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Letter to the Editor

Dear Dave,

I was very interested to read Dave Metcalfe's description of the entrance series of Pippikine (B.B. No. 358).  He's quite right to say that most of the entrance series is totally dry, indeed I would say that most of the entrance series is totally dry, indeed I would say that Pippikin entrance series is quite a suitable choice as a 'wet weather' alternative.  Now having said that, readers may be interested to know what happens to Pippikin in torrential flood conditions.

At about midday on Tuesday the 14th June 1977, I entered Pippikin with four other Cambridge University cavers.  One of the two alternative entrance pitches already had a ladder on it belonging to a Durham University party.  ( Durham were in fact pirating on our permit.  For similar behaviour, I believe that they later got into trouble with the CNCC. The ethics of this sort of situation can be argued out ad nauseam, but I must say that in the light of subsequent events, I was very glad of their presence on this occasion.)  We put a ladder down the other entrance pitch (about 25').  The points to note are that our ladder was about four feet short of the floor, and that neither we nor the Durham had used lifelines.  (Long drawn out arguments on this one too I suppose but accepting the experience of the party, how many people really bother lifelining easy, dry entrance pitches, which have belays that would hold a tank?)  Anyway, we passed: through the wet bedding plane that follows, traversed over Cellar Pot (down which the stream sinks) and carried on to the next pitch.  We experienced the entrance series much as Dave Metcalfe describes it.  We reached the lower cave and inspected ‘Hall of the Ten’, ‘Hall of the Mountain King’, ‘Gour Hall’ and the other ‘big stuff’ down there, but that's another story.  We started making our way out.

We were following the group of four Durham cavers out.  By the time we had reached the third we had almost caught up with them. We took some time de-rigging this pitch to let them get on a little and so avoiding too much congestion.  (No overtaking allowed in this cave!)  By the time we reached Cellar Pot again we were astonished at the tremendous volume of water crashing down the pot.  It was flooding!  The Durham had made it out, and closer inspection showed that the bedding plane above Cellar Pot thankfully had a few inches of airspace left.  We hastened through to reach the entrance chamber.  The formerly dry entrance pitch was now an absolute deluge!  The Durham had again managed to climb out, presumably with at least one not using a lifeline.  We decided to try.  Pulling the ladder out of the water revealed that the Durham had replaced our short ladder with one of their own which easily bottomed, plus a double lifeline. We abandoned our tackle for collection later (we tied it all together and belayed it to a rock) and we proceeded to climb the entrance pitch.  The weight of water was tremendous.  Breathing was between pursed lips in the ‘rain shadow’ of the helmet peak. Visibility was minimal.  We emerged into the evening air thinking we’d been pretty lucky.

Little did we know at the time, but we’d been luckier than we thought.  We caught up with the Durham at Bull Pot Farm, and returned their tackle with many thanks. They then informed us that shortly after they had passed the bedding plane on the nearside of Cellar Pot, a natural dam on the surface was breached by the high water conditions.  A minor flood pulse had then passed along the cave, and the bedding above Cellar Pot was observed by the Durham to completely sump off for some fifteen minutes, with us still below!  We had reached the bedding thinking that it was flooding, and that the water was rising, when in fact it was only just going down! Knowing us to be trapped by the sumped off section, the Durham had alerted the CRO.  We hastily reached for phone and manage the stand down before any action was taken. So ended quite a trip.

Although not quite of the scale of the ‘Great Flood on Mendip’, the freak storm of the 14th June in the Ingleton area was still very significant.  The rain gauge at High Centham recorded 1.7 inches of rain between 6pm and 8pm, and it is conceivable that even more than this fell in other areas. The water level recorder installed in Scar Cave was jammed at its maximum recording level between 5.30pm and 6.30pm.  The flooded fields, swollen rivers and impassable roads, as well as intermittent thunder and lightning later on in the evening, all attested to quite a flexing of meteorological muscles.  As for Pippikin, then I think it probably remains a wet weather trip.  The freak storms required to make Pippikin impassable, like the one I've just described, are thankfully rare.  And since they just about defy prediction, it's just as well!

                        Good Caving, Nick Thorne.

P.S. Further information on the storm of the 14th June, 191'7 can be found in BCRA Bulletin No 17 August 1977, p 6 - Ric Halliwell – ‘The Ingleton Storm and White Scar Cave’.