RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 32 Number 2 Article 2
July 1995

In Search of Grippers Rift

In 1941 members of the British Speleological Association (BSA) began the exploration of the largest stream sink in the country, Mossdale Caverns, at an altitude of 1400 feet on the eastern flank of Wharfedale. By the end of the year the explorers had totalled up an impressive 6.4 km (4 miles) of new passage, extending south-east into the fell underneath Grassington Moor.

The leader of the expeditions was the infamous Robert Leakey. Because of the severe, cold and wet nature of the passages the further reaches of the system were pushed, explored and surveyed by Leakey alone! The current limit of exploration is to this day is virtually the same point that Leakey reached in 1941, with the two most southerly extremities of the system being the Far Stream Cave and the High Level Mud Caverns South. These points lie approximately 254 feet (75 m) below the entrance (515 feet below the moor) and at least 500 feet above the resurgence at Black Keld near Kettlewell, 4.5 km to the Northwest.

Twenty-two years later in 1963 Mike Boon and Pete Livesey of the Bradford Pothole Club decided to investigate the two most prominent ends of the system. No noticeable draught was located in the terminal boulder choke in the Far End Stream cave and it was decided that this project would be a long term dig. Returning from the end the pair climbed up into the High Level Mud Caverns where the explorers added a further 1760 feet to the length of the known cave. In the south passage they exceeded the limit of Leakeys original exploration ending at a terminal chamber surrounded by unstable boulders. However, a small "manhole" emitting a strong draught led down through boulders to Grippers Rift (five feet high and two feet wide) however on this occasion the lead was not pushed. Mike Boon and Pete Livesey returned to High Level Mud Caverns South but failed to locate Grippers Rift although a powerful draught was still eminent.

In the 1980's Brian Judd of the Bradford Pothole Club noted the possibility of a tight squeeze through boulders to a continuation which he decided not to push as he was on his own.

Friday 7th April 1995 Barbon Arms

Paul Swire (Beardy, ULSA) and Neil Pacey (RRCPC) decided to investigate Grippers Rift in High Level Mud Caverns South, Mossdale Caverns. On Saturday 8th the outlook was a dry, sunny day with no chance of any rain - ideal for Mossdale! We arrived at the scar after walking up from Yarrnbury (follow the moor lane out of Grassington), a quick change into our wetsuits and we were underground just after midday.

The first section is a boulder choke chock full of grass after the countless floods. Remove a couple of boulders and follow the telephone cable down to the Assembly Hall, keep following the telephone cable through the boulders until you arrive at a nice sandy beach, Blackpool Sands. Here the stream enters from the right and a white fish was seen in one of the black pools. Follow the water through a wide bedding plane and into small, waterlogged crossrifts before climbing over some more boulders and into some more chest deep water, bobbing through the first Drown-or-Glory into a chamber. Here the water flows off left. Because of the constant floods the black and yellow telephone cable has a habit of being washed along the wrong passage. Following this cable we were forced into a wide, low, wet bedding cave (we couldn't remember anything like this) ending in some small, waterlogged rifts. These were passed but involved a low airspace section of about ten feet, best take your helmet off to prevent it from jamming. We emerged into Boulder Hall, not quite the correct way but this route now bypasses The Swims.

Broadway leads on as a large open streamway (ten feet wide and fifteen high) to Cigarette Junction. Here an easy passage is followed for 300 feet, more walking to Straightway and then Rough Chamber approximately 1700 feet (0.5 km) from the entrance. Follow the obvious passage out into Rough Crawl a sporting passage containing a foot of very fast flowing water over a sandstone floor with an 8° dip. The water subdivides at Kneewrecker Junction with the Marathon Series off to the right but the majority following down Kneewrecker Passage. From Rough Chamber up to the aven climb into the High Level Mud Caverns the vast majority of the passage is all wet crawling - 200 feet along Wet Crawl, 450 feet along the Near Marathon Series and 400 feet along the Far Marathon Series.

Eventually you reach a series of cross rifts in static water ending in a steep cobble slope up to the base of a twenty foot high aven. Time was spent digging up through the cobbles, this probably indicates the first trip of 1995 to this section of the cave. A muddy climb up and an exposed climb onto a mud bank intercepts a cross passage 15 feet high and 29 feet wide. To the north is The Sanctuary, the resting place of the six cavers who drowned in the Far Marathon Series back in 1967.

The south passage continues as a flat roofed, mud-filled passage with a small trench in the bottom containing static water. Muddy chambers intermerge with sections of low crawling. After about 1000 feet a final boulder chamber is reached however a squeeze up to the left bypasses this section of the choke and after a short distance a climb down enters a small bouldery chamber. It was here we noted a draughting passage off to one side obstructed by a couple of large boulders and not quite large enough to gain entry. We had soon set to work with the lumphammer removing a couple of large sections off one of the boulders. It was now possible for Neil to squeeze through into a small chamber, a second squeeze followed which was passed by the removal of ones helmet and battery. This gained entry into a reasonable sized section of passage however the way on was a tight bedding plane. No account of a bedding plane has been mentioned in either the guidebook or the ULSA Exploration Journal No. 2.

Progress was slow in the bedding plane due to the restricted nature but it was possible to enlarge sections by removing some of the rock floor away. After about thirty feet one could see into a chamber but the next five foot section was over a large, solid boulder with only a five to six inch gap. Neil informed Beardy that his route was too tight but by following the left hand wall it was possible to gain entry into the chamber. Beardy set about excavating the new route through and eventually the pair were able to sit up in the chamber on the far side of the bedding plane after passing a tight squeeze. The way on in front was wide open.

Right from the start of the trip Beardy's lamp had started playing up, one smack against the rock and it was off. He had spent most of the trip crawling in the shadow of the lamp in front. But by now because of the muddy nature and abuse to the battery Neils lamp had gone out altogether, it was possible to flash it if you bent the cable back on itself. Luckily Beardy carried a spare Petzl Gloom but on examining the headset he realised that the battery must have fallen out and been lost. It was time for a sensible decision to be made: either explore the open passage and then head back out or clean the contacts of the lamp back in the main streamway and head off as quickly as possible.

The thought of being trapped overnight in the dark confines of Mossdale Caverns freezing in a wetsuit is not very welcoming and a rescue would be serious embarrassment especially as no-one had permission to visit the cave.

The way on continued to a blockage of boulders but by shifting a couple of rocks entry could be gained to a continuation at a slightly higher level. This was achieved and Beardy crawled forward beneath the hanging death to emerge in more open passage. After shining his lamp back through the pair continued along until a further boulder collapse halted progress. It was at this point the pair called it a day. A good draught and a way through could be seen and all it would require would be the removal of a couple of large boulders with a crowbar. On the way back, almost directly behind them another passage led off at a lower level, this was explored but the obvious way on became complex.

The return journey took longer than anticipated because the pair with only one lamp between them got lost in the boulder choke, finding it difficult to relocate the squeezes that they had pushed which took them back into charted territory. The long slog back through the Marathons had a gruelling effect on their minds and bodies and the pair were relieved to climb out of the boulders to emerge into a starry night. Looking down and seeing the lights of Skipton far off in the distance the pair slowly walked back to the car satisfied after a good days potholing.

It is not definite to say that a way on through the choke has been found but certainly the prospects look good in finding an extension to the 10.5 km long Mossdale Caverns. The next trip should confirm exactly how far the passage will continue and if this is the start of something extensive.

Neil Pacey

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