Tuesday 17 July 2012

Level two caving sessions in The Easegill system. Saturday July 14th 2012.

Paul Odgen and Phil Bartlett had previously attended an introductory half day caving session with Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services back in back in early May.

On that occasion Iain took the pair into Long Churns and also Borrins Moor caves near Ribblehead. The pair enjoyed their session with Iain so much that they wanted to come all the way back from Manchester for more.

With the weather having been somewhat unsettled recently Iain was thinking about Bull Pot of The Witches for the pairs step up to a level two caving trip - either that or something in Easegill.

Anyway, last Saturday turned out to be a fab dry day and as Iain had already mentioned the possiblilty of doing the County Pot to Wretched Rabbit Passage through trip with the pair, they were eager to give this a go - even though Iain pointed out that it would be a much more strenuous trip than their previous caving session. Photo one shows the pair kitted out ready to go underground on the walk in from Bull Pot Farm to County Pot.

After the mile or so walk over the moor, one reaches Ease Gill - dropping down into the stream valley and immediately arriving at the lidded entrance to County Pot. As the first pitch was around 100m underground, we decided to delay putting on harnesses until just above the pitch head as we didn't want to hang around above ground - the midges at the entrance were horrendous!

Photo two shows Phil being lowered down the first 4.5m pitch to be encountered in County Pot - typical of a level two trip. As a qualified Level Two Cave Leader - Iain is permitted to use ladder & lifeline techniques on pitches up to 18m or 60 feet in height. Although we didn't need to use a caving ladder on this through trip you can see photos of people being belayed up a caving ladder in this previous post from last November.

Having lowered the guys down this first pitch, Iain then followed and "spotted" the guys down the 2.4m pitch into The Broadway.

We had plenty of time, all day in fact, so, Iain decided to take the pair on an almost circular trip from Broadway downstream via Oxford Circus in the direction of Platypus Junction.

From where we entered the chamber at Broadway to Platypus Junction was several hundred metres along an active streamway, sometimes a flat out crawl, sometimes a narrow twisting canyon, and through a rather complicated section of breakdown (a stable roof collapse) befor arriving at Platypus Junction.

In photo three Phil & Paul stand with their hands on "the bill" of the platypus. There is a very nice example of flowstone (a Speleothem) behind Phils head.

At Platypus Junction, we were able to head up another passageway leading in the direction of Spout Hall and more importantly - the way on via Poetic Justice into the further reaches of Easegill caverns.

Poetic Justice (PJ) was soon arrived at - one has to know where to look as the route is not obvious - unless you have been there a few times before! About 75 metres before arriving at Spout Hall one has to duck under an low overhang on the left wall and you will finds yourself looking up into a narrow: and these days VERY polished rift about 3m high.

At this point Iain gave the pair the option to return to the 4.5m pitch via Spout Hall, Showerbath Passage and Oxford Junction should they not feel up to continuing - as one has to make a big commitment to some long strenuous work beyond PJ. Phil & Paul were loving every minute of their Level Two Caving Session so far and were definitely for going on & not back, so.

First of all, Paul had to give Iain a leg up in the narrow rift. It is now so polished that it must be nigh well impossible to get up without some assistance but once up, Iain was able to rig up a belay to bring up first Paul and then Phil who is about to attempt to climb the rift in photo four. He didn't have to try to hard - he was so light Iain literally hauled him up!

Having crawled through the low bedding that is Poetic Justice, Iain found himself at the head of the next pitch - a 5.4m drop into Upper Pierces Pasage.

To his surprise, he found a pull through rigged from the left bolt and a caving ladder attached to the right. So, had we decided beyond this point to reverse the trip then we could still have done so as Iain had left the first pitch in County Pot rigged - just in case.

Photo five shows Paul being lowered down this 5.4m pitch into Upper Pierces Passage during our Level Two Caving Session in Easegill Caverns.

Iain then lowered down Phil before following on the pull through rope. At the foot of the pitch we found several caving bags belonging to York University Caving Club. Thank you guys for being able to use your rope!

Once at the pitch foot, we set off down Pierces Passage to the point where the Trident streamway enters from the right. The trident area of Easegill caverns is a complicated set of passages and the caves in the upper level are so complicated "they defy all description" according to the guide. There is, however, another way back into County Pot via this route bringing one out into County Pot via Splash Chamber, The Manchester Bypass (the high level flood escape  route from Stop Pot) and showerbath passage.

Continuing on down Pierces Passage one eventually comes to the foot of Wretched Rabbit Passage emerging on the right. A little further on, the roof lowers  and then one emerges in the Main Drain (photo six).

The Main Drain of Easegill caverns is the lowest point to which all water entering the system from Easegill Beck on the surface flows to. If one looks at the survey for the system, the Main Drain runs underground almost parallelling the surface streambed from Top Sink at the head of the system all the way to Beck Head where the water resurges into Leck Beck. Between these two points run many caves and active streamways and it is posssible to enter & exit by a number of routes. Our through trip from County Pot to Wretched Rabbit Passage (WRP)  is one of the most popular routes although Lancaster Hole to Wretched Rabbit Passage is another very popular route with a 34m descent down a narrow shaft followed by a long & complicated traverse following the Main Drain to WRP.

After our visit to the Main Drain, we retraced our steps as far as the WRP entrance before commencing the long route back out to surface. The first part of the route is part crawling, part stooping up to the breakdown area at Fourways Junction.

Beyond this we climbed rightwards & upwards into a slightly higher chamber which turned into a rift passage where one has to "back & foot" to avoid slipping down into the tighter section below. For while we lost the active stream which takes a different lower route but eventually we rejoined the stream.

WRP largely takes the form of a narrow & extremely windy canyon where one is either traversing sideways or crawling on the floor. One eventually reaches a 3m waterfall climb and a junction where you must go right. A further section of similar passageway (photo seven) leads one to the boulder wall dropping into Spiral Staircase. Here, WRP opens out into the final high rift at the top of which one finds the exit into daylight. The scaffolding bar is still in place as is a long length of hawserlaid rope - handy for scaling the final but easy climbs at the back of the rift.

At 15:30, having gone underground in County Pot at 10:30, we emerged back out into the daylight after five hours underground on our Level Two caving session in Easegill Caverns.

Wretched Rabbit Entrance can be seen between Paul & Phil and is one of many entrances from  the bed of Ease Gill (foreground of photo). All three of us were pretty tired from our strenous  exertions of the last hour, but very satisfied with what had been achieved.

In terms of the progression from Level one to Level two caving, compared with Long Churns, the step up to level two caving in the County Pot to WRP trip is not technically demanding - there being only three short pitches to deal with en route on the through trip.However, in terms of the physical effort involved; and the distance to be travelled, this trip is of a very much more serious nature and certainly an all day caving trip. The weather on this day was good and conditions within the cave system in terms of water levels - very low. Easegill can be a difficult & dangerous place if the beck is flowing down its course past County Pot.

In terms of suitability of this caving trip as a progression for Paul & Phil, Iain felt that it would be fine provided the guys were prepared to commit to what was involved, but they were both hugely enthusiastic and itching to give it a go - having done a fair bit of research about the route. Paul had even gone to the effort of losing a couple of stone so he could get around easier - bravo Paul!

The final photo from this caving blog post was taken by Paul and shows Phil pointing into the entrance shaft  at County Pot. Iain was down the hole at the time - retrieving his rope and karabiners from the head of the first pitch.

On his return to the surface  we all hiked back over the moor to Bull Pot Farm and washed our very muddly caving suits & kit in the washing pool there before packing up. It was a lovely still, sunny afternoon and the lads set off - having an appointment with a number of bars in Manchester that evening. Iain, meanwhile, ate the lunch he hadn't had earlier and then had a liesurely pack up before heading over the hill and back to Kendal - enjoying the views over to the southern Lake District fells en route. It had been another one of those perfect days! Other photographs from this Level Two Caving Session in Easegill Caverns can be viewed here.

If you would like to enjoy either an Introductory Caving Session or a Level Two Caving Session in the Yorkshire Dales National Park with Iain from Kendal Mountaineering services you can contact him here. Introductory Caving Sessions can be of half day duration whereas most Level Two Caving Sessions are a full day out. Please not we will not take you on a Level Two Caving Session unless you have attended a Level One Caving Trip with us previously. Our caving sessions are very popular with Stag & Hen Parties.

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