Porridge Unlimited

Misty Mountain Series - Pippikin Pot,  Sat 12th February 1994.

Team:  Pete Hall, Steve Preece (BUSS).

As some Red Rose members will know, exploration of the upstream limit of the  Misty Mountain has been continuing somewhat irregularly for a few years. Full details will undoubtedly appear in the next Red Rose journal but in the meantime here’s a taster of the sort of trip you can expect up there.

To be honest, exploration in this particular backwater of Pippikin had been slow. With a mean time between trips of about six months, the Misty Mountain series didn’t exactly reek of exploration fever; all the more surprising as the way on had been open since it was first looked at. Exploration had been halted at a 30ft aven for a couple of years, with all scaling attempts rebuffed by falls of rock. In January 1994 Steve Toombs and I went up to the end and bolted up in the wider, more stable part of the chamber onto a ledge about 20 foot up. Then we traversed along the ledge to the foot of a climb up loose mud and boulders where I put in a bolt ready to climb up it. At this point we decided to go out as Toomsy was frozen.

A couple of weeks later the next settled day came round and I was champing at the bit to get back up there, but the usual misery merchants weren’t present. Steve Preece said he would go but I wasn’t sure he would be up to it as he is a second year student from Birmingham Uni. S. S. and had only done about a dozen caving
trips in his life. However he seemed keen enough so we set off with lots of tackle to Mistral Hole. When we got to the entrance, Steve had to rush back to Lancaster Hole because (try not to laugh) he had dropped his helmet! By this time I was sure he wouldn’t be up to it, but I thought we’d give it a try to see how far we’d get. I thought we would probably get to the Bastard Crawl before he lost his bottle. After the usual wrong turn at Red Wall Chamber, we were soon slipping down the slime hole into Leck Fell Lane and after another half hour of struggling we were at the start of the bastard crawl, a climb up through a squeeze into a sharp, fiat-out crawl where the latest run of exploration started back in 1989. The prognosis for a successful mission still didn’t look good, but we decided to see how it went. I went first and Steve followed on behind. My tackle bag was very heavy and soon ruptured spilling the climbing gear all over the place but I managed to stuff it back in. Before too long we were at the Birthday Avens, a 40ft pitch followed by 1 Oft, 1 5ft and 15ft handline climbs. I assured Steve that the rope was OK as it had only been there for five years.


At the top of this is the highlight of the trip, the Big Mean Porridge Machine, a canal full of peaty porridge where you have to crawl up to your neck in it. A squeeze up a cascade half way along leads to more porridgey crawling beneath a calcite aven before emerging at the final chamber. It had already taken us about two hours to just get to the end. Steve although a little more tattered in his ten-quid chinese oversuit was cheerful and keen to continue. I climbed first up the piece of tatty digging rope that was in place and Steve and the tackle followed. He stayed at the top of the rope whilst I traversed out along a good ledge to the far end of the chamber and clipped the bolt I had placed last time. The way on was a climb up bridging between the walls of the chamber onto some wedged of boulders. The right wall was solid but smooth and the left wall had plenty of holds but they all broke off in yer ‘and. So I bridged out as best I could, hammering in a couple of dodgy pegs on the way and in five minutes I was at the top. A brief recce revealed that the way on was a narrow tortuous upstream passage but first priority was to improve the line of retreat and get Steve up. So I spent a few minutes digging away beyond the bridge of boulders, where a few slabs was all that was capping the top of a rift climb back into the chamber below. I had climbed up under these slabs on a previous trip and seen the way on through a gap between the slabs but it had been too dangerous to remove them with me underneath and this was why we had bolted up in the chamber. With this route open we decided to derig the climb and Steve climbed up removing the gear. After a bit more gardening it was time to romp into the big stuff.
Steve was getting a bit knackered and cold, so we agreed that he would stay behind, eat his chocolate and pack up the tackle; meanwhile I would romp excitedly into the big stuff chuckling and whooping as I went but not taking more than ten minutes over it. The first part of the deal was fulfilled but after five minutes progress along a sideways walking passage I came to a fork in the passage. The right-hand branch was choked with calcite after 15ft but the left hand branch went to a squeeze up a 6ft cascade with the sound of a lot of roaring water coming out of it. I decided Steve could wait a bit longer and launched myself into the squeeze. It was a real struggle with sharp scalloping tearing at my suit but in a few minutes I was lying in a flat-out cobble crawl with the water roaring louder than ever. Another 50ft of low crawling and I emerged on a ledge 15ft up the side of a large stream chamber with a waterfall tumbling past me.

We had previously suspected that we might emerge in Cigalere Inlet in this manner and my first feeling was of immense satisfaction at having achieved the goal. Then I started planning the exit via Cigalere in order to complete the round trip and to avoid the more difficult exit via the Porridge machine. I couldn’t go back and get Steve yet as he wouldn’t be very pleased at going all the way through to Cigalere with all the tackle and then having to drag it all the way out of Misty Mountain Series if there was some obstacle in Cigalere that we couldn’t pass so I decided to go to the top of the Grand Cascade and check that I could get there and that it was rigged.
After passing several sporting cascades and some stooping and crawling streamway I came to the head of a 15ft pitch with an old ladder on it.


When I pulled it up I noticed it was already broken in three places and decided not to climb down without a lifeline. So I made my way back to the scallopped squeeze. Here I in advisedly entered head first and had to do a skydive down the 6ft drop at the other end. However I was soon back with shivering and rather worried Steve having left him for an hour instead of the planned ten minutes.
When I explained the exit choices to him he was very eager to try out the Cigalere option so off we went. At the scallopped squeeze we had a good deal of trouble getting the tackle through especially as the hole in the bag was getting bigger and bigger and the rope kept coming out. It took a good deal of our energy out of us and one of us was heard to utter the “F” word repeatedly (unprintable in this edition of course). There was still a considerable amount of distance between there and the next pitch including a wet crawl in icy water. When we got to there it looked like a 30ft pitch into a rift passage which surprised me as I was expecting the Grand Cascade, a 60ft pitch into a big chamber. I assumed it was another pitch which I didn’t know about. The bluewater rope was in good condition and well rigged but unfortunately it was tied off at the bottom so we rigged our climbing rope alongside it. I went down first checking the bluewater was rigged OK. At the ledge halfway down I realised, with some relief, that it was the Grand Cascade and untied the rope at the bottom. All that was left was the deep canal, damp uncomfortable crawl and several sporting cascades and we emerged in Lock Fell Lane with plenty of back slapping and mutual congratulation. We were tired but still buzzing when we emerged from Mistral Hole after a ten-hour trip.

This was the culmination of several years of exploration by Red Rose members and a good achievement. It could, if left rigged, turn into a classic misery and fun trip but I suspect it may turn into another Sylvester Pot: Everybody has heard of it but nobody apart from the Red Rose has ever been there. For many in the Red Rose it will simply be a relief that its not on the Sunday morning agenda any morel (apart from the survey trip. Any volunteers?)

Pete Hall.

Back to:  Contents