Alex Seaton, Arun Paul, Dave Kirkpatrick, Georgia Kouti, Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, Jarvist Frost, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Úna Barker
I was in Plymouth visiting my dad this week and spent a lot of time in the great outdoors instead of finishing off my essay. I got back to London at 10pm on Thursday and had all of Friday morning to finish it off and make all the figures before the trip (quite a lot to do in hindsight). I told myself I couldn’t go if I didn’t get it all finished and printed before kit packing time – the deadline was the following Monday morning. It was a manic rush, I got up at 6:30 and managed to get it all done by 2ish, probably not to the greatest standard but I’d had enough of it at this point. Into uni at some time to print off. It took me four attempts to get it right, bloody printer. But it’s okay, I was done before the bus was ready to leave and so was rewarded with a weekend of luxury at Bull Pot farm caving hut, Lancashire. Wait, what? Not Yorkshire? What is this madness?
The journey was awful. So much traffic. We didn’t get to the hut until 2am so no festivities this evening. Just pain and sleep.
Pippikin Pot: Jack Hare, Jennifer Ryder
I'd first done Pippikin as a novice in 2014, and I remember it being tight and challenging. My memories are strongly focused on the sideways squeeze out above rift, which I did feet first, trying to find a metal stemple to stand on. It's certainly a cave that left a strong impression on me, and I was keen to finally return after four years and see if it was really that tough. Short story - yes, it is.
I spent the morning trying to drum up enthusiasm for the trip. Jarvist, the Ying to my Yang, put as much effort into describing how tight the cave was. Sensibly, most of the others drifted towards easier trips - perhaps my involvement in Ben's incident in Peterson's, only one field away from Pippikin had some influence. In the end, I settled for consent as enthusiasm was too high a bar - Jennifer said she'd go if I really wanted to, and I did, so we did.
I'd already checked Pippikin was rigged via a post on UKCaving, and I had a print out of the the Not for the Faint Hearted Description so we could go out Mistral. We set off in glorious sunshine, chatting with the Cow team until we divided after the style. First we went to Mistral so we knew how to get back to the Farm afterwards, and then we scrambled up the cliff behind and wandered around looking for the right shakehole. There's a bend in the nearby stone wall, and contouring away from that you find a dry valley with the entrance under a few blocks of stone in the bottom. The entrance pitch was indeed rigged, and I scooted down followed quickly by Jennifer.
Pippikin is very compressed in many ways. I remembered all of the obstacles, but I had forgotten they all followed directly one after the other - there is no cave in between. First up is a flat out crawl which immediately leads to Cellar Pot, a deep hole bridge by a stemple which must be crossed to a tight window in the far side. Since Eurospeleo there is a traver line as well, which significantly calms the nerves. The tight window on the other side requires a sideways thrutch that drops into another, smaller pot, requiring you to superman down about 2m, grabbing obnstacles as you go. I filled the space for Jennifer to aid her descent, but she needed very little help.
Another small hole lead into a tight rift. I went in feet first, but backed out when I realised how tight it was. I removed all my metalwork, and went in again, staying high. On the other side, I found a deep pitch and I hastily reequipped as Jennifer came through. After a few attempts she said she was ready to give up and go back out. My heart sank - although we still had the toughest bits to go, even heading out through these first few obstacles would be difficult. I stayed quiet, and on the next try she got through and we zipped down the second pitch.
More tight sideways squeezes followed, with much passing of gear through to aid our descent. The third pitch is remarkably long and beautiful, but at the bottom lay my nemesis, the rift to the stemple. I sat quietly, eating a chocolate bar to calm my nerves as Jennifer descended. As she reached the bottom, I muttered that this might be a bit tough, and began to go through.
I'd removed my SRT kit and also had my purple bag with water and a fuck up rope to manage. These went in first, tucked into the lower part of the rift. I went head first, keeping high, and found it quite easy. One small thrutch and I could see the stemple a metre below. Another pull and I popped out, falling down and catching the stemple. At this point I started whooping and shouting in joy - I'd made it! So many emotions flooded through me as I squatted on a small metal stemple in a tight rift with hundreds of tonnes of rock over my head.
I retrieved my bags, and then climbed hand over hand down the tatty sling to the ground. Jennifer soon joined me - we had a little water and chatted excitedly. The fourth pitch is immediate, and it was beautiful after the tight rift. Down into a streamway and round the corner to the fifth pitch, and then a short rift traverse followed by a very awkward vertical squeeze into a deep pool. How this is done on the way back out is truly beyond me.
The way on is a short free climb up and into a surprisingly tedious rift traverse. The streamway drops away below quite rapidly, and there are few footholds on the wet rock. Eventually, a false floor comes in, sloping the opposite direction to the stream below - some interesting hydrology going on here! At the end of the rift we took the sixth pitch down and followed the sound of water the streamway. Eventually we got to the boulder choke beneath the Hall of Ten, and we popped up to check we were indeed in the right place.
All this time I'd been carrying a spare rope and a fist full of spits in the hope of going down the fabled 7th pitch of Pippikin. This isn't a pitch on the normal route out to Mistral - it lurks under the boulder choke in the Hall of the Ten, down the streamway. Apparently it enters the rather beautiful Waterfall Chamber, and so with that goal in mind, Jennifer and I set off. The boulder choke was a bit tight and I tried not too think about what holds it up. Soon we broke through into real streamway with solid rock over our heads. Many inlets joined from all sides, and it would be fun some time to follow them all - apparently they can provide all sorts of alternative routes to the area around Dusty Junction.
As we moved down the stream, our voices started to echo more and more, and soon we found a patch of still water covered in foam. I was confused - if this passage sumped, where was the pitch? I pushed on, the water getting deeper as the ceiling lowered. I saw only a few inches of airspace ahead and turned round, unsure if we were in the correct place (later I checked in NC3 - this area does sump, so we were unlucky.)
We ambled along to Dusty Junction, through some impressive caverns that reminded me of a cave in the Vercors. At Dusty Junction we realised we still had loads of time and took the route to the Red Chamber, having a bit of an explore in the passages there before they degenerated into crawls. Then it was back to Duty Junction, half a soreen each and then the mercifully brief Mistral crawl.
On the surface we sat in the sunshine watching a male pheasant woo a lady pheasant. The lady pheasant flew off, and the male pheasant starting eyeing us up as likely targets for his wooing. He slowly strutted over, puffing himself up and beating his wings. Jennifer and I stayed completely still and spoke below a whisper as he circled us. His plumage was beautiful - I'd never seen the pink/purple shades in the tail feathers and the amount of detail on the head. After a circumnavigation, he came back and pecked speculatively at Jennifer's yellow wellies. He eyed up my wetsock, but thankfully didn't go for a peck, and then wandered off. We watched him go as two kestrels flew overhead, around their nest on the cliff top. What a way to end a trip!
Wretched Rabbit: Jarvist Frost, Úna Barker
Lancaster Hole: Alex Seaton, Georgia Kouti, Rebecca Diss
We hadn’t been to Easegill in a while and many of us were keen to try out some new entrances, namely Cow and Pippikin, with a trip down Lancaster to accommodate our token SRT beginner, Georgia. I had vaguely thought I’d go down Cow, or Pip at a push, but Jarvist’s description made me think I may literally not fit in Pip so I was dubious. I was also heavily reliant on Ibuprofen for my functioning today so awful squeezes weren’t really on my agenda. I think I’d like to try out Pip one day when in a better mood. Alex had said he would take Georgia down Lanc and Jarvist planned to sneak Una away to Wretched Rabbit, leaving the rest of us to fight over Cow and Pip. Jennifer and Dr Jack were to do Pip. Mr Jack and I decided we certainly were not doing Pip, and both wanted to do Cow. This would have left the trips quite unbalanced, so I said I’d go somewhere else. I also realised that Alex was currently going to be going down Lanc with just Georgia which would make it very difficult to assist with her SRT. A trip down Lanc it was then!
After a cheeky SRT 101 session on the back of the minibus, we left nice and late – maybe 12 or 1pm. The gods were surely pleased. We had to wait a little bit at the surface of Lanc, naturally, as there were some other cavers on their way down. No complaints though, it was a lovely day and the area is very beautiful. Alex was to rig, and I was to help Georgia on the rebelays, which she had never done before. She was much better than I expected – didn’t rig her descender wrong once and was generally pretty competent. She did get a bit caught up at the first rebelay because she was on the wrong side of the loop, but she was able to get out of the situation with a bit of guidance. It’s nice that the rebelays are so close to the top of Lanc so you can just help from the surface, peering down the concrete tube whilst basking in the sun. We were soon in the chamber below, ready to explore Wilf Taylor’s passage. We clambered down to Bridge Hall and left our tackle sack of rope there – it was to rig the pitch in The Graveyard if we had time later. Disclaimer – I often remember things in the wrong order so the passages described may be a bit muddled. We set off and there was some walking passage before a scary mud climb above a big hole. Luckily there were some nice steps dug into the mud, so it was actually very easy, if a little terrifying. Caving with Alex is nice because he too hates the large holes. At the top of this was a short ladder into an awkward squeeze which took me a little while to get through. There was a lot of thrutching and squeaking, with added expletives for good measure.
At some point we were walking along some passage when Georgia suddenly fell down a human sized slit in the floor. She just stepped into empty space and dropped. Luckily, she caught herself – I think on her arms and one knee – so didn’t fall down to the bottom (phew). She was a little shocked but seemed fine considering. At another arbitrary point we made a wrong turn and I ended up in a flat-out crawl for quite some time. We decided this wasn’t right but turning around wasn’t possible so there was some awkward backward crawling and then swift removal of thermals (by me) due to excessive heat. There were some fun free climbs that I’m glad we didn’t have to climb back up. At one point we came to a junction and decided to go left with Alex in the lead. I heard a “holy shit” from Alex and other phrases such as “that’s terrifying”. I was mildly nervous when turning the corner – was there some horrible cave creature? A giant hole to fall down? It took a while to see, but there was actually a rather large toad chilling on a stal/pointy bit of rock, extremely well camouflaged. Alex had apparently almost used it as a hand hold.
We made our way down to the main streamway and at the sump found ourselves in the company of four frogs at different levels of starvation/hypothermia. Poor bastards. There was also a terrifying amount of foam on the ceiling, suggesting this area had flooded very recently.
Some more cave occurred, and we ended up at the bottom of Cow. Did a cheeky bit of SRT to get up to a higher level and Rhys, Mr Jack and Arun appeared. We posed for some pictures and decided to go to The Graveyard as a group. We had rope to rig the small pitch but it was pre-rigged with some fine looking in-situ rope. The Graveyard was cool – covered in stals that vaguely resembled tomb stones. More photography happened before we headed out of the same entrances we came in.
Nothing too terrifying occurred on the way up. Georgia took a while at one of the rebelays but she sorted herself out. I did end up descending back down to the first rebelay to see if I could see what the problem was (I couldn’t really so just hung there for moral support). I was then too lazy to change over so just did an odd free climb whilst pulling the slack through my descender. It was probably fine.
We got back to the hut at a reasonable time to find double J had also been to Bull Pot of the Witches because they are speedy af. Dave apparently gets to have two caves because of his second visit with them. Hmm.
Cow Pot: Arun Paul, Jack Halliday, Rhys Tyers
Alex had impressed me last time with an excellent round trip round Montagu West and Wilf Taylor’s passage in the Western extremes of Easegill. I had been particularly enamoured with the narrow, dark, sculpted rock in the later part of Wilf’s and was keen to return to take some photos.
Enabled by accomodation at Bull Pot Farm, we got going quickly My group; Mr Jack, Arun, and myself. I had chosen Cow as the entrance du jour. Partly because I had not been in a while and partly because it is one of the few rigging challenges in Easegill. Arun would be our rigger and he needed something to keep him entertained.
We dropped down the entrance shaft and encountered the only constriction of the trip. Arun slipped through to find the way on. I followed. Finally Mr Jack came through. Or didn’t. From below I could see his flailing legs and nothing more. It turns out that he is the exact size of the Cow squeeze. It didn’t help that he had left his tackle sack clipped to his harness and was was wedged not only by his body but by the bag somewhere near his head I assume.
I encouraged him to reascend, remove some gear, and try again. I said ‘It will be fine’ several times and I’m sure that this was incredibly reassuring. Despite some difficulty finding footholds (my shoulder and face were eventually drafted) he was soon up and then down again, this time dropping down onto the small ledge. A further slightly tight climb and we dived into the crawl beyond.
Gosh, Jack is quick, I thought as I scrambled along but the thought was lost as we found Arun once again. We meandered over to the start of the traverse and he began the rig. Very competent and none too slow for a new rigger as well, Arun is a pleasure to cave behind. Apart from the odd false butterfly we were incident free as we spidered across the wide pitch head. As Arun was approaching the end of the traverse he called back for the second bag.
“Jack, can you pass the bag forward”
“Haven’t you got it”
With that he set off back to the bottom of the tight climb where the bag had been left.
He returned and we sent Arun down he big pitch. A fine pitch it is too, trepanning the vast fall chamber. It does seem a missed opportunity that there’s no tyrolean to pull yourself into the passage towards Lanc, instead you have to descend all the way to the bottom and reclimb the fixed ropes. Next time we’ll bring some steel wire and install it ourselves.
Once we had climbed said ropes we discarded our SRT gear. Astute readers may be able to spot a slight flaw with this plan. I led on through the big passage and into the pretty crawls of Montagu West. We went quickly, stopping occasionally to admire the stals and straws.
Our round trip included a stop to inspect the horrific digs near the Saturday Afternoon Series where we each inserted ourselves in a different muddy crawl. Mine died first, thankfully. Mr Jack’s next. Finally we had to recall Arun as he had drawn the short straw and picked the one dig that went further than a few body lengths. We had a wander up and down Waterfall passage. Up stream quickly reaches the Bull Pot of the Witches sump and downstream we made it basically all the way back to the main stream. We were stopped by an intimidating looking climb (possibly a pitch). It’s a lovely bit of streamway though. Well worth stomping down.
In Wilf Taylor’s passage we paused a couple of times to take photos I had thought about since last time. We dropped down into the main stream at the end finding 4 unhappy frogs in a line on the wall near the sump. As I photographed them, one found the energy to dive into the sump.
We continued upstream and clambered up the boulders under Fall Pot. At some point we had an epiphany. We had left our SRT gear at the top of the fixed ropes. Our round trip had brought us to the bottom of those fixed ropes. Luckily two solutions were apparent. One: Arun, being competent, had with him a spare jammer and slings. Two: we heard the voices of Diss, Alex, and Georgia far above us.
Arun climbed and Alex retrieved our SRT gear, meeting in the middle. I suggested heading out but Arun was keen for more caving so we agreed to combine groups with Diss and Alex and make a quick trip into the Graveyard, another of the locations I had visited with Alex. Alex and Jack headed off first, agreeing to rig the small pitch. This they failed to do, instead looking at the Collonades. It didn't matter as we had forgotten that the pitch is prerigged anyway.
We made our way down and marvelled at the 30cm high nubs of calcite scattered across the floor. I took some photos and we made our way out. Jack and Arun shared the derig. Jack had some difficulty in the squeeze on the way out but with a choice between the surface and a slow death he elected to struggle upwards towards the light.
Bull Pot of the Witches: A New Dave: Dave Kirkpatrick
I suppose that I ought to write a report for this or else have it forever lost to the annals of time.
So, due to an unfortunate climbing incident some time ago - combined with a stubborn unwillingness to not go caving in Sardinia (strange from me, I know!) my ankle was properly buggered for this weekend. Nevertheless - I refused to go on two caving weekends in a row with no caving so on Friday I came up with a plan for a sneaky jaunt down BPotW while everyone else was out gallivanting in their 'walking passage'. Sod walking - if I don't leave the rope I don't need to use my ankle! Dave 1 : Life 0.
I was informed that it's handy to have a handline down the the Chimney entrance - particularly if you're having trouble with, oh I don't know, standing up. So I stuffed the 3 pitch ropes mostly into 1 tackle sack and strapped an arbitrary length handline rope to the outside. Then I hung around for a few hours waiting for the last stragglers to head off to Easegill before setting off on the arduous 200m trek to BPotW myself - on which I definitely did not twist my angle 3 times and shout expletives at no-one in particular.
One entirely auspicious hike later I found myself at the handline bolt. I backed it up to a large nearby tree and strapped on my descender because why not? I carefully descended to the most dangerous looking section of the path at which point the rope ran out. Oh well, fat lot of good that was.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. I played around with getting my knots 'just so' and only left the rope at the top of a pitch once, which it was totally safe to free climb back up. Didn't get wet, got a little bit muddy, down to the bottom in about 90 minutes followed by a quick snack. Solo caving is rather fantastic, you get to go at the Goldilocks pace. My ankle was no worse for wear and another hour later I was back on the surface.
I had a quick pint in the sun before Jennifer & Dr. Jack appeared on the path chatting to some walkers. It seems that in their extreme competence they'd accidentally done Pippikin really fast and were hoping to catch me in BPotW. Alas I'd only left the incredibly useful handline in situ (and whatever various bits of rigging had been left in place by some divers). But hey ho, the rope is already picked out after all...
Bull Pot of the Witches: The Witches Strike Back: Dave Kirkpatrick, Jack Hare, Jennifer Ryder
... so why not go back? Okay so I might be wearing my surface attire, but since when did that stop anyone? And my clothes were instructing me to Brave the Cave.
We unpacked and repacked the rope into two tackle sacks this time with the plan for Dr. Jack to supervise Jennifer on her first rigging trip. I let them lead on into the top of the Chimney entrance before realising that I hadn't brought a light - so, sensibly, I just stumbled through the entrance puddle blindly towards the top of the pitch.
Jennifer rigged the pitch competently whilst Jack and I discussed how I was totally willing to drive the Tarts to the Ingleborough Cave trail tomorrow, but also sort of couldn't be arsed. (All of which discussion turned out to be completely irrelevant.)
I poked my head down the pitch once the others had descended and wisely decided that it might be challenging without any SRT gear - but I was out of sight of daylight, so I claimed cave #2.
Back at the hut I spent a few hours chopping veg and grating cheese and umming and ahhing about whether to start cooking which I ultimately decided not to do.
Pretty chill night with the exception of some loud wood chopping using the farm's handy-dandy wood-chopping-thing.
Cape Kennedy: Alex Seaton, Jack Hare, Rhys Tyers
A new dawn for Casterton fell and a new dawn for caving. This day would be graced with the inaugural trip of the Brown Rose Caving Club. A prestigious club with a fine history of being in London and travelling on the M6, amongst other things.
Present were the illustrious President, Alex Seaton, the salubrious Vice President, Rhys Tyers, and the lugubrious Publicity Officer, Jack Hare. Now, I know what you might be thinking: haven’t you already invented a fictitious club and given yourself grandiose titles? Why yes, dear reader, but that is well explained in the lore of the Brown Rose. What you may have read was a report by the D.O.G.G.E.R.S (Diligent Officers of Grim and Grimey Exploratory Reconnaissance and Surveying). This is in fact the exploratory, digging, wandering arm of the Brown Rose and it is highly suggestive of our intentions that this sections first report preceded that of the Brown Rose proper.
On to the caving. In the morning we carefully avoided the antics of the student club that had infested Bull Pot farm. Novices flushing the toilets continuously, dry stone walls haphazardly destroyed, washing up left to fester for minutes. It was truly chaos and I’m not sure why young people are tolerated in civil society.
Finding refuge in the calm of the fell, and a discussion on weaponizing aluminium wire for use against rival clubs, we wandered over to Lancaster Hole. One by one we dropped down into the darkness, regrouping at the bottom. We set off at great speed through the high level passage into Montagu East. We navigated Stake Pot and on the other side, as is a tradition in the Brown Rose, Alex and I stripped off to the waist. Thermals discarded our bodies billowed steam, as is tradition in the Brown Rose.
We found our way into the Southern passages and proceeded at pace along the narrow rift. This soon broke out into a series of small chambers connected by low crawls. We passed one of the many aptly named Bridge chambers, on of the many less aptly named Brew chambers (with it’s fine curtains) and braved the horror of the drippy climb.
In the final grovel Jack was ahead, followed by me, followed by Alex. Lying with back and bottom firmly pressed against rock in the low crawl I hear Jack call back from a similar position.
“There’s some really nice straws on the left here”
“Yes, and the arching of the ceiling is quite beautiful”, I reply. “We’re very weird” I add.
At last, we popped out into Cape Kennedy. It is quite a lovely place. Not the most spectacular decorations I have seen but well worth a trip that is worth it in and of itself. We wandered about a bit taking it all in. Photography followed and we spent a good half an hour photographing Alex in various extremely tasteful positions, as is tradition in the Brown Rose. A final ‘trick shot’ of the Fire Hydrant completed our records and we made our way out.
Bull Pot of the Witches: Return of the Dave: Arun Paul, Dave Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Diss, Úna Barker
Feeling in the mood for a bit of rigging, I was to take Una, DKP and Arun down BPOTW. Arun rigged the chimney route and I rigged the direct (read: hang off tree) route. It was generally good fun and I didn’t really require any rigging help except for a bit of advice on looseness of traverse lines and help connecting two slings with that knot that I always forget the name of.
On the way down Una gets a bit tangled at the second rebelay and ends up doing some interesting things to get out of the situation. She then descends, pulling her hair out of her descender several times as though this is normal. So nonchalant.
None of the rigging was scary which was nice and there was a fun swingy deviation that lead to much amusement. We had a bit of an explore at the bottom but got vaguely bored and decided to head out. My toffee crisp had somehow opened and was a bit wet and grim, so Dave gave me a double decker. Definitely an upgrade (double decker > toffee crisp > crazy caramels).
Arun de-rigged and we were out in the daylight in what felt like no time. Una found a newt, as one does, and we spent some time chilling at the bottom of the first pitch. I then ascended, deciding my short cows tail was far too short (I seemed to be struggling on ascending rebelays) so will need to adjust. Una was next and gave me a mild fright when she got to the top and just unclipped everything, sitting on the edge of the pitch. It was fine but gosh.
Good weekend! Bull Pot Farm is well situated but a bit odd. Nowhere quite beats the NPC.
Oh good, someone already wrote today's BPotW trip - which I was of course on. I did scarper rather sooner than the others though, kindly offering to derig the Chimney route and then basking in sunshine for an hour or so.