Low Douk – Rift Pot – Large Pot – Eastern Front
Members Present: Alex, Don, Sharman
After an extended discussion on the forum earlier in the week regarding where we should go caving, which included an emotionally distraught Alex threatening to leave the country as he claimed that there were few caves left in the Dales that he hadn’t explored multiple times, Team Tiger decided to do the caving trip to end all caving trips, a challenging non-SRT trip starting in Low Douk, passing through Rift Pot and Large Pot and ultimately concluding at the end of the recently discovered Eastern Front (an account of the discovery can be found in Descent 236). With that long sentence out of the way, let the story begin…
As per usual, the leader for Team Tiger, at least for 85% of the trip, was our wonderful tour guide Mr Alex Ritchie, who loves to provide helpful instructions to others such as when to crawl, where to climb, when to scramble over a fallen boulder, when to duck one’s head because of an overhanging rock, etc, etc. I say this half serious and half joking because without Alex’s superb navigational skills and ability to remember every nook and cranny of every cave he’s ever been in, we’d almost certainly still be lost somewhere in Large Pot, crying our eyes out, hungry and huddling together for warmth. Another reason for which Alex deserves praise is because he carried a small tackle bag (with camera gear, a token Pepperami, my water, my belay belt and survival gear) with him for the entire duration of the trip. He’s a true hero and worthy of being considered one of Upper Wharfedale’s finest. But I digress, yet again…
After effortlessly finding the entrance to Low Douk at Masongill, Team Tiger slithered and slid down the entrance shaft with relative ease. Once at the bottom a few minutes of crawling, which included several short squeezes, found us at the bottom of the old (collapsed) entrance to the cave. Ahead lay the connection crawl with Rift. I had a bit of apprehension at this point as I’d only been through this crawl once before, from the opposite direction, and that required Mike’s help pulling me through as I slowly wriggled. The crawl was made even more fun this time by the fact that the ~12m normally hands and knees crawl before the connection was now a duck, with the airspace varying between roughly 6-8 inches. Alex went first and agreed to come back through the crawl, once he managed to find a place to turn around, so that he could help pull me through. With quite a bit of tugging, grunting and groaning I made it through, followed closely after by Sharman.
After what seemed like an eternity of crawling we finally reached the climbs/drops into Coates Cavern. There was a bit of confusion here as the normal route down, which requires a short downwards squeeze through a very loose and rather scary section, was judged to be ‘too tight’ by Alex, who thought one of the boulders had possibly moved, making the narrow slot even narrower. After several attempts though, he forced his way through. Sharman went next and, after a bit of wriggling joined Alex below. Dismayed at the thought of possibly being crushed by loose boulders, and the thought that it might be too tight for me to fit, Alex looked around and fortunately found an alternative route down. It too was rather tight (according to Alex), but at least it was stable. A couple of more minutes crawling and climbing brought us to the massive Coates Cavern in Rift Pot, just beneath the big pitch (Route 66). From here we made our way to the opposite side of the cavern, where a short climb up leads to a flat-out crawl several metres long. From this point on my memory is a bit hazy as, with few exceptions, the next section of the cave, leading to the bottom of Colossus pitch in Large Pot, consisted of alternating sections of crawling passage followed by several well decorated chambers. There were a few definitive highlights, however.
The first was the aptly named Mousehole. This is a ~3m climb down with a squeeze, though there wasn’t actually much climbing involved. It’s more of a steep slide downwards over smooth rock. I personally had a bit of trouble going down this as my helmet got stuck. Once at the bottom we encountered a ~5m duck. Though there was a low airspace this was passed with relative ease by laying on one’s back and slowly sliding through. Alex, on the other hand, approached this duck, as he does all ducks, on his stomach. On the other side of the duck is a small chamber with a flat-out squeeze, followed almost immediately after by another flat-out squeeze. After some more crawling we came to a short scaffolded shaft ~1.5m deep, at the bottom of which was a short squeeze followed by yet even more crawling. Eventually we arrived in the Necropolis, a huge chamber just beneath Colossus pitch in Large Pot.
From here we climbed up a rocky slope to the right of the pitch (as one faces it), through a short flat-out crawl, through a bit of walking passage, down a slope with a short squeeze en route, to reach the third duck (Heffalump Trap). Alex promised us that beyond this sump was the recently discovered Eastern Front, 1km of walking sized passage, interspersed with a few crawls. This duck was much longer than the previous two. The first section took about two minutes and was very wet. At the end of this was a short 4 inch high ‘step’ onto the second section, a slightly higher flat-out passage for 3 or 4 minutes through shallow pools of water. Whether one entered the duck on one’s back or one’s stomach, that’s the position one had to maintain as there was nowhere to turn one’s body over until near the very end of the flat-out crawl.
Once out of the crawl, however, we emerged in a fairly large chamber, at least in comparison with what we had just been through. The cave from here to the end of the Eastern Front consisted alternately of hands-and-knees crawling and walking-sized passage. The crawling was made somewhat easier by the fact that the floor for the most part was either sandy or muddy. However, there was still a lot of crawling. A LOT of crawling. The Eastern Front ended in a very large chamber with a giant heap or boulders at one end. In fact, it was by far the largest boulder heap I’d ever seen in a cave. Evidence that the MMMMC were still hard at work exploring in this area was clearly indicated by a new rope going up into the ceiling of the chamber (an account of their exploration here can be found in Descent 238). As we had no SRT gear, though, a trip up there would have to wait for another day. We ate our snacks, Alex took a few pictures, and then we headed out.
The end chamber
Decorated Eastern front passage
The trip back was largely uneventful and somewhat faster than on the way in, though we were all much more tired. That being said, I thought the connection crawl between Rift and Low Douk was a bit easier coming from this direction, though it was a bit daunting coming out of a tight crawl and immediately into a long and deep duck. Once out of the cave, we got changed and on my suggestion headed to Whoop Hall, where one of the regular employees is a very attractive blonde woman in her 20s. We weren’t disappointed.
Total Trip Time: 6 hours
Edited your report to add in a couple of photo’s and updated my bag contents :)
Fantastic report, however, I thought I did well not telling you where to crawl/walk this time, unless you asked. (And sometimes not even then!)
To be fair, at each junction we encountered you did let Sharman and I decide for ourselves which direction we should go (even though you knew the correct way). It’s unfortunate that Sharman and I not once chose the correct way on. That’s why you’re my hero. You got us in and out in one piece.
Low Douk – Rift Pot – Large Pot – Eastern Front
Reckon you could find your way again Don? A trip that both Chris K and I want to do as soon as my wrist is up for crawling long distances.
I’ll be able to remember if we do the trip sometime fairly soon (i.e. the next few weeks or so). After that, I can’t make any promises… I’m definitely up for doing the trip again whenever you guys are up for it. It’s definitely in the top three most fun trips I’ve ever done.