Cavers: Chris Scaife, Alex Ritchie
In preparation for this tight trip, I drove to Inglesport wearing baggy clothes, to make me feel thin. Xander was in the cafe and we were soon met by Don, who was planning a solo SRT adventure in Kingsdale. Off I went with Xander to Leck Fell, freezing as always, and after a short walk we were in the plastic pipe entrance to Bye George. Rather foolishly, we were both wearing our SRT gear for the short crawl to the 5m Tuckshop Pitch, so found it pretty awkward. Arriving at the pitch, we found it rigged, but decided to use our own rope anyway rather than carry it through the cave.
From this chamber it’s all quite strenuous with two squeezes that looked harder than they were, some wonderful calcite in places, and before long we were at the Backbreaker. This is a curved left-hand bend in the stream and on first glance looked far too tight. I had read several online horror stories of people having to remove wellies and helmets, or having heads jumped on. However, without much ado young Xander slipped through and I soon followed. We both squeezed down to floor level on our left hand sides just before the corner, then used the shelf before the corner, just above the stream, for our feet. Watching Xander do it, I wasn’t sure if my body would bend like that, but it did.
The Backbreaker is almost immediately followed by another wet, flat-out crawl, then easier going for a short while before another tight squeeze through calcite. Backbreaker may be more awkward, but I’m not sure that this squeeze in the calcite isn’t tighter. After this squeeze, the going became easier for a few minutes and we were soon at the Grand Cascade Pitch. This pitch was also already rigged and had we not been Black Rose cavers we might have been tempted to nip down it for an easy exit through Mistral.
But our route lay elsewhere.
We went back upstream to a 3m waterfall with an in situ handline. After climbing up this, there was a roomy crawl, but with water flowing towards us our tackle sacks were piling on the pounds, so it was actually quite hard work. At the end of this we climbed up another waterfall and after a bit more stooping we were in a fairly large chamber, with water pouring in from all around us and a fantastic flowstone formation. This would have been a magnificent sight, but the chamber was far too cold and wet to appreciate the view, so we quickly climbed up to a large ledge and entered the unappealing muddy crawl. This crawl was strenuous and finished with an awkward skydive. Just before the skydive was the turn-off for Beelzebub’s Hairy Ringpiece, which we decided to leave for another day. Almost certainly, in fact, no other day.
After the skydive was more crawling in a rift, then a high chamber where we slipped easily under some jammed blocks and made a slippery chimney descent. After some more crawling we entered the part we had been dreading – the Big Mean Porridge Machine. This long crawl was in deep mud, the kind of mud that stinks and grabs tackle sacks and doesn’t let go. Fortunately the mud became a bit shallower before the flat-out crawl to the first Birthday Aven Pitch. These pitches were also rigged soundly, rendering our rather generous supply of tackle rather obsolete, just like your mum. However, given the choice between needlessly carrying tackle through this cave, and not carrying any tackle, but getting to the Birthday Aven Pitches and finding them un-rigged, thus having to reverse the trip back to the Grand Cascade, I know what I’d go for. Getting onto the first pitch was easy enough, because even though it is immediately after the flat-out crawl, it’s quite easy to hold oneself up by the far wall whilst getting onto the rope. There is not, however, much room for putting on SRT kits, so we had worn ours through all the disgusting mud in the Big Mean Porridge Machine.
At the bottom of the pitches we entered Bastard Crawl, where we both adopted the catchphrase, “I hate the Bastard Crawl.” Anyone who has made it this far will certainly make it through this section, but it is an unrelenting strenuous crawl with sharp corners and sharp rock, and carrying tackle sacks through this was hard work. At the end of the crawl was a simple free-climb into the winding rift of the Misty Mountain Series. Knowing that the major difficulties were over, we paused to enjoy a celebratory snack. Xander’s long and thin piece of meat (peperami) was fine, but when I unwrapped my Snickers it was covered in mud. Naturally Mr Ritchie tried to console me, saying it was just melted chocolate, but I knew the truth – the porridge had leaked in from the big mean machine.
A 5m climb down at the end of the Misty Mountain Series brought us into Leck Fell Lane and we considered heading up the Cigalere Streamway for a much-needed wash, but knowing how much mud awaited us before we returned to The World, on passage floors, walls and in the shape of she-men (Don would have loved this), we opted to head out Mistral filthy as we were. All that was left now was for Xander to de-rig the Tuckshop Pitch while I carried both tackle sacks back to the cars where, believe it or not, Don was waiting for us; and we all headed to the Marton Arms.
This was a really excellent day’s caving, with a serious feel to it and surprisingly impressive formations, and I get the feeling not many people do the round trip. Apart from big pitches and, well, bits where you can stand up, this trip had a bit of everything.
Great trip report.
I don’t know I recall at least 3 bits you could stand up in :)
“and before long we were at the Backbreaker” Really? I thought it took ages to get there I kept saying to myself in a 10 year old’s voice “are we there yet”?
Its been a while since I have been a bit nervous on a caving trip but this was certainly one, everything had a serious feel to it. I was particularly nervous heading towards that rift with a tight squeeze over a 6m drop. Thankfully the squeeze mentioned in the book turned out not to exist. All we had to worry about from there was rigging the pitches from the end big mean porridge machine (thankfully was rigged already) and bastard crawl.
On the trip, Chris remarked this was the hardest trip he has done, but I think he has forgotten Hangman’s! (Although that trip is short we had quite a few mishaps and both got quite badly stuck on the last pitch).
Personally I rate this 5th on the hardest Yorkshire trips I have done, ranked on effort/fear factor/squalidness (I am looking at you Echo) top 10 are:
1) Hammer Pot,
4) Ease gill traverse, coming out pip.
5) This trip
7) Yokenthwaite, solo
9) Penyghent pot
10) Cupcake to Lost johns
What about in Bye George and out Peterson Alex? And I’ve never seen you more knackered than Birks Fell that day lol!
Feel better now – done Hammer, Echo & Pen-y-ghent, & I think Yockenthwaite.
Although admittedly my fail:success ratio Birks Fell’s a fine trip too. Tick.
Can’t cave tomorrow – getting beaten up. Still available Sunday …