The Easegill Traverse: Top Sink to Pippikin Pot.


Team:          Phil Luff, Ray Duffy, Claire Wilkinson, Andy Hine, Charlie Frankland, Paul Wilkinson, Bob Johnson, Jane. Chris and Ian Ellis, Ben Whatley + some others I may have forgot.

We set off at a respectable half past nine from Caton. Unusually early for any club meet but this week there was good reason to be on time. The previous week Ray and Andy Hine had spent an enjoyable Saturday rigging the ‘in-between’ bits of the Earby series and in the process aquatinted themselves with rather more passage than they had expected. The reason: next week would be the long anticipated Easegill Traverse.
For anyone who is not fully aware of what this involves, picture this: a long and complicated cave system with plenty of entrances at opposite ends, most of them rigged, and vast amounts of enjoyable caving in between. It’s what you joined the Red Rose for really!

Today however (being Saturday) and an early start meant that we could do the end-to-end of the system, rarely done for organisational reasons mainly if not the tackle required. The teams assembled in Bullpot and vied for members and by a process of elimination two reasonable sized teams emerged from the organisational chaos, grabbed the necessary gear and set off. A certain team however managed to squeeze time in for just one more brew.

We have all trudged across Casterton fell braving the horizontal sleet and storm force winds finding the entrance blocked by several foot of snow, today something had gone wrong. A gentle spring breeze caressed us towards the cave while we basked in the glorious warmth, away to the south the Lune valley could be clearly seen and the sweet, earthy smell of the fell emerging from the grip of Winter was all about. We are on Casterton Fell aren’t we?

Spread out in the sun like lizards on a rock none of us could muster any semblance of grip. But after much cajoling, Youth set of with the tackle bag into that miserable, dripping hole Top Sink. For anyone not aquatinted with this particular speleological delight Top Sink has an impressive little soaking near the entrance just in case anyone had any ideas about keeping dry throughout the rest of the trip. Following this a narrow, meandering streamway winds itself to the top of Walrus pot. At this point Andy Hall arrived to tell Charlie Frankland the dry hang for SRT that needed rigging and believe me it needed rigging this way. Anyone who says otherwise is either made of neoprene, a few raisons short of a full fruit bun or (hopefully) both.
Despite the glorious sunshine that day large volumes of water were tanking down the pitch, to be more accurate large volumes of freezing cold water. The reason for this was simple: snow melt. SRT saved us from any suicide tactics and provided us with a dry(?) but very draughty hang. Penknife pitch was next which was not so dry a hang. Nuff said. The passage then continues as the streamway before but getting bigger so by the time that Limerick Junction is reached it has grown to comfortable walking dimensions. Here Youth lead the way straight up a side inlet. To be fair none of us knew the way exactly but some had more ideas than others, If ever you get lost in that area my advice is to stay with the stream where possible and climb up only when the first cascade is reached. This should be the Bridge of Sighs area. We began to get our bearings when we had to step over to streamway in the roof above the torrent below.
A brief chocolate and nicotine stop allowed us to regain our breath and compose ourselves for the long slog between Stop Pot and the Earby Series which none of us were really looking forward to. But first the enjoyable little squeeze at the top of the Assembly Hall, the “malnutrition team’ descended via the crack-in-the-wall climb while the better nourished of the team used the more traditional route. Into the streamway and splash, splash, splash all the way to Stop Pot for another enforced Glucose and Tobacco break.

Working up a sizeable sweat we sauntered though Snail, cantered through Cornes, marched through the Minarets and stomped into Stake Pot. On the way a blur of brown could be seen vaguely resembling the “dry route”. Here we bumped into Kenny Taylor who informed us that he had been underground for about two hours despite entering at Pippikin (it turns out the whole trip took him 3 hours).

Soon we met up with the other team coming up the 88ft pitch at Maple Leaf. We donned our descending gear and sat down for a long wait as bodies gradually heaved themselves up the rope. Youth and several others were getting a bit cold waiting for the Old men team to get itself into gear, a situation not helped by forgetting ones thermals. At this point Phil regaled us with the fact that he had remembered his thermals and had had the foresight to pack an enormous lunch bucket filled with tasty snacks. He also made no bones about when and where he would eat the aforementioned banquet,
‘When you scrounging bastards are safely at the bottom of the pitch!”

As if things couldn’t get much worse Claire decided to have a lamp failure. At the end of the passage an orange fag-end with little red eyes underneath it stumbled forward, worse was to come.

“Are you really going to let your sister stumble on through the whole of Easegill with that pathetic light?” said the multitude.

We could see what was coming…….

“Whatever happened to brotherly love? If you were really kind you could swap lamps and let Claire have your lamp!”

Despite Youths objections the Pippikin team stomped off towards Easegill with a full complement of lights and an overfilled picnic hamper. Assembled at the bottom of the pitch the passage gave an impression of the depth within the system that we were at. Further down Ramsdens crawl towards the sumps mud on the roof of the passage gave an idea of the flood potential that can be expected. However with the team “match fit” we made rapid progress to the foot of Echo Aven and were soon in the dry, spacious cavern of Hilton Hall. To avoid the totally unnecessary torture of lugging our tackle bags through the entrance series of Pippikin Pot we tied them onto the rope that had been rigged by the other team on the way to “Pip”. Despite their story that “We didn’t bother to put a rope on Link” we were relieved to find a rope at the spot where the dead sheep normally resides, even better, one end had been belayed to the top! (of the rope of course).

With a new found energy and enthusiasm we pressed on towards Hall of the Ten and the rifts and squeezes of Pippikin entrance series. To our horror we began to realise that our knowledge of Link Pot and the way on to the Wet Wallows was somewhat lacking. On the survey it appears to be an obvious passage heading south-west from the Squid Junction area but on the ground more than one person was heard to say the immortal words,
“Yep, right, yeah …….. yep this is it. this is definitely the way on. I remember that piece of passage back there!”

This was invariably followed by us all “coming round” when we arrived at a chamber filled with hanging death or crawled for several hundred metres only to arrive back at Hilton Hall. One by one we all (almost all) made some mistake before thankfully arriving at the Muddy Wallows and closely followed by the Wet Wallows. Dusty Junction, luxury, time for one final fag break (the chocolate having long since run out) and off we set for the last bit.

With no tackle we made fast progress, the traverse didn’t seem quite as bad as we had been expecting, the pitches not too strenuous and the squeezes just as tight as we had left them. Some resorted to taking gear off others used brute force and ignorance to get out. A surprisingly short time later we were sitting on another fell in the shadow of a different mountain but we all had the same smiles on our faces.
The picnic-hamper team had taken a bit longer than us to get out, the wet pitches providing “entertainment” at the Top Sink end. Later two weary but satisfied teams of potholers returned to Bullpot for the customary post-speleo meal of “curried things in a pan” with rice and the obligatory cans of ale to finish off a grand days out.

Much, much later the teams assembled in the Marten Arms to discuss what had turned out to be a most satisfying days caving. Roll on next weekend’

Paul Wilkinson

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