A few months back, I read an online report of a pull-through trip from Lost John’s, exiting from Notts II (Iron Kiln Pot, if you want to be pedantic), I thought “Really? That sounds fun!”. Having got the new Northern Caves book for Christmas, there seemed to be enough information to find the way.
The quiet period between Christmas and New Year looked to be an ideal opportunity for a proper trip, but only Bob and Tony took the bait. We discussed doing a pull-through, but in the end caution prevailed, and we rigged normally following the Centipede route.
At the bottom of Centipede, well near the bottom, I was surprised to find – the end of the rope. Odd, the topo called for a 60m rope, and I had brought a – oh! – a 50m rope from the tackle store. Well, that 5 on the label looked awfully like a 6 without my glasses. A good shelf allowed us off the rope, but the final 3m is sheer. What to do? Sacrifice the rope allocated to the final pitch and abandon the through trip? In the end, we tied on a piece of cord I carry ‘just in case’ and that was just enough to get to the ground after Bob had taken all the slack out of the rope from Mud to Centipede.
Not long afterwards, we were at Groundsheet Junction, where we stopped for a welcome cup of tea and bourbons (thanks, Tony!). I’ll describe the route from here in case anybody fancies the trip.
Turning left upstream, the next landmark is Lyle Cavern, which none of us knew (apart from Bob, who had been there 40 years ago!). It’s about 200m upstream – look for a small roped climb on the left. (You’ll see a rope on the left over a big calcite buttress about half-way there – ignore this).
Follow this rope about half-way and turn upslope to the right – this is the bottom of Lyle Cavern (we went to the top of the rope and spent some time fruitlessly looking for the way on – there’s plenty of passage there, but not the one we wanted – I was keeping an eye on the time and voted to head back out Lost John’s, but fortunately Bob spotted the way on as we were retracing our steps).
Going up the boulder slope, there’s a calcite slope on the right, described as an “exposed 3.5m climb” but there was a rope, so we used it. Further up, a rope hangs down from a high aven. This is supposedly a 19m pitch, but it seemed quite a long 19m.
At the top, go straight on up a rift, with some lovely helictites – called Helictite Rift (!). This involves some steepish climbs, but nothing too challenging. As it levels out at the top, you reach a prominent T-junction. Left leads into Boxhead, but straight on is West Passage, tall, decorated, easy, although there are big holes in the floor.
At the end is a boulder choke. It looks unpromising, but if you stay on the right-hand wall and crawl upwards, you come to a small chamber. Then go up again, over where you came in, to reach a second chamberette. You now look for a slot down against the left-hand wall, but it’s not the first obvious slot (I confidently went down here and was dismayed to find the way blocked by rubble – had the choke collapsed? Would we have turn back? No…). You go a little further and find a tight calcite slot. Now is the time to take off your SRT kit, as this is the start of engineered route through the choke to Notts II.
This goes on for quite a long time (apparently 140m, but that doesn’t sound long enough!). It’s often awkward and squirmy, never spacious, but never desperately tight either and there’s never any doubt about where to go. The amount of scaffolding is quite awe-inspiring. Quite a bit of time was spent passing the tangled web of SRT kit between us – a small tackle bag to put it in would have saved a lot of effort.
Eventually, the choke ends and there’s a short crawl through muddy puddles which emerges into big passage. This is (at least I think) Bruno Kranski’s, where the pitch from Voldemort comes in, and running water can be heard. We felt elated to be on, or near, familiar territory. Very soon we were in Sir Digby Spode’s Inlet, and a knotted rope handline took us down into the Notts II streamway.
From there, it was a familiar meander downstream, up the rifty inlet on the left to get to the engineered climb emerging into a frosty night.
It had taken us 7 hours. This was a bit disappointing given that the guys who had written the original report had (so they claimed!) taken only 3, but had we followed the way unerringly it would have been an hour or so less. Possibly more importantly, if Bob and I were 30 years younger, we might have been a bit quicker!