Alex Seaton, David Wilson, Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, Jarvist Frost, Rhys Tyers, Tanguy Racine, Thomas Porter
For the second time running I bought the cheese and onion focaccia at the Leamington Spa Morrisons on the way up to Yorkshire. Together with chocolate muffins, some apple juice and a pork pie, these make for a particularly satisfying Friday evening munch, without which I might not have so readily accepted the last spell of driving.
The road turned out to be fine, even though we chose to leave the M6 at junction 36 to take the A65 to Kirby Lonsdale, and thence to Greenclose. We arrived to a full carpark, with a sizeable NPC contingent. Lively and lovely discussions, cups of tea, beers… I knew the time was ripe to whip out a survey of Large Pot and ensnare some cavers in my trap. David and Alex fell for it almost at once.
I had a plan of going down to Colossus pitch (one of the two prescribed routes in NFTFH – the other is Red Herring Series, a well rounded trip in itself but too wet by far to be attempted on that weekend). Anything found beneath this 42m hang would be bonus, but I obviously had a plan to find the bypass to the Mousehole. ‘They’ could ruddy well laugh.
I tried all the dormitories and finding myself in a non-sociable mood, took the entire lower bunk space in the far room above the kitchen. I slept wonderfully…
Large Pot: Alex Seaton, David Wilson, Jarvist Frost, Tanguy Racine
"A man who is not afraid of [Large pot] will soon be [stuck], he said, for he will be going [in] on a day he shouldn't. But we do be afraid of [Large pot], and we do only be [stucked] now and again." ~ with apologies to John Millington Synge
I was very keen for King. At stores on Tuesday, it soon became apparent that this was a minority plan, as everyone else was sick to their teeth of Kingsdale in general, and King in particular. Tanguy's planned visit to Large sounded like the nearest bestest thing.
With Large, I've had a difficult relationship. It was one of the first Grade IV trips I led, coming in the Rift end on an exchange. Some 10 hours later, Sandeep and I tumbled out of the entrance and rolled down the hill. Saturated with grey mud, we were so wild-eyed at having followed a poor route description backwards (in a maze of twisty tight passages), that the exuberance of finding the 2nd pitch ropes powered our derig through the tight pitch head. Not wearing gloves, once I washed the mud off, I found a million tiny cuts on my hands, and spent the next week looking rather hagged. Several years later, outrageously more qualified (to the point where I should have really known better), I managed to get myself suspended upside at the head of the 2nd pitch, with my cows-tails between my ankles. By the time Thara had caught up with my and sliced the offending cows-tail, the capillaries had burst in my face. Again, I looked for a week like I'd had a much harder life than I've enjoyed.
The weather was still and stable, we changed by the pumping station and then walked up the hill. Large pot is a high entrance, and the last hundred metres was with proper (if slushy) snow. The clag had come down, but with the white carpet, there was still plenty of light bouncing around.
Tanguy set off to rig, and we followed down. There's not much to back-up the entrance pitch to, but there are a couple of nice closely spaced (one hidden) P-bolts from which to have a proper y-hang. We shuffled down to the 2nd pitch. Tanguy rigged, Alex followed, and then David got repeatedly stuck on his way to the pitch head. From the first pitch there is a feet-first shuffle into a little chamber, and then a meandering rift that leads to the pitch head. The first part I find quite difficult, as it is sinuous and my long-legs get stuck trying to 'dog leg'. There is then a mini widening where the P-bolts start, and then after about 2m, the pitch hang. This requires a descender (preferably not a Stop!) rigging while lying down, and then a shuffle + holding yourself as far 'away' as possible to descend.
David taking his time was very convenient. I was not having much a fun time with the squeeze on the way to the start of the rope! It had probably been a full year since I was last in a tight cave (Slovenia is never tight; and the Autumn trips were all fresher enough friendly). I tried the squeeze, felt my legs get wedged, and then realised that I was pinned in by my shoulder and arm. I backed out, sat in the little chamber thinking happy thoughts, and then gave it another go. Certainly the issue was mainly psychological (it did not help that I had been reliving my suspension many years earlier, in telling everyone about it), but also that lack of core-body strength required to shuffle yourself sideways through a squeeze. After a few insertions - escapes - calms - re-insertions, I had popped through to the traverse, and comparatively speaking, found the abseil easy. In Large pot, one of the reasons the strenuous passage between the 2nd and Colossus is so enjoyable, is that it means you don't need to think about passing the 2nd pitch for a few hours!
The trip was now very enjoyable. We kept close together, and squished and squeezed our way through the vadose chunks of rift and phreatic crawl-ways on top. Nothing is ever that tight, but almost all involves you physically being in contact with the rock. It also gets muddier and muddier. Soon you encounter puddles, which look shallow, but are actually a skim of water on top of 40 cm of chocolate mousse consistency mud! By the head of Colossus, the passage is very fine. The moon-milk has deposited itself to form a miniature dam. We refilled our water Nalgene here.
Colossus itself is a fine pitch, effectively a L-hang (vaguely made into a asymmetric y-hang). There are still a load of random traverse lines in-situ, if you want to do the trip with minimalism. The trickle of water going down the pitch hits a ledge and ricochets exactly where the rope hangs. As a result it is always damp, and today there was a particularly hard rain falling. However, I don't think it is very dangerous - as long as you are psychologically OK with climbing through water.
Pausing in the main chamber, we ate our bagels (delicious), the meat eaters carved into Tanguy's pork pie, and we sipped our flask of hot Ribena. Delightful! Perhaps perverse to bring an additional tackle sack of delights to a small cave, but it really made the trip more enjoyable, and everyone can do with more tackle-sack carrying practice!
We then set off to investigate the Mousehole bypass. All admired the Necropolis, and then we got stuck into the boulder choke. The bypass is really quite easy to find, spot the fat ropes in the chamber back (+ up) from the final bedding-plane squeeze to the Mousehole. An easy climb up the fixed rope lead to a crawlway with a small stream that got lower and wetter looking. No particular motivation to get wet, we desisted and went to look at the Mousehole. Tanguy squeezed through - just - with his SRT kit. I gave up after getting my croll stuck. Alex I think completed, but without SRT gear. David got stuck, and then went back to look around instead.
Our high speed exit plan was smoothly executed, Alex and I taking the comf + spare metalwork out to the base of the 2nd pitch, Tanguy and David derigging Colossus behind. They were with us barely 15 minutes after we arrived.
Combined tactics were then used to get the tackle sacks out the cave, Alex clipping one to the pitch bolt, me following up with another and then manhandling them both onto the traverse line while swinging around below. There is not much space to do this at all - and I was very glad for my Pantin. You're so busy there's no time to be claustrophobic!
Up on the surface, there were clear skies and a deep freeze. While Tanguy derigged I star-gazed; the Earth-glow disc of the crescent moon was well visible against the black, the Milky Way wheeled overhead, and I spotted one satellite. Crunching down from the fell, soon spotted the minibus with signs of activity - perfect timing! We had gone underground at 11, and were out at 18:30.
Ensconced in Green Close, a very pleasant evening of eating (Pea Soup; followed by Brown-rice and sweet-potato and cabbage stew), and chatting to the many small groups of cavers visiting the hut was had. It was very nice to chat to a mix of people - these days it is unfortunately quite rare, and we somehow find ourselves mostly alone at the huts!
The next day we were petrified of the snow forecast. Deciding that we didn't really want to get snowed into a valley from which we couldn't escape; we made no caving plans. Walking plans collapsed once people realised quite how unpleasant it was to walk in the blown snow outside! We finished off our left-overs for an early lunch, and then departed early for London.
"A tight and muddy fissure for the loose limbed connoisseur
Colossus without a drip is a trip without a fuss." Anon
At breakfast, we experimented with more sausages than bacon for the meat eaters, and fewer mushrooms than average for the veggies the following morning. Still, with the ropes already packed and breakfast out of the way, we only needed to wait for Tom, who showed up not long after before zooming to Masongill.
The minibus brakes seemed to work fine, which came in handy, when on the fell lane we met up an incoming vehicle. They, being the smaller of the two, and hence disproportionately filled with a sense of self-righteousness, refused to reverse to the easily reached passing place behind them. Typical… Change of drivers, so we reversed for a while until they managed to pass by us on the left-hand side.
Then we had a heated conversation about the merits of the grading system for the grimness of the change into caving gear. It wasn’t that bad, and soon we trudged up the Turbary road. We split between Jarv, Alex, David and I going to Large Pot, and Jack, Rhys, Jack and Tom heading west by northwest into the cloud base. Apparently they went caving.
We on the other hand we on to a much more exciting mission: wriggling through the entrance series of Large. To find the entrance is very easy when keeping within 20m from the drystone wall to the left, and going up, and up and up the hill. Turbary Road bends to the right, but we carried on up to the fenced shakehole which contains Little Pot. Between that and the wall is a smaller depression with the lidded entrance.
The first pitch is formed in the very top of the cavern-hosting limestone sequence of the Yorkshire Dale. It is very dark and sharp, with runnels going down the pitch so deeply entrenched that they are more like vertical blades protruding from the shaft walls. It depends how one sees it I suppose.
Then, the wriggle through to the second pitch head, I rigged from three P-bolts. Down the slot, which opened up, led to a rebelay, followed by deviation and immediately the third pitch, which is comparatively roomy, to land in Thornton Hall. I started singing, oblivious to all the Jarv-Davie shenanigans. Alex joined me, and finally the other two. In the meantime, I checked out the start of the Red Herring Series (which is a simple walk downstream), answered the call of nature and came back to join Alex on a flat rock.
Then Large gets interesting, with the pit (down up 4 metres), the junction with Anal Inlet and the start of Secret Seven passage. The muddy crawl, which takes a fair draught relents at a choice between a tight rift and further, wetter crawling. The jury’s still out on which is the best option. Both routes join up again at a three way junction: Tinkle Inlet (upstream) and Tinkle Passage (downstream). Downstream is fun crawling on pebbles, with many more straws on the side than I remembered at first. Zigzags, meanders, screeches of croll against rock, fun times.
And then, Large gets pernicious. A rooftube from which Davy superman’ed his way out. Moonmilk and mud in profusion throughout Arcadia, where I eventually got my wellies wet, some decent formations and gours and the noticeable draught. Colossus: a massive hang which Davie rigged, then descended. He had a very dim light, which must have added to the sense of excitement. I followed after, until the unimaginable happened. Alex, who had been standing at the top of the pitch shifted his stance. How dare he! The accumulated water behind his welly rushed over the pitch head in one gigantic surge and drenched me.
But then, so did the waterfall from the pitch.
At the bottom, once all had descended we climbed onto a large mud bank to have lunch: pork pie, bagel and cheese, and jelly babies of the finest quality. All of it washed down with hot squash. Luxurious.
Then Large gets seriously impressive: the Necropolis, not five minutes away from the bottom of Colossus. Large space, some delicate formations, easy walking, interesting sediment. What’s not to like, especially after three hours of toil through the high level series?
But then, Large hits you back with a gloriously tight, wet muddy and loose boulder choke. We crawled through the Eldon extension, and crawled and squeezed and climbed to the bypass (which we found and turned around in before it required excavation), and crawled some more, and squeezed again (SRT off) to see the Mousehole. A faint breeze blew across the surface of the bathtub of mudwater. Time to turn around…
By the time we got out, ticking all the obstacles in reverse, the sun had set, leaving a starry sky, and a beautiful ‘Lune Cendree’ (ashen Moon?). The snow cover had iced up, and the Ireby fell team was waiting for us in the bus. Apparently, they’d been caving.
I contributed to dinner with a sweet potato curry, while Jarv/Jack prepared some brown rice and pea soup to go with it. The smell of fermenting cabbage made quite an impression the following morning but that’s another story.
Ireby Fell Cavern: Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, Rhys Tyers, Thomas Porter
I've been quite interested in Ireby Fell Cavern ever since Yorkshire 0 last year. Ben, Rhys and I made it through the Skyline that joins Duke Street I to Duke Street II, an impressive 170 m dug out phreatic tube. On the other side we found Escalator Rift, but uncertain of the age of the ropes leading up, we turned round.
This time, I'd checked on UKCaving that the ropes were okay, and so equipped with two keen novices, Mr Jack and Tom, Rhys and I again delved into the depths of the Earth. At the start, the cave was wet - in fact, so wet I was worried we'd have to turn around at Well, repeating the Saturday trip of Y0 2017. Rhys quickly rigged the first two rebelays, and then I split off with Mr Jack to do the Shadow route. This is fantastically good value, as it traverses further out and then swoops through a window into a parallel shaft,rigged with a single bolt in the ceiling from astride a stone saddle.
After this, the pitch changes direction, and requires a swing through a narrow slot. I hard-locked and kicked off, making it through the slot and onto the other side, where I could see Rhys and Rom twenty metres below on the other route. I then rigged a rebelay and dropped down to join them, but on consulting my rigging guide I realised the true Shadow Route didn't rejoin until the bottom of the next pitch. Unwilling not to have the full experience, I prussiked back up, and swung around to the left (facing the last bolt) into another parallel shaft.
So far, so dry, but halfway down the next pitch the water came in, filling the shaft. I looked around for the deviation bolt to pull the rope from the steeply sloping rock face, and my heart sank as I saw it just beneath where the water came in. I abseiled down, hard locked and ducked my head to crate an airspace in the pounding waterfall. The deviation bolt was pulled half out of the wall, but I figured it'd be good for one more go (since reported to the CNCC) and I plummeted down at high speed to avoid getting too wet.
Mr Jack appeared to be having some problems with the narrow slot, but he eventually caught the rest of us up at the bottom of the pitch, and we barrelled on. The streamway always lasts longer than I expect it to, but soon we were at the final few pitches, which Rhys rigged quickly and out of the water. The way to Duke Street I was clear.
We scampered down the passages, stopping only to eat our bagels at Duke Street I, before prussiking up int the skyline. I set off ahead with Tom in hot pursuit, and it didn't half take an age to get through the crawl. At the far end I waited for the others - I wasn't going to stand in the canal waiting for them. They arrived, and I descended with difficulty on the very thick, muddy rope. At the bottom, I turned right (facing the pitch bolt) and waded up-canal - the flow is barely noticeable so it is easy to go the wrong way. I almost avoided getting into deep water, but at one corner my left testicle just dipped into the ice cold canal and I let out a muffled shriek.
The others soon joined me, and we went up Duke Street II to find Escalator Rift. Tanguy had printed us a description from Northern Caves 3 (the new one) on special waterproof paper, and this was very useful - the correct ropes up start at an incredible rocking boulder, wedge in the rift but unable to fall down. The rigging is a bit more expo style, but not too awful, and the pitch is mostly clear of loose rocks. What follows is four or five 10 m pitches, with traverses in between, zigging and zagging back and forth in the rift. At the top is a tight 3 m crawl into a small aven. Here instead of taking the next rope up, the way on is on the left, through a flat out crawl in Jupiter Cavern.
Jupiter Cavern is a bit of a disappointment. It's very large, but with a dark, muddy rock that refuses to show off its grandeur. For all the effort to get here, I'm not convinced it's entirely worth it, but as we photographed the chamber we definitely had that feeling of being far from the surface. Looking at the time, I thought we'd be late, but as we exited the cave things went very smoothly. Rhys derigged the Shadow Route, I barely caught up with Mr Jack and Tom, and we were out to the last remains of sunset at 1730, back at the minibus at 1800.
Ireby Fell is far more than just a good novice SRT cave. It has lots of extensions, fun side passages and serious depths - it's well worth an explore!
A dwindling attendance had left us with a crack team to tackly Ireby with. The walk is quite long but not as long as it felt last time and quite pleasant for that most part. The dusting of snow at the car park became a thick crunchy layer by the time we reached the top of the dirt track. Across the field the pristine white carpet made it obvious that no one had been here since the snow fell. Despite being a rather large shakehole, Ireby appears rather suddenly at the far end of the second field and as soon as I saw it memories came flooding back. I think I had been confusing it with Juniper Gulf as I tried to remember the way, but for Ireby you just follow the obvious path the whole way there.
Jack and I had just one boy each (boys are in short supply in Yorkshire). I took Tom and rigged the entrance and then the standard route down, Jack rigged the shadow route. It was very wet in these upper parts of the cave. One of the traverses required that I sit in the full flow of the stream to rig, and then as I rigged the hang at the end Tom sat in the stream too rather than wait round the corner. I guess he didn't want to feel left out of a full soaking. We quickly rejoined the Jacks and I carried on the rigging. This second half of the vertical was much drier, or at least the stream was content to stay down in the streamway whilst we traversed across the top.
Finally at the bottom we stormed along the streamway into Duke Street 1. We didn't hang around for too long before climbing the inviting rope into the Skyway. This seemed harder than last time though I think it was because we went much faster. The detioration in size of the dig as it approaches the end is really quite funny. We popped out into the canal at the end. Some of us found the super stiff in-situ rope a little easier to descend than others.
Duke Street 2 is lovely, but also rather short. We were very quickly at the limit of last trips exploration where we turned back rather than trust the in-situ ropes leading up a rift. Now, reassured by people on the internet, we were willing to climb. I brought up the rear as we ascended. I'm not sure how far up it is but its a fair few rebelays, and to the credit of the explorers some of them go in quite obscure directions. Luckily no one managed to kick any rocks on me as we ascended.
At the top it is only a crawl or two to Jupite Chamber which was frankly a little disappointing. It was not that large and it was not well decorated. The rock was very dark, and muddy too which did not help the aesthetics. We took some photos which I think came out okay and began the long haul out. It does seem like a long way from the surface. However we were quick and did not stop much and before we knew it we were on the final stretch up the entrance pitches. Between two pitches is a misleadingly long stretch of streamway. This sort of thing always annoys me on the way out, I'd rather just zip up rope all the way.
Jack had convinced (tricked?) me to derig the Shadow route and suggested that only I should go up due to the amount of water and the lack of dry rigging. As we approached the base I told Tom to carry my camera bag out the other route, pulled up my hood and got going. I don't think it was the greatest water flow I have ever prussicked in but integrated over time it might've been the most water that has ever flown over me on a single hang. I was staying quite dry in my PVC with my head down until I got to the deviation that I needed to derig. "Please don't be larksfooted" I thought as I approached. Of course it was (no fault of the rigger) and I ended up having to lean back a long way, waterboarding myself quite thoroughly, in order to undo it.
At the top, I felt refreshed and alive and not too cold. It probably was a good idea that those without Pantins did not attempt it as it wouldn't have been much fun to prussick in it for longer than I did. The rest of the derigging was superb. The shadow route is really very good value. Lots of swinging in and out of little windows, above the other route. I imagine Tom was a bit surprised by the amount of times I appeared above him (I certainly was).
We exited to a clear dusk, and were able to follow our footprints all the way back to the road. We changed and waited about half an hour before little lights dancing on the hill above assured as that the Large team were out.
I would definitely go back to Ireby again. Apparently there is some well decorated passage quite close to Jupiter Cavern. Next time.