Boxhead Pot - Lost Johns Pot

23 September 2013

Posted by
John Dale

Boxhead to Lost Johns is a cracking through trip, which included the Tate Galleries and the Lyle Cavern series, both hugely remote areas of Lost John's pot during the early 80's. Before the relatively recent discovery of Boxhead pot, a trip to the high level Lyle Cavern and back out through Lost John's on ladders was always a major undertaking. The team assembled at mid-day and, after some faffing, located the correct shakehole. At this point, a local team of three arrived - with an intention of surveying new passages. The lead surveyor seemed surprised at the YCC's comments about the magnetic switch on a Stenlight affecting compass readings - so the rumours of a Three Counties passage heading towards Exaclibur may indeed be inaccurate. At this point, I noted the 50:50 male to female ratio and quite frankly I have never seen so many hard core female cavers underground at the same time. The pitches into Boxhead proved to be similar to the final pitch of Juniper Gulf and were very impressive. The engineering at the head of the 33M entrance pitch was very impressive. Especially considering that, at some point, someone was prodding foot level boulders at the top of a choked 100M shaft - with a crowbar. At the point where the Tate Galeries run off from a ledge on the big pitch one can look into the huge parallell Lost Pot shaft. This infamous scene of a major digging effort collapsed many years ago in an incident that almost killed a member of the Red Rose. Seeing the huge amount of rubble at the bottom of the wet shaft (which used to reside at the pitch head) was sobering. The Tate Galleries were unexpected and proved to be interesting "Northern Dales" type caving, including small keyhole passages, tight little rifts, crawls through pools and an abundance of mud. Routefinding was interesting and awkward, especially since the smallness of the passages was unexpected. At one point (while inserted into a Jenga type tube) Gary threw a hissy fit and Mat had to extract him rearwards, feet first, without the SRT kit he was wearing when he entered. The next main obstacle was the Quote " Fascinating" climb as detailed in "Not for the Feint Hearted". This was a slippy, just off vertical, spiral climb up a very smooth scalloped passage. Even given a hawser laid handline this proved difficult for those with short legs and it proved safer to drop an SRT rope down from the top so those of smaller stature could reach the much larger passage above. This point on the reverse journey is a critical point to identify and would be very easy to miss. Larger abandoned passages followed until a drop down into a immature streamway led downwards to the top of the Lyle Cavern pitch. An in situ SRT rope was in place (as this is needed to reverse the lower Boxhead round trip through "The Tube" as detailed in NFTFH. Some discussion was had as to the suitability of the rope and old exploratory spits. JD, being an old guy, thought the tackle looked immensely strong - being more used to abbing off single half drilled bolts, tied off pegs and rotten fenceposts. The Lyle Cavern area of Lost Johns is very impressive, huge soaring avens coated with flowstone and an immense rift passage lying just above the Lost Johns main drain. A twenty foot handline climb down vertical flowstone proved tricky but dropped onto a boulder ruckle which, previously, a YCC team had reached from the Lost Johns end earlier in then year. With no sign of the York University team from Lost Johns there was a fifteen minute panic as the Boxhead team contemplated having to return back through the delights of the Tate Galleries. Garry and John set off in the search for unsuspecting students and found them having just decended the final pitch of Lost Johns. Delivering our charges to the Boxhead team they were given precise route descriptions "turn left at the sunglassess" "Don't miss the two foot of hawser going into a boulder ruckle" and "the arrow made out of straws pointing to a hole were you don't want to go IS the way on" and finally "when you reach the blue plumbing follow it to the surface". Then the Boxhead team legged it towards the safety of Lost Johns, before the three hard core students could mutter "Sunglasses?". The journey up Lost Johns (essentially a repeat of the earlier recce trip) proved uneventful except for a couple of points. Firstly the physical effects three hugely heavy tackle bags on the more aged male members of the YCC whose memories of being fit hard core student cavers were to say the least "distant". The second point, was that four out of five Yorkies have clearly never perused "Potholing beneath the Northern Pennines" by David Heap which, published in 1964 clearly illustrates Quicksand passage as leading to the now blocked "Old Entrance". After unsuspectingly checking the blocked old entrance passage the intrepid team (s) returned to the easily mistaken junction with the existing entrance and were greeted with "been to see quicksand cave?" from JD (a Dave Heap trained "Old Timer"). Another period of panic set in when it started to get dark (and the YCC team started to feel guilty with respect to the, sunglasses, hawser, stal and plumbing instructions given to the unsuspecting student team). This time, discussions revolved around having to put wet gear on And go back into the Tate Galleries. Despite many halucinatory (wishfull thinking) sights of lights on the fell, an eventual "confirmed sighting" of the University team in the darkness was happily recieved with Car Headlights - to guide them to the safety of the road and prevent the YCC tackle dissapearing the wrong way into the darkness. In all this was a hugely enjoyable trip, and although well planned and organised - still left sufficient doubt in place to retain an element of uncertainty - which brought just the right level of tension. A similar "Head to Head" (Boxhead pot to Deaths Head pot) exchange would be an excellent addition to a future meets list. JD.