Maracaibo

P. Seddon & B. Taylor.

As usual for us the weekend started on Saturday night at the Heifer. This weekend no trip has been planned and so the conversation slowly drifted away from discussions on the shape & consistency of a certain probationer’s mammaries towards possibilities for the morrow. After talking about more caves than we had been down all year, a slightly unsteady, leaning Lewis was, heard to mumble something about a passage in Easegill. Not often visited, and very beautiful it was said, and so, as the sad sound of closing time was tolled around the bar it was decided that for the two of us Maracaibo it would be. The rest had their own thing planned.

Sunday morning dawned, like it does, with Bernard & Sedbo firing zeds into the sky above Ingleton common - sadly to be the last now the local council have put a stop to it - asleep in separate cars, despite rumours to the contrary. After the best breakfast in the world at the Fountains, they headed for the farm where they knew they would find the regular dossers pretending that they were actually enjoying washing up their greasy pots & pans after their “there’s–nothing-like-home-cooking” breakfast. In fact Keith & Mark were just about to leave. Ostensibly about to carry out tests at Cow Pot, they were noticed to be carrying an exceedingly heavy weight, and rumour has it that Jim Eyre will never be seen again.

Jim Newton, that master of gravity expressed an interest in going along to take a few photographs, but getting Bernard trussed up in his new SRT gear in preparation for the110 out of Lancaster - (Trussed in Troll) took so long that he eventually declined, which was a pity because he was going to be the guide.
The news was now broken that the trip took between 8 & 10 hours, but not to be deterred, and muttering that they had faced far greater odds than this in the past, the intrepid couple scurried Gollum-like across the moor towards Lancaster Hole.

Wrapping up the gear at the bottom of the pitch they heard the clank of metal as Jim prepared to ladder it for his trip with Max. He could have used the rope, but suffice to say that Jim is definitely not a fan of the single thread, or double thread for that matter. Sedbo led quickly away from the pitch, along the passage, down & turned right, confidently navigating his way on the short journey to Fall Pot en route to the main stream. Five minutes later he quickly & confidently retraced his steps back to the bottom of the pitch to sheepishly ask Jim fresh directions. This time things went well and the pair soon found themselves threading their way through the boulders down to the main stream. This section must be one of the finest stream passages north of Diggle & Delph and was, as always, thoroughly enjoyed. No problems through the chokes and before long Oxbow Corner was reached and without further description, so too was the start of Maracaibo.

The long narrow rift is impressive by its straightness, but its dirtyness belies the incredible beauty to come. Soon the Maracaibo streamway is reached and then it begins. Slender straws hanging in utter profusion, water droplets clinging silently, almost desperately trying to avoid the inevitable fall into oblivion. Helictites, masses of curious little creatures, defying nature as they struggle to grow any way but down. Beautiful curtains that must be the envy of every sculptor, so delicate & exquisite they simply defy description. And flowstone, everywhere streams of pure milk white flowstone pouring unmoving down the passage on their never ending journey to nowhere. The trip continued smoothly and progress was made quickly except for the odd exceptions. The squeeze in the stream bed necessitated sonic intensive breathing out to get through with out digging, and Bernard, rather bigger built than Sedbo, had to resort to strange turtle like movements and even stranger noises to remove the gravel and overcome this hurdle.

Eventually the final chokes were reached after climbing the short pitch up the funny little pot and there was a feeling of being very close to the surface here. Apparently located beneath Easegill, there must be only a bed of clay holding back the water when it flows, and who knows perhaps one day the clay may be breached and then sadly the beauties of Maracaibo would cease to exist.
The right hand choke looked very loose and full of hanging death but peering through a gap gave an indication that it went on. The bit of rope found lying there was put to good use and tied gingerly around the most likely block & heaved on. Far more adrenalin raising than playing with chemistry sets, this. The third attempt was more successful than the  first two and the whole lot, rumbled ominously but still stuck. The fifth attempt did it though, and the choice was now a pile of boulder’s at their feet. Very gently through the hole to kick down the remaining looseness, then hearts racing turned to discover the passage that was surely there. But it was not to be, just another choke, this time impenetrable. Ah well. C’est la vie. Time for home.

As usual the return journey seemed much shorter than the inward trip; Bernard’s grunts had turned the streamway squeeze almost into a hands & knees crawl and before long the duo were leaving this Lotlhlorien of Easegill (only aficionados of Lord of the Rings will understand) and were working their way along the straight rift passage, to arrive in a few minutes back in the main streamway.

A brief rest, then the welcome change of big passage & walking upright. Back up through the choke into Fall Pot, up the iron ladders and so to the bottom of the pitch. The daylight beckoned above as the last hit of soggy Mars bar was eaten, and the gear was put on. Bernard moved steadily up the rope to begin with, but less steadily when in an horrifying moment his rope became detached from his chest ascender. Fortunately his earlier instruction paid off and the fail safe part of the system worked without a hitch.

As dusk turned to darkness, Paul joined him at the top of the pitch. Half an hour later they were enjoying ten pen’orth of hot water back at the farm after a really memorable trip which took just six and a half hours.

P. Seddon.

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