2nd May 2015
Daniel J, Chris Sharman, Alex R, Ales
We all met up at the Pennyghent Cafe in Horton in Ribblesdale for breakfast (no toast or bread with a full breakfast! I won’t be going back) and deliberations on where to go. The weather was forecast to deteriorate later in the day so we shelved our original plans for Dale Head Pot and decided on Nick Pot, seeing as we had a 100m rope with us.
We parked in the usual lay by, had a pleasant walk up the hill and located the cave with no difficulties. We found the small hole in the grass as described in NFTFH but on climbing down there were multiple routes on (we didn’t have a copy of the description to hand so were going by memory). We chose the most likely looking route which was a relatively easy crawl. I’d almost convinced myself that I was now such a hardy caver that the NFTFH trips were becoming easy, when Alex called back that this wasn’t the way we wanted, but an alternative crawling route to to a pitch that provided another means of reaching the Traverse in the Gods. In hindsight, this may have been the better option, but full of manly bravado, we headed back to the entrance to find some proper misery. This turned out to be another route from the bottom of the small hole and it was immediately apparent that it was more deserving of inclusion in the NFTFH guide.
A thrutchy, narrow crawl with some body sized squeezes and tight dog-leg bends. None of it was too horrednous, in and of itself, and it was very short, but throw in a big tackle bag stuffed with 100m of rope and the fact that no one can turn around to help with it until the end and it becomes a whole lot harder. Still, Alex was through the crawl in about 15-20min with the rest of us close behind. I was last with Chris in front. He wasn’t comfortable with one of the tight turns and wanted to come out so I had to crawl backwards to the entrance to let him reach freedom. I then proceeded back in the cave until I caught up with Ales who was having a marvelous time in one of the tight body sized tubes. A few grunting minutes later and he was through and just behind Alex who seemed to be taking a long while at the pitch head. It was then that I heard Chris approaching behind me, but this time using the Don approved method of approaching holes of dubious width: feet first! In all fairness it seemed to be working but I don’t think one could make it through the final part of the crawl in this manner.
Having heard Ales get through the worst of it, I proceeded to inch forwards into the tightest part of the crawl, it was here that I had real trouble with the bag as it couldn’t be forced along at ground level and I only had the use of my forward reaching arm (which I was laying on) to try and lift it (my other arm being trapped behind me). Fortunately, after about 10 (very uncomfortable) minutes, Ales managed to turn himself around at the end of the crawl and came back to pull the bag through. I made my way through the rest of the squeezy bit, looking forward to the pitch and somewhere I could expand my chest enough to breathe properly, only to be greeted by a wall of cursing from the pitch head. The Alex of old had returned! It transpired that he had rigged the pitch (which already had an in-situ handline for free climbing) fairly quickly and, not feeling comfortable with the 4m free climb, had proceeded to spend the next 25mins trying to get his harness on. Judging by the amount of cursing, this was not an easy task. It was about now that Chris, having laid rather uncomfortably in a body sized tube for 20min decided to head out for good. I would have probably joined him had turning around been possible! About 5 minutes later Alex somehow got his harness on (Ales pointing out that he had both legs in one thigh loop probably helped) and descended the first pitch. Having seen where he got his harness on I’m not surprised he struggled, there’s no way that I could’ve got mine on there. Ales followed him shortly after (he also abseiled down, utilising his harness in a somewhat unorthodox but no-doubt very safe manner). I finally got to the pitch head and promptly free climbed down using the in-situ handline…I think that is definitely the way to go in future!
Finally we were in the comfortably sized chamber above the massive pitch! Woohooo! ‘Easy going from here,’ I thought. I was wrong. The p-bolted route disappeared down a very narrow looking calcited slot. (I never tried it but it looked of Big Meanie type size but with less space above you). Alex promptly wedged himself in there (Neither me nor Ales wanted to!) and declared it rather horribly tight. This was good enough for me so we decided to try the alternative route (a 3m climb down a rough tube) that pops out about 2m lower. Having recently done the big pitch in Nick I decided to go first I as I knew where the obscure rebelay bolt was. Unfortunately , I regret to say that I put my hips in and (having spent rather too long already laying in body sized tubes and not really enjoying the trip) completely bottled it. Alex had a go and got though easily (note that you can do this with harness on but metal work off as there’s space to put it on before it gets properly vertical) and proceeded to rig the 14m hang down to the big one. Ales followed, again relatively easily, so I thought I’d better have another go; It was fairly tight but I got through without too much trouble and should have done it first time.
I abseiled down to join Ales on the ledge overlooking the main shaft, it’s a very spectacular location. 70m below we could see Alex swinging from one side of the shaft to another, trying to locate the rebelay bolt. I later learned that he found the bolt, but had difficulty getting himself to the correct height on the rope (when you’re free hanging on the rope you can’t see the bolt). Anyway, after about 20 minutes of swinging around it appeared that he had found the bolt and was rigging the final hang. I heard a distant shout from below that I assumed was ‘rope free’ so I shouted ‘OK’. In retrospect we should have used whistles, as in fact Alex was not shouting ‘rope free’ but was attempting to communicate that he was heading back up the rope. Not that this really mattered as it was just before he shouted, that I’d casually asked Ales if he had a pantin, as it made big pitches much easier. Ales examined his SRT kit and realized that not only did he not have his pantin, but he’d left his footloop and handjammer back in the small chamber….a situation I can sympathise with! He borrowed my handjammer and footloop and went back up the rope. When I realised that Alex was heading back up I asked Ales to just send my gear back down the rope so there was no need for him to go through the tight bit twice. When Alex got back to the ledge (60m with no pantin!) he informed me that although he had finally got to the bolt, he decided to return as he assumed (correctly!) that we’d all had enough by this point. We made our way back to the chamber (the narrow tube made much more difficult for Alex due to the large tackle bag – see pics below) and had a snack before the final bit of misery through the entrance crawl.
None of us really wanted to be the one to shove the 100m rope bag through the crawl again, so Ales and Alex suggested dragging the rope through. This (surprisingly) would have worked well, had the rope not become detached from Ales halfway through the crawl (lesson: always use a proper knot). On getting to the end and realising this, Ales heroically decided to come back in and retrieve the rope. When he reached the entrance with it, it pulled through easily and myself and Alex were finally able to make our way out. I had a pretty big bag with two SRT kits and a 30m rope in it, but it actually seemed easier than the way in…this may have been because the bag was shorter or because the part where the bag got stuck on the way in wasn’t an issue on the way out as there was plenty of space to manoeuvre it to the correct height…or perhaps it was just the extra motivation of being so desperate to get out by this stage! Either way, daylight was finally reached and we all had huge smiles on our faces, not perhaps because of a fine days caving, but because we were all so elated at being in the open air once more!…Except it was windy, raining and bloody cold so the smiles and the elation faded pretty fast :)
Was it really 25 minutes? I guess it could have been, but it probably just felt that from where you were. I spent the first 10 minutes getting the knots out of the rope in the tackle sack, quite how they got in the middle of the rope I don’t know. Then all my stuff fell out and my stop went down the pitch, just because it likes doing that (Luckily it did not continue down Vulcan!). I got quite distressed with it all and a bit of the old me came out.
Like you say I should have just free climbed down it, it was not bad on the return, just from above it looked like I was about to climb into open space. Not my best day. I don’t like free climbing down knotted ropes that don’t reach the floor ever since I stranded myself on that ledge in Knacker trapper.
And for Don’s benefit, I actually did not want to rig and was happy to let Dan rig it all, only due to various factors as described above he did not want to.
The re-belay, well by this point my heart was only half in it, first ending up a few meters lower, then after changing over back at the other side of the shaft I then prussiced up too far, not being able to see the bolt. I gave up after failing to do a change over to go down again whilst at the same time as trying to not swing back to the other side of the shaft! The biggest kick in the teeth was I could have just carried on going down, if we had a sling left for the deviation, which I had used as a re-belay for the other route.
I had not forgotten my pantin I just was not arsed in putting it on and went traditional.
On the good side it was one heck of a shaft and the view of everyone involved makes the Vulcan route a spectacular way down!
Wear a blooming belay belt, to italian hitch the first pitch! (Or free climb it).