Research Group Report
|CU 1971 Contents Page||Next:|
A Night's Caving
Ever since copies of the ULSA Explorations Journal filtered through to Cambridge, Black Shiver joined the list of pots which just had to be done. By Easter John and I had sampled its pleasures as far as the big pitch. All that was left was the big push.
Jack, Andy and Pete Leigh arrived a day early and did Rowten Pot, getting rather wetter than they expected, and finding the difficulties of having only three people to move a large quantity of tackle in awkward places. However, the trip was worthwhile if only to see the Master Cave passage - all ten feet of it!
The next day Pete, Andy, Jack, John, Brother Dave (a regular visitor) and I did Notts Pot by the left hand route. The 16' pitch into Three Ways Chamber was as awkward as ever, and wetter than usual. The 50' pitch was dry and very easy to climb, when belayed over a large knob of rock up and to the left. (This knob can be used to rig the pitch in a parallel shaft beyond). The next pitch, 70', was rigged through the hole at the bottom of the Bucket instead of over the lip, which made the take-off awkward and unsafe as the ladder passed over several jammed rocks. The second 30' pitch was tight at the top and damp at the bottom, and proved a bit awkward on the way out. The 55' pitch down to the Ireby inlet was quite wet, and became even wetter once Pete started sending down non-scientific flood-pulses. The last pitch had a heavy spout of water but his could be avoided by leaning out on the ladder. While some people submerged themselves in the sump, Jack and I paid a quick visit to the Ireby sump. We then derigged quickly, John stopping at the head of the 70' to dislodge the loose rocks which has threatened each ascent of the ladder. We surfaced after 3¾ hours, obviously in the right spirit for Black Shiver, the next day.
The team was strengthened by Pete Bowler, Noel Williams and Joe Duxbury of earlier C.U.C.C. fame. Apologies were received from Clive Westlake, who couldn't fit the trip in because of a surveying trip in P.8 with Steve (the sheer-legs) Smith. The six of us who were bottoming the pot (Pete, Noel, Joe, John, Dave and I) carried the impressive pile of tackle to the cave entrance, sorted it into hauls and inserted ourselves into the entrance crawl. The technique used was for the bloke behind you to free your tackle if it stuck. I'm not sure how the last person managed. No one had much trouble with the squeeze, though there were odd grumbles from some of those who had come out of retirement. The small pitches were all wet, but didn't cause any hold ups, and very quickly we found ourselves at Eagle's Nest.
The 80' pitch was rigged to an unimpressively round knob, and then Noel descended with 90' of ladder and some belays to the ledge. The next thing we heard was Noel making a bid for the 1970 Lump Hammer Trophy as he manufacturered himself a belay point. Meanwhile, Jack and Andy who were only going as far as Eagle's Nest arrived and joined the patient group.
After a quarter of an hour's Dartmoor exercise Noel was satisfied and released the lifeline. I joined him with a further 90' of ladder and together we rigged the pitch amid abuse from above. Noel decided that the usual belay - jammed rocks at foot level - would make an awkward take off, so he had made a belay out of a flake. Noel went down and John joined me with the rest of the tackle, which I took down the big pitch. I caught up with Noel at the last pitch which has a curious plughole in its lip. The passage up to it from the duck is quite sharp and makes the crawling painful. The 10' drop after the last pitch can be by-passed, but we didn't know this until we had already gone down on a rope. The rock between the drop and the sump is an ugly grey colour - a sharp contrast to the sandy colour of the big rift. The sump pool is a dirty, silty affair and has little to recommend it except that there is rather a lot of sporting pot above it. At the big pitch Joe was descending, and a year's absence from serious potholing showed. Noel stormed off up at his usual pace and didn't need a gonk. After I had been waiting some fifteen minutes I heard a rumble which a sixth sense hinted to be a falling rock. I dived into the end of the rift and to shouts of "Below" several rocks landed just where I had been standing. After confirming that I was still alive, I had to wait in fear of my life for a further quarter of an hour, and then Andy convinced himself that after Poll-na-tagha he could bottom this pot and descended. The long delay and the shower of rocks had been while Dave descended to the Bridge and then went back up to Eagle's nest.
Andy set off to catch the others before they derigged and I went up to the Bridge without a gonk. Joe came up next with a very tightline and countless (seven!) gonks. He just wasn't fit. I tied onto the middle of the rope and set off up to Eagle's Nest, only to be stopped 5' short, the end of the rope having reached Joe. After assorted twittings trying to charge life-lines, I eventually climbed the top 5' without a line - with 260' of exposure. Joe was induced to follow, again with trouble, and John followed. Pete and Andy derigged by proxy - fastening 180' of shaking ladder onto the rope and encouraging us to haul. Slowly it came up and we coiled it up while the two offenders climbed up. Dave, Joe and I set off out with tackle and the others came out later with the remainder. Six of us had bottomed the pot, and two had got as far as the big pitch, with times varying between 6¼ and 7 hours.
The big pitch was the crux of the pot, but far easier than we had expected, with virtually no water on the ladder. The crawl is sporting, but easy if you garden the loose pebbles in the squeeze, and the duck at the bottom of the big pitch is trivial, even though it would sump in floods.
The next day Jack, Andy, Pete Leigh and I set off for Quaking Hole. Unfortunately the track up Crina Bottom is not fit for cars. so we had to slog it for three miles - Pete sweating off several pounds and Jack wishing he had them to sweat off! Then the farce of "find the entrance" began. Even when we had located the shakeholes our troubles were by no means over. Pete and Andy looked at the one with the waterfall, and drew a blank; Jack investigated a muddy crawl, and a 20' shaft I found came to a dead end. It was only when the ever-impressive Andy showed signs of doubt about the waterfall that I looked at this hole. Sure enough beyond the water was a cave entrance, which I poked to see if it went, getting as far as the first pitch before returning for the others. At the bottom of the first pitch it took a while to find the correct route - Pete got stuck despite his slimming walk. I pushed this to the next pitch, but when I returned the others ruled out going any further - Pete had size troubles; Andy lost enthusiasm; and Jack wasn't prepared to go with just two of us, so that was that. We managed to cause a stir when we changed back at the cars, and very quickly there were no tourists about.
The next day John, Dave, Jack, Andy, Pete and I did Little Hull with very little trouble in 2¾ hours. None of us could understand its severe grading in particular the warnings about flooding.
The next day only Andy, Dave and I were left, so we decided to finish off the Hull Pot area, Hunt Pot first. The rigging is very easy, except that the belay for the 2nd pitch is a dodgy-looking jammed rock. We didn't bother to slot the ladder through the adjacent bedding plane, since there wasn't too much water. The shaft chokes at the bottom, and the only passages are at the top of climbs or either end. The climb next to the ladder was easy, but the passage soon closed in. The climb at the other end is more difficult, and it is essential to climb right at the end. Once up I went as far as the next pitch to make sure it was the right way and then returned to line the others up.
The last pitch was quite Wet, and the two crawls at the bottom led nowhere, the shaft choking at about the same depth as the main shaft. We went straight out, remarking how quickly our climbing ability had deteriorated after Black Shiver. This took us two hours and left it too late to do both High Hull and Hull, so we chose Hull. The gully is quite easy, though it undercuts nastily at the bottom, and is probably slippery in wet weather - though no one in his right mind should attempt the pot then.
We climbed the waterfall and found the dam as leaky as a sieve. I climbed down behind it to see if that was the way on, but was halted by a large oil drum. Andy and I set to improving the dam, while Dave looked at the cave downstream. We did an excellent job, and I think Andy ought to join me in Civil Engineering. We joined Dave, whose morale had sunk beyond belief. The way on was a tight rift, neck-deep in water with less airspace than was desirable. Dave had a go with tackle, retreated, tried again without and then urged me forward instead. All the time we were standing chest deep in cold water. The bottom quickly disappears and you have to work your way along the walls with mouth at water level. In two places the passage closes under water, and you have to squeeze over the obstructions and then drop into water of Unknown Depth. Between these comes the duck, which is easy and at the far side the walls part, so you have to dive in head first and grab at the wall, all the time making sure you don't drop the tackle because it would be impossible to retrieve it. You can't clip ladders onto a waist length and still get through the squeezes. Then the floor rises and the bedding crawl begins. After about 200' the floor drops about a foot, and then 100'. Rigging the pitch is not easy, and the only belay at the pitch head was a trifle dodgy. The ladder hung over a flake, which made the pitch more awkward, but kept it dry. I set off, with Dave telling me that if I fell he would have to let me go, as he didn't feel too secure. The ladder landed on an incredibly wet sloping ledge and the last 30' were torrential. While I looked at the sump, Dave came down, then I went up and lined Andy down. We had some difficulty getting the rope down for Andy's ascent, as the end jammed and he couldn't see for water. He climbed up to reach it, and then pulled the ladder up onto the ledge. Derigging in the beddingplace was awkward, but we mastered the technique and exited, the wet fissure being easier on the way out, and then we were back in the open - after only two very sporting hours underground.
After Disappointment, Notts and Little Hull we were not too impressed with Gemmell and Myers' days of "tweed and tarred manilla", though I had caved without a wetsuit and appreciated the difficulties. But when we had finished Hull Pot we immediately put them in our super-hard class. The wet fissure is bad enough with wetsuits, never mind tweeds! The pot is one we would not venture near if there was a cloud in the sky, and is one that definitely merits SSP for just 300' of passage and 100' of ladder. It was a fitting end to a week of very enjoyable caving, and brought the year to a worthy close.
P. G. SHUTTLEWORTH (C.U.C.C.)
Research Group Report
|CU 1971 Contents Page||Next:|
A Night's Caving