Penyghent Pot – to the downstream sump, Eerie Pot and beyond.
Ian, Simon and Ed (Durham Uni.)
After being thwarted by high water levels in the wet summer spell, I was undecided whether to be satisfied with a trip to the downstream sump, or to go for a trip to The Extensions past Eerie Pot. As it turned out, I still felt under the weather from a persistent cold, Simon had an evening engagement and Ed turned up without a light, having to make do with my not-too-bright back up. In view of these circumstances, we reckoned on going to the sump and checking out the initial part of the Friday 13th series, whilst attempting to free-climb as much as possible in order to gain a bit of knowledge for a future trip, hoping to psychologically shrink a trip to the very end into a manageable undertaking.
Parking at Brackenbottom (thanks again BPC folks), we had a pleasant walk up on this very mild November’s day, passing a few walkers en-route. Despite the dry autumn, the plateau below the black edge of Penyghent was still wet and boggy, but the canal only sported a moderate flow, making dragging the bags a bit more arduous than in high water. How this 1,000-foot section drags on!
The extra flow from Spike Pot inlet did make for a reasonable level in the streamway beyond, bringing the cave to life and making progress pleasantly sporting. Arriving here first and rigging the pitch before Ed and Simon arrived, I managed to downclimb with a self-belay. It’s not something I would recommend ropeless though, as much of the rock is mud-coated. Pitch 2 is shorter and on clean rock, allowing for a fine bridging climb, with the water spraying between one’s body and the rock.
For the big combined pitch, I had tied a chunk of old climbing rope to the end of my 50m 9mm, to give the extra length required. However, I had forgotten how wide the bottom of the pitch is and had a real faff passing the knot, whilst hanging free. In retrospect I should have used the short end at the top, or omitted the first P-hanger, which I reckon would allow a 50m rope to suffice. Anyway, full marks to Simon who figured out why I had been thrashing about and minimised the rigging to allow the knot to touch the deck.
There was still a fair wind at the bottom of this pitch, with the water spraying onto the smooth, white walls to the left of the rope.
We had a great time free-climbing all the following rift pitches and after roping down Myers Leap, we were soon following the shin-bashing streamway to the Tenth Pitch, passing under Niagara and then in what seemed an instant we were wallowing in the deep, deep sump pool.
On the return we free-climbed the Tenth Pitch and got out a short length of climbing rope for the traverse across the wall to Eerie Pot and The Extensions. Although the climb across is easy, a fall due to a snapping hold would be very nasty – a sling on a boss is a good runner and one can find a safe belay in a big hole at the end.
An easy section leads to the traverse over Eerie Pot. At first glance, this looks horrendous – looking almost like a full-on Tyrolean, pictures of Lost Arrow Spire flashing into my brain, but closer inspection reveals 2 solid in-situ ropes and a narrowing of the abyss at the back wall, allowing one to bridge across without weighting the rope.
Ahead of us lay the low, cobble-floored crawl to The Extensions and still feeling curious, we carried on for a long way over this painful territory, all the while wishing for more knee protection than my threadbare neoprene pads offered. Eventually, reaching a higher spot after ten minutes or so, we decided to head out, having gained enough idea of what is involved.
Back at the traverse, we again belayed across and set off up the rift pitches, having great sport climbing up these ropeless, pulling or relaying the bags up as necessary.
Ed was first up the big pitch and arriving at the re-belay point, I set off to free-climb the top part of the pitch, having been told by Steve that he’d done it before and also having noticed plenty of holds on both walls on the way down. The rock is lovely and clean and is a very satisfying climb, ending at a pair of sharp flakes for the final pull onto the ledge. Shouting down, I advised Simon to follow suit and on his arrival, we hauled up the bags and took the pleasant stroll to Pitch 2. Ed was up first on the rope and I really enjoyed climbing this short, clean pitch – almost like a wet boulder problem.
Back at the canal, Simon headed out first, whilst Ed and I laboured with my new fat tackle bags (or should they be called water carriers, since they have no drain holes), wondering how it could take so long to crawl such a distance!
Emerging into a chilly evening after about 8 hours underground, we had a fine view of the fireworks in the valley below, having had a very enjoyable day.