Little Hull Pot

14 May 2012

Posted by
Matt Ewles

We have had permits for Little Hull Pot each year since the club was founded, but every year it has been rained off. Having never done this Yorkshire classic before we had no idea how it responsed to rain, but the warnings in the guidebooks put us off doing it in anything other than very nice weather. This weekend was good, with little rain the day before and a beautiful sunny day forecast so at last, the trip was on!

We had a fine breakfast at the Singing Kettle in Settle (Superb portions at a great price!). After parking in Horton village centre we found the entrance easily by following the Pennine way footpath towards Penyghent from Horton-in-Ribblesdale. A gentle incline cleared out our cobwebs, and after about 20 minutes we reached the gate where the path to Penyghent turns right. The way on is up the unofficial path ascending the slope to the left at about 45 degrees to the wall. This is followed up to a relatively flat plateau where the track becomes less distinct. After a few hundred metres the depression with the obvious entrance to Little Hull Pot is on the left only 20m from the vague track. The water sinks approximately 200m further up this shallow valley, but it is easy to see that in flood it could quickly reach the Little Hull entrance.

The cave starts with a few minutes of easy meandering passage with some nice moonmilk decoration, before lowering to a crawl. This turned out to be nowhere near as bad as some of the reports I had read – it was a pleasantly easy hands and knees crawl through shallow (2-3 inches) water – not bad considering the previous week had been extremely wet until Friday. The crawl lasted only 40-50m and then we were back to pleasant stomping and crabwalking down a twisting stream passage. Only a couple of minutes later we reached the first pitch and the ropework fun commenced.

The first pitch is a spectacular one. Water cascades over the edge, but thankfully the initial descent only follows this down for a couple of metres down, before you swing forward and through a giant rock window to the far side of the shaft and a re-belay which marks the start of a very exposed, almost free-hanging traverse out over the pitch. This was great fun, and the view down the pitch was superb. We rigged a re-belay two thirds of the way down from an eco-hanger, although once we were down it became clear that this would have been much better as a deviation.

The second pitch was reached within minutes of the first. Initially we stayed at stream level all the way to the pitch head where two inviting eco-hangers provided an excellent Y-hang. Gary went down and started to search for the deviation that we were expecting four metres down near a shelf, while Debbie, Ade and I provided pleasing renditions of songs from 1980s children’s cartoons. Some time later, and unable to find a deviation, Gary returned up the pitch. We soon realised that the route down this pitch is actually to climb up 3 m over the pitch head about 3-4m before the edge and squeeze through blocks to reach an exposed balcony half way across the top of the shaft. This is a stunning place and one of the most exposed head-first approaches to a pitch you can ever make!

From this balcony, yet another exposed Y-hang provides a lovely hang down the shaft. There is a deviation a few metres down, which we used, but we decided that with water being quite low we didn't need the deviation half way down. The pitch lands on a large rock-floored chamber, with a continuation of the pitch down a slot in the floor, which in the low water conditions we had, was easily free-climbable (Selected Caves says 70m rope to rig the whole thing, but CNCC rigging guide says 55m +15m, with the 15m being for this last free-climbable bit). Looking back, we probably could have descended from the stream-level take-off and taken a nice shower on the way down the pitch.

Gary was first down and disappeared off to rig the third pitch. With me, Ade and Debbie down we followed. The cave from here enters a very long, straight narrow rift passage. Only 20 m along the passage the first obstacle is reached – a narrowing in the passage at stream level, necessitating a low wallow in water. Gary was waiting for us, preparing to go through the water, having declared a tight bypass over the top to be too narrow. He went into the water, which became an almost flat out crawl in several inches of water, but soon popping back up again. Gary was wearing a neofleece, and the rest of us were not, and so the prospect of a soaking did not appeal. I took my SRT kit off and squeezed along a narrow slot against the right hand wall until it became wide enough to climb up and onto blocks above. Another tight squeeze against the right hand wall returned me to stream-level, although I was glad I took my SRT kit off. All in all it took the three of us about 20 minutes to get through here – the wet route would have taken only a minute – but it was 20 minutes well spent to stay dry.

By the time we were through, Gary had disappeared along the rift to rig the final pitch. Debbie, Ade and I therefore continued along, traversing up and down where necessary, until I arrived at a shelf where the water cascaded down several metres. Looking up, Gary was several metres above me, rigging the final pitch. It would seem that we had made the mistake of staying too low, when the route to the pitch head is by keeping as high as you can. We backtracked about 30-40m down the rift to where a climb up to a higher level could be made and the correct pitch head reached.

The eco-hangers on the final pitch are far from ideal. One hanger provides a take-off on the right hand wall, with a sharp deviation off the far wall just over the edge. The rope does rub slightly on the edge of the rock before the deviation so extreme care is needed. Once past the deviation an easy descent reaches the floor.

We took a short stoop through to the final chamber. I climbed up the slot to reach the sump chamber, which following my exaggeration of how great this was, Debbie and Gary also decided to take a look. An extremely speedy ascent then followed with no difficulties at all. We were out by about 6:30pm to a lovely sunny evening, total trip time about 5 hours. A curry in Settle provided the ideal end to the day.

For future reference, Little Hull Pot isn’t somewhere I’d want to be in heavy rain, however, our trip was following a week of very heavy rain, and with only one day of fairly settled weather before our trip, so it clearly drains very quickly. The Selected Caves and CNCC rigging guide descriptions are very clear (don’t forget to climb up high 3-4m before the second pitch). In low water the second pitch can be rigged with a 55-60m rope and the second part of this pitch can be easily free-climbed. Thin cavers can bypass the only wet bit just after the second pitch, so furry suits are fine.