Volume 36 Number 3 Article 1
Finding the "Way-On"
A Historical Note from Kathie Gilbert
The excavation of Kath's Way in 1947 provided an easy route from Bridge Hall, and greatly facilitated the exploration of the rest of the Easegill system. Prior to its discovery the only way through to Fall Pot was a tight crawl, discovered in November 1946, which ran from "Slit Pot", a slot in the floor of the entrance passage near Lancaster Hole, to Bill Taylor's Passage, on the other side of Kath's Way. According to Jim Eyre, the crawl was a "slow and arduous" wriggle, with a difficult climb into Bill Taylor's Passage. This was eventually made a bit easier by an iron stemple positioned by Bob Leakey, but the "Girder Route", as the passage became known, placed severe access restrictions on both cavers and equipment for example ladders had to be unfurled and threaded through the passage!
Clearly, Kath's Way was important to the popularisation of the Lancaster Hole route into Easegill and its subsequent exploration, but who was Kath? (A question frequently asked by cavers as they pass through on their way to Fall Pot). There is not much information about her; the historical accounts naturally focus on the original discovery by George Cornes in September 1946, and the subsequent intrigues of Eli Simpson and the B.S.A. to control access. Mrs. Kathie M. Gilbert and her husband, J. C. Gilbert, were Derbyshire cavers who were friends of Simpson, and sometimes joined him on his cave expeditions in the Dales. They were with the first group to dig-out Oxford Hole in May 1947, and Mr. Gilbert wrote-up the discovery in Cave Science, September 1947. Kath is mentioned again in some anonymous typed notes (dated 1965) as visiting Gypsum Cavern and photographing Perfection Passage in October 1948, but after that she fades from the accounts. The Gilberts did a lot of the surveying for the B.S.A., and their names, along with others, appear on the first survey of Lancaster Hole (near series) in 1948.
Jim Eyre's account, "The Ease Gill System, Forty Years of Exploration" (1989) explains that while surveying in Bridge Hall "Kathleen Gilbert noted a very strong draught coming up through the floor of the boulder slope. Soon, John Pierce, Jack Aspin, George Cornes and Eric Hensler [what a team!] removed enough rock to gain easy access into Taylor's Passage Kath's Way made further exploratory trips very easy."
Wilf Taylor's typed diary (in the Red Rose Library) provides a detailed account of the exploration of Lancaster Hole during 1946-48. He mentions Kath twice, but frustratingly makes no mention of Kath's Way. He described how In November 1946 she got stuck on the Lancaster Hole ladder in running water. After he pulled her up she commented, "and I thought I was tough". On 26 October 1947 the diary recorded a trip with "Mr and Mrs Gilbert" to Fall Pot, but made no mention of how they got there. The exact date of the discovery of Kath's Way is uncertain it was probably in November 1947, but its clear from other accounts that it was not fully dugout until the summer of 1948. Eli Simpson had said "we want to be able to get down there in our Sunday clothes". In June 1948 the connection was re-opened and cleared, and on 18 July 1948 the passage was further enlarged and "made wide enough for even our largest members to get through".
Anyway, following a recent interview with Bob Leakey it transpired that Kath Gilbert was fit and well, and living in Skye. We wrote to her, and here is her reply, dated May 1999!
Dear Peter & Julie,
In a way it is absolutely true that I felt a draught, "Kath's Way" being the result. The descent of Lancaster at that time was very nasty, with a not very safe ruckle of boulders not far from the end of the rope ladder. I had spent most of the day with "Cymmie" doing the survey, and was rather 'fed-up', and of course wet-through as water always came down the entrance on a wet day. So I decided to have a look around the part of the 'Entrance Hall' [Bridge Hall], which was mostly missed as of course everyone wanted to get down to the wonders below. I just pottered about here and there, and at one point I thought I heard voices so sat down to listen, and felt a really strong draught it was investigated and now we have Kath's Way.
As the largest part of our lives were spent underground at that time we found many bits and pieces, mainly on our Derbyshire work in Peak Cavern, being the first party to dive the "Mucky Ducks" another name bestowed by us on what is now a great underground trip wish I could make it these days. Ah well!! Still the memories. Its is nice to know caving is still a great sport good hunting
PS : only sea caves up here."
Footnote: we are still uncertain about the exact dates. We hope to have further correspondence with Kath, but if anyone has other information or references please let us know.
Peter & Julie Mohr