Hammer Pot  -  Fountains Fell


17th. May 1981

Although the newsletter said meet at Neals Ing at I0.30, the time was brought forward to 10 due to the severity of the trip. I managed to get there a bit early, closely followed by Bernard and then Andy & Chris who had just come from the farm with some of the gear. Well they’d almost come straight from the farm, except for a quick detour to Rainscar House, something to do with a mix up over dates. The permit we had was for next week. Good old Andy managed to sort things out and get us permission for today. I wonder who cocked up the dates in the first place? While Andy was carrying out his negotiations, the following group in Dave’s car were touring the countryside looking for a lamp to beg, borrow, steal or hire. Dave finally managed to recover his own lamp by touring half of Yorkshire, but it’s a long story and I won’t bore you with the details here. Suffice it to say that when they eventually turned up about 1 hour late, the rest of the group were a bit “upset’ as they’d got the rest of the tackle and we couldn’t start rigging till they arrived.

Leaving the late arrivals to change, we set off hot foot u the valley to make a start rigging the first pitches We had a pleasant walk over the fell to an obvious entrance at the head of a dry valley. Andy & Bernard set off down, but after a short while Bernard was forced to retreat finding things rather tight for his generous bulk. As this was only a taste of things o come, it’s as well he did. He left his share of the tackle with me then set off to join another group going down Magnetometer Pot.
The problem then was that three of us were left to carry, or rather drag, quite a lot, of gear. The following passages were not too difficult but a ladder, two ropes and several belays did nothing to assist progress.

When I arrived at the first pitch, Andy had already laddered it (20ft.) Shortly after the bottom of the pitch the interesting bit starts. The beginning of stemple rift looks worse than it is, but soon becomes tighter than it looks. I shuddered to think how larger cavers would manage here. The traverse is up in the rift and any item of equipment dropped would probably be irretrievable. Just when things begin to look desperate and the outlook hopeless, a series of stemples appear at foot level to assist the tiring caver on his way. This relief is temporary as the last stemple is the top of the second pitch. The move down the ladder has to be carefully thought out as the c1imb out can only be negotiated one way (as some found to their cost on the return).

At the bottom of the ladder we slid down a rift into a refreshingly large as sage which gave some relief from the claustrophobic stuff we’d been thrutching through since the entrance. The next pitch soon followed (50ft.) and was relatively straightforward down an impressive shaft. Carrying on down a few short climbs, we came to the dreaded Sludge Crawl which starts off easy to fool the unwary caver. The roof soon drops a bit so that it’s just too low for hands & knees progress, the sharply scalloped floor also assists in producing multiple fractures of the kneecaps. When the mud starts it first gives some relief for the knees but the gritty slurry then permeates every seam of the wetsuit, lining the inside with a highly abrasive layer which makes crawling very painful. When the passage lowers to “flat out” the trick is to keep moving as every halt causes the caver to “set” in the sludge.
Eventually the distant roar of water manifested itself as the Out Fell Master Cave, flowing in from the left which we followed to the right. The floor was littered with a succession of submerged potholes making progress very hazardous as some of them were over 3 feet deep.

After a climb down we came to the final pitch of 50ft. at first we wondered now the hell we were supposed to get down, as all we could see below was a black chasm filled with spray & roaring water as the master cave discharged itself into the blackness below. The way on was a short, precarious traverse to the right which I made while securely lifelined as any slip here would certainly have proved terminal. I found the correct pitch by following a passage to a dry 50 foot shaft with a magnificent cascade of flowstone covering the far wall. At the bottom the water reappears, to flow down round a bend to a pool then on to where the roof drops down to water level. At this point the boulders were black & slimy, giving a very depressing atmosphere. The way or was an oxbow off to the left which consisted of a couple of  low crawls leading to a pool. Here Andy & Chris had come up against a boulder which had dropped from the roof., blocking the way. –

They’d had a sort of go at moving it but with no success, as by now we were all becoming a bit depressed with this part of the cave. I went up for a look and lying full-length in the water, managed to slide the boulder aside to gain access to the next section of stream passage. My success as greeted with unenthusiastic groans from behind, but as we were virtually at the terminal sump I was wasn’t expecting to be long before heading back. Just downstream was a black; foam covered sump which we tried to by pass via a passage to the left. This soon choked so we unanimously agreed to set off back.
It was then that I met the following party of 4 for the first time since leaving them at the cars some hours previously. After climbing the 50 foot pitch, we met Hugh who had turned up even later than Dave & Al and had decided to solo down to meet us at the bottom!! Was this sheer bad planning on his part, turning up late and missing the joy of carting tackle and rigging pitches, or was it super, intelligent planning having to amble all the way down with not even a belay or sling for company?. I’d better not tell you which reason he owned up to in the pub afterwards, but it certainly wasn’t the first.
The trip out of Sludge Crawl wasn’t too bad this time as we had no tackle to carry, it wasn’t until we reached the stemple pitch that the tackle from the de-rigged pitches caught us up. Then came the interesting bit. We managed, to climb out of the roomy passage then up the rift to the ladder. As expected the pitch was awkward due to the tight rift the ladder was hanging down. With a lot of pulling, pushing, cursing, etc. Andy managed to squeeze up into the rift and then along the stemples. It was here that an unfortunate member of the party had serious problems getting up the ladder and into the rift. After some considerable time he had to retire for a breather while I had go. With a similar amount of cursing etc. as Andy, I managed to get up and into the rift where we waited while our unfortunate companion tried again. To give him a. better chance I agreed to hold his gear, more unsuccessful attempts followed, then I was handed his helmet, lamp, belt battery and by now I was feeling more like a Christmas tree with all this gear hanging off me, slowly dragging me down into the rift. Eventually to his delight and my relief he managed to get up. You’re probably wondering who this almost “ex” club member is, well I can’t say because I was suitably bribed with beer in the pub afterwards, wasn’t I Chris?, oops!!.

The rest of the trip out was easy in comparison and it was a tired group of cavers who staggered into the pub later, except of course for the one member who arrived three hour’s late and didn’t get to bottom the pot! The de-tackling party slowly emerged some time later, accompanied with as many varying descriptions of knackered as there were members in the party. Then someone remembered that we still had a valid. permit for next week,, nobody said a thing, I wonder why??.

Boyd Harris.

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