Depth through thought

OUCC News 11th February 2009

Volume 19, Number 3

DTT volume 19 (2009)

DTT Main Index

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Editor: Andrew Morgan

Trips this term:

Dale Head Pot, Yorkshire, 29th Dec 2008.

Chris Sinadinos

Chris Sinadinos (SUCC, OUCC), James Hooper (ICCC, OUCC), Dave and Binnie (RRCPC).

Well, Mr Sinadinos, you had been hoping that the caving pedigree would soon warm up despite the dales ice, and here you go. I flex weary knees, doubled up in the rear of Dave's 4x4 and wonder once again whether my participation in this particular Real McCoy Yorkshireman's excursion is actually that sensible.

Perhaps not given the circumstances, but the edge-of-nervous-excitement junky-card takes precedence, so thank goodness for that.

Our destination, Dales Head Pot (DH) of Fountains Fell. 'Where?' I hear some of you less seasoned Yorks aficionados mumble with a scratch of the head. Well, yes, this is Dale's sleepy head if ever he had one and a cave long out of the limestone limelight. The pot was first explored by the North Pennine club in 1975. Once a 'classic' Yorks trip, I'm told that DH fell into disuse following some nasty stories about what can happen to the entrance and its stream immediately following sudden downpours. Over the years, the entrance shaft and following crawl became clogged with detritus - not surprising given that the 15'' high heartburn crawl is flat out for most of its 15m, and this immediately following from the foot of the silted, crumbly 10m deep entrance shaft. A pleasant little welcome, and made all the more enticing by the somewhat infamous story of a scout officer man who was trapped in the cave after a sudden deluge and drowned whilst attempting a hasty exit through the crawl. 'What an awful way to go', Dave had unnecessarily added regarding this ill-fated premature get-away. The harbinger of a tale hung in the frosty air as we neared the cave.

One hears of such ghoulish, nebulously distant past events from his or her earliest caving days, and that essential detachment usually kicks in, as now as we park the car. The gathering greyish clouds across half of the icy blue northern sky haven't gone unnoticed this morning, however, and I can't help wondering what that 'little' entrance stream may have in store for us. Not a trip to save for a rainy day.

Hmmm.. aren't I a silly billy? I re-check my gear without hope as I picture my semi-frozen oversuit, still hanging stiff in the changing barn* section back at the farm. 'No suit, no trip' Dave asserts, mumbling on about the wet, cold nature of the DH entrance section and subsequent pitches, down which neither he nor fellow Yorks caver on the trip Binnie had previously seen. 'You'd have to be a right fool' are the unspoken words hanging between us as I reluctantly plan to abort and walk the hills. Meanwhile, the three others begin to don their kit and prepare to delve down Dale's tapered throat. But alas, all is not yet lost. Our fool in shining meander presents himself as none other than the distinguished Mr Hooper, who kindly offers his yellow outer garment to me amidst an apparent sudden lust for a gentle hill amble in lieu of flat out grittiness and potential entrapment within an abandoned, long forgotten dark dank 15'' hole in the ground. Madness. With a shrug, I accept and my trip is back on.

I slot myself envelope-style into a slit at floor level in the soil-rich, sloppy shaft, reinforced with Birdy's recent scaffolds but requiring more work if the cave is to return to days of heavier traffic. After all of the cold, dry weather, the stream is but a trickle down the neck as I slither through. The crawl opens eventually but most is awkward, crawly passage, especially with my engorged tackle bag in the wake of Hooper's retreat. The two Red Rose fellas are way ahead, off to inspect some of the old rigging at the pitches. I take my time, grunting with the excursion, still feeling the effects of recent antics in Pippikin back nearer to the farm. Eventually I reach a wider shale bed, negotiate some shallow pools and reach the pitches. The guys are there, rigging the first shaft, quite impressively open and rather wet. Dave isn't particularly enamoured with the state of the old bolts in the rock. With the help of a handy natural and one tough old bolt thread, sheltered from the spray that survived the rust, we drop the first pitch.

I'm glad of the meander suit on the ledge below, even wetter than above. I'd forgotten how warm they can be in the wet, cursing my heavy duty beaver, waiting at the farm for colder trips left to come this winter. Then I hear the whistle, from above rather than ahead of me. Momentary confusion, somebody else on a trip down here today?. Wait a minute, no, stupid thought, this is DH after all.

Then I hear it again, followed by a bellow of silly song, and the realisation hits. Hooper, the crazy bugger, has followed without a suit. I had seen him at the entrance, apparently hunting for Dave's car keys as I had entered, and thought little of it. Something inconsequential left in the car, no doubt, a compass or water bottle or such like. Not a bit of it. Caver by nature, he felt left out and decided to botch it in the fashion that only the old boys can.

He whizzes on down the pitch to my level, swinging hastily out of the waterfall with a splutter. Couldn't say I blamed him as he was wearing little more than a Bernie's bag over vulnerable regions (arse etc), and a sodden, skimpy Helly Hansen thermal top stretched over soggy undersuit (see attached picture). The steam rises from him in waves as he greets us with his smoker's chuckle and grin. 'Cold?' I enquire, feeling only a brief pang of guilt at his shivers as he helps inspect the rigging for the next pitch. He had, after all, offered to swap. 'A bit' he answers through another laugh. Taking a front line role to keep warm, he helps Dave inspect. All agree that the state of the bolts are dangerously poor. Dave curses his lack of foresight in neglecting to bring a bolt kit. Binnie tells us ominously that he has lost some enthusiasm for the trip, Dave having told me earlier of his keen eye for the fine line between hard caving and stupidity. But Hooper won't hear of it just yet, not after that crawl in a furry! He delves into the problem, rigging an unconventional yet eventually safe drop off a huge boulder natural and extra loops of rope. And down we went again, so 20m through some now impressively open shaft, to yet another spray-lashed ledge below.

At this ledge, some half way down the vertical DH pitch series, our journey for that particular day ended. The bolts were bad, the next pitch head smooth. Even the irrepressible MR Hooper couldn't conjure up a solution for this sod. We left the tackle hanging high above the water, mindful that the recent dry spells may well not last the two or three weeks before Dave etc could return with bolt kit to finish the job. The news for the local cave clientele was, however, positive - diving bottles could indeed fit through the tight crawl at the entrance, and the promising sumps at the foot of the cave finally investigated. Northern caves tells us that this fine system 'lacks horizontal development at depth'.

The question now is, for how long will this continue to be the case?

*I hesitate to use the term 'room' for a frigid changing quarters sporting frozen puddles, although the all-new underground heating system for 2009 seems set to change all that. Hats off to RRCPC for continuing to put members first despite all of the club's recent difficulties.