Broken Finger Pot
Monday, 13 February 2017
George and I awoke early (before 8) and had an efficient breakfast and departure, without any of the usual faff. As a result, we were TWENTY MINUTES EARLY to the cave ahead of Becka, which must constitute some kind of record. This gave me time to take a shit and George time to realise that he had forgotten his oversuit. Soon Becka arrived, and to my great disgust, produced a spare PVC oversuit for George which fit perfectly, an upgrade in oversuit! Some punishment.
We had trouble finding the entrance and went looking in the smaller dry valley further to the South, rather than the whopping dry valley to the North. After about an hours search we found it, about 20m from where we had started looking. It’s a massive shakehole with an obvious entrance, and some quite loose rocks in the entrance climb that we tidied up (kicked down) on exiting.
I was the designated rigger with Becka being scared of this burden. On the plus side, this meant that I got to carry the lightest bag on the way in through the entrance series as the first 3 pitches are very short. Soon I was at the head of the first pitch after negotiating a similar T piece’ traverse to that in King Pot, which though it is shorter is possibly more awkward and definitely less travelled. The first pitch is quite easy to rig, but I think George had quite a bit of trouble derigging as the first bolt ends up behind you and you are lying flat out in the crawl-traverse.
The next section of rift traversing is still awkward but not as bad, and Black Cap pitch is an easy climb down. The Fatometer was a breeze going down and Spout pitch was an easy handline. From here we were soon at Grab Attack pitch after some squeezes at stream level were more awkward than expected with SRT kits on (we wore them for the entrance series to make getting on the rope at Utterly Butterly easier, removed for Black Cap and the Fatometer and then donned them again at the bottom of Spout). There was some in situ tat round a rock protrusion at Grab Attack, and another rock protrusion before the main drop can be used as a back-up (though this needs an extra 2m or so of rope than recommended in NFTFH). All this had taken us about an hour: this is a piece of piss, I thought. Bit too cocky.
The spits at the top of Mini Attack were a bit the worse for wear, making me wish I had bought some grease as suggested by Sma. The nearest one to the pitchhead was a particular pain and I was unable to do it up all the way, but the other was fine so it didn’t feel too dangerous. At the bottom, it is best to get off the rope and walk down the rift unprotected to the ledge for Guillotine pitch. Once there, it became clear that the 46m of 8.5mm, kindly lent to us by Patrick Warren, was substantially too short to get us down (usually the rope lengths in NFTFH are a bit of an overestimate). This meant rigging improvisation. I rigged a y hang with a sling (using the ‘sliding equalising’ technique that climbers may be familiar with) from the Guillotine bolts (which did up ok but still sub-optimal) and then clipped the rope in, allowing for a safe descent to the bottom (though only just).
We then descended through the rift to the head of Massive Attack pitch, where both of the spits were horrendously corroded and didn’t do up very much at all. Well aware that if they failed and I fucked myself I would probably die in the cave, I was a bit scared of descending off these alone so we backed up to the Guillotine pitch rope quite tightly through the rift, which, though the very thin 8mm might well have rubbed and snapped if shock loaded in this position, did at least make me feel a bit better. I also remembered reading about Andy Kirkpatrick climbing off bolts that he had duck taped into place after forgetting the correct diameter bolts, which made me feel a bit better (but not much). To get to the ledge below, you have to abseil though a massive waterfall, which made me very cold. I don’t know why there wasn’t another bolt placed further out to rig off at the top, as this would have avoided rubs below the Massive Attack initial Y hang, would also have avoided the water and would have made the traverse easier to access.
The ‘exposed traverse’ is on some very poor rock without much to hold onto and very little for the feet. Once at the spike and bolt, I found there to be a much more accessible and sturdier looking spike higher up, so rigged a tight rebelay there and then another tight rebelay/traverse (I was on jammers) down to the y hang with a spike and a bolt. This bolt did up fine and I was much more reassured by this rig than that above. The thread for the deviation low down is quite poor, and I was glad I had had the foresight to steal the donkeys dick from Becka’s bag as this was all I had left to rig it with having used 2 extra slings already. Soon I was down and pretty cold, so I tensed all my muscles to generate some heat while the others descended. There wasn’t much to look forward to at this point, with 3 ducks guarding the final sump. I was first through and did the first double duck on my back, which got me very cold (though I could breathe). The others did it on their fronts (PVC bellends). After this, about 50m of immature rift, walls caked in mud, follows to another easy duck just before the final sump. At the sump, I was amazed to find a dive line and some lead weights! I take my hat off to whoever went diving down there; they must have had a long trip and been very cold.
It was decided that George would derig, so myself and Becka headed up the pitches. I warmed up a bit. At the top of Mini Attack en route back to Grab Attack, Becka discovered a bypass to one of the more awkward squeezes by climbing over the top, which was nice. Manoeuvring bags through the Fatometer from the top of Spout pitch proved very difficult and tiring, which was to be expected. By this point we had slowed somewhat from our initial flying start. I had some trouble when I started trying to ascend Black Cap a bit too early in the rift, and this was annoying, but manageable. The bags were very heavy with wet rope and SRT kits by now and it took a lot of my strength to lift them while lying flat out in the squeeze.
Getting off the top of Utterly Butterly Fingers was easier than anticipated, but I was quite tired by now and the T piece going back out, carrying 80m of wet rope, was quite knackering, especially when the bag slid down into the rift twice causing me to have to reverse to retrieve it. The best strategy is to attempt to jam the bag across the rift and to always keep one hand on it so you can catch it if it starts to slip to stop it going beyond the point of no return into the rift. We were out to a chilly wind at 6pm, meaning we had taken 6 hours to do a cave which can’t be much longer than 300m: 100m an hour! Soon back at the car and changed, with a stop at the coop on the way home to get the first food for about 10 hours.
Excellent trip, the first really testing trip I have done in a while with pretty much no relent to the squalor and arduousness. Thanks a lot to Becka for coming and to Patrick for lending us his rope. The cave really needs rebolting in the lower sections, but whether anyone feels ‘engaged’ enough to put in some more permanent bolts (ie not spits) there will be interesting. I suspect it may go unchecked for a while, though there is plenty of decent rock to go at.
Nice one rob!! I wonder if this is the first visit the cave has seen since Sam Allshorn and I did it back in 2007!!! Haven’t seen a trip report for broken finger since around the time of its exploration. Respect to Tim Allen and co for digging it and Martin Holroyd for diving the sump!
Wednesday, 15 February 2017