THE DISCOVERY & EXPLORATION OF UPPER TRIDENT
EASE GILL CAVERNS

Link to passage description

From RRCPC 3 (1964)

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Over a period of years Ease Gill Caverns have been reluctantly giving in to remorseless exploration. Its innermost recesses and bedding planes have been pushed, often with surprising results, until at last the apparent limit of exploration was reached.
The probing beams of potholers' lamps then turned upward into the avens and inlets of the upper regions of the caverns. The explorers began to attack these with a determination that only virgin passages can evoke. One by one the thundering inlets were scaled, sometimes with science, often without. Hair raising traverses were made high into the roof until large high level fossilised systems had been uncovered. Most of the cave-hungry types were satisfied and withdrew their attention elsewhere. But a few remained, because for some unknown reason the waterfalls at the end of Trident Passage had been left alone. Several parties have stood at its foot and braved the windswept spray whilst peering up at its twin waterfalls. They have schemed, argued, and I had been present on numerous occasions when somebody has said, "We '11 come back and scale that some day...." But that day never seemed to arrive.
We had no scaling ladders and we had no money, but we did have a member with a little ingenuity, and the Lancaster rag and bone men had a field day when there was a sudden demand for iron bed ends. The club funds were blown in, one or two scrap iron dealers retired and the Red Rose Pothole Club had a cellar full of iron bed ends. Soon, several small ladders had been mass produced, the rungs being riveted by sawn-off nails - a weakness but a necessity as the purse strings had been tightened.
September 8th, 1957, saw a bunch of optimists armed with two six feet scaling ladders struggling up Trident Passage. We stopped at a point where the roof lifted and we decided to have a look up there before passing on to our main objective which was a small aven higher up the passage.
A ladder was propped against the wall and three of us climbed up onto a broad ledge. Another ledge could be seen higher up on the opposite wall so the other ladder was laid across. Once up at this tiny vantage point we could see the aven walls receding back about 10 feet above our heads, and on the opposite wall was yet another small ledge. The second ladder was pulled up and after a few acrobatics was propped into position leaning against the opposite wall. More acrobatics as my number two held the ladder whilst I went up. Here I found that I could walk about with comfort on a broad sloping ledge, and on both sides of the aven a crumbling high level passage could be seen. The third member of our team held the ladder whilst my number two came up and joined me. I took one side of the aven whilst Tom Sykes, my number two, took the other.
The side I had chosen was just a matter of clambering over and under very large loose rocks, and after only 25 feet I came to a stop with the passage completely blocked. Gingerly picking my way back I heard a yell, and arriving back at the aven I saw Tom straddled across the drop hugging a large rock which he was clasping to his bosom with a passionate expression on his otherwise homely face. The familiar cry of 'Stand from under' rang out, and stand from under they did too -promptly! Torn let the rock go.
We were about to retreat, shaken but alive, when a small, round, bore-like passage was seen at the top of the other wall. It was a smooth wall and if anything went wrong the victim would steadily make his way down to the stream passage 20 feet below. However, the top ladder was pulled up and pushed out into space. It fitted like a glove, and soon we were both across and proceeding along a small shattered passage. Its size diminished and we were brought to a halt by the usual broken blocks of limestone. I managed to move one of the blocks and exposed a tight fissure between the wall and the largest of the blocks. We edged our way through and emerged into the continuation which had suddenly become bigger.
Running water was heard and we reached a showerbath coming down from another aven. Passing this, another chamber was reached and the passage then split up into several crawls, all of which led into a confusion of black, shiny boulders. I succeeded in climbing up a cleft in the far chamber and was met again by those menacing black boulders every nook and cranny was full of them with the exception of the showerbath which was climbed by Tom for 15 feet.
Somewhat disheartened, Tom and I then followed the water down through a small hole amongst the pile of debris. Suddenly the whole place changed into a large water worn stream passage. "I think we are at the top of Trident," I shouted, as Tom went tearing down the passage. "We are", gasped Tom with one foot in mid air over the pitch.
A dry oxbow continued on the left and preceding along this we came well out above White Line Chamber and soon contacted the others. Tom went back for a line and the tackle was pulled up the pitch, rigged, and the rest of the party joined us. The showerbath was scaled only to find that the water issued from an impenetrable bedding plane. Two fearless ones scrambled through a chaos of unstable blocks and reported a large chamber but no one else cared to follow. To the left of the waterfall a rope pitch of 10 feet led into the right leg of Trident, a passage which finished 8 feet above the stream bed. This subsequently proved to be a much easier way up.
Someone remembered that White Line Chamber contained two waterfalls and by holding on to one end of a scaling ladder which was held by my companions, I managed to catch sight of the other stream which was 20 feet lower down and obscured by an overhanging wall. This presented quite a problem. A ladder was belayed and I tried to get round the overhang but it was hopeless. A scaling ladder was then clipped on to the wire ladder and held. This prevented the wire ladder from sliding out into White Line Chamber. I desperately scrambled my way round the overhang only to find the end of the ladder lashed by the spray of the lower waterfall, and swinging out in space. Returning to my friends a council of war was held. Some of the suggestions that came from those fertile brains were suicidal to say the least but at last I hit on an idea. This was given a mixed reception but in the end we decided to give it a try.
Two scaling ladders were bolted, a wire ladder was clipped on one end and this giant fishing rod was launched into space. Luckily it was a perfect fit; the end of the scaling ladder just rested on the top of the bulge and one side caught against the far wall which prevented it from swinging out into space. A pile of rocks and one bod was placed on the foot of the ladder, and with some trepidation I gingerly clambered across. Apart from a slight twist which nearly gave me heart failure, nothing happened. However, it required considerable skill to get off the iron ladder and on to the wire one, and I almost ended up hanging by one foot. On descending I found myself in a stream passage with a continuation of the white line from Trident running across it. I proceeded up White Line Passage until it split up into three smaller passages in a small chamber. Tom joined me and our exploration was over in ten minutes. We were disgusted....
Returning to the ladder a small stream was seen coming from behind a flake of rock which had cunningly been eroded out of the passage wall. We entered this very tight passage and found the place soon opened up until we were walking along in comfort. Around a corner we entered two large chambers both over 40 feet high. A narrow passage 5 feet from the floor was seen and we entered this. It twisted and turned in all directions with several other passages joining it. We then reached another large chamber with the passage still continuing beyond. Round yet another corner the passage was bisected by another which ran underneath leaving the 'U' shaped continuation of the floor the thickness of paper for over a yard. Stopping carefully over this we came to several formations, and a short distance further our passage ended at the top of a pitch 18 feet deep. This seemed to be the one that we had originally intended to scale, and we returned to the others who informed us in no uncertain terms that we had been away an hour, and as they were all shaking visibly we gave them our sympathy.
The next weekend a large party climbed up Trident pitch again. The ladder was pulled up, secured on to the scaling tackle, and several persons descended to explore the east or left hand series. The remainder surveyed the western right hand upper section.
On the way, Tom Sykes had placed a marker at the foot of the dry aven which we had originally intended to scale and upon arriving at the point of our previous exploration, found that this was in fact the same place.
From the top of this pitch two crawls led off, one to White Line Chamber, the other giving us access to a large broken chamber, typical of Easegill, where huge blocks lay jumbled together. 'Poached egg' formations were liberally scattered.. The chamber terminated in a huge aven, which was easily 70 or 80 feet high. In the middle of the chamber was what seemed to be a large passage but on investigation soon dropped to a very nasty crawl. This was followed for a considerable distance until it became really hard work so we returned. Once more in Boulder Chamber a passage could be seen at high level leading off from behind a large hanging section of the wall. After two unsuccessful attempts to reach it we decided to wait until the scaling ladders were free.
Upon retracing our steps to Key Passage (so called because it connects everything in Upper Trident) we tackled a small hole in the roof of a chamber adjoining the crawl. This was dug out with a broken stalactite from below, a most risky process, the net result being several cuts and bruises, and ourselves looking like chocolate soldiers, so this was abandoned. Two more small passages were entered but soon required excavation so we carried on up the passage and back to the paper floor where two passages cross at right angles one over the other.
Here one of the party espied some heligmites and we climbed up to them. I believe they are the finest yet discovered in the United Kingdom, some reaching 8 inches in length. Whilst in this position a bedding plane was spotted in the opposite wall and once more we got down on hands and knees and entered. There was strong evidence of flooding and 15 feet in, the place opened up into an elliptical chamber 12 feet by 6 feet, and approximately 20 feet high. It was found to be climbable and at the top we were surprised to find a sizable stream passage containing a fair volume of water which disappeared down an impenetrable bedding plane in the right hand wall. Through this a loud roaring of water could be heard, but where this led we could not guess. The water was followed upstream and was found to emerge from a pile of black boulders which we climbed up and over and entered a chamber where the walls and roof were literally hanging. Everything was comprised of these black, shining, round monstrosities. Still climbing, but now with bated breath, we came to an opening at the far side of the chamber.
The leading man carefully inched his head and shoulders through, then withdrew them as though he had been stung. I thought he had been taken ill, his face was a mottled shade of grey and he shook visibly. Being curious I carefully entered and immediately froze into immobility. Never have I seen a place like this Far Chamber. Everything was composed of these giant marbles and it only needed a cough to seal one's fate. Another chamber could be seen ahead but it would have been suicidal to go on. We withdrew quietly and quickly.
Once down to the other level we found two more passages and numerous crawls and avens. What a maze! Never have I seen so many passages in such a small area. We chuckled at the thought of our surveying team. Before finishing for the day we proceeded to the far end of White Line Passage and found two more boulder chambers similar to those in the higher section. These were strictly left alone!
A week later, Easegill was in flood as we arrived at County Pot and we had grave doubts about getting past Poetic Justice pitch let alone Trident. However, by hanging the ladder on a flake of rock we just missed getting wet and pressed on with our object which was to deladder the bridge over Trident upper fall and ladder the 18 ft. pitch at the lower end of Key Passage. This would free all the scaling ladders and we could carry on scaling. Once at Trident, we had difficulty in walking upstream as the normally boisterous stream was now a raging torrent. The climb up the dry passage was unrecognisable as a strong volume of water spread along the passage from above. Ducking quickly under this we forced our way up the passage until our progress was barred by a heavy waterfall stopping us completely. At long last however, we managed to reach the passage by climbing up at a different point and traversing along the walls. Once we reached the top of Trident we realised that further exploration and survey was out of the question and were in doubt as to whether it would be wise to move the ladders. Eventually we decided to risk it.
Arthur Woodall and myself descended via the bridge. Arthur caused some trouble at this point for his foot became wedged in the iron ladder and he was hanging upside down desperately trying to free himself. Needless to say, if he had managed to free his foot at this point, Arthur would no longer be with us. Eventually he arrived beside me and we stood in the swollen water whilst Mike Bateson lowered the ladder down. He then bade us good-bye and left us to our own resources.
We had only gone a few yards when we realised that we had let ourselves in for. Everywhere waterfalls were spouting; the place was like a cullender and at one point a huge volume of roaring water spread across our path completely. We would have turned back here if we had had anywhere to turn to, but with our retreat cut off we took a deep breath and dived through the torrent. This offending waterfall was emerging from the 'dry' aven we had found the week before.
At long last we arrived at the top of the dry pitch and laddered it for future use.
On the 28th of September the double section of iron ladder was lowered down from above and I realised I had lost my spanners. By the time 12 feet of unbendable iron had been manoeuvred along those narrow passages we were very tired and we were all for packing it in. However, once at the arena we recovered and set about scaling the lower ones. The small chamber before the Final Chamber was tried first. The ladder was hoisted up to a ledge and dropped on to the other wall. The wall above our heads bulged out and made it impossible to get the ladder into the correct position so we began to knock some of the ledge away with a handy piece of rock. Unfortunately two of the party pushed their heads out of a bedding plane immediately below us at the precise moment that half the ledge collapsed. It missed them by a thou and they withdrew their heads simultaneously, appearing a few seconds later from another passage where they swore at us from a safe distance.
At last access to the passage above was gained only to find it blocked after a few feet by black boulders. Then we found that the ladder had jammed and another ten minutes were spent hammering the foot off the ledge. Whilst engaged at this, another bedding plane was seen across the other side of the chamber. We climbed up to this, crawled through and found ourselves in a high aven, much too high to scale.
As Tom wriggled back through the crawl, above his head hung poised a huge pointed slab of rock and I saw it move as Tom withdrew his head. To knock it down would have sealed the entrance and trap us so we very carefully crept underneath without disturbing it. Being a typical head severer we called the place Guillotine Aven.
Once more on terra firma a loud shouting and whistling was heard. Thinking there had been an accident we hurried to the scene where a certain bod stood proudly holding my spanners which he had just found. The ladders were dismantled, moved, and another small aven was scaled via ledges and pulling the ladders up after us. We were beaten at the top by a few feet and although a promising passage could be seen we had to withdraw.
On the 15th of October, more ladders were taken down and some time was spent joining four six feet lengths together in Bedstead Chamber. As there were only three of us present on this occasion it was hard work raising them but at last we succeeded only to find we were about four feet short of gaining access to a large passage. I stood on the top rung whilst Jim Newton and Tom Sykes held the foot and I was confronted by three black boulders perched on the very brink of the passage. The only way to get in would be hang on to these boulders which were just balanced, so that was that.
The ladder was moved and the foot lifted on to a ledge and the whole flimsy contraption was then let go. There was an ear splitting crash as the top of the ladder hit the opposite wall. The ladder bent in the middle, quivered, but remained in position. At last we were about to reach one of the higher levels. It was on the opposite side of the chamber but we hoped it would go. A brief discussion was held as to who would go up.
The flimsy scaling ladders bridged a drop into the passages below and the total height from top to bottom was about 40 feet. Eventually I decided to risk it and I had just reached the weak joint in the middle when, to my horror, I saw that there was only one 1/4" bolt holding , and the contraption gave a sigh and slowly folded up in the middle. I hung on and majestically sailed towards the far wall where the ladder held with the top two sections vertical. When I reached the top and entered the passage I was met once again by my friends the black boulders and could not continue in the way required. To the right, however, another passage led off but required the removal of one or two rocks. I returned to the floor of the chamber and Tom went up. On his way down he spotted another passage which he entered. This led via a crawl to a climbable pitch. Unfortunately when Tom vacated the ladder it sprang away from the passage mouth and as his feet were left waving ineffectively in mid air and he could only come out backwards, he was in a state. Eventually a rope was passed to him and we hold the ladder whilst he wriggled on to it backwards.
A fortnight later we came armed with a tiny drill and sundry nuts and bolts. Before dropping the ladder however, Mike Bateson was sent up to clear the passage at the top. Upon seeing the ladder he nearly refused but we persuaded him that it was quite safe and away he went.
Soon, the chamber was being bombarded with an assortment of rocks flung from a great height and we evacuated. Came silence, a shout, the passage was clear. Two of us followed Mike along a hands and knees passage which contained several formations and we emerged into a large chamber. Alas, it was one of the shaky boulder chambers above the climbable pitch. The ladder was dropped and Tom set to work with his little drill. Strange to say it was effective and another bolt was put in. The three of us then began on one of the most breath-taking performances I have ever seen outside a circus...
We had given up the main inlet on account of the ominously perched boulders at the entrance, so now we tried another passage, slightly higher but well to the right, and above a lodge from which we intended to work. Having climbed on to the ledge we began to haul up the ladders bodily which was very hard work as the top began to catch on projections and generally get out of hand. We decided the ladder was far too long, so we lowered it down again and removed one section. It was easier getting three sections up, but then we found that they were too short!
Once again the whole performance was repeated, until, after an hour of hard work, the ladder was in position: if it could be called a position. The ladder was vertical and only one leg was holding on a sharply sloping ledge. A rope belay was fastened on the foot, and Tom and Mike hung on grimly whilst I climbed up. Near the top the ladder began to twist and the top half came away from the wall twice. I did not care for this, and after one tentative effort to get into the passage which was tight, I came down. Our ferret was then sent up protesting volubly all the way. He got into the cleft but it soon tightened up, and Mike withdrew, gracefully knocking a portion of the wall off on his way down. Fortunately this was small as it hit me on the shoulder.
Whilst I was up aloft I had seen yet another opening so the ladder was moved again and I tried once more. This time the ladder twisted in a really alarming fashion, and at one point I was nearly hanging underneath it on the wrong side. I reached the objective to find that I was just a few feet short to get off the ladder. I could see in and it appeared to go into the main inlet of the chamber. From this position I realised that if the ladder was pushed completely across the chamber and bent under an overhanging bulge, we might, with luck, reach our objective. The others fell in with the idea and Tom Sykes suggested hanging an electron on the end as the scaling ladder would hit the bulge of rock making it impossible to climb.
The first part of the plan, however, was getting the ladder down, as with my weight it had slipped behind the bulge and jammed. After a severe struggle we dislodged it, and with a mighty crash, 24 feet of iron bed ends fell to the floor of the chamber. The electron was duly fastened on the end and we began the backbreaking work of hauling it up to the ledge. Bliss and Esketh had finished surveying and came to lend a hand. I now climbed half-way up and began jumping up and down frantically, thus forcing the ladder to bend round the overhang. Three of the others were holding the foot of the ladder with a rope which was belayed over a projection. Suddenly with an awful grating noise the top of the ladder slid out of sight under the overhang, and the ladder shot clean of the ledge! The rope held... We had a struggle to get even one leg of the ladder to remain on the ledge and the rope was tightened further. I approached the electron and put my weight on it. It held. Soon I was at the top and into the passage. It did not go far before it became choked, but to my left was a window-like opening and a 30 feet pitch. Across this pitch, and 10 feet higher, a passage continued. To the right was a small chamber and a tight crawl.
The pitch was Guillotine Aven and we were going over it, but time was getting on and we had to go. Unfortunately we needed the electron ladder and had to get the scaling tackle down to retrieve it. Needless to say it was hopelessly jammed, and in the process of freeing it a huge flake of rock came down which missed Esketh by inches and burst like a bomb, shooting fragments in all directions. Once again we survived.
The following weekend the scaling tackle was hauled up and two ladders were laid over Guillotine Aven and access gained to a passage which led over the Final Chamber. This was very unstable, however, with ominous gaps in the floor with the inky blackness of a 50 feet drop into the chamber. Huge slabs of rock were peeling off the dubious roof and the passage deteriorated until it was deemed unsafe to continue. (This description was received from a lone explorer who returned gibbering and frothing at the mouth).
So, exploration was abandoned at a point mid-way above the Final Chamber. The large inlet at the top of this chamber continues but our ladders were about 15 feet short and not strong enough to extend. However, we had discovered one of the most complex series of passages and avens in the U.K. and scaled over 100 feet on bed ends so we were quite satisfied.

By J.Eyre

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RRCPC 2001