Hammer Pot – The Pit and the pandemonium!
My recollections of last summer are that it was much wetter than this and I was hoping to find Hammer Pot in a friendlier mood than last year, when we were somewhat sobered by the amount of water flowing in the Out Fell Master Cave, as well as the generous amounts of foam on the walls thereabouts!
With Simon along as usual and the only other interested parties being in Spain, I asked Mike Cooper if he wanted to join our trip and he brought Sam from ULSA along too.
Meeting up in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, I noticed how fast the beck was flowing past the cafe, so I was again prepared for a very wet trip. Showing Mike and Sam my copy of Peter Ryder’s new book, they were sufficiently impressed to want to buy a copy of the guitar-playing, folk-singing, Northern Dales-wandering veteran’s 'Memoirs of a Moldywarp', which has some great writing and fine drawings too.
After handing the permit in at Rainscar and assuring the lady of the house that we would not get stuck in the cave, the first problem of the day arose when Simon locked his keys in his car. A call home ensured his wife would (hopefully) find the spot and leave the spare, but a bit of ingenuity allowed him to make use of sloppy window design and a few simple tools to get in! Problem solved and wife call-out cancelled, we set off for the cave.
With Mr Cooper involved, this was not to be a simple trip – he had previously looked at, but not descended ‘The Pit’ at the top of Incline Passage and with 2 ladders for this hole, I was elected to descend. Northern Caves 2 declares this to be 18m deep and NPC archives suggest that the first explorer had to be hauled out, being unable to climb the ladder in the confines of the hole!
Being first down, I carried enough kit to rig the pitches up to Sludge Crawl and reaching the first pitch, I was surprised to see water flowing down it –it had been dry last year! It’s still an easy climb in the wet and I left a line for tackle bags, continuing along to the infamous Stemple Rift, with Simon close behind. This is not too bad going down, but still strenuous and it’s much worse on the return when the bags are a pain and must not be dropped!
Another reason for Mike coming along was to continue his cave clear-up efforts and we removed old ropes from this area and from the fourth pitch, where the old rope lay flapping in the streamway well below the base of the pitch, gathering enough peaty muck to look like a long piece of seaweed. Fortunately the old ring bolt at the top of the cascade here is solid, since although the first 2 drops are climbable, I had a job getting good purchase on the spits for the final hang, with 1 in particular being set in a bit of a dish making it hard to get the hanger to sit. A short-type hanger would save some faffing here.
Reaching Sludge Crawl, the rim of the entrance to the crawl was again covered in foam and the long crawl began (is it only 110m?), with the low section at the bottom end requiring a bit of on-the-back progress. Again, the flow of water in the master cave was most impressive – this time being brown-tinged and positively racing away and knee-deep. Sam suggested that this was not the kind of dimensions he had in mind when the term ‘master cave’ is used – no it’s not like Hensler’s! A short stumble down the shin-bashing streamway led us to the left-leading slope of Incline Passage –a haven from floodwaters and having some nice stals all the way up the steep scramble. Reaching a flat area, ‘The Pit’ was found and a ladder was belayed to a thread above. The top looked tight, but I slid down this with 1 arm above me at one point, making more amenable progress to a point where the ladder sat bunched at a kink in the drop. Wedging myself here, more ladder was added and I fed the pile down past the obstruction. A further slight squeeze and a short drop led to a very sticky floor of thick mud, with a few drain marks leading off to the far corner. Having held a tape measure on the descent, the depth was noted at 10.6m, somewhat less than NC2’s 18m!
Climbing out was pumpy, with my feet mostly just wedged on the walls and pulling on 1 arm most of the time to make progress for the final squeeze out at the top – very tiring!
Simon investigated a short climb up into another passage, with a further aven above it – surely not too far from the surface, but in my mind it’s a no-brainer to leave it bolt-free and unscarred. What would be gained from another entrance anyway? A hole in the floor hereabouts also showed promise, emitting a slight draught and having a small flow of water as well. Tools were assembled from a pile of relics at the base of Incline Passage and enlargement was attempted. Feeling a bit tired from all the thrutching and reckoning that we would not get to the sump in the high water, I decided to head out alone whilst the others excavated. After spending a while faffing with ladder links (these things are harder to align than the planets!) to make a lighter bundle for the exit, I was surprised by the rapid arrival of the others, who reckoned that a perceived increase in flow in the dig section merited a rapid retreat. I led off, not feeling too alarmed, pushing ladder and bag ahead of me, with several shouts of ‘hurry up’ from behind necessitating Simon to take some of my load! Needless to say, there was no flood pulse and we arrived at the chamber upstream of the crawl to have a snack from Sam’s pork pie collection – cheers!
Exiting the cave was great sport, with the added spice of wet cascades to climb, although with the heavy ‘muck-rope’ in my bag, Stemple Rift was a beast. Much swearing ensued from all party members before we were all through, with only the cobbly crawl out to be endured after the fun of climbing pitch 1.
Emerging to bright skies, I was uncomfortably conscious of how much sand I had inside my wetsuit and how much mud I had in my hair, although fortunately Mike took the vintage rope from me to carry out in his rucksack. Maybe one day we’ll get down here after a dry spell for a more relaxing day out in this superb cave.