Lost Johns - Lost Pot   &  Jim Newton’s accident

   It was classic Yorkshire weather for a classic Yorkshire pothole Tony, Frank Keith, Boyd, Andy, Mike, Martin (Jock) and I were attempting to get changed amid the monsoons of Leek Fell for an S .R.T. trip down Lost Johns; the follow up the previous days training at Whernside Manor.                                 .    ”But where’s Jim?’ I asked.                                      .                                                                                                                           .      “Oh, I think he’s gone walking in a sulk, because we won’t ladder it” replied Keith.   .                                                                                                                                                    .  This took me back to the row in the farm kitchen that morning, when Frank put his foot down to a request from the uninitiated to use ladders. ‘These lads have waited a long time to bottom Lost Johns without the clutter of ladders. It’s just ‘ard luck that it wasn’t published in the newsletter that that this was an S.R.T. trip.’ The ladder brigade accepted defeat, and went off to do Nott’s Pot, which, luckily, was not already booked. So armed with a permit from Andy, the Electron Ladder Clan disappeared into the mist, with all their tackle.                                                                                      .                                 .   The S.R.T. whizz-kids were soon hot on their heels  except for one. My car wouldn’t start, so I had to ask Hugh to do it for me. Changing in Lost Johns car park was a sordid affair, since the weather provided a strong incentive not to hang about. Soon we were all ready to go, when out of the mist loomed something remarkably like a metal hedgehog ‘I see you’ve sprouted a few more aerials this week, Hugh!” It appeared that he and Vernon had driven over simply to gloat at us. We must have looked a pretty miserable bunch from the air conditioned interior of Hugh’s car, and how we envied them for not going caving - or so we thought.                                                     .                                                                                              .    Frank, Andy, Tony and Mick left to descend the Centipede Route, while Keith, Boyd, Martin and I followed to tackle the Dome route, as an exchange was intended. We were soon tackling Pulpit/Cathedral pitch. Keith bragged about the self life lining qualities for his self locking descender, but nevertheless I watched, listened and learnt one or two useful techniques. I followed Keith down the pitch, then came several agonising minutes of trying to communicate with a bawling Glaswegian at the top of the shaft as to the whereabouts of the crabs. Unable to understand ‘Jock’ and with some restraint, Keith asked Boyd to translate:                                                                                               .                             .   ‘Martin says he doesn’t have the crabs’, said Boyd. When they finally descended, we found the crabs in Martins bag! (so much for the translation!) Dome pitch was, slightly more tricky to rig, but Keith handled it with his usual professional style and commutative patter. Before he descended, clatters to our rear revealed the bearded figure of Jim Davies, who had come to jam us. The five of us then abseiled down this spectacular pitch. As I followed Keith down Dome Junction pitch, I realised too late that Boyd, behind, was photographing without telling us, and I was missing having my picture taken. How could you do this to your most loyal poser, Boyd? I choked back my tears and carried on down Candle and Shistol pitches on the ladders left by the others e caught up with them at the stemple traverse where Andy was having one of his famous wobblies. Once he was out of the way, the rest of us filed down the ‘Traverse Pitch’ and ‘Wet Pitch A1ternative’, another fine abseil which is made all the more spectacular by having the water falling down beside you.                            .                                                                                                 .    Jim and I were the last to descend the final pitch and what a crowd there was to greet us. But wait a minute; Bill Holden. and Andy Walsh? What are they doing here? Judging by how surprised I was, can’t imagine what Tony the first to descend the last pitch must have felt like when pounced on by this hoard of muddy apparitions. He had just placed his foot on the floor an must have been muttering Thank God I’m down, now we can go out! when from out of the dark sprang a gang of marauding lost souls from the depths of Leck Fell.                                  .                                                                                                        .   How had they got down there you now ask, The first clue was a two fingered glove on the wall opposite the bottom of the last pitch, with the message SRT - Up yours Frank!  So obvous1y ladders had been used. In fact it was via Lost Pot that the pirates had gained entry to our pothole. Recent digging by the NPC had opened up this way in. Consequently we all decided to go and have a look at the Lost Pot section. From elementary knowledge of Lost Johns gained through bedtime reading of Northern Caves I turned left at Groundsheet Junction and followed Boyd and Tim. Unfortunately they had. Turned right and I didn’t see them again.                                             .                                                                                               .   I caught up with Frank, Bill and Andrew at the calcite shute into the Lost Pot Inlet, which all found to be a tricky little obstacle. Time was getting on when we were up, so Martin and I were given permission to go out with the Lost Pot team while the others returned SRT wise. A short spell of crawling led to a pretty section where we met Vernon and Jim Newton taking photographs with a couple of NPC members (versatile instruments these NPC members. Ed.) The usual cursing from Jim as his flash failed, then a  cry of ‘Sound’ as it finally went off. After gaining sustenance from round of Jim’s fruit polos, we set off again. As he was in dry gear, Hugh (the chicken) had been waiting at the other side of the tight drainpipe section. Jim was first through, followed by Bill who got totally stuck - it took Jim ten minutes to talk him through. A climb of l5ft followed, and then a pitch of 30ft, before we were at the base of the massive NPC Avens, the previous upward limit of exploration.. Down one of the avens hung the ladder, amid the spray of the stream. With more photos taken, we were soon at the top or the 80ft. pitch rolling up the 1aders and cursing the others for leaving us with, the majority of the tackle. Bill, Jim, Andrew. and I then climbed our way over unstable, boulders to the foot of the 90ft pitch up to the, entrance boulder choke. Shouts from the others now at the bottom of the ladder told us to wait in a safe place as falling rocks on the pitch were narrowly missing the bottom of the ladder. Once those in front were up, Jim and Andrew ascended the boulder pile to the foot of the ladder, leaving Bill and myself on a rock shelf at the bottom.                                          .
.    A few minutes later there was ah almighty rumble which grew into a noise like a hundred grand pianos crashing about our ears. The earthquake went on and on as, on top of each other, Bill and I tried squeezing further into the crack at the back of the shelf. With the echoes of the collapse dying down in the cave, our heads continued to ring as we opened our eyes and, peered out into a battle scarred landscape.  
.    Too shocked and afraid to leave the security of my position, I let Bill ascend to the foot of the pitch. There was talking, which was a good sign, but I couldn’t get an answer when I shouted up ina1ly. I climbed up to them, and found Andrew and Bill kneeling over Tim who was lying unconscious with blood on his head. Apparently he had climbed a few rungs but didn’t even have time to shout ‘Up’ before the whole of the top of the shaft just collapsed in, raining boulders down the shaft. Andrew had thrown himself against the wall and was miraculously unscathed. But Jim, having caught his foot in the ladder, was unable to jump clear.                                                     .                                                                    .   Meanwhile, shouts were drifting down the pitch, but what they were saying was anybody’s guess, Finally, Bill shouted up that there was one casualty, and hoped that they would understand. Although we didn’t want to move Jim, we had to in case of further collapses. With a rope and sit harness we lowered him down the boulder slope. His vomiting had ceased, and when we called him he groaned in answer. He was already coming round. We tried to keep him as warm and comfortable as possible by surrounding him with our bodies. Very little was said as I think we were all willing the rescuers to hurry up. (Having called the rescue, I can vouch that it was a very fast turn out. Ed.) It seemed like an eternity. The accident had happened at 5o’cloök.and it was 8 before the sounds of work were heard from above.                                                                                                                        .                                 .     Messages were then passed and the rescuers informed that Jim was the only one hurt. They in turn instructed us to go and ladder the 80ft pitch back into Lost Johns in the eventuality of having to go out that way if Lost Pot could not be made safe. Bill and I left to tackle the pitch just as a piece of scaffolding whistled down the 90, landing just a few feet away from us. It was good to be doing something again, and we both warmed up a bit. Returning, we found that a neoprene sleeping bag had been lowered down, so we set about getting Jim into it, not easy as the zip was impossible to pull up, and Jim wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting in it In fact he resisted most of our attempts at interference, and although I was told afterwards that this was consistent with his injuries, it seemed like the old Jim to me. Thus we could see his condition was improving.                                    .                                   .    Shortly before ten a light appeared down the pitch and Phil Pappard arrived: His cheery presence was most welcome after the hours of solitary thought. His jokes brightened us all up as he set about assembling a warm air breather. When it was working, Jim wouldn’t have any of it and pushed it away. So we passed it round the rest of us and found it an excellent reviver. Meanwhile Dr. Frank Walker had descended and was taking a look at Jim. A stretcher and bandages were called for, and Phil said that one of us might go out with the message. Neither Bill nor Andrew would leave Jim, so I tied on
and climbed up. The top o the shaft was an impressive sight. Though we’d been under the impression that they’d been taking time their time, Gordon Batty and friends had evidently done an extremely rapid and secure job. The ladder had been re-hung away from the shored-back boulders which looked mean and nasty in their new cage. The whole of the boulder choke from the top of the pitch out to the entrance was so packed with bodies that it was hard to squeeze through.  As I climbed up every new face asked the same question, “How’s Jim”

.     Once out of the hole, a strange mixed feeling of relief, concern for Jim, and loneliness came over me. There was a group of people near the entrance, one of whom I thought I recognised. I walked round them and set off across the darkened fell. The dazzling lights of the road were my target, but after I had walked half-way, a woman passed me in the opposite direction wearing, what I thought, were stupid shoes for a cave rescue. As my light then shone onto her face I said ‘Hello, Mum’. Apparently the bloke I’d seen back at the entrance was my Dad. I went back for him, then packed them off home safe in the knowledge their little boy was unharmed.                                           .                                                                                           .    The Red Rose contingent were crammed into one Landrover, (don’t Know whose!) when I found them. I didn’t have to look very hard I just found the mobile canteen and there, parked next to it, a Landrover with a conveyor belt of soup and sandwiches and coffee flowing through its open window. Despite our hidden worries for Jim, everyone was very cheerful, and the atmosphere with us all sitting there together is something I will never forget. It’s at times like this that you realise there is a lot more to the Red Rose than just a few people who cave together. The only blemish on this occasion was having Frank Croll sitting next to me as, in the confines of the Landrover, the smell of soiled underwear takes on a new dimension. I am referring to the other, less serious caving accident of the day’.                       .                           .                                                                                                                               .    At about midnight we were told that Jim was finally on the move, and having heard little up until then, this was great news. Shortly before one o’clock he was brought to the surface, and we all vacated the landrover to help the stretcher across the fell. If he could have seen it, Jim’s last vision, before he was slid into the CRO ambulance, was a crowd of hoping faces, the vast majority of whom were, and are, his personal friends.

Dave Crellin.

 

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