"Tanguy has a plan." The whispers had started already, and as the cold winds rose we went north, the minibus filled with but seven brave souls. "Tanguy has a plan." We had only rumours, fragments, crumbs, but it was enough to spark excitement, anticipation, and yes, a small but growing worm of fear curled deep in our guts. "Tanguy has a plan." After a winding detour off the M6 we arrived at the NPC before 1 am, and settled into sleep, nervous, fidgety, and curious to see what the morning would bring.
On our way up one of the Dubs brothers informed us that the M6 is the most haunted motorway in Britain, boasting amongst other spectral appearances, ghosts of Roman soldiers and phantom lorries (are the soldiers driving the lorries?). We decided that this was ???? 2spooky4us ???? and so diverted into the countryside for hours until the rozzers (who are in league with the phantasmic forces) closed off enough roads to forces us back onto the M6. A quick blood sacrifice ensured that we made it to the NPC in good time untroubled by spooks.
An Easegill traverse. But not a short one, like Tanguy did on Winter tour, a mere Top Sink to Lancaster Hole, but even further, to from Top to Mistral. The furthest I've been was County to Lancaster, and I was excited to see the rest of the system. We were off early, changing at Bullpot Farm in a blizzard, and Tanguy volunteered to rig Lancaster whilst the rest of us faffed our way across the fell to Top Sink. Tanguy caught us quickly by taking a cunning short cut, and we dropped into Top, an entrance near the flowing stream in a small and unlikely looking depression.
Top begins with a rickety ladder climb down into a tight rift, with an active streamway. The rift is passed sideways, legs bent, and is wider at the bottom — this is useful when it gets too tight as you can back up and crawl through at the low level. Soon we reached the first pitch, and I explained to Tanguy how we'd rig it for a canyoning trip as we were doing a pull through — feed the rope through both bolts, and tie a clove hitch around the spine of a big karabiner to 'block' the rope, abseiling off the other end. I stood in the nice crows nest at the top of the pitch, helping the others onto the rope before descending myself. It's a fine pitch of dark rock, lashed by spray, reminiscent of the final pitch in the Adamsons route of Notts 1. I had a shiny new steel bobbin on my simple, and despite Rhys' warnings that it'd be super fast, I found it no quicker than my old, extremely worn aluminium bobbin.
Tanguy assured my that the streamway got larger at this point, but I saw no evidence of that being true as we thrutched our way towards the second, far smaller pitch. Here Tanguy clipped the krab to the bolt for safety, but as Rhys didn't realise this he had to ascend back up and sort it out before we could pull through. My memory is a bit of a blur here — lots of streamway, getting larger, plenty of inlets on the left (ignore those) and then a complicated junction where you need to climb high above the stream and cross over to the right and then back over a rock bridge to the left before free climbing up inside a rift into Nagasaki chamber. I suspect the Not for the Faint Hearted description is adequate here as Tanguy had no problems the first time through.
We stopped for super-saturated lemon vitaminski (thanks DW!) and sugar hot drink before ploughing on. Tanguy leads us to the Easter Grotto, a fantastically well decorated chamber with plentiful straws on the ceiling. With three flashes and plenty of people, Rhys and I take a few photographs as the others shiver. Sated, we drop down into the main route on, and eventually we arrive in Stop Pot, spot our usual lunch spot, and head up the ladder. From here on, it's familiar territory, as we plunge through the high level fossil passage singing 'On Ilkley Moor Ba'tat'. Soon we pass round Scylla and Charybdis, less intimidating than the first time I did them, and we get to Stake Pot. The longer way out is via the Wormway and then to Mistral, the other is to Lancaster Hole — I look at my watch and see it is 5 pm, and we have a 10 pm call out. What with the walk and the drive back, it looks like we'll be pushing it, but Tanguy is keen and we construct an argument whereby DW is the one at the NPC and is quite sensible, and would presumably call Bullpot Farm to see if we were out before contacting the CRO. Rhys volunteers to head out Lancaster with Diss and Ryan, as he's keen to use all three flashes to photograph on the way.
This leaves me, Tanguy, and, of course, the Dubz Bruvs. We backtrack, find the quite obvious route on, and armed with NFTFH laminates I lead the way for all of fifteen metres before going wrong. Davie Dubz spots the crawl on the right, low to the floor but well polished, and we squeeze through, following the winding network of passages through to the 88 foot Aven. This is an impressively deep winding rift with some good wooden stemples and an in situ rope (though NFTFH suggests bring your own 55 m for the pull through.) As I prepared to unclip my cowstails and descend, I paused to check my omni. It was open. Swearing slightly, I hauled myself away from the 30 m drop and did it up, joining the others at the bottom with a bit of a distant look in my eye.
The lower passages in Easegill are remarkable. Why are they there? Between the 88 Foot Aven and Echo Aven is the Wormway, a series of interesting stooping passages and active streamway which passes under Easegill Beck before sumping. At Echo Aven Tanguy went up one of the two fixed ropes before declaring it the right way, and I waited at the bottom, utilising the acoustics to their full as Jimmy and Davie climbed. At the top, Tanguy is searching for the way on, and has tried several grim leads. NFTFH doesn't describe this section (apparently it's described in another bit we didn't have, which is sub-optimal), but Tanguy kindly offers me a particular grim lead. At the top of the pitch, take the left fork and immediately crawl up through the boulder choke on the right into a small chamber. The chamber is mostly filled with boulders, but at the far side a flat out crawl curves to the left and eventually breaks out into a shattered streamway. The wind here was cold and strong, and I could smell the outside as Davie Dubz cursed and thrashed his way through behind.
We regrouped, spotted a carbide arrow high on the right wall and crawled above a fossil streamway through to the bottom of Link, which was marked by numerous very tall cairns. The directions told us to look for an obscure climb up, and after checking out a far less obscure one, we found the correct climb. It's truly obscure, but very, very pretty and obvious once you find it. Buouyed by this discovery, we pressed on, eyeing the directions with a rising sense of doom. Words like 'wet', 'flat out' and 'muddy' swam in front of my eyes as I followed behind the others.
I have no specific memories, except for Davie Dubz getting 'stuck', described below, but over all I would not recommend Link Crawl. I got extremely wet and quite cold, and it is rather thrutchy. After an age, I realised those ahead of me had stopped spluttering and moaning, and soon afterwards I joined them at Dusty Junction. Tanguy turned to me and said 'Next time I try to do something that stupid, please stop me.' I pointed out that I'd advocated for everyone going out of Lancaster hole, and Tanguy suggested that physical restraint may be necessary.
The way out to Mistral is easy in comparison, just a slightly tight crawl best done on one side. The surface was freezing cold, and although I had a large stone in my welly (later shown to be potato sized) I didn't feel like removing it, and so trudged downstream with my fingers balled into fists inside my gloves. As we got closer to Bullpot Farm, Tanguy and I split off to derig Lancaster. I asked Tanguy is he wanted to have the pleasure of being out of the wind derigging, but he reckoned he hadn't the strength after dragging 70 m of rope through Link crawl and let me do it.
Soon we were back at the minibus and Tanguy helped removed my welly and the offending potato stone. Rhys drove us back in a baking hot bus and we made a delicious mushroom risotto with Tanguy's stairs pie for dinner.
On Saturday morning, after a large breakfast (smaller numbers = more food!), we drove out to Casterton Fell on the Easegill system. The weather was cold and snowy, so we were anxious to get into the caves and out of the wind. After about a 45 minute hike from the minibus and through Easegill Beck, we arrives at the entrance at Top Sink which consisted of a well-used hole with a surprisingly stable ladder going down into the caving area. The caverns of the cave initially consisted of tight walls, winding endlessly to the SRT zone. After rappelling down an underground waterfall, we found ourselves in some large caverns. The latter two-thirds of the cave consisted of moderately large caverns and passageways involving an extensive degree of traversing. At Stake Pot we decided to split as Rhys, Rebecca and I took a shorter (and much drier) diversion to the exit. Overall the cave was a great experience and could be compared to the caves in Wales due to the high degree of traversing.
Having got up and eaten some breakfast, we finally started thinking about caves. Someone suggested doing Top Sink to Mistral, suggesting that it would be a really good trip. Not really acknowledging how long a ‘10-12 hour’ trip really was, I agreed, eager to try out the new route. After much faff and realising I had forgotten my chest harness, we began the walk to top sink which felt a lot shorter now I had been there before. We found some great icicles on the snowy walk down and the treacherous invisible boggy holes were just as fun as usual. The trip down from top sink was nice - remembering bits of the way made it seem much shorter than last time as I was no longer blindly chasing Tanguy. We soon got to Nagasaki chamber, a large hall floored with big boulders, and climbed the ironically named fairy steps. The fairy steps set the scene for several bits of Ease Gill, consisting of slightly sketchy/exposed muddy climbs. After another semi-awkward climb in a rift we arrived at Easter Grotto – an amazing chamber with many, many stalactites and columns. David and I decided to continue through the chamber until the red tape ran out – fyi, the stal just gradually gets less dense and bigger before ending with a single thick stubby column. In the meantime, Rhys was setting up his array of flashes, missing the incredible pun opportunity that could have been “Flash me.” I held the one at the back whilst lying down and trying not to knock the ceiling. Eventually we finished the modelling session and we descended down a muddy rope into another chamber.
From here onwards, we took the high level route to Stop Pot, which involved climbing up and down boulders for quite a while. At Stop Pot we climbed the ladder and there followed some more walking through large boulder-filled chambers with muddy floors. We reached the Minarets (a passage with a kremlin-style cross-section) and took some more photos. Shortly after we reached stake pot. We had a break and decided to split up. Me, Tanguy, David and Jack would continue to Mistral, and Ryan, Diss and Rhys would head out of Lancaster Hole. It was at this point that I realised the reality of the length of a 10 hour trip – we had already done almost all of the route from Top to Lanc that we did with Tanguy on Winter tour and there were another 4 hours to go.
The route from here onwards was new, and challenging in sections. I can’t quite remember the order of all the bits that came next, but here they are: The first section of the route to Mistral was initially easy, with some more muddy crawling like before and a part with an obscure™ gap behind a boulder. There was one section with two ways to go, involving a squeeze lying on your side or an ‘easy 3m free climb’. Tanguy and Jack decided they liked the word easy, whereas David decided to try the squeeze. He got stuck and I pulled him out. Whilst he was walking over to the climb, I managed to squeeze through – success! Later we arrived at the 88ft Pitch, which is a really nice open vertical chamber with small waterfall that is not flowing down where the rope is. At the bottom I think there was quite a nice rift as well. The Wormway was particularly characteristic, with a fairly long mix of stooping and hands and knees crawling in a shallow stream way with very fresh mud on the walls. Parts of this were less fun but they provided a good introduction the wet crawls which would come later. Eventually we arrived at dusty junction, which was not very dusty. Hilton hall under Link Pot was impressive and a relief from stooping with some large floor to ceiling cairns “idiot stones” that looked like they needed some druids to accompany them. A particularly obscure™ crack in the wall (we didn’t notice it the first time and it didn’t even look like it led anywhere) led to a short climb into a small standing height chamber.
Somewhere around here there was also a wobbly ladder, held in place with ropes although that may have been later.
Now began the Wet Wallows and the Muddy Wallows. The Wet Wallows were a grim crawl that gradually got narrower and narrower until the passage just disappeared through a small just-about-person-sized section in some water, with a slightly raised section in the middle that could fit a head. On approaching this, my first thought was that this did not look like the way on, it looked more like a duck than a crawl. This section was especially unpleasant, requiring you to dip the side of your face in the water to get through. Having got through the 2m of cold squeezing and out into the wider section, I heard the one thing I did not want to hear from behind me – “can you come back through and help me?” Do I have to? I slowly turned around and started reluctantly going back into the crawly section, hoping that David would find his own way through in the time it took for me to get back to the worst bit. David’s method of getting through the Wet Wallows seemed to be by shouting very loudly at them however I was grateful this worked as the alternative of actually pulling him out would have been much worse. In between the wet and muddy wallows there was another wet crawl which although less narrow was wetter than before on account of having shoulder deep (whilst lying down) water. I think this section should have been named The Horse Trough. The muddy wallows were just a gravelly version of the wet ones, and a bit wider. Eventually we reached the final climb out of mistral, a few hours after splitting up at Stake Pot. I had not anticipated how long the trip would be, and it provided plenty of caving (8 ½ hours!). The walk back to the bull pot farm was fairly grim in the wind and snow. A bit of an epic, and I would do this again, although it was definitely not sold as such in the morning.
James ‘Jimmy Dubz’ Wilson
On Sunday we arrived at Alum Pot (north flank of Ingleborough) on another cold, rainy and snowy day. Our groups decided to split off (with Rhys and Tanguy heading to another cave nearby). We entered in Long Churn crawling along a stream followed by a ~3 meter free climb until we arrived at the SRT area. After rappelling down the flat underground face, we popped out half way down the Alum Pot main shaft which was open to the surface. The area had some amazing views and lighting which made for some great photography. After rappelling and traversing across the main shaft, we arrived at an SRT zone rigged below a large, leaning boulder. While the positioning of the set-up made it challenging to rappel (involving swinging out below the boulder), everyone made it to the bottom of the shaft in good time. The shaft continued on lower into the cave, but we decided against going any further due to time constraints. Overall the experience within the cave was one of my best ones to date and I would highly recommend it to those looking to take in some amazing views and gain some SRT experience.
Tanguy proposed Washpot — I wanted to go, but it obviously wasn't suitable for the entire group so I agreed to do Alum and bank some credit for doing a tough trip some other time. After all, I had unfinished business with Alum — the last two times I'd gone to rig the hanging rebelay off the underside of the central boulder, I'd chickened out and got someone else to do it. This trip it was easy, and I rigged two traverse lines around to the y-hang, one high and tight, and one slack so it could be grabbed on the way up. Tanguy apparently rigs this with a short rebelay, which I can definitely see the merit of.
Alum was beautiful in the blizzard, with huge snowflakes caught in fractal vortices whirling through the air, catching the pale winter sun as they fell all the way to the stream at the bottom. Jimmy Dubz derigged, aided by Davie who took a rope bag, and I waited at the bottom of the top pitch, watching them along with three people from Cambridge who were doing a Sunday bimble with a complete novice who was (rightfully) in awe of the cave. We had to wait a bit for them to climb up the rope (note to self - always rig the high route, no one else does!) and met Bristol on the way out, who were insisting on doing SRT on the easy free climb above the pitch. They were unwilling to let us quickly climb up, so we decided to find another way out. I climbed up to the cheese press, but a shout from Davie Dubz let me know there was a way over the top — there is, but it's quite exposed as it pops out above the second free climb. Still, good to know about, and we were soon on the surface.
Back at the minibus, we were all changed and ready to do when a distressed group of walkers showed up. They had got turned around on Ingleborough and wanted to get back to their coach in Ingleton. I'm unsure how they got that badly turned around (180 degrees!) but I was keen not to give the CRO any more work than we usually do, so they sat in the back as we drove carefully along the winding roads. Mistakenly believing they were Scottish, I played a fair bit of Silly Wizard, which was apparently much appreciated. I was later informed they were Scouse, so I'll own my ignorance to admitting to it here...
The muscles around my shoulder blades ached abominably on Sunday morning. The day before options around Alum Pot were discussed and seeing as everybody was up for caving again I looked for neighbouring caves I hadn’t visited before. Washfold was one such, and the description from NFTFH had a conspicuous dearth of superlatives such as ‘very tight’ or ‘extremely wet’. Instead, and Washfold is probably the unique cave described there as ‘uncomplicated’. That was good enough for me…
Rhys thought he’d come with me since Jack led the luminous Alum group so we drove off towards Selside farm, where Herr Konduktor parked first in the middle of a deep puddle and second onto a soft muddy verge, sputtering to a halt as he lost the traction. Again, that was good enough for me.
Outside, the wind was howling and there was moisture in the cold air. Once changed, and therefore invicible, Rhys and I walked up the hill, past the Long Churn entrances and along the top of the scar to the north where Washfold was. With the use of GPS, the entrance was quickly located. It was a fenced off little shakehole, not far from the stone walls. Underneath our feet, several holes led down to a small stream passage.
Tucking the GPS under a tuft of grass in a tupperware box, we adjusted our bags, SRT kits packed inside and climbed down to the stream, which we followed to a large calcite obstruction where the passage turns 180° to the left. We had to climb up to the roof bedding plane, squeeze through the opening and climb back down the steps of the calcite flowstone to the enlarging streamway.
I then carried down at stream level for another downclimb, mostly using friction against the scalloped passage walls to land on a churning pool of water. A white jet of water sprayed the darkness beyond, falling with a deep, thunderous rumble. This I then assumed was the large, first pitch, and Rhys, looking ahead from a higher level of the rift spotted the traverse bolts.
I clambered back up to the ledge where he sat and we put our SRT kit on. The first anchor was a rusty D-ring type, but we couldn’t see any other artificial anchors for the traverse continuation. There was a large rock bollard 3 metres in the rift at roof level, so securing the rope to the ring, I dived in, wrapped a sling around the natural, rounded the corner and then saw the DMM anchors, protruding from the roof. At the far end, in a little alcove overlooking the 40m drop, were the bolts for the Y-hang. Once rigged, I abseiled slowly, looking for the deviation anchors that would provide a drier descent, found them, and whizzed down. It was more than good enough!
At the base of the pitch, the draught and chill were palpable, so I walked downstream for ten metres, waiting for Rhys to join me and carry on the exploration. He was soon down. We were both enjoying the moment, the new cave, the simplicity of the pitch, Yorkshire caving at its best! Further downstream, the stream passage gave way to a decorated rift, with ‘memorable’ climbs down angular flakes. Thankfully, there was a rope for the first 11m climb down, which we descended, but the next was unprotected and we were not happy with going down freestyle or otherwise. I carried on traversing for a little while at a well decorated level, marked by an undercut beneath the rift walls where a grey and ochre mud formation had weathered more rapidly than the surrounding limestone. Many other caves have this ‘stratum’ : Little Hull, at the bottom of the big pitch sprang to mind, Easegill too, just above the level of Main Drain.
The way out was relatively uneventful, that is, until the very last climb out of the cave where, losing my footing as I was passing a bag up to a ledge, I slipped down to stream level (2m below). I was unhurt: Rhys had quickly sprang into action and spotted me, but there was an easier way up which he scouted afterwards: the middle of the three holes leading to the stream. We vowed to return to Washfold, as it was a nice day out, but we’ll bring more ropes to protect the free-climbs and make our way to the sump.
Outside, the world was turning white, as large snowflaked fell on the moors, blanketing the flanks of Ingleborough. Arriving at Long Churn entrances, we quickly sought the relative warmth of the cave, where we picked up Diss before making a break for the minibus. There we had great fun watching a novice caver struggle with wellies for twenty minutes, then with their central maillon and finally with their oversuit. Much to our amusement, their mentor jumped out of the car and yanked the oversuit by the collar with one brisk move, as if they were skinning a rabbit.
In time, the rest of the Alum team emerged from the mists, followed by a couple of hikers who asked for a lift back to Ingleton, we agreed, having two spare seats left and drove back in time for tea and medals, or rather reheated but ever more scrumptious risotto.
In the morning I noticed that the book of death lay conspicuously open on Washfold Pot. Tanguy had picked it and was looking for a crack team. Well, you can't say no to Tanguy. Everyone else seemed keen for Alum so Tanguy and I formed a gruesome twosome (in hindsight definitely a good idea).
We floated the minibus across a lake on the Alum track and wedged it securely in some thick mud. I carried my stuff out of the bus and began changing, sheltering in the lee of of the bus from the fierce wind. It was not until I got my wetsocks on that I noticed that everyone else was in the back of the bus changing! Come on. Barely a grade 3 change.
Once invincible in fleece and PVC Tanguy and I struck off up the familiar track. We discussed how we hadn't caved together in a while, even managing to avoid each other in Slov. Past Alum, past Long Churn and further across the fields. The walking is easy after Alum, you've gained all the height you need, but the weather was still punishing. Strong winds blasting invisible particles of ice into our eyes and sanding any exposed skin. Tanguy speculated that it might've been picked up from Penyghent and blown across. We pass a delightful toadstool shaped rock.
The entrance is classicly cavey, a couple of ~4/5m deep divots in the ground surrounded by fencing and the odd windswept tree. We hide the keys and slither in, Tanguy ahead. Down the smooth entrance climb, falling more than climbing, a slight worry about the return climb flicks across my mind. The cave is tight and small. Sideways stooping, back in perched on a thigh in front of you or dangled behind. Some tortuous passage later Tanguy find a too tight corner and decides this is where we must climb up. He wiggles up the rift and half inserts himself into the bedding plain above. Satisfied that its the way on, reassured by smooth rock, I watch his feet scramble for a while before being pulled out of sight. Tanguy shouts back that its a helmet off affair. I wiggle, ungracefully, up the smooth rock. Pass the bags through. This takes a little effort as they are slightly bigger than the passage. Luckily no Daren drums, only compressible rope.
Next I go. The passage is indeed tight even with helmet held at arms reach in front. It forces me to the side, naturally encouraging me through its widest (still not wide) point. On the other side Tanguy and I share a satisfied look of squeeze connoisseurs. This is certainly a collectors item. The cave continues as it was, but not for long. Tanguy comes to a large pitch, after a small climb down. Still up the climb I spot the bolts far away in the ceiling of the rift. We backtrack until we can climb up. The top of the passage gives us some space to don our SRT kit, this is probably 'The Depot'.
Tanguy rigs off a rusty bolt in the ceiling and traverse further into the rift. It's like the T-shaped passage, but slipperier, with fewer footholds and, towards the end, with a 40m drop below. I do not envy Tanguy's exposed position ahead of his belays. He finds a solid natural and further bolts until he comes to a Y-Hang. Suspecting that we don't have enough rope he send me back to derig the first section of the traverse, between ol' rusty and the big natural. This section of the traverse is still a little exposed but probably tight enough below that you'd get stuck rather than fall. I move the knots forward and adjust. Tanguy descends. He spends some time working up some momentum to reach a deviation in a rather complicated oval flight path. Once the pitch is sufficiently deviant for him he continues, wooping with delight. I watch him far below fiddle with his kit in what seems to be a spray filled chamber. He quickly scampers down the passage and calls back "Rope Free!".
I move forward. Tanguy has rigged this tricky pitch head quite cleverly. The final traverse bolt is rigged with enough rope to put your descender on. Then you descend under a tight bit and can push backwards with your feet to reach the y-hang and change over as at a rebelay. I recommend this method (it was equally fine on the way out). I get on the Y-Hang and look down. It is a pitch that inspires some double checking of krab gates. Similar to Large pot in have a huge pitch bellow out below some tight twatty passage. The rock is dark, and the stream jets out of an opening some 8m down, spreading out to fill the chamber below with spray. Descending is a joy, and the free hang beyond the dev is surprisingly dry. 40m or so in one pitch! Very nice.
At the bottom I too quickly scurry into dry passage, finding Tanguy there. We continue. The passage here is larger. The whole thing is obviously one huge rift, with the water cutting down erratically, suddenly and deep. There are horizontal levels to traverse along though. We follow one until we get to a rope. Presumably one of the mentioned free climbs - we are very grateful for the in-situ rope and descend it. Along another well decorated level, the stream disappearing far below. We find some tatty string indicating the next free climb down but it's completely mental. Somewhat irresponsible of the book of death to recommend these climbs I think. We continue traversing for a bit and then get sketched out. We turn round.
The way out is pleasant with two. Very quick. I derig (and also carry the ridiculous non-daren standard big red bag which is terrible). We shortly arrive at the entrance climb. Tanguy ascends half way up and tries to shove bags above him. Unfortunately he slips, luckily only a metre or so. He is fine, fine enough to try again successfully this time. He then climbs up himself. I wiggle under the climb to try a second opening. This one is much easier. Go for the middle hole, future Washfolders.
The weather has worsened on the surface. Big fat snow flakes whipping horizontally across the fell. We amble towards Alum, nicely chilled by the time we reach the entrance (and we don't see the toadstool shaped rock :O). Glad to be in the relative warmth of the cave we nip down to the first pitch where a father/very small child duo are doing SRT practice. We wait for them and they take an age. Below we can hear people who sound like ICCC. Some are, some aren't. There is a Cambridge person that sounds identical to Ryan adding to the confusion. Diss comes up and we decide to extract her from the cave, leaving the others, as we are getting cold.
We change at the bus and wait for the other. They are a while but all is fine. I see Hitler in the subtle shadings of fog on the windscreen. Some scousers appear and ask for a lift to Ingleton, apparently having been lost on Ingleborough. We oblige. Solid day.