10/05/08 and 11/05/08
Ian and Simon.
Rather like the old cliché about buses, I waited 25 years to do a sump again, then 3 came along at once, followed by 3 more the next day! In my early caving days, the Swildons sumps were very familiar and I particularly used to like the easy, but longish sump 2, with its deep, round passage. After taking a look at the Langstroth sumps last year, I decided that my neofleece attire was hopeless for these cold pools and with winter out of the way, my now battered wetsuit jacket was supplemented with a new shorty and a thick hood and new mask were also purchased.
The arrival of the dry, warm spell meant that the time had come and fortunately Simon was also desperate to get this trip done.
The days before the trip were filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement, being fully aware of the grim history associated with these sumps and I did not sleep too well on Friday night! Saturday morning promised a fine day and I resolved to cast all nerves aside and just enjoy the experience. After calling in at Yockenthwaite Farm, we packed a minimal gear bag and walked up the hill to get changed by the entrance.
We decided to rig the pitches, rather than go blindly for the pull-through trip, in case of a missing dive rope or some other unforeseen circumstance, carrying a minimum of up-kit between us. I also chose to use a sling harness with a maillon and HMS ‘biner for an Italian hitch descent – this worked fine on these short pitches and the lack of bulk was very nice at the tight head of pitch 2. Taking every chance to wallow in the canals and pools, I was pleased to note that the water was not too cold and my confidence grew as we descended, enjoying the nice free-climb of pitch 5, curiously done by bridging facing out! Great fun, but the climb was trickier on the return the next day and thankfully had little water to hinder the plop onto the notch at the top. The passages before the last pitch are finely decorated and we enjoyed these wading canal sections before dropping down the superb final shaft, stashing the bags and donning hoods and masks.
Simon felt the need for a roll-up, but I was keen to be off whilst I was still warm and trotted off to the sump pool, followed by Simon a minute later. With mask set, I took a few breaths and pulled on the rope, twisting over to face the roof and soon emerging in the large chamber/air bell of Higham Hall – a very nice spot. Pulling on the rope to signal for Simon to follow, I waded over to the other side of the chamber to find the next dive point. We had arranged that we would not linger in the next air bell even to give rope signals, only allowing a delay before following. I wanted to go first and Simon agreed, warning that if I used up all the air, he would return to haunt me! After the requisite few breaths, I pulled down, with more depth required and a lumpier roof, I again rolled over for the dive and popped up in the notorious small air bell, quickly clearing a small amount of water from my mask and resetting my lamp to full setting after it had been knocked on the ascent to the air pocket! Reaching the final line requires a duck under a small arch and with a quick breath I pulled down for the final dive, exhilaration mounting as I knew I would be emerging in fresh air!
Allowing myself a big smile, I waded over to a sandbank, waiting for Simon to pop out, as he did with a yelp of excitement! A quick walk along the fine passage and we were out in the sun – fantastic.
Both having evening appointments (thanks to Andy and Claire for the meal, by the way – especially Claire, as I didn’t see Andy cooking) we decided to return the next day to reverse the trip and retrieve the ropes.
An early start saw me in Langstrothdale before 10 and with a couple of bits of gear stuffed in our suits we took the short walk to the cave manhole cover. Again, I wanted to go first, with an even stronger warning of ghostly appearances from Simon! Diving straight in, I soon popped up in the air bell, definitely feeling more urge to gulp air due to cold shock, but quickly moving over to the next rope and emerging with relief in Higham Hall. Watching the rope twitch and seeing the light tracking underwater signalled Simon’s safe arrival and we both enjoyed the final dive at a leisurely pace – what a great experience.
Fortunately no cave goblins had nicked our bags or ropes and we shared 1 set of up- kit on the ascent, necessitating me standing on the ledge of pitch 2, whilst Simon squeezed up first. I got stuck here, getting the line wrong, requiring a tug from Simon before I was extricated and ready for the final strenuous crawl. To complete the day I found a Stop in the stream bed, with minimal corrosion – honesty is nagging at me to post it on UK caving, although it must have been there a while. Emerging in the heat of the afternoon, we agreed that we had enjoyed 2 memorable days of caving. Definitely a trip to repeat, albeit always to be treated with respect.