RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 38 Number 3 Article 5
October 2001

Lost John's - Boxhead Exchange

23 September 2000

Members Present : Peter Dale, Duncan Jones, Andy Whitney, Ian Eeles, Jack Taylor, David Foxton, Helen Blyth, Rob Garret, Yassen Roussev.

Due to the petrol strike the previous week I had decided to move the Lost John's / Box Head exchange to the following week. I was quite surprised that during the week I got numerous phone calls from people wanting to come on the trip!

The Lost John lads :
Pete Dale (Rigger),
Duncan Jones (Sherpa)
Andy Whitney (Safety advisor)
Ian Eeles (Team complainer)
Rob Garret (Bum fluff boy)

The Box Head boys and girl :
David Foxton (Rigger)
Helen Blyth (Sherpa)
Jack Taylor (Coz he is)
Yassen Roussev (Foreign)

Arriving at Cowan Bridge we saw a hoard of people waiting patiently and, after a bit of rearranging, we drove up to Leck Fell car park. As usual it was windy and cold as we got changed, and upon checking my SRT kit I found that the Leck Fell curse had struck again; I hadn’t got my descender! I had it at the farm as it was in one of the bags so, having emptied all the bags looking for it and not finding it, I gave Bull Pot a ring to see if I had left it there. Rob answered the phone and after a quick look around he’d found it! What is it with my descender these days; I just can’t seem to keep hold of it? Personally I think that I’ve abused it that much it’s had enough and is trying to escape!

Well in the end, Rob had decided to come with us and was bringing my descender with him. The Box Head team set off on their trip and we said we would see them down t’ cave. Another couple of minutes passed waiting for Rob to arrive, which we used to amuse ourselves and discuss the trip. Rob turned up and reunited me with my descender; he then told us to set off and he’d catch us up.

Reaching the entrance we found the stream to be minimal and after Duncan and I climbed down to the stream, Andy asked if I was going to rig the three-foot climb! (Bloody cheek!) Everybody safely down, we walked into the dark arch of the entrance, where the thunderous noise of water could be heard from deep in the cave! Once a suitable distance in, Duncan and I were eager to see just how impressive these new LED lights were. After a bit of a discussion and a few comparisons, I decided that I would not be purchasing one for my main light, but would seriously consider a 3 LED one for my pilot light.

Easy walking led us to a short climb down over a chockstone into a fine streamway where, at a right hand bend, a passage leads off to the left ‘Quicksand passage’. We go right and where the stream cuts down to a small climb, you take the obvious traverse to the start of ‘Dome’ route. Unfortunately Ian and Rob didn’t take the traverse and made there way to the start of ‘Monastery’.

I asked Andy where Ian was. He didn’t know so went back to look for him. A few minutes later he appeared and said he couldn’t find them! (Great!) So since I was responsible for his safety, I prussiked back up and went off in search for him. Having looked down ‘Monastery’ and ‘Quicksand passage’, I made my way to the surface to see if he had gone back to wait for Rob. Nope, nobody about, so I made my way back to the others and upon reaching them was informed that they had arrived! (Just shows how easy it is to lose people, even in an easy cave like this!)

All together again, I made my way to the top of ‘Vestry’ pitch where Rob had already rigged it and ab'ed down. I followed with Duncan not far behind. Reaching the bottom, I acquired the next bag of rope and rigged the next pitch ‘Pulpit’. Immediately after ‘Pulpit’ is the start of ‘Cathedral’ 30m of pure enjoyment! Once at the bottom you follow ‘Crypt passage’ to the head of ‘Dome’ pitch, 21m to the bottom. We get off about half way down through a window into a short section of cave that leads to ‘Dome junction’, which is just two short pitches into the main ‘Centipede’ route. From the bottom of Dome pitch, the passage fades into the distance down a narrow rift to the start of the next couple of pitches. Once ‘Shistol’ and ‘Candle’ are passed you reach the start of ‘Battleaxe traverse’. Luckily, another party in front of us already rigged it. Since Rob had the bag of rope for the traverse and last pitch, I decided to let him rig it! (Phew!) The traverse isn’t really that difficult, just intimidating since its 45m to the bottom! Once Rob had rigged the big ‘Valhalla’ pitch, he proceeded to lower the rope down, unknown to the caver at the bottom! All I know is that there was a whistling of rope and a faint expletive from the bottom of the pitch! We then all proceeded in shouting “Below!” (Very funny!)

Once we were all assembled at the bottom of the pitch I shot off to rig the last pitch. Everybody finally down, we set off along the canyon type passage till we emerged at ‘Groundsheet Junction’ where we turned left and headed up stream. I had no idea that the Leck Fell master cave was so impressive! After Andy and I had looked around and couldn’t find the way into ‘Lyle Cavern’ Duncan caught us up and showed us the way. As it turned out, Duncan’s way up into the cavern wasn’t the safest, we were later informed. After we had made our way cautiously up a very loose pile of boulders we arrived at a dodgy looking rope climb up some calcited boulders to the bottom of a 25m pitch up into the Kendal extensions. Typically Duncan went first while Andy and Ian commented on how unsafe it looked!

When Duncan reached the top he shouted down saying that the belay looked sound, so I made my ascent leaving Ian and Andy to fight over who would go next! Reaching the top, I met Duncan coming back from having a quick look around. I asked where it went and he told me the passage turned into a wet crawl. I told him to wait for the other two while I went and had a look.

A small climb up led to the start of a small rift with a calcite floor with pools for added pleasure! I followed the passage, navigating the best route through, until it opened up at the start of a much larger passage which soon comes to a junction. “Which do I choose?” I asked myself; I thought for a minute and chose left as it was bigger and the footprints seemed to go that way anyway. Following the passage I passed various formations and some very deep holes until I came to a climb up into a large aven. “Yes!” I thought, this must be where ‘Box Head’ comes in. So I sat patiently for a couple of minutes until I heard voices, well I thought I did! After realising that I was just imagining the voices I decided to return to the others.

Upon reaching the junction I met Duncan and the others. We then sat down and talked for a bit. “We had been well over 3hrs so the other group must be nearly here” Duncan announced. He was right, they should be, but seeing as we didn’t know where the connection was, they could have passed us and be on their way out by now, leaving us stranded! By this time Ian was getting rather concerned and seemed to be panicking a little. So I decided we would have a look around just to take his mind off it. After a look in a very unstable and dodgy dig I decided we would return to the junction and look up where I’d already been, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything the first time. Ian and Andy decided to wait for our return, so Chunks and I shot off up the passage to the aven, had a look at a tricky climb, and started our return to the others.

On our return I was trailing behind and Duncan raced off out of site! The next thing I heard was “I’ve found them!” and when I reached everyone Duncan pointed to a rope climb down that we both had completely missed as we went past.

At last the connection was found. Dave had climbed up first and started to describe the way through to Box Head. After hearing it about four times I decided that I’d give it a go, but I needed someone to come with me. At first nobody seemed too keen at the prospect of not knowing the exact way out, but in the end I managed to persuade Duncan to come with me. The plan being that they would leave Lost John's rigged in case we couldn’t find our way. From what Dave had told us it would be at least a four-hour trip out!

We said our goodbyes and descended down the rope climb. From the bottom of the rope was a descending tube which ended at a junction with a streamway. We followed our directions and we were soon at a duck under into an adjoining chamber where the way on was a crawl in pools to the bottom of a very tricky climb. The climb itself didn’t seem too bad, it was the fact that the walls were covered in greasy mud that made it awkward and interesting. I tried first and, having failed a few times, Duncan had a go and made it to the top. So I had a short rest and then tried again.

The next climb proved difficult for Duncan and easy for me! (That’s just how it is I guess!) After the climb we followed a traverse to another junction where we didn’t know the right way to go so we followed our instinct and went left. Soon we could hear water which boosted morale. We looked at the time and we had only been 45mins so far. If we hurried we could be derigged and back at the car, changed, before the Lost John's party! We followed our noses till we got to another junction, we could hear water both ways, so I told Duncan to wait and I would explore the passage. “Yahoo!” I shouted and yelled back to Duncan that I could touch the rope out to the surface!

Yes, I thought, we can beat the others now. I told Duncan to prussik up the rope as fast as he could and I would de-rig. “Rope free” was shouted and I started my ascent. Before I could prussik up I had to swing out over the main shaft with the floor nearly 100ft below (excellent!) After a none stop ascent of 100 or so feet I was at the rebelay in a narrow rift with plenty of ledges for footings. I heard “rope free!” and started to de-rig the pitch, I then packed the rope into the bag and prepared myself for the next bit.

Having packed the rope away I looked at Duncan’s light and realised that putting my weight on the rope meant a lovely swing over the abyss below! Oh well! I thought and swung out over the immense darkness below and under the waterfall at the far side of the shaft! (lovely and wet!) Passing a deviation further up, the same thing was witnessed again, but by now I was immune to the gaping chasm beneath me. Anyway, I couldn’t even see the bottom now!

Reaching the top, I passed the rope to Duncan and he proceeded to pull the bag up while I de-rigged. Duncan then set off up the final pitch and I sat and waited on the very loose boulder pile. Every now and then I would chuck a rock over the edge and listen to it crash and bang its way down to the bottom, until I heard the faint yell from above signalling me to begin my exit. Reaching the top part of the pitch, I was pleased to find that the plastic pipe entrance accommodated my body well, in fact too well as I couldn’t bend my legs!

Finally I was stood up on the surface, packing the rope while Duncan pulled the bag up. We then made our way to the top of the shake hole and surveyed the area for the way back to the car. On our walk back we saw the faint glow of Andy’s light, we knew it was him since it was the cold blue light of his LED bulb! Yes we’d done it we’d beaten the others as Andy was the first out! I think he was a bit miffed that he hadn’t come with us, but that was his choice! It was at least 2 hours before the others emerged from the ground and one very tired and happy Ian got changed as we talked enthusiastically about our exit out of Box Head.

Well, what can I say bout this trip apart from EXCELLENT! Well worth it and next time we do it we know the way through to Box Head. I’ll definitely be getting another permit for this exchange as I enjoyed it, plus you felt like you had been caving afterwards. A big thanks to the group who de-rigged Lost John's on the Sunday and to Ian who washed the ropes for me! Top trip!

Pete Dale

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