Neither of us have been doing any hard caving recently, so what better way to get back into the swing of things then to give marble sink a go.
All rope was packed, because you never know. It was a beautiful walk up in the sunshine, Ingleborough was looking particularly fine today.
We located the shake hole next to the massive Marble pot and Don volunteered to go in first. The crawl starts off easy enough, it’s still pretty wide at the first bend, not too far later it starts to get constricted and one is forced to find the right point by feeling with your feet to progress. Don got to the sharp corner beyond this and declared it impossible on the side he was facing and tried on his other side finding the constriction before it impossible. If Don had done some harder trips recently I am sure he would have gotten around it, I just don’t think he was in the mood to push himself. His height makes these types on manoeuvres much harder for him than me.
So my turn, I slithered through the crawl with just one bag, as if Don did not come there was not much point in dragging all the rope for the lower pitches. The first constriction was annoying but not particularly tight. The corner itself was not that hard once you figured out how to do it, which was to go in on your righthand side bunch up into a ball as there’s just enough space to do this, rotate partially onto your back and let your leg slip down the hole in the floor to make the corner. Taller people like Don will struggle more with this, but it’s all about twisting your body. It would also be much easier going head first being able to see where you are going. Not long after it got quite tight and I had to force my chest through at one point, just before yet another easier corner. It might be possible at this 3rd corner to switch from head first to feet first by slithering up the rift a bit and bringing your legs though, (like the Boshe rift manoeuvre) but as I was already feet first so I did not try this.
A few feet further I heard an echo, the passage grew slightly and my feet were dangling over what I assumed was the pitch, but where were the anchors? I could see a spit to my right, but it’s meant to be P-anchored I thought? After 5 minutes of investigations and slithering out more over the pitch I found them on the right wall, completely over the drop. No protection then, but the pitch head is narrow so it’s hard to fall down it accidently.
It took me at least 10 minutes of faffing to rig it and get on it in this narrow spot, my main problem because I brought the stiffest rope known to man! Getting my stop on with the stupid handle design also proved rather difficult as you are forced to do it with one hand. The actual pitch itself is not tight just snaggy and is enjoyable descent down a partially calcited shaft.
On my own, my heart was in my throat, I knew this was a difficult cave! A slot down (awkward to reverse I found), led to the famous flake. I was expecting a vertical flake with some nice handholds but what you actually get is a flake on it’s side across the passage, propped at about 60 degrees and is slippery as hell. I knew there was 6m drop below this, so this certainly got the blood flowing, you don’t want an accident here! I ended up bracing myself against the walls rather than trusting the flake itself entirely. The climb below that was easy thankfully and had many ledges.
A very short slither brought me to the “Bastard hole” it’s about the size of my welly in both dimensions and I thought there’s a good chance I could get stuck under there without anyone to give me a leg up or at least a rope. It also opened out underneath and had no ledges I could see to allow egress. So I laughed at the ridiculousness of it and headed back out to join Don. I was not going to try that on my own!
The entrance crawl was not that bad going right way, though with a larger bag it would certainly be a proper struggle, pushing it ahead in a couple of places!. I had kept my harness on through the crawl in both directions, with just my stop on the side and cows tails, it did not seem to get in the way.
Back out Don, was getting very cold, having been lying in a puddle for at least 30 minutes. He had gone outside to warm up but realised that was colder, so came back in to lie in the puddle again, glad I did not try Bastard hole, Don may still have been in that puddle now!
We then headed over to Marble pot and Don rigged it to warm up.
He rigged a handline from the tree and descended a steep grassy slope, which lands you next to the top of entrance pitch. This pitch has 4 resin anchors on it which I assume are not CNCC. As the longest rope we had with us was 15m we just rigged the first two and were careful to prussic slowly due to rope rub. I was watching from above as Don rigged this just out of sight and there was a sudden almighty scream. Had he fallen off!? A second went by and my query to what had happened was answered by a large owl fighting it’s way past the screaming mad man! Though to be fair, I probably would have screamed too if some sort of unidentified winged monster flew at me out of the dark while I was rigging the pitch.
Don recomposed himself and I eventually stopped laughing and we both descended a fine shaft. We then explored a few avens, and wandered around a bit. There is no evidence of where the way on used to be. The most interesting thing we saw was a bat hibernating on an old rope hanging from one of the avens (we did not ascend that one).
We went to the pub in Clapham and bid each other farewell after this offbeat adventure. I will certainly be wanting to come back to Marble sink, provided I can stand on someone to get out of Bastard hole lol. No owls or bats were hurt (we think) in the making of this trip report.
Though we may not have travelled far into these two caves, it was still a good trip. The passage in Marble Sink, in my view, is exactly the same – albeit narrower – as the first part of Roly Poly Passage in Peterson Pot, i.e. the short section with a tight squeeze immediately below the entrance pitch and climb that leads into a small room before Roly Poly proper starts.
The Marble Pot we visited only partly matches the description of Marble Pot in NC2 (and I’m not referring to the collapsed section). Someone(s) have obviously put a lot of effort into exploring various avens, though not recently, given the condition of the ropes, which actually weren’t too bad. It would have been nice to have ascended the rope with the bat attached to it, but for obvious reasons we couldn’t. The shakehole is very impressive and steep.
I’ve been reluctant in the past to cave much in this area due to the long walk required to reach it, which I thought was uphill all the way, but the walk was actually pleasant. It is uphill most of the way, but the gradient is never too steep. Probably best to visit this area when the weather is warmer though. I thought my fingers were going to fall off on the walk back to the car. Lying in a puddle for 30 minutes surely didn’t help.