Volume 39 Number 1 Article 6
The Trident Nightmare
The Re-Exploration of the Upper Trident Series
January 26th to April 2002
Team members (at various times) : Andy Whitney, Ray Duffy, Ian Eeles, Pete & Julie Mohr (Zig & Zag), Sam Lieberman, Andy Ives, Andy Hall, Samuel Carradice
The Upper Trident Series is described in 'Northern Caves 3' as "Virtually defying description". Never has a more accurate statement been made. It is a maze in three dimensions. Upon entering the system at Corner Sink and Swindon Hole, as well as numerous other small inlets located in the surface streambed, the water enters a complex network of meandering narrow passages before crashing noisily down White Line Chamber. A number of large Avens and Boulder Chambers add further intrigue to a fascinating area, which could almost qualify as a complete cave system in its own right.
With the ongoing re-surveying of the Lancaster - Ease Gill system by the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club, a concerted effort had to be made to finally create an accurate and, more importantly, understandable survey and description of the upper series. An approaching Cave Surveying Group weekend at Bullpot Farm seemed to provide the ideal opportunity to get a decent number of people together to make a start, so Ray Duffy and I set off two weeks beforehand to install some survey tags.
Unfortunately the weather decided not to play ball, providing us with a wet and windy day for our first trip, but we headed off anyway to see whether conditions underground would allow any work to be done. A number of close encounters with the 'bog monster' and some path conservation work slowed us down a little on the way over to County Pot, but we were soon underground. At Broadway we found water levels to be high, but tolerable, and a quick dash through a rather torrential Showerbath saw us having an entertaining time in Showerbath Passage, the water making it somewhat more sporting than normal. Passing through Battle of Britain Chamber we could hear the roar of water from Splash Inlet and sure enough a solid wall of water engulfing the entire chamber greeted us. A brief stop was made for a few photos to be taken.
We soon arrived at our destination and Ray set about inserting the tags using a cordless drill. While he was doing this I took the opportunity to have a ferret about so that we could attempt to draw up a rough sketch of the layout of the place. It quickly became apparent that this was a VERY complex area, made even more mind boggling by the fact that many of the passages passed over or under each other, sometimes even interconnecting via small windows. A number of avens also added to the problem by joining the various levels together, all in all a bloody surveying nightmare!
With a preliminary scout of the area and a sketch map that resembled a drawing of several spiders we were some way nearer to understanding where every-thing was in relation to each other. One thing we did notice from this trip was that it was impossible to actually get lost in Upper Trident. No matter which branch you followed you would eventually arrive back at the same junction. The centre of the Trident Universe, so to speak.
The following week Ray Duffy, Sam Lieberman and I returned to complete the installation of the tags. With this completed we made our way via The Paper Floor, (a section of passage with a very thin false floor), to a short pitch that drops onto a ledge in Lower Trident Passage. By climbing onto a shelf on the right at the top of the pitch, a short crawl can be followed into the large and impressive Boulder Chamber. This is a little visited area and we noted various interesting leads. First and most obvious was a 20m elliptical aven requiring bolting, and still not climbed, although it is difficult to tell from the bottom if there is a way on or not. Next we noticed a constricted hole set back in the left wall about 10m from the point of entry into the chamber. The sound of water, presumed to be that falling into White Line Chamber, can clearly be heard through this hole. While I looked for further ways on, Sam and Ray entered a small passage that headed back past the way we had come in. This led to a climb down into a small streamway, which appeared to run under the floor of the chamber. It is not certain at this point where this passage actually leads to, but it is thought that it may be the other end of a small tube that pops out directly over the drop into White Line Chamber.
A week or two later we were back again with an expanded team, the primary purpose of this visit being to establish what we believed to be Bedstead Chamber, actually was. Bedstead is so named as the original explorers used an old iron bedstead to scale the aven there. In fact a piece of this can still be found near the bottom of the climb. We had no such luxury, so I was volunteered by Zig & Zag to climb the exposed and rather hairy climb unaided. I should point out that there were three spits in place for protection, but they are, shall we say, 'past their best'. The top of the climb is a bit of a sloping thrutch and, as getting back down in a controlled manner seemed unlikely, I decided to abandon the climb. Step forward Andy Ives, who didn't seem to have the reservations I did and was soon over the top. Andy set about securing a fixed rope we had brought along to make future ascents easier and safer and then went for a quick look around. On his return a few minutes later he reported that all the obvious ways on choked, but there was a sizeable shaft dropping back down. As we had no gear to descend this we were forced to leave it for another day.
On my previous visit with Ray, a small slot had been spotted near the roof in one of the many winding passages. This popped you out at the foot of a six to seven metre high aven. At the top a triangular hole could be seen with another aven continuing on up. The echo here was very impressive and hinted of a very large space above. An initial climb up this proved fairly easy by bridging up on good footholds. However, the last few feet just below the hole were featureless, and getting back down would be dangerous. A useful flake belay has been spotted on the lip of the hole, but as we had no slings with us we had to abandoned it.
Better equipped this time a second assault was made by Andy Ives and myself. Climbing as high as I could I attempted to lasso the flake with the sling. Success on the first attempt! Standing in the sling I had a good look into the hole, but still couldn't see the top of the next aven. I shifted my stance slightly in preparation to climb up and suddenly moved down an inch or so. "Strange", I thought as I got my arms up through the hole, "must just be the sling settling around the flake. I shouted down to Andy to have a look up at the knot (guess what's coming next!) and no sooner had I finished my sentence, the knot pulled through and I found myself with nothing below my feet except a 20ft drop! This was a rather uncomfortable situation to find myself in, but luckily my arms were through the hole and I was able to drag myself up to the bottom of the next aven.
Whilst my heart rate returned to normal I observed my surroundings. Sadly the aven above completely closed down into a natural point, and there was no other way on. At least I'd had a bit of excitement though. My next dilemma was getting back down. Leaning out through the hole Andy threw the now re-tied sling and a short rope up to me and I re-attached it and abseiled back down with a Figure-8 that I had thoughtfully brought with me. I had had enough excitement for today, so we headed out. The cause of the slipping tape knot was never brought to a satisfactory conclusion, as nobody would admit to tying or owning the mystery sling!
By now we had seen the majority of Upper Trident and all that was left to investigate was the aven at the top of Bedstead Chamber. Sam Carradice and I set off to tackle this equipped with a bolting kit, 25ft ladder, slings and rope. We arrived at the new fixed rope in Bedstead Chamber and considered the reasoning of our decision not to bring SRT kit. The rope was now made somewhat redundant, and I again had to resort to climbing up. I was soon at the top, happy in the knowledge that I could easily get down this time with the aid of the rope and my trusty Figure-8. Sam had obviously not liked the sight of me thrutching over the top and (sensibly!) requested that I dropped the ladder down, which I did.
With both of us up we had a good look around for any ways on that might have been missed on the previous visit, but again turned up nothing. We now turned our attention back to what we had come for, the pitch. Two solid natural belays were quickly located, and the ladder was soon attached and lowered down. What's this? The ladder's too short - bugger! I decided to climb down anyway, and found that I could get off the ladder onto a ledge near the bottom and climb down the remaining five feet. The elliptical shaft is quite impressive and it's depth is approximately 30ft. Looking around I immediately spotted a low arch with a further drop down into a dribbly chamber. This was impossible to climb, and would need further rigging. The chamber below looked vaguely familiar, so I drew a large X on a boulder and dropped it down so that we could try and locate it from the bottom.
This was soon accomplished and was found to be in one of the small chambers just upstream of Bedstead Chamber, thus completing the final piece of the puzzle. The pitch we had descended was subsequently discovered to be Guillotine Aven, with the help of the original sketch map of the area provided to me by Jim Newton. All that remains now is to investigate a bedding crawl leading off from the top of Guillotine Aven shown on this map, as well as the Boulder Chambers above Bedstead Chamber.
Our re-exploration of Upper Trident has proven very interesting in many ways. We now have a much better understanding of a highly complex series of passages crammed into a very small area on multiple levels. We have also experienced a taste of the excitement that the original explorers must have felt as we entered places that have probably not been visited since they were first found. Perhaps the most significant discovery we have made is that even with a high degree of familiarity with the area, it is still a nightmare to write a description of the place that makes any sort of sense!
Upper Trident is one of those places that doesn't get much attention. It is not on any of the trade routes through the system and doesn't really go anywhere. As a result people don't go there and a superb piece of cave gets neglected. Hopefully, the work we have done and the re-surveying of the Easegill system will help put Upper Trident firmly back on the map.