Yorkshire

christmas tour 1999

17th-22nd December

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 veterans.

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 'Spectacle-Vespers' exchange.

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 become stuck.

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.

Andrew Jurd