and efficient, everyone was out in just over an hour.
It was really only half a proper caving trip, but I thought what we saw of Grange Rigg was lovely. Very pleasant caving, lots of different passage and some really well-decorated, Easter Grotto-esque (Ed: Before being trashed) sections.
Apparently they tried a dig site 4m from the Christmas Pot entrance before actually going down Christmas. Whose entrance pitch/passage was partially iced up anyway so it was impassable. Some chiseling from Tetley before he concluded it wasn't worth it, and the trio headed down to beer and boar sausages in the New Inn instead.
For a plan conceived the day before on the long walk up to Gaping Gill, this worked remarkably well. Tetley would bring me on rigging practice, with us rigging the whole Dome route all the way down to the Final pitch. Meanwhile, Jarv would take a team down the Old Roof Traverse/Monastery route, met by Tim at Sink Chamber. They would then descend till the Final pitch, rigged earlier by me and Tet.
Lost Johns' is always delightful. Shouldering the tackle and following the now-familiar winding entrance passage, we quickly arrived at the climb up to the traverse to the first pitch. As I started rigging the pitch, Tet sent Tim and Jim off to take a look at Centipede so they wouldn't be hanging around behind and getting cold.
Under Tetley's supervision and with him giving me tips now and again, progress through the cave was smooth, Tetley fine-tuning some of the rigging from behind. Soon we arrived at the Battleaxe traverse. We decided to take advantage of the low water levels and rig the alternative descent which starts roughly halfway through the traverse, just before the battleaxe bit. As Tet started rigging the pitch, I nipped along to the end to make sure the Valhalla rope was in place (which it was), and we went down. The alternative route is a lovely and much more pleasant than Valhalla. One descends onto a little ledge, traverses to the edge of it to gain a free hang off a rebelay in the wall.
At the bottom I took over rigging again and did the final pitch, which was fun with a bit of climbing/traversing up to the pitch head. We faffed around at the main streamway for a bit, going on a little jolly to the downstream sump (turning back when water was thigh-high). Had some chocolate, Tetley took a piss, and after a while we heard the others making their way through the cave. Tim and Jim emerged soon after, having made contact with the other group at Sink Chamber.
A quick derigging plan was hatched - Tetley and I would start to head out, derigging the final pitch, the traverse and Candle & Shistol, since permanent ropes were already in place. We'd meet up at Dome Junction to sort out bags and things.
On our way to Valhalla we ran into the Monastery team, which had shrunk to just Jarv. Nia and William were too ill to continue, so Martin was escorting them out via Dome, and they were returning to the hut first to cook dinner.
Got to the window at Dome and descended the separate rope (rigged off the re-belay p-bolt) to Shale Cavern instead of going up. Waited there for Tim and Jim, though for some reason Jarv kept appearing instead.. anyway, as soon as Jim was down and we could hear Tim on his way, I took the first bag and started off.
Couple of quick pitches later and I was at Sink Chamber. It was immediately apparent why Monastery is also known as the wet route! It is definitely more sporting than the other LJ routes. Lots of rebelays and some traversing later, I was at the top of Pinnacle.
Route finding in Monastery is a simple matter of following the water. Some winding passage and the shortest of crawls brings one to Piscine, which is then almost immediately followed by the big Monastery pitch. I met Jarv at the traverse at the top of Monastery; he'd finished derigging Dome and came back to help us with the tackle. Chatted for a bit then continued on to Hampstead Heath, which definitely needs at least 15m (and not 10m as recommended in CNCC) to rig.
Waited at the junction of the new and old roof traverses, with Jarv an intermittent presence as he went back to take a bag off Jim over the Monastery traverse. As soon as Jim arrived we headed out with the bags, Tetley and Tim not far behind, derigging.
So another cracking trip down Lost Johns, a real winter tour classic made even better by the meaty addition of Monastery - altogether requiring more than 450m of rope in 6 bags. Definitely recommended caving when water levels permit!
Martin was on top form in the kitchen, as he made the most delicious beef stroganoff/goulash for supper. And veggie shepherds pie for the grazers.
Yet more rigging practice for me :) This time down Cow Pot in Easegill, as suggested by Tony.
We didn't have very much time since we got underground pretty late, but Cow Pot is a superb entrance into Easegill. The lovely open air pitch was really sucking and the bottom was iced over, with some very pretty ice formations. We disregarded the route to Aardvark Country and took the scramble over the boulders on the left instead. This led to a couple of vertical slots, beyond which lay a winding stream passage that led to Fall Pot.
Rigging the traverse out to Fall Pot was... interesting. Took a while to rig, but under Dave's and Jarv's ever-watchful eyes it got done in the end.
Not sure of the route we took after that, I suspect Jarv will fill in the gaps here.. Anyway we got to Stake Pot, up and on to look at Bob's boss, then down some crawly bit of passage (Rabbits Warren?) to Canuck Climb. The original plan was to go to Cape Kennedy but we were running short of time and turned back here instead.
Way out didn't take too long with mainly Dave derigging. The already-stiff Beal Spelenium Gold rope on the entrance pitch was well frozen. I'm not complaining, it certainly fed through my jammers very nicely.. Jarv had an interesting time trying to stuff 32m of it into a 100m tackle sack though!
Tetley got in his ladder trip of the tour, taking William and Nia on a jaunt down County.
Jarv: They had a jaunt up Poetic Justice and on to Eureka junction, then went out via Platypus Junction, they were attempting to loop back to Oxford Circus (the climb up for going out county) and then out via county, but ended up in some cold inlet somewhere under the beck + so retraced their steps back to Spout Hall and back that way. On a previous trip 6 years ago, I did something very similar and only noticed that it was Oxford Circus on the way back from the inlet. Could Tetley + co have missed it entirely?
Dinner was once again a Martin McGowan masterpiece, this time a massive stuffed marrow! And a calorie-fest of a Christmas pudding.
Deserted by Tim and Jim the day before, the three ill people (Jarv, Nia + William) all slept in till the afternoon. Reports from Jana in London give us our window of escape from ~3pm till midnight, so we quickly packed and were on the road by half three, and zoomed back to London without incident.