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Pippikin Pot

Yet another episode in the career of Graham Wilton-Jones (who sent in this account) and Bucket Tilbury.

I must start this account with many thanks, once again to Fred, who booked this trip; lent us equipment so that we didn't have to leave our own in the Northern wastes, and fed us in true hospitable Lancashire fashion.  All this - and yet he could not join us on the trip himself.

The evening before, which also happened to be Halloween.  Bucket and I warmed up with a stroll over the infamous, witch-ridden Pendle Hill.  It was intended to be a daytime walk but we didn't start until 4 p.m.  The moon was up, but the hags were obviously saving their evil energies for the morrow.  Not having been smitten down with curses, we had no excuse not to descend Pippikin, so we got to bed relatively early that night.

At five o'clock on the Sunday morning we were astir.  We reached Leck Fell in an unbelievable, also unmentionable record time, just as dawn was approaching.  We changed to the sound of grouse wakening all round us, and the lights of Lancaster and Blackpool twinkling far away.  We crept through the yard of Leck Fell House, unfortunately waking the dog, and off the slopes of Bragareth towards Easegill.  By now it was full daylight and the Lake District was clearly visible.  Rabbits scuttled off through the heather undoubtedly surprised by our presence on their fell during their breakfast.

Instead of clipping his figure-of-eight to a krab, Bucket had tied it on with perlon’s so that it wouldn’t clank and wake the farmer.  It fell off.  This time he tied it ‘securely.’  It fell off again, and we spent a futile hour searching for it, disturbing all the grouse, rabbits and sheep of Westmorland.  Eventually we descended without the figure-of-eight and, needless to say, I didn't trust any of Bucket's knots.

We used S.R.T. for the whole trip, although it would be usual to ladder such short pitches.  The value of S.R.T. in such a system is debateable. We took 180ft of rope instead of seven ladders, which is a great saving in space and weight, but we also had harness and abseil/prussick gear, which often had to be taken off in confined spaces and put back under similar conditions between the pitches.  The first pitch from the surface is an easy 20' belayed to an obvious flake.  The traverse over Cellar Pot has been made safe with a wooden beam and a fence post and then comes the first awkward bit.  Awkward, because you emerge feet first over a drop and spend ages groping for footholds.  The window into the next drop is easy, until you have to return - when it's six feet above the floor with practically nothing to push against.  The constrictions before the next pitch are also interesting.  Like the window, there is nothing to push against the return - reminiscent of Primrose Squeeze.  Furthermore, the widest part of these rift squeezes is part way up, and the tendency is to drop down into the narrow section.  With legs beating the air six feet up in space, these squeezes could be said to be technically difficult. The belay for the next pitch is a beautiful mini-acrow, but the third pitch hangers are both lethally loose on the bolts.  We could have done with a spanner.  The wriggle forward at the base of the third pitch must have been quite something once upon a time, but it has been blasted now and is non-existent.  In the rope climb, there is a superbly placed stemple, making this considerably easier also. I wrapped a wire tether round the obvious place for the fourth pitch, and backed this up to the rope from the climb above.  At last we were down to the stream.

Had we known it, we could have left our S.R.T. gear, at this point, since the 5th and 6th pitches are free climbable, especially with the aid of ropes.  The awkward climb into a pool has been made easy with a few permanent nylon slings.

None of the entrance series is particularly tight, but several sections, particularly on the return journey, are awkward and time-consuming.  We were glad to reach the end of the pitches and move more freely down the widening though tightly twisting streamway.  At the streamway choke we climbed into the Hall of Ten. This is not the massive passage the book suggests, but does seem large after the entrance series.  It is part of a long, ancient phreatic section that has been largely in-filled with deposits of sand, mud or pebbles.  At this point, the infill is sand and the much more recent streamway has cut underneath the old phreatic passage, causing it to collapse and washing away the infill.  We followed the old passage northwards, through wide, low places where the deposits of sand nearly reach the roof, to Dusty Junction.  In some parts, where damage from passing cavers was less, the layering was quite clear in the deposits and white powdery crystals had appeared between each layer.

We moved on from Dusty Junction to Red Well Chamber.  At first, the infill is large rounded pebbles covered in the same white deposit, but this soon changes to a hard compacted sandstone.  The passages here are higher but narrower, with much collapse. Lacking time, we decided to look only at the larger passages, so we returned to the Hall of Ten and headed southwards.  Turning left into a very old ox-bow, we reached the Hall of the Mountain King. One slope down this is similar to, but not as bad as, the mud flow in G.B.  Once, it must have looked quite impressive but cavers have walked, squelched and slid all over it, ruining it.  Far too few cavers seem to appreciate floor formations, and the scientific value of undisturbed floor deposits.

Having covered ourselves in mud, we realized the significance of the name 'Wellington Boot Traverse'.  Had we used this route, we would not have been coated in the revolting ooze.  We quickly visited the remarkable Hall of the Damned where massive avens soar above, and then went back to the main route, not wishing to take the grovel that continues from there.  The route to Gour Hall is wide and low, often a stoop and occasionally a crawl.  The formations are good, especially the stalagmites, although many of these, and the final gours have suffered unnecessarily from careless cavers.  We were surprised by the amount of crawling involved, having originally been under the false impression that lower Pippikin was huge.

The journey out was fairly easy, since we were only the rigging party.  We met the de-rigging party of four at the fifthy pitch.  One of them had found bucket’s descendeur in the middle of a field.  Bucket was pleased, but finder was not, because he'd just sold it for a couple of pints of beer!  By mid afternoon, we had reached the surface and the sunshine.  Unusual for us as we’re normally out way after dark from these northern trips.

If we go to Pippikin again, we'll try the lower entrance - the Mistral.  If you fancy a good, hard, interesting trip, then you're invited. Perhaps I ought to mention that the Mistral is only 60 feet long and 35 feet deep - but it's Grade IV (Severe)

Any Takers?

Editor's Note:     Graham says in the above that 'Far too few cavers seem to appreciate floor formations.'  On my first trip into Hilliers, the weekend after its initial introduction to cavers, I found a really amazing floor formation.  Stal had flowed down a wall, reached the mud floor, and spread over it like huge fingers - each one over afoot in length and only a quarter of an inch or so thick.  The underlying mud had subsequently been washed away, leaving these huge fingers sticking out completely unsupported from the wall.  Luckily, I thought, this formation is likely to survive because it is not on the caver’s route along the passage, it can be seen in plenty of time to avoid accidental damage, and the wall behind it is solid and does not lead anywhere.

Two weeks later, when the cave was now three weeks old as far as cavers were concerned, I visited the place again with a camera and a party from the B.E.C, who were looking forward - apart from seeing the rest of the cave ¬to this unusual formation.  We reached the spot and gazed upon the smashed fragments.  The boot marks of the vandal who had indulged his perversion for a few seconds of presumed pleasure could be clearly seen in the floor.

It could not have been carelessness.  It was sheer, wanton destruction for its own sake.  No wonder that cave photography has near enough disappeared as a branch of general caving.

Secretarial Note - Membership

As an addendum to this year's membership list I think that I should point out that NO reminders were sent out to members in 1976 and as a consequence there are probably a few would be members whose names do not appear despite their desire to continue as club members.  We will be circulating these members individually and will waiver the need for them to re-apply for membership if they wish to continue.  Additionally there are: -

Peter Lord- Same address as Sue - who has applied for joint membership following their marriage.

JohnTurner - 92 Church Lane, Backwell - who left on an expedition to the Himalayas before he had time to pay a subscription.