Snakes and Ladders

Hugh St.Lawrence and Keith Pacey

We had a new weapon at the farm. Unbeknown to Mr and Mrs Pacey of School Street, Askam-in-Furness, they had in fact given progeny to two
potholers, not simply the one as they had originally imagined. The second speleological outcome of their fruitful union was actually the firstborn, sending his kid brother out to prepare the universe for the arrival of the true supernova.

So there we were in Pippikin, me, Neil, Ange - and Keith, for that is his name, stuck in a squeeze. In fact he was stuck in all of them and I was beginning to feel a bit shaky on the Nostrodamus vibes. Was the new star waning before he’d shone - or even glimmered? I need not have feared, it was just a matter of acquiring a little technique, some finesse. Now the thing was to groom this new talent, to channel its prodigious flair into some useful application. Not for him the easy cop out of Saturday SRT jaunts. No, what this lad needed was some solid digging experience. I had just the place’

Bullpot of the Witches, I said and told Keith to put his gear on. After all there was little else to do now Hawkeye had turned the sounds off and there was a dead sheep in the tea line. Soon the star was changed, looking in his tatty green overalls like a cross between Kermit the Frog and an accident at Sellafield. Meanwhile I had been going through the passage in my mind - reckoned that I could just get a rigid ladder down there.

We waited until Hawkeye was safely stuck halfway into his oversuit in the changing room - then we made our move. Nabbing a 15ft wooden ladder from the farm passage we beat it down the track and lowered the ladder into the open pot. This also meant we enjoyed the luxury of a fixed ladder down the easy pitches and in no time we were manoeuvring our fixed aid into Burnetts Passage. At this point Keith asked me what windows we were going to clean

The window we were going to “clean” was in the junction chamber shortly before Burnetts Great Chamber. Up in the roof, and strangely missed by Bullpot addicts of old like Duncan Baldwin, was an aven with a passage appearing to lead off the top. We leant the ladder up against the wall and I went up and put a bolt in, perched precariously on the top rung, while Keith kept me tensioned with a line. Another bolt would now be needed but would be difficult to place, so I hung an electron and descended to think it out (le. have a fag).

It didn’t look too good until I had the bright idea of pulling the wooden ladder up and laying it off the ledge above the bolt into the aven. No sooner said than the pocket rocket was up at the bolt hoisting the wooden ladder into the heights. There now ensued the type of circus act that keeps pulling them in at Billy Smarts. I hid behind a rock as I wasn’t sure if my nerves would stand it, but I could tell what was going on from the noise, a cacophony of grunts, oohs and aahs, sharp cries of pain and anguish, gasps for breath, unprintable four letter words, the knock and scrape of wood on stone, sounds not unlike someone nearing climax, the groan of. Watching this I knew my predictions had been right, “Whatever you do, don’t drop it!” I was not surprised to learn that this voice was mine.

With the pocket rocket contorted at full stretch and tip toe on a nubbin, the ladder balanced on his index finger like pile of spinning plates, it was the moment of truth. “Clank!”, the ladder fell into the passage and held.

“Right, I’ll go up and have a look now”, I said, nonchalantly coming out from behind my boulder. But the pocket rocket was not to be parted from his lifeline and after a quick breather and resorting of runners, he set off fearlessly across the bridge. This was no mean feat as it involved an overhang move with a heelhook onto the ladder. Watching this I knew my predictions had been right, a star had been born!

The aven sloped up to a small “lobby” but there wasn’t room for two. “Is there a passage going off?” I asked anxiously. “Yes, I’ll go and have a look at it”, came the reply. Keith came back and I had a shot at the heelhook (entertaining!) and a squint at the crawl.

Off the “lobby” a short crawl under a mud bridge enlarged to a small trench turning right (north) and then rising as a left hand bend levelled the crawl out to a gravel choke. The interesting thing was that this was a phreatic passage and the roof had started to dip downhill. No surface vadose inlet this one. Where was it going? I scrabbled a bit at the choke but I realised I needed tools. It was time for tea.

On the way out the PR confided that if he was going to take up caving seriously then this was the sort of thing he wanted to do - exploration at the sharp end! Pete, help is now on hand

Hugh St.Lawrence

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