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A.W.  +  J.G. =  S.S.D.

By Martin Webster

To some the name Juniper Gulf will mean nothing more than a rather deep pothole set in one of the more remote areas of the Allotment, on the flanks of Ingleborough Hill in Yorkshire; the sort of place one should steer clear of if you want to stay healthy.

The description in P.U. does little to encourage the inquisitive; dangerous traverses; long drops; vast amounts of tackle; the long walk across the moor and the very excessive grading all help to deter the would be explorers!  While looking through a certain caving magazine, some months ago, I came across an article by a well known Yorkshire caver which described the final 200ft. pitch as one of the finest in the country, so, spurred by this thought and rather ‘hoggy’ crew at the Hunter’s it was decided to book it up for the end of February.

At one time we were almost forced to call it off because of heavy falls of snow a few days before the fateful day.  By Friday night it was all melting rapidly and so the team of six, Brian Woodward, Brian Talbot and Derek Harding of Bath University, Bob Craig (S.M.C.C.), Colin Priddle and myself (B.E.C.) all piled into the Bath university ‘Transit’ and set off.

The camp site at Skirwith only had a thin layer of snow covering it when we arrived at 12.30am with a gale force wind sweeping across the hill resulting in our tent collapsing in the morning, rudely awakening all inside.

We had decided to get to the cave from a point on the Ribblehead – Horton road as this would be about a mile shorter than the walk from Clapham.  We soon sound a suitable parking spot, got changed and started to sort out the tackle.  It was of course pouring with rain by this time and the high wind also helped to make things even more pleasant!  Some time later, after ploughing our way through high level snowdrifts and crossing the tricky limestone pavements, the entrance shaft was reached.  There was found that the normally 100ft. long chasm was completely covered, except for a 5ft. round hole by a huge snow drift!!! Again there was much running about and sorting of tackle, but eventually, we laddered the 70ft. entrance pitch and started down it.  At the bottom was a 20ft. high snow pile which made the usually easy walk into a difficult ice climb!  The walls of the shaft were encrusted with enormous icicles and, on looking up, we noticed that what we had thought was solid ground at the top, and had been leaping about on, was in fact just part of the snow plug suspended above an 80ft. drop!

Suitably shaken we made our way down the ice climb, across a very fragile snow ‘bridge’, which had the nasty habit of starting to dissipate whenever anyone stepped on it, through a very cold 3ft. deep pool of water which had large iceberg floating on it and so on to what is described in P.U. as ‘dangerous traverse at high level’. This, as far as the end of the 40ft. pitch was probably the easiest part of the cave and although we looked around we failed to find the ‘dangerous traverse’ at ‘high level’ – if anyone has seen one lurking around would they please return it to: - Juniper Gulf, c/o The Allotment, Yorkshire!  What is described as an awkward 40ft. pitch in fact turned out to be two very easy 20ft. pitches both of which have a very convenient flake belays (perhaps it was the wrong pitch).  From the bottom the stream ran through a small chamber and then sank to the bottom of a 20 – 30ft. deep rift.  This was the first difficult traverse we had encountered and this was only because we were carrying over 300ft. of ladder, 400ft. of rope, belays, krabs, pulleys etc. The traverse was rather longer than we had expected, so, at the first reasonable looking 80ft. drop we came to we laddered up.  As it turned out the actual 80ft. pitch was some 60ft. further along the rift.  When Bob descended he found that the ladder was 10ft. off the ground.  Returning to the head of the pitch Bob and the rest of us re-laddered.  This time there was ample ladder for the pitch, unfortunately our lifeline was now too short to double lifeline and the last man down had to remove his lifeline while still 30ft. above the floor and the procedure was reversed for the return trip up the pitch.  This is not recommended.  The pitch was, in fact, quite well situated as it came down into a small chamber with quite a nice cascade falling to the left of the ladder.  Sixty feet on the down passage we came to where the pitch is normally laddered.  Positioning of climbs however do not really matter in this cave, unless it floods.

At the end of a short, wide traverse we came to a boulder blockage.  The easiest way pass was a climb over the top, although a very tricky traverse underneath can be done but is not recommended as two of us nearly peeled off.  On the far side we entered a large dome shaped chamber with a hole in the floor, which was obviously the head of the 200ft.pitch.  After a short rest the pitch was laddered and then the first lucky lad was thrust forward and forced over the edge.  No time was wasted on this drop for as soon as one person was down the previous one was brought back up.  In this way the ladder was always in use and there was a large hauling party at the top.

The climb was everything we had hoped it would be.  The ladder hung free for 195ft. of its length and the clean and beautiful coloured water worn walls gave the whole abyss a look of magnificent, wild beauty which I have yet to see in another shaft.  Half-way down a large waterfall could be seen across the gulf, cascading down and disappearing into the vault below. 

The bottom was a like huge spray swept vault, with the stream falling down another 10ft. drop into the final rift.  This proved to be 200ft. long and ended in a large sump.  A fitting end for such a superb pothole.  The ascent of the shaft was quickly completed.  The fastest ascent of the day was by Brian Woodward, who shot up the ladder in 3½ minutes – 20 seconds faster than his nearest rival! The return trip went very smoothly and by the time Brian and I, who had stayed behind to de-tackle the double 20’s, arrived at the entrance shaft, most of the party had reached the surface. They had decided to practice the age old art of ‘hauling’.  This consists of a hefty group of cavers racing across the moor with the rope when someone is tied on the end; any shrieks or howls which issue up the shaft are, of course, ignored.

Unfortunately they became a little carried away and I was dragged over the lip at very high speed. Brian was even more unfortunate as he was lifted bodily off the ground and hardly had time to touch the ladder!!

The equipment was soon packed away in the tackle bags and we set off across the fell, and soon became lost! After an hour of tripping over rocks and disappearing into snow drifts we found our way back, by a piece of brilliant navigation (pure luck) to the wagon, and was soon to be consuming vast quantities of liquid refreshment and convincing ourselves that our ‘super-severe-day’ had really been enjoyable.