Cupcake

Maz, Ray, Tom 

Report by Maz

Whenever I had spoken to people about Cupcake, the response was either “haven’t done it” or “it’s a bit muddy down there.”

With such an enticing sounding name, surely a bit muddy, meant, well, a bit muddy. Research had garnered that the eponymous Cupcake is a rather cakey looking calcite feature somewhat near to the entrance. Sounded lovely.

Ray hadn’t managed to get many takers for this and had floated alternatives. I, however, was keen to see this fine piece of geological patisserie. Tom kindly offered to show us the way.

According to the description, Cupcake is a series of pitches connected by various highly decorated crawls, rifts, ducks and passages, eventually joining up with Notts 2 at the superbly named Count Lazio Stroganoff’s Aven. Our plan was to give some of it a go.

Our descent began when Tom was tempted by the entrance in situ rope. A few feet down and the shout up was this was a quick one. I’m not keen on those sort of ropes, so Ray was persuaded to rig one especially for me. Quickly down, through a shored section, and we were on to one of several crawls. This culminated in the famous Cupcake feature. I do like these looky likey type formations and while I appreciate some resemble their name only vaguely, cupcake does very much look like a cupcake.

Mission accomplished, it was time to explore. Tom had been down to just beyond pitch 3 before and was keen to further his knowledge of the cave. Some more crawling, this time with added mud, we descended via Splashdown pitch into Pool chamber. That’s where the proper mud began. Not so much of a splash, rather a gooey splat. The journey though was made better with some excellent formations including wonderful translucent straws. A tight downward rift then led to some nice traversing. Tom leading down the unpleasant slope that was mud pitch. There was no avoiding the horribleness here and soon we were caked.

This point marked Tom’s furthest exploration. To move on, we needed to escape the chamber. We knew there was a tight rift climb at the far end. If we could get someone up onto the ledge above, they could rig a rope down for the rest of us. Brilliant! We soon spotted a scaffolding pole 30 or so feet above. That was the way forward.

What followed was a genuinely impressive free climb by Ray up a tall, vertical, extremely tight, exposed, muddy rift. Upon gaining the ledge, Ray informed us that the scaffold pole we were relying on, was in fact just tape. He did find the bolt however, and rigged the pitch. This was Limbo Pitch

I ascended first and did OK for a while. At the top, the pitch narrowed and my progress slowed. Soon I was down to short movements, gradually inching up, using, elbows, knees even my head, to aid my progress. I arrived exhausted. By the time Tom’s head popped up, I was just getting my breath back and heart rate under control.

We were keen to continue. Some hugely impressive formations followed and along rifts and easy traverses. Sludge Crawl lived up to its name. tight, squeezy and muddy. Very, very muddy. Ray dumped his SRT kit and Tom left the tackle sack. We carried on through this hell hole to pitch 5; Slither Aven.

Although the way forward looked perfectly fine, this became our terminus as time was getting on and I was aware that was becoming knackered.

Back through sludge crawl. I regretted leaving my knee pads in the van. Formations gazed at on the way in became a blur as we soon reached the descent down Limbo pitch. Gravity and a very muddy rope soon had me on the bottom of the pitch. Ray downclimbed the rift to meet us. I don’t know how he got on with it, as I was already on the mud slope. Progress on this return journey seemed very quick until a squeeze literally stopped me. On the way in I’d just wriggled through. After a bit of effort, I was free, Tom and Ray offering encouragement.

We breezed past the Cupcake and soon we were out to a setting sun. Our clothes, rope and SRT kit covered in mud.

Would I do it again? Probably. Was it worth the mud and crawls? Back at home 24 hours later, I’d say yes. Would I recommend it? Like many things in life, you just have to see it for yourself.

The moral of the story? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, don’t judge a cave by it’s name. Cupcake, my arse. Mississippi Mud Pie more like. Thanks to Ray and Tom for rigging.

 

Manchester Bypass

John, Miranda, Tim D, Tom, Will

It was about time that the Manchester Bypass – the flood escape route from Easegill which often gets neglected from regular trips because it’s a shithole – was re-familiarised and the knowledge passed on. 

For whatever reason we decided it was best to do it both ways to double the suffering wholesome knowledge. So across the moor we headed and slipped down the County entrance series like nobody’s business. When we reached the sharp end at Battle of Britain Chamber, Tim led the way on, closely followed by Tom who had insisted he would never fit through after an attempt earlier in his caving career, even more so the day after getting back from an all-inclusive binge of a holiday. But through some optimistic and knowledgeable coaching from Tim, there were no particularly difficulties. Not to say that it wasn’t tight and horrible, but it was good to be able to finally see this route. 

On reaching Main Line Terminus, we sat to collect our thoughts, get a few nice photos and admire the vastness of the high level route from a different angle. Miranda, Tom and Will headed back a little and into the lovely Main Line Passage, a lesser-visited spot as it’s not a through route but with plenty of nice straws and a few helis. This terminates high up in the wall in Monster Cavern, so we turned back and headed to the Terminus. 

There was some talk of avoiding the horrors of the bypass for an easy exit via Wretched Rabbit, but we realised that Miranda had helpfully left some clothing halfway through the bypass, and also the impracticality that we’d left all our SRT kit at the bottom of the County entrance pitch so would have a hard time getting it back from the outside. So we dove back into the bypass for a thrutch-fest in reverse. Some difficulties on the way in became easier in this direction, but new struggles replaced them from nowhere. 

We were all quite knackered on getting out, and John enjoyed getting up close and personal with a welly-thieving bog on the walk back, but we all lived to tell the tale, and pass the knowledge of this grubby route on to future generations to suffer.

Photos by Will and Miranda

Rigging Practice: Lost Johns

Helen, Sophie, James, Dave

Well we’re ready to take you on a Lost Johns Exchange on 10th July!!

Sophie, Dave, James and Helen went on a quick refresher of rigging skills and specifically, the ins and outs of Mud/Centipede and Cathedral/Dome routes.

We kept quite tightly to a preferred exit time of 10pm and made it back to the cars at 9.59pm! James and Sophie will be leading half of the group down Mud and Centipede on the 10th, and Dave and I will rig the Dome and Cathedral route. Unfortunately, with our tight timescales last night, Dave only reached the bottom of Cathedral…he says he will wing the pendulums and hanging rebelay of Dome on 10th (but I will be following closely so nothing can possibly go wrong??…)

See you on the 10th July for the KCC new, but increasingly competent, riggers exchange trip.















Ibbeth Peril… at last

Pete, Nat (Pete’s son), Maz & Ray

This trip had been a long time coming. I think it had been on the last 3 meets lists, but the weather had never quite co-operated. To ensure that it happened this time, we even brought it forward by a week as the weather finally seemed amenable.

Pete led us on a relatively quick, but very enjoyable trip. After excavating the entrance, we crawled through to the main chamber, which was as impressive as ever. Of course we had to climb up into the inlet passage above the chamber. I think this is one of my favourite sections of passage in the Dales… beautifully shaped and well-decorated.

After that, we dropped down into some of the lower level stuff. Pete, Vikki and I had found loads of passage down there on a previous visit, but we were unable to find some of it this time for some reason. There was still plenty to have a go at. The lower levels seem to contain a maze of passages.

Unfortunately the midges were out in force on our exit from the cave… and all the way back to the cars.

Photos by Ray

F’ing Hopeless Pot

Maz, Steve, Scott, Tom & Ray

Tom & Scott had been down this relatively recent discovery very shortly after the original explorations and were keen to get back. It was a 1st time trip for the rest of us and we were eager to see the well-documented pretties. Tom led us expertly straight to the entrance.

The excavated entrance shaft is a 20m climb down scaffolding. for which the CNCC description suggests a knotted handline may be useful. Being clever, I minimised the length of rope required for this by stringing together a series of single overhand knots, rather than knots on a bight. This was definitely a case of wishing I hadn’t started… it takes quite a while! In the end, the climb isn’t too bad, but the handline is useful on a few short sections.

At the bottom, Tom led on through a short crawl and rigged the 1st pitch. There was some debate (mostly from Maz) about whether Maz’s harness was coming undone at the top of the pitch, but it seemed secure enough. Scott then suggested that, as Ray hadn’t been before, he should lead on from this point. Ray protested, but lost.

Progress is never easy, but never really hard. The pitches are all fairly short. There is still some loose stuff around on some of the pitches and climbs, so some care is required.

Eventually we reached the rope heading up to Levelling Up. As Scott had been before, he decided to forego this particular pleasure on this occasion. Given how nice it is up there, I think this was a good call. Tom & Maz thought it looked a bit tight, so the 3 of them carried on to Speechless Grotto at the lower level, while Steve & Ray headed up the rope. It is indeed quite tight at the top. Once up the pre-rigged pitch, there is an awkward little climb up into a tube. Luckily, this was also pre-rigged with a short length of rope, complete with a very useful foot loop.

The tube at the top of the awkward climb is a short crawl through to Eggshell Chamber. This doesn’t pose too much of a problem, apart from a constriction, which isn’t that bad. I think anyone who can get up the pitch would fit through ok. Eggshell Chamber is reasonably well decorated, the highlight being a huge flowstone cascade. At the entrance to the chamber is a calcited side tube, heading off to Leveling Up. The tube is mostly easy crawling. Again, there is a single constricted section (as far as I recall), but it’s not too bad. It’s certainly worth trying to squeeze through to reach the pretties beyond. The passage starts to enlarge to walking size as Levelling Up is reached. The formations just get better the further you progress. Lots of straws and stals. The highlight for me is a grotto with lots of stalactites, each festooned with a multitude of helictites. I’ve never seen the like of it before.

When Steve and I had had our fill, we returned to find the others waiting at the bottom of the pitch. They had been to Speechless Grotto and come back with tales of stunning formations. Yeah, yeah… it can’t be as good as Levelling Up. We popped along to have a look anyway as the others started making their way out. Actually, Speechless is pretty stunning itself. Steve pushed on a bit beyond Speechless and then we started to make our way out, catching the others at the bottom pitch. Steve did a great job of derigging the whole thing.

This is a truly unique cave and well worth protecting. Tom & Scott noticed that some formations were already considerably muddier than on their first trip, which can’t be much more than a year ago.

Photos by Steve.

Notts 2 – with a twist

Ray, Tom, Maz, Scott, Yolanda.

On Wednesday we went on a trip to my favourite cave – Notts 2. As we’d all done Notts 2 several times before, we decided to take a different route and leave the main streamway to explore Inlet 5. As the designated trip leader, it was apparently my duty to be at the front, slithering on my belly through the mud. To me, after a couple of minutes of slithering it looked as though we’d reached the end of Inlet 5 – the tunnel seemed to be getting smaller and smaller and muddier and muddier. However, I could hear some mutterings from behind me – something about how I hadn’t spent enough time crawling through mud to really know that there was nothing at the end of the tunnel – so I carried on slithering out of pride. To my considerable surprise, it turned out that there was something at the end of the tunnel – a little chamber with some very pretty calcite formations.

The next hour continued along similar lines. We’d wriggle through the tunnels for a few minutes at a time before stumbling upon chambers with various beautiful formations. We’d spend a couple of minutes getting our breath back and admiring the pretties before slithering further and further into the cave. Eventually, we came across a huge chamber with various different tunnels splintering off from it. We hoped that one of the tunnels would lead us back to the main streamway, but there had been a rockfall. The only way out was to lead everyone in crawling back through a load of muddy tunnels. Everyone was caked from head to toe in mud by the time we emerged. They were sorry they’d ever mocked my commitment to caving…

Having said that, they can’t have been too put off because there’s talk of trying to dig through from the huge chamber to the main streamway, so we may yet be able to turn Inlet 5 into a satisfying little round trip rather than a long muddy crawl. Watch this space!

Lost Johns – Sink Chamber

Jason, Pete, Ray, Steve, Tom

Thwarted by the rain yet again, our planned trip to Scanty Lardos was diverted to Lost Johns. Some of us were seeing the looming Berger expedition in July rapidly approaching, and a fast energetic trip down Dome route to the blind Sink Chamber was exactly what we needed to reassure us that we might be able to manage at least some of the Berger. 

Pete’s been keen to start learning some rigging, being a competent de-rigger now, and he made light work of stringing up the Shale Cavern pitches for us. The waterfall from Monastery route was really thundering into Sink Chamber and hand gestures were the only way of communicating down there. 

We were surprised to get back out into sunshine, with the sun not having set below Casterton Fell yet. Summer caving season is upon us, hopefully with some warm spells so we can finally get stuck into something other than wet weather trips, which we’ve really done to death over the past year 💦

Gaping Gill Mystery Tour… or Who The $#!& Is Steve?

Claire, Will (aka Mark or Matt) & Ray (aka Steve) with special guest appearances by Pete Sykes & Jean Brooksbank (BPC)

The Bradford winch meet seemed too good an opportunity to miss, given that most of the entrances to the system would be pre-rigged, so 3 of us set off for Clapham on a fine May morning with no particular plan. We arrived in the village around 09:30, easily early enough to get a good parking spot up by the church… or so we thought. Not a chance! There were cars everywhere. We ended up parked back out towards the A65. We were later told that the winch meet is now so popular with tourists that they were turning people away at 08:30. Apparently people start turning up at the booking-in tent up by Main Shaft at 05:30. Perhaps they need to charge more?

The walk up was pleasant enough, although it must have been a bit hot for Will who didn’t get the memo about walking up in normal clothes and getting changed up there. Then, of course, we had to decide where to go. Will had never been in the system before, so was happy with anything as long as we saw Main Chamber. Claire had been before from Stream Passage to Bar. She was adamant that she didn’t want to come out of Bar again. So a reasonable plan was to go in Marilyn, have a poke around in Hensler’s Master Cave then take New Hensler’s crawl through to SE Passage, do a quick out and back to Main Chamber then exit via Flood Entrance/Wade’s. The only potential issue with this excellent plan was that our guide (yours truly) wasn’t sure he could remember the route through New Hensler’s. Assurances were sought and given that failure to find the route through to SE Passage would not result in bodily harm of any sort. After all, we could simply return back out via Marilyn if it all went Pete Tong.

A quick change, even quicker visit to the toilet block, check-in at Main Shaft and stroll over to Marilyn entrance saw us joining the queue to descend. Directly ahead of us were a nice duo from BPC – Pete & Jean. Pete sounded very knowledgeable about the system, so I resolved to stick as close to him as possible, especially since they were planning to use New Hensler’s to get to SE Passage. If only I could keep him in sight, I may just be able to bluff the others that I too was very knowledgeable.

Now, I can only suppose that excitement about such an amazing trip (or was it nervousness about being guided by a an incompetent fool?) got the better of Claire at this point as she took to referring to Will as Mark or Matt (alternately) and Ray as Steve. Whatever the reason, it was useful to be able to blame Steve for any subsequent mishaps.

The entrance pitch is a series of short drops. Some of these are a bit on the snug side – no problem sliding down, but I could already feel mounting pressure to find SE Passage with each muttering about it possibly being a bit awkward to re-ascend. Hmmm… is Pete still in view?

The 2nd pitch (Niagra) is famously loose. One wall is essentially just a loose collection of cobbles and boulders. Things have definitely improved in recent years with the addition of 2 rebelays, rather than a single deviation. Even so, we took the precaution of ensuring that the previous person was clear of the pitch before the next started to descend. This took a while for the 3 of us to get down. On the positive(?) side, a choir of students from Cambridge waiting at the bottom of the pitch kept us entertained(?) with various caving songs, some of which I thought had died out years ago. What they lacked in tunefulness they made up for in enthusiasm. On the negative side, there was now no chance of catching Pete & Jean. We would be condemned to crawling aimlessly around various Hensler-themed scrot holes before admitting defeat and struggling back out of Marilyn.

The remaining descent of Marilyn (which is now really Disappointment) went smoothly, consisting of 3 more nice pitches with the odd bit of passage in between. The last pitch is particularly nice. At the bottom of this, a scramble down the boulder pile leads into a low passage on the way to the master cave. Much to our surprise (and my relief), who should we meet here but Pete & Jean. They had specifically waited for us. An act of extreme generosity… or had we come across as so incompetent that they had no other choice? Let’s give them (or do I mean us?) the benefit of the doubt.

We set off as a group of 5 along Hensler’s Master Cave, with Pete’s extensive knowledge of the area coming to the fore with various tales and descriptions. The master cave grows to impressive dimensions initially. Even when the size decreases, it is still pleasant walking for the most part, with various formations and features to marvel at. Eventually Jean stopped, but Pete escorted us to the ladder leading up to the Blowhole and eventually the Far Country. Pete turned round here… fair enough. But we couldn’t come all this way and not at least climb the ladder for a look at the Blowhole. We would have to be quick, but hopefully we could catch Pete & Jean again and all would be well.

 The ladder up to the Blowhole is actually a double ladder, the old one being still in place behind the newer one. This would be fine if the rung spacing was identical… but it isn’t! The passage at the top is a muddy crawl. The way onward is to the right. Another passage heads left, but we didn’t explore this. After a bit of crawling we eventually arrived at the Blowhole. It’s many years since I was last through it… I can only suppose I was a MUCH smaller man back then. To say it didn’t look inviting is an understatement. Will is no mug and quickly declared himself out. For a while, though, it looked like we might be able to cajole Claire into making an attempt. Alas, sense prevailed in the end. We’ll add it to the list of places to return to.

All this tomfoolery meant we would really have to leg it to catch Pete & Jean again. So off we set. Sadly there was no sign of them even at the start(?) of New Hensler’s. Off up it we set, crawling for all we were worth. If only we could crawl fast enough we could probably still catch them before getting too lost. The first definite sign that things had gone a bit awry was when we emerged into the bottom of Hensler’s High Aven, complete with rope for the final pitch of Hensler’s Pot. Now, while I don’t remember all the details of New Hensler’s, I was pretty sure it didn’t pass this aven. Oh dear. Should I admit we were wrong and backtrack in an attempt to find the route we wanted? Fearing for the health of my various bodily appendages, I decided against this course of action. There were really only 2 places we could be – Old Hensler’s or Mud Hensler’s. Old goes on a bit, but would eventually take us toward Main Chamber. Mud would be miserable, but would give us a very nice round trip.

Beyond the aven, things got muddier and wetter. That probably answers that one then – we must be in Mud Hensler’s. Again, it’s so long since I’ve been that I couldn’t be sure. Then the ducks arrived. And not the quacking sort. The miserable, freezing, ear in the water sort. The sort that spelled doom for my man parts if this passage didn’t lead somewhere. Then the character changed. No longer were we crawling. We were in a tightish muddy rift. Climbing up, we thankfully emerged into something big. Now, if that was Mud Hensler’s, we should be very close to Mud Hall. Being winch meet, there should also be a rope dangling down from Corky’s. At first I couldn’t see any rope, but was more relieved than you can imagine to eventually spot it. And, just a few steps further, the vastness of Mud Hall. YES! The day was saved. Even I can find my way out from there. It must be pointed out that, through all of this misery, Will was dragging a tackle sack. He didn’t once complain – even when it got stuck in the most miserable part of the crawl. He’s made of harder stuff than me.

The mood was now considerably lighter as we made our way along and then up Mud Hall into East Passage, eventually emerging high up the east side of Main Chamber. It’s always an impressive sight, but particularly rewarding to introduce someone new to it. Will was such a virgin and was suitably blown away. We stuck around Main Chamber for a while to wash off some of the excess mud, take photos and chat with some of the Cambridge students we’d met at the bottom of Niagra in Marilyn. God knows how they’d got there as they were on their way out when we passed them earlier.

Then onwards again, along South Passage, then SE Passage to SE Pot. Our plan was to climb the rope here and exit via Flood/Wade’s, but there was a bit of a queue waiting to go up. So we carried on to the Bar Pot main pitch. Now, those of you who have been paying attention will remember that Claire’s one specific demand of the trip is that we didn’t go out via Bar Pot. So she was understandably perturbed at this point. Not to worry – at the top of the greasy slab, we were able to crawl through to the entrance pitch of Small Mammal. Phew!

While waiting for some people to be lowered down the Bar Pot main pitch, we got talking to a BPC member, Roisin. She lives in Penrith and may be interested in joining KCC for some midweek fun. Let’s see if she makes contact.

This was an excellent trip. I have no idea how long we were underground for. It felt like a long time, but it really doesn’t matter. Will’s grin on exiting… and all the way back down into Clapham… summed up the day perfectly. To paraphrase Sid Perou… what a way to spend a Saturday.

Photos by Will.

 

 

 

Robinson’s Pot

Will Burnett (3rd KCC trip), Vikki & Ray

Despite there being a lot of interest in this trip, injuries and other commitments conspired to reduce the number of attendees to 3. Damian, our nominated leader for the day, was gutted that injury prevented him from joining us.

The drive over to the pot is reasonably long, but this is more than compensated by the scenery. A quick courtesy call at the farm confirmed that we were ok to descend. Apparently the lady in residence has never been into the cave… and has absolutely no intention of ever being. She was, however, very friendly.

For anyone who hasn’t been, the entrance is in a most unusual location – directly under the kitchen window of the farm. A very small manhole leads directly onto the entrance pitch, about 7m long and best laddered. The pitch immediately opens out into a spacious shaft, rather worryingly directly below the farm kitchen. As requested, the last person down the pitch replaced the manhole cover and secured it to a rock at the bottom of the pitch, using the convenient in situ rope and a helpful anchor in said rock. Apparently this prevents the curious farm kit falling down the shaft.

Below the pitch, the entrance series is fairly interesting, consisting of various rifts, crawls and climbs with quite a few inlets to poke up. I think we managed to poke up every single one. At one point, just after a (not unpleasant) crawl in a muddy tube, we were unsure of the way on. Will poked up one way and Ray another (leaving the tackle sack with rope and ladder for the later pitch/climb). Ray’s way turned out to be correct, but was a flat out crawl over cobbles in a small stream. Emerging into the relative vastness of MacColl’s Rift, Ray shouted back for the others to follow. Unfortunately, poor communication led to the sack being left behind. So, while Will & Vikki explored MacColl’s rift, Ray went back through the (unpleasant) flat out crawl to retrieve it.

MacColl’s Rift is a nice bit of passage, with larger sections punctuated by the odd crawl or climb. It was a bit muddy in places, leading to the occasional bit of hilarity trying to squirm up slopes. We noted the Crossover Passage leading to the streamway, but pushed on to the end of the rift, before returning. The Crossover Passage starts as a crawl, but soon increases in height to become more of a rift, taking a small stream. At the end is a short (3m?) climb down into the main streamway. This climb was pre-rigged with a handline, which we used. So there had been no need to return for the sack after all!

The streamway is very nice indeed, with the odd decorated bit. We started by going downstream, which led relatively quickly to the inevitable downstream sump. Turning left just before the sump led into a low, wet crawl. We followed this (led by Will) to another sump with quite a bit of diving kit strewn about. Presumably this is actively being pushed at present.

We then headed upstream in the main streamway. This goes on for quite a bit further and is really a very nice bit of passage. Eventually the roof starts to lower and the water gets deeper. Ray pushed this to the upstream sump for some unfathomable reason.

We then made our way out at a leisurely pace. There was nothing to explore on the way out as we had pushed every bit of navigable passage on the way in, so before long we were back out into the scorching sunshine for the short walk back to the car.

Robinson’s is a great trip… and one that I would happily do again before too long. As this was Will’s 3rd club trip, he expressed an interest in joining as a full member. No objections from me – we’re lucky to have him!

Photos by Will and Ray.