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.

Highs and Lows at Ribblehead

Dave, Maz, Pete, Ray, Scott, Tom, Will
Trip report by Maz

In an effort to try and entice people to a couple of easy caves on Ribblehead Moss, I’d cunningly placed a teaser of treasures in the trip invite. Several folk took the bait…

The truth was, I’d been out and bought 10 cans of lager and was intending to stash them in Thistle and Runscar caves as a treat for the lucky finder.

I arrived an hour and a half early and my plan was to start stashing. I didn’t expect company.

The smell of cannabis hit me before I’d got close to the first shake hole. As I crested, I surprised two somewhat stoned and bemused lads in various bits of caving gear.

Once we had established I was not the drug squad, I went on my way and they stayed put and did their thing. I did half expect my beer to be missing however.

Dutifully, Will, Dave, Tom, Pete, Ray, and Scott arrived with Tom taking first blood by locating beer number 1 on my wheel arch.

Runscar was the first to be explored. The top entrance then transformed into Scar Top Cave with Pete and Dave embarking on a knee busting crawl to nowhere. I had recced this on Monday and didn’t fancy it again. Sensibly the others didn’t either.

The bottom exit proved a bit tight and contorting. Again, there were not many takers.

Onto Thistle and the beer hunt continued. Lots of easy passage with some nice formations. It was surprisingly pleasant. We regrouped at the main entrance and the cannabis smell persisted. Tom found the evidence, a joint butt with suspicious looking sealable plastic bags. It was all taken away. We are a responsible caving club and remove our litter as well as that of others

Only myself, Pete and Dave took the final downstream crawl. The finale was a tight, wet, exit which I had bottled on my recce. Dave took the lead and urged on by those above ground, exited beautifully on his back, barely touching the sides. Having witnessed this impressive feat and listening to everyone’s advice, I chose a face down approach. I hadn’t intended to, but this seemed to be the way my body wanted to go. It was also significantly slower, wetter and less than stylish. Pete having witnessed this inane flailing, chose Dave’s method.

We’d had a nice time at Ribblehead and there were even a couple of beers left for my Mrs when I got back. Thanks to everyone who came along.

Some folk bring cake to meets, some bring rain, others bring new discoveries. I’m leading Mistral in July, I’ll bring the mud instead.

Heron Pot

Connor, Dave, Maz, Pete, Scott, Sophie, Tom, Will

Another visit to a Wednesday night leisurely classic, the Heron Pot mini exchange. New prospective victim Will joined us for his first trip and handled everything like a pro, and took some cracking pics (and the odd LiDAR scan).

Both routes rigged, a poke around in the high level fossil series and a brave push out the bottom exit from Connor.

Pics by Will

Coniston Coppermines

Dave, John, Miranda, Tom

Upon reaching Levers Water, Dave noticed a group of 10 heading in, so we gave them a little time to get ahead of us, but by the time we reached Arete Chamber we bumped into them. A friendly bunch from The Caving Crew. We had a bit of a natter and they kindly let us overtake them. 

Off we headed across the MAGS stemples of doom, and into the Top Level Extensions. Pausing at the cart, we decided the traverse rope across to Earthquake Passage was looking in decent nick and that it’d be rude not to. So into new ground for us, enjoying a few artifacts and some nauseatingly deep holes in the floor.

We headed back up and over the stemples, and the Crew were still enjoying the first pitch. Once again they kindly stood aside for us and we leapt onto the second pitch. A whistle-stop look round a few side passages as we were all overstocked on photos of the lagoon and the blue rock. Down in Pinnacle Chamber, Dave made a scramble up into a hanging stump of a level and found some lovely mine pearls off the beaten track. Down onto Hospital Level and on our way to the Black Bull for a post-blue-Bluebird

Photos by Dave

Boundary Pot – Spiral Staircase

Dave, James, Tom

Dry Gill was on the list, but once again the weather decided it wasn’t Jason’s day, so we decided to get to Easter Grotto having failed with high water a couple of weeks ago itself. 

Water levels were nice and low, we got into Boundary no problem, surprised to find the wet entrance bits not too bad at all; I’ve only done Boundary in dry summery conditions. We made our way down the sketchy climbs, Fusion Cavern and past the crystal Grand Canyon map and found ourselves at Hiroshima in no time, and down the Manhattan Connection to Nagasaki. It’s always surprising how thirsty Easegill makes me, but we’d left our water bottles by the entrance of Wretched in an effort to travel light, and were pretty sweaty by this point. 

Thankfully we had Easter Grotto to distract us and take a breather. Dave got a few photos, then we headed on our way downstream and out through the speedy shortcut that is Spiral Staircase. Bursting out of the entrance pipe to our water bottles, we drank deeply and once again I promised myself I’d always take water down with me on Easegill trips.

Photos by Dave

Wretched Rabbit (damp trip)

Dave, James, Maz, Tim K, Tom

Really damp week, so we had to be more realistic about reaching our plan of Easter Grotto. The Gill was flowing when we got down to it, and after negotiating the entrance climbs we took one look at the hole down into Spiral Staircase and thought ‘sod that’. Instead we made our way down WR passage, through the flood escape of Fourways and into Stop Pot. The water was churning and we headed a short way upstream before being stopped by the low bit that spits you out at stream level just above a churning deadly chaos of streamway. We turned back at this point and headed back out the same route. At least we got a decent bit of exercise in the assault course that is WR

Rowten Pot

Dave, James, Ray

Rowten has always been a favourite trip of mine. Back in the day it was a great Sunday warm down after some epic or other on the Saturday. These days it’s the perfect evening trip.

As has been common this year, entry into Kingsdale was marked by a thick mist descending. The beck was in full flow too. While this may be ominous for planned trips to other caves, Rowten just gets better in such wet conditions as the rope can be rigged clear of the water.

We entered via The Eyehole, with the usual fun and games on the 2nd rebelay over the lip. On the main shaft, we took a hybrid route. This route descends from the 1st Y-hang in the bottomless rift, then swings over onto the opposite wall about 20m or so down to join the various rebelays encountered on the Gully Route. This has several advantages over the straight hang from the end of the bottomless rift. First, it breaks up the big pitch, which can speed things up on the ascent. Second, it keeps well clear of the water in even the wettest conditions. Third… it’s damn good fun!

From the foot of the main shaft we followed the Flyover Route, probably the only option in the conditions. The 1st rebelay on this, just round the corner in the perpendicular rift, is always a real pain. After that it was plain sailing to the bottom. James was particularly keen to have a look at the sumps, but even he had to admit defeat when faced with the thundering waterfall through which we would have had to climb to get there. Next time.

The ascent went without a hitch. Once again, this was a big step up for Dave & James… and once again they smashed it. Great effort guys. As far as I’m concerned, you’re both up to any SRT trip now.

Photos by Dave & Ray.

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.