Having done a couple of permutations of County—>Lancs/Cow during the winter tour, I was determined to visit one of the less common entrances on the Pip/Link side of the system. I'd heard some interesting things about Roly Poly passage in Peterson, so I thought this would be as good a time as any to give it a go. Cave chosen, I just had to find some unsuspecting victims... Rhys and Oliver were most obliging, keen freshers that they are. They'd both done Brown Hill before, so I knew they'd probably be able to cope with the thrutchy full-body-contact crawl traverses we'd potentially encounter in the twisting rifts.
We set off and find the entrance easily enough. The cave is rigged to the Pippikin connection, but I belay our rope to a flake at the entrance shaft anyway and head down. The second pitch/handlined climb immediately follows, but requires a little thrutch to get to. I see how this cave is going to be.
Soon we get to the start of Roly Poly passage, described in Not For The Faint Hearted as 30 minutes of flat-out and sideways crawling. In truth it is really quite easy, but I suspect I only think so because my legs are about half the length of Oliver's. It is helpfully broken up into three distinct sections by a couple of small chambers where it is possible to have a rest. The first is a fairly short smooth tube, but with a couple of awkward bends/dog-legs for the long-limbed. Oli is next behind me, and he is having trouble getting around the final dog-leg.
"I don't think I can physically fit through this," he says, grunting. Oh shit, is our trip over already? I coax him into trying a couple more contortions, and bending his spine and legs at funny angles he finally pops out.
"You okay?" I ask.
"I'll be alright," he replies, but I suspect he might be regretting coming on the trip. We go on, and the rest of Roly Poly passage is a crawl traverse in the roof of a rift. It reminds me a lot of the T-shaped passage in King Pot, only smaller, much longer, and with many many more bends. Oli is a real trooper; he has the longest legs out of the three of us and has to try 5 different contortions to get past each bend, but soldiers on regardless. Finally the passage ends abruptly at a 2.5 metre skydive. There is an in-situ handline hanging down from the ceiling, so what would have been a scary as fuck maneouvre instead becomes fun and exciting. Cowstails clipped in for safety, I walk out on my hands and rotate mid-air before climbing down.
Oliver and Rhys follow. Oli, looking a bit like a mad scientist with his hair sticking out and mud on his face, firmly states that he's not going back through the Roly Poly passage again. Fair enough, I think, and we decide to exit via Mistral. A couple more bits of rope, before we leave the main route down Peterson (there are two more small pitches below) and head for the connection to Pip.
More flat out crawling, and we climb up into an obscure little hole (easy to miss this and continue with the crawl) to get to Svengland. A little climb down aided by a steel scaffolding pole, a pitch, and a 4m handlined climb in quick succession finds us at Firkin Chimney, a muddy body-sized tube that we happily slide down. We follow our noses and pop out in the middle of the Hall of the Mountain King.
Here the chamber is so vast and air is so foggy we can barely see, and we decide to head right instead of left. This is a mistake as we end up in the Hall of the Damned, which together with Wellington Traverse in Hall of the Mountain King must have some of the wettest, stickiest, muddiest passage in Yorkshire. We turn around and try the other end of Hall of the Mountain King. We are picking our way across the mud, a sheer drop on one side, as I spot a brown body lying on the ground. Holy fuck, I think for a second, is that a person? But no, it just turns out to be an extremely lifelike sculpture of a hermaphrodite.
We poke around a bit and eventually find our way to Hall of the Ten. From here our exit is more or less uneventful and the caving pleasant. Some crawling, stooping and walking later we emerge triumphantly from Mistral to sunny skies. We shake hands, and I thank the boys for indulging me in my little excursion. They've really become very good cavers.
Peterson's absolutely ace and lots of fun — an entrance well worth trying if you haven't before. I'd certainly go back there in a heartbeat. Forget Lancs and County and Top, the Bye George/Pip/Link side is where it's at!
Saturday started with Jana rousing everyone at the ungodly hour of 9.30. After the usual protein heavy breakfast Clare picked the two most gullible cavers, Oliver and I, to accompany her to Peterson Pot. After kitting up and a relatively short walk from the hut we found ourselves at the unassuming shake hole that was the entrance to Peterson. Once inside and down the first couple of pitches we found ourselves at the aptly named Roly-Poly passage. Clare went in first, followed by Ollie, and I went last. I then spent the next 45 minutes to an hour wedged on my side staring at Ollie's wellies as he rotated and wiggled his way through the torturous passage. Having no kneecaps would certainly have been an advantage and some quite tight dogleg corners required very interesting spinal contortions to navigate. I found it a little easier what with being smaller and getting to emulate Ollie's successful attempts at each corner.
Roly-Poly passage ends with a 2.5m skydive which is a little awkward. After I emerged from this (and had undislocated my knees) Clare asked whether we wanted to exit via Mistral or attempt to reach the bottom of Petersons and then exit back through Roly-Poly passage. The question didn't really require an answer and we headed off towards Mistral. Some quite pleasant and easy caving followed with some nice route-finding practice. On our way we encountered what appeared to be a caver entombed in the copious amounts of mud that were present in the cave. On closer inspection it turned out to be an anatomically correct hermaphrodite sculpture built by some caver with far too much time on their hands.
On Saturday evening Jana treated us all to what appeared to be a massive cheese, potato and grease pancake followed by a ham and potato soupy, stewey thing, both absolutely delicious. The meal was followed by caving games, including chair squeezes and table traversing. Jan showed everyone what a real caver can do by being the only person to successfully traverse under the table. An amazing oat and treacle dessert thing finished the night quite well.
I thought I'd give my view of Peterson, since it was definitely the hardest trip I've had so far, and also just to complete the trio.
It wasn't just Clare's influence that got Rhy's and I to go, the cave's description also piqued our interest, particularly the thrases "ticklish entrance" and "teasing crawl". The relatively simple caving I'd done on the last two trips developed a reckless and cocksure attitude in my mind. Despite all our trouble, we could only conclude that the word "thrutchy" meant fucking mental.
It all started out unassuming enough. I have a habit of judging a cave by the pitch lengths, which up until now has served my reasonably well. They seemed so small that I decided to try out a go, reasoning that I would have to be singularly incompetent to manage to injure myself on them. It turned out to hardly be worth the thought; they weren't even worth it. Peterson doesn't mess around with such things as heights, it is above that.
It wasn't long before I realised this was far more that I had been expecting. I had read the desciption of a "30 minute flat-out crawl" with the looking-but-not-seeing eyes that are all to often the bane of the unwary. The passage kept getting smaller and smaller, already having passed my own estimate of what a crawl should be like. My first dog-leg was definitely my worst. It was a tight left turn which led out quickly into a teasingly placed chamber, not even two metres wide, but all the space in the world. I'm not sure if Clare was prescient or just resting, either way she was there on the other side to prove it could be done.
I tried a number of orientations to squeeze through. Facing in to the turn didn't work; my legs were just slightly too long. Facing out gained me little more, my back just couldn't bend that far. Thrashing about in what little space I had, I tried to turn again, only to realize I had overshot and gone 360 degrees about. Desperation set in. Back arched further than I felt comfortable bending, I edged forward. Somehow satiated, the passage urged me through. No messing around in the next chamber; this was only the beggining.
I wouldn't say the above gave me confidence, if anything the opposite. Strip away the flesh of a human mind and you have a much simpler, more easily managed thing. All the higher thoughts, concerns and other distractions, ultimately useless, were boiled of from my brain. All I remember are simple shining thoughts, my axioms for that brief moment; keep going forward - there's no going back.
But there was plently of scope for going back. Rhys will testify for how close I came to kicking him in my hasty retreats. The corners were not as bad now, the passage may even have been wider, but that didn't matter, it kept going on. If I could slow my breathing enough on one of my regular breaks, I would sometimes notice that no sounds were coming back from Clare. It's over! Disapointment. I could probably have fallen asleep down there, head on a rock, arm jammed in a rift beneath me that it could never escape. I knew I could get though, what was the rush? But the longer I stopped, the harder it got to start again. Bursts of hope drove me forward, for just as long as I could keep other any thought from my mind.
I could have been in there for hours, time was the last of my concerns. The actual duration of all I describe was hardly 45 minutes. Eventually, one of my calls to Clare was answered in the affimative - she was out. Even now, I could not make myself keep going. My breathing was heavier than ever in a cave, and by the time I reached the final chamber my brain was completely shut down. A stuck SRT bag left me lying, so near yet so far, upon the head of the half open climb down. Jamming myself forward, I ripped it loose from the rock and promptly cast the thing down the pitch, with a disregard for caving gear that I never expected of myself. Realising my error, I was glad to see it safe upon the rock, not at the bottom of an even tighter rift.
I'm glad to say I even managed to enjoy the climb down, which is quite a relief after so much constriction. It's only a short distance, but the rotation required to get out of the tunnel and into position is quite satisfying. Rhys quickly followed me out, and before we went I commissioned him to retrieve my bag. It is a shame we didn't go deeper into Peterson, especially as Clare carried the ropes through that horrific crawl, but I did not want to be back in that tunnel any time too soon. Scrabling through to the Mistral exit, aptly termed the "escape route", was no trouble at all in comparison. Relief from stressful curcumstances can revive even the deadest of minds, and by the time we were moving again I felt much more comfortable. I suprised myself in feeling slight recognition for some chambers here, although that may well show my incompetence as a navigator as I do not believe I had ever been there before.
Despite how unpleasant I will have made this trip sound, if I have any skill as a writer, it was not a bad one, quite the contrary. I may even be convinced to return, given time and more training, now that I know what to expect. Perhaps that makes me foolish, but then I should definitely go, for I have not learnt my lesson.
On Sunday Jana bravely volunteered to lead the keen cavers (Ollie, Sally, Mehdi, Sam and me) on a short trip down Lancaster Hole. The cave entrance turned out to be double rigged which we thought might speed us up by allowing two cavers down at a time but some tangling issues slowed us. Once in the cave we went to see the colonnades and had a fun stomp up the spectacular stream way. A climb into a higher dryer router looped us back and we were soon on our way out again, with another excellent weekend of caving concluded.