Tuesday 24th January 2012 . Team: Dave Thompson & Andy Whitney
Dave arrived at my house bright and early for our planned trip up to the relatively new entrance to the Gaping Gill system, known as Small Mammal Pot. Back in 2005 John Gardner and the late Mike Wooding had opened up the top of the Small Mammal House aven in Bar Pot to the surface, making it possible to follow an esoteric alternative to the usual route through Bridge Hall.
The walk up via Clapdale Farm proved testing for our memories as neither of us had walked up this way for at least five years. This resulted in us overshooting the hole slightly. We were soon following the correct track again and quickly located the entrance, which lies approximately five metres away from the normal descent down the side of the Bar Pot shakehole.
A short climb down into the hole brings you almost immediately to the top of a roomy 20m pitch down into the Small Mammal House; so called because of the bones that were once located at the foot of the shaft. Unfortunately, these were buried during the digging activity, so the name is a bit irrelevant now.
The way on, through the appropriately named Flowstone Chamber, was quickly located through an obvious crawl a couple of metres from the bottom of the rope. The exit from this chamber is through a low bedding squeeze that looks tighter than it actually is. This is followed immediately by an easy climb down into a 3m rift that deposits you directly at the head of the 10m Flowstone Pitch. Care is needed here as the feet first drop is unsighted and the landing is on a small ledge beside the drop with not much margin for error. The descent is down a pleasant sculpted shaft with flowstone running down the entire length of the pitch. We had now joined part of the original route down Bar Pot, back before the connection through Bridge Hall was discovered.
At this point I was quite surprised at how clean we still were as I had been under the impression (having looked at the entrance shortly after it was opened) that it was a fairly squalid trip. It later transpired that after an initial period of muddiness, rain had washed away the majority of the slop in the entrance hole. This revelation, however, was shortly to be proven a little premature.
A squeeze down through the boulders is the way on from
here and the friendly force of gravity proves to be a useful ally negotiating
this obstacle. Unfortunately it does not prove to be so obliging in the
opposite direction! From the bottom a short, flat out crawl leads into the
From here is a choice of either the standard descent of the Big Pitch or the more interesting descent of the South East Aven pitch. We choose the latter. By traversing around the left hand side of the big pitch a concealed passage, Wildcat Rift, can be accessed heading away from the shaft. This slightly awkward passage is about six metres long, hourglass shape in section and very narrow; just the right dimensions to make getting a rope bag through hard work! Once through things deteriorate further as you follow an extremely muddy traverse on a small shelf at roof level. The clean first half of the cave quickly becomes a distant memory as everything you are wearing or touch turns brown.
After a short descent back to floor level a rising traverse brings you to a cramped stance overlooking the South East Aven pitch. The rigging here allows a superb descent of 30m straight down the middle of the shaft, in what is arguably a more impressive drop than the Big Pitch. The landing is right next to the way through into New Henslers and the bottom of the trade route is only a few metres away.
No trip into GG would be complete without the obligatory visit to the main chamber, which was very well watered and suitably windy. All that was left now was to make our return back the way we had come. We were soon at the bottom of South East Aven pitch and I set off up first as Dave was doing the de-rigging. It seemed to take a long time to reach the top – I really must find the time to get caving on a more regular basis! On the return back along Wildcat Rift I had a bit of a fight with the rope bag, which had ended up jammed in the narrow lower half of the hourglass shape, but victory was soon mine as it popped out like a cork from a bottle following some less than gentle persuasion.
The low crawl back through to
I eventually conceded and dropped back down to rearrange the offending gear. At this point an amused Dave had done the sensible thing and removed his harness while I made my second attempt. This time I went straight through. For anyone planning to do this trip, it is work remembering to make things easier by streamlining yourself!
The Flowstone pitch was passed without incident, as was the squeeze into Flowstone Chamber and all that was left now was the 20m ascent to daylight. I set off up and managed to crack my head on an overhang near the top due to overenthusiastic prussiking. We’ve all done it at some point – it hurts. Dave laughed in a typically ‘sympathetic’ manner as I made sure I hadn’t broken my neck. At the top I could see that it was still light outside and more importantly there was no snow at the bottom of the climb out, which was a relief. Dave soon joined me at the top and after some slightly awkward derigging and bag hauling we were back on the surface.
Small Mammal Pot is an interesting and varied alternative to the usual route down Bar Pot, especially if the South East Aven pitch is descended, but it is certainly not an easy option – definitely a collector’s item.
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