Ian Cummins and Simon Beck
So far I have not been disappointed by any of the caves on Fountains Fell and Echo Pot sounded like a fine expedition. In typical ‘Northern Caves’ style, little is given away about the difficulties to be faced, apart from the Grade V listing, although Mike Cooper is more descriptive of some of the ordeals to be faced in the upper sections of the Pot in his fine book.
Parking at Neals Ing, we again found nobody around, but a friend of the farmer popped in at the same time and reckoned we would be right if we left a note on the doorstep with our parking fee. Taking the path past Magnetometer and then uphill through incredibly thick, tussoky grass, we were knackered by the time we found the round shakehole near a small outcrop, close to the wall.
At the base of this shakehole is the first pitch, rigged from a boss – and tight it is too, at the top, but it soon opens out and pleasantly easy caving leads to the second pitch down a narrow rift, again rigged from a sling. Then the going gets tough – SRT kit off and wetsuit hood on for a long, flat-out crawl in silty mud and water, pushing the tackle bags ahead with one hand, helmet in the other and negotiating a couple of nose-in-the-roof arches en-route. Cold, but perversely enjoyable! A cautionary note though - this section must sump sometimes, as there was foam on the roof! Following from here was another wet, flat-out section, although with much less water and difficulty than the previous horror, with a drop down into a little chamber for a sort-out. The section of crawling that follows is tight, generally sideways going and is really hard work pushing a bag ahead. In the lead, I ditched my bag upon reaching the crucial squeeze, hoping to turn around and pull it through afterwards. Unfortunately I could not turn around until I reached the head of the 50m Jackpot Pitch, doing a sort of handstand on the ledge here to return back to the squeeze. Simon had his bag in front of him too, on the other side, so he pulled the ropes out to allow me to make a few return trips to the pitch head with bits of gear – very strenuous and time consuming. It’s much better to unpack the gear before the crawl, tying the ropes in series and pulling SRT kit in a bag with someone behind to push if it gets stuck, as we did on the return. Indeed, the presence of a pile of 5mm hawser on the floor here suggests that this method has been used before!
The good news is that from here on, it’s just SRT work, with no more crawling or even walking to the bottom of the Pot. Basically, the 3 pitches follow in immediate succession, so no more carrying is required. We found fixed ropes on all the 3 final pitches, labelled ‘ULSA 1993’, with some ‘biners showing signs of a long time underground too, although we used my 9mm ropes on all the descents. Quick progress down the fine rift led us to a collection of new-looking tools and scaffold poles at the choked base – good luck to the diggers - from ULSA, I guess.
The return was not bad at all, since we had figured the gear moving trick and we were on the surface after a 7-hour trip. Echo is superb Pot - and hard work for a party of 2 carrying 160m of rope. We emerged into a chilly wind, grey skies and again, the summit of Penyghent was obscured by the mist – very atmospheric.