29th September 2012 - Oliver King - SD 751 727
The day started with a lift from Nigel Dibben at 8-30 that morning. Along with Colin Davison and Lauren Griffin, we set off toward the Clapham bunkhouse where we would meet the rest of the crew, consisting of Tony & Sue Brocklebank, Tom Howard, Pete Whethem and Pete Clewes.
The journey was nice, the weather was fair, and Nigel Mansel kept up the pace regardless of what the road presented us with.
This was Lauren and my own first trip to Clapham, a beautiful little village situated under one of the three peaks of the Yorkshire Dales, Ingelborough mountain.
On arrival, we spotted our crew sitting outside the bunkhouse, coffee and fags in hand and looking a little worse for ware, they had obviously had a good time the night before!
We joined them in the bunkhouse for a much needed breakfast, and then discussed getting ready for the trip. The trip was supposed to take us to Ireby Fell, a nice SRT trip in Leck Fell, Lancashire. However, there had been torrential showers on previous days that had left a number of low lying fields in the local area flooded, and as this system is said to drain all the water from the area, the wiser and more experienced cavers of the group decided this would have to wait for another day...While lapping up my bacon butty (which was my second breakfast of the day) and (5th?) brew, I asked “So, where are we going then”? “Bar pot” Tony replied. “Hmmm.... isn't that part of the Gaping Gill system”? I asked, “Yep” came the reply, and at that moment I think my jaw might have dropped a bit!
Time was moving on, it must have been approaching mid-day, so we headed to the car to get ready for the trip. The sun was out, and I didn't fancy wearing my furry suit for the walk up to the pot. This thing I can only describe as an inside out, deep shag-pile carpet - far too warm in all but the colder systems but even then the choice is a very fine line between that and a wetsuit! A quick chat with Tony and I managed to borrow a 'Monster' fleece, slightly damp from the previous day, but I figured this would keep me cool on the 2 mile hike up to the pot, and besides, how could I resist something plastered with pictures of monsters from head to toe?
The walk was pleasant, and very photogenic. Ordinarily I would have my camera out at every opportunity, but unfortunately I would have no camera on this trip, as the previous trip had seen it tumble 40ft down a mine shaft after the tripod failed, this event left my camera rather broken.
We finally arrived at fairly level ground, where a large shake hole opened up, with the summit of Ingleborough mountain looming in the background. This was Bar Pot.
Tom and Nigel quickly disappeared down a tiny boulder choke in the floor to rig the first pitch. Myself and the others nervously got our kit on, not quite knowing what to expect, although we did know this was going to be quite a trip!
Before I knew it, nearly everyone had disappeared down this little boulder-ridden rabbit hole, and so I got in at the back of the queue, just in time to see Lauren disappear down a very tight squeeze...I think she managed ok without encountering any issues, but I wouldn't say it looked an absolute breeze for her! Next was Pete's turn; However, Tony decided to show Pete and myself how it was best done by sneaking in front and descending first. Concentrating intensely, we watched as Tony descended.... To be honest I can't speak on behalf of Pete but I didn't really feel that confident after watching, considering the difference in girth between Tony and myself!
Pete was next, this was his second attempt already that morning, being slightly bigger framed than the rest of us (and me being somewhere between him and Tony!) at least I knew that if he could make it then I shouldn't encounter too many problems!
After a few minutes, some grunting and maybe even a bit of cursing, Pete was free and descending the 20 meter (65ft) pitch!
By this time we had a second large team of cavers waiting around to descend, as often is the case at pitches such as this, so that added a little bit of pressure to get things just right and look cool in the process!
Now it was my moment, previous thoughts of getting stuck and 3 hours waiting for cave rescue in some awkward position soon subsided, I clipped in my cowstail and proceeded to get myself into the widest section leading up to the pitch. To give an idea of how narrow this part was, my hat jammed at one point, so I had to reposition myself to free it. Also the rope goes a slightly different way through a narrower hole above, so each initial move had to be thought out before committing oneself.
Finally ready, Stop on, double check, lock off and slip into the squeeze proper. A little awkward unclipping the cowstail, but with weight on the stop I was now free to attempt the descent. Maybe not quite free, as being pressed against two walls either side and not knowing what I am descending into, I think I was descending slower than my stop at one point!
To make matters worse, all the time I am wondering how the hell I am going to make it back out of here after a tiring trip with my ascending gear on and a heavy bag in tow!
After wriggling and repositioning, maybe a bit of cursing, I get free of the squeeze and all of a sudden I see the welcoming lights of my fellow cavers and I am on my way down the pitch within quite a nice chamber! All previous thoughts subside and I look forward to moving on.
After climbing down some rocks and various sized boulders, we came to the gateway to the greasy slab, basically a small hole with a large flat boulder sliding down into the next chamber. It was fun sliding down that although some fleeting thoughts of going back up bugged me for a second!
We continue through another chamber, all the time admiring some of the natural features, including some small but well formed stalactite and stalagmites.
Before I knew it, we were descending into the next big chamber, through a hole, and into the head of Big Pitch. I knew this was the biggest descent we would be making that day, a total height of 37 meters (120ft). Lots of large boulders to clamber over before I could get close to the edge, as I was keen to look over and see what we where letting ourselves in for!
Tom and Nigel were busy tweaking the y hang, and once completed we all took our turns to descend through the aven. Whilst waiting, the leaders of the group behind once again caught up, and one of them started playing music with what I later discovered to be a recorder:- my childhood memories of playing London's burning on one of these instruments did not match the subtle tones and complex rhythms coming from this instrument, until he passed it to someone else who had clearly never graduated beyond primary school level!
My turn on the rope, and this I did at great speed, although the rope was a little dirty, as Tom had not had a chance to clean it since the last trip, and my stop being nearly new so the descent was not as smooth as it could have been. It was at this point that I suffered a little bit of vertigo, the adage 'Don't look down' really applied here!
We hit the bottom and quickly moved on. The next chamber of note was Flood exit, a large continuous pitch to surface. There was a rope hanging here, which had been rigged for the party behind us as an alternative exit.
After passing through Flood Exit, we came to some small passages known as the South East passages, mostly mud floors with some rocks scattered about. Hands and knees crawling, although on occasion we had to get a bit lower to get through the tighter spots. Generally easy going though.
We continued on through to Sand Caverns, where our club have famously had fun and games during Bradford open days, including table tennis championships and a 4 hole golf course, they ran out of room for the 5th though!
Now there was only one place left to go, so, following a steady but light breeze back through the crawling height passages, and turning up into the South Passage, a faint rumble could be heard in the distance...
The breeze steadily increased, and the rumbling noise of a what was clearly a waterfall increased to leave no doubt there was something very big not far away. I could see an opening in front, and as I raised my head over a pile of rocks, my jaw continued its drop from the previous point at the bunkhouse (I don't think it had closed up to this point!).
Wow, this is where words and pictures fail to describe precisely what I saw – a soft filtered natural light that fell into the main chamber through the largest waterfall I have ever seen. You couldn't see the mouth of the pot at this point, as the chamber descends as a shaft before opening out into something that is said to be the same volume as York cathedral. I think we just stood and stared for a good few minutes, as we took in the sight and sounds (not to mention the weather – damp and windy!) of what lay before us.
After a short pause we moved closer to the bottom of the pot, the surface and bright daylight above soon appeared... Quite strange seeing the sky in a chamber so far underground! The water, in total free fall was an invitation to move forward and submerge myself, but I used a tentative approach, the sheer force of which I had not seen before; I was unsure if I could cope with the force such a drop would create.
I eventually plucked up the courage, placed a hand in to the downpour – it really wasn't that bad, a bit like standing in a hail storm! However, I didn't stay there long, as someone reminded me that all the pebbles I was stood on had come in from only one direction, and that was up – so after completely submerging myself I made a hasty retreat!
After looking round the main chamber for a good while, and spotting features such as the brackets used for the public open day lifts, we decided to head up a steep bank and in to West Chamber. Not a great deal to say about this one, not after being blown away by the size and sheer awe of main chamber - so after a quick look round we went straight back into main and slowly started the walk back. We discussed diverting to Mud Hall but no one seemed to be very keen, and so we left this for another day.
The way back was fairly routine. We found ourselves taking a slightly different passage with cobble sized pebbles which weren't good for the knees, but before I knew it we were back at the foot of Big Pitch. This was the first obstacle I was a little nervous about. I had not prusiked a 37m pitch before, and I was wary of saving energy for the final ascent through Bar.
After deciding which of the now two ropes were ours (the dirty one!), Pete C was the first to clip on. He seemed to make it look very easy, and so while a few of the others disappeared to the smoking room (another chamber) I decided to put myself at the top of the queue!
Pete made it to the top, and Tom somehow sneaked in front, and as usual he shot up the rope in record time!
I heard a faint voice shout down “Rope free”, that was my cue to clip on and start the long ascent...
Bouncy! That is how I would describe the trip up.. The rope was clearly living up to its dynamic nature! Also a little awkward as I was rubbing against the pitch wall and while others seemed to see this as an advantage I found that it only slowed me down. I guess, it must have been a good ten to fifteen minutes before the top of the pitch came into view, and of course I just had to look down.... I really should have learnt from the last time....
After a 10 minute rest, I decided to start making my way up the boulders and other obstacles to the next pitch. This is when I really started to feel a little tired, my legs a little achy, so another rest and some drink would be the order of the day before attempting the next bit... Of course, I forgot all about that greasy slab that had been so easy on the way down!
Pete was waiting for me at this point, and he was first to scramble up. After some wriggling, bracing and heaving he finally made it up and the slab was clear. I took the opportunity to pass him my bag, and started the wriggle - brace - heave manoeuvre, grabbed an old bit of rope and after some effort, hauled myself up and popped up out of the slope!
Bar pot beckoned....
The next thing I knew, I can see a rope dangling, disappearing, not into a nice hole or to a ledge, but a slit, the size of which (from where I was standing) could have been no wider than the gap between the cushions of the sofa I am sat upon whilst writing this journal.... This was the real test of the trip, and one that had me full with anticipation...
Pete made it up and through the gap without much of an issue, so now it was my turn. I decided it would be a bad idea to take my bag up with me so Pete offered to haul it up the pitch before me.
The rope sent back down, I clipped on and started my ascent. The initial climb of maybe 15 meters or so seemed to fly by as I was consumed in thought about what was to come next... With some wise instruction from Pete, I got into the squeeze and proceeded to plan my trip up the narrow rift.
Something was different this time, on the way down it was a blind descent. I had to feel for the best route and gravity took over. This time I could see exactly where I was going, and hence plan each step and pick the widest route available, not that there was much difference between wide and narrow, but the marginal choice was only a good thing to have!
This actually made a huge difference, and while I still had a heck of a squeeze at some points, I seemed to gain height with 'relative' ease. Of course, it got a little tougher, and there came a point where I had to remove a foot from my loop and ascend in a position I had never been in before, then to make things more challenging I had to remove my Croll, this left me a little nervous. The remaining 2 or so meters was interesting, but whilst I made good progress I wasn't terribly worried.
I finally manoeuvred myself onto a small ledge, clipped my cowstail and removed my hand jammer, wriggled out of the pitch and shuffled back into the rabbit hole that had welcomed us all here 4 hours earlier.
Lauren was next to emerge, and while the others were on their way up, and in an attempt to stay warm in the cool breeze, all three of us decided to trek over land to retrace our steps and find the various holes that open up to the subterranean world from where we had come. Just as we were headed off, the second group of cavers were also emerging from Flood Exit about 10 meters before us, this being a very long ascent but without the squeeze, I think I would have a hard choice between this and Bar, although a round trip might be something to consider for the future.
After a 10 minute walk, we finally found ourselves at the river leading to the Gaping Gill entrance. We walked down to the pot, and as much as I wanted to peer over the edge, the slippery nature of the stream bed meant that only the most foolish would attempt such a thing... Lets just say that I ended up on my arse on my way down and that wasn't even in the stream (but close enough!)!
After returning to Bar, we waited for word that everyone had made it out all right. I think Pete had really struggled at this point (I am sure the night before had a lot to do with this), but as everyone was in the hole leading to the pitch, I was unable to go back in there and give any moral support.
We decided at this point there was no point in waiting round to chill, so we started the long walk back to an eagerly awaited set of dry clothes.
Pete and the others soon caught up, and still in total awe of a great trip we exchanged experiences and thoughts before getting in to our dry gear and heading off to the pub for a well earned pint.
It was an amazing trip, I can't thank everyone enough for their hospitality, company and guidance on this awesome day. I am aware Yorkshire has a lot to offer in the way of caves (and scenic walks to boot, maybe mines too?), and it is a place I will visit much more in the future.
Thanks to Nigel I was home within 12 hours of leaving that day, felt like the trip of a lifetime.