"Where do we even start..." - JKP, walking back from Car Pot
Chronologically, I guess. After the long trudge up from Clapham, as we were kitting up on the windy fell, James suddenly realised he had forgotten to bring his prussik cord + spare light + knife, and I had forgotten to bring my newly-tied prussik cord + knife too! Oh well, when does one ever use those things underground...?
Undaunted, we set off down the cobweb-covered entrance (ominous sign #2)...hmmm, doesn't look like anyone's been here in a while. Soon we arrived at the first pitch, a cramped but easily negotiated drop. The second pitch was slightly trickier, with an awkward crawl dropping straight into a vertical shaft. Still, that was too passed without much trouble and things were going just fine at this point. Almost immediately we realised we'd arrived at the famed Letterbox Squeeze, which looked pretty intimidating but really wasn't too bad going down it. Feet first through a chest-hugging squeeze, which opens out into a vertical drop. A wooden stemple lies wedged across the gap about halfway down the drop, serving as a welcome foothold.
We crouched down in the low, tight passage connecting the Letterbox to the Baptistry Crawl to collect our breaths and steel our nerves. After one last nod, James set off through the crawl... suddenly - "Fuck! There's a dead sheep here!" Feet scrabbling against the pebbled ground, he backed out rather hastily.
"A dead sheep! I thought it was a bit of mud so I poked it and realised it was a sheep! It really stinks in there."
"Well.. is it blocking the passage? Can we crawl over it? Should we turn back?"
"I don't know... what do you think?"
"...I suppose we could crawl through it... at least it'll make for a good story."
"It'll earn us brownie points..." James replied feebly.
We sat there for a while weighing our options and really quite at a lost. Crawl through the sheep and risk getting stuck and running out of good air, or turn back and head to the pub for a pint or two and enjoy the sunshine. Guess which one we chose?
"Look, why don't you go and take a look, yeah?" James finally said, clipping the tackle bag to my long cowstail.
Warily, I entered the crawl. The stench hit me almost immediately. Lying on my side, I pushed myself through tentatively. It really wasn't too bad, until I managed to crane my neck to look ahead, and saw the passage narrowing dangerously - and the blob of sheep, of course. Wondering how easy it would be to reverse should the need arise, I shouted to James and asked how far in I was. "About halfway!" he lied. Yeah, whatever.
Soon enough I arrived at the sheep. The increase in pressure on every part of my body told me I was at the very tight 'second quarter of the crawl where excavation may be required'. Damn right, excavation. Only not of rocks. Naturally, the sheep had to get stuck at the worst possible bit! Head forced down into the gloop of mud, decomposing flesh, hair, bones and maggots, progress through the sheep was painfully slow. It smelled absolutely foul, too. Pushing the as much of the sheep to the side as I could (and sticking the skull into the side of the wall so it would smile ghoulishly back at James as he passed), I finally made it past and soldiered on. The passage widens marginally as you proceed, and soon I was out and in a relatively big chamber.
I crumpled onto a boulder to wait for James. He arrived shortly and we sat there spitting grit + sheep out of our mouths, smiling manically and marveling at our own stupidity/insanity. We shook hands, our relief and triumph and crazed after-effects of adrenalin tempered by the sudden chill of realization that we'd have to do it all over again on the way out.
After a short rest we looked for the way on. James scrambled around the rift-pitch a bit, looking for a gap to descend. "How am I supposed to go down if the bag can't get through! Grrrr!" Finally he discovered a little space at the end of a short flat-out crawl. Down he went, rebelaying at a little flake a few metres down. I followed, rigging my descender, crawling through the low passage and swinging out into the pitch. Oops. With the Y-hang a few metres from the shaft and the rope lying against the rock, my descender got jammed against the rock, immovable. I tried to put in my hand jammer to stand in my footloop and take the weight off my descender, but the pitch head was too constricted for me to bend my leg sufficiently to get it into the footloop, even with it lengthened. So after a brief exchange James was going to come up to give me his shoulders to stand on...
"Fuck! Oh shit, oh no... I don't have my hand jammer! And I don't have my prussik loop with me... ah, uh, it's okay, I have another ascender." So he precariously prussiked up using his Pantin as a hand jammer and I extricated myself. Crossing over at the hanging rebelay was fine, though it was a bit tight since we were almost short of rope (if you're going to back up to a natural like we did at the top of the third pitch, you might want to bring something slightly longer than the 35m recommended in the Black Book).
The pitch head of the fourth pitch looked uncomplicated enough, and I quickly rigged my descender, fit my body through a slot and went down. Wham! Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh holy fuck. My helmet wedged tight between the rock, I hung off my chinstrap, descender low enough for my weight not to be on it (I later discovered it had completely overturned, with the rope coming half-undone from the bottom bobbin). I tried to take off my helmet, but the pitch head was too tight for my hands to reach up and get a grip on the clasp. Below that it was too wide for my legs to gain purchase off the walls... I jiggled around, trying to free my helmet, but it only got wedged tighter the longer I hung on it. I quickly shouted out the situation to James.
"Should I come up?"
With my chinstrap essentially garroting me, my breaths got shallower and raspier by the second. Rasp rasp, why was I so fucking stupid! Rasp rasp wheeze, I really could die. Wheeze gasp wheeze, oh shit, I really could die. "Wheeze wheeze wheeze, JAMEEESSS! Wheeze wheeze." (Which James later said sounded exactly like how he imagined someone choking to death would sound - or like I was having sex with a bull.) I tried to wedge myself in as much as possible and not struggle too much to take some pressure off, but it was really quite futile. James, meanwhile, prussiked up the 15-20m pitch with his Pantin (as a hand jammer again) which, he later realised, was not safety lined to him. After forever he finally arrived and I pushed off his shoulders again, never so relieved to take that deep breath of air. He really saved my life. I'm sorry I terrified you so, James.
After descending the fourth pitch (which really is quite a fine shaft) we took a while to regroup at the bottom. "Are you okay?" James squeezed my shoulder, "let me see your face." I let out a few shaky, nervous laughs and nodded yes. "Shall we go on, or do you want to turn back now?" Yeah, fuck it. Let's do this.
So we headed down the nice big last pitch. No problems, thankfully. We shared a carton of juice and some chocolate in a nice moment, reliving the adventures we'd gone through to get to the bottom. What would happen on the way out? James bimbled a short way into North Craven Passage, but really neither of us was in any mood to admire bloody straws.
Time was ticking and we soon had to start making our way out. I was pretty apprehensive about getting past the pitch heads where I'd got into trouble before, but it was rather smooth-going in the end.
Soon, we were back at the Baptistry Crawl. "It's going to be easier this time, we know what to expect," James reassured the both of us. I clipped the tackle bag onto myself again and set off to meet our sheep friend.
For some reason, the way back was definitely more difficult. The sheep, having been spread out by us earlier, now covered a good part of the tight bit - where we got stuck. Sticking half of one's face into sheep water, staring at tubular pink maggots and not being able to move really isn't that fun. At this point, James' light went out and he's forced to inch forward in complete darkness. Grunting and heaving my way through, I finally made it out and turned around to check on James. He was stuck at the tightest bit, but thankfully his light had flickered back on. Because his shoulders are so much broader than mine he was really wedged in and progress was painfully slow, if at all. I was getting quite worried and quickly unpacked some rope from the tackle sack. For the next god-knows-how-long, I crawl back in and try to tie rocks onto one end of the rope to throw it to him, shouting encouragement to keep his spirits up... But throwing rope in a tight crawl isn't that easy, and finally I get it as close as it's ever going to get, about a couple of feet from him. Very slowly but surely James gets to the rope. A choice selection of heaves, pushes, grunts, curses and shouts and he's finally out, collapsed on the ground.
After a rest we gave the Letterbox a go. But it's trickier than it looks because you have to climb up high in a slot of smooth walls, then squeeze through horizontally without getting wedged in. Fatigued and dehydrated, we each gave it a try, coming tantalizingly close before ultimately failing. Dispirited, we sank back into the tight base to take a breather. Giggling rather hysterically, we took turns reassuring ourselves and each other that we would get out and wouldn't need to be rescued. We fantasized about Jarv waiting at the entrance with a hot drink, a shower, and an offer to carry the tackle back. We dreamt of cool, crisp water and the casserole steaks we'd bought for dinner. We ranted and railed at everyone who said the trip was fine (even though it was really my fault/idea and Tony did say he hadn't been down it in years): "Fucking Tetley! Fucking Tony Seddon!"
Soon we recovered enough to try again. James decided to strip his harness. I climbed up on his shoulders once more and after a mighty struggle I was through. I took the bags from him, and after a mighty struggle he's through. Taking strength in the knowledge that the entrance was a mere two pitches away, James took a bag up the next pitch and I derigged.
One last pitch before we're done. We were feeling much better now, energized by the end in sight. "Go up fast, okay? I'm really cold. And wait at the Y-hang at the top to help me with the bags, don't fuck off!" James instructed. Then we were finally out, the cold wind billowing at us up on the fell. Jarv wasn't there with the drink and shower. Grrrr.
We began the long walk back to Clapham and arrived to find the minibus gone. In it's place was Jarv's phone. We called the cavalry, and before we knew it we were in the bus gulping down a bottle of beer and recounting our tale. Back at the hut I showered on a caving weekend for the first time since my first ever caving trip. Buggers hadn't left us any meat casserole, but the veggie slop was really good anyway.
James will tell you that Car's an absolutely horrendous pot with no redeeming features, that he's never done anything as disgusting in his life, or that it's left him with awful bumps and bruises (to be fair, some left by me), but he had fun. Kind of. Despite everything that happened, it was surprisingly easy to find enjoyment in it. I think we're both glad we did the trip and made it to the bottom. I don't know if I would have ever gone back if we didn't, but now...
Clare had read about Car Pot and fancied a visit, since the rest of the group was going to Gaping Ghyll it did not seem like too bad an idea. We walk up the hill via Long Lane enjoying the moorland around Ingleborough, finding the entrance is easy in the fair weather and with the help of a GPS.
As soon as I started to get changed I could feel that things were going wrong: I had forgotten my safety cord with penknife and spare light. Still, how often have I needed a prussick cord or a spare light? The first pitch is not objectively very challenging, but the 9 mm rope was so twisted that passing the tight corner at the bottom of the pitch and rigging a rebelay of a chockstone is not at all easy. Bottom of the next pitch and we are at the letterbox squeeze: an awkward constriction followed by a drop down a 2 meter slot. On the way down this was not too bad, though I have to remove my helmet. At the bottom of the letterbox squeeze is the Baptistry crawl: 12 meters of crawling over pebbles in a passage whose width at its tightest is only slightly tighter than my pelvis. I head and after a meter or so am overwhelmed by a horrendous stench: did someone shit himself in the middle of the squeeze? I look again and notice that the 'mud' in the puddle in front of my is hairy and that there are bones sticking out of it. A dead sheep. Gross. So I head back out for a little parlay with Clare. I am hoping that she will back down, but somehow she decides to go and have look and before I know it we are committed to the crawl. Lying face down in a decomposing sheep makes passing the squeeze one of the most upsetting experiences of my life. At least there is a bit of a draft though I do not believe that bad air is a problem.
Next pitch has another tight pitch head, again rigged off a flake: getting out of here will be interesting. Mhhh... this hanging rebelay might be a bit challenging for Clare I think. I give the instructions on how to pass it and wait at the bottom. Clare is hopelessly tangled up and I have to go up to give her a bit of a hand. I dig into my SRT bag to look for my hand jammer only to realise it isn't there. Groan. I will use my Pantin as a hand jammer instead. It feels wrong to be suspended from my jammer trying to push Clare up, I look at the rating on the Pantin: 15kN... mhh... hopefully it's over-engineered. Next pitch also has an awkward constriction at the pitchhead, but at least the re-belay is an easy one. Wow what a nice pit though! I am admiring the wall and considering the next one when I hear a muffled scream and look up to see Clare legs flailing in the void: she is caught by her helmet and cannot undo her clasp. I figure this is probably not the best situation to make suggestions and hastily prussick up the rope on my trusted Pantin. They seem like 10 very long meters and horrid thoughts crowd my mind: up to now this has been a horrid trip but this is not funny. As I get closer and closer the rasping laboured breathing is more and more terrifying. As soon as I am close enough Clare stands on me and frees her neck. Panic over. Thank God. I mutter a quick thank you Jesus, notice that the Pantin is disconnected from my safety cord: Panic!, reattach it, descend, then head down the last pitch. We are sitting at the bottom and I try to wipe the bits of dead sheep off of the orange juice carton before taking a sip. Clare cannot be arsed to go and look for formations, I walk maybe 20-30 meters down south Craven Passage before realising that, when all is said and done, I don't give a monkey's ass about a few straws and I want to get out of this hellhole and out of this stinking dead oversuit.
The pitches are kind of OK on the way up (i.e. none comes close to death) and soon enough we are at the Baptistry crawl again. Clare first and me behind her pushing the bag. Eventually we reach the constriction and once again I am face to face with ovine death. Once again it stinks, once again the leading arm of my oversuit has peeled back exposing my skin to the mushy, muddy, fleshy grossness. This time though my hips are well and truly stuck. Each push from my tip-toes moves me a few mm, then my light goes out. I am really not enjoying this anymore. Thankfully my light comes back on: the wires on the battery must be a little loose. I cry for help from Clare: maybe if she can throw me a rope it would help me gain a better purchase and I could free my hips. Slowly, fraction of an inch by fraction of an inch I am travelling through the dead sheep. Eventually after what seems like eternity my hips are free of the constriction and I have reached the rope. The going is a bit easier but it I am mentally jarred: this was shit. I get to the bottom of the letter box squeeze and take a rest.
It is soon evident there is no way in hell Clare will be able to climb out of the letterbox unassisted: for all its tightness it's wide in the wrong places and her legs are too short. After quite a lot of combined tactics and a few attempts we are out. I pass all the bags up, take my harness off and somehow manage to climb out. Everything in my body hurts: my hips, pelvis and chest from the baptistry crawl, my neck, shoulders and head for being trodded on in the letterbox, my legs from the pushing, my elbows are scratched. Last two pitches and we are out I hope. Obviously at this point we are so tired that bags are catching everywhere, footloops finding little knobs to tie themselves around, slowly we ricochet out of the last few pitches are finally outside. I am wet and cold from lying in the decomposed sheep juices and the wind is not pleasant. Still the smell of life and vegetation is incredibly sweet and the wind strong enough to keep me from smelling myself.
As we stumble down towards Clapham and I desperately try to find some redeeming features to this trip. It has been an adventure and I am happy we are alive. We have surmounted quite a lot of difficulties and kept going at it. I am impressed, but also terrified, by Clare's grit. A few days have passed now and I am still not sure whether we were lucky to get out unhurt or unlucky to have had so many difficulties. I am surely never going to forget my knife, my prussick cord and my spare light. I am never going to crawl through a dead animal if I can smell it. I am going to make sure that less experienced cavers are in between more experienced ones, as often it is hard to assist from ahead. Maybe one day I will return and have a better look in South Craven passage. Maybe.
Despite feeling more than a little battered and beat up, James and I decided to go caving "to remind ourselves that caving can be pleasant". We went down Heron Pot with Kate, doing it as a little pull-through. The short 1 hour-ish cave was the perfect amount of caving - no dead animals, nice clean passages one can stand up in, two cute pitches, clean running water, no need for me to put more bruises on James' shoulders, and a crawl at the end that maybe could have been a touch shorter.
We strolled back to the minibus and got changed, sat around for a bit listening to silly music on the radio before deciding to head to Ingleton to get some beer/food/newspapers for while we waited. Got back, waited around some more and just as James was contemplating walking up the hill to check on the Bull Pot party we heard Jana's knock on the window signaling their return.
Clare Tanrequire('../footer.php'); ?>