Strans Gill Pot (again)
Ian and Simon
The previous visit to Strans Gill in September certainly left an impression. The combination of Chris and John getting stuck and the high water levels in the lower sections of the cave made it a memorable trip. I was particularly disappointed to be stopped by the torrent of water coming down the Sluice Pitch, with dry land in sight! With a dry spell of a couple of weeks, I was keen to return before the end of the year and arranged to meet Simon at Cray. With only light rain forecast for a few hours, the weather seemed to be favourable and we enjoyed the walk up in superbly scenic frosty conditions.
Arriving at the entrance, the beck was dry, although the wet spell of 2 weekends previous was evident by the flood debris wrapped around the tin sheets, but at least the roaring water so prominent on the last trip was not to be heard. Free-climbing the entrance pitch, we placed a handline on the Hope Pitch and knowing the various tricks required to pass the obstacles, we were soon at the Opera Box. Taking time for a quick drink of coffee here, we rigged to the ledge with a 20m rope and re-belayed with a 50m for the final part of the pitch.
Fortunately, the bottom of the rift was not too hostile this time and the low, tight section of streamway leading to the Sluice Pitch, which had been very intimidating before, was very cold but had plenty of air space. At the Sluice Pitch we got a thorough drenching, but were soon down the rather loose free-climb of the 5th pitch, contemplating the low, wet crawl leading to the 6th. Tying the rope around blocks at the start of the crawl, the pitch was descended with a rebelay to a block, just over the lip, providing some protection for the rope and it is possible to bridge down to the ledge where a flake provides a solid rebelay for the final, 7th pitch. The final few feet of this pitch are fully in the waterfall and we were very cold as we contemplated the final low, sumped crawl.
In view of the frigid nature of the water, we decided to have a look at the Passage of Time and then head out. Simon had been to this series before and having heard much about the wonders to be seen here, I eagerly followed him along the short crawl above the 5th pitch into the large dry chamber. The display of straws and columns is superb – one feels that progress should be made on tiptoes and speech made in whispers, such is the tranquil nature of the spot. Definitely a place to be treated with the utmost care!
I headed out, leaving Simon to de-rig, enjoying a pleasantly hot coffee with my Twix in the comfort of the Opera Box, regaining energy for the final gnarly gear-haul. I must admit to finding the Hope pitch to be tricky on the return – much harder than last time – I reckon I was facing the wrong way. The result of this was a bruise on my sternum, but after pulling the bags through the slot we were soon at the base of the Faith Pitch. Free-climbing this is not too bad, since apart from the bottom 10 feet, it’s too narrow to fall down, although the final few feet are awkward since it is impossible to bend your knees and a few thrutches are required to reach the belay bar.
I was very surprised to be exiting in daylight on this short day, meaning a trip of not much more than 4 hours! Pulling the bags up the pitch was the final difficulty and after securing the tin sheets over the entrance with a few decent rocks, we walked out in the last of the daylight. What a superb trip – a fine end to the year. Hang on, there’s still a week left!