Christmas – Grange Rigg

Party:-           M. Woodhouse, A. Hall & H. St.Lawrence.                                .                                                              Other party:-          P. Llewellyn, K. Lewis, F. Hardy & G. Leach.

Crouching in the corner of an inconspicuous shakehole which itself lies in a shallow indistinct valley adjacent to the much deeper gorge that shelters P5, you will find Christmas Pot. I couldn’t, and the ignominy of being lost was only saved by the arrival of Andy over the brow from Grange Rigg, thereby proving that the approach by Clalpam Bottoms was only marginally quicker than the Trowgill route. Frank was dispatched to G-R, and we set about deciding which snow-filled hollow was Christmas.
The prospect of shoveling out every shakehole one by one, was not an attractive proposition, so the search was widened to enclose another ring of depressions. Suddenly, there it was, the oil drum entrance nestling like an old filling in a toothless yawn. (Yes, that’s the word, Ed.) The oil drum swallowed our 100 foot of ladder & off slithered Mark while Andy stamped around & threw snowballs down the shaft. Soon I was down too, & we waited while Andy abseiled in. We agreed that the pitch hardly merited the title of a ‘90’- ledges & drops, for which 90 foot of ladder is required simply to stretch round all the corners.

A small stream (or was it Andy’s nose again) dribbled off down a narrow crack, but the way on is in the top, over & under blocks in a short hut tortuous route to the next pitch, which is prefaced by a squeeze and a chimney. Keith was going to like this. The 20 foot pitch lands in a surprisingly large chamber, after what has gone before & a couple of short climbs led us quickly to the junction with Battleship Passage in G-R. We were a ladder extra so it was decided to drop it down the previous short climbs in kindness to the short assed leek chewer in our exchange party who I know has doubts about the climbing ability of his own mates! On downstream the passage continued, of ample proportions and resplendent in calcite. Up & over a collapse leads into a long slabby hall ( No honest Andy, not you.), where a hole in the floor gives into the stream once more. An interesting climb later we were once more burdened with a surplus ladder, but somebody said “Bugger it, they can climb that one”. However they were to have their revenge. Ten steps on we came to the last pitch (definitely) which sports an airy take off, a damp lower half & nothing much else. Oh dear, here was the Drainpipe!
Various forms of panic hit our party. I couldn’t remember the initial slot being as tight, but it was a bad time to start ruminating when I couldn’t reverse and water was visibly flooding into my 21 jewel time-waster. I pressed on. Andy also baulked at the slot but had the gumption to turn round, go feet first & get stuck while water crashed down on his head. Mark, we learnt later, got to the bend and for some reason turned back. Must have forgotten his Harpic.

The further reaches of Grange Rigg well reward the infrequent visitor, and an interesting route can be followed to where the P5 water enters, thundering down a rift, the cave here seems to hold so much promise of good things to come, but round the corner is a sump & one can only speculate on what happens to the combined waters of the two caves beyond the present impasse.
After a leisurely look round we returned, the Drainpipe posing more problems for Andy who had insisted on dragging tackle through in the conviction that another pitch lay beyond - perhaps there is. Mark was shivering controllably on his chosen boulder, so we were content to pause for a cigarette before heading out, noting that our ladder still hung on the climbs in Christmas. Battleship Passage is blocked upstream, but a thrutch & traverse soon returned us to the water where we met the others, still on their way down. They trotted out the usual excuses & briefed us on the delights in store ahead, Pete & Keith, really enjoy these pre-mortems We showed our gratitude in the traditional manner & wished them a similarly trouble-packed trip.

A swift move was made upstream & we crawled cockily through Anemolite which is not the terror it once was. A justifiable cause for complaint, however, was the horribly smelly, green pool at the end. Grahame? Frank? Play fair lads. Delicate straws in a nearby aven had twisted & turned in revulsion. Thundering water could now be heard ahead, but typically the passage closed right in & took on the shape of a Toblorone wrapper, half full of water. As Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 7, says “If it were done when tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly”. It was, but not half quick enough & my cheque for a goon suit is now winging its way to Caving Supplies. (Oops, no advertising.) The grovel was succeeded by a 35 foot pitch which posed no threat proved refreshingly wet. Round the corner lurked two short awkward pitches which fell to siege tactics & the tackle removed & coiled, only for Andy to throw it down again. A rescue was effected by the truculent Andy while Mark & I waited with an air of resigned patience, punctuating our heroes cacophony of explanation with much relished antagonism. (You must stop watching Palace of Varieties, Hugh. Ed.) Finally we were on our way, only to be halted by a very slippery 10 foot climb where there should have been a ladder. Tit for tat.
Some more rift & another wet crawl brought us to the tail of a rope and we scrambled out into a lofty hail, the first (last) pitch. Now belayed from well-sited bolts, this is a superlative, exhilarating climb, the sort of pitch you could tread seemingly forever-200’, 300’, no problem. Unfortunately it ends promptly at 50 foot as one is pulled like a shoelace up to the pulley. Straddling the floorless rift gives a magnificent view of the performing climber, but a not so good lining position.
”Careful where you get off, Andy”.                                           .                                            

“Oh, Why?”                                        .                                                                                   

“There’s no floor”.                                                   .                                                                

“Good point.”                                                                                                                  .           

Good for the nerves is the traverse round the corner, and even better is watching people standing in the middle of the old wooden beam, seconds from oblivion. Foresight is prophet to the unwary, but the Red Rose is filling up with agnostics.

From here the entrance was soon reached & we exited beneath a huge roller-wave of a snow cornice that threatened to avalanche into the hole at any moment. Peter ‘Bonnington” Llewellyn had left his mark on the mountain with a direct route through the cornice crest, but we heard later that his companion Frank “Yus” Hardy was un-roped & would have come unstuck in a big way had not Pete, grudgingly, offered him a foot.  An hour later, the three of us were partaking of tea & chocolate cake in Claphams’ little cafe, a sweet ending to a very pleasant excursion. Had we not moved to the pub, we might have made the committee meeting on time.

H. St .Lawrence.


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