Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Fiona Hartley, Jack Halliday, Jack Hare, James Wilson, Rhys Tyers, Zaeem Najeeb, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Reuben Cruise
Arriving at the NPC not much before 11pm felt really late to me. Rhys and Cecilia were already there with Matti, delivered via train to Stockport and bundled onwards to the NPC as part of the shopping. The others weren't though because 11pm actually isn't that late. Sometime after I'd gone to bed, a strange vehicle arrived with the London lot. It was a hire van the size of a minibus but with far fewer seats and windows and blown-out photos on the side than a union minibus. Only 6 people could go in it!
Well, at least another trial of transport in covid times had been overcome and another trip was able to happen.
As I was the trainhopping human I only briefly popped by stores to drop off the battery box and then took the tube to Euston, taking the train to Stockport to meet Rhys and Cecilia who timed their pulling in to the station perfectly with the train’s. Since we were set to arrive at the NPC many hours before the van, it had been agreed the Rhyscar would do the shopping to save the van an hour or so on the journey. Much food and booze was bought, and we arrived in Clapham at an atrociously early time of 22:30.
All in Gaping Gill!
|Out Bar||Out Flood||Out Dihedral|
|In Bar||Ellie, DKP, Matti||Reuben, Chris, Zaeem||Jackhal, James|
|In Dihedral||Jack Hare, Fiona||Rhys, Cecilia|
|In Rat||Jackhal, James|
First, I have to say thanks to the Craven for all their hard work carrying all the Gaping Gill tackle up the hill because it was awesome to not have to carry any myself.
This trip was one of unparalleled preparedness. Maybe this is inevitable when tarting off. I wrote down a description of the way to the Whitsun Series beyond Mud Hall while breakfasting. Rhys, Cecilia, and I left the NPC at 9:45am to meet Jack in Clapham. By 11:15am we’d reached the Craven camp, spoken to their members, and were heading into Dihedral.
Dihedral! Behind us daylight slanted through the entrance rocks, and below us daylight flooded the vast open shaft as we each bridged the pitch head. I’d always known I’d be terrified of Dihedral – I’d always thought I’d never be able to do it, especially not by abseiling. Except, no. When it came to the moment, my fear melted away. I suppose it was replaced by awe. Even a long delay, when I didn’t hear that Jack had called rope free and spent many minutes looking down into the light trying to figure out if he was on/off the rope, didn’t faze me.
Once we’d eventually communicated via whistles I set off. Swing out, check descender, breathe out, unclip, go. I didn’t look down – I didn’t need to! Sunbeams shone through the waterfall cascading down the main shaft beside me. Descending felt endless, especially given my leisurely pace (so I could take in the sights, but also because the rope was dry). I really enjoyed that top hang. Four deviations led to an easy swing on to a big ledge (technically called Wingfield’s). The view from here of water spraying off Birkbeck’s Ledge was also spectacular. Then I carried on down to two nicely rigged re-belays and the final descent to the floor of the main chamber, still staring up at the view. Wow!
We regrouped at the bottom, thrilled, and then headed up the iron ladder into East Passage. With a crawl-stoop-crawl past “battered formations” we were into Mud Hall. Only my second visit to Mud Hall after my first nearly ten years ago. The traverse was passable - given it’s truly just packed mud it’s no wonder it collapses every so often. We passed Avalanche Inlet, wondering if the rope was Jarv’s from back in the day, then clambered past a big hole which for peace of mind could do with an in-situ traverse line rather than a hanging strand of frayed cord.
The formations improved as we went on to Brother’s Junction. The way on was down to the right following the well-travelled easy crawl between various standing-height grottos of small stalactites. This is Far East Passage. (The straight-on/left way leads to an impassable connection with the bottom of Car Pot. Have you ever read Clare’s report about Car? Yikes.)
We reached another junction into a streamway. Going left upstream for a few metres leads to the very tall Craven Aven. Going right downstream passes a pretty corner and then reaches a junction with Pool Passage obviously going off to the left. The sparse description had not said that Pool Passage contains the stickiest, wettest mud ever, but it sure does. The mud left a tide line on my legs above my wetsocks when it seeped through my undersuit.
Laughing and slipping and just avoiding getting our wellies totally stuck, we all slithered to a stop at a lowish canal. We had a look but no-one was that inclined to get wet, especially when Cecilia edged her way in, squeaked, and announced, “Oh, no. I’m coming back.” The floor of the canal was mud, not rock, and she sank in a few inches more than she’d have liked! So we turned around here, and after we’d all managed to escape that cloying mud, we set to photographing our way back. An area to return to!
Once back in the main chamber – you know that thing where you step out of an air-conditioned plane into a wall of balmy air? The chamber was like that instead of Arctic – we drank a lot of water, had a quick snack, and watched people ascending Dihedral. Originally, we’d planned to go out of Stream, but Rhys and Cecilia decided to go out via Dihedral. Conveniently, Jack and I wanted a less strenuous exit via Bar. So we split up.
Jack powered through the cave to Bar. One single bite of chorizo sausage had completely re-energised him… or this was just my impression of his speed. The long and short of it is I immediately gave up on keeping pace with him. We were sure we wouldn’t beat Rhys and Cecilia to the surface - however, they got stuck in an ascending traffic jam and then a rope rub nightmare better described by them. So even though I felt EXTREMELY slow through Bar due to said lack of energy, we got out much sooner than them.
Above ground we lay around the Craven’s HQ tent chatting to DKP, Ellie, and Matti as well as many other cavers. So sociable! Once Rhys and Cecilia were safely out, we headed off, passing Zaeem, Chris, and Reuben while they were exiting Flood. A nice lady took our photo in Clapham at the end of the day, saying, “You all look so cool and happy. What an adventure!”
I don’t know if she really knew what we’d been up to, but she was right: Dihedral is awesome. Even as a proud possessor of The Fear TM gene which normally stops me from enjoying abseils, and even with other things that we found had occurred later, I say you should all do it.
A prerigged Gaping Ghyll was a succesfull lure to draw our party of four up the slopes of Ingleborough. The long tramp up Clapdale lane is not so long with shoulders unburdened by tackle, and the day was welcomely mild and overcast. On our way up we met a behatted Craven member who was descending after rigging Dihedral the previous day. This piqued our interest significantly as we have some history with the entrance.
A friend who shall remain nameless once attempted Dihedral in pretty awful conditions on the advice of a man in the car park of Ingleborough hall. The mysterious stranger had claimed that Dihedral was passable in all weather, which is extremely untrue, and this advice resulted in a very moist and traumatic retreat. This time however it was prerigged and the weather fairly settled, what could go wrong?
At the top we found the Craven encampment and after a quick chat we were helpfully led to the top of the main shaft and pointed at Dihedral. We would be the first people to actually descend to the bottom since it was rigged the previous day. One of the other riggers let me know that he was pretty sure the rope reached the bottom.
The view is spectacular from the top! Looking down from Dihedral the darkness melts away as light and water stream in from the main shaft. You can see a long way down before the darkness rallies once again and precludes any view of the bottom. As I rigged I gibbered about how intimidated I was, about how far down it was, about how scary it all seemed. Then I thought that as I was nominally one of the most height happy of our party that I should stop saying these things in earshot of the others.
I began my slow descent, and what a long way it is! The spray builds up again and again but each time I was relieved to find another deviation pulling me away from the column of water. Truly awesome in every way. The scale of the cave, the water, the light, combine perfectly.
At the ledge I waited for Jack, and once he arrived I descended the second half. The hang down was more familair this time as I dropped into the main chamber, but still a very new vantage point. At the bottom I scrambled to set up some flashes but a miscommunication above meant that I had ample time to take photos.
One by one Jack, then Fiona, and finally Cecilia descended equally awed (and all dazzled by my flashes). We regrouped and set off in the direction of mud hall. None of us had really been in the Eastern half of Gaping Ghyll. We had discussed various options but the lack of wetsuits seem to be quite limiting so we settled on going as far as we felt like towards the Whitsun Series.
This bit of cave is very good value and I'm surprised I'd not been there before. The large mud hall is obviously quite impressive but beyond is some quite classic caving. Even the crawls are fairly pleasant. And well decorated for something so accessible! We did wonder if even the prescence of a duck further on puts people off this bit of passage.
Just before the drained sump of the font we giggled childishly at the noises we made squalching through the mud. Fiona elected to stomp straight through and was rewarded with a depth of mud that the rest of us managed to avoid. We stared into the canal for a few minutes before deciding that being soaked would add nothing to our trip and turned around.
Once again in the main chamber we just caught up with Clive as he was about to ascend Dihedral. Cecilia and I decided we wanted to exit this way too, as it seemed like it would not be rigged very often. Jack and Fiona sensibly decided to exit via Bar and complete a nice through trip. We parted and Cecilia and I climbed in turn.
I was pleased to be able to appreciate the shaft for longer though when we arrived at the ledge we found 6 people up there! Luckily (in some way) two of them were trying to head down (and had been waiting for an hour they said). With me and Cecilia up they were finally able to descend. It is not a terrible place to queue. Plenty to look at and the waterfall brings down warm air from the surface so it is also not too cold.
Finally Clive had ascended leaving just me and Cecilia on the ledge. We waited and waited for the rope free and after what seemed like an age we realised that someone was descending slowly. I wondered if Clive had run into trouble and turned round but it turned out he had told some people at the top that we wouldn't mind waiting for them to descend! This, for the record, was not true. As pleasant as the ledge was we were still getting colder by the minute.
We urged the descending caver not to shout rope free. She claimed to have been waiting on the surface to descend Dihedral for 2.5 hours. I think Cecilia and I had been on the ledge for well over an hour so I had little sympathy for that. As soon as the new arrival was off the rope, Cecilia hopped on and ascended quickly out of view.
Once Cecilia had gone the other caver told me that she'd seen a bad rub point on the rope, near the top. She seemed unsure about exactly how bad and felt bad for not remembering to mention it before Cecilia had left. I would say this person did not give the impression of being a very experienced caver so it was hard to know what to make of this. Surely they would not have descended a badly damaged rope?
I have decided that in the future I would not ascend a rope in these circumstances as there was no real way to know the condition, and there were other safer ways out.
I was grateful to quickly here a rope free from Cecilia and ascended as fast as I could partly to avoid any criticism from people waiting on the surface and partly from some fear of this unknown damage. As I approached the final deviation I saw an alpine isolating a section of rope. That rope had it core completely exposed. I did a terrified and not very skillful knot pass and met Cecilia at the top. And pity her! She had found the damaged rope and isolated it for me, holding the 60m length of rope in her teeth so she could tie the knot! I am somewhat sure that she saved my life by doing that.
We were both angry and confused at this point. How had none of the other ascending cavers seen this? Why had the descending caver descended past this and not told Cecilia about it? We told the two cavers waiting at the top that they should descend another way to find their friend, and answered some questions from the Craven cavers who's job it would be to replace the rope. Apparently it was a pretty new 120m!
We found Jack and Fiona, and a few other Imperial cavers dossing on the grass. We quickly changed as I was quite keen to get away from the cave at that point. On the walk down we discussed what could have happened.
We decided it was unlikely that any of the ascending cavers had missed it because it was exactly at the deviation, where you would certinaly be looking at and handling the rope. The rope could not have been worn by the rock (it was miles away) and that the deviation seemed much to shallow to have caused it either. The only way we think it could have happened is perhaps if the descending caver had somehow damaged the rope? Maybe they locked off to pass the deviation and they had sharp edges on their bobbin? Most of their gear seemed extremely new though so this was not a satisfying explanation. Either way we think it was definitely irresponsible of this person to descend, and also they were well within shouting distance of the pitch head so they could easily have told one of their friends about it! I don't think there's any way to know for sure what happened. Very confusing.
Still the walk and time soothed and I was soon thinking mostly of the epic descent, beautiful passages, and good friends in whose company I had been.
Clive Westlake's photos of Jack Halliday and James Wilson ascending Dihedral can be viewed here.
Heron: Christopher Bradley, Jack Halliday, James Wilson, Zaeem Najeeb, Ellie Pizey, Reuben Cruise
Rumbling: Cecilia Kan, Rhys Tyers, Matti Mitropoulos
As a balm for the previous day we picked a more straightforward cave. Matti was blessed with a late train so Cecilia and I grabbed him for a not-quite-Sunday-cave, Rumbling.
Matti and I thought we had not been, and Cecilia had not been to the bottom so it seemed like a good choice. Arriving I realised I was missing my chest harness, hand jammer, and footloop. However I did have many slings and a tibloc so I decided to practice my ultralight caving rather than return to the hut.
Matti did the first half of the rigging. He admitted that rigging the entrance shaft was as close as he had come to saying he could not do something because of fear. Unfortunately he didn't outwardly show this so I think Cecilia and I spent most of his time rigging playfully mocking him and his rigging.
I rigged the second half to ensure we would finish the cave in time, though in the end I am not sure I went much faster than Matti!
At the bottom both Matti and I realised we had been here before, and that we had eaten cake here for DKPs birthday. Ah well, still a lovely cave! Cecilia demanded to derig as usual, as she believes this is the way to do the least work. I am unconvinced as I managed to go the bottom half of the cave without carrying anything.
The tibloc works though it does slip if you engage it too quickly (with a stamped rope-walking foot :P). I would still opt for a hand jammer next time though.
As I was taking the train back but the van planned to leave much sooner than my train, I went on a trip with Rhys and Cecilia who had their own car, which would allow more flexibility for travel arrangements. Rumbling, it was decided, would be our cave. Rhys and I had never done it and Cecilia had never made it to the bottom so it seemed appropriate, despite the intimidating amount of rope that was to be used.
A swift change and quick rope packing meant we were so close to getting underground before noon, but luckily Rhys’ GPS had a hiccough so I only started rigging at 11:50, and at 12:00 sunlight was definitely still hitting me. I had done a handful of rigging trips, some post-pandemic, so was fairly confident, but I had underestimated the difficulty of the hanging rebelay in the entrance pitch. A combination of being able to see the 50-odd metres down and the exposed nature of the bolt made rigging the first rope genuinely fear-inducing, so I made a bit of a hash of the y-hang but Rhys assured me that he would readjust it later as long as I could get down safely. I felt a lot more secure once I had solid(ish) ground under my wellies at the bottom.
After a shortish stooped squeezy passage and a few small free-climbs I began rigging the second pitch. I had calmed down a little so rigged a little more thoroughly, though Rhys still adjusted it to pull through some rope as we were using a rope technically 2 metres too short, so wanted to reduce slack as much as possible. Rhys rigged the final two pitches as we were approaching our turnaround time and were fairly keen on making it to the bottom if possible. Highlights on the way down included a large stal on its way to becoming a column, and a rusty ladder hanging down from the unseen dark above.
At the bottom, Rhys realised he had actually been down the cave before – Winter tour 2019 he had eaten cake at the bottom to celebrate Dave’s birthday; a trip I was also on. I had initially thought that was a different cave but thinking back to the tricky hanging rebelay and seeing the distinctive flat rocky T shape at the bottom of the final pitch I was slowly convinced. Nevermind, it was a nice cave regardless.
Cecilia was keen to de-rig and Rhys was using a backup tiblock hand jammer which occasionally slipped so he didn’t want to carry too much extra weight, so I was left to carry a chunky 80m tackle sack most of the way up. By the time I was at the entrance pitch I was quite knackered so quite slow on a deviation that had been giving Cecilia trouble on the way down. I did eventually make it past that and the hanging rebelay and enjoyed a well-earned break as I waited for the others to come up.
The way back was fairly painless, nice walk to Clapham station, train to Leeds, an hour layover which I used to walk around the city centre a bit, then train to King’s Cross. At least I hope so, I’m between Peterborough and Stevenage as I’m writing this so if I don’t make it home, call up London North Eastern Railway and complain for me.