The Chronicles of Quaking Pot

My own fascination with this pothole started way back when I was a young, keen, innocent, Red Rose ‘whippersnapper’. (very, very hard to remember, or believe! Ed). I saved up and purchased the Northern Cave guide books. Many a night would be spent reading about the individual classic potholes of Yorkshire, and it was always the tight grade v’s that magically drew my attention.

However, not being up to such ‘ard trips, my weekends were spent digging with Jim and learning from his vast experience. Slowly but surely you gain experience, you then progress onto aspects of caving ‘such as ladders, SRT, and getting pissed on Saturday nights down at the Marton Arms or the Snotty dog. During such times you listen to ‘ard potholing stories from the other members of the club - tales of Baptistry Crawl in Car Pot and the tight squeezes of Strans Gill. After several pints: Quaking Pot was always talked about, but no one around in the Red Rose had been down the cave.

So, it was time to start ticking of f the thin mans holes, and one day attempt my ultimate goal, to the bottom of Quaking Pot. But it was still only pub talk.

The first attempt was after a party at Dave Crellins parents house, it was the middle of August 1989, but it wasn’t intended as a serious attempt, more a cure for our hangovers. It was to be a reconnaissance trip to find out the logistics of rigging the cave, a large team assembled at Crina Bottoms, outside Ingleton. Most of the people were from ‘the party intent on going for a walk up Ingleborough but were co—opted into carrying our tackle.

The cavers included Chaz, Bob, Al Berk, Andy Homini and myself. It turned out to be more of a pantomime than a potholing trip as Al Berk became a permanent fixture, because his long legs couldn’t fit round a sharp bend, Bob spent most of his time trying to unjam Al. and Chaz was worried about the high water levels experienced on a wet third pitch seeing as it was pissing it down outside. Andy and I cocked up trying to find the fourth pitch, and returned vowing that; ‘Well be back’ in true Arnold style.

Andy and I both found it very hard to drum up enthusiasm for a return trip, but we did succeed in finding another willing member, Pete Hall volunteered in joining us to try to get to the bottom this time.

The mountain of tackle was split up between the three of us and spirits were high as we trudged and sweated our way up the two mile walk to the cave entrance. It was a small team, but we were determined and confident!

What followed can only be described as an epic in true Red Rose tradition; Pete got himself seriously stuck in a squeeze that is supposed to bypass the fourth pitch. Next it, was my turn to get stuck as we managed to get as far as the crux of the pot, where I dropped my SRT bag down the rift. Well, over an hour was spent trying
desperately to retrieve the bag, most of the time was spent being stuck upside down, swearing, squeezing, and thrutching. In the end Pete came to my aid and pulled me back up through very tight squeeze. After this I was too knackered to try the crux again so we returned. I had a pair of badly bruised ribs, and I had failed. All of us agreed it was a nightmare; far more than your usual potholing trip.
Andy is not a lad to give up easily, he had another alternative adventure to try and beat the crux, he and Carl Lunt from the Lanc’s succeeded in experiencing the severe and strenuous nature c-f the passage but still did not manage to push the cave any further. Would any c-f us ever get past this physical and psychological barrier of the crux?

The next trip tack place on July 6th. it involved Paul Saville and myself. I persuaded Paul to come down Quaking over several pints of Murphys in the Sun Inn in Kirkby Lonsdale the night before. At first he didn’t seem too keen, after hearing all the horror stories, but, the more he drank the easier my job became. Eventually he agreed.
The idea was to take a ladder each through the crux and attempt to get as far as the seventh pitch, this point is approximately two thirds of the way down the pot.
We parked Just along from the White Scar Cave to make a shorter but steeper walk up. On the walk up we were accompanied by the Norwich fraternity of the Red Rose, but we couldn’t persuade them to join us, anyway they wished us luck and left us at the entrance.

We returned, back into twilight some eight hours later, the trip had been a success, we both managed to pass the crux and continue along the passage. the crux was found to be extremely committing and strenuous by both of us, and once beyond, the passage didn’t seem to ease of f much. Worried about getting back through the crux we decided to call it a day at the top of the seventh pitch.

The satisfaction in the achievement was tremendous and made both of us feel on top of the world, we both felt tired and didn’t feel fit enough to get to the bottom, but with a few more people to help to carry the tackle we knew we could hack it.
The fourth occasion was on the first of December, the original trip was planned for the week before but Paul Saville had been taken ill and couldn’t make it. So it was all arranged to meet at Bullpot on the Friday night, sort out the tackle and make an early start the next morning. The previous week Stan and Alison (new members of the Red Rose) and Andy H moni and I had bottomed Marble Sink, a notorious tight pothole up on the Allotment, so we all felt keen to do Quaking Pot.

Young Paul Wilkinson the new Red Rose ‘whippersnapper’ was also keen or daft enough to come along, so he had met up with us at the farm on the Friday night to help sort the tackle out. The Plan was to meet Andy H moni just along from White Scar Cave at 8.3Oam. the next morning. Stan and Alison arrived later on Friday night and made a few improvements to the tackle. In total we were to take five 25ft. ladders, one 5Oft. ladder, two bags of SRT rope, a lifeline, plus a spare FX2 battery, several slings, and a few bolts. ( this sounds similar to my Christmas list I’ve just written to santa). Not to mention the rations of one chocolate bar per person. (You can’t beat a good feed). Eventually I retired to bed just after lam, an early night for once.

The big day arrived and we all rushed downstairs for breakfast, except for Stan who woke up very slowly, (lazy bastard). Breakfast included the usual greasy dead animal chunks or the alternative huge bowl of porridge with ‘Marks and Spenser’ blackcurrant jam, the porridge was Quaker Oats of course. After a quick glucose stop we arrived at the car park, but Andy’s car wasn’t there, being late we decided to drive to Ingleton to find him. We ran him to earth in Bernies, having a brew. This seemed like a good idea so we took time out to have a last cup of tea and a fag, and to get some ‘grip’.

Eventually we drove up and got changed. The weather was perfect, no chance of rain today. After distributing the tackle we set off up the steep hill at a nice slow pace. Quaking Pot lies 1430ft. high up on the slopes of Ingleborough, not far from the main motorway which leads to the summit past Crina Bottom. It was originally explored by members of the B.S.A. in 1942, they pushed it as far as the large chamber at the foot of the third pitch. Even in those days it was graded as a super severe pothole in the old Underground in Britain guidebook. In 1964 the Brook brothers pushed it as far as the crux, but found the way on to be too tight. It wasn’t until 1973 that Bob Emmat of the Preston Caving Club pushed it to its current limit. This is now 1870ft. long and 467ft. deep, with a total of 11 pitches. The Northern Caves guide book states that; ‘Quaking Pot is a serious undertaking. Strenuous moving tackle from Crux to the sixth pitch. Crux is more awkward for tired people on the return and rescue from beyond it would be virtually impossible.’

Once at the right shake hole we all relieved ourselves (nervous energy), we were in no rush to leave the glorious sunshine, so we all took our time. A small stream enters at one end and sinks in a pile of boulders, this is where the original entrance is, but the most popular entrance is a small rabbit like hole higher up. Here we noticed fresh footprints in the mud and a pair of mitts and a map. Somebody was down our pothole: who in their right mind would go down here on such a nice sunny day? I can think of a thousand better things to .do! Bloody loonies.

You don’t expect to have to double rig down Quaking; sod it, we’ve come all this way, lets get on with it.

We entered the pot at approximately 11am. After crawling through the entrance you drop into a small chamber with a natural bridge, a short climb leads to the head of the first pitch, 25ft. deep, here we found a new 9mm rope wrapped round a rock boss, our belay was arranged and a ladder was slung down the pitch, a nice shaft with fine scallop marks makes this an enjoyable ladder climb. Paul came crashing through and nearly kicked all the tackle as well as some rocks down the pitch. After a quick; ‘get a grip youth’ he became more cautious. The foot of the pitch degenerates into a narrow rift, a short squeeze leads into the roof of the streamway and a traverse leads to the second pitch almost immediately, with an awkward takeoff. The 50ft. ladder was uncoiled and clipped to an extra long belay, and belayed way back in the passage. The easiest way onto the ladder is by dropping down the rift in a wide section then following the passage downstream which brings you into the side of the huge shaft about 10ft. down. Tackle was given priority one and a pass the parcel routine enabled all the tackle to be lowered down first. From here the pitch is about 3Oft. and the ladder hangs in space making it a bit exposed. The pitch drops into a large chamber with a high aven, which is the old tackle lowering route from a surface shake hole near the entrance, even though daylight can not be seen.

A plastic ice cream carton collects drops of falling water ( a real thirst quencher on the way out). Stan and I grabbed the two large tackle sacks and made our way to the third pitch, after a cascade the stream flows into a tortuous passage, the easiest progress is by a window in the left wall, this dry oxbow leads into a tight S bend, best to bum shuffle your way round; this leads you to a narrow rift, after a sharp right angled bend. A floor slot and a diagonally downward squeeze brings you out directly above the 85ft. pitch. this is a short but rather strenuous section of passage, especially when carrying tackle. From the ledges we unpacked the 120ft. rope and the SRT kits, we soon noticed a small glimmer of light at the bottom of the pitch, it was our mystery guest coming back out of the cave. After kitting up Stan rigged the pitch using a natural thread as a backup, a short 10ft. drop lands onto a larger ledge, from here an exposed bridge out,( legs at full stretch) enables a bolt and sling to be used to make a Y hang.

We shouted for the ‘lone caver’ to ‘come on up; after a quick chat he told us that he had got as far as the Crux but couldn’t get past because he thought it was too tight. We invited him to tag along with our trip but he declined saying he had a party to go to.
By now Paul, Alison, and Andy had arrived with the rest of the tackle, the lone caver couldn’t believe his eyes as a never ending stream of bodies shuffled past him, all being extremely bright and cheerful. Stan gave us an exhibition of how to make SRT look hard by doing some E2 moves to get onto the rope.

The third pitch is a superb shaft into a massive chamber, the largest chamber in Quaking. Once we were all at the bottom we packed away our SRT kits and had a quick sit down and rest. From here on in the caving starts to get interesting. there is a choice of two ways cut out from the chamber, high level traverse to the fourth pitch, err a narrow streamway then climb up into the traverse. The easiest is the streamway, progress isn’t quick as calcite formations dig into your chest, the cave forces you into thrutching along or sometimes crawling to pass constrictions. These kinds of passage snag and rip at your oversuit, after about 100ft. the passage
enlarges to an opening where a climb up leads back into the high level traverse, the muddy sides don’t give much friction and it is a bit awkward carrying a tackle bag. Eventually it narrows and the walls become smooth, after a strenuous traverse terra firma is reached in the form of an old phreatic roof tube, this is the way on to the fourth pitch bypass. We decided to carry an extra ladder and rig the fourth pitch; a bolt sticks out of the wall for about half an inch (dodgy belay). This is backed up with a lump of old tat round some stal. We decide to use the bolt and also a wire belay round a small boss, this is held on by friction, not quite the best belay in Yorkshire but it will have to do. The ladder hangs down the rift and presents an awkward takeoff because of a squeeze at the top of the pitch. The rift opens out and lands in a pleasant sized chamber, this is the start of the  stream passage which leads to the Crux.

It is here that I decide to leave the spare FX2 cell for lighting on the way out. The way on is a crawl which develops into a narrow rift passage; the team leads on in single file with everyone carrying tackle. the narrow rift starts to get narrower as you are forced into a horizontal crawl, the way on is blocked by calcite at this level so a head first ‘SKYDIVE’ into a wider section is the only option. Coitus Corner follows, which is a sharp right angled bend which leads into the Crux.. It was decided to drop all the tackle here and to get one man past the Crux, he would carry an end of a rope which would be used to drag all the tackle through in the streamway. After taking off my battery and belt I passed Coitus Corner in the streamway, this is done by spreading your legs wide and bum shuffling round, you then come to a tight section where you are forced to thrutch up to gain height, the passage forces you into a horizontal position, being head first in a tight rift is a horrible experience. The Crux leads on and slow progress is made by reaching up with an arm and pulling yourself forward, this is probably the most strenuous section to any cave in Yorkshire; your helmet jams, which frustrates you, thinking that I was through the Crux I try and drop my legs down but got my chest stuck. Eventually I sort my problems out and manage to squeeze- down to the stream level. Knackered, relieved, and completely out of breath.

Stan then followed finding it as difficult as I had, he comes down to the stream level puffing and panting ‘What a bastard that was’. Tackle is then tied on and we tried to pull it through, but it only jammed. The only solution is for young Paul to pass the Crux at stream level and push the tackle forward, the Crux at stream level is probably less strenuous, but a lot tighter. You have to be a real thin bastard to fit through. Meanwhile Alison is stuck in the Crux, she’s not enjoying this bit very much. Stan kicks his feet up in the air so that she can keep horizontal, with pure determination, grip, and hardness she gets through. but immediately doesn’t like the thought of going back out the same way. The struggle with tackle continues as young Paul battles his way amongst many ladders and bags. Andy, who is the largest, comes next and keeps his cool, he makes it look easy by taking his time. Eventually all five of us are past the Crux with three 25ft ladders, 12Oft. of 9mm rope, 60ft Aquaguard wire rope, one lifeline, and five bags 0-f SRT kit. By now all you want to do is go out

So its a ladder each for three people and a tackle bag each for two. The passage continues, passing a sharp calcite bend in the streamway, narrow miserable caving for the next 15Oft. with your nose pressed against the limestone, its just one continuous squeeze. Eventually we were forced to squeeze through some fine formations into a well decorated small grotto, with pure white calcite formations. Worth bringing a camera down here - I don’t think!

The streamway drops away into a very narrow rift, Explorers Prerogative, is a flat out crawl 30ft. up in the roof of this rift, not very nice carrying a tackle bag, there isn’t any solid floor to rest on either. strenuous going for the next 100-ft. leads directly onto the head of the fifth pitch. We didn’t bother bringing a ladder for this pitch as there is a rope already ‘in situ’ and it is a rift climb, a free climb that lands on a solid floor. Time to actually stand up and breath a sigh of relief.

An awkward drop leads to the head of the sixth pitch, somehow we manage to sort out the SRT kits and step into our harnesses etc in this confined space, Stan attempts to squeeze down and rig the pitch but becomes hopelessly stuck because of all his SRT gear. I volunteer to rig the pitch instead. An I bolt in the wall and a sling sees us safely to the bottom of the thirty foot pitch, here the cave seems to change character and opens out slightly. A traverse leads immediately to the forty five foot seventh pitch, a large black void can be seen at the bottom.

A 10Oft. rope is long enough to rig the sixth and seventh pitches together. The takeoff at the seventh is again tight but soon opens out to impressive proportions with the rope hanging in space. A bag was used at the top to stop the rope rubbing due to the lack of suitable belays.

The rest of the team follow with the remaining tackle, by now the mood of the team seems to have changed, nobody seems to be smiling anymore, Alison worried about getting back through the Crux, and Stan and I are physically tired due to carrying, the tackle bags through Explorers Prerogative.

Decisions are made whether to go out or to continue to the bottom of this horror show, when the going gets tough you should go out really! Stan is the only member who has been this far before, he got to the bottom four years ago but it took a total of eighteen and a half hours and they fell asleep three times on the way out.

The wet W bends follow next, these didn’t look too inviting, the squeeze into them looked committing, and they are awkward t reverse so I thought it best to do it feet first, but with not having eyes in your arse it’s difficult to see where you are going. The bends ain’t actually tight but the only way to get round them is to insert yourself into the ice cold water and become saturated in an otherwise dry cave.• Luckily you don’t have to carry tackle through this section, by climbing up an old knotted rope into the start of Fly Crawl a small calcite blowhole leads back to the chamber at the seventh pitch, here it is possible to squeeze through, Stan passed the tackle through while young Paul followed on behind. We grabbed the tackle for Fly Crawl pitch and SRT kits and shot off to rig the pitch while the others followed on with the rest of the tackle.

Fly Crawl proves, an easier alternative than the eighth and ninth pitches, the crawl leads on, flat out through muddy gour pools for about 1OOft. until a 50ft pitch drops into the massive Bridge Hall. The pitch is a very loose boulder slope at a steep angle, once at the bottom, I shouted up to Paul to take care as the whole place looked like it was ready to collapse. Large black avens lead upwards out of sight into space, a natural bridge spans across the chamber made out of large King Henrys held together by loose fill.

Paul joined me with a ladder for the next pitch, the belay was a sling round a large block, we pulled on the sling to make Lure the block was stable. The ladder was uncoiled and slung down the pitch, the tenth pitch is down a wall of large boulders and again more loose fill. Looking up you can see a horrific pile of boulders delicately perched above your head.

A muddy climb over a col leads to the fault climb, a 4Oft. so called free climb. Two ropes were already installed to help aid the climb down, the middle section belled out over a large drop, this is not the time or the place to slip and have an accident. I called up to the others to wear their SRT gear for safety, this climb was harder than some of the pitches.

I landed in a pleasant sized streamway, for the first time today horizontal progress was made by stooping and not squeezing, thrutching or crawling. We soon followed this easy passage to the last pitch the 25ft. ladder hung in space down to the final chamber, ‘Gormenghast’, a steep boulder slope up the other side of the chamber led to a hole from which there was a draught, the ole led down for about thirty foot completely surrounded by very loose boulders.

We all sat in Gormenghast eating our Mars bars. the time was 5.30 on a Saturday afternoon, it had taken us a total of six and a half hours just to get to the bottom. The though of exploration did not enter our heads, even if there was a master cave just round the corner we couldn’t give a shit all we wanted to do was get the hell out of this miserable shit hole. upon one wall a small amount of graffiti named the clubs who had been to the bottom, we added to this and it now reads; “RRCPC 1990”.

The return journey was a long and tiring process. Andy dropped his new sling while climbing the ladder at the top of Gormenghast but couldn’t be bothered to go back down and retrieve it, things must be bad.

The whole team pulled their weight in carrying the tackle, by the time we were back near the entrance Alison had fallen asleep a couple of times and had to be woken up, lights began to fade as we eventually exited the cave at 1.3Oam the next morning. It was a spectacular sight seeing the stars and the lights of Morecambe and Lancaster.
The trip had taken fourteen and a half hours to travel 1870-ft. and back. We were all too tired to feel anything, we quietly walked down to the cars and returned to Bullpot at about 3am in the morning, everybody was sick to death of Quaking Pot and were just relieved to be out.

Quaking Pot definitely lives up to it’s reputation, it is tight and horrible all the way to the bottom, the trip isn’t appreciated until weeks later when you start to forget how miserable it is. There is a good possibility of finding passage which may one day link up to White Scar Caves, but is anybody really interested in having a dig in Gormenghast?

Neil Pacey.


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