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Yorkshire ‘79

From the pens of Martin Gross and Stu Lindsey comes a summary of their activities in Yorkshire since la Easter….

After many beers and a puncture, four B.E.C. members arrived at Brackenbottom during the early hours of Good Friday.  As Graham Price was sleeping like a babe, Graham W-J decided to abuse Liz, 'to help me sleep' as he stated in the morning.  Still, back to caving.  On Saturday Graham, Jim Watson and myself descended Birkwith Cave, Old Ing and Dismal Hill.  The intention had been to visit Red Moss Pot but when we arrived at the farm to obtain permission we were turned away by the fanner because he said that if he gave us per mission to cross his land he was legally responsible and we could sue him.  It looks as if insurance problems have reached the north as well as Mendip.

Although Birkwith was short, but interesting and the water bitterly cold.  By the time we came out poor Graham was near to exposure!  Dismal Hill starts with a series of interesting free climbs and a very tight bedding plane which Jim could not pass, ending in a large but short section of streamway.  We had the impression that the bedding plane flooded quickly and quite often.  Old Ing was stomping size in the streamway with an interesting inlet (Rough Hill Inlet) containing an interesting duck – quite pleasant.

That night we were joined in the Helwith Bridge by Stu Lindsey and Sue Jago inviting us down Link Pot the next day.  A very fine trip was had and a detailed report on the cave is given below.  Sue didn’t go down but went into Calf Holes and Browgill, her first caving trip in 11 years (and I didn't think she was old enough!)

Having separated Graham and Liz, given him a cold shower, a peaceful night was had by all!  Graham, refreshed, descended the Buttertubs to the great delight of the tourists who snapped away with their cameras at him in his bright orange suit.  When all the excitement was over, we went down Cliff Force Cave.  The entrance to the cave was completely blocked by snow and some time was spent making it large enough to emit Stu.  We found this site to be rarely visited and very dismal, everything being covered with a thick glutinous mud showing signs of complete flooding.  One very interesting part of the cave is Shower Chamber with fossils the size of side plates projecting from the walls and roof.

Monday saw us all off to Mongo Gill making a trip from Shockle Shaft to North Shaft.  This is a reasonably sporting trip taking about 1½ hours if the route is not known.  The cave has some good stal, but considerable quantities it was removed by the 19th century miners.  The route is not complicated but old mine workings tend to be confusing.

Link Pot - to find Serendipity (the Big Pitch) ....

The day began with the YES contingent set to clear a blocked cess pit!  So a slightly depleted group assembled at Bull Pot Farm, where the mud of two weeks hence had improved to become unpleasantly cold but firm.  Soon the intrepid quartet marched off across the moor, the old pores oozing sweat under the blistering midday sun but eventually this tract, from Lancaster to Link will become easier as a thousand feet blaze a new trail.

Again navigation was spot on and it wasn’t long before we set about tackling the entrance (which looked bigger! – 9 – 10”).  The beck was dry, and according to rumour even when in full spate, Link Pot remains free of water.  Soon, with Martin G and Steve Throstle, muted shrieks of delight was echoing form the depths. Stu L did a quick ‘free fall’ before landing again on the most trodden part of the cave.  Graham W-J brought up the rear as we headed down passage toward the boulder slope where we met NPC bods photographing in the chamber that leads to Lancaster.

The two chaps from NPC hinted that they would take us into China Dog Chamber and maybe beyond. Using the ½ tube route we gained the 'T' Junction and Rybers Bypass (this is only 30 feet from the entrance!). The way on is via Night Shift Chamber, through a black hole in the floor.  This awkward but short bouldery crawl leads, after a bit of stooping, to the aptly named 'China Dog'.  This is at floor level, so beware, do not step on it – it bites!  It was here that NPC Bod No.1 requested a ladder; No.2 Bod hung it exclaiming that it was too short, used another and descended. Meanwhile Graham and Throstle, much to consternation of Bod No.1, had traversed out along the very dangerous traverse route and back again while looking for 'this very dangerous traverse'! Back at the pitch Martin followed Stu L down the ladder and through the meandering traverse trench to the Chamber where the rest of the party were in the throes of ‘piccy’ taking - Graham and Throstle being the willing models.  The 'hard traverse' route is the best to follow bringing you out level with the fixed chain and the main way on.  If a ladder is necessary, a 20ft belayed to a dubious stall boss is sufficient as the pitch is not exposed.

At the bottom or the chain we were in a decidedly muddier section and with the departing words of 'turn right, up a passage' echoing in our ears we endeavoured to pick the right 'Right' from the three or four available.  The chosen passage, the most obvious, led into a superbly decorated mud floored passage, the ends of which appeared choked.  Entry into this panoramic vista was delayed as Stu modified the position of a jammed boulder.  After a brief exploration we disappeared down a 2ft diameter 'phreatic drain hole' which became bigger and bigger, and bigger, till we suddenly turned a corner and found a pile of maypoles - we had spent over ½ an hour going round in a circle, but it was worth it.

Venturing on up the passage, we left all the gear at a three-way junction.  Stu and Martin’s route led to a boulder choke and Stu was saved from a flat-out crawl in a wet, gravely 10ft wide bedding plane, by Throstle’s shouts.  Investigation found Graham and Throstle at another three-way junction, this one marked with a cairn.  Splitting up again, Martin and Stu’s exploration of yet another bedding plane was curtailed by the muffled shouts of the others.  Pursuit was in a low (8'' - 15" high) bedding, superbly decorated with stal pillars and miniature straws.  After what seemed like 1,000ft (more probably only 100ft) a 'T' Junction was reached.  The way to the left in a more spacious passage where eventually the roof began to rise and the passage became really big with the floor dropping down 25ft into a cross-rift.  Opposite, the passage carries a large stream which cascades down the rift and disappears off to the right.  Martin was first down and soon back again with the news that 20ft down the passage was the Big Pitch (65ft?).  We had only brought one ladder this far (the remainder was at 3 way junction) so we might go as far as the head of the pitch only.  A quick view of the pitch gave us the basic tackling requirements.  To belay the ladder a small natural bridge can be used.  The take-off is very exposed but the pitch is dry.  A lifeline is necessary - 80ft, doubled, for the return.  Time was running out and so a quick exit was made without fuss or mishap and we surfaced in 50 minutes after an interesting five hour trip.

Later in the year, Stu L journeyed north again, it being the epitome of his achievements in the Dales. Snugled down on the back seat of the car between two of my mates and buried under a massive framed rucksack, was a reel of 'Bluewater 3'.  Nearly 500ft of prime nylon, untested, and my passport to the spectacular confrontation with the beauty of the main chamber of Gaping Ghyll.

Next day we despondently left the Y.S.S. cottage at Helwith Bridge accompanied by a fine drizzle.  Would we be denied the Main Shaft?  Could the weather thwart an ambition I had nurtured for nearly two years since that fatal day when all my ideals had been smashed and I did my first SRT descent?  By the time we had reached the wild expanse of the Clapham 'Free' car park, the drizzle had lost its fizzle, but the sky was still heavily laden with black storm clouds.

Q.  Oi! What are you doing here?

A   Oi! What are you doing here?.

Q . Oi!  Oi! What are you doing here? – I thought you were doing Otter with Graham W-J et al.

A.  No! That’s next week wasn’t it?

Well, if his wasn’t is, or his is, wasn't, Bit Jim perpetrator of Eric Watson has dipped out of that one!

So began the sheer hell of trudging up the nature trail in sweaty wetsuits with sensitive shin being chaffed from sensitive parts, aching backs arched arc under bulging; rucksacks swollen with tackle, on we pound, on and on and on, leaving the hardcore roadway to crawl laboriously up Trow Gill to the slippery mud walkways that deposit us at the entrance to Bar Pot.  Making our way over to GG with the plateau hidden under a thick blanket of cloud and the air full of fine drizzle, it was trying so hared to rain – an hour, one hour is all we needed, no rain for an hour!  We closed in on the fenced in shaft, our haste leading us occasionally to peat bog mantraps.  The fence was reached and the view marvellous… the beck was quiet – it was a dribble, a big dribble flowing meekly into the abyss -- it looked really good.

Walking upstream we inspected a couiple of sinks taking water and were able to relieve their burden by clearing natural blockages in the stream bed, thus allowing a quicker flow. My heart began to beat faster, all systems go!  The ‘pit of the stomach’ feeling increased; it could rain now, I didn’t care.  The rope, belayed to a rather rusty looking angle iron bolt some three feet out over the drop, had been carefully fed down through the swishing waterfall after checking the back-up belays – a bolt on the left and a large boulder outside.  It was friendly in Jib Tunnel, its water hissing off into the spray filled void.  My anxieties eased, the first man was down; a few seconds to get off….pulling hard….oops, too early, an aggressive tug from below warns me he is not off yet.  I wait.  I held the rope – it jerks, it’s free.  Am on my way.

Checking, double checking my knots, my gear, my screw gates.  It's difficult to feed the rack, rope heavy, hands cold…..the last bar is on. I begin inching out, out towards that frail looking belay, forcing my rack higher up the rope and squirming towards the pitch head, searching forlornly for footholds on the slippery rock. My time had really come.  I was hanging on my rack, poised above an abyss of roaring spray.  The rope, a thin blue line disappeared into the quagmire of emptiness – there was no return, for me at least as I had never changed from abseil to prussic before, and not wanting to try it on this glorious free-hanging 340ft.

Four feet down.  The weight of the rope is difficult to feed, legs dangling helplessly in the torrent pouring from Jib Tunnel.  Eight feet down, still fighting to feed the rope. Now totally immersed in the water; fighting the rope, freezing water, heavy and cold, bouncing  - ‘Oh gosh’ I thought ‘The belays, the rope….’ 20ft, 40ft, 70ft, gentle bounces, cold icy fingers, now spinning gently, turning, the rope is easier now.

Oh!  How majestic are the waters of Fell beck as they cascade effortlessly into this spray filled void, now whispering peacefully and beauty in slow motion painted against the back-cloth of the fluted shaft.  Ten million diamonds were sparkling on their afternoon dance of delight.  A wall accelerates by – a wall – no resistance – wet rope – must brake – not too fast – easy.  I look still braking, a shout from below '30ft'.  Splash - bump - a bit fast - I'm down - it's over!

Pulls from above, the next man is waiting.  Time to get off the rope and into the warm - its cold standing under the 340ft waterfall and in the howling gale.  I want to do it again.

The last member of our party is descending.  A thin needle of light appears, very slow, seconds melt into minutes.  At last he is down.  We’re all down and did we enjoy it – thank you – YES!

Ed Note.  Next month Stu L will be reporting on a visit to October Grotto in the Kingsdale Master Cave; Tim Large on work in Marble Pot, Cuthbert’s and sometime in the future there promises to be articles on visits to Ireland and Florida.  Lastly though not least a Jottings column dealing with