Darren, Tim K, Tom, Pete, Sophie, Rhod, Ray
A good turnout for a Wed evening. 7 cavers, most of whom seemed to have brought their own ropes! So all possible routes were rigged. Darren rigged his own rope on the direct hang from the tree (very brave!). Tim rigged Ray’s ropes on Lateral Cleft. Ray attempted to rig Tim’s (as it turned out, experimental) rope on the main shaft route via Little Gully – it was fast, so fast that it was impossible to rig the rebelay.
Sophie, Pete & Tom followed Tim down Lateral Cleft. Rhod followed Darren down the direct hang. Nobody followed Ray down Tim’s rope – very wise. A quick trip to the bottom for most then Darren, Sophie, Pete & Tim ascended the direct hang, while Rhod & Tom ascended Lateral Cleft, with Ray derigging.
Another great Wed evening trip, rounded off with a very nice pint in the Marton Arms.
Maz, Rhod, Tom, Yolanda
Four folks who’d never visited Black Reef turned up, buttered up with tales of discomfort and the need for wetsuits. And most worryingly, Jason had got in touch to express that it was one of his favourites! It did actually turn out to be a lovely little trip being fairly warm weather, and doesn’t deserve its reputation.
After kitting up we wandered down to the approximate area and found it right away. First we made a quick trip downstream from the entrance, with a loop round an oxbow. We then gritted our teeth for the fearsome entrance canal upstream. It reached chest high on some of the shorter cavers but was over in about 3 minutes. With the wetsuits it was nowt but a quick dip.
We headed upstream in the main passage, enjoying the relatively nice formations. The black reefs themselves showed up, creating a few fun little waterfall scrambles and some paddling pools. Rhod led the way further into the upper reaches of the main streamway, getting lower and lower (and more wetsuit-tearing) until we reached that usual point: ‘it does go on, but….’. Where we all happily agreed to an about turn and made our way back down.
On the way back Yolanda led us up a waterfall into the long crawl of North Inlet passage. Again, we reached a point where Yolanda wanted to press on to see what was just around the next corner, while the rest of us were happy to wait and hear about it rather than experience it first-hand. Her comments when she returned seemed to suggest we hadn’t missed out. Back downstream for a quick wash of the suits in the entrance canal, and back out to a muggy evening and a daylight car-change!
Pete, Tom, Tim K, Nick, Maz, Ray
According to the meets list, we should have been in Ibbeth Peril, but the recent wet weather put paid to that. We instead opted for an easy (and dry) pootle down Sell Gill. The brown colour of the water flowing into the wet entrance suggested we had indeed made the right choice.
After a very pleasant walk up, Tim K set off rigging the 1st pitch, followed by Tom, Pete and Nick. Once the pitch was clear, I rigged up a 2nd rope so that I could descend in parallel with Maz as this was just his 2nd SRT trip.
Meanwhile, down below, Tim & Tom had both rigged different routes down the 2nd pitch – Tim rigging the LH route (along the ledge) and Tom rigging the RH. Tim, Tom & Pete continued down the 3rd pitch, where they were apparently met with rather a lot of water coming down the wet route. Nick opted for exploring a side passage at the bottom of the 1st pitch. Apparently it goes quite a long way. He was stopped at a climb down, for which he would have preferred a rope.
Maz and I followed Tim’s traverse along the ledge at the top of the 2nd, without descending the pitch. We then headed back out for some tuition on ascending the 1st pitch. By this time the others were starting to reappear from their various routes and we all finally emerged in daylight. A visit to the Station Inn rounded off the evening nicely. Thanks for organising this one Pete!
Darren, Scott, Jason, Tim K, Rhod, Ray
It must be about 30 years since I was last here. Darren had been about 12 years ago. No-one else had been at all. All I could remember was a very nice pitch down into a large chamber (Coates Cavern). NC3 and the CNCC description suggested that getting to said nice pitch may be rather awkward. They were right.
It was a very pleasant change and walk up to the entrance in the spring early evening sunlight. The entrance is now protected by a newish wooden fence, to which I fixed the rope for a bit of (largely psychological) protection on the climb down towards the actual 1st pitch. This was pre-rigged, so we just used the in situ rope, leaving most of ours still in its bag. If that pitch was rigged, would the big pitch also be? Hmmm, could we take a chance and leave the 2nd bag? Of course not. We certainly didn’t want to get to the big pitch, find it not rigged and have to come back out.
At the bottom of the 1st pitch the misery begins. It isn’t far to the big pitch, but it packs a punch. It starts as a flat out crawl, with the odd puddle just to add a bit of extra misery. Eventually a shallow trench develops. The description makes it sound easier at this point, but it just provided more opportunity for the bag to get stuck. A 2-3m climb down at least provides an opportunity to stand up briefly. Then the passage doubles back on itself as a blasted crawl. According to the description, this ends at an awkward climb down, so being first, I decided to take my SRT kit off, dump the bag and do this feet first. It’s fairly snug at a left hand bend just before the climb down, so I was glad I’d taken my SRT kit off. The climb down was easy enough feet first. Darren then came through head first (SRT still on), pushing the bag in front of him. I did wonder how he was going to get down the climb, but it wasn’t too bad. There are enough handholds to lower yourself down gently head first. I think this blasted crawl, especially the bend just before the climb, is the crux. There was some debate about whether Tim would fit (mostly from Tim), but he did a great job and squeezed through like a professional. You could almost hear the pop as he emerged cork-like. After the climb down, the passage is slightly bigger and descends quickly via a few more short climbs to the head of the big pitch. It’s worth mentioning that there was quite a strong inward draft throughout this passage.
Of course the big pitch was also pre-rigged, so we didn’t bother rigging our own rope, which we had carried all the way through the crawl. On reflection, we should have rigged our own rope. The in-situ rope was rather poorly rigged and decidedly muddy. I set off down first, sending great echoes back up to the others as I descended. I forgot just how big Coates Cavern is. It was great to be back after so long! It was especially good to lie at the bottom watching the others descend down such a nice pitch. It became a bit surreal once Darren landed as we were then able to listen to Pink Floyd on his phone while lying back watching.
We didn’t want to spend too long at the bottom, so we just had a quick look up the passage towards Ireby Fell. We’ll be back again in the daytime to spend a bit more time exploring.
Then began the awkward struggle back to the surface. We suspected that some of the awkward downclimbs would be even more awkward on the way back up, but they weren’t too bad. The odd bit of combined tactics was required, but people were mostly able to get themselves back up everything. Tim set off out first and didn’t seem to struggle at all. Good effort! I went up the big pitch next and waited at the top for Jason and Rhod to follow. Rhod had few issues with the rope not feeding through his chest jammer, but coped really well, given how little SRT he has done. Getting the bag back up through the crux section was interesting. Rhod pushed it as far as he could, so that I was able to come back in head first and grab it. Getting it out the rest of the crawl consisted of me dragging it with Rhod freeing it once it had (frequently) become jammed.
I think there was a general sense of relief once we had all reached the surface. I think everyone enjoyed it… but it may be while before we’re back.
Photos by Darren.