Yorkshire Winter Tour
Ben Richards, Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Dave Kirkpatrick, Fiona Hartley, Jack Halliday, James Perry, James Wilson, Kate Smith, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Úna Barker, Zaeem Najeeb, Lucie Studena, Matti Mitropoulos, Alan Deacon, Ellie Pizey, Nancy Liu, Oxmi Kelruc, Sean Li
I had a bit of a mad week after one of my housemates tested positive for COVID. I responded by making a mad dash to an empty house in Ipswich in the hopes of avoiding the plague or at least not giving it to anyone else. Thankfully things remained positive, in that I remained negative, so I drove to Peterborough to collect humans as usual. I was excessively early so I roamed around in Waitrose (which is closer to the station than Asda as well as having a functional toilet) and slowly found misc snacks for the evening. The others eventually arrived with much larger bags than I anticipated. Perhaps I should not have filled the car with so many puzzles. They somehow managed to fit, albeit tightly, and a fairly smooth journey commenced. We played an extremely unsuccessful game of contact for the majority of the time and arrived at the NPC nice and early at around 10 pm. Naturally, we stayed up until 3 am puzzling.
Lost Johns': Cecilia Kan, Christopher Bradley, Fiona Hartley, James Wilson, Kate Smith, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Lucie Studena, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey, Nancy Liu, Oxmi Kelruc, Sean Li
I was determined that this Lost John’s trip would feature no chaos whatsoever. I planned out everyone’s route, who would meet whom at what point and made sure there would be enough bag carriers and de-riggers. I soon realised however that people wouldn’t know if they’d have the energy or motivation to do Battleaxe and Valhalla until they reached the meeting point, so no plans could be set in stone. But I tried. I was still feeling my vaccination from the day before so was quite keen on a short relaxed trip for myself.
Everyone knew exactly where they were going, everyone’s kit was precisely in the intended bags and there was absolutely no faff.
Until the Centipede-Dome intersection things actually mostly went smoothly and James began rigging Battleaxe as planned. A wild Diss and Nancy appeared, letting us know that the monastery team was taking longer than expected, but Nancy had to be dropped off with us so that the rest of Dome team could exit through Monastery when they arrived. She and Sean were keen to go down Valhalla, so Kate and I took them through Battleaxe traverse. I left them at the top of Valhalla, heading back across the traverse to meet the Monastery team who had just arrived. Rhys and Ellie were keen to leave, but according to the plans made, they would have to wait for the Valhalla group to reappear to derig Dome, so instead they went out to derig Centipede, leaving Lucie and Oxmi to head down after the Valhalla descenders. I had to stay with the Valhalla crew to make sure there were enough people to carry tackle sacks, but didn’t want to descend Valhalla so just waited at the pitch head for them to return.
Rhys kindly entrusted me with his cave-phone so I could have a rigging topo when de-rigging the Dome-Monastery connection, Shale Cavern. It probably wasn’t necessary, but I appreciated the security. I mostly used it to take sefies whilst waiting for the Valhalla team to return. The waterfall also appreciated my Christmas songs.
A flickering light at the base of the waterfall pulled me back to this life. Sean, Kate and I went ahead to derig the Monastery connection, waiting at the window for the other team to arrive. Everything was happening slower than anticipated and we were beginning to push close to our call out so I ran ahead at the bottom of the penultimate pitch to let the hut dwellers know everything was fine. Definitely didn’t miss a turn and briefly get lost. Much waiting also happened at the car as the derigging team was getting tired, but finally at 22:45 everyone was out.
In hindsight sending both freshers down Battleaxe and Valhalla may have been ambitious and a contributing factor to the late exit, but they were keen at the time so I figured it’d be fine. We did emphasise later that that was quite an unusually long and intense first SRT trip. My dreams of a chill trip had been crushed, but I was happy that everything had gone relatively smoothly, and grateful for PVC for keeping me warm during the many hours of waiting.
Finally dry enough to do Monastery. I've never been so I was very keen to do it, forgoing the master stream. The weather was damp and generally grizzly until we drove up to Leck Fell and so rose above the clouds. It's a rare occasion when Leck is actually nicer than its surroundings, rather than either undeniably worse or merely on par with the rest of Lancashire. The cloud inversion made for a great view.
Diss swiftly rigged down Dome to the window with Dome Junction. I somehow ended up rigging the pitches that connect Dome to Monastery and dropped into Sink Chamber about two minutes after Rhys. I spent the next several hours apologising for my rigging as it utilised the hated rethreaded fig-8 rather than swifty swift bowlines. We waited a while for Diss to join us as she'd escorted Nancy to Battleaxe. Then the four of us went up Monastery with Cecilia derigging in a poncho thing ("A pvc is more than one hundred pounds, these are about three pounds, I could buy one for every trip" "... and still be better off, yeah, fair.").
The pitches are nice, and I found the bottom one (Pinnacle) particularly lovely, though Monastery itself is probably the more impressive of the two big ones. There are a couple of gnarly climbs though including up a straight rift that was definitely not my size. I also fell off my favourite (/s) climb in the entrance series (over the wedged boulder) about a metre onto my elbow, which hurt quite a lot at the time and made me take Sunday off. Thankfully it was only bruising and soreness rather than anything worse.
Simpson Pot pullthrough: Dave Kirkpatrick, Kate Smith, Sean Li
Death's Head / Big Meanie: James Wilson, Zaeem Najeeb, Ben Richards, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey
This was a trip Davey had pulled me into on Winter tour 2019 and as a fresher I found it pretty grim and exhausting, so I was keen to do it again and do it well this time. Unfortunately, an exchange trip requires at least 3 other people, so I needed to convince some people to do a trip about which I had nothing positive to say. I consistently emphasised to everyone how bad it’d be, and to my surprise, Zaeem, James, Ellie and Ben were all slowly convinced, though they made it explicitly clear that I would get all the blame if it sucks. Two ex-MUSC members, Raoul and David, even showed up and asked to join, taking the number of people on this terrible trip up to seven. I was to go down Death’s head, the opposite to what I had done previously.
Reaching the bottom of Death’s head quite quickly, we ‘rigged’ the scaff that leads to the connection to the master streamway. It was a pleasant enough amble, but we stopped at some in-situ rope, after which supposedly is the tight and wet connection. We headed back.
Zaeem and James greeted us, both completely covered in wet mud. David had had difficulties at the Big Meanie pitch head and so told the others to go on – presumably we’d meet him along the way. This didn’t boost our confidence. Tentatively we headed up the connection.
This was what I had remembered most vividly from my previous trip – an extremely muddy and wet crawl. I must have become more competent as this time it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did get the tackle sack wedged in an awkward position in the final squeeze so got my right side very wet, but overall, enjoyable.
Meeting David at the bottom of the Big Meanie pitch, he explained what had happened – the end of his cow’s tails had gotten wedged inside his stop descender when he was just about to descend, but couldn’t turn his head to see what the problem was, so had to get himself out to fix it. This all took time, so he told James and Zaeem to go ahead, but he couldn’t find the connection so ambled around the bottom of Big Meanie for a bit. He definitely looked muddy enough. (He did actually look at the connecting squeeze but thought ‘surely that’s not it’ so didn’t check).
The way out was far greater of a challenge than I had expected. Having only gone down this pitch before, I hadn’t appreciated how sparse and small the footholds were. I napped a bit at the rebelay whilst waiting for Raoul and Ellie to get up the squeeze, and eventually tried myself. Lots and lots of shuffling and swearing later I made it up, having to twist my leg in such a way that I could stand in the footloop behind me, asking Ellie to pull up the hand jammer as I couldn’t reach it. Once up, I helped David, also pulling up his hand jammer. Ben put us all to shame, slipping through in what felt like 10 minutes. Overall I think the 5 of us took 2 hours to get through a 2m gap. Safe to say I got a lot of shit for dragging that many people down what I knew to be a grim cave. But I’ll definitely be back some day, it is genuinely fun.
I am writing this to air the many grievances that Ben and I have against Matti. Whether any of them are even faintly reasonable is up for debate.
Matti started the morning very keen to do this exchange and Ben and I were cunningly enticed into it by the promise of misery and mud. In a brilliant game plan of psychological warfare Matti told us that this cave had a tight muddy squeeze and that he wanted to “see if it was as shit as last time”. James helpfully chimed in with “was this the one where Yan Jin got very cold last time?”. When Matti floundered while trying to think of any redeeming features of the cave Ben declared that he certainly wasn’t going on this trip and would be very impressed if Matti got the minimum number of people required. Of course half an hour later he was part of a group of seven of us prepared to go. (We love a wet muddy crawl really, just some of us have less shame about it than Ben).
I have no grudges with deathshead. The entrance is a beautiful open descent next to moss and ferns with water dripping off all the rocks and the scaffolding leads to a nice bit of streamway which we followed downstream but didn’t go down the in situ rope.
Having crossed paths with Zaeem and James who looked like they’d bathed in mud and then rubbed more on for good measure, Matti admitted that “maybe it wasn’t because it was cold last time, maybe this is just a bad cave” but then changed his mind after the horrifying squeeze. Very confusing.
I actually quite enjoyed the muddy crawl and by the time we were at the last pitch I was ready to call it a good trip but then only a couple of metres from the exit the pitch gets horrifically tight and we all really struggled on it (except Ben thankfully as he was last up and I was getting cold by then). You lose track of time a bit when you’re slowly pulling yourself up a centimetre at a time and taking generous beaks to gather your strength so I have no idea how long I took but apparently to get five of us past approximately a metre and a half of tight squeeze took over two hours. The technique I used for helping Matti of moving someone's hand jammer up behind them as they push themselves up seemed to work quite well. I don’t think there’s much else I can say to help with this bit except remove your spare srt kit beforehand, make sure you are very happy with the length of your foot loop and tie tackle sacks beneath you before attempting it. Or consider not doing this trip and if you must then try and trick your way onto the team going in the opposite direction. I say this mainly to myself as I have no doubt Matti will once again want to see if it’s less shit this time (he has already promised to return) and I’m sure by that time I will manage to convince myself that I can do it more easily this time and that it’s worth proving this to myself. It’s not, don’t do it. Treat yourself, go to Notts 2.
The annoying part of Matti’s evil scheme was that we had gone into this with full warning that it was going to be awful so we could hardly complain after. This did not stop us.
A classic trip to Inglesport cave while recouperating from our various wounds i.e. falling off stuff and being booster-jabbed. Purchased shinies included new cowstails and shock cord (security link) rope. I tried to help Rhys do NPC tackle master things later but mostly I got in the way. In the evening I drank rather a lot of red wine and participated in the squeeze machine competition for only about the third time in my life. It was a lot of fun to hang out with Kate again, as per.
King Pot: Cecilia Kan, James Wilson, Rhys Tyers, Matti Mitropoulos
Diss was determined to finally fulfil her dream of doing Meregill, so had prepared the rope the day before. However, it required very dry weather, and the sky was beginning to bruise in the morning, so there was a lot of umming and ahhing, and eventually someone made the decision and the trip was cancelled. I joked about Black Shiver to continue my run of grim caves, but unsurprisingly, there were no takers. The Gingling trip was also spontaneously cancelled due to weather, the team instead going to King Pot. Lots of muttering ensued, but eventually a King group and a Simpsons group were decided.
I had been eyeing up King for a few days now so didn’t want to miss the opportunity, but also had had two difficult trips and a vaccination recently so was pretty knackered. So in a last ditch effort to get out of caving I left my oversuit on the hanger. Rhys was kind enough to lend James his spare, who was kind enough to lend me his.
For whatever reason I had thought the T-shaped was shaped in such a way that you crawl in one end of the top bar of the T, crawl over a hole in the ground, the stem of the T, and exit the other side of the top bar. In actuality it was a winding narrow crawl with a T cross section, which was not necessarily nicer. It was definitely challenging and I’m grateful I didn’t have a tackle sack to get wedged in awkward crevices, but I could see how one could easily get stuck in the stem. Rhys pointed out from somewhere ahead where the remnants of a rescue he had been involved in could be seen, but I was too focussed on not getting stuck myself that I completely passed it by.
I don’t really remember in what order the other cave sections came in, only snippets of passages here and there. Most of the time I spent trying to keep up with the much fitter and more experienced other group members. Of note, however, was the extremely cool pitch head of the final SRT pitch – there were several small rock bridges leading up to it, and you stand on a spire protruding out from the side of the wall to rig your descender. A rebelay pulls you out of the way of the waterfall so you can land completely dry at the bottom, feeling very cool.
We took off our SRT gear to do the rest of the crawling, which was wise in hindsight, as a lot of it was quite grim hands and knees crawling through elbow deep water. Some wet flat out crawling also followed, and we finally made it to the streamway. A very short walk downstream took us to the ugly, foamy brown sump, which we quickly abandoned for the much prettier upstream sump, glistening seductively with stals and flowstone. James took out his car keys to admire them by the water, and we left.
Uneventful way back up – same as before, Cecilia derigging. I again didn’t have to carry a tackle sack through the T-shape (many thanks) but did for a lot of the rest of the squeezing. I think I started losing it a bit by the end as I tried to the entrance squeeze side by side with the sack instead of just pushing it ahead, overcomplicating everything massively.
I hadn’t realised how much I had been fuelled by adrenaline throughout the day until I crashed at the hut; I was in a daze for most of the evening, not being able to do anything except eat and sit. At about 2:00 another switch flipped and I was fine again, went for a walk with Chris and Ellie before going to bed.
Simpson's Pot: Christopher Bradley, Fiona Hartley, Rebecca Diss, Zaeem Najeeb, Lucie Studena, Oxmi Kelruc
We so nearly managed Meregill, but a blast of misty rain at 11:30am scuppered all the human allocation faff. Much more faff occurred as everything was replanned and rediscussed. Eventually we ended up going to Simpson's - I almost bailed at the parking but was eventually cajoled into my gear and followed the others up the West Kingsdale hill. Simpson sure is a cave and this sure was a trip during which time passed. I meowed the Titanic theme in the cave at various points to call to Diss - it's a call she always responds to. The duck was pretty cold and shortly afterwards I was too. I did not really warm up which tanked the improvement to my mood so I was happy enough to leave in the advance party with Lucie and Oxmi and a very fat rope bag that we all handled together.
I'd forgotten my coat for the whole tour so made sad cold noises at the cars and Lucie magically produced a spare one; thank you!
Boxhead / It's a Cracker exchange: Rhys Tyers, Lucie Studena, Oxmi Kelruc, Sean Li Cecilia Kan, Jack Halliday, Alan Deacon
Shuttleworth Pot: Rebecca Diss, Úna Barker, Matti Mitropoulos, Ellie Pizey
This was my first rigging trip and it was a really lovely cave with a great group of people. Thank you so much Diss for teaching me, I couldn’t have asked for someone more patient and helpful. I think this is a particularly nice cave to rig but I have really surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it.
We didn’t get to see the straws as there were onions to chop and ropes to wash which I did in a masochistic alternation where I left the kitchen when my eyes were streaming and went inside when my hands were raw.
This time, I was determined to do a chill trip. No tight squeezes, no flat out crawling, just nice easy SRT and walking passage. I offered to host a rigging trip for Ellie and Diss and Una joined. Diss taught, as the most experienced, and Una and I chilled in the back like the cool kids we were. I realised I had successfully managed to avoid caving with Una until then. At the bottom of the SRT section Diss asked to turn around so she could be back in good time to conduct the Christmas Dinner preparations. Swift exit – out in 2.5 hours.
Christmas dinner was superlative, though it seemed to come at the cost of Diss’ health – she was so exhausted by the end that she couldn’t even eat any of the food she had prepared. I felt a bit bad about that, but figured it would be disrespectful to not enjoy the food she and everyone had worked so hard to prepare. Zaeem took a hilarious but beautiful panoramic picture of everyone gathered around, and Perry arrived to tell us more stories of him getting involved in things he shouldn’t be getting involved in.
At the NPC
A low social battery meant that once everyone had gone caving I spent the afternoon recharging in bed watching season 2 of the Witcher and drinking tea. I re-emerged well beyond 7pm when Christmas dinner prep was in full swing and began to drink wine. The most expensive Co-Op Cote du Rhone was consumed and was nice, but considering I also like the chicken red (La Vieille Ferme) a lot as well I'm not sure it's value for money.
Bar Pot: Ben Richards, James Wilson, Ellie Pizey
Valley Entrance: Jack Halliday, James Perry
Only 4 people wanted to cave that day – everyone else was too fucked to do anything. Jack realised at the entrance to Bar pot he had forgotten his oversuit so came back and convinced Perry to go to Valley entrance with him. I played tiny towns, fixed a Bisun Ana had given me (many thanks) using a connector Rhys gave me (many thanks), and failed, then succeeded at lighting the fire. After dinner haircuts ensued (it is tradition after all…) when Rhys and Diss expertly styled my hair into a not-bowl cut.
But I got a bit trigger-happy when cutting Diss’ hair and cut it a bit shorter than she wanted. I’m convinced it was as much as she had indicated (one of my index finger lengths) but she seemed pretty outraged, so I felt quite bad about that. She insisted she wasn’t mad but I still think she was just being nice. Sorry.
I was teased about not having a clue about how to do a broom traverse before being led through it by Ben. Perry showed us the ‘pass the pot around your body’ game, which is even more neck-breaking than the broom traverse. I doubt that’ll be played again any time soon – there was lots of complaining from people about how their necks hurt after their attempts.
Ellie and I concluded that Almonds were the most difficult nut to open, especially using the crappy scissor nut-crackers at the NPC, so we came up with ‘creative’ ways to open them. Jaws, hatchets, and fire. A surprising 6 people joined me for a walk where we just went to Clapham station and back, though Chris managed to scare us by accidentally calling the help desk or something at 5am. Some abstract low-light photography was experimented with, and I scared some sheep. Just before going to bed we startled Daren (ed: Darren), who had just woken up.