After ferrying the essential stuff into the hut we had time for some tea and a beer, maybe toast...no, Saber had other ideas and set about cooking us all pasta at 2.30am, which turned out to be delicious and I declare it should a be traditional thing for Saber to do from now...
From Leck Fell the views across to the Lake District and down to Morecambe Bay were nice, it was already 2pm and the sun was low, but it picked out the river Wennington winding down to the sea as a trail of bright puddles of light.
At the entrance Clare passed the time playing her harmonica (rather well), as all the eleven of us one by one went down the first pitch grateful to be getting into the relative warmth of the cave. Tetley led an advance party down the Central route and onward to rig the Lower Streamway, Jarv rigged the Left-hand route and Dave the Adamson's route.
As you enter the Main Chamber the Adamson's route is up a climb on your right, then there's the Central route dropping over a lip and the Left-hand route disappears down a rift. 70m lower down where the three ropes drop in within 5m of each other, the Adamson's rope is the middle, the Central route rope is on your left and the Left-hand route rope is on the right!
Oliver and I where in the Adamson's team and when we reached the Lower Streamway everyone else was well ahead of us, so we set off down the impressive canyon, traversing along with the water thundering below, and dropping further away all the time, I was in front and it was feeling more and more exposed, then the stream disappeared! And I thought Jesus this is a bit hairy, if this was already rigged I expect to see rope by now! So we backed up and sure enough were happy to see a lovely bit of red rope dangling down 3m, going up to the start of the traverse in the very top of the rift.
We all met up at the bottom. Tetley, Jonny and Sam were starting to head out again, so I let them come up the short pitch from the sump and asked Jonny if it was worth going down? Yes, there's a little side passage you can swing into that's really cosy and friendly. I somewhat disbelievingly ab'ed down by the thundering water, then Oliver grabbed me and hauled me into the side passage: Rhys, Clare, Jarv and Saber were all there and I have to say Jonny was right, it was surprisingly warm.
'So who's de-rigging...?'
A while later I emerged up the Left-hand route with the biggest tackle bag I've ever cursed. But it was good see Tetley and Jarv, and we made our way out. As I de-rigged the second pitch something fell out of the ceiling by my head and for a split second I thought it was a plastic bag bizarrely, I looked up and saw it was a bat just as it fluttered round a corner out the cave. There was something quite cool about being buzzed by a bat.
Back on top, Tetley and I gathered up the last bits of rigging and I finished off a flask of coffee, then we trudged back through snow covered heather, it was very cold and clear, without a cloud in the sky and the stars were as bright as I've ever seen.
Sunday was a really nice sunny day and the main shaft of Alum pot was well lit up even by low winter sun. Dave and I decided to form a crack team and do a quick decent via Lower Long Churn.
As it turned out we stopped to natter a fair bit, so wasn't so swift, but really nice still. Having not been to Alum for a while I'd forgotten how spectacular the rock bridge is, wedged halfway down the shaft and covered in greenery, and the p-bolts on the underside give an exposed position, and you can't miss the size of it all as it's lit up by daylight!
At the bottom we met the water pouring down the Diccan route straight into the sump, very noisy and fearsome.
On the way back to the NPC we passed the Hill Inn, and I heard a few new stories, of that once centre of cavers debauchery.
I decided to walk from the NPC to Clapham to catch the 1840 for Leeds, I arrived 20mins early and the train was 35mins late... Luckily there were a couple of walkers to chat with to pass the time, as we stood there getting cold. After about 40mins I picked up the station phone and some guy said down a crackly line, the train was delayed by sheep on the track and signal failure! When the train finally limped into the station the back carriage had no lights and was freezing cold, the guard said it was broken down and didn't have any heating, so we moved to the front carriage, but as we trundled along the front carriage got colder and colder, until my breath was condensing in the air, I sat huddled in my goretex hat and duvet jacket, imagining what fun train journeys must have been 100 years ago.
Having apparently impressed Tetley by leaving Saber and Clare behind as I exited Notts I he asked me to join him and Jonny going from Cow to County in the Easegill system. I was interested in caving with the infamous Tetley so I said yes. For Jonny it was also quite interesting because he was going to attempt rigging for the first time. This was the reason for a frantic knot tying session the night before to ensure he could actually secure the rope correctly (which, of course, inspired me with confidence).
Getting to the cave was easy enough, just a 15 minute walk from Bullpot Farm (another caving hut), and so was the entrance pitch which Jonny rigged fairly quickly. It wasn't long before we arrived at the next section in need of rigging and so again Jonny was dispatched. When it came time for me to cross the now rigged section it became apparent why Jonny looked so uncomfortable. The rope was skirting a massive hole in the floor which was scary enough to cross with all the ropes attached to the wall, never mind whilst hanging off your descender rigging it.
Once across the hole it became apparent that we were going to descend into it. Tetley asked Jonny if he was confident enough to do the free hanging y-hang the next section required. Jonny admitted he had forgotten how to do the knot and so Tetley spent a few minutes going over a new knot with him before sending him down. Tetley's mischievous smile did little to comfort Jonny as he descended but it wasn't long before he shouted `rope free'. A small adjustment by Tetley (to ensure groups travelling up the rope could actually get over the rebelays) and a few "tightened" maillons ensured that the pitch was completely safe.
Traversing the cave was extremely enjoyable and fast from that point on. We walked through many boulder strewn caverns and stormed up some excellent stream ways. A particularly memorable part was navigating through a boulder choke that had recently(?) collapsed and blocked the normal route. It was really fun exploring each nook and crevice for a way on. It was shortly after that where we met Jarv's group who were heading the opposite direction to us. A short rest and a few exchanged directional tips later we were on our way again.
We then travelled around a small loop which included the spectacular Easter Grotto, with its hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites, and the interestingly named Perfection Passage, a minute or so of flat out crawl that emerges in a new cavern about 1.5m above the floor (which makes not landing on your head an interesting challenge), before heading out through County Pot.
Once back at the van we took our stuff and changed in Bullpot farm (in the warm) before having a cup of tea and a beer whilst waiting for the other group. They appeared 20 minutes later and soon we were going back to the NPC. Overall it was a very good day.
Up at the Leck Fell parking area the weather was distinctly unpleasant. It was drizzling steadily and it felt damn cold. Those changing completely from their own clothes to their kit did so at speed and the rest of us already-furry-clad cavers stepped into our over suits, serenaded by that classic, 'The Lady is a Tramp'.
The entrance to Lost John's is really close to the road so those of us descending via Dome (Dave, Rhys, Saber, me, Jarv) ran to the cave get out of the cold and the rain. A noisy stream leads to the entrance, where Saber realised he had no batteries in his helmet! He ran back to the van to fetch some and I entered the streamway. For a few minutes the world seemed very dark and lonely, Rhys and Dave having stormed on ahead.
Jarv and Saber caught up soon and we proceeded down the rushing streamway, taking the vital right-hand passage when required. Saber overtook and later we caught to him about to clamber down what looked like a waterfall with a significant drop! We'd missed the obvious start of the traverse which leads to the Dome and Centipede routes, and clambered up into it at a more awkward but by no means impossible path.
We abbed down the first pitch, making jokes about monsters in the puddle at the bottom. Following Dave, who rigs like no one's business, we abseiled down Vestry, Cathedral and to the head of Dome pitch. The way on for us was to swing into a window in the rock about halfway down Dome pitch, passing a deviation on the way. A couple of short pitches (Dome Junction) lead to the top of the Candle and Shistol pitches, where the rope was quite tight and water was cascading down the lower pitch heads. In slow succession we travelled down the pitches.
I met up with Rhys at the bottom, chilling out by himself in the passage. It was smoker's corner up ahead of me, he said: Tetley and Dave were both having a cigarette as the group waited for Jonny to rig Battle-axe Traverse. Here, desiring a short-ish trip and willing to prepare roast chicken for the others, Tetley, Dave and I turned around to exit via the routes we hadn't descended by. Everyone else would continue on via Battle-axe, onto Valhalla and then perhaps the final pitch if it wasn't too wet. At the bottom of Candle and Shistol we waited for Clare and co to finish their descent. The dulcet tones of Clare's harmonica echoed down the pitches as Sam joined us and Tetley posed the question: do you wish to be part of Team Chicken or Team Valhalla? Sam chose to head out with us.
The four of us ascended the wet Candle and Shistol and split into pairs. Dave and I would ascend Centipede while Sam and Tetley would head up Dome. We would meet at the top of the hole that leads to the Dome route, in the entrance. Not that we were racing but Tetley proclaimed whichever pair was last would be fisting the chicken! At the bottom of Centipede I took some hints from Dave, who had been teaching me the art of efficient prussicking on Saturday in Notts I as well, and then set off up the pitch.
The Centipede shaft is magnificent to ascend, a great free hang with plenty for the eye to feast on. It was tiring but a lot of fun bouncing around on 9mm for 30 metres, kicking away from the damp wall and a nice easy pitch head to step off on. Calling "rope free" to Dave, smoking at the bottom of Centipede, I went on to look at the next pitch Mud which isn't far ahead. When I came back after a minute or two I was shocked and mightily impressed to find Dave had almost reached the head of Centipede. He was breathing hard when he stepped off the rope but who wouldn't be! It seemed almost as if he had flown up the rope on mystical wings.
We split into two groups for transportation purposes. Dave rigged the cave with Saber, Chris and Pete and Clare derigged with Rhys and I as baggage train. Our group came in the minibus and stopped next to where Dave had parked his car, leaving a rather poorly Jarv tucked up in the minibus.
Rowten is only a short uphill walk from the road but the rather poor weather that day made me look forward to getting underground all the more. On reaching the entrance pitch, we saw Pete's stylish red and blue form peeking out at us while he helped Chris get on his way. Clare took the opportunity to make a Slovenia sales pitch to us keen freshers. Before long I was on my way down.
The entrance to Rowten is basically a big hole in the ground. On the way down there's a rebelay or two to spice things up. At the bottom, the cavern opens up and you join the stream that the majority of the route runs by. The first pitch leaves you on a large ledge next to it. How anyone originally discovered the route we took onwards is beyond me. Abseiling down, towards the stream, a rift in the wall appears that before was completely invisible. This rift is of that most convenient size; open enough to move easily, tight enough to wedge yourself into. After following this for about 10M the rift widens enough to descend through.
Once you're free of the rift, this descent is very leisurely. This pitch is probably the closest you get to this stream in the cave, where it falls down beside you. At the bottom is a fairly spacious but noisy cavern. The next pitch must have required some real gymnastics to rig. It is L shaped, and is partially comprised of that odd sort of abseiling where you are moving more horizontally than vertically.
Next comes a fairly spacious passage, followed by a short pitch leading into the final chamber. I spent most of my time here telling Dave how much I liked the cave while Rhys attempted to take some photos and Saber slept on a comfy rock. As soon as we had all accumulated here those down first started filing off. Rhys and I flipped a chocolate bar to decide who would take the first bag up. He lost, so I set off while he waited with Clare. Rowten is one of those caves that is a lot more fun coming in than going out, but despite this is remains one of my favourate trips so far.
Of all the places that trees could grow, I find very strange how often then grow beside huge holes in the ground like the entrance to Rowten and nowhere else in sight. Why this happens I don't know, but this time I appreciated the handholds the roots gave, particularly as I had a nice heavy bag to pull up. Rhys and I didn't shiver in the cold for long, within about five minutes Clare had finished derigging and we were heading back to the minibus. Just as before, the other team were just leaving, but somehow Jarv was still asleep in the bus.
I've only been down Brown Hill once before, but I really enjoyed the trip. I wasn't feeling entirely better, but the call of East Kingsdale was strong, and I was powerless to resist. Rhys and Oliver were clearly begging for an experience down a tight entrance series.
The cloud was low so while we faffed at the hut and stared at rope lengths, I grabbed the GPS coords for Brown Hill and entered them into the GPS. A quick skip to Kingsdale, and an efficient change and we were fording the stream and clambering our way up to the rusty old entrance drum. In actual fact the cloud seemed constantly about 10m above our heads, so we didn't need the magic of GPS.
The rope lengths called for in NFTFH seem rather long. From Floyd's, the combined 1+2 pitches don't need the full 40m called for, perhaps a 30. Ian Plant is similarly over subscribed for, we had a 42 which got to the 2nd y-hang no problem, and a 37 of which we can't have used more than 30.
The entrance series was really quite wet, spigots of water were appearing in random locations, a little stream ran along the floor. This actually made the progress rather more easy, as it lubricated the shoulder that I seemed to be constantly sliding along! The tight rift was amicably conquered by Rhys and Oliver, rather more easily by Rhys due to dimensionality. SRT kits were wriggled into on the changing corner, and I thrutched forwards to rig the pitch. The first drop is a protected climb, and I must admit for speed I choose to just use the in situ 8mm from the divers, and rigged the hang off our tasty 9mm. Drop down into the chamber, and rigged the Y-hang and deviation continuation. Waited at the bottom, and the buoys soon arrived. We stashed the first used up bag, I liberated the rather portly 'Gandalf' (the white) tacklesack, and we headed off.
The inlet waterfall was really quite impressive. Went too high going out the chamber (missed the climb down to the stream) and soon realised were were in a layer above the intended when we got to a pitch without any bolts. Back tracked and rethreaded our way to the 'ramp' where the main routes to Ian Plant diversify. The roughly horizontal route was found, and the tackle was moved through with care. It's really quite nice, a sort of horizontal crawl traverse, with a not-too-spacious rift in the floor to keep you awake, and a mix of different types of shelve to push off, slither over and clamber round. Soon reached the little chamber with the p-bolts. The pitch was really very noisy, and I wasn't massively too hopeful that we'd get down.
Dangling off the string round the corner rigging the y-hang, and it actually looked fine. The water only enters Ian Plant on the bottom 1/3rd of the first hang, so was a long way away from the rope. Abseilled down, belayed the rope to the start of the traverse, and blew my whistle. Rhys arrived by the time I was tying the next Y-hang. Again, the deviation kept it well clear of the water.
Bottom of the pitch was a bit godforsaken, spray flying in all the different directions. I belayed the rope to a flake with an unused sling to give the 1st years something to pull in on. I scampered up along the rift and waited for a few minutes in the rather more warm chamber. Rhys arrived and we called down Oliver. He got a bit strung up, and was dangling next to the deviation for quite a while. Had a bit of a pingu-esque conversation with Rhys while waiting, both of us with our neck warmers tucked up to our eyeballs, wandering just what he'd done (we feared he'd abseiled onto the deviation with his cows-tails, which is rather difficult to sort). Eventually he arrived at the bottom, and it sounded like he'd been a bit confused about the various ropes (the permanent 8mm went through the same deviation).
Dropped by SRT bag and we set off down the main passage. The two inlets were roaring like anything, you had to dash through a 2m wall of water to get into the crawl above the streamway. The route's really good fun caving, and all to soon we arrived at the cascades that turn into the final pitch. The rig here was rather worse, the permanent ropes being slammed by the water. We had never intended to drop this pitch, but it was interesting to see. Tony's red tackle sac of Christmas treasure was liberated from it's perch, and we struck off for the surface.
Arriving at the climb up back into the warm rift, I was surprised to see that my exposed middle finger (my glove had lost a finger a long long time ago) was bleeding. It was actually a pretty nasty gash, must have slipped on one of the many 'pull up' climbs in the rift and sliced right across the finger pad. Oliver was dispatched with Tony's sac, while I rinsed off my finger in the stream. Brown Hill is absolutely crawling with shrimp, I wonder if you can use them as Doctor Fish to clean your wounds? Certainly Tony must have spent a lot of time down here training them, though perhaps the presence of a stove and mess tin in his bag of Christmas presents indicates his Crustacea predilection.
I was well pleased that I got to use my 1st aid kit, having, as ever, dragged the blessed thing around me for the whole week getting no utility of it. The ZnO tape was it's usual excellent self, even in the sodden environment, and my finger soon had the bleeding stopped and knuckle bound up so I could cave out with the minimum of fuss.
Rhys followed Oliver up, and I shivered while meditating on the nature of prussicing while waiting. Soon I was off though, no Pantin for once (not much point in East Kingsdale...), which was a bit of a strange experience! I had sent Rhys + Oliver off as a two-some with Tony's treasure sac, so I took my time finishing off the derigging, beating the bag into submission and then meandering my way along the rift. Oliver and Rhys were waiting at the foot of the entrance pitch as agreed, and seemed to have really enjoyed finding their way through the different levels in the rift.
Bags rotated (we would each have one on they way out) and we made steady progress to the exit.Oliver & I both stripped our SRT kits and packed them away in bags for the entrance rift. I'm not sure what Rhys did, he sounded a long way away and like he was enlarging the cave by beating it with his fists! Rhys hauled tackle up the entrance oil drums (incidentally, they're ever more tetanus tastic, rather sharp and rusty). On the surface in the fog (it had properly come in now), just 5 hrs after leaving it, three bags of tackle and presents! Not bad.
Quick elope back to the happy red minibus, got changed with the stereo on (it was now strangely mild at the end of the week), and zoomed back to the NPC to arrive in time for the last minute roast dinner preparations and then a serious self stuffing.
We left the NPC early in the morning to get a long trip don in Easegill. Once we had driven to where the road ran out, we were accosted by trail bikers, who called us “suicidal”. We got out and walked the remaining distance on foot, with Dave cleverly remembering to put a rope down Lancaster so that we could get out. We then walked for what seemed like hours and finally reached the entrance to county. Our plan was to pull the rope through, while keeping a watchful eye out for piranhas and other cave-dwelling nasties. However, at the top of one of the pitches the rope got stuck, so Dave had to climb up and get it back. Just as he was reaching the top, we heard a terrifying roar, which sounded like a dragon, even though we knew it was probably just a polar bear stuck in a tight rift. We then trudged for hours through increasingly slippery mud and boulders, before finally stopping for a rest. Clare showed Saber and Chris an interesting passage, before teleporting out and leaving them to find a tiny rabbit-sized hole in the floor, which they failed to do.
This was followed by more hours of boulder-hopping before we finally escaped through Lancaster. The walk back seemed twice as long as before, but we finally made it back to the car and got home. This is all I can remember about this trip.