RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 37 Number 4 Article 2
November 2000

Juniper Gulf - On Ladders

Saturday 17 June 2000

Beardy (RRCPC/ULSA), Paul Windle (RRCPC),
Johnny Braindead (RRCPC), Ian Lawton (RRCPC),
Dave Ottewell (RRCPC/LUPC), Marcus (LUPC),
Rob Smallshire (ULSA), Rachel Dilly (ULSA).

Johnny and I listened to a fantastic weather forecast as we sped up the farm lane late on Friday night. With such a good forecast we expected the farm to be packed out with keen potholers, but alas the farm was empty. Johnny and I got on with packing the tackle for this years Beardy's Birthday' trip, Juniper Gulf on ladders. I'd acquired the requisite mound of ladders from Leeds earlier in the week as the Red Rose store only held a paltry four or five ladders. It was well past throwing out time at the Barbon and the only people to have turned up were three divers from Aston. We decided to have an early night.

Ingleton on Saturday morning was no better; everyone seemed to be avoiding the trip; (see Volume 37 Number 2 for embarrassing admission of wimp out - what has happened to the youth of today? - the RRCPC YTS should be reinstated), and those that were about had elaborate excuses. By late morning a team of eight had been mustered (actually only Ian had to be pressganged.) We parked up at Crummackdale in the blazing heat, distributed the impressive mound of tackle and changed to walk up to the cave. Most sported shorts, trunks or Y-fronts, but Marcus had to be dissuaded from donning his 2-piece 6mm wetsuit! A pleasant walk ensued, meeting a Kiwi caver who knew RRCPC member Frog. By lunchtime eight very sweaty cavers arrived at the entrance. This was quickly rigged with ladder and line, giving a pleasant 55ft free-hanging descent into the cool of the cave. Soon, all the team and tackle were underground and the short second and third pitches rigged. We all congregated at the head of the fourth pitch (80ft) whilst the ladders were lowered and each member of the team was lined down the ladder.

Tension was beginning to mount as the crux of the trip loomed, the impressive 200ft final pitch. I was the last to descend the penultimate (4th) pitch and by the time I'd arrived on the balcony at the head of the last pitch, it was all rigged. Hoping for a rest, I was alarmed to see that the entire party was waiting for me to descend. Against my better judgement I tied in and climbed down to the head of the ladder. Giving strict instructions that I wanted a permanently tight line, I began the descent. A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday echoed around the shaft as my carbide light and I edged down rung by rung. It is a splendid example of a Yorkshire shaft and there was ample time to soak it all in from the comfort of our electron ladder. Surprisingly quickly the bottom arrived and I was amazed at how fresh I felt. Rigging the final drop with a sling I shot off down to the sump whilst Mr Windle made his descent.

I arrived back at the base of the big pitch in time to coil a spare ladder before Paul arrived. Showing more commitment than me, he'd spurned the harness and sported a classic bowline. He'd soon untied and disappeared towards the sump, leaving me to start the long climb up. The first fifty feet passed easily but shortly afterwards the biceps began to feel the effects of over exertion, at about eighty feet I had to shout "resting!" whilst I took a short breather. The ladder was quite comforting and I had plenty of time to admire the shaft with the ladder disappearing into the blackness, just like the classic picture on the cover of the Northern Caves - Ingleborough Guide-book. Before too long I managed to summon up more energy and scream "climbing!". The ladder seemed much longer on the climb up and a couple more rests were needed before a weary Beardy arrived puffing and panting at the top.

We alternated cavers, allowing one up and then one down. Mr Windle gave a sterling performance, managing the whole 200ft without a rest, the bowline providing a bit of incentive. Ian borrowed my harness for some extra comfort. Rachel and Dave both flew down and up the pitch very efficiently. The trip was all going so smoothly. Suddenly the lifeline went tight. Rob had climbed the first 25ft of the pitch before coming over faint and weak; he slumped on to the line. "Are you ok?" we cried from the top. No reply was forthcoming for sometime. After a couple of minutes a weak voice was heard "lower me down". "Are you sure? Should we pull you up?" "Ok."

Fortunately we had a short spare rope a couple of pulleys and a jammer. We managed to bodge together a two to one hauling system and began to start pulling him up. It was not particularly efficient and it must have taken about half an hour before he came into view, head down and hugging the ladder. When he arrived on the balcony he did not look particularly healthy. We got some food inside him and quickly let the last two members of the team tick the bottom. Johnny B had no problems and Marcus stripped of the jacket of his 2-piece wetsuit and went down bare-armed, the exercise keeping him warm. Marcus beasted back up the ladder almost without a rest.

Rob was still very ill as he could barely stand. Fortunately now we had lots of spare rope so our amateur rescue party rigged up a more efficient pulley system on the fourth pitch. By the time this had been arranged, Johnny and I had coiled the ladders from the big pitch and arrived at the eighty-foot pitch. With lots of pulleys and a six to one advantage Rob flew up the pitch almost effortlessly. Within a few minutes Rob was being escorted towards the entrance whilst Johnny and I were attacked by a huge tackle monster! Fed up of all the hauling, the team changed the rescue method for the first three pitches. An enthusiastic Mr Windle became our human counterbalance. This had two advantages in that Rob got to the surface quickly and easily and Paul had the pleasure of climbing the ladders twice. We surfaced into an eerie silence, the allotment had been enshrouded in mist and it was now quite cool. This made the walk back more pleasant although the route finding became more entertaining.

"To the derision of the sedentary, pavement haunting crowd we are indifferent; the scorn of the lordly alpinist we bear with due humility. Our efforts win us no tinpots, nor silver rosebowls, nor couches among the rushes of Valhalla, yet, as we climbed up from the uttermost depths of Juniper out into the misty afternoon, we felt that we had not lived in vain." - (Griffiths; Gritstone Club 1924.)

Paul Swire

Griffiths, G. E., Juniper Gulf',
The Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal, Vol. 5 No. 17 pp. 209-214

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