The Maracaibo extension in Lancaster Hole, which was discovered in April 1973, constitutes the Red Rose's largest find in the years since the last journal was published, and is a significant addition to the ramifications of the Ease Gill system. Writing about it now, so long after the initial exploration, my memory is more than a little dim and the events of the time are somewhat difficult to recall. To this end, I refer back to a diary of proceedings I made at that time:
Sunday, April 29th 1973
A large part of members descended Cow Pot with the intention of following the dry caverns of Montague East as far as Oxbow Corner. On reaching this point, half the party carried on in the top level and went out of County Pot, mostly because they were chicken on big pitches like Fall Pot! The residual, hard members under the leadership of Jim Newton descended to the Main Drain and proceeded upstream. Before returning downstream they sidetracked to another of those inlets that stay in Jim's mind for years but never get looked at. This one was. V. Unsworth was inserted into the inlet, followed by R. Ellwood.After ten minutes they had not returned, so with no option but to follow J. Newton, P. Llewellyn and F. Hardy crawled after them. To cut a long story short, about 1000ft. of well decorated passage was discovered, and as the discoverers reported on emerging, it was still going.
Friday 4th May
The fever of discovery was still running high the next weekend when several members met in the Marton Arms on Friday night. After a few medicinal pints a move was made to the farm and a select party of eight descended Lancaster Hole and quickly made their way to the new passage. The photographers flashed away and made ugly remarks to the smokers in the party, whilst an eager advance party pushed on up the passage. A beautiful crystal pool was passed and the main passage pursued over, under and round delicate formations until a crawl was met which appeared to choke. As most people went out, P. Llewellyn and H. St.Lawrence remained behind to dig the crawl eventually allowing them and D. Creedy to enter another 300ft. of similar, well decorated rift passage, ending in another crawl. This extension was surveyed and the trio then surfaced after 12 hours.
Sunday, 6th May
Enthusiasm ran riot and beautiful weather was foresaken for wet gear as another large party descended and made their way into the extension. More photographs were taken, but not much progress made. R. Ellwood and A. Fletcher climbed into a loose chamber in a left branch near the end, but it didn't go. Estimated length so far, 1500ft. Surveyed back to the Main Drain.
Sunday, 13th May
Large party entered via County, mostly for tourist reasons. A. Walsh, R. Ellwood and V. Unsworth pushed through a tight crawl at the previous limit into another 500ft. of "walking sized passage". At a later date this description was found to be a little inaccurate! At the end of this section the passage enlarged and some shattered chambers were entered. The trio returned when Andrew's light flaked.
Sunday, 20th May
A smaller party descended and reached the extension by the Main Drain. R. Ellwood and H. St.Lawrence crawled through some loose boulders in the terminal chambers and entered a bedding plane which eventually became too low after about a hundred feet. An aven in this crawl contained black, gritstone boulders, so it was assumed that we were under or near the gill. We had now reached what seemed a definite end. This final section was then surveyed together with the last week's passages. Jim Newton, who had been thwarted by various restrictive obstructions along the route, finally made it to the end. Several more journeys were made into Maracaibo and a couple of side passages were added. But the magic seemed to be wearing off. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, except for a few notable exceptions, the end of Maracaibo was about as far as one could get from an entrance in the Ease gill system, so pushing trips were of long duration, And secondly, the passages, while beautiful, were not exactly of railway tunnel proportions and the fantastic formations played havoc with wet suits. to the tune of £10 in one or two cases!
Sporadic visits were made in the next couple of years by some other clubs and myself, but Maracaibo was, and still is, a backwater of Ease Gill, and has consequently slipped gently from the memory. Long may it remain so, a forgotten land, but one so rich in virgin beauty as to greatly reward the few travelers who venture into its passages.