The next day I let the others cajole me into going down Pip. Aileen hadn't done it and the other two hadn't been for a while. We had considered Ireby as an alternative, but the rain kept on coming and in retrospect we definitely made the correct weather decision.
I last went to Pip a two and half years ago on valentine's day. It was Tom Clayton's birthday do and we were doing an Easegill traverse exchange; my team going in Pip and out Top while others went in Top and out of Bye George via the Grind. I recall Pip being much harder than I had remembered (and Pete discovering he no longer fitted) hence my reticence for this trip. Still, I reassured myself that it was an exceptionally strong team and I would be fine.
There was a debate in the farm about whether the cave was still rigged. I remembered Gavin Lowe et al taking the ropes out fairly recently, but had a suspicion that someone had put them back. Tom Clayton agreed, but was equally unsure. So we packed the minimum pull through ropes we felt we could get away with a set off.
The first tricky bit was judging the best place to walk up the other side of the Easegill beck as we ended fighting our way through the vegetation. Arriving at the entrance we found it was indeed rigged. And Adam realised that maybe he should have brought some cowstails for the pitch heads........
To cut a long story short I was fine indeed. The cave is, in my opinion, genuinely tight in two places early on. The first place is after the entrance pitch, cellar pot and the awkward climb that follows. The second is following the second pitch. I took my SRT kit off (although the others didn't) just to make my life easier. And abseiled on an italian hitch on my belt on the second pitch just because I couldn't be arsed to put it back on again. Third pitch was a bit longer though and definitely warranted a harness.
Then came the bit I had really not been looking forward too. The stemple rift. My tactic here is always to send someone else first so I can avoid the committing head first dive from the rift over the 4m drop. This allows me to go feet first instead with someone to make sure I hit the stemple with my toes. But the disadvantage is that it is harder going feet first to keep your body up and horizontal to avoid the tight part of the rift. I had one "I don't like this moment", but then swiftly sent myself through, Mark directed my feet and it was all done. Phew. Aileen boldly followed head first but had to retreat for a second go having initially got herself stuck on her srt gear.
After that is was plain sailing. Well, apart from the bit where I entered the rift lower down facing the wrong way, got to the awkward corner and then remembered that I had done exactly the same thing last time.
We were down to the Pipikin boulder choke in no time and in danger of being out in less than two hours, so took a detour to look at Cigalere. It has been a very long time since I last visited this part of the cave. The Hall of the Mountain King mud was just as squalid as I remembered. But interestingly I had forgotten all about the climbs in the Cigalere streamway, instead focusing my memory on the canal further upstream. It was very very wet and the climbs were sporting to put it mildly. This will be interesting coming back down I thought (and was later proved right). Further upstream the passage lowers in a few places until I felt that it was not the place I wanted to be on a pissing wet day. So Mark and Adam carried on to see the waterfall and Aileen kindly came back with me. Good job too since the final climb down posed a bit of a problem. Luckily we had a long sling with us or else we would not have made the descent.
Finally we got to cover our clean and wet suits with goo again exiting first back through Hall of the Mountain king and then via Mistral. The Mistral exit was much as I remembered it. Not terribly inspiring and a bit slimy in places.
In the last section we met a family coming into the cave and helped them rescue a baby frog.
Then back across the fell in the pouring rain; stopping only to be impressed by Ray Duffy et al repairng the path between Link and Lancs in the most hideous of weather conditions.
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