How better to celebrate our 50th Birthday than by going caving? Coming from a technical university, and London, formal dinners have never really been our thing. So we setup a Facebook Event, contacted as many people mentioned in old newsletters and on our presidential tankard as possible, booked our spiritual home (also known as the Northern Pennine Club), applied for a permit to Gaping Gill and got packing the tackle sacks.
We blazed up the motorways towards Yorkshire with a van full of stuff, including six ladders, the perverse idea being to rig Bar Pot with them. We got to the NPC at about 01:15 where ICCC's 50 th birthday party was in full swing with alcohol flowing freely. Saber made pasta-goodness for us to eat, as per.
We got off caving relatively early as far as ICCC is concerned: left the hut before midday! Faffed a little bit finding the entrance to Flood on the hilltop but then got off on a great trip. Flood is a lovely entrance and had already been rigged by keen beans. The first pitch has an easy rebelay with a handy ledge to stand on. I think a bit of rift-like passage and a couple of crawly bits bring one to the second pitch, but it doesn't really matter because route-finding isn't difficult. The second pitch is a short simple drop down a little waterfall from which Oli and I sated our thirst. The third pitch is a sort of walk-down-the-wet-walls lark with a re-belay in the middle. Having used a Stop on the previous two pitches just to ensure nothing dramatic happened while I reminded myself of SRT I switched to a Go for the first time on this pitch. Much faster than a Stop! This is also where two cavers behind us, who I later learned were called Bron and Ben, caught up — apparently they had been thinking of going down Bar but there was a massive queue so they defaulted to Flood.
You keep to the right at the bottom of the third pitch. The fourth big pitch is not far from the third, and features two re-belays and two deviations. Oli zipped down, followed by Saber, then me, with Rhys behind. The first rebelay has a couple of footholds and so can be passed easily. The second is freehanging and Saber faffed there for a little bit getting his short cowstail off before whizzing down. I got hung up on the first deviation for a while, having descended too far. Upon reaching the bottom of the pitch I recognised with surprise where we were in relation to the big main pitch down Bar. Rhys came down after me and we turned into the Southeast Passage towards Gaping Gill's main chamber. I personally remembered quite a lot of this passage. We all contributed to route-finding, and didn't go wrong once.
The main chamber is just as impressive as ever and nice to see with daylight filtering down the main shaft. It seemed pretty windy and it got a bit chilly standing around. Since everyone caving had sort of arranged to meet up in the main chamber at the same time, we wondered where people were. I remembered that last time I was in Gaping Gill I went to Mud Hall, which neither Oli nor Rhys have yet visited. On memory I headed in that direction. We found the relevant ladder but there didn't seem to be any activity and we didn't think we had time to go and visit Mud Hall ourselves. As we were talking about whether we should head back out of Flood or go out Bar carbide lights appeared at the top of the ladder, and out of the darkness came a long line of ICCC cavers. This large group quickly deliberated on various exit strategies and then split up again to head out. Our group decided to go out of Bar Pot, as did Bron and Ben, who had caught up again.
Bar is always described as the easiest way into and out of the system, which I suppose it is in terms of number of pitches (two), but I personally think it's a really annoying exit without any redeeming features. The big pitch is fine—we got a little shivery waiting our turns to ascend at the bottom, but were entertained by Saber doing squat jumps. Oli and I proceeded on up the boulder slopes to the greasy slab below the chamber where the first pitch pops out. The greasy slab is frustrating but with some help from Oli I slithered up it okay. I then started heading up the first pitch, the first of six cavers.
This first pitch in Bar and I have history, least as far as exiting is concerned. The pitch is 'restricted at the top' and I've been stuck there before on what (for now) I consider my 'worst trip ever' mainly because of that. Despite telling myself not to I promptly proceeded to get stuck again, although in a different way and not as severely as last time. However there were no handy cavers above to jolly me along, my companions this time being utmost frustration at being able to see daylight and being in this position AGAIN and guilt at holding everyone up and anger and a momentary dose of hysteria, et cetera. Anyway I did eventually manage to get off the rope, furiously cursing Bar Pot. I felt a little bit like Lazarus rising from the dead while struggling out of the entrance passage into the dusk, but perked up quickly. Third time lucky?—that is if I ever let anyone take me back to that bloody pitch. Everyone else was quick to follow me out. We then tramped down the hill; by the time Saber and I got to the van Oli and Rhys had just fetched Alex from the New Inn with the minibus keys, so good timing.
We got changed on the road, Saber realising he had left his t-shirt outside the entrance to Flood. Maybe if I take it down Bar I could use it someday as a white flag of truce to the first pitch. Bit weird? And then we went to the pub to wait for the other minibus cavers to come out of Stream. I washed my muddy face and the four of us had drinks, then Alex decided to ferry us back to the NPC so we could have something to eat since the others were MIA. At the hut Dave had made pots of amazing curry which we hungrily ate as the old lags chatted around us. A slideshow and presentation about the history of exploration on Mig and finding the connection this summer followed, as did the last group of cavers. The NPC must have looked like a very strange cult that night as so many people were wearing their new 50th anniversary t-shirts, myself included.
Where would we be without Genevieve Tudor and her Sunday Folk to guide us back down the M6? Rik smartphoned in a shoutout a request. We heard the shoutout but are unsure whether we got the rambling ballad, as the FM signal faded into the rumbling noise of the M40...Sunday_Folk_ICCC_Shout_Out_2012-09-30.mp3 (460K)