My son and I spent a pleasant afternoon free-diving the Langstroth sumps in shorts and T-shirts, enjoying the warm, clear water and not even requiring helmets and lights, since both ends of the cave and the airbells were finely illuminated. Yes, I was dreaming, it’s strange where your mind can take you! Then I woke up to the sound of rain on the window and with a rasping throat, some unease about the planned return to Strans Gill. Feeling no better a couple of hours later, I was forced to call Simon to cancel and have a rare weekend off.
A week later and feeling keen, despite the poor weather, we settled on Car Pot, hoping it would not take too much water. On the drive over there was not a single vehicle at Ribblehead, but on the walk up to the cave, the rain had ceased and the wind had dropped, making conditions not too bad at all.
After sorting the gear in the shakehole and stashing the bags under some blocks, the first pitch was rigged with a 20m rope for this dry, narrow shaft, landing on a muddy floor, next to a cold, showery inlet. Passing this very cold shower with a feet-first squeeze, leads to the top of the second (Baptistry) pitch. There is a spit a few feet before this pitch, which I only noticed on the way out, but Simon was able to thread a chockstone for an initial belay, whilst I placed a hanger for the wet descent of this short pitch. We both immediately felt the cold, due to the frigid shower of water, but mainly because of the very cold downdraught that was present. Simon conjectured that this was due to the narrow connection with GG main system pulling the cold air down and upon reaching beyond this point, we found that this was probably the case.
The smooth, Letterbox squeeze leads down a short drop to a slightly less constricted area. One of the infamous features of the cave, the Baptistry Crawl, follows on, being a flat-out, gravelly crawl along a nicely-sculpted passage. Going first, I found about 2-3 inches of very cold water and lots of cobbles to shift on the way, with relief in the form of a higher section at the end, where I spent a few minutes clearing a rocky blockage and immediately lowering the water level in the crawl, since with the cave turning more vertical in nature, the water rapidly drained down the rift.
A short flat-out section ahead led to another awkward pitch head, where a short descent leads to a ledge and a traverse to a more spacious area to allow rigging for the fine pitch below. Meeting more water and again feeling the cold wind, we quickly rigged the rather wet final pitch, passing some ledges to land at a very chilly spot to fix a rebelay and drop through a small, wet window for the final showery descent to the lower, horizontal section of the cave. Arriving at the wet, windswept base of this pitch, I was desperate to find a bit of shelter and immediately pulled up on the muddy fixed rope leading to the South Craven Passage. Simon followed up and after eating a snack, we decided to reverse the climb and head over to inspect the North Craven Passage, with its superb formations. With some care required on the muddy slopes, we soon found the famous curtain, but I was more impressed by the collection of rippled stals on the left of the chamber and the many straws, all immaculately clean and undamaged, fortunately.
Reaching the end of the passage and finding the draughting rift, we headed out at full speed to keep warm. We decided to pull the bags through Baptistry Crawl and I went through first with the rope tied to my ankle, finding that with the dredging work we had done on the way in, it was not unpleasant to pass this section on my back and with Simon behind the bag to coax it along, we were soon past this obstacle. The Letterbox squeeze was a bit trickier on the way up, but the cunningly-constructed stemple was useful and we were soon on the surface, with more rain falling and a very strong wind in our faces once we climbed out of the shakehole.
Having brought coat and gloves, the walk down was not to bad, once in the shelter of the lower ground and Simon was even able to manufacture a roll-up, after several aborted attempts, to satisfy his craving! We thoroughly enjoyed the day, with the extra water adding a bit more spice to this fine cave.