Stream Passge Pot: John F, Miranda F, Jason
This was my first trip to Stream Passage, and my first to Gaping Gill for quite some time. I’d forgotten just how far the walk up Trow Gill to the GG area was, and it was midday before we arrived at the entrance, though we had taken a slightly less-than-direct route across the fell (for reference, once you get the double stile in the wall, head at right angles to the wall, to the left of the main path. Aim for a gully on the hillside in the distance and look for a shakehole with an oil-drum at the bottom). We cleared the various bits of wooden sheep-protection from the oil-drum entrance and John rigged from a scaff bar. At the bottom, there’s a little wriggle which emerges over the head of the first, short pitch. The rope had evidently been selected with great care, and finished two feet above the ground – waste not, want not!
The passage from here is good going, meandering and narrow, but easy enough. This leads to 3 ‘proper’ pitches in quick succession, all around 25-30m with a deviation apiece, but nothing too technical (which I always like!). As the first is approached, you have to leave the stream behind and traverse in the roof which adds some entertainment. John helpfully left plenty of traverse line and used the higher of two pairs of hangers to take off from – the advantage of this becomes abundantly clear on the return: I found getting off the pitch a bit awkward, from the lower hangers it would have been a nightmare.
The next pitch was fine, though a bit showery at the bottom, and I arrived to find John had again thoughtfully rigged a long traverse line across some deep holes in the floor leading to the last pitch. However, this turned out to be over-generous as he ran out of rope some 5m from the bottom! After a bit of re-engineering we were soon down.
I’m not sure I’ve correctly committed the route thereafter to memory, but I think we followed Stream Passage under a shower to Stream Chamber, around Mud Hole and on to Sand Caverns (where Miranda had fond memories of her 40th birthday party, which shows true dedication to caving!). Then ducking through a low crawl on the right of a passage (the Portcullis) and arriving at the main chamber after about 20 minutes.
This was as spectacular as always, and not as wet as I expected given the rain in recent weeks. Returning, I ‘gallantly’ offered to de-rig the first pitch, realising it would be the easiest, leaving the others to the highly-honed Forder skills. Just as well, as my rate of ascent definitely dropped off after the first pitch, but all went reasonably smoothly.
The wriggly head of the entrance pitch, which was so straightforward on the way in, provided ample opportunities for entanglement, but Miranda and John waited patiently for me to unravel myself and I was soon on the final ascent through the oil drums. This was the sting in the tail of the trip for me – firstly the drums were too narrow for me to lift my leg high enough to get my foot in the foot loop, so I was reduced to doing 3” prussick steps with my knee. And at the top – how to get out ? A real man would have pulled himself up on the scaff bar, but that was well beyond me. Eventually, the time-honoured method of thrutching and extreme bad language did the trick, and the others effortlessly followed (having the advantage of shorter thigh-bones, at least that’s my story).
All in all, a good trip in a fine cave – nearly 5 hours underground – thanks to John and Miranda for showing me round!