Strans Gill Pot
Ian Cummins, Simon Beck, Chris Smith, John Clark.
I’d been looking forward to this trip since seeing the meets list and had even checked my ability to pass a 7.5-inch squeeze using a couple of DVD cases and a piece of wood held by my kids. Fortunately, or not, depending on your viewpoint, this obstacle in the entrance pitch is no more, apparently blasted out to effect a rescue since the publication of my 1979 guide.
We’d arranged to meet at Cray and I had a coffee in the pub before everyone arrived and asked the lass in the kitchen if we could park out back. The pleasant flat walk was not too bad in a wetsuit and despite the previous day’s rain I was confident of bottoming the pot. Pulling back the tin sheets over the entrance in the dry beck revealed an evil black slot and the roaring of water below. Indeed, apart from the howling gale at the bottom of the big pitch, my main memory of the trip was the constant noise of rushing water.
Chris had done the trip several times before and favoured using ladders on the short pitches and I brought a short bit of climbing rope for a lifeline, if necessary. We rigged a ladder on the first pitch, but in fact most of it is too tight to fall down and there are holds on the lower, wider section, although it was handy to pull up on at the tight point on the return. From here a crawl in fast-flowing water led to the tight, wet head of the Hope pitch, where we rigged a ladder from a chockstone, although the comments for the entrance pitch again applied here. The skinnier, wetsuited members of the team got down this pitch without too much fuss, although Chris and John had a desperate time getting their chests past the squeeze. After a few attempts over about half an hour, they suggested that Simon and me should carry on.
More tight stuff follows, with hard work getting tackle through the roof-level squeezes and I wound up getting my knee jammed in the crack at the nasty right-angle bend. Remembering the infamous Doug Scott Ogre incident, I tried to pull my knee out (it had to be the one I popped out climbing last year) to no avail. Only by relaxing, twisting and lifting could I get it out! There was some respite in the form of The Opera Box at the head of the big Charity pitch, where we rigged Simon’s 90m rope from the old bracket and ringbolt to allow spits to be placed for the descent to a ledge 15m down. Just before I started to descend, we heard John’s voice behind us – it transpired that he and Chris had removed their oversuits to get down the Hope pitch!
The ledge breaking the Charity pitch is a wild, wet spot and I placed more bolts for a Y-hang and 2 rebelays just below, before committing to the further forbidding 50m of the descent. It was impossible to escape the considerable force of the spraying torrent and after swinging around in the hope of fixing a deviation to drier territory, I decided the safest option was a speedy descent to the bottom. Not much respite here though in the wind and spray and I was forced to lie huddled in a hole at the end of the chamber for ages, whilst Simon at the rebelay tried to communicate with John at the pitch head. I was pleased to see Simon come down and we decided to crack on to the next pitch as I was cold and needed to get moving. After a crawl in the fast-flowing streamway, we were able to sit up in a small chamber, mercifully quiet it was too, in order to dump our SRT kit and carry ladder and lifeline for the Sluice pitch.
The next section of narrow, wet crawling was quite intimidating, with a flat-out section with little airspace just before the pitch. Rigging the ladder from 2 bolts, we could see the dry sanctuary of The Assembly Hall, although the bottom half of the ladder was out of sight in the torrent. I reckoned my lifeline was too short by a metre or two and told Simon I would go down as far as I could and untie if I was close to the bottom. At first I could bridge out of the water, using the ladder for my hands, but this was not possible lower down and after descending a few rungs under the full blast of the water I climbed back up to the top. If we’d used a longer rope with SRT it would have been possible to rig a deviation from a spike, but with the gear we had left we were kippered and decided to head out. Such a shame, with the Passage of Time so close! Later, a more thorough reading of Northern Caves revealed a possible dry descent by chimneying above the Sluice pitch to crawl forwards to the longer Balcony pitch – but I know now.
Getting back to the SRT kit in the dry chamber, Simon waited to allow me to get up the big pitch, which I did at top speed, waiting on the ledge to haul up the bags when Simon appeared. I ate my Penguin and Breakaway bars in The Opera Box, hoping for an energy boost for the final gnarly gear-haul. I did the tight bit from here in reverse, allowing a bag relay, which worked very well and arriving at the Hope pitch, I was relieved to see no signs of wedged cavers above. We uncoiled the big rope and I tied it to my ankle to be used for a bag haul above the squeeze. It wasn’t too bad getting up and with more bag teamwork we were soon at the entrance pitch, where John and Chris appeared after a trip back to the pub!
Despite not getting to the Passage of Time, or beyond, we had all had a fine, arduous outing and a return on a better day should be much more pleasant. My thanks to all for a fun day out in difficult conditions, with everyone maintaining good humour despite the circumstances.