Ian Cummins, Simon Beck, Nick from Essex (CPC)
Simon had the permit for this trip as a CPC meet and fancying doing this cave as well as reasoning it was unlikely to be a sell-out, I asked if I could come along. I waited for Simon up on the fell and he arrived with Nick as the sole prey from his hut hunt, Nick being on his second trip of the weekend having been on a Birkwith meet on Saturday. Apparently more than 30 turned up for that trip.
My previous research had found the fine descriptions of the NPC explorations of the cave and the rapid and nonchalant way they bottomed the Pot way back in 1957 – impressive stuff. Anyway, with wetsuits and a few bits of 9 mm we were ready for the trip, hoping that the monsoon of the past few weeks had passed.
The crawl to the first pitch was not too bad and we found this to be a nice free climb on solid jugs. From here the cave turns nasty and the slippery, strenuous Stemple Rift, although not particularly tight, required more energy than The Crux in Quaking, since the bags had to be carried through without being dropped into the tight rift bottom. Once through this section, some respite in the form of Showerbath chamber appeared and the nice pitch following had 2 easy climbs down to a rope section onto a flat, wet platform. With a lot of cascades to climb, one short rope pitch led to the long Sludge Crawl. This was not too painful, with a nice sandy base, but went on for what seemed like much more than its stated 100 m length and low sections showed evidence of recent sumping. The roaring of the Master Cave water was soon apparent and what a sight it was too – not particularly deep, but very fast-flowing and the streambed has many deep, hidden potholes to bash your body. Here even some decent-sized chambers showed foam coating the walls about 15 feet up – I definitely had the feeling of being in an underground water pipe here, rather than a cave – an impressive, yet spooky place.
The final pitch is the biggest and most impressive, with the water crashing down, but this is avoided by a sneaky traverse and crawl around the shaft to a dry hang, with a fine flowstone opposite, although the power of the water at one’s feet for the first move off the pitch head meant a traverse rope was in order. From the base of the pitch, easy caving led us to a rubbly chamber, where the water ran into a low bedding and the alleged bypass to the sump appeared to be choked, so we set off out.
I was first up the pitch and headed off for Sludge Crawl, although I missed the turn and headed up the Master Cave water inlet, wondering why the water was so fierce and the roof so low, until Simon called and I turned back, basically being washed down the passage by the water. The crawl was again an ordeal, but at least we were above the flood-prone sections. I was impressed by Nick’s jumaring speed with his foot jammer – very neat.
The reversal of the Stemple Rift section proved to be very hard work, wedged in the slippery, scalloped crevice, with helmet in one hand, tackle bag in the other, searching for the odd foothold or wooden wedge for respite. Simon and I used combined tactics with the bags, which often got wedged and after probably 30 minutes to pass about 20 m we were through. Unfortunately, just as I was relaxing, Nick shouted that he was stuck, so we had to go back to investigate. Without a bag, it felt almost easy to go back, but I saw the disturbing sight of Nick right in the bottom of the rift, unable to move, with his waist where his feet should have been. Just when I was asking Simon for slings to rig up a jumar haul, Nick had a pull on my foot and managed to extricate himself – what a relief. With the circulation restored, he was able to get out fine and the final rubbly crawl was not too bad after what we had just endured.
We all felt rather elated on our exit – what a fine trip – about 7 hours worth of very varied caving, one of the best and a real testament to the cavers who explored it pretty much 50 years ago to the day.