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Black Shiver Pot – Success!

By Martin Webster

Following our two ‘reconnaissance’ trips earlier this year, it was decided to have another go at bottoming this rather notorious Yorkshire Pot during the August Bank Holiday. After several evenings at the ‘Shepton’ sorting out the men from the micromen, and as there were no applicants, as a result of the ‘advertisement’ in the BB we eventually ended up with a team compromising of Roy Bennett, Martin (Milch) Mills, Bob Craig, Bill Tolfree and myself, all of which we agreed had a reasonable chance of negotiating the entrance passage, which is, to say the least, rather tight.  So, after much thought the dates and times were set and the dreaded day drew near!

So it came to pass, on the morning of Saturday 30th August 1969, a small team of budding ‘Black Shiverites’ could be seen staggering up over Black Shivers Moss with great unwieldy loads on their backs, heading over, what was by then a well trodden route for some of the group.  A little while later Roy and Joan Bennett appeared.  Roy having stopped to don his caving gear.  So the caving team and the surface party (Joan) were both complete.  The tackle was sorted into reasonable looking loads, and after a quick check of personal gear, one by one our intrepid band disappeared down the ‘pot’.

The 10” high entrance crawl only had some 4” of water in it this time.  The first problem came when the 11” high rope bag refused to go through, but after a hefty kick, and a few curses, we managed to crush it into the slightly longer passage beyond.  The 7” high squeeze was not quite as hard as we thought because with someone lying in it most of the tackle could be passed through.

Some 200ft. of rather demoralising crawl later we emerged in the first sizeable passage and were soon at the head of the first pitch.  The ladder was hung though a small hole on the left and belayed round a convenient boulder.  Although this made an awkward take-off it prevented us getting a soaking as quite a large stream flows through the cave ensuring all the pitches are very wet. The first drop is about 28ft. but a 45ft. ladder is used so the next pitch of 17ft. can be done as well.  The second pitch has to be reached through a tight slit which again makes the take-off difficult.

The huge mound of tackle was soon ferried down the two pitches (care should be taken not to lose any in the rather deep pool at the bottom) so Bill and I raced on to ladder the next 31ft. deep Blood Pot.  The passage between the pitches mainly takes the form of a tight rift in this part of the system, so the transportation of gear tends to be a little arduous!  Blood Pot again had a nasty step onto the ladder, and care had to be taken not to knock the belay off the precarious ‘perch’ it had been hung around!  This again was in two stages of 18ft. and 13ft. and leads into a slightly larger passage at the bottom.  Little time was wasted and we were soon at the next 13ft. pitch.  Here the stream pours down into what is known as Black Dub, a murky looking pool some 25ft. across.  This pool is surprisingly deep, as Bill found out when he fell off the ledge we were traversing along to avoid plunging onto the pool.  Again tackle would be very difficult to find if lost here.

At first the way on is not obvious but on closer inspection a low crawl in water can be found at the far end of Black Dub.  This was followed to the head of Thunder Pot, a 17ft. drop.  At the bottom of which we could see a platform, and beyond this a huge spray swept abyss, disappearing into the darkness – the Black Rift.

Once again, the great pile of ladders were uncoiled and threaded, one by one, through a crawl to the left of the platform, to a sloping stance called the Eagles Nest.  Only 80ft. of laddered initially so that we could descend to a series of ledges and re-route the ladders thus allowing a reasonably dry climb to be made.  The pitch as far as the ledges is quite good, being against the rock all the way and with the steam thundering down some 20ft. to the left.  The take-off at the top was once again tricky as the ladder tended to stick into a crack, making the first 5ft. a climb on the belay, rather than on the ladder.

The ledges were soon reached and after an easy traverse out to some large crumbling boulders, which were bridging the gulf, the ladders were pulled across and threaded through a hole between them.  As no reasonable belay point could be found the ladder was temporarily pulled back up enough to make the 80ft. pitch ‘free’ again enabling Bill to descend to the ledge. The final 180ft of the Black rift was a very fine climb, being free hanging all the way, with finely scalloped water washed walls some 5ft. to 10ft. away.

Bill soon joined me at the bottom and together we set off along the spray swept vault, under the main waterfall and through a low duck at the end of the rift into a high passage beyond. The streamway continues on the left at this point and much of the 250ft. to the next 25ft. drop has to be done on hands and knees.  Some of the formations in this passage are quite exquisite, being in the form of straws and helictites.  The beautiful clean appearance of everything was ample proof that few people have yet ventured into this superb cave!

The pitch was quite wet and led into the only chamber in the cave, which had a mud slope to the right and a precarious looking boulder pile leading to a high continuation on the left. The stream flowed on beneath the rocky floor, re-emerging in a passage on the far side of the chamber.  From here the streamway becomes larger and several small waterfalls were climbed until at last the final canal was reached and we had the honour of scribbling our initials in a mud bank at the far end (later to be obliterated when Roy climbed all over it!).  Halfway back along the canal Bill noticed a hole in the left hand wall below the waterline, which is most likely the way on for anyone who would like a 200ft. + dive into Meregill!

By the time we had reached the top of the 280ft. pitch Bob had decided not to bother going to the bottom of the cave as his ultra thin wet suit, which he had worn so he could get through the 7” squeeze, was not keeping him particularly warm.  So while Bob, Bill and myself lifelined, Roy and Milch started off to the bottom.  After what seemed an age they arrive back and after a great amount of shouting, of which little could be understood due to the roar of the waterfall, the two offending articles were hoisted to the top (apparently, someone had forgotten the whistle code!!).

The tackle was soon retrieved and a start made for the surface.  While the others went ahead with a tackle I stayed behind to de-tackle each pitch as we came to it.  In this way rapid progress was made and we were soon at the ‘hole in the wall’ which marks the start of the long crawl.

By now the pace was slowing and we were all glad when the final corner was turned and the low water filled entrance arch came into sight, and so after 10½ hours of excellent caving we scrambled up the final ‘pot’ under a star-studied sky and out onto the rolling Yorkshire moor bathed in moonlight.

Technical Note: -

This cave should only be tackled by people capable of at least 6½” on the Shepton ‘squeeze machine’. They should also be capable of climbing 200ft. wet pitches reasonably easily.  Throughout the cave there are signs of very rapid flooding (the Leeds University exploration team became trapped, when, within 5 minutes the whole cave became impassable.  Luckily they were in one of the few safe spots in the cave when it occurred.  They were, all the same, trapped for 18 hours!).  WHISTLES and KARABINERS are essential for Black Rift.

Ladders Needed: -

1st. Pitch--------46ft.

Blood Pot-------31ft.

Black Dub------13ft.

4th. Pitch-------17ft.

Black Rift------26ft. with 300ft. lifeline.

6th Pitch--------25ft.

A travelling lifeline is needed for lowering tackle.  An assortment of belays should be taken.  Up to 10ft. lengths are useful.  NOTE If cavers respect this system and use their common sense a very fine trip can be had.  DO NOT leave anything to chance!

REF: - U.L.S.A. Review No.2.