Cambridge Underground 1978 pp 18-20


MUSS were very active in the Foxup area around 1967, and they explored many of the caves in this region. I haven't been through their own accounts of the Littlewood explorations, and I would not be surprised to find that they had got into what I describe below as the EXCS extensions. But according to Northern Caves, or at least our interpretation of it, only one aven had been climbed by MUSS , and at least another two had been left uninvestigated.

Our first contact with the cave was a visit there over three years ago by Rod, and it was his glowing reports of these unclimbed avens that motivated a party into visiting them on the President's Invite Meet of 1975. Birks Fell had been rained off, and Littondale, where the club usually adjourns to go 'digging' on such occasions, was blanketed in mist. We spent the best part of an hour searching for the entrance, most of that time being spent searching the north bank of Foxup Beck (that is, the left bank if you're a geographer, or more simply the wrong bank if you re searching for Littlewood)

I remember Jont screaming hysterically at the sight of the sumped entrance, Rod trying to placate everybody by explaining that after only a short crawl the cave opened up, and Boy Wonder hauling boulders, milk churns, and sundry other items out of the issuing stream's bed, announcing at regular intervals that this was lowering the waterlevel, and that we would soon be able to get in. Amongst the rest of us motivation had already died, and we were thankful that we had anticipated such problems and not come equipped to go underground.

Our next two visits were sandwiched around the summer expedition of 1977, nearly two years later. On the first of these, our attention was caught by an unlikely looking hole in the dry stream bed on the way across to the cave, and we spent the rest of the morning proving to our satisfaction that there was no chance of a cave existing there.

Adjourning to the 'Legs' for lunch gave us an opportunity to consider and discuss the tactics that we would adopt that afternoon. Rod, Jont, and I would take turns in bolting up the wall in Prospect Chamber. After considering the write up in Northern Caves, and Rod's authoritative 'not long' description of the time needed to get to the end, Jack (who never actually got into the cave on any occasion) came up with the more quantitative estimate of five minutes, and having decided that a team of two would be sufficient to do the bolting, ruled that when it came time to change over the third would would 'nip' back out into the sunshine to warm up. This interchange of persons would continue until the roof passage was reached.

In the hour or so taken to get to the end of the cave, the sharp flakes over which we had crawled for the best part of a thousand feet had taken their toll of our wetsuits, our morale, and our bodies. We paused in the two places in the cave where it is possible to stand (other than the terminal chamber) - the first a twenty five foot aven apparently closing down at the top, the other a similar aven warning us of its proximity by the rusted remains of an electron ladder littered along the approach passage. At the end of the cave, Jont became quite animated and started hurling abuse at Rod, then continued with more substantial artefacts when Rod announced that he had never put a bolt in before, and didn't intend to try there. Two very half-hearted attempts at free-climbing the wall followed by a less-technical and even less effective pyramidal attack on it made us realise that maypoles perhaps had something to commend them, and we exited amidst even more voluble condemnations of the cave by Jont.

Back in Cambridge, a thirty foot duralumin prototype buckled under the weight of a ladder suspended from it. Theoretical calculations were thrown aside, and we finally settled on six 4'6" sections of steel scaffolding - the resulting structure was satisfyingly rigid but ridiculously heavy.

Rod, Jont, Geoff, Dave, and I reappeared in Littondale for a final attack on the avens on September 24th. Twenty feet into the cave Dave remembered that he didn't like caving and went out again. The poles were trundled to the first aven with surprising ease, where we assembled them in well under two minutes. Jont swarmed up the ladder amidst the applause and cheers from those below, but announced that it indeed closed down at the top.

In the final chamber, five poles were assembled and pointed at a likely looking orifice in the far corner. This time Rod went up and announced the presence of a passage leading off, but said that we would need the sixth to reach it. Three of us heaved the maypole high enough to enable the final section to be slotted into place, and the resulting structure was carefully manouevered into place by a caber-tossing quartet. Unfortunately its new intended location coincided with a nest of small boulders, and one of the displaced members landed squarely on my nose. I hopped anxiously around the chamber demanding to know the extent of my nasal injuries, and whether they needed bandaging. As it happened the question was academic since the plastic 35mm film cannister which I find conveniently holds a lint bandage in a dry environment held nothing more than a 35mm film on this occasion.

At the top of the maypole climb, I entered fifteen feet of NEW passage with a smaller and less promising aven at the end, and a very narrow rift passage leading on. On descending, the assembled maypole was manhandled across the wall of the chamber. This time Geoff was volunteered to go up - he found nothing but a small alcove into which he could step.

On the way out, we put four sections together at the MUSS aven from which the remains of their ladder were still hanging. I was not impressed by the size of the 'streamway' which, according to NC, has been followed for four hundred feet to a further thirty five foot aven.

We fought our way out having seen enough of Littlewood's avens.

Mike Perryman

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