16 October 2017

Posted by
Matt Ewles

It was too wet for our planned trip to Magnetometer Pot so after a brief discussion over breakfast we decided on FOUL Pot. It has been a few years since our last trip there. I remembered how good and wet weather compatible it was. Furthermore, it has recently been resin anchored meaning it should be an even more efficient trip now than it was previously.

The cave lived up to its reputation for wet-weather compatibility and despite a considerable amount of rain the day before (the river in Settle was fast flowing and peat stained and the fell was very wet), we had an excellent trip to the sump, only getting out legs a little wet.

Clearly the chamber just before the sump does flood but I find it hard to imagine anything but the most serious of flood conditions making this trip totally impassable. We managed a total trip time (car back to car) of only five hours which is pretty good, and we were taking a steady pace.

Overall FOUL Pot is an excellent pothole; it has some challenging obstacles, but nothing that most moderate build cavers will struggle with too much, and most importantly, the narrowest bits are very short and quickly open out into much larger passage beyond.

I’d say it would be a ‘Grade 4+’ pothole using the old difficulty grading system.

The three longer pitches are excellent; clean, spacious and impressive, and so overall this is a pothole well worth visiting and worthy of any meets list particularly now that it’s been resin anchored (thanks to Sam and the IC anchor team).

The following description should be useful to others planning a visit:

Call at the farm and parked up at Dale Head (honesty box for car parking). Follow through the gate and along the track across Fountains Fell (i.e. away from Penyghent). After 10 minutes, pass through a gate. About 5 minutes later (well before you reach the shooting hut), the track turns down to the left into a shallow dry valley. Before dropping into the valley, leave the path and cross the limestone pavement on the right towards the wall, to locate one of the few places it is possible to step across the wall thanks to some conveniently located limestone outcrops.

Head away from the wall towards the dry valley. FOUL Pot is located about 200m down the dry valley away from the wall (not to be confused with Echo Pot which is much closer to the wall). The entrance is at the base of the shakehole and is covered by metal sheets and rotten pieces of wood.

The entrance is an easy free climb of 5m but care is required with the stacked walling.

At the bottom of the entrance, a cramped passage leads away. After several metres, the way on is a downward slope into a narrow and flat out crawl through some puddles or a small stream. After 4m this crawl ascends awkwardly through blocks into a small chamber with some straws. We managed this crawl fine with SRT kit on but removal may be easier.

If you find this section excessively troublesome then you may wish to reconsider your choice of cave!

From the chamber the way on is to keep right into an awkward crawl-traverse over blocks in a rift (perhaps best tackled feet first). After three metres the passage enlarges and it is possible to drop down onto a shelf which overlooks the fine chamber below (Octopus Hall).

Take note of where you have just come from (it is easy to miss this later!)

This is a 4m pitch however at present there is an in-situ ladder which appears in perfectly good condition which avoided the need for a rope. However, it’s worth taking one just in case.

The chamber is very nice indeed; small but predominated by a large orange flowstone (please be careful to avoid muddying this). The way on is next to/beneath the flowstone, through a low wriggle under/through some blocks (a little loose so care) and into the ongoing passage. Immediately, another wriggle through blocks reaches a tiny chamber with a white calcite pillar.

From here, the way on is under the right wall where a 2m crawl reaches a 1m drop down onto a balcony overlooking the first (proper) pitch. The first anchor for this is near the roof and is reached just before you need to drop down from the crawl (clip in before you drop down as the balcony is only small and is directly over the pitch head.

We used a 29m rope and had a few metres to spare for this pitch. It’s an excellent descent of a lovely spacious shaft.

The spacious nature of the cave doesn’t last too long. At the bottom of the pitch is a very narrow section of rift leading off. This should prove passable for most cavers, but those of medium build or above will need to remove SRT kits. The rift must be passed slightly above floor level at the widest point so it is necessary to squeeze along on your side using one hand for support on the ground. The rift if only 4m long and it is fairly easy to pass tacklesacks through to someone else on the other side (who can reach in to grab them) without any trauma.

Don’t put your SRT kits on just yet, as a short drop down then reaches another 3m squeeze along a narrow rift, slightly easier than the first and again easy to pass tacklesacks along.

At the end of this second narrow section a 3m climb down (in-situ handline currently present but would be easily free climbed if the rope was absent) enters a spacious chamber, Keel Hall, with plenty of space to regroup and put SRT kits back on (although they are not actually required just yet so you may choose to keep it off for the following easy crawls).

The way on from here is at floor level under a jammed boulder and into the ongoing passage. This passage is an easy sideways crawl in the stream, which turns sharp left after 15m. A short but easy flat out section then eases to a muddy crawl for 20m, which soon enlarges into a proper passage.

Downstream in this proper passage is an excellent flowstone which you must duck under (care please, the vulnerable prongs of this have yet to be broken off and the flowstone is fine and white, please keep it that way). Beyond here are some excellent straws in the roof, some over 1m long.

An awkward 1m drop down under a block quickly leads to a traverse as the floor cuts down on the approach to the big pitch. A very nice large flowstone sits above the start of the traverse line (if you reach this flowstone at head height you are slightly too high and you will need to take a slightly exposed climb down a metre or so to locate the anchors for the start of the traverse).

An easy traverse reaches the muddy head of Man O’ War pitch. This is rigged from a large Y-hang. Careful positioning of the Y-hang is necessary to avoid rope rub further down the pitch, the first part of which is not a perfectly straight descent. About 15m down the pitch, swing across the shaft to a Y-hang rebelay (careful, the left-hand anchor is a little tight to the wall and a Karabiner is hard to get in and out; a maillion is recommended). The final descent is a magnificent drop of about 20m, landing in a spacious passage. In extremely wet conditions there may be a little spray near the bottom but nothing of too much concern.

Around the corner is another short pitch (Pool Pitch, 4m). It is then necessary to climb up a few metres into the ongoing passage, where the final pitch is approached.

Just before the final pitch, the passage abruptly narrows to a rift as the water cuts down in the floor, and it is necessary to take a slippery upward traverse to the top of a ridge of rock. Here, two anchors on the right commence the traverse line down the equally slippery downward slope to the pitch head.

Again, care with the positioning of the Y-hang at this pitch head is needed to avoid rope rub on the rock buttresses just below the take-off point. The pitch descends via a few ledges (no rebelay required) into a splendid chamber of large blocks (Fastnet).

A scramble down loose rock leads down towards the stream, and an easy scramble/climb drops eventually into a sizable chamber/aven with lots of mud. A stooping height passage (with scum on the roof to indicate that this part of the cave is not passable in very wet conditions) reaches the sump after only 25m; which is well worth getting to for the sake of completeness.

Rope lengths (updated from previous YCC trip report in lieu of new anchors):

  • 10m for first pitch into Octopus Hall (ladder currently in place, we didn’t need this rope)
  • 28m for second pitch
  • 50m for Man O’War pitch (third)
  • 10m for Pool Pitch (fourth)
  • 35m for fifth pitch

Karabiners: 17 minimum (recommend 19) plus one maillion for the left anchor at Y-hang rebelay on Man O’ War pitch (anchor is too tight into the wall to easily get a karabiner into)

Large sling perhaps useful for climb down into Keel Hall in case in-situ rope is absent.