Volume 37 Number 4 Article 8
Lost John's - Boxhead Pot Exchange
23 September 2000
Members present: Andy Whitney, Pete Dale, Duncan Jones, Ian Eeles, Yassen Roussev, Jack Taylor, Dave Foxton, Helen Blyth, Rob Garrett
"I can't find my descender". Those words were not exactly what I wanted to hear from Pete. For the second time the curse of Leck Fell had struck and claimed Pete's Stop. A trip to do Rumbling Hole a few weeks back had been aborted for the same reason - talk about Déjà vu! A phone call to Bullpot Farm solved the mystery and Rob Garrett who was at the farm, volunteered to drive down with it and join us on the trip.
Finally we were ready to go, and it was quickly decided that Pete, Duncan, Ian and I would be the Lost John's (Dome route) team and the others would enter via Boxhead. Arriving at the entrance to Lost John's we found water levels to be low, but the connection via The Tube' was still out of the question. Pete, Duncan and I merrily stomped off down the pleasant stream passage with Ian and Rob not far behind. The New Roof Traverse' was soon reached, and easy going on good, wide ledges soon gained the first of three holes, all of which unite in the same passage below. At this point we noticed Ian and Rob were absent, so we waited for a few minutes for them to catch us up.
Ten minutes later, they still hadn't appeared, so we decided to rig the pitch and descend, then wait for them at the bottom. After another ten minutes, with still no sign of them, Pete decided to go back up and look for them, and it wasn't long before we heard Ian's voice. Their lights soon appeared at the top of the pitch and they made their way down, explaining that they had accidentally headed off towards Monastery! "Where's Pete" I asked. Ian returned a blank look, "He's with you!" he said. It turned out that Pete had missed them as he had returned to the surface in his search!
A few minutes later Pete appeared at the top of the pitch, and with the navigation problems hopefully behind us, we continued on our way. Descending Vestry pitch is followed almost immediately by the start of the traverse leading onto Cathedral Pitch, a fine shaft with a distinctive ledge, The Pulpit, a few metres down. A few metres on from the foot of the pitch is the superb Dome pitch, with a swing across into a small window a few metres from the bottom, allowing access to a short passage and pitch to Dome Junction. Just beyond Dome Junction the two short pitches of Candle and Shistol were quickly negotiated and we soon arrived at the exciting bit - Battle-axe Traverse and Valhalla Pitch.
Rob was unfortunate enough to be carrying the rope for Valhalla, which I'm sure was down to the luck of the draw (or foul play - no names!), providing Pete with a good excuse not to rig it, much to his delight. Making our way along the vague ledges, we traversed out high above the chamber below, to the impressive dry hang of some 34m. The rope was found to be quite dry and upon reaching the bottom some very hot descenders needed rapid cooling in the stream as they threatened to melt the rope - very entertaining! With everybody safely down we climbed down the steep water chute, which was thankfully not too wet, and headed for the final pitch. At this point Rob decided to head back out as he had an appointment elsewhere at 6:00pm, and there was no way we would complete the exchange by that time, having entered the cave at 1:30pm. Just before the final pitch a climb up out of the stream and a short traverse leads out to the hang, which avoids most of the water crashing noisily down the shaft. The landing of the pitch is in a large pool, and a meandering passage is followed until emerging at Groundsheet Junction, where we turned left and headed upstream towards Lyle Cavern.
The Master Cave provides easy going along impressive, large passage with the odd pool to wade through, until some ominous boulders loom into view, perched precariously above you. A rope climb up between some of these blocks marks the way up into Lyle Cavern - a pretty scary place by all accounts! Although very large and impressive, the huge slope of very loose and unstable boulders becomes the focus of attention, or more specifically, trying not to disturb it! We tiptoed our way up the rubble to a point where calcite deposits have cemented most of the boulders together. Here a very suspect rope dangles down from above, and after a delicate climb up a rigged pitch is encountered, disappearing up into the blackness. One by one we prussiked up the 25m pitch, shuddering as we got to the top and saw the single rusty bolt and the wafer thin flake backup! After another short fixed rope climb a small chamber is entered with some particularly fine formations in perfect condition - still brilliant white.
The way on was up a flowstone mound and through a narrow tube with a deceptively deep pool in it, resulting in a thorough soaking. Once past this indignity, a climb up to a higher level gains a junction and more large passage with some rather deep holes in the floor to step over. At this point Pete had shot off into the darkness to find the elusive connection, leaving Duncan and myself wondering what the hell had happened to him. Ian soon appeared from behind, and after lots of shouting Pete eventually re-appeared informing us that he had come to a climb that he couldn't conquer. Heading up the other passage off the junction we arrived at a small, well decorated chamber. Pete found a hole through some boulders and wriggled through to see if the passage continued, but soon gave up when he found himself surrounded by hanging death in what appeared to be someone's dig.
By now we were all becoming quite dejected at not having found the connection, and with no sign of the Boxhead team, things were looking grim. Maybe having somebody on our team that actually knew the way would have been a smart move, but this was after all, a Red Rose trip! We decided to have one last look back up the passage Pete had just been down, before giving up and retreating back out of Lost John's, when we suddenly heard a sweet sound - voices! We had, at last, found the others. This relief was short lived however, as they informed us that the connection was very maze-like and quite tricky. Even Dave, who had done it before had had a few problems. The prospect of spending the next few hours trying to find the way through did not appeal to Ian or myself and we reluctantly decided to abandon the exchange and head back out with the others. Pete and Duncan were not so conservative and decided, despite a lot of attempts to convince them otherwise, to have a go. We agreed that we would leave LJ rigged, and if they were not out by 2:00am, we would come looking for them, or initiate a CRO callout. We then said our goodbyes and parted company.
As there were now six of us exiting via Lost John's, and progress was certain to be quite slow, I decided to push on ahead on my own, rather than have people waiting around at the bottom of the pitches. The last time I saw anybody on my journey out was as I neared the top of Valhalla, the remainder of my exit being a solo affair. Progress was very fast though, and I soon noticed a sudden change in air temperature as I neared the surface. A subtle change in the smell of the air was also noticed, just before I was startled by a bat tearing past me along the passage! I emerged back onto the surface nearly without realising, as it was pitch dark, and started heading back to the cars. I resigning myself to the fact that I would have a long wait before any of the others turned up, when I suddenly heard a distant shout. Turning round I could see two lights bobbing up and down across the fell. It was Pete and Duncan!! Although quite pleased they had found their way out successfully, I was also a little miffed that they had done it so quickly, and more to the point, that I had not gone with them!
We headed back to the cars and got changed and waited for the others to emerge from LJ. I must have made quite a hasty exit, as it was well over an hour before we spotted their lights! Even though Ian and I were the only ones not to complete the exchange it was still a brilliant trip, and a good, full days caving. I think we made the right decision under the circumstances. Better safe than sorry, as they say.