Volume 37 Number 3 Article 3
Marble Sink : "A Classic Tight Hole"
Saturday 1 July 2000
Members present : Peter Dale, Duncan Jones, Erin Lynch.
Another Saturday, another club trip; but would anybody want to come?
The day didn't start too well since the starter motor on my car had taken the day off and my petrol tank had decided to spring a leak! But I wasn't going to let that cancel the trip. Duncan was meeting me at the farm at 11 o'clock; I was going earlier to recruit some members from the farm, (as if!) I parked up outside Bull Pot and warned everyone not to smoke outside to avoid an explosion!
Entering the farm I met all the unfamiliar faces I usually see, apart from Mr Duffy, and set about my task of finding members for an easy grade 1, (honest!!), trip down Marble Sink on the Allotment. Just as I thought; no members around. "Typical!" I muttered to myself. As I was about to give up all hope and cancel the trip, an angel appeared. (Erin actually!) I introduced myself, and luckily she didn't know me. She asked where I was off to. "Marble Sink if you're interested?" I replied, expecting her to make some sort of an excuse. It came as quite a shock when she answered "I'm up for that! Where is it?" I said "The Allotment", sneakily concealing a cunning grin at the time.
So the trip was on. We filled three tackle sacks with an assortment of gear and waited for Duncan to arrive. 11 o'clock came; still no Duncan. Another 20 minutes; nope he's not here yet. I was just about to call the trip off again when who should walk through the door? Duncan. Hoooorrraaayyy!!! Marble Sink here we come!
We had to drop off some gear at Bernie's for Pete Hall so he could go digging in Boggarts, since there weren't enough people to dig in Ireby. (I did try ringing you Pete, honest!) That task accomplished, we then had to show some Cambridge lads where Long Kin West was. That done we were on our way to Austwick. Having parked the car at the top of a hill near Crummack Farm, we proceeded to get changed ready for our adventure. After a gentle stroll to the entrance, which incidentally wasn't too difficult to find, we kitted up for the trip.
After a quick look at Marble Pot, one hell of an impressive big shake hole, we approached the not so large entrance to Marble Sink. As you turn your normally two legged body into a four legged one, you find out after just a few feet of crawling that the passage is funnelling you down to a flat out crawl led on one side.
Looking ahead along the passage, it looked as if I was going to make this an unexpectedly short trip. But no, the passage stayed about the same size; in fact it seemed to get a little bigger. (Well that's what I told Erin and Duncan, who were behind me!) Forcing myself along the confines of the passage, I came to a sharp right-angled bend which I threw myself into, "coz I seemed to think that it might help me somewhat. (Strange how your mind becomes disillusioned.) Well, getting my lanky arse round the bend proved interesting to say the least. I must somehow of managed to bend my legs the opposite way to what they're supposed to as I got through. The passage must have breathed in a little bit as progress got easier after that.
The guidebook says to approach Pillar Pot feet-first to make it easier. (I agree.) I chose head-first. Well, to do this next bit you need to have nerves of steel, or just no common sense. (Which is it I've got?) There's no room to turn around before the pitch, so one has to traverse out above the 9 m drop, using just your arms, as your legs are still stuck in the confines of the passage. (To be honest, I class my traversing skills as high, but this tested them to the limit.)
Since I could see a nice foot hold about 1 metre lower down the pitch, but was unable to use my legs, I had no choice but to somehow get my hands onto it, as what I was resting on at the moment wasn't very trustworthy. I gently wriggled my way down towards the ledge, knowing that one false move meant a 9 m head-first plunge to the bottom. (If I landed on my head I'd be alright!) I managed to get a good stance on the ledge, (hand-stance!), and then it was that I realised the predicament I had got into. Picture it; you're looking down a pitch with all your weight on your arms with your legs somewhere above you. The only way I could see of getting out of this was a perilous move, where I swung my body on my arms onto a ledge the other side of the shaft. Daft, I know, but I had no choice.
There was only one chance of pulling this manoeuvre off, and I knew it was now or never, since if I got it wrong the end result would be the same as if I stayed where I was, as my arms were starting to give. "Here goes" I shouted, hearing Duncan's usual reply of "ugh!" Well, I released my legs and, as gracefully as a gymnast, I landed on the ledge. Actually I didn't, I released my legs and after a bit of brown trouser leg flailing, I got some sort of foot hold and made my way across to the other side, phew!
Well, I was safe, so I shouted back to Duncan and Erin to approach feet first, as that would make it simpler. Duncan ignored my advice as usual. I requested a ladder for the descent, which Duncan supplied. He then made the traverse look easy. (What a cave god! His own words, not mine.) I then life-lined Erin down the pitch and then I made my descent.
From the bottom of the pitch the way on is a short drop in to a rift and then a slippy descent on a large slab of limestone into a continuation of the rift, which we did rig but found it easier to descend without. Duncan was in the lead at this point and he said there was no way on, so I had a look. We'd reached the Bastard Hole, a tight 3 m vertical drop, which I slid down, knowing that the only way that I would find out if I could get back up was if I was at the bottom. I told the others to come down as I could look down the next pitch, and looking around there was no good belay at hand. I traversed over to the left where a stream enters. (Well it would do if it wasn't so dry!) I had a quick look up the passage, which wasn't very nice since it was floored by menacing dark brown boulders which moved every time you stepped on them. The passage terminated so I looked up; "aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!!" I yelped. The entire roof was a balancing act of limestone monoliths and gritstone boulders. Needless to say, I vacated the area quickly.
I made my way back to the others, who by now had caught up with me. I sent Duncan down to look where I had just been, and then to make his way down the rift to the bottom of the pitch, below where I was sat, so I could lower the tackle sacks to him. All bags lowered, Erin and I made our way down to meet Duncan, who was rigging the next pitch. Duncan said that the pitch was rigged so he abbed to the bottom. I lowered the bags to him and then followed, with Erin not far behind.
You land in a fairly roomy chamber by Marble Sink standards, Razor Pot, with the way on being a crawl down to the right, which led us into another chamber with the way on again being a crawl in a tight rift. Duncan went ahead to scout around for the next pitch, while Erin and I hauled the tackle sacks. After a lot of grunting and groaning by me, I reached Duncan who said that he couldn't get any further as it was too tight! "Let me 'ave a go" I sarcastically replied, as I set off along the crawl. He was right; it was tight; but if I could just get my head up there... I was through, so I shouted back to the others "come on, it's easy peasy!" Duncan came through while I was looking at the next pitch, which was also rigged. It was at this point that Duncan said his light was failing. "Hmmm!" I thought. So he had a look down the pitch and made his retreat. Erin made it through, so we abbed to the bottom of the pitch and set off along a tight-ish roof traverse, only to be stopped by a very nasty squeeze, which probably wasn't that bad but I was tired, and the thought of not being able to breathe while I navigated my way through didn't appeal to me. I convinced Erin that I could not pass it and retreated.
We made our way back to the awkward squeeze, where I went first. Then I helped Erin up into the rift crawl, passed her the tackle sack, and then followed. Duncan was waiting at the top of Razor Pot so we fastened the bags to the rope and he hauled them up. We did the same at the Bastard Hole and then Erin and I went to have another look at the inlet. "Aaaaarrrrrggghhh" we both went, and left the area promptly.
Arriving back at the Bastard Hole, I was met with the sight of Duncan's legs flapping around in fresh air, as he tried to haul his mass up through it. Success, he was through, so I passed the bags to him and then turned myself into a human stepladder for Erin. Well Erin was up; now it was my turn, and who was helping me? With a lot of straining and grunting I got up through it and made my way up the slippy slab to the bottom of the first pitch.
Duncan was on the ledge near the top, and kindly showered us with stones and grit. I tied Erin onto the lifeline and she made her way up to the top. Once she was safe, I fastened on a bag and Duncan heaved it up and floated it across the top of the pitch to Erin, who then proceeded with her exit. Rope lowered down again, I clipped one bag to it and the other to the ladder and made my ascent.
At the top I found some sort of a footing and helped pull the bags up. I got mine into the passage, and then myself. It was at this point that Duncan's light actually did fail, which turned this somewhat interesting trip into a mini rescue!
I pushed my bag as far as I could up the passage where Erin, who kindly came back, retrieved it and took it out (Thanks!) I then retraced my steps back to the top of the pitch, to somehow get the bag off Duncan using my feet. (If only somebody had filmed us!) Well, we heaved and shoved, grunted and groaned, and finally got the bag into the passage. Duncan then had to somehow get across the traverse and into the passage, without a light! I mean, it's bad enough when you can see, but must have been hell for him. At last, everyone safe in the crawl. We now had to get around that sharp bend.
Well to start with, I was facing the wrong way, so I had to somehow turn myself around, then bend my body in ways which would make a vicar's eyes water, but I did. I could tell Duncan was tired so I shouted to Erin to come back in to retrieve the last tackle bag. I lowered, er, I mean forced, myself into the slot in the floor so as to make it easier for the bag to be pulled along without getting stuck in the slot. (Very enjoyable experience.) At last, daylight! We emerged into the fresh air, only to be attacked by midges, where we packed the bags evenly and set off back across the moors to the cars. Once changed, we made our way back to Bull Pot only to find it locked! Not wanting to leave Erin on her own, we toured the pubs till we found Roger, who said he would give Erin a lift up to the farm.
Well, Marble Sink isn't an easy trip, but it's well worth it, and even though I was a little disappointed that we didn't bottom it, I think I made the right choice to turn round when we did. I may have said at the time that I was never going back to that squalid place again, but after a hot bath and good nights sleep, it doesn't seem as bad as I thought! As Duncan learnt, don't pretend your lights failed when it hasn't, because the cave knows. Any takers for a revisit?