Ian and Simon.
Another very wet week, with snow to cap it all off, but a reasonable forecast for most of Saturday had me meeting Simon in Kettlewell for the connoisseur’s cave trip that is Yockenthwaite Pot. After calling in a Yockenthwaite Farm for access, we drove along to park up next to the Wharfe, where the cave entrance lies pretty much opposite Langstroth Pot, at a similar height. Deciding to travel light for this short-pitch cave, I left the dead weight of my Stop behind, aiming to free-climb as much as possible and use an Italian Hitch otherwise.
After wading the river we walked up the steep hillside, following the wall to a new fence line and gate with a plantation above, heading over to the fenced, tree-ringed entrance hole. Rigging off a tree and re-belay bolt, the muddy floor was reached, complete with a large collection of sheep bones. This innocuous hole must have claimed many victims before being fenced off and I reckon several must have unfortunately just starved down there, with the earthy floor probably allowing a survivable drop.
A mucky squeeze from the back of the pitch base leads into a series of short, reasonably wet pitches, that we descended by a mixture of climbing, handlining and abseil, with the wettest pitch having a tight pitch head reminiscent of the Hope pitch in Strans Gill. A few feet down this pitch, a step across onto a dry platform allows a thread re-belay for the descent into a dry, rubbly chamber. Simon spotted the way on, with a muddy mantle onto a ledge and the cave changed its character. Leaving the SRT kit in the chamber, we enjoyed the narrow traversing and crawling passage, with some sections even allowing the luxury of upright progress. Although lacking many stals, the walls of much of the lower series are covered in amazing helictites, together with a fine display of fossils and on the way out we admired a fine pair of gold columns above a clean flowstone, situated at a bend.
A couple of tricky head-dive manoeuvres had to negotiated with care to avoid insertion in the bottom of the rift and a squeeze over a block in the top of the passage led to an enlargement where a drop down to the stream is required. Noticing that the first hole was not highly recommended, I decided to give it a go anyway, always being up for a challenge and forced myself into this jagged, oddly-shaped squeeze. With a lot of effort, I managed to get my chest past a nasty notch on the lip and had my feet on the floor below, but could not get my shoulders through due to my wetsuit being snagged by the spiky rock and found myself well and truly stuck. Without gravity on my side now that my feet were on terra firma, it was hard to push down and the snags on my wetsuit stopped me going up as well. Simon reckoned it would have been a great picture to put people off caving, looking as if I had been swallowed by the rock! Feeling well and truly wedged, but not too uncomfortable, we discussed the options of another try at heaving me up, or of Simon taking the other route down and pulling me through and finally of searching for a suitable rock to attempt to bash the offending spike on the lip! Managing to wedge my feet and with a few primal screams, I managed to twist and rise a little, freeing my suit and getting back up for a well-earned breather!
Continuing down the second hole felt very spacious in comparison and we continued along the gritty, wet, crawling passage to the final double bend obstacle. Simon got round the first bend and almost round the second, allowing him to see the final, impassable passage and I declined the opportunity to have a go, feeling my very sore sternum.
As is often the case, everything felt smooth and easy on the way out, except for the final mucky crawl to the base of the entrance pitch, where I took a line too far to the right and got absolutely caked in clay. With my chest jammer full of muck, I climbed out, bridging the wet walls, with my hand jammer for protection, emerging into a snow shower being blasted by the strong wind.
Being so mucky, the freezing Wharfe had to be endured to wash tackle and wetsuit and the hot aches lasted until after we were ensconced in The White Lion.
Yockenthwaite Pot is a fine, sporting, yet short trip – brilliant Wharfedale caving!