Members Present: Don, Sharman
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. That’s definitely been the case for Team Shmiller lately. And it was definitely the case yesterday.
We had originally planned to do Broken Finger to the top of the fifth pitch, as well as have a look at Lords Top Hole, a place that Alex and I had visited a year ago. The day started well. Breakfast and baking tips from the kind staff at Inglesport Café, followed by a drive up beautiful Kingsdale to the parking area just next to the road leading to Braida Garth farm. After getting changed and kitted up we stopped by the farm house to ask permission for access to East Kingsdale. The young woman who answered the door was very friendly and gave us her blessing. A rather slow trudge up the hill – it was rather warm outside – soon saw us on the open moor above. It was here that Sharman and I decided to poke around Lords Pot first, rather than last, as it was closest.
Lords Top was found fairly easily and consists of an open shaft (5m x 5m x 6m) leading onto a slightly sloping rocky floor. The rigging is unconventional. An initial belay around a wooden stake is followed by two further rusty bolts as one approaches the sloping floor leading to the pitch head. Sharman rigged and went down first, only to be greeted by an unexpected visitor – a timid, living, breathing, healthy sheep. How the sheep survived the fall into Lords Top is anyone’s guess, but he didn’t appear to be hurt. It was impossible to tell how long he had been down there. After I made my descent Sharman came up with the bright idea that we should try and rescue the sheep. Needless to say this was a ridiculous idea and our only attempt to do so failed miserably and almost ended up with Sharman and me being head butted by the sheep down the next section of cave, a 40 foot shored shaft. So we said our goodbyes to the sheep and began the second descent.
The amount of effort expended in excavating Lords Top is truly impressive. A climb/abseil down the aforementioned scaffolded shaft (with a safety line in place) leads to a short series of shored climbs, followed by yet another 40 foot shaft. The walls of the cave at this point are precarious to say the least, and largely consist of dry clay holding up… well, everything. At the bottom of the shaft a sideways crawl through a narrow rift for several minutes – with a couple of vertical squeezes thrown in for fun – leads to a small chamber. The only way on from here is a flat-out stream passage, with no actual water apart from a small pool three inches deep. This was the terminal point of the trip Alex and I made here the year previous, as the passage had silted up. Sharman gave it a go but only made it 10 or 15 feet in as the passage got very low and didn’t appear to improve ahead, so he reversed back out. I then gave it a go but also had to reverse at the pool of water as I couldn’t figure out a way to get past without drowning, plus the passage ahead appeared to still be silted up. According to Northern Caves, the passage continues in a similar fashion for 50m before opening up into a large stream passage which continues for another 250m or so. A quick exit saw Sharman and me back on the surface. We decided that the best thing to do was to leave the sheep where he was for the moment and inform the farmer about his predicament at Braida Garth on our way back to the cars.
Next on the list was Broken Finger. This took us quite a long time to find as the descriptions in NFTFH and Northern Caves aren’t actually that helpful. These descriptions both describe Broken Finger as being located at the southern end of Growling Hole basin/valley. The problem was trying to determine where that basin/valley actually began/ended, as all of the terrain in the eastern part of East Kingsdale could technically be described as a valley.
The first cave we found, as later research would reveal, was actually North Green Cave, whose entrance is in a shallow shakehole behind some stacked deads. A short sideways crawl enters a slight enlargement and a short drop to a small chamber, with no way on. Sharman and I split up once back on the surface, as we thought it would improve our chances of finding Broken Finger. I headed south and he headed east. This area is littered with shakeholes, but very few visible caves. We eventually met back up and found another cave in a steep, mud-sided shakehole, where an in situ aluminium ladder led to a 6m shaft broken by a ledge a few metres down. An in situ handline allowed a safe descent. At the bottom was a small chamber with a rocky floor covered in several inches of water and containing several large plastic buckets, but with no way on.
Back on the surface Sharman and I decided to head north towards Growling Hole and Vesper. Along the way we finally managed to find the entrance to Broken Finger, which is located in a large shakehole (though not that much larger than the other shakeholes in the area, to be fair) on the west side of Growling Hole basin/valley. The entrance to the pot is behind some boulders where a 3m entrance climb past two very large and unstable rocks leads to a small chamber with enough room for three or four people to stand somewhat comfortably. The only exit from here is the T-shaped rift leading to the first pitch.
Northern Caves describes this section of the cave as ‘12m of hard going’ in a very narrow passage only passable in the roof bedding. Team Shmiller would agree that this is a very apt description. I recently read a trip report somewhere where the writer described the passage as being essentially the same as the T-shaped rift in King Pot, only possibly more awkward. I would disagree with this comparison. The rift in King pot consists of wide ledges on which to rest and place tackle bags. This rift does not.
The rift itself is 15 feet high. It almost looks passable in places, though it isn’t. The roof bedding passage above is flat-out and roughly 1.5 to 2 times wider than my body, length wise; height wise it isn’t much higher than the width between the front of my chest and my back, and most of the time your back and chest are in contact with the rock simultaneously. The only positive is that the passage appears to run in a straight line, with no twists or turns. We decided to attempt the passage without tackle first, to see what it was like. Sharman went first, only to reverse back out after a few feet. He had been repulsed by a squeeze just inside the crawl. I went next. I made it past the squeeze, however the passage ahead appeared to get even smaller, so I reversed as well, with some difficulty getting back through the squeeze. I then decided to attempt the passage feet first, as I knew this would make it easier to get back out of the passage. This actually proved to be quite successful and I managed to make it at least halfway along the passage, if not a bit further, before I decided to come back. I could have continued, but it would have been ‘hard going’ and it was rather challenging not being able to see where I was going.
Sharman and I both decided that this passage would only be doable by us as long as a) there’s a place to put on SRT at the end of the passage before the first pitch, as there is no way that either of us could make it through wearing SRT, even with all metalwork removed; and b) someone smaller would have to go first and carry all of the tackle. We both agreed that the rift passage represents the very limit of what we can physically pass through as an ‘average’ sized caver and a ‘larger’ caver. So it isn’t that we aren’t capable of doing this section of passage, we first need to know what the first pitch head is like because it would be extremely difficult to reverse if you got to the pitch head only to find that there wasn’t room to put on SRT.
After exiting Broken Finger, an adventure to be left for another day, we headed back to Braida Garth, informed the farmer’s very kind wife about the sheep, headed back to the cars to get changed, and then went to the Marton Arms for a drink.
I should mention too that I did the passage wearing a small headlamp. I had left my helmet with Sharman. It’s obviously doable with a helmet, but I think it would make it far less pleasant than it already is.
I just can’t believe you attempted it headfirst before going in feet first. Is this the new you?
Hmm so if I had come along, would WE have gotten much further? It don’t sound like there is room to put kit on at the end of the crawl so you would have to do it with kit on.
I’m sure that you and Scaife would get through with no problems, simply because you non-mortals never seem to have trouble getting through anything. You could probably skip along the passage. I really can’t think of a worse section of passage to have to push a tackle bag through though. As the passage is flat-out, with nowhere to put your arms except for out in front of you, putting an SRT kit on at the pitch head would probably be impossible. That’s presumably why it’s recommended that people use a ladder on the first pitch.
I could have saved you the trouble…me and Pete went to broken finger several years ago….made it a similar distance in! Think I got to the pitch head without tackle…you definitely cannot put srt gear on there. Could probably go through with just cowstails and harness then put descender on once hanging on cows tails.
We decided you really needed 3 or 4 people so that ropes could be packed in more manageable bags…we had 2 massive ones packed to rig the whole cave and getting them through the entrance crawl looked highly unlikely.
Do you remember how got back through the crawl from the pitch head? Was there space to turn around? Or did you have to reverse it?
I think using a ladder is the way to go.
Pretty sure I reversed it. I was thinner then though!
Ahh yes the infamous crawl to Broken finger, what a peace of piss it turned out to be (though not with all the pitch ropes I guess) rigging was easy and with a well placed sling so was the pitch. As there is a huge gap to crawl over, you can easily fit with your full SRT gear on. It’s a pity the Fatometer was actually tight and even impassible to me.
It was the massive bags (and knowing there was worse to come) that made me and Pete turn back. How many bags did you have the tackle in? (And did you intend to rig the whole cave?) We’ll done though!fatometer must be bloody tight!
Was a scouting trip, so we only had one bag of rope and one bag for SRT kits, and I used my thinnest rope (8mm for two pitches and 9mm, and 10 mm) so it only was half full. Did not think it was worth bringing all the gear when I heard the spits on the big pitch where shot and there was a good chance I would not fit. So yes big bags through there would be a knightmare. So the spits would have to be sorted and I would have to have purchased a lot more 8mm to make it to the bottom of this cave.
Still I intend to get to the top of the big pitch at some point.
P.s. Nice to hear from you again, Dan. Been reading about our exploits in the new Matienzo book. That books going to keep me going all through Christmas. Thankfully mine’s not the version that falls apart, as I heard 50% are.
My only caving at the moment is being done vicariously through facebook videos and the Black Rose forum. Good to hear thgat some people arestill getting underground.
How are you doing Dan? Where are you living these days? Isn’t it somewhere east of Bristol? Do you think you’ll ever come back up north for another caving adventure?