Alex Seaton, Ben Honan, Christina Picken, Fiona Hartley, Jack Hare, Oliver Myerscough, Rhys Tyers, William French
Arrived at stores at about 6pm with some free booze. Spirits were high (no pun intended) and kit was being packed. After some rope packing to prepare for the Simpsons - Swinsto exchange, we were off to Yorkshire yet again. After picking up Alex from his wanky hotel and buying the usual odd bits at Tesco, we finally - with some of us slightly intoxicated - arrived at Bullpot Farm at about 2:30 in the A.M.
Simpsons Pot to Swinsto Hole: Rhys Tyers, Oliver Myerscough, William French, Alexander Seaton
Being late to bed on Friday and early to rise on Saturday saw everyone's enthusiasm in tatters. Oli in particular was extremely annoyed to be woken at 9.30am because his breakfast was ready. However once full of tea and and grease we began to feel the inevitable call of the dark.
With prepacked ropes we were soon off, down the winding roads of Casterton and up the winding road of Kingsdale. We were reassured to see that, unlike during our previous attempt at Simpsons, the Kingsdale beck was in fact dry, rather than bursting its banks and flooding the valley. Changing too was incredibly pleasant. The lack of driving rain or snow and temperatures well above zero was quite a novelty.
Buoyed by the congenial conditions and nursing only minor hangovers we were led back down the valley by Christina who had the best rough idea of where the caves were. The walk up the hillside was also novel as it was shrouded in a thick layer of ferns. We waded through the thick vegetation single file, with the shorter members of the group invisible beneath the leafy layers, like jungle explorers. Really stupid jungle explorers wearing a variety of thermals and PVC.
At the Turbary Road we split into our two teams. Team Simpsons was myself, Oli, William and Alex. We made our way expertly to the cave with no wasted time. We were looking in all those other shake holes and sending Alex to the various corners of the field for other reasons...
Simpsons itself, in dry conditions, is fairly uninteresting in my opinion. The initial crawl is not too unpleasant and the pitches that follow are all short and relatively uninspiring. Oli was in front haphazardly rigging every other p-bolt because 'There are too many anyway' and 'They just get in the way'. We made good time down to Aven Pitch. We had elected to go down the Swinsto Great Aven as it looked more impressive. We packed the ropes accordingly, failing to realise that you still need a small rope to traverse across the top of Aven Pitch. After a small amount of discussion we dispatched Will to cut the end off the last rope we had used (as there was a good 5m spare at the bottom).
Newly liberated rope in hand we made our way up to the top of the pretty chamber, and down through the slot into the grand Swinsto Aven. We were due to meet the other team here and we wandered about speculating on where they might come from. We were also all desperately thirsty at this point and three of use squeezed into a tiny passage beneath the rubble pile to get to the trickling stream. You had lie down, body angled with your head below the level of your feet, to get to the water. As I did this all of the water in my wellies gushed out and turned the pristine stream a sickly brown. I waited for it to clear before drinking.
Just as we ran out of awful crawls to look at the other team surprised us by turning up at the one place we hadn't guessed they would. It probably should have been obvious that they'd come down the waterfall give Swinsto's wet reputation. A, ahem, quick exchange and our group was once again on the move heading upwards.
At this point I was of the opinion that Swinsto was the objectively better cave. Bigger, more impressive pitches, lots of fun climbs, a decent amount of water flowing. On the largest pitch, a PVC clad Oli put in two extra deviations to keep the slightly less waterproof cavers (me and Will) dry. As he swung about at the top of the pitch to do this he ended up getting quite wet. The water ran down the length of his body and filled his wellies. One of his wellies had a hole in. The resulting jet of water shooting out from Oli's foot was visually spectacular. 10/10. Everyone should have a hole in their welly. Everyone else. Will started the derigging off, Alex did the big pitch and I did the last couple.
The Swinsto long crawl was not as arduous as I imagined but it is still impressive that the scalloping on the floor is just right such that your knee always lands painfully right on an edge. I was hoping that the cold 6 inch deep water would numb my knees but they remained stubbornly sensitive. At this point I was no longer sure which was the better cave. Maybe still Swinsto.
We were out for the last of the light, another benefit of summer(ish) caving. Back at the van we changed and desperately tried to avoid the swarms of insects lured by our musky odour (a disadvantage of summer caving). Once inside we waited. And waited. We listened to several excellent radio stations. Well three, as that's all there was. One had a show about how awful teenagers are, with their selfies and snapchats. Another was soothing classical music. My favourite was the 'Jungle and Hardocre' playlist on what turned out to be radio 1 extra. We also conducted experiments to see if flies react to the sight of a swatting hand or the air pushed by said hand. We decided it was the air.
As the call out time approached we decided that we would phone Tony who'd been at Bull Pot in the morning and offered to be our call out. Leaving Will to stand a lonely vigil in the dark the rest of us drove down the road seeking mobile signal. I messaged saying we were out and the other group was slow and this was probably to be expected and that we'd manage the call out from here. Back at the parking place a few minutes passed before lights appeared on the hill top. Ben and Christina joined us in the van, and apparently Jack and Fiona were in the entrance crawl.
We waited another 40 minutes before getting a bit worried. We decided that nothing could possibly have happened to them in the crawl but me, Oli and Alex would walk up to the entrance to check. Typically, just as we reached the top of the hill we saw lights in the distance. Jack and Fiona were out after what sounded like a bit of an epic. Relieving them of their bags we skipped back down the hill and met a CRO coordinator at the bottom of the hill. Apparently someone in Bullpot had seen our callout on the board and dialed it in. He checked we were alright and drove off. Thankfully it seems we only wasted 2 volunteer hours. Tony was also at the bottom, having decided to check on us as he was at the Marton Arms.
Swinsto Hole to Simpsons Pot: Jack Hare, Benjamin Honan, Fiona Hartley, Christina Pickens
Conditions were perfect for a Swinsto-Simpson exchange: the Kingsdale streambed was totally dry. The sun came out in all its glory as we climbed the hill, just to make sure we were already moist by the time we reached Swinsto Hole. Swinsto is NOT the hole right beside the Turbary Road, but about two shakeholes onwards from that.
It had been over 8 months since I'd caved with ICCC. Having done only a couple of jollies down Short Drop Cave and Sunset Hole with the NPC in the meantime, I was an eager caver beaver. Good thing too as Swinsto is one wet cave. Thankfully the Long Crawl only devolves into an on-your-belly affair once or twice and was otherwise a reasonable hands-and-knees crawl. We were all glad to be doing it at the beginning of the trip rather than later. I did find it fun - but I doubt I'd enjoy it to the same extent in normal water conditions, or in winter. Christina can testify kneepads are a must.
I thought the streamway towards the bottom of Swinsto was particularly pretty and found myself enjoying the descent immensely. We reached the junction with Simpsons a few hours later and found the others waiting. I started up the long pitch into Simpson. O glorious new pantin, I adore thee. At the top I wandered about looking for the way on, and was confused to see an ICCC red rope attached to some tat leading down rather than up. Still, it was obviously our rope, so I followed it down. I believe this avoided the infamous Slit Pot (my âassets' render me biologically incapable of failing to notice squeezes, and I'm sure we didn't go through one).
I was the only one who had been down to the duck in Simpsons before and expected to find it very soon thanks to the basic online description: 'A trip through Simpson Pot consists of a series of short pitches, a duck through The Blasted Hole, followed by the 21 metres (69 ft) deep Slit Pot at the bottom of which is the junction with Swinsto Hole.' This description misses out at least three pitches between duck and big pitch. I should have glanced at the rigging guide beforehand.
One of these pitches (Shuffle) involves ascending a few metres to a block at the end of a rift, where a piece of tat hangs down from a higher level in the rift. Christina was a bit concerned about climbing this so I shuffled (hah) under her to see if one could climb up later â and for better climbers there certainly seems to be a spot further along where you can climb up from the rift floor. Coming back along the rift to the pitch at this low level put me in a position that reminded me too much of my trials in King Pot, and the trip started getting the best of me.
After getting out of that pickle and up another pitch, I was relieved to find the duck. Christina went through first but wasn't sure where the way on was. There is a ledge in the middle of the hole which I tripped over when I was going through, so even though there was loads of airspace I made it look splashy. I quickly oriented to my surroundings - I had misremembered the duck as being at the frothy end of the sump, but in fact it is at the opposite end of the sump pool, on your right and behind you if descending Simpson - and pointed Christina towards the rope.
The pitches after the duck are normally not a problem. One has an in-situ bit of tat and had been left as a free climb, but I really would have appreciated a rope to ascend it (explains why there was leftover rope in the bag before Storm Pot pitch). Parts of the cave were much narrower than I remembered though and my energy and ability to cave faded fast. I fell on the traverse over the pit and really struggled with the Five Steps, particularly at the bottom - I recommend free-climbing it if you can, not prussicking it. Jack has the patience of a fucking saint. Since he'd developed a horrible headache, we were now both feeling pretty shit.
Slowly, we progressed through the stooping/crawling passage towards the entrance. It's all psychological of course but the cave just seemed to go on and on and on. I was utterly knackered at this point. Jack, meanwhile, was an absolute hero and handled two tackle-sacks full of rope. I staggered into a beautiful Yorkshire night at 10pm, nine hours after going underground. The sky was studded with stars. All of my gratitude goes to Jack for repeatedly letting me stand on his shoulders and hauling me out of tight spots, to Rhys and Oli and Alex for coming to look for us, and to Tony Seddon hanging about to confirm we were okay.
This is a top trip. I am so glad that I did it and my spirits of course returned almost as soon as we were above ground. They always do, that's the joy (read: delusional insanity) of being a caver. But it must not be underestimated as an undertaking for weaker cavers.
We woke up to the smell of greasy bacon and sausages, hmm. Not enticed, I decided to put some sugar on my eggy bread which, by the reaction of my peers, seems to be akin to some kind of sacrilegious act (apparently French toast is not a thing in the UK). During breakfast we prepared the teams and soon thereafter we were off. Jack, Christina (Chrissy), Fiona and I decided to enter via Swinsto, which after the grim half hour crawl solidified in our minds as a good choice of cave to do first. After descending down some cool pitches involving waterfalls we eventually met up with the other team. We faffed around at the meet-up point for a bit as the rigging proved to be a bit strange, but both teams eventually managed to get on-route to the surface.
Simpsons turned out to be a bit more memorable than Swinsto. First we had to ascend up a big (70m?) pitch toward a traverse. We then descended a little bit and went up again in a U shape. At the next significant ascent it became apparent that not all of the bolts had been used for rigging on the descent which made it quite difficult for us all to pass this obstacle. After quite a bit of teamwork and some more slowing down (because I don't like dodgy traverses without rope) we eventually made progress through Simpsons. The next obstacle was a duck! Fiona had warned us about this earlier which meant that we all had our preconceptions about what was up ahead. It turned out that the duck was not as scary as it initially sounded and was only about balls deep. Past the sump there was a grim looking pool which reminded me of some beer breweries I had seen in the past, thankfully we did not have to get into that! At this point in the journey we were quite concerned about not meeting our 9pm callout time so Jack made the correct decision to let Chrissy and I continue by ourselves such as to reduce the likelihood of failing to surface on time. Chrissy and I correctly navigated through the rest of the cave by using the smoothness of the rocks to lead us in the right direction. We surfaced at around 9pm (our callout time) and so we attempted to find to minibus as soon as possible. When we arrived at the minibus, Rhys gave us the ay-ok and we proceeded to wait for the rest of the party to come out of the cave. After an hour passing we became slightly worried and sent of three of our best men - Alex, Rhys and Oli - to search for the unsurfaced cavers. A few minutes later, Chrissy and I found out that the CRO has been called on us due to the callout time we had written on the whiteboard at Bullpot Farm not being erased - oops. We explained that everything was probably alright and lo and behold we soon spotted 5 bobbing lights coming from the fells. After a very wet and adventure packed day, we consumed a good amount of burritos and booze to keep the evil cave spirits at bay.
I began caving with RUCC five years ago and for the past year had commuted from London to Reading for each weekend trip. I was eager to meet the cave dwellers of London and vary the caving experiences available in the UK. I didn't want to betray my home club but was also in danger of becoming an old hanger-on so investigated to see if ICCC would consider adopting me. I had met the cavers back in June and had joined them on several of the Tuesday Pub socials so had learnt a bit about some of the caving characters and the traditions of ICCC. I turned up on Friday, wearing the (now compulsory) animal hat, eager to experience an ICCC adventure! We had packed our personal kit the previous Tuesday so by 6pm Friday all we had to do was load the minibus, pack some extra rope, and carry out the usual 'idiot checks'. We were on the road by 7pm which in RUCC means you've either forgotten to pack any kit, someone has been left behind or you're in the 'Bouchard-Mobile'. Since passing the reading uni union minibus 'test', the journey north has been a challenge of staying awake, remembering which pedal is the clutch and which is the brake, and keeping a minibus full of people safe and alive whilst navigating the inevitable diversions from the M6. Fortunately I am exempt from driving at IC, so after a good game of 'was that sarcasm, Jack', I slept most of the way up and was woken as we reached the Red Rose around 3am. After some quick, last-minute battery charging we headed to bed, eager for our trip the following day.
I woke late and stumbled down to the gang where breakfast was already made and waiting. Of course, caving simply cannot happen without a fried breakfast and although there was a notable lack of hash browns, I found eggy bread in its place. What a marvellous addition to the breakfast choices. No scrambled egg which inevitable displeases someone however it's cooked. No individually fried/poached eggs which took some poor soul an hour to perfect. Simple, egg-soaked, fried bread. So crispy and so delicious, sure to please everyone! I knew at that moment, it was going to be a good day! Whilst everyone was busy collecting the pre-packed rope, I had a second cup of tea and possibly for the first time (RUCC-ers please verify,) I was the last one ready! The drive over to Kingsdale brought the familiar and long awaited feeling of excitement for a good days caving mixed with the reality of what that actually entails. As we were changing into our gear at the side of the road, there was a distinct lack of moaning as the 'think-caving' became increasingly real, perhaps even the faint whiff of merriment could be detected. This lead me to one of two conclusions; either, I was in the company of experienced and hardened cavers not fazed by the amble through the kingsdale system; or I was in the company of cavers who were exceptionally good at lying to themselves. I'm yet to figure this out.
We decided to leave Valley Entrance unrigged as we didn't want the temptation of having an easy way out and also, we couldn't be arsed. In hind-sight, it's proably good to have to option available if necessary. We took a group photo and began the hill climb at around 12:30pm in some beautiful Yorkshire Sunshine. Unfortunately, we didn't play 'leave the rope at the bottom', which is a shame because I had begun to enjoy that traditional pastime. Past the Turbury Road, we found the pot which isn't Swinsto (as determined by a previous RUCC supposed 'Swinsto' trip), then found another still-not-swinstow sinkhole a few meters further up. Beyond both of these, we found the actual Swinsto Entrance. Pesky CNCC rigging guide, being so ambiguous! After 8 months 'cold turkey' from UK caving, the entrance series was the long, long stoopy-crawl I needed and was the perfect reminder of just how great kneepads are. After a quick revision of 'how to use my SRT kit' from Fiona, we were off and the team zipped down the pitches, overtaking a pull-through duo, arriving at the bottom simultaneously with the exchange team. The pitches sometimes involved swinging about under waterfalls, especially when the deviations are missed but given the lack of rainfall, this wasn't too bad (well at least not for the descending team!) The serenades of all three of my team buddies (plus Jacks beloved soreen) kept us going and our moods high, and very soon we were on our way up the Simpson route.
As we were soon reminded, ascending is a lot more tiring than descending, particularly when the bags of rope became fuller and heavier, as we grew more tired. Some of the pitches were perhaps manageable for the tall and athletic members of the descending team, but seemed almost impossible or quite risky with my combination of short legs and relatively little upper body strength. Luckily Jack came to the rescue, and re-rigged part of the route for us, making me believe that perhaps I would make it out again. Some of the rifts were pretty daunting and the cascades pretty slippy, particularly with the tackle bags but as any dream team would, we helped one another and worked through them.
On the ascent, there was word of a duck. Not a feathery one. A cold, muddy, water-in-your-undersuit kind of duck. With Fiona pushing ahead, she led us to a small crawl under an arch and through some water, beyond which lies the dreaded duck. I went first and found a muddy, foamy, stagnant pool which looked even worse than I had expected. I was preparing myself mentally for the trauma and about to take the plunge when to my absolute delight, Fiona caught up with me and identified this as the sump. In the low water levels, the duck had become the crawl under the archway! Perfect! And up the next pitch we went! Thankfully, many thousands of years ago, the water that made Simpsons cave took pity on future cavers and carved a path so that each pitch closer to the entrance gets shorter and shorter. Taking a glance at the trusty casio, at 20:20 we were seriously pushing our call out so Ben and I pushed ahead with the lightest bag, leaving Fiona and Jack with the 2 heaviest bags. In hind sight, this probably wasn't the wisest idea but we didn't have time to change it. The 'short crawl' leading to the entrance of Simpsons is a totally misleading description and in reality just would not end. We were both pretty miserable and the usual 'I hate caving', 'Why do I do this', 'Remind me never to go caving again' speeches came out to play, except with stronger wording, Sorry Ben! But hey, that's all part of the experience, right?!
We surfaced at 21:05 and headed down the hill where we could see the headlights of the minibus. Ben went ahead to cancel the call out whilst I plodded off the hill, admiring the display of bats flapping about above my head. Back at the minibus, Rhys and his team, who had been waiting for 1.5 hrs, confirmed that he had called Tony and cancelled our call out. We waited for a further 40 minutes and then begun to worry about Fiona and Jack, who had not yet surfaced. Whilst a party of 3 headed back onto the hill to check all was okay, we were surprised to receive a visit from Tony Seddon. No, he had not brought us Indian take-out, nor the various items of clothing apparel we had forgotten to pack. Instead, he brought a (very friendly) member of the Cave Rescue Organisation (CRO). Whoopsie-Daisy. Despite the call out being cancelled with Tony, the board back at the Red-Rose had not been wiped of our call out, so a very conscientious visitor had noted our absence and made the 999 call. In 5 years of caving, this was the first cave rescue event I had been a part of. As we explained to the nice CRO man that our party members were 'probably alright', five bright lights became visible on the hillside, confirming our claims and relieving us of our doubts! A swift apology and thank you to the volunteers on call and we were on our way back for beer and burritos! We sat down to a hot meal of vegetable chilli buirritos just before midnight and all the memories of misery, cold water and bloody tackle sacks seemed to dissipate with every mouthful. Although we all tried to muster up some staying up power, we gave up and headed to bed not long after. I'll impress them with my pan-and-sling game another time.
Very little enthusiasm for caving on Sunday. An awful lot of faffing eventually resulted in me and Jack leading Ben and Christina on a rigging practice trip down Bull Pot of the Witches.
Ben and I were rigging the 'Chimney' route. Everything went smoothly though the rigging guide does not make it clear that protecting the initial dodgy scramble down to the chimney's starting point requires an extra ~10m rope (it even has p-bolts). Oli helpfully got us extra rope when we approached the actual pitch and realised this.
At the bottom of the entrance pitches we leapfrogged with Jack and Christina who had rigged the next pitch and Ben rigged the final pitch. For future reference there is a p-bolt in the ceiling at the start which is quite hard to spot but which is very necessary.
On the way out we each derigged what the other team had rigged. I thought BPotW was going to be a rubbish cave but it turned out to be quite a nice and interesting bimble.
Chrissy and I did some rigging practise in Bull Pot of the Witches with Jack and Rhys as our guides, respectively. This was a lot more of a relaxing experience than the day before which was definitely welcome. The cave was fun and I learnt a lot (thanks Rhys). I made pigeon noises for entertainment and Rhys and I hid from Jack and Chrissy for a while for shits and giggles. After the caving I took a shower which ended up delaying us by 15 minutes - oops sorry guys.
The following day Rhys and Jack took both me and Ben rigging training in Bull pot the witches. We had an audience to begin with, which was great because we had forgotten many things (rope, slings, nothing essential) which we could request that someone else fetched whilst we hung midair. The cave was good training and experience - my first rigging! We discussed different ways of rigging each pitch which left us little time at the bottom before heading back to the surface. Back at the hut, operation 'Homeward bound' had begun; people were packed, the place was being tidied and a pasta dinner was waiting for us. We finished the tidying up and headed onto the minibus. 'This. Thought Ben, Is the perfect time to take a long relaxing shower'. Weirdly, the rest of didn't agree and we took it in turns to express this and reported back his most recent developments to the minibus full of not-so-patiently waiting cavers. Arriving back at stores at 12 we unloaded the bags and headed home.
I had an excellent weekend away, with the interesting bunch which makes ICCC, visiting new caves and learning new skills. As a token of my appreciation, I peddled over to the union to help with kit cleaning. The three members that arrived got things sorted pretty quickly and I was asked if I I would be returning. I did not hesitate to commit to future trips but after it was revealed that the rope could be washed in the 'wanky' washing machine, I made that a promise.