Brown Hill Pot

22 April 2024

Posted by
Matt Ewles

This year is my 20th year as a caver in the north of England, my earliest trip choices being inspired by Selected Caves. In all that time, Brown Hill Pot has always slipped me by, perhaps by choice, owing to its challenging reputation.

I’m not really a fan of ‘harder’ caves, and I have a love-hate relationship with the famous ‘black book’. Some trips in there I have thoroughly enjoyed, such as Trapdoor Pot, Spectacle Pot, Birks Fell Cave, Providence Pot/Dow Cave, and others I have enjoyed in-part (perhaps omitting the final few miserable sections). But equally, this book has been my nemesis on occasions.

Our first York Caving Club trip in 2009 was to Growling Hole, getting little further than Waterfall Chamber before some of our team had already bailed at the miserable wet canal (one of our team almost bailed when he got wedged in the entrance by a giant Toblerone he had stuffed down his suit). We have since been thwarted by Newby Moss Pot, where I, despite being only average build, couldn’t tackle a small downward squeeze that wasn’t even mentioned in the book!

Spectacle Pot, on the other hand, we enjoyed so much that we returned to install the current P-hangers!

Brown Hill Pot was something I always knew I SHOULD try, but never got round to. Until this weekend.

We are not crazy, so naturally we skipped the first few paragraphs of the Black Book by entering Floyds Entrance. This is an obvious plastic pipe entrance a short distance from the wall as indicated in the Black Book. There is a scaffold bar installed into the pipe for a rope, which was not needed for the downward journey (just jam and slide 3m down the pipe), but as I was to later discover, climbing up this without a rope is extremely demanding. A few footholds in the pipe would have been nice!

At the bottom of the pipe the way on is a feet-first narrow descent into a rift/passage. This meant immediate removal of SRT kit for me but was not too bad; Drop down before the jammed chockstone and the passage is widest at floor level below, before enlarging somewhat beyond.

Onward, relatively simple passage is followed past a couple of small chambers and a low sideways squeeze at floor level through a puddle due to a calcite flow blockage in the passage above. Soon, I was at the start of a flat-out crawl (the passage above being too narrow) which after 3m reaches the famous right bend. This is an almost 90-bend to the right. Rachel was first, and fitted round the bend fine, but mistakenly assumed that beyond this you stay at floor level. Much struggling ensued, before she got totally stuck requiring some careful reversing.

While Rachel was struggling, I had reached the bend. There was no way I was going round this at floor-level, but here it is possible to stand up. This was easier said than done for me; getting legs straightened enough to stand up was hard. I wear 32-inch leg jeans and am 6-foot tall, and after considerable wiggling and twisting I just managed to get myself stood upright at the bend. If you have longer legs than me, you may struggle. At this point, I realised that the way on is to sideways crawl/traverse sideways about 60cm above the passage floor. By this point Rachel had managed her return to the right bend where an almost intimate moment was incurred by our sharing of this tiny standing space, before she wiggled through at higher level with no problem.

I followed, pleased that my SRT kit was still firmly packed into my bag, as this was a snug fit indeed. Sadly, we lost Cal at this point, as getting stood upright at the right bend proved to be too much of a challenge for him; but an admirable effort was made.

Beyond this obstacle, the passage going improved to a winding crabwalk, before once again it became too narrow and the way on was to start traversing above the narrowing. We quickly gained height before we caught up with Gary, who had gone ahead to rig the pitch (and had seemingly breezed past the right bend without issue). He had accidently descended back down to floor level where he had located the pitch but no anchors. We soon realised that staying high was the way, and with great difficulty Gary returned to higher level and located the anchors only a few metres further along the traverse.

The approach to these anchors is very tight, and the pitch head itself didn’t look much better. The only place to put on SRT kit was the tiny area where Gary had climbed up/down 3m before the pitch. Rachel went ahead, as she still had kit on, while Gary kitted up, and both reached the pitch head no problem. Then it was my turn. Firstly, kitting up was an ordeal. I couldn’t bend enough in the confined space to get my harness over my feet requiring some ‘fishing’ and then extreme effort to pull it up around my body. With that done, I commenced the approach to the pitch head which is a slightly upward crawl/traverse through a squeeze. This did not go well, and I couldn’t seem to find the right position, so I returned and dropped my SRT kit to around my ankles and gave it another shot, but no luck. The pinching-in of the walls here creates a really awkward squeeze and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t seem to find an angle that came even close to accommodating me. I was almost touching distance of the rope! After a few panicked moments where I seemed to be stuck, I retreated. Finally, I attempted in a more upright position as Rachel had done, but I was too tall for that. After my third attempt, my strength and patience had gone and I declared defeat, while listening to Rachel, now on the rope only a short distance ahead, extolling the virtues of the cave which had now enlarged to much more spacious proportions.

After a brief debate, the entire team turned around here. I was pleased to find that the awkward bend was simple on the outward journey (this had been playing on my mind). The angle just seems to work so much better for long legs on the way out.

The entrance pipe was an ordeal as I needed my SRT kit off to fit up the squeeze to the bottom of it; But then I had to put my SRT kit on at the bottom for the ascent (after a few failed attempts to free-climb). This took some time and further fishing to get my legs into the leg loops, when the narrowness of the pipe meant I couldn’t reach below my knees.

We emerged after 3 hours underground and having only reached the first pitch!

I would like to return to Brown Hill. Reaching the first pitch less tired (knowing what to expect now, it will be much easier on a second trip) and without the anxiety of the awkward bend return trip, I think I may well just identify the best position to reach the head of the first pitch, and from there it is easy and excellent caving; I got so close that another attempt seems a necessity.

The lessons here are (A) Take an electron ladder for the entrance pipe, it will make life easier! (B) Keep SRT kit bagged up until the first pitch is reached (C) If you are more than 6ft tall or have particularly long legs, the awkward bend will probably prevent access so save your effort and go elsewhere.