RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 46 Number 2 Article 3

April 2009

Thank God I never have to go there again

Ray Duffy

My first visit to the CRG Extension in Top Sink was surprisingly a mistake, actually most of them seem to have been that. As part of an Ease Gill Traverse team, we Team B, comprised of me, Christine Bleakley, Lee York, Andy Hine and Angela Hare were to enter Top Sink rig it and the 88’ pitch in the Earby Series. The others, Team A, Simon Cundy (TSG) and friend, Pete Hall and I think Neil Pacey were entering Pippikin, fortunately they’d rigged Link with supplies. None of our team was very knowledgeable about the top end of the system but we didn’t foresee any problems.

There were no problems as far as the Limerick Junction area and then, oops, somehow instead of staying near the water we stepped up and over into this large passage we all agreed was heading to Nagasaki. With faulty memories of climbing up boulders and traversing we eventually finished up in the roof of this large passage because we knew it wasn’t supposed to be tight, like it was down below us. By the time we were bridged across two muddy walls, Christine being smaller couldn’t reach both walls, we had wasted about an hour at least. Thrashing back to the correct route we raced sweatily to the 88’ pitch, where I was hailed to be a hero by Team A as I lowered them their redeeming rope. They had frozen their nuts off by foolishly setting off at the same time as us and had raced to the pitch two hours too early, spending the time running up and down the passage to keep warm.

The next encounter was 1st July 1995 as part of another incompetent team, sent in this time to survey the main CRG passage. As Team B again, there was Jane Chilton and Dave Edland as route/station finders, me on notes, Angela on tape and the rogue element Andy Pringle, on instruments (sounds like Tubular Bells).

Team A was made up of Neil, Paul (Youth) Wilkinson, Sue (Ryall) Smith (she marked their survey stations with blood) and our tame ferret Paul Stacey. They were to set off down a pitch from further up the passage and do Booth-Eyre Crawl. Having Angela in stitches with his jokes, Andy didn’t speed up the process. We also had the numerical jokes like, “the compass reading’s two eight two ooh”, which got turned into the sound of an owl hoot amidst loads of laughter, it could have been the onset of hypothermia. However, the worst thing of all was that we turned up at a pitch and drilled a bit of bolt hole to mark the finishing point, while Team A surveyed back to a different pitch marked their top somewhere else. Both teams exited the system separately, glad that they didn’t have to go back and were unaware of the error until much, much later.

We were eventually aware of the error and expecting Team A to survey on to their pitch-head when Dave Edland and I headed back up there on the 2nd September 1995. We went in to survey upstream to the sloping cobble choke in the upper Booth-Eyre streamway and a few of the small chokes. We left a cairn in a small chamber for others to link in their survey. I had hoped that someone else would do all this, no way! But at least I’d definitely never have to go back there, hurrah!

Cobweb Chamber, where the hell is that? Rick Scott and me headed off to CRG on 12th October 1996 in the hope of finding this after looking on the survey and realising it was part of the extensions. Pity we didn’t have the Transactions we may have actually found it but instead spent hours digging and chiselling to gain a few metres in the right area but wrong direction.

Fifth Encounter with CRG became essential with the realisation things didn’t look right, when we started crunching data into Survex, as opposed to the ill-fated SMAPS system we’d started with. So on 20th April 1997 Pete Grant and I headed off to try and join up the two surveys. Working from our bolt hole, that we now thought was in the wrong place, we managed to get to the Booth-Eyre water but had to exit due to lack of time. We had expected it to be just a matter of a few legs to join the two surveys together but there was a lot of grovelling about. Hopefully, Neil and Co. could go back and join it up, as we still didn’t know exactly where they’d finished. In your dreams Duffy! Still at least I didn’t have to go back. Big Error!

By now I’d finally taken up the challenge of imputing the data for the survey and also drawing it up. Let’s face it the idea of getting the numbers and then copying the drawings from the other survey wasn’t ever going to work, was it? O.K. so waiting over, on 30th July 2006 Sam Lieberman and I headed back to the CRG to try and link the top of the Booth-Eyre passage to where Team A had really reached. Sam being a CRG virgin quite enjoyed the trip, I, however, didn’t. One because I shouldn’t be going back there again and two because when we eventually headed off downstream it got a little too tight for my liking, thoughts of rib breaking in Pippikin came back to haunt me. Sam actually made it to the head of the pitch after crawling over me and I just managed to get in a contorted position to see him from so we could take the readings. Great! At last I really don’t have to go back there.

I’d started drawing up Sheet 4 of the Ease Gill Survey that goes from Holbeck Junction to Top Sink when I noticed that of course we hadn’t done any drawings for CRG because we were going to use the old survey and just overlay that on our centreline. Well which bright spark thought that was going to work? What was worse was that I had done the notes under instruction not to bother with drawings. So there was no avoiding it we had to re-survey the whole bloody thing to get drawings that were any good. We also had to link in Hugh, Carmell and Richard’s superb survey to Cobweb Chamber, at least they’d managed to find it.

Sunday 23rd November 2008 saw an eager team of Sam and I setting off in the freezing cold to Wretched Rabbit and via Spiral Staircase, our shortcut made specifically for the purpose of surveying Top Sink. Several cold hours of surveying later we had reached the Cobweb Chamber take-off and to my surprise had noticed some very fine formations on the way, maybe it’s not such a shit-hole after all. It’s still a long way to go to survey but at least next time will definitely be the last.

On Sunday 15th February 2009, almost fifteen years after my initial error in wandering into this mess, Sam and I set out across a soggy fell as the snow melted into Ease Gill. Entering down our shortcut of Spiral Staircase we arrived at Holbeck Junction to a pounding sound of water as it rumbled off downstream. Hmmmhh! It was hard work flogging upstream to Assembly Hall and we spent some time emptying Wellies or is that Whellies? At Rock of Ages we met some people coming in from Top Sink and had a couple of minutes chat. They were hoping to get to Neutron Cavern so we mentioned that it might be a bit aqueous getting there and left them to it. We’d not done much real caving for a while due to illness, house renovations and bad weather, so by the time we reached the climb up to Cobweb Chamber we were both quite glad of a sit down. The next section of surveying went easily to the half drilled bolt hole at the drop that had caused so much trouble on the first attempt. I climbed down a bit and shone my main beam down toward the rumbling sound and could see a fair sized stream flowing some 50ft lower. We fixed the ladder to some naturals and I set off down, no use Sam going if I didn’t fit. Anyway what a really impressive pitch it turned out to be as it belled out into a clean washed, noisy chamber with the waterfall at one end and a canyon down to a cobbled bedding at the other. We did our surveying and got out quickly as it was a fairly cold draughty place. A few survey legs later and we’d arrived at the Promised Land, a small cairn left on one of the previous umpteen trips. Just for luck I did some drawing of the passage upstream to the boulder run in, Sam was adamant we’d surveyed this already. On our return the notes showed we hadn’t and although Dave and I had surveyed it no drawing of the stream had been done. I must be getting wise to the tricks of the CRG as I guessed if I didn’t draw it then I’d have to come back. Not this time.

We set off back to the Cobweb Chamber take-off point and I persuaded Sam, without much difficulty it must be said, that we survey up the slope and go on to look at Cobweb Chamber. I wasn’t leaving any reason for having to come back, no unfinished business.

The boulder slope is really an unpleasant place to stand around surveying, the whole thing seems to defy gravity. At the top of the slope we dumped the gear and set off up the chimney.

I recognised it from my first visit and could see why Rick and me hadn’t found the chamber as the passage stupidly heads off straight over the boulder slope high in the ceiling. However, there is only one wide bit where you could fall 40ft to the boulders below and the rest is easy crawling.

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