Volume 37 Number 1 Article 5
Seven Months Under the Earth
Around seven months ago, the opportunity for me to do some caving for the first time arose quite unexpectedly. Having been an "armchair caver" for several years, I naturally jumped at the chance! A teacher friend of mine had recently been on a field trip into the Long Churn Caves and came back with reports of how amazing the place was, and how I would have really liked it, so we started making plans for a weekend trip to Ingleton to see the sights and to visit the cave.
After the trip was over I realised that I was completely hooked! I couldn't wait to get back to Ingleton and maybe see some other caves. I also realised that to do this safely would require the guidance of an experienced caver, and that joining a recognised club would be a good move. This is where the Internet enters the story.
A couple of weeks later I discovered the "uk.rec.caving" newsgroup where you are able to post questions in a public forum and people can read and reply to them. Shortly after posting a message for some information on the Long Churn Caves, I received a reply from Sam Carradice, who gave me lots of very good advice and also offered to show me some "real" caves. This was an offer I couldn't refuse, so a meeting at Ingleton was promptly arranged.
After meeting Sam he showed me around Bull Pot Farm and introduced me to some of the members before we set off for a days caving in Easegill on the well trodden County Pot to Wretched Rabbit through trip. I was totally blown away by the size and complexity of the place, the high points being "Corne's Cavern" and "The Minarets", but it also highlighted that I was a tad unfit and that my body was certainly not used to being subjected to this sort of environment! I did however still want more, which made me question my sanity somewhat.
A couple of weeks later, and fully recovered, I was invited by Sam to do "Dolly Tubs" on my first SRT trip. I recalled seeing some "lunatics hanging from thin ropes" on my first visit to Long Churn, and at the time had commented to my friend that "who in their right mind would want to do that". Here I was, a few weeks later, about to do just that! I was a little nervous to say the least, but Sam explained all the equipment and techniques, and guided me every step of the way providing me with an unforgettable trip, not to mention the view of Alum Pot Shaft from Dolly Tubs.
Sam at the Greasy Slab
The next trip was to be to Aygill Caverns, but unfortunately Sam was unable to make it due to a bad cold so, after a bit of encouragement, I decided to go and meet the others that we had planned to go with - Pete & Julie Mohr, Pete Dale, Alan Kerr and Duncan Jones. After the introductions we spent a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring Aygill, and everybody made me feel very welcome. I was also invited to come along on a club trip to White Scar Cave, although the words "deep" and "water" in the same sentence were not exactly music to my ears. In the end I did go to White Scar (complete with brand new neo-fleece) and enjoyed every cold minute of it. Would I do it again? A definite maybe!
Having been bitten by the SRT bug, I had decided to invest in my own brand new kit and, £150 lighter, headed off with Sam and Pete Dale for my first "proper" SRT trip - Rowten Pot. Little did I know at the time, but Rowten is actually a Grade IV, and by no means easy for a novice, but we were working on the premise that "if I could do this, then I could do anything" (SRT-wise). I found it quite exhausting, but very exhilarating, and managed to get to the sump and back without any incidents.
Now that I had my own SRT kit, I took the chance to do lots of surface practice of all the basic manoeuvres such as re-belays, knot passing, ascent to descent and vice versa, and also worked on my prussiking style so as not to waste energy. After all this practising I was ready to get back to Ingleton to do it for real again, so after a trip with Pete Dale to Lancaster Hole and out via County Pot, my first visit to Bar Pot and Gaping Gill main chamber was planned.
A few days before Christmas, Sam, Pete Dale, Duncan, Iain Simpson, and I arrived at Bar Pot entrance. Sam had told me about the awkward head of the first pitch, and he was right, it was. Even more so on the way out! Regardless, it was worth it. The view in the main chamber was breathtaking. Sam told me at the time that if this didn't impress me, then I should give up caving, as it doesn't get much better! After picking my bottom jaw up off the floor I agreed that it was "alright". I think that this will always rate as one of my favourite trips, purely because of the stunning view it rewards you with. Walking into vast black space with that huge waterfall dropping from the daylight far above can never be fully reproduced by describing it or photographing it. You have to actually see it to appreciate it.
Shortly after a trip into Great Douk, Sunset Hole, and Hardrawkin Pot, I started to develop a keen interest in cave photography as a result of some fairly successful pictures I had taken. I decided that I would really like to have something I could look back on in years to come, and also so I could share my experiences with others who were unable or unwilling to try it themselves. Although many of the photos I have taken since have been a disaster, I have also been very lucky and some of them I am very pleased with. One in particular, of Sam looking out into Alum Pot from Dolly Tubs, I am very proud of.
Having recovered from eating far too much over Christmas, I headed back to Ingleton to meet Sam, Alan Kerr and Simon for the gruelling walk up to Tatham Wife Hole. It was a bitterly cold day and Ingleborough was a sight to behold covered in snow.
Me, Alan, Simon and Sam at Tatham Wife
This was Simons first proper SRT trip, so for once I wasn't the beginner! Again I took plenty of photos, and we got to the bottom without a problem. Sam had decided to use his Carbide light on this trip and this was the first time I had caved with anyone using one. I was quite surprised how it altered the atmosphere of the cave, it's warm orange glow making it seem more "cosy" and inviting than electric lighting does. It's a shame they extinguish so easily! Upon arriving on the surface we were pleasantly surprised to find it was still daylight, making navigating back to the cars much easier than we had expected. All the same, Alan had brought his compass along, just in case!
The following week, it was just Sam and me, so we decided upon Ireby Fell Caverns. It was a bit of a novelty entering a cave through a concrete pipe, and once I had slid down I wondered just how easy it was going to be to get back up again. Duke Street was impressive, as was the nice echo at the sump! On the way out I didn't quite make it up the handline on the last pitch on my first attempt, which made it more difficult to summon the strength for the second try. In the end I made it up with a helping hand from Sam. Luckily another group that had followed us down had rigged the concrete pipe in the entrance, so I was able to prusik up it rather than use the fixed knotted rope. Another enjoyable trip with some good photos of Duke Street to boot!
Sam at Duke Street
As we had been doing mostly SRT trips for the last few weeks another trip down County Pot was planned for something a bit different. I met with Sam, Alan, Zig & Zag and Ian and we all trooped off to the entrance. On the way to Lancaster main drain I had a go at scaling the chimney at Poetic Justice, but only managed to get half way up. Next time I'm determined to get to the top! There was a lot of water on that particular day and at the main drain there was clear evidence of recent bad flooding, to the roof in places. We had a look up Trident, to White Line Chamber, and headed back to Broadway via Razor passage while Zig & Zag and Ian headed back by the normal route.
After my very short break from SRT, we jumped right back into the action with a trip down Rumbling Hole. I met Pete Dale and Duncan at the farm and Pete recruited Yassen and Claire to join us. When we arrived, Pete and Duncan set off ahead to start rigging, and when we arrived they were already well down the cave. There was a healthy amount of water and lots of spray, and at the bottom of the entrance pitch Claire decided (wisely) that she'd had enough. Yassen headed back up with her, intending to catch up with us later, so I continued down on my own until I caught Pete and Duncan up at the top of the second pitch. We turned back and headed out at the top of the third as we'd had enough.
The following week Marble Steps was descended to the top of Stink Pot by Sam, Alan, Gary and myself. Sam had wanted to see the Intestines for a while, but had not had the nerve to venture down so far, and stories of rapid and total flooding were a good enough reason for me not to see them either! The weather that particular day was very good, although bitterly cold, so we could have got to the bottom without a problem, but we hadn't packed enough rope - shame! This was mostly due to the fact that we had split up, with Sam and myself entering via the traditional route, and Alan and Gary using the Sidewinder Route. I am pretty sure that I will be back before long to get all the way to the bottom.
After a two-week break, I set off on the now familiar two and a half hour journey to Ingleton for another trip into the Easegill system with Sam, Alan, Simon, Gary and Matt.
Matt, Sam, Me, Alan and Gary at Gypsum Cavern
This time we entered via Pool Sink with a stop at the stunning Easter Grotto and Straw Chamber to take pictures, followed by a muddy crawl down perfection passage and then back to Holbeck Junction where some stories of cave rescues were told. On the way back out of the tight entrance crawl I managed to get my bag stuck at the Z-bend, and spent a while thrashing about trying to free it, but apart from that, it rates as another one of my favourite trips so far.
For a while now Pete had wanted me to go with him to Large Pot, which he hadn't managed to get right to the bottom of yet, but I had always declined the offer due to the tight bit at the second pitch. Instead we decided to compromise and do Juniper Gulf, which he had only done to the top of the final pitch, but I hadn't done at all. After some navigation problems and being plagued by a huge flock of sheep, we found the cave and started our descent. My only real memories of this cave are dominated by the huge final pitch, the rope bag getting constantly stuck in the narrow rifts, and returning to the bottom of the entrance shaft to be greeted by snow falling down it! Strangely, navigating back to the cars in darkness proved more successful than in daylight.
A trip back to Gaping Gill main chamber was now planned, but this time via Flood Entrance Pot, with a quick look in Sand Cavern and the bottom of Stream Passage Pot. When we arrived we discovered that a huge number of Craven members on a Gouffre Berger training exercise had beaten us to it, so we had a change of plan and opted to enter via Bar Pot again, this time using the "Ninety-Foot Pitch", for a bit of a change. In Gaping Gill main chamber there were hoards of people wandering around, but it still impressed me just as much as the first time I had seen it. When we emerged back on the surface we were greeted by warm sunshine for a change, and had a nice walk back down Trow Gill.
Just recently Sam and I did the Alum Pot South-East Route, accompanied by Sam's dad, George, who is 72. This is a clear message that age really is no barrier, and that if you are thinking of taking up caving, but feel you're "a bit past it", you should think again! This was also a special trip for me because when I first saw this place with my teacher friend I couldn't possibly have imagined that just seven months later I would be the "lunatic hanging from a thin rope"!
Having only got to the bottom of "The Bridge" when we did Dolly Tubs, I was eager to finally see the sump and the water entering from Diccan Pot. The weather was brilliant and the views in Alum Pot Shaft were magnificent. After taking plenty of pictures, we began the exhilarating daylight ascent back out as a group sat and watched from the "Greasy Slab", probably glad that they were going out the easy way! A quick trip down Calf Holes and out of Browgill ended a brilliant days caving.
George and Me at the bottom of Alum Pot
Looking back, I really can't believe that I have had such a variety of experiences in such a relatively short space of time. This is entirely due to the many people I have met who were willing to share their knowledge and experience with me, and show me places that I could not have even dreamed of entering without their expertise. I really can't stress enough my sincere thanks to all the Red Rose members that I have met along the way, and am proud to now be a RRCPC member myself.