Ian and Denis
Denis suggested this trip as he hadn’t been down in many years since his explorations of a new section of the cave with Phil Tolson some time back in the last century – it was a first for me, so I was keen to have a look. Lying just along the hillside from Bull Pot, Craftsman’s is in sharp contrast to its popular neighbour, being tight, loose and strenuous.
Arriving at what we assumed to be the correct shakehole (Denis couldn’t remember), we found 2 entrances close together; a sheeted rift at the left edge, plus a lidded hole at the centre, opening into a scaffolded shaft – later reading confirmed that the new entrance was excavated by Mike Bottomley and chums in 2011 due to continual slumping of muck into the crawl from the original one.
Denis went down first, crawled back to below the other entrance, emerged covered in muck and declared it to be correct - probably. I carried on down from the scaffolding, sliding down some squeezes and bends to find some respite at an alcove above the first pitch, confirming we were in the correct cave anyway. Waiting below the first squeeze to collect the bags, I found what was responsible for the bad smell – a mole that had taken a wrong turn was starting to decay and was quickly covered with a slab of grit!
We had descended with our SRT gear on – not bad for people of our size, but not kind on one’s kit though, so it would be better to gear up just above the first pitch. We had brought 20 m and 50 m ropes, but found the cave to be rigged – the ropes looked fine, although the bolts are a bit rusty.
There is lots of loose stuff in the cave – not as bad as some reports suggest, if one takes care, since it’s mostly lightweight glacial fill muck of grit cobbles and gravel – I even got one in the eye on the exit while passing bags that was dislodged by Denis’s boot and it just bounced off! Dropping down the second pitch and into a ledge/window found me airily traversing on solid, calcited ground above a void and doing a wide chimney to avoid weighting the fine tied-off stal used for a re-belay, before dropping down the impressive rift into a large boulder-floored chamber.
I took my SRT gear off here and crawled through the 10-15m or so of low, cobbled bedding that leads to the continuing streamway. This is nicely-decorated, formed in the creamy rock familiar from the lower sections of other Kingsdale Pots, with some of the prettier parts also being reminiscent of Pasture Gill.
Denis led off down the final section to the sump – low, cobbly crawling for 10 minutes or so – neither pleasant nor interesting - that I did on my back on the way out – finding the view of the roof to be much more attractive than that of the floor. I stopped about 15m short of the sump – Denis declaring it to be too small for 2 and not very impressive anyway, as he reversed back to my point where a contorted reversal was accomplished.
After pausing to admire the formations of straws, curtains and helictites on the way out, we were quickly at the entrance series, despite me having to change from up to down mode as Denis dropped some kit from the traverse, when I managed to recover most of his flying torch. Denis hauled the bags up the tight vertical bits on a rope and I followed, having a bit of a struggle on the final squeeze up to the scaffolding, resulting in having to descend for a few feet and put my other arm through first. This is a slippery, slightly tapering section that had me struggling for a few minutes before I resigned myself to trying another method of ascent! Denis must have wondered what I was doing and was coming to offer a hand just as I managed to wriggle my way up.
A handline would have been useful, but that would have removed the challenge of course!
I emerged rather dirtier than I would have liked, an important criterion for a good cave trip is that one should come out squeaky clean, but definitely a trip worth doing once at least.
Thanks Denis – a super day out.