Depth through thought
OUCC News, 23rd October 2002
Volume 12, Number 11
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Editor: Anette Becher, firstname.lastname@example.org
The President's Invite at the Old School House in Ingleton in the Dales is usually excellent fun and guarantees some excellent/desperate hang-over-cure trips. This issue we have two write-ups by those who were present in body, as well as in spirit.
On a different note, anybody who - like me - has been wondering what on Earth the BCRA are up to - withdrawing Caves & Caving, but keeping Caves & Karst Science, withdrawing insurance, etc. would be well advised to read the bumph under http://www.bcra.org.uk/nnb/index.html. Turns out that the BCRA is going to become strictly concerned with research. This is great for the Pete Smarts and Andy Farrants among us, but what about the majority of cavers, who cave for sport? The interests of sports cavers are going to be represented by a new national NCA-like entity, not as of yet properly formed, and currently referred to as the NNB = New National Body.
I know that all of this has been going on for some time, but I never really bothered to read all the fine detail until now. I ask myself, why be in the BCRA? If you -like me- never read Caves & Karst Science (at least I am donating mine to Hanoi University, rather than throwing each issue in the bin straight away) there would appear to be no good reason to be in the BCRA, if insurance is dealt with by an independent broker and Caves & Caving is discontinued. Perhaps it is meant to be an interim solution while the NNB sorts itself out (if it does)?
It was a really good weekend up at the Old School House in Chappel-le-Dale. As ever, a huge array of faces spanning several decades of OUCC. Just managing to avoid getting sucked into an all-night drinking session on friday night I was ready for a trip the next day. Fleur suggested Large Pot; I volunteered for the de-rig team.
While Fleur, JC and Pete J. went to rig the Red Herring series. Geoff, Keith and myself gave them a decent head start by sitting in Bernies. After an hour or so, and realising that the longer we spent in caving shops the more kit we were going to buy, we headed up to Masongill. It was always a worrying plan: Keith Hyams and Pybus on one team -- just how long would they take to change? This time Keith had me well and truly beat. The combination of tying new cows-tails, and having a squashed thumb led to another hour's faff.
Once underground though, things were more efficient. The Red Herring series consists of a lot of short pitches (the guide book has 11, but some of them merge when doing it on SRT). The cave has a nice character, small passages, some crawls with pretty bits, and, apart from the 2nd pitch head, nothing tight or difficult. The Dales were very dry, and it was taking almost no water.
We met the other team just as they were at the top of the last pitch on their way out (timed to perfection). We headed down for a look at the sump pool (very low), and started out for the pub. The trip out was pretty smooth, passing tacklebags through the top of the 2nd pitch proving the only interesting challenge. A fun trip leaving enough time for a pint in the Martin Arms, before dinner back at the School house.
Whilst in China, I had spent several hours talking to Paul "Beardy" Swire about his passion for both the Black Keld system of Mossdale Caverns/Langcliffe Pot and Fountains Fell/Penyghent Pot. Beginning his caving with ULSA, he had developed a keen interest in these two systems through the club's exploration history at the two sites. During the spare time we had in China, I was regaled with tales of desperate pushing trips and, more importantly, the potential for further discovery in these caves. I resolved that when I got home I would buy myself a wetsuit so that becoming involved with a new project would actually be a possibility.
I was bleary eyed and spaced out. Wiping sleep from my eyes, I shuffled into the kitchen for a brew. It was President's invite and the kitchen was filling up with people, dirty crockery and smoke from the toaster. Eventually I had a mug of tea in my hands and was starting to regain my senses. Hils and Rob were still up and drinking red wine, respect, but they didn't want to go caving, boo! Then Gavin came up to me with a mischievous grin on his face "I'm going to the Living Dead Extensions today, do you want to come, too?" After I had confirmed that Gavin wanted to leave ten minutes ago, I declined his offer, knowing that it would take me many more cups of tea and a spot of breakfast before I could even consider a trip of that nature. I went off and devoured whatever food came by and slurped tea incessantly. Even after doing the rounds of possible trips on offer, I was not committed to any of them. Then I bumped into James. "I'm off to the Living Dead Extensions with Gavin but I need some breakfast first..."
Great, James was stalling Gavin and I had time to come around, just. I told Gavin that I wanted to come but asked politely whether we could go to Ingleton first, as I was in need of a wetsuit, a neoprene hood and neoprene gloves. Sorted! The team got on the road pretty efficiently with Martin McGowan joining the three of us. On the way to Ingleton, however, I had to phone Pete Hall and tell him that I was no longer on for a digging trip. With that phone call we secured our fifth team member.
With stunning weather and rather too much rubber on for a fast walk up the hill, we all eventually inserted ourselves into the entrance. Penyghent Pot is a fantastic trip being one of the finest stream pots in Yorkshire and containing enough horizontal passage that you don't have to follow a white line throughout the entire trip. Down the entrance came "Penyghent Long Crawl" with a pause in the middle to sort out my failing light...
Then came the pitches and easy passage beyond. Gavin had gone for a lightweight approach and left out the ropes for the rift pitches which are all free climbable, indeed they are... On reaching the top of the final pitch it began to dawn on me that our trip hadn't really started yet and we began searching for the route through to Eyrie Pot, beyond what the guide book described as an obscure climb. Unfortunately, the guide book didn't make it clear where exactly this climb started and after much faffing and searching Martin offered to go the alternative route involving a worryingly exposed but relatively straightforward climb above Niagara Pitch. Once again, with a borrowed rope on the climb, we set off towards our goal. The Norman Bates Motel wasn't far off and here a very bold step across the top of Eyrie Pot took us into the start of the extensions. At this point Martin began having problems with his light and he and James opted to turn round. I removed my SRT gear, no need for that where we were going!
That left myself, Pete and Gavin crawling off into the "Living Dead Extensions" through "Psycho Crawl". Interesting choice of names, I mused. Psycho Crawl was pretty straightforward, but at the junction with the "Nightmare on Elm Street Series" we turned away to somewhere far less pleasant and entered "The Highway to Hell", which really is quite grim. Trussed up in neoprene like a dominatrix's gimp, we crawled on our bellies over cobbles, in low passage, sometimes in water, for over 100m, negotiating both the "Kidney Crusher" and the "Dialysis Machine". Pete struggled with the latter taking ten minutes to squeeze his way through with assistance from both in front and behind. No Pete, you aren't fat, the cave is just small! Beyond the "Dialysis Machine" came another 100m of awkward crawling, before it got really wet at "Gloom Doom Passage".
Despite the cold, the water was a huge relief. The buoyancy of the neoprene meant semi-floating took the strain off the knees. I slid along easily through the low passage, pressing my nose against the ceiling and thinking happy thoughts about the weather forecast. The fun didn't last, though. A crawl through underneath "Not Tharrats Aven" gave my knees a good battering to make up for lost time, but soon enough we were back into the water of "Pillpopper Passage". Again we floated on our backs through a series of ducks and don't you think Ulrika Johnson used to look far better when she was a weather girl, weather??? The forecast was brilliant, think about something else... Then it was over, well almost, we were through into big, I mean bigger, passage of "The Night of the Living Dead".
The roof sloped down on each side to form a squat triangular passage adorned with deep black scallops. The floor was a soft bank of gravel and sand underneath half a metre of scum topped water. As the ripples of the disturbed water hit the walls they set up a chain reaction of bubbling and glooping as tens of airpockets were repeatedly opened and closed by the waves. Nice place. Following this on our hands and knees took us to the start of "Paradise". Now Paradise isn't exactly Eden, yeah, it has a few pretties and it is quite big, but the walls are still coated in sticky mud and, if compared to other cave passage, you might conclude that it is more oppressive than most. However, you can stand up and we hadn't done that for some time. Paradise ends after 90m, and we stopped here for our first chocky bar. I felt toasty warm in my new thick neoprene that covered every inch of my body save for the squashed out features of my face that stuck out from my hood. Gavin and Pete, however, looked like they might stab themselves in the eyes with the chocolate rather than put it inside their mouths they were shivering that violently. Thank God man invented 5mm eh Pete! As soon as the chocolate was down our necks, we pushed on under a low arch in the left wall and into "Paradise Lost". The passage here is really quite large and spacious, and would be very pleasant if only it wasn't neck deep in water. Onwards still and finally after a short crawl over fallen blocks we entered "Too Long Gone", I knew it was coming and the description of it being a deep sump meant I was cautious not to walk right into it.
Finally we arrived, the scum floating on the surface was a pretty good sign but the rope dangling down from the roof tube was the give-away. This was Beardy's "Best lead int' Dales" and apparently took a large draught. Gavin pushed out into the sump and discovered it wasn't sumped. Due to the month of excellent weather, the sump was open and we were able to push onto the boulder choke that had been found in similar conditions in the past. Here, the water was heard to trickle through the boulders and a pretty significant draught was felt. Over the top of the boulders there were spaces, but none big enough to fit into. Still, it looked eminently diggable, if only we could be bothered. We turned and headed back to the roof tube. Standing on Pete's knee and then in the sling dangling from a bolt by the tube, I stood up and peered into the "Best lead int' Dales." "Fuck that." Unfortunately, the best lead in the Dales looked desperate, you would have to be a skinny midget to fit down it (It has apparently been forced for 11m!) and capping the small phreatic tube would be a mission even, if it was much closer to the surface. Myself and Pete had considered bringing the Hilti gear down that day but decided against it as the battery wasn't good enough to give us a decent number of shot holes that would make all the toil worthwhile. We were both doubly glad we had made that decision now. There was only one thing left to do, get out of the cave, fast. "Oh no!" said Pete, "The chocolate bars and your fancy map case must have floated out of my tackle bag in Paradise lost. Don't worry though I'm sure we'll find them both on the way out." "Don't worry about the bloody map case, Pete" I retaliated "Find them fucking chocolates!" Which Gavin promptly did as they bobbed around on the surface of the deep water a little further on.
The journey back was nothing short of a slog. Whilst crawling on my belly in water through Psycho Crawl, I chanced to see my watch peeping out from between my layers of rubber, "Oooh, tea time." I thought, "I bet all those nice people at the Old School House are sitting down to a lovely Lasagne, followed by delicious Apple Crumble and all washed down with a light Chianti or three. Mmmm, must be warm and cosy there right now. Still wouldn't swap places with any of them though." I grinned realising the depths of my own perversion. I pissed in my wetsuit to celebrate and let the feeling of sudden warmth lift my spirits. Once we arrived back at the start of the entrance series, known as the bottom of the main cave by most people, we had more chocolate and continued out.
Gradually as we undid the passage we had done that morning my body began to fail, knees, elbows, shoulders and then finally brain. I was wrecked. Pete had waited for me at the end of the long crawl and caught up on some sleep. I left the cave 12 hours after we had entered, utterly knackered but fantastically high... I knew where we had been is considered to be a contender for the hardest trip in the country by some. Quaking may be technically and psychologically hard to the uninitiated, but with practice must become much easier. That ain't ever going to happen to the Extensions, it will always be a physical grind of unequalled proportions. Very few people have been on tourist trips to the end, so one big fat tick in the guide book, a possibility to dig the choke at the bitter end and in the words of a limited edition ULSA T-shirt: "Psycho Crawl is a Sunday stroll, I've been Too Long Gone!"