Volume 32 Number 2 Article 6
2nd January, 25th February, 1st April 1995
Team: Pete Hall, Beardy (ULSA), Paul Wilkinson, Neil Pacey, Datek.
After doing a couple of through trips from Misty Mountain series to Cigalere series during the exploration of the Big Mean Porridge Machine, there were a couple of loose ends in the area which we still wanted to go and have a look at. The most notable of these was an inlet off on the right of Cigalere marked on the survey. Johnny Southworth and Happy Wanderers had explored the passage on the first trip into Cigalere but couldn't remember how it ended. The only person we could find who had been there and remembered was Dalek. He described it as a calcite squeeze.
After a particularly serious attack of festering on New Year's Day, we were having a game of darts in the Ship Inn in Caton when myself and Youth found we had a common interest in the passage. Youth had homework to do the following day but Beardy was game so we planned to have a look as a sideline to a trip whose main objective was to complete the survey of the Misty Mountain series which had been neglected for the last year or so.
So we set off from Bull Pot farm with a survey kit and a hammer and chisel to Mistral Hole. The entrance series was full of ice formations from the cold inward draught and the rest of the cave was dry due to the freezing conditions outside. Grand Cascade was normal and a forecast of continued frost allayed any fears of flooding. We tensioned the rope for the climb not quite keeping us dry and soon reached our destination at a fantastic grotto of black and white formations, where the walking-sized passage ended in a calcite choke and the water came from a tight crawl. By crawling ever so carefully through a forest of straws we came to the calcite squeeze. It was obviously too small but looked as if it might repay a little hammering. It started off easy with big chunks of calcite coming off, but not enough to actually get through. The inadequacy of the tools became apparent, the 4lb hammer was hard to wield in one hand and the chisel was so blunt it was hard to tell one end from the other.
After an hour of perseverance we were just able to squeeze through with helmets and belts off. It continued narrow up to a corner where stalactites blocked the way in a low passage. These presented little resistance to the 41b hammer and with the sound of breaking glass all around we emerged through a squeeze over a calcite boss into a hands and knees crawl over a black cobble floor with a small stream. This continued for 50m until the roof rose giving way to sideways stooping. We were amazed, although Beardy's surprise was tempered by numerous knocks on his head, which was sparsely protected by a woolly hat.
Another 70m or so and we came to a boulder collapse and we climbed into the roof in the hope of regaining the large passage above again. But there was no way through. The stream passage continued through a cobble squeeze at stream level and skirted round the right-hand side of the collapse where the left-hand wall and roof were best not looked at. We regained more sideways walking in a 12-foot-high, twisting passage. Several unusual thin bridges of rock spanned the passage from one wall to the other, remnants of an ancient false floor, as well as occasional formations. Eventually after reaching proper walking proportions a calcite blockage across the passage stopped us. The water welled up from a duck beneath stalactites. Up at the top of the calcite a small hole took a strong draught and echoed well, as did the duck itself.
We had left the hammer some way back but managed to knock the stals off with a cobble. We also spent some time digging a channel through some shingle banks to lower the water level. But we were frozen and didn't fancy another dowsing so we headed off out pacing the distance on the way back: approximately 250m - not a bad afternoon out.
January and February were very rainy and the next dry day wasn't until February 25th. Paul Wilkinson, Neil Pacey, Dalek and I arrived at Grand Cascade with plenty of time and enthusiasm. Neil and Dalek re-rigged the Grand Cascade as the rope had been there for years. In spite of a few problems getting a bolt in at the top, rigged a very fine continental-style tensioned abseil, doing full justice to the shaft's French name. Meanwhile Paul and I headed off up Smashing Inlet to start the survey. It was a slow and awkward business with the average length of the legs at only four metres. In about an hour and a half we were nearly at the end and the others caught us up. Paul was freezing and fed up with surveying so he and Dalek went on to attack the Duck while Neil and I finished the survey. Twenty minutes of hammering and bailing and they were through the duck and into a sideways crawl with a turning and passing place at a right-hand bend. Again the way on was blocked by stalactites but half an hours persistence from Paul and Neil gave access to a sharp right-hand bend, the "Backbreaker", where you have to bend your back the wrong way to get round. Paul was first to attempt it and Neil started getting worried when the skinny little streak of piss had his welly torn from his foot. After a long struggle, he got through into a walking-sized passage and an urge for exploration overcame him. Pausing to replace his boot, he abandoned Neil in the jaws of the backbreaker and romped off into the big stuff. 30m further on he was halted in his tracks by a loud screaming issuing from the Backbreaker. It had trapped Neil by the helmet and was slowly consuming him. Paul, faithful to his companion, kicked him solidly and repeatedly in the head until the Backbreaker let go and Neil ended up where he had started.
Sobered by the experience of getting stuck the pair exited. I had a quick look at it but having gone through on my left-hand side, didn't stand a chance of getting my legs through. I tried hammering but it was futile in the solid limestone. We called it a day.
April 1st 1995: Several people got up early to answer the phone, get a lift, examine a flat tyre, etc. The ultimate joke was on me when Sarah went to Lancaster with my caving gear and I had to scratch round trying to find gear that fitted. We eventually arrived at the Backbreaker and Paul zoomed through having vanquished it last time. Neil followed with only a moderate mauling but Dalek, hearing the commotion wisely decided to avoid the Backbreaker's jaws altogether and stay behind. I was a few minutes behind trussed up like a turkey in Charlie Frankland's undersuit. I was just getting to grips with the Backbreaker having had a couple of preliminary bouts when Paul and Neil came back. They had gone about 80 metres in walking passage and reached another calcite duck. It looked as if it could be drained but they hadn't wanted to drain it while we were in the low wet squeezy area for fear of drowning us. I backed up, still not knowing for sure if I had beaten the Backbreaker or not. We planned to return and pop the corner off the Backbreaker and drain the duck at the end.
Computer technology came to our aid and Anne Hodgson plotted the line survey for us. Smashing inlet heads roughly South-East and ends up going parallel to the Cigalere passage. However exploration continues so tune in again for the next exciting instalment as Red Rose battle with the cave monsters of Lack Fell.