Monday, 6 June 2011

Top Sink - Pippikin Pot

Saturday, 4th June

This is otherwise known, rather pretentiously, as the Greater Ease Gill Traverse, as it involves caving between the furthest upstream and downstream entrances of the system - it's the classic Ease Gill trip. Today was the culmination of quite a few other trips into the system over the years, via various other entrances, to try and learn the route. Kathryn, Emma, Jess, Nial, Gareth and I reckoned that between us we knew all of the route except the bit between the 88ft Pot and Mistral. We'd use the description from the Black Book of Misery for that section.

Before making our way to Top Sink, we put a rope down the Link Pot entrance pitch (which we would go past about two thirds of the way through the trip) so that we could leave the ropes that we had pulled through from Top tied on to the end. This would avoid us having to take them all the way out of Pippikin Pot. Emma and I rather smugly, and much to the derision of the others, managed to tie a scotch egg and a malt loaf onto the end of the rope so that we could enjoy a little treat when we passed by the bottom of the pitch later. After that, we strolled over to Top Sink in weather that was really far too nice for caving.

With a team of six, pulling through the two pitches in Top Sink was a fairly slow affair. But after that we made steady and sweaty progress, with no significant navigational difficulties, through to Holbeck Junction, Stop Pot and into the High Level Route.  At Oxbow corner we chose to head down into the cooling Main Drain before climbing back out at Stake Pot, and repeating the route we'd learnt earlier in the year towards the 88ft pitch.

New territory for me, the 88ft pitch was a pleasant, fluted shaft with a fixed rope in place. I don't know how deep it is, but it felt like I'd been abseiling for approximately 26.8 metres when my feet touched the ground once more. Next was the Wormway, 20mins or so of crawling and stopping through some flood prone passages that lead underneath Ease Gill Beck itself. This brought us to Echo Aven, another pre-rigged pitch (this time going upwards) and the route into Link Pot.

Several stressful minutes ensued when we struggled to get our bearings and find the entrance pitch to Link and I thought I'd miss out on my snack, but thankfully we worked it out in the end. My scotch egg was intact and delicious, but I had to share it with a couple of inquisitive beetles living at the bottom of the shaft, whose interest had been piqued by this apparent gift from the heavens.

We left the ropes from Top Sink attached to the Link Pot rope and, a bit weary by now, began the long crawl into Mistral. This part of the trip wasn't as bad as we'd all expected, barring a couple of very wet flat out sections. Now with one wet ear each, we found ourselves staring up at the bottom pitch of Pippikin Pot, and our route to daylight.

Pippikin Pot is an absolute pig. It's probably quite fun on the way in, with fresh limbs and gravity on your side, but after 7 hours of caving it's really not what the doctor ordered! The most notable obstacle is above the penultimate pitch, where an upward sloping squeeze in a rift section is found. Unfortunately, this starts some 3m above the floor and requires some rather acrobatic manouvering onto an in-situ scaffold pole to gain access to it. We dubbed this 'birth canal caving', not just because of the nature of the  passage, but because of the combination of encouraging, soothing sounds made by whoever was helping and pulling on the far side of the squeeze, and the agonised screaming by whichever unfortunate wretch happened to be in the squeeze at the time.

After battling our way through several more similarly awkward sections, by which time I was feeling very dehydrated and starting to get cramps, we finally emerged to a lovely sun-drenched evening. Feeling elated but rather tenderised, we made our way back to Bull Pot Farm after retrieving our ropes from Link.

Superb trip - an absolute classic. It was made all the more satisfying by the fact that we used our collective knowledge of the system, and the description, to complete the trip, rather than being shown the route through! Unfortunately, we now need to set our sights on Top Sink to Bye George Pot, which is technically a bit further... oh well, more caving to be done...

Time underground: 9 hrs

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