christmas tour 1999
Despite our best efforts to convince the current brood of freshers to come along, we
only managed to muster a small highly motivated elite force. I believe they were more
accustomed to the familiar tea drinking and faffing associated with normal caving
weekends. Stories of Alpine Starts and Hard-Core 15 hour Caving trips only increased
their craving to sit at home and watch the Sound of Music while eating mince pies.
That left us with a collection of second years, and El Presidento Jan, all Slovenia
As usual we stayed at the NPC caving hut in the shadow of Ingleborough Hill, and
expectations were high. The emphasis was going to be on exchange trips, one party
going in one entrance, and another party going in another entrance. With a bit of luck,
the parties meet up at the bottom without too much hanging around and getting cold,
swap over, and derig the others' cave. Our ultimate goal would be the almost mythical
On Saturday we first attempted a Dihedral-Flood exchange. Those of you unaware
of the Gaping-Ghyll cave system should know that the quickest way to get into the
largest underground cavern in Britain is down the 110m waterfall. Jan and Tom
attempted this committee special, while I took the others down the Flood entrance.
Flood entrance sounds wet, until you realise it is the flood escape route for the system,
and should be dry. It is wet anyway, as the route follows the stream down. Ed learnt
on this trip to follow the stream, and I learnt not to, as I ended up missing the sump
by-pass. The final pitch is an impressive 40m free hang down the side of the waterfall,
dry if rigged correctly (we got wet). I was about half-way down when I heard voices
and saw lights at the bottom of the pitch, the others had arrived before us and then told
us that they had decide not to take the impressive brown-pants Dihedral route due to it
being 'too wet'. They had rigged Bar Pot instead, the easiest route into the main chamber,
with serious amounts of overkill, using 60m ropes for 20m pitches. Bar Pot is often
classified an easy cave due to its association with boy scouts. We went to the pub.
After the exceptionally easy day's caving the day before we decided to not go caving
on Sunday. We did do something constructive in the afternoon though. A climb up
to the plateau just under Ingleborough called the Allotment allowed us to find the
locations of caves such as Juniper Gulf.
We needed to make up for the previous day's faffing, so a real trip was planned for
Monday: King Pot. Rope was packed the day before, and spare containers were filled
up with calcium carbide in preparation for an epic. King Pot has a bad reputation, it is
a small, tight cave, and exceptionally long. The worst part is called the T-Shaped Passage,
the nastiest piece of rift I have ever been down, unsurprisingly in a T shape. One has to
negotiate this meandering passage by crawling flat along the horizontal part without
falling down into the vertical part and becoming stuck. Crawling with nothing below you
is especially hard, and the rift is only big enough to allow wellies and tackle-sacks to
We negotiated this obstacle and moved into the main streamway. Unfortunately, the
spare carbide container I was carrying in a tackle sack had become cracked, and as
I crawled along the streamway dragging the tackle sack I noticed the all too familiar
smell of acetylene. I turned round and noticed bubbling in the water. I screamed for
everyone to turn their carbide lamps off, which involved immediate dunking of heads
into the stream. Tom then lost his chest jammer, which would have made prussicking
out of the cave mildly inconvenient, but a quick search of the stream and it was found.
About a third of the way in, all motivation was lost again and a democratic majority
forced the group to turn around and we headed off to the pub.
As a final trip we decided to do a Diccan-Alum exchange. Jan couldn't be bothered
to rig the interesting Long Churn entrance (also popular with boy scouts), he just
wanted to chuck a rope down the NW route, 60m straight down. Not being a fan
of huge pitches, mainly due to a rational fear of heights, we reached a compromise
of the SE route, also down the main shaft, but with a few ledges and rebelays.
We gave Ed and Tom a head start, as they were going to rig the 'sporting' (sporting
and Diccan are interchangeable words) route in, requiring numerous rebelays and
deviations to avoid the water.
We had given Tom and Ed an hour's headstart, and after a rather long car
journey, and a lot of faffing at the top of Alum we decided to go down Diccan
instead, to tell them not to wait forever at the bottom getting cold and wet.
They were probably waiting for us already. All we had to do was find the
entrance to Diccan, a resurgence which immediately goes underground
again in the space of 10m. Quite hard to find, especially in the dark misty
gloom of a Winter's evening. It took us about an hour, wandering the moors,
and wiping out in the snow and ice. Once inside, turning right leads to a crawl
into the Long Churn system, but following the stream (and also the rope)
takes you down Diccan. I stormed it down catching up with the others
after about 15 minutes. Jan took longer, due to the fact
he was using an Italian hitch to descend. The roar of water meant that
all conversation was impossible, so I had to catch up with the others to
explain the situation. They were most displeased, the thought of prussiking
out of Diccan compared to nice dry Alum. I waited at the bottom for them
to disappear, then began the process of derigging, I was going to do this
anyway, but this time I was wet and cold from the journey down.
Jan was waiting at the top of the first pitch to see
if I was OK. He must have been waiting for ages, and couldn't tell if I was
at the bottom, as my carbide lamp didn't stand a chance in the water.
He then left, leaving me attempting
to fit 500m (beware, exaggeration) into a 100m tackle sack. I gave up
after a couple of days, and threw the remainder of the rope over my
shoulder, then succeeded in getting lost on the
way back to the car.