Enthusiasm for harder caves was high after I'd pulled off a magnificent coup in getting Captain Walmslers and Admiral The Cutty Sark down Marble Sink for my 300th trip a few weeks ago. It was marginally harder to convince the ever-reticent Captain Findles but in the end she too wilted in the face of a barrage of excitement and occasional cajoling.
As one of the more classic tight Yorkshire potholes it was surprising that we hadn't already done Car Pot, so we set out to remedy the situation. The weather had been pretty dreadful during the week and on saturday, but after a good 24 hours of dryness everything looked fine. Nobody could be bothered coming back to the dump afterward so I dutifully saddled up Chardonnay and zoomed off, leaving the Findles-mobile to pick up our ropes kindly left at Greenclose by Matt and Gary.
Apparently we'd been too keen to leave the dump to Newcastle uni, with the result that I'd left my wetsocks behind. A miserable trip beckoned, but Captain Findles had a spare pair which fitted almost perfectly. We popped up long lane in fairly short order, and found the entrance in a modest shakehole on the opposite side of the wall from recently visited Grange Rigg, Christmas Pot, and all that crowd. The shakehole is easily identifiable by the withered tree and free climbable entrance.
Having both climbed in the wrong way, Admiral Sark and I made it to the first pitch, where a nice Y hang from shiny IC anchors got us down to the floor of a spacious rift passage. This slopes off in both directions, but the anchors led the way for the Admiral, who was soon down the next small climb and going round a right-hand bend on the incorrect side with a persistent drip in his face. His promotion to Admiral has always been a mystery to me.
The bend, which might be a tad awkward for some, spits one out over the second (Baptistry) pitch, so clipping in is probably wise. I hadn't. Fortunately I managed to contrive a roped descent instead of a gravity-only one. Just around the corner, Sark was sliding down the letterbox squeeze just before baptistry crawl. With a slight sense of foreboding - both about the crawl and the later ascent of the letter box - I followed him, only to be stopped short while wedged in the top section. My Senior Lecturer companion was taking the opportunity to remove his srt kit and stuff it into his bag before the fun of baptistry began, and I spent a comfortable but restricted few minutes hanging in the rift, trying vaguely not to kick him in the head.
With only two bags remaining already, we decided to manage the front one together, with Mark pulling and me pushing, and leave the second bag to the two Captains bringing up the rear. Baptistry is longer than seems really necessary, but it is indeed the second quarter that is the tightest, and has the deepest water (or mud/water/sheep soup). A few inches is enough to soak one's left side (recommended) entirely, as wallowing is the only method of progression. Fortunately there are only a few opportunities for bags to become a problem, and punching the bottom of our tackle sack seemed to put a stop to that. Sark got through quickly, though he regretted not attaching the bag to a belt of some kind. On the other side, relishing the feeling of being soaked on one side and dry on the other, we awaited the duo of Captains. Looking back down the dreary crawl, a tackle sack soon came into view. Captain Walmslers, perhaps wanting to spare his compatriot the trouble, had elected to push the bag ahead of him through the entire length of the crawl, with his SRT kit attached to the hauling cord and presumably in his face most of the time. An interesting decision. I popped back up the first few metres of the crawl to relieve him of his self-imposed burden.
Having negotiated what sounded like the least pleasant part of the cave, we headed off down a very short section of larger passage to the head of the third pitch. Just before the pitch the passage lowers, forcing a difficult choice of feet first or head first. Sark went feet first, and soon discovered the pitch's nefarious intention. A sharp spike provides the only place to sit at the pitch head, forcing the caver to find some way to complete the pitch without sitting on it and becoming more intimately involved with Car Pot than expected. With the pitch rigged by Sark, I also headed off feet first, managing to put a foot on the spike and sit on that. After a quick lecture to the pitch about obtaining consent, I completed the descent. Captain Walmslers had difficulties, as the spike had not learned its lesson and wouldn't take no for an answer. Eventually he had to go head first. Captain Findles sailed through, perhaps better versed in warning off stubborn suitors than the rest of the team.
The final pitch follows immediately, with a back up to an enormous but less insistent spike leading to an interesting, multi-ledged shaft. The first section is split by a rounded ledge and is fairly drippy. From the floor a short section drops the caver down a drippy wall to a rebelay bolt, allowing one to pop through a small window with the drips to the final single bolt hang down the impressive drippy shaft. Much of the mud from baptistry is cleaned off here by the drips.
The pitch lands in the roomy, dry craven passage, where we were surprised to learn we had been underground all of one hour. A quick read of the description suggested North Craven would be much more interesting than its opposite number. In this direction a quick stomp up an inlet passage leads to some climbing up boulders, becoming progressively more muddy. The visual connection with East Passage in Gaping Gill is in this area, but without the complicated arrangements necessary to have a team on the other side at exactly the right time, it's impossible to know where exactly it is. Fortunately there are other attractions: a very fine stal and curtain arrangement in the ceiling of a large muddy chamber, attended by large arrays of bedding plane straws around the outside. The short crawls leading on from this chamber soon choke.
Back at the pitch bottom, we debated a visit to South Craven. With a good 15 minutes of crawling the best that it could apparently offer, we sacked it off and began the ascent. With smooth derigging up to the third pitch, where the spike was much more easily avoided than on the way down, we found ourselves back at baptistry, psyching ourselves up for another go. Sark Mims made a poignant distinction between 'hard' caving and 'miserable' caving, placing baptistry firmly in the latter category. Captain Walmslers and Captain Findles seemed to agree, as the sound of much excursion floated down the crawl, while myself and the Admiral quickly cooled to a fairly uncomfortable temperature. With communication between the two pairs leaving something to be desired, and wanting to avoid any waiting in the crawl on the other side while the Captains negotiated the letterbox, we ended up waiting for some time. Eventually we headed off, and found the crawl a little tighter than on the way in, for no readily obvious reason. We were soon up the letterbox with the aid of the wooden stemples, and from there a mildly awkward ascent of baptistry pitch paved the way for our exit.
A total of 3 hours underground seemed surprising, but it had been a varied and enjoyable trip. Sadly, the drippy, muddy, dark passages of Car had been no match for the clean, contorted rifts of Marble Sink, but the cave had lived up to expectations and we were pleased to have visited at last. The cave would make an excellent sunday or evening trip, as the installation of proper anchors seems to allow rather faster trip times than suggested by the Black Book. A quick jaunt down the hill and a not-so-efficient change completed the day, and it was home for everyone else and back to the dump to collect my wetsocks and mouth off at the students for me.
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