Cavers: Chris Scaife and Alex Ritchie
Weather: Dry for most of the week, very light rain forecast
With Strans Gill sitting right at the very top of our to-do lists for a while, when the weather looked favourable for this Saturday Xander and I had no hesitation in eschewing the opportunity to take advantage of the BPC winch meet. The walk up to the entrance is one of the most enjoyable approaches in the Dales, with a fantastic limestone gorge to scramble up, which we did in places; and some very pleasant woodland, with pied flycatchers on show for anyone interested. The entrance was covered with a piece of mesh and some big rocks and, after moving these, we looked down Faith pitch, thinking the narrow constriction did not look too bad.
With descenders on our short cows tails, we got down the pitch quite quickly; although knowing this was not one of the tightest parts of the cave, the slight stuck feeling I had near the top was rather unsettling. The first 3m of Faith Pitch are a bit narrow, then there’s a ledge that caused a few issues with our tackle sacks, but after that it is fine. At the foot of the pitch there is a short crawl around a corner, leading to the head of Hope Pitch. This pitch was the bit we were most wary about, because it is described in NFTFH as a “tight struggle”. Xander went through the crawl first, with the pitch rope, and rigged Hope Pitch by tying a 10m rope around a big flake on the left. He then returned through the crawl and went back in feet first, with a tackle sack, and I was behind him going head first, with the other tackle sack. Just above the pitch head there was room for the tackle sacks and for me to watch Xander’s tight struggle. He huffed and he puffed and it all looked painful and at one point I had to help him out, but eventually he got through. I was having doubts about whether I’d fit, as I have always thought of young Xander as a svelter man than me, and I imagine he was having worries about getting back through; so he came back up and, after even more of a struggle, he popped through. We retreated through the crawl, saying we might have to call it a day and go and do Yockenthwaite Pot, but I thought I should at least see if I fit through Hope Pitch, so I got down onto my right hand side and slid through the crawl one more time, feet first. At the pitch I had my left hand down and my right hand above my head and I felt around for the least tight part with my feet. I went in up to my waist and my waist slipped through easily, so I just breathed in and slid down. Once through the squeeze, the pitch is a simple free climb. The rope is useful however as a handline for the top section and to haul gear back up to the squeeze on the way out.
Xander followed me down much faster than before and we pushed on. The next section of the cave involved a bit of crawling and traversing, then an upward sloping crawl in a rift, leading up to a tight squeeze. Xander went first and was certainly giving it his all but getting nowhere, so I volunteered to try it. I went in head first on my left hand side and at first it was difficult to get my head through, but I kept my helmet on, got my head through at the lowest part of the squeeze, then scraped my face against bare rock (an unusual feeling) and pushed myself through. Xander pushed the tackle sacks through to me, then with a similar amount of effort he was through. As he was coming through this squeeze I realised that there was a huge drop behind me, although the rift was narrow enough that we were unlikely to fall down it. This tight squeeze was followed by a short, awkward crawl to the Opera Box – the head of Charity Pitch.
Xander rigged this pitch with only one decent spit at the pitch head, although it was backed up by two ancient-looking bolts. He went down the first 15m to the large ledge and then turned the air blue. Unable to find a decent hang for the remaining 34m he came back up and suggested I have a look. At the ledge I could see one spit on the far wall, which could only be reached by a huge pendulum and would have given us unacceptable rope rub on our one-bolt-wonder. I knew though that there was an alternative pitch down a wet fissure on the ledge, which looked feasible, so shouted up to Xander to come down. He went down this wet fissure, using a sling deviation to stay fairly dry. He was down there a while and after he disappeared from sight I heard a loud crashing noise and knew something big had fallen down the pitch.
“I need help!”
Not the most pleasant things to hear from a caving companion, but before I’d worked out what I could do to rescue him (I still don’t think I’ve worked that out) a wounded-looking rigger appeared in the fissure below and told me to head out. Once we were both back in the Opera Box, I was told that Xander had rigged a Y-hang and was about to descend the pitch, when a boulder had slapped him in the face. Miraculously he appeared OK. We had been agonisingly close to the Passage of Time, but knowing that concussion often only rears its ugly head after the passage of time, we decided to retreat.
Xander went first on the way out; the squeezes were just as tight, but with a bit of effort we got through them and were soon at the foot of Faith Pitch. Getting tackle up this pitch was hard work, but eventually we were out. We then went to a pub in Hubberholme, which was far too busy, so we ended up eating in Kettlewell. I should have finished this trip report with that wordplay on the Passage of Time, because the rest has been a bit pointless. Sorry.
Nice, you have added bits I forgot about such as dragging the bag with me through the crawl to Hope.
I assume “svelter” means slim, can’t say I heard that term before and Google suggests similar names but not that one.
Anyway accurate report. Should we post something on UKcaving, or would we get told off?
Post something there if you like. You have my permission to quote me.