Wretched Rabbit

It was too wet for the Barbondale trip, so an Easegill visit was proposed, and I suggested exploring the upper reaches of Wretched Rabbit – it would be dry, and new for us all.  I liked the sound of “Dreamweaver” and “Mystery and Imagination” – surely these would be worth a visit? Sophie, Ray, Scott, Tom, James and Maz agreed, or at least couldn’t come up with a better idea.

In the event, the description on the Red Rose site doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the area.  We split up and spent some fun time wriggling around various crawls, traverses and chambers, probably encountering Marble Chamber and Ulreka Chamber.  But anything justify the exotic names I was looking for eluded us.

Still, it was a good work-out and it’s always nice to leave something to do next time water levels are high…

Mongo Gill

Scott and I celebrated St Patrick’s Day with a trip down Mongo Gill, just nearby the Stump Cross show caves.  The trip had been planned for the Saturday, but Scott was busy leading a hen party gill-scrambling.  He earns his money!

Calling at the café to collect the keys, we were given a talking-to about safety and conservation from the owner.  However it was a little difficult to give these topics serious consideration, as she was wearing a helmet with cow-horns atop a black wig (that’s what cave-women wear, apparently).

Anyway, having been assured that the North Shaft entrance was easy to find, we set off across the field, and after half an hour so of quartering it, failed to do so.  I returned to the car to get my GPS, and we walked straight to it.  The entrance pitch is easy, and we were soon able to discard the SRT kit, as there were a lot of snug crawls in prospect.

The route to begin with is a little complex, but the Braemoor guide is excellent and we were soon past the difficulties.  After a passage with a small shaft to the side, there is 250 metres of interesting passage.  Not always easy going, mind, a lot of it is crawling.  Then after an unpleasant, but brief wallow in a puddle, there’s what is described as 100 metres of straightforward and pleasant caving.  We launched into this confidently, but I was finding it less than pleasant, and surely more than 100m – I wasn’t looking forward to repeating all this on the return!

Emerging from another low crawl, I thought the chamber had a strangely familiar small shaft to the side, and Scott confirmed my impression – somehow we had retraced our steps without noticing that we’d reversed direction!  It was a very WTAF moment … but once we’d recovered from the bewilderment, it was a relief not to have to repeat all the crawls – we already had!

Soon back at the entrance, we thought we might as well find Shockle Shaft and have a look from that end.  Thank goodness for the GPS again – we found it quickly enough, and had a good look round most of the bits that we’d expected to see.  Overall, we agreed it was a good trip, if not quite as expected.  Mongo Gill is an interesting place – a mixture of natural cave and lead-mine workings, with parts of it being well-decorated.  The formations must have been spectacular centuries ago, and although the passage of time, and miners, have taken their toll, they are still worth seeing.

The Magic Roundabout, Lancaster Hole

On a chilly but dry Saturday morning, Yolanda and I set out to tackle the Magic Roundabout series. Despite passing this bit of Lancaster Hole plenty of times, I had never investigated further. To be honest, I had never liked the idea of committing my life to the unknown qualities of the in-situ Arson Shaft rope, but as it turned out my fears were unfounded.  The rope and anchors are excellent!
From the bottom of the Lancaster pitch, we took the direct route through Montague East to Stake Pot. On the other side, I started to ferret around for the window into Arson Shaft, finding the other route towards Link and Cape Kennedy in the process. The initial step above the drop into Arson Shaft actually wasn’t too bad, and the rope hangs against the wall all the way to the top, where there’s a step into a shallow parallel shaft. Two more short pitches upwards brings you into the well-decorated Old Kent Road. At this point we had a break while Yolanda dispensed with some of her Arctic Layering System (well, it was cold outside!)
Old Kent Road is a bit of a crawl, whilst trying your best not to break the floor-level straws. I forgot to find the turn off to The Chocolate Box (one for next time), and we soon ended up at a short rigged pitch down. Across the pit is apparently the route to The Pristine Way, but it looked like a serious undertaking (anyone done it? Are there some spit threads hidden in the wall somewhere perhaps?). Down the pitch, and we joined a stream which led us to the 23m Aquarius Pot. This is easily rigged for pull through with a 50m rope, and has a bit of tat at the bottom ledge to get down the next short drop.
The next section follows a washed out shale bed at floor level, then stay high to access a pre-rigged 9m pitch. A few Swinsto-esque cascades brings you to a chamber at head height. This is apparently the way up to rejoin the base of the Arson Shaft, or alternatively squeeze out next to Bob’s Boss. We opted to stay in the stream, and a couple of minutes later were debouched into the Main Drain just upstream of Stake Pot.
We felt like we’d prusiked enough for one day, so opted to upgrade the trip to Mega status by exiting from Wretched Rabbit. The upstream section from Stake Pot passed too quickly, and soon we were at Oxbow Corner. In the past, I’ve always followed the water at stream level through the boulder choke, but today we spotted a handline on the left, which led us easily up through the boulders. Top shortcut!
A series of large muddy caverns followed. I ruefully spotted the place where Sophie had plied Tom and myself with mulled wine and mince pies last time. But alas, it was Christmas no longer, and the eternal night of the cave cared nothing for my tears. Onwards to Stop Pot, then Four Ways Chamber.
The usual struggle up Wretched Rabbit brought us to daylight. At some point, it had occurred to me with dismay that Lancaster Hole, which still needed derigging, isn’t really on the way back from Wretched Rabbit. Yolanda had left her keys in my van, and my keys were hidden somewhere near the farm, so she bravely kept me company on the beeline slog across the open moor to Lancaster Hole. The day’s struggles were not over as I unknitted our rope from two student club ropes (with the aid of lots of swearing) in the Lancaster shaft.
All in all a very good trip to a different bit of cave. Thanks again to Yolanda!

Boxhead – It’s A Cracker Exchange

James, Dave, Helen, Ray

After a few dropouts and a late entry by Helen, a bold team of 4 set off on this classic Leck Fell exchange. It seemed the perfect opportunity for Dave & James to venture forth on their own, so they entered via Boxhead, while Helen & Ray went in via Cracker. As good as they are, it would be a bit much to expect D&J to rig the Kendal Flyover route in Boxhead at this stage of their careers, so the enterpise was facilitated by Ray pre-rigging earlier in the day.

Both entrances were located relatively easily, relative to previous evening attempts that is. Helen and Ray braved the spiders in the Cracker entrance climb and were soon at the 1st pitch, which Helen rigged. The 2nd deviation is an absolute pig to reach. It’s not that it is a long way off, but there’s nothing to push against to swing over to it. Much hilarity ensued. Helen may see it differently. Ray took over rigging on the 2nd pitch. Luckily there are no deviations, so it went relatively smoothly. The awkward climb on the way to the 3rd pitch seemed more awkward than usual for some reason.

Meanwhile, James & Dave had made short work of descending Boxhead. Knowing this would be the case, they had been armed with a survey of the Tate Galleries and told to go exploring. They would have great fun finding Cresta Run, Crowbar Pitch, Epiglottis Grotto etc… All they had to do was go through the short crawl from the Kendal Flyover ledge and turn right. But what did they do? You’ve guessed it – they turned left, into Venus Dig.

The exchange timing couldn’t have been better. D&J emerged (rather dirtier than before) from their explorations back onto the Flyover ledge just as Ray was rigging the 3rd Cracker pitch. So we all descended our respective final drops at the same time.

After a quick poke around at the bottom everyone exchanged. The old fogies limped out of Boxhead. James & Dave did an excellent job of derigging Cracker, which should have taken considerably longer. On exiting Boxhead, Ray popped into Cracker to see if they needed any help, only to find James already at the top of the 1st pitch! Well done guys.

This was the perfect evening SRT trip and marked a big step up for 2 of our newer members. With a bit more rigging practice they will be able to lead us all on some great trips. But they do need some tuition in how to read surveys…

Photos by Dave.