Hammer Pot – Stuck in Stemple!
Hammer Pot is one of my favourite caves – lots of water, plenty of variety, not much mud and a good physical day out. Mind you, it does sport one of the nastiest obstacles in Dales caving in the form of Stemple Rift, which seems to be sporting fewer and fewer wooden footholds on each visit, making it feel harder every time. Whilst not being particularly tight, it is slippery and sustained enough to have caused many cavers to fall prey to its clutches (literally!), since fatigue results in a descent to its tighter lower regions, from which escape is very difficult indeed.
Brian was my sole companion on this trip, despite feeling unwell and I’m not sure all the crawling did his digestive system much good at all, but we reached the Out Fell Master Cave in good time, finding Sludge Crawl to be relatively low and clean.
Every time I reach this section of the cave, I’m always impressed by the power and speed of the water flowing down the passage and with the wet summers we’ve had for the past 3 years, I’ve never found the cave in a benevolent mood.
With Brian feeling a bit queasy, we didn’t descend the wild final pitch and made our way out, which for me was a bit easier than my last visit, being unencumbered with antique caving kit this time.
I exited Stemple Rift first, with Brian close enough behind to hold the bags at some points on the initial ascent, but we then became separated by a few metres as I progressed, holding Brian’s bag to eventually emerge with relief at the ‘normal’ bit of passage at its end. Whilst having a breather here, I was able to listen to Brian’s exertions and was disturbed to hear the unmistakeable sound of a tackle bag sliding and crashing, followed by a few choice words from the caver ‘in-extremis’.
Brian emerged, sans bag and looking rather knackered, suggesting that I should be able to get it back! Seeing as it contained all my SRT kit and some ropes, I was rather keen to retrieve it and fashioned a hook from a ‘biner on a bit of 8 mm rope to try to snag the bag. Retracing my steps, the bag was soon spotted at the base of the nastiest section of the obstacle and the fishing began, with about as much success as if I had been trying to catch a trout! Not wishing to leave the cave in a state of negative gear equity, I had no alternative but to squeeze down the hideous slot, such that I was just able to grab a strap and pull up the bag. Getting myself out was a different matter, being tight against my chest, requiring rather a lot of ‘peristaltic’ movement and a few primal screams to alarm Brian – anyway next day everything hurt!
Exiting the final section, with the free-climb of pitch 1 was pleasant enough, glowing in the relief of not losing my kit – see you next year Hammer. Interesting to note that Brian reckoned Stemple Rift to be the nastiest section of cave he had ever encountered!