Volume 35 Number 1 Article 1
Sylvester Pot to County Pot -
A Rare Through-Trip!
Sunday 17th May 1998
Paul Wilkinson, Lizzie Boyes, Sam Carradice, Peter & Julie Mohr
Earlier this year Zig and Zag had found their way to the bottom of Sylvester Pot via the end of Clough's Passage - reached by a nice wet crawl down-stream from Platypus Junction, through Dismal Junction; we wondered how easy would it be to find the way through from Sylvester, and asked Paul and Lizzie to lead a trip from the Sylvester side. This rare through-trip turned out to be one of the best that Zig & Zag had done.
Sylvester Pot was discovered on 1st October 1989 by Jim Newton, Jim Farrer and Paul Wilkinson. The cave was named after Jim's 'Sylvester', a lever and ratchet device which can be used to hoist boulders etc., and which he used to clear the entrance. The discovery of the cave is described in the Journal of the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club, volume 9, 1983-92, pages 3-9, which also includes a survey sheet. Andy Hall's excellent description of the cave is reproduced in Northern Caves 3.
In Jim's words: "the first boulder hauled out opened up a low crawl" which, after some effort, was cleared by Paul, who went on to find the 20m pitch. Subsequent exploration during October 1989 by a large Red Rose team found an extensive and complex bedding plane, and number of shattered chambers with dangerous loose boulders, the most important of which was Newton's Wonder discovered by Jim Davis and Andy Hall while surveying on the 22nd October. A week later a link with the main system was made by Pete Hall when he found an inscription made by the MUSS during their exploration of Clough's Passage in 1971.
So much for the history; what of our little trip on a hot, dry day in May 1998? Confident of completing the through-trip we put a ladder down County first, then walked downstream to find the entrance to Sylvester - an obvious sink about 80 metres up Howe Gill on the left, at the base of a waterfall, protected by a dam of rusted corrugated iron and boulders. Paul bravely led the way along a low crawl; there were no blockages, but Lizzie had to tidy up one loose block that came out of the wall. The crawl continued over some slabs and a blind pot full of boulders, and soon opened out over a rifted streamway at the head of the first pitch (20m), where there was plenty of room to kit-up.
Paul rigged a Y-hang from two bolts at the head of the pitch, backed-up onto a flake. A few metres down a third bolt was used for a short deviation, but it could have been a rebelay. Even so there was potentially a lot of rope-rub, and we had to improvise a rebelay from a sling on a large ledge at -15m (perhaps a deviation on the far side of the pitch might help?).
At the bottom of the pitch is a well washed boulder strewn chamber, the way on is an obvious low crawl which soon divides at a T-junction: left is the way through to the Main Chamber, but first we went right (Route 880) following a complicated low crawl with a left turn over a hole which after about 30m broke out into 'Newton's Wonder', the highlight of the trip, a large chamber with an amazingly beautiful and undamaged gour pool, the flow stone was a light buff colour, and the water a crystal-clear green (there's a photo in the farm which catches some of the magic).
Reluctantly we retraced the crawl back to the T-junction; a little way further on we reached the Main Chamber via two climb-downs. At the far end of the chamber another short climb through the boulders, soon leads to a narrowish streamway (best on your side), which after a few metres and a right hand bend, opened over an awkward narrow rift, best traversed as high as possible before descending. Although its not mentioned in the original description, or in Northern Caves, this little rift was tight for some of us. Zig had some difficulty, perhaps even stuck for a moment (but he was very brave)! This mini-epic was followed by a climb down the waterfall into Clough's passage (identified by a large loop of old rope hanging down); then easy going in familiar territory, through Dismal Junction and right upstream to Platypus and glory.
It was still hot and sunny. The amazingly fit Paul, Lizzie and Julie derigged the Sylvester pitch, and Zig and Sam carried the gear back. A trip to remember; as Chas Frankland wrote in the RRCPC Journal in 1992: "[Sylvester Pot] will probably receive few visits, but any caver who passes this way will be rewarded with a sporting trip..."
Peter & Julie Mohr
RRCPC Journal, No.9, 1983-92.
MUSS Journal, No.6.
Caves & Caving, No.47.