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Shafts – and all that

By Martin Webster

The Eastwater weekend must have been quite quiet Mendip, as vast hordes of Mendip cavers abandoned their native caving area and converged on the Yorkshire Dales, with its abundance of excellent caves.

Our small group was no exception and, together with a party of NHASA members, we spent a wet but very enjoyable four day’s camping at the Hill Inn.  The first day saw a team of seven striding out in the direction of Car Pot, which is quite close to Gaping Ghyll.  Unfortunately, however, the dreaded Baptistery Crawl took its toll and only four of the thinner members managed to bottom the pot.  Saturday was spent on the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District.   This proved quite entertaining as it was snowing quite hard.  The night at the pub, some of the team for our Sunday trip down Long Kin West, elected to go down Gravel Pit diving (as there were tales of vast sumps) which left our party a bit low on the hauling side.  However, the Sunday dawned and eventually, after some misgivings, as team of five assembled at Newby.

The long hard trek up into Newby Moss was conducted in thick swirling mist and, after searching for the elusive hole for some time; we parked our loads by a convenient shake hole and spread out across the moor.  Eventually, by luck rather than skill, the long slit-like entrance was found, so we raced back to collect the tackle.  On trying to find the hole again, we found to our embarrassment that once again we had lost it.  After much swearing and cursing, the hole once again appeared out of the mist and we were son busily pouring vast amounts of ladder down the two hundred and eighty five feet of entrance pitch.

Long Kin West is a pothole in every sense.  It has recently been extended by the Kendal Caving Club to a depth of five hundred and ten feet, the pitches being the entrance pitch already noted, a twenty foot pitch and a hundred and sixty five foot pitch.  The whole pothole goes vertically downwards except for one short section at the bottom of the twenty foot pitch.

The big pitch of two hundred and eighty five feet has been descended by Mendip teams on many occasions, mainly as ladder practice, but today we were going to attempt to get right to the bottom of the new extension.

As only two of us had got changed, we were naturally expected to descend first, so the end of the lifeline was thrust into my hands and I soon found myself at the bottom of the abyss, looking up at the dwindling thread of ladder leading up to the two spots of light which marked the surface.  Little time was lost, and soon a large bundle of ropes and ladders came hurtling down the shaft on the end of the life line.  Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a large rock.  I leapt into a corner and meditated on the folly of potholing!

Bob Mehew (S.M.C.C.) soon joined me, and together we climbed down the obvious twenty foot pitch and then on down to a tight rocky passage which doubled back on itself and led into a low passage with a large slit in the floor.  This marks the head of the hundred and sixty five foot pitch.  We soon located a belay point, which looked as if it might hold with a bit of luck, and set to work lowering the ladder into the gulf.

The first difficulty was encountered when, after descending about fifty feet, I found myself standing on a ledge waist deep in a mountain of tangled tackle.  This was easily overcome however, by dragging the whole mountain of ‘writhing beastie’ to the brink and hurling into the void.  The rest of the climb went unhindered and after a quick prod about at the bottom, I returned and Bob leaped off down the pitch to have the dubious honour of seeing the boulders at the bottom.

The whole pitch is quite sizeable, being about six feet wide and some fifty feet long at the bottom. The walls have some excellent scallop formations – all in all, a very fine find by the Kendal.  If the final choke could be forced, it might easily reveal quite a length of large streamway, as there is still about two hundred and fifty feet drop to the rising.  This would prove a very good trip indeed.

Bob soon arrived back from the bottom and we returned to the big pitch, where I started on the long climb to the surface.  The hauling team was by then getting g quite cold, and they didn’t seem at all keen on getting changed to go down.  Eventually, Martin Mills (S.M.C.C.) decided it would be probably warmer down the cave anyway and valiantly disappeared into the next shake hole, soon to reappear in his caving ‘grot’.

He quickly joined the by now despondent bod at the bottom of the big pitch and so Bob Craig (S.M.C.C.) Martin Hauan (B.E.C.) and I sat and waited.  The mist hung low and the wind howled unmercifully round our aching limbs; the rain and sleet poured down, and the chattering of teeth grew louder and louder.

After what seemed an eternity (actually about an hour and a half) the merry chirp of a whistle wafted up the huge shaft and we started the job of bod extraction.  We quickly completed this job and midst the jangle of ladders and creaking of bones, we were soon fighting our way down the fell against a fierce headwind.  On the way back, we stopped at Ingleton, only to find that the shop of the greasy ones was closed, so we struggled back for a night on the beer after a satisfying day of ups and downs!