The seeds for this weekend were first sown 4+ months ago, as we sat around the table in the NPC on a winter's day discussing future trips. With El Tet reminding me about it every time I saw him in the subsequent months, how could we not go? So despite looming exams and thesis corrections, a crack(ed) team of IC3 reprobates assembled at stores on the eve of the royal wedding to launch our assault on the three pots: King, Penyghent and Meregill.
Traffic out of London was unexpectedly light, so a civilised 6 hour drive+shop later saw us arriving to a completely deserted Greenclose. Most of the NPC regulars were either cave diving in the Dordogne or caving in Ardeche, we later learned.
King pot on the (future) king's wedding!
Woke up to find breakfast pretty much ready, cheers Tet. Since rope for the first two days was already packed and waiting in tacklesacks, all we had to do was eat, wash up and go, essentially. Pleasant roadside change in the sun and and leisurely hike up the hill behind Braida Garth farm and we were underground for ~12:10pm.
Tetley started rigging first, followed after various intervals by William, Sandeep, myself, Kate, and Jarv. A rope climb down, belayed to a single p-bolt, leads immediately to the first pitch. The way on from the bottom of the first pitch is through a crawl to the left, though Tetley went straight on instead, which meant he ended up behind William, Sandeep and myself once he'd turned around and caught back up with us [Jarv- but only after light failure at the end of the crawl and a bit of golem like stalking!].
A short climb up to the left and narrow rift leads to a very nice traverse over a pit. We used the in-situ ropes for this, having not brought tackle for the traverse. I leapfrogged Sandeep here and soon caught up with William, who was sitting in a chamber fettling his light, having lost and found his battery box cover. Second pitch is through a hole in the floor of the chamber, and here I took over the rigging, while Tetley enjoyed ciggy breaks at the pitch heads.
Beyond the second pitch the passage soon descends into a crawl, flat out just before the start of the infamous T-shaped passage. I had the deep rope bag, while Tetley had both our SRT bags in the other tacklesack - it certainly was a luxury not having my SRT bag get in the way in the T-shaped passage! Taking my time and carefully placing the tacklesack in front of me, progress through the passage was smooth and problem-free, fortunately.
Made our way through Queensway and Canutes Crawl, stopping occasionally to consult the route description, then got Emma and Bloodaxe pitches rigged and passed without incident; it was great to get some rigging practice in. The rest of them caught up with us in King Henry Hall, and William took over the rigging. While waiting for him to rig Victoria, Kate told me she'd broken the cable tie on Niko's battery box, and rather ironically, just as I was laughing at her Sandeep noticed my battery box cover was missing. I thought he was taking the piss until I reached behind and realised my cable tie had snapped too and the cover had indeed fallen off - bugger! Grrr, especially now that the boxes are more or less obsolete... thankfully Jarv had some bungee on his back up torch, which he used to secure my battery once we were in Kakemono Hall.
Bit more crawling and stooping later we arrived at the magnificent Elizabeth pitch. Jarv rigged this; thankfully water levels were blissfully low and there was considerably less spray on the pitch compared to the last time I was here in October. Up and over Jane's pitch with the help of some tape around rather dodgy flakes of rock as belays. One of the slings actually came off as Tetley was climbing; I think our hearts all skipped a beat then, though thankfully disaster was averted as he managed to catch his fall with some handholds.
Discussed our exit plan over some chocolate. Tetley, Kate and Sandeep didn't fancy the chocolate mousse of goo blocking the way on, so they decided to head out first while William, Jarv and I paid a visit to the downstream and middle sumps. Though it starts off as a rather grim, low crawl though some very wet mud, the passage soon opens up into a clean, easy hands and knees crawl. Eventually you get to a short 2m drop into the Main Drain. The middle sump is quite pretty, though I am not sure it is worth spending 30 minutes (there and back) on your hands and knees for.
Relaxed but steady pace out, with Jarv derigging. He was also especially eagle eyed, finding my battery box top (woohoo!) just before the T-shaped passage, as well as endangering certain body parts to retrieve a pantin and kneepad that Kate dropped earlier in the depths of the T-shaped passage. We met Tet, Kate and Deep just past the passage and everyone enjoyed a bit of a sit down.
Rest of the way out was uneventful, emerged to the a most magnificent evening, the sun hanging low in the sky and casting a warm glow over the dales. 7.5 hours from the first person in to the last man out, absolutely top trip.
Back at the NPC, gin and tonic + steak and mash (and ratatouille for the grazers) + lemon meringue pie for pudding was a fittingly decadent end to the day.
I feel I must plead for the beauty of the Middle sump. I was told there were some beautiful curtains ('nicest in Yorkshire') by some cave divers. This is a lie, there are some curtains and they're fairly pretty, but I think you need to have surfaced from some grim cave dive and be being overwhelmed by the euphoria of not being dead to really consider them that pretty.
However, the sump itself is just lovely, the sheer sides drop away into the darkness (viz was excellent), the water seemingly wells out of nowhere and flows either side around the central obstruction in the passage going down two beautiful chutes before meeting at a confluence and barrelling along in more than walking height passage downstream along a beautiful white rock stream.
Pot #2. Jarv elected to stay at the NPC to do his thesis corrections, while Kate's knees, shins, forearms, and elbows were deemed too bruised to survive the 330m entrance crawl. Their absence was made up for by the very welcome addition of Jim, who surprised us in the NPC in the morning: he'd driven up the night before but couldn't get anyone to open the door, spending the night in the carpark instead.
After a couple of missed turnings we eventually got to the Brackenbottom carpark, where we kitted up and began the walk up Penyghent. The wind was really gusting, even stealing Tetley's chest harness as we were getting reading to go underground! He made do with a sling for the rest of the weekend.
We faffed as much as we could, but it was soon time to face the dreaded Pilgrims Way. It was my third time in the cave, but the coldness of the water in Penyghent never fails to surprise me. My already bruised knees from King were in agony for the first 5-10 minutes, but the water soon numbed them and by the end of the crawl I was actually enjoying myself.
Tetley took control of the rigging, the second half of which must have been pretty fun due to the conspicuous lack of bolts. Wires are pretty sexy. Jim provided entertainment with some skillful recorder playing, William was William, while Sandeep and I dossed at the back.
Penyghent's an absolute joy to cave in once you get past the entrance crawl and Easy Passage (just after the first pitch). Lovely pitches and fun rift traverses, if you like that sort of thing. At a couple of the rifts there was some confusion regarding which level to take, leading to lots of shouting back and forth between Sandeep and the leading trio, but generally you want to stay fairly low.
We were at the bottom in good time, and a quick derigging plan was hatched over chocolate. I was to head out first, so I took the leftover rigging gear and began our exit. Very pleasant on the way out, Tetley's advice to free climb the pitches (where possible) while self-lining with one's croll stood me in good stead. I took my time, stopping for a quick rest every now and then, but probably could have judged the timing better as I ended up with a 40 minute wait at the start of entrance crawl. Brrr. Kept warm with some chocolate and moved around a bit, and was ever so happy when I heard Sandeep coming up the pitch. Jim followed immediately, and we set off for the entrance soon enough.
Before we knew it we were out in daylight, feeling a bit more battered and bruised but utterly satisfied. Lay in the sunshine to warm up, though the cold wind wasn't particularly helpful. William and Tet were not far behind, and everyone was out ~6 hours after we entered.
Cigarette for Tetley, then we headed back down the hill, where cups of tea were enjoyed at Brackenbottom while we phoned Jarv to get dinner started at the NPC. Back at Greenclose we quickly spun our furries dry before settling down to a proper feast, courtesy of Jarv (who'd also labeled all our spices during the day!). Lamb chops, basmati rice, buttered courgettes and carrots, ratatouille, red wine and onion gravy, blueberry cheesecake.. all super tasty. If he weren't so bloody useful underground I'd suggest leaving him behind all the time.
Jarv and Tet proceeded to pack the Meregill ropes for the next day, while the rest of us lazed around the table and did some washing up in turns. By a stroke of serendipity, sometime in the night Dave Mountain & family turned up unannounced, using the NPC carpark as an impromptu stop on their way back from Scotland.
Conscious of the long drive back to London at night, we were in mission mode as everyone got up before 9 and were ready to go by 10! Drove to the too rarely visited Chapel-le-Dale for another sunny + windy roadside change, before we enjoyed a long but relatively flat walk to Meregill.
Though it looked like there was absolutely zero chance of rain, we decided to rig both (Mere and Aven) entrances anyway since we'd brought the tackle for it. So I rigged the Aven entrance with William behind me, while Jarv rigged the Mere for everyone else. The aven entrance is nice enough, a body sized tube with a 90 degree bend leads directly to the pitch. It's a bit awkward to get onto the rope, but nothing too difficult. Deviation part way down around some rock.
Jarv rigged all 180m (depth, not length!) of the cave very nicely. It's a really pleasant trip, a bit like Lost Johns but with more interesting rope traverses, I guess.. The third + fourth pitch (we used a 88m rope) in particular was pretty cool, with a couple of free hanging rebelays thrown in for good measure.
At the bottom Jim and Jarv bravely volunteered to derig, and they along with Deep and Kate bimbled down the streamway for a bit while Tetley, William and I fucked on out. We zipped out, I derigged aven entrance, collected the van keys and Selected Caves and joined Tetley and William at the Mere entrance in the sun while we waited for the rest to arrive.
Just over an hour later everyone was out for a total trip time of ~4.5 hours. Lovely Sunday trip, and really a fitting end to a cracking weekend. Back to the NPC for a quick tidy, some tea and cheese on toast before we left for London at 6:30pm. Back at stores 5 hours later, stiff, bruised but completely fulfilled.
I swear I spent 90% of this trip staring at a tendril of 9mm either spooling out of, or being stuffed into, a tackle sac. It was ace though. I used every single Maillon on the way done perhaps ~35 in total. The rope for the 2nd pitch seemed a bit short. The final cascade pitches could be rigged as Tyrollean traverses with a bit of extra cord and rope length, which would make them an epic end to a truly great trip and avoid risking falling into the waist + chest deep pools.
Strangely, I had a few slings left over and really felt that the rig could have done with more deviations, even in these very low water conditions. I'm pretty certain there were no bolts I missed (I looked carefully!), nor could I really see any suitable naturals (the shaft walls were pretty shear). How does one rig it in the wet?
The streamway passage at the bottom is lovely, mostly walking passage and with a similar feel and dimension to an enclosed water chute at a water park. You just sort of run down it, letting yourself bounce off the sides. Having passed the two small inlets, we turned back as the passage dropped to a stoop with heavy clouds of silt kicked up by our bootfalls.