County Pot

 

6th. June 1982

A. Hall, H. St. Lawrence, B. Harris.

It was with some trepidation that I arrived at the farm on a very warm Sunday morning. I had arranged to go down Woodhouse Way with Andy to take some photographs for a forthcoming lecture he was giving on recent extensions in the Easegill system. However, last night’s thunderstorms and the forecast of more for the afternoon didn’t give much hope for our planned trip due to its nasty habit of flooding. There had to be a rethink.

By midday we’d managed to get a grip and decided that the new stuff near Wretched Rabbit would be safer. As I had to shoot black and white, and colour, I loaded my large ammo-box with two cameras and associated flashguns, asking Andy if the passages would be big enough to take the box. His reply of ‘yes’, accompanied by a knowing grin left me in some doubt as to the honesty of his answer, especially after Keith’s comment of ‘You’re not going down that horrid tight hole are you?’ Too late I was packed up and ready for off and I couldn’t think of any excuse to back out. Besides, you’ve got to be able to endure such obstacles if you’re going to be an ‘ard caver.

So Andy, Hugh and myself set off over the fell literally hot foot, and hot everything else in the oppressive heat. We’d only gone a few yards before Andy wilted under the heat of his wetsuit. It was soon pulled down to his waist and we were on our way again. As expected, the gill was bone-dry and we were all eager to climb down the entrance shaft and escape into the cool of the cave interior. The first pitch was already rigged in the wrong place, so we arranged a correctly hung ladder and pressed on to P.J. This was also rigged, but the ladder had seen better days. Hugh showed off by avoiding the ladder and doing the traverse climb. But Andy and myself, being mere mortals, used the ladder. ( In fact, I used the ladder too, Boyd, but thanks far the ego trip. ed.) Just before Eureka Junction we turned right to start the long slog to the new stuff. Andy and Hugh shot off like greyhounds; while I struggled on with my 14lb ammo box which banged and snagged on almost every bend of the passage. Eventually we left the water behind and started to climb up into an old dry shattered series, I’m glad they knew the way because I’d have never found it, After some time we emerged into a roomy chamber with nice clean stals. and walls criss-crossed with calcite flows. This is where the first photographs were wanted, so I setup a couple of backlights and then tried to decide who should pose first. I couldn’t use Andy due to the disgustingly tatty state of his wetsuit, so by a process of elimination it had to be Hugh. Andy took it like a man.

Soon we left the chamber and climbed up into a tight rift with an onion-shaped cross-section. Here they wanted me to photograph the full length of the passage, but I decided that the ‘lighting would be too complicated so I opted for a simpler approach; I squeezed into the middle section and photographed up to Hugh in front, then back to Andy bringing up the rear (for a change). Another tight slot and awkward turn to negotiate a vertical rift and we came to the last chamber, It was finely decorated with dazzling white stale and intricate helictites, all virtually Unsoiled by human presence This is where Andy got his turn to pose to good effect while Hugh went off exploring. Soon Andy followed him and I could hear them talking as I packed my camera away.

Wh’ey’ said Andy, ‘there’s a good draught here!’                                .                                                                                          ‘Yes’ said Hugh ‘and is that running water I can hear?’                                    .                                                                                  ‘Yes it is’ replied Andy and ‘it’s bloody well getting louder, fast!’

Andy was off like a rat up a drain pipe I followed; and as I inched my way through the onion-shaped passage I heard the rapidly increasing noise of water behind me and the roar of a waterfall in front where previously there had been silence.

We emerged into a chamber with water coming at us from all directions. Andy’s only comment was ‘My mouth’s gone dry and I’m not thirsty. It must be fear,’ I had the sudden urge to go to the toilet but kept quiet about it. Hugh just bit his bottom lip. The options open to us were discussed, but we kept moving as there was no time to spare. Our main worry was if Eureka Junction sumped and backed up. We pressed on to see what was in store for us. At Lower Pierces Hugh had a quick look into the main drain where the level had risen alarmingly but hadn’t quite sumped. Our battle against the water up to Trident was interesting to say the least. Most of the way we had to traverse in the roof to avoid the swirling brown roar below us. The scene at Trident, where it gushed its contents into Lower Pierces, had to be seen to be believed. I set up to take a picture while Andy complained that we should get the hell out of it. I wasn’t long and we were soon on our way again. At Spout Hall the gusher blasting out from the continuing passage was deemed too risky so we detoured round the dry bypass to Confusion Corner. Showerbath Passage was the wettest I have ever seen it with a wall of solid water dropping from the roof.

We were soon up the entrance series and out on the surface. I arrived, first to the amazing sight of a raging torrent which five hours earlier had been a dry gill. It was amusing watching first Hugh, then Andy emerge with amazed expressions the unrepeatable comments as they eyed the aqueous surroundings. Back at the farm we learnt that the rain which caused the flooding underground had only lasted for 45 minutes, which just goes to show the respect with which caves and the weather have to be treated.

Boyd Harris.

 

 

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