Volume 36 Number 3 Article 3
A Japanese Encounter
At the beginning of July I, and several others, received an unexpected e-mail from a Japanese caver wishing to visit the UK. He explained his name is Jun Koike, he is 22, he has been caving for 5 years, he has been on three expeditions to Malaysia, Philippines and Alaska, and is experienced in SRT. He gave no indication of which region he would visit, but I replied that I (or the club) would be willing to help if he intended to come to the Dales, (which of course he should!). His prompt response, posted at 4 am Japanese time, was positive.
A series of e-mails followed between myself, Jun, and the other club members he had contacted. His command of our language was obviously limited, and not all were particularly informative! It was finally arranged that I would spend the week from 14 to 23 August in my caravan at Cowan Bridge, and act as his host and guide. I wasn't expecting a "real" holiday this year, so the prospect of a week caving every day, even on home ground, was reasonably pleasing.
We, (that is my parents and I), met Jun in Lancaster at 7 pm on Saturday 14 August. The bus from London arrived two and half hours late. His luggage consisted of one enormous rucksack, and one large PVC tackle bag with a helmet sticking out of the top. He pitched his tent behind our caravan and the first evening was spent studying guide books and maps. He had two books, including the SRT Rigging Guide, so had some ideas of where he would like to go.
Sunday 15 August
I hoped to have a trip with other club members on our first day, but the few residents at the farm had other plans. We decided to attempt the through trip from Lancaster Hole to Wretched Rabbit, but the water levels were known to be fairly high. I still hadn't done the high level route between Stake Pot and Oxbow Corner, and I didn't want the embarrassment of getting lost on my first day as his guide! We rigged Lancaster for SRT, (just in case), and made the mandatory diversion to the Colonnade Chamber (for the first of numerous photographs) before descending Fall Pot. The Main Drain was indeed flowing too fast for a comfortable traverse, so we returned the way we had come, calling in on the Graveyard for more suitably appreciated spectacles.
As our transport was not expected back at the farm for another three hours. We continued to County Pot for a quick romp around Platypus Junction and through to Splash Inlet and the Manchester Bypass. The first day did not go according to plan, but was a success.
Monday 16 August
By special request, Alum Pot. We used the Dolly Tubs route for the spectacular view from the Greasy Slab, and then down underneath the bridge. Jun did the rigging here, and adequately confirmed his competence. He had indicated an interest in Diccan Pot, but found the volume of water coming down it sufficient to justify my reluctance. After Upper Long Churn we returned to the car by 2 pm, so then did the through trip from Calf Holes to Browgill.
Tuesday 17 August
Ireby Fell Caverns - not a big trip, I know, but some fine passages, and one of those in his guide book. Later, we caught the last tour of the day in White Scar.
Wednesday 18 August
Top Sink to Wretched Rabbit, via Easter Grotto. By now, Jun was more confident in conversation, and this trip probably provoked more exclamations of delight that any other. That's not too difficult to understand, even if Easter Grotto no longer resembles Ron's magnificent photo from 1946 that we had seen a few days earlier. It was hot and sunny when we came out - before I could warn him, that inviting but treacherous pool claimed another unsuspecting victim.
Thursday 19 August
Rest and site-seeing day - Aysgarth Falls, Bolton Castle and Malham Cove.
Friday 20 August
We wanted a short trip this day so decided on Rowten Pot - a classical Dales vertical pothole and my personal favourite SRT trip. I promised we'd be out before lunch. I rigged down the Flyover route in 53 minutes and we were both back on the surface at 11:57. In the afternoon we did more site-seeing in Little Langdale and Grasmere. On Zig & Zag's recommendation we looked for and found Cathedral Quarry.
Saturday 21 August
Simpsons Pot - We arranged to meet Alan Kerr in Ingleton for this classic trip. Jun had bought some wetsuit socks and was eager to test them. We didn't tell him the water would go deeper than that - the duck was accompanied by sound effects reminiscent of a certain infamous Japanese game show. There was only one anxious episode with jammed ropes, and Slit Pot presented no problems to cavers of our proportions. As usual, every pitch, cascade and passage was photographed.
The evening was spent at Paul Saville's Oman caving slide show, and of course the Marton Arms.
Sunday 22 August
Stream Passage Pot to Flood Entrance, courtesy of Craven Pothole Club. We met Alan again for our final trip, having (in at least some senses) saved the best until last. Jun had listed Gaping Ghyll as one of the places he wanted to visit, and the August winch meet started just in time.
The week was certainly an interesting and enjoyable encounter for all of us. Jun has travelled widely in Europe and the USA and was obviously familiar with western customs. I did learn a little about Japanese caving that may be of interest. Their longest system is 14km, and the deepest is 400m. Most are fossil systems, and flowing water is quite a novelty. There are only a few hundred cavers, and no organised rescue service.