Rowten Pot, pulling through to Valley Entrance
Saturday, 6 May 2017

It was the weekend of the annual ULSA Dinnermeet, and therefore Friday was a time of much merriment and debauchery. Saturday rose bright and clear, and I rose because I had forgotten my sleeping bag and the table I had been sleeping on was not very comfy. The day began with mushroom chopping for breakfast, the smell of which made me feel sick. I went for a lie-down. Soon it was 11am and it was time to prepare for caving. The Rowten through-trip had been on the agenda of a number of us for a while, and it was the perfect trip: interesting, a new challenge, and short enough that (provided there were no fuck-ups) we would definitely not miss the annual dinner. There was an exodus of keen students to Kingsdale to pull merrily through, with Swinsto, Simpsons and Heron trips all occurring.

After waiting for Nathan to arrive after he drove to Leck Fell instead, we kitted up and ascended the hill feeling rather the worse for wear. There were more clouds in the sky than anticipated so less frying occurred than usual. However, there was one man amongst our merry band who was destined to be at an above-ambient temperature: Kieran O’Malley, Cardiff convert and famed raiser of kinetic energy. This man really enjoys wallowing in any water that may be found in a cave, and is always known to be overheating. However, I was at first unsure about his clothing choice. A furry suit would not be what I would choose to wear through 3 sumps or during a pull-though where there was the potential to get stuck if ropes jammed. However, Kieran declined my offer of a wetsuit, and as you will discover we had no reason to doubt him.

After arriving, I headed off down to begin rigging the Gulley Route, which I had done once before. This is a very pretty and fun route, and was even more enjoyable with the simplicity, rapidity and adventure of a pull-through thrown in. the first 2 pitches were nice and short, and basically still in daylight. After this, an excellent down-climb in a fine canyon-like chute saw us at the head of the main shaft. I rigged this with two 55m ropes (joined with an EDK) from a single P-bolt, clipping my long cowstail in as protection. The edge was quite exposed and I was still quite hungover. Mike couldn’t bear to watch. Despite coiling the rope before throwing it down, it got caught on 3 ledges meaning that I had to lock off under the full flow of the waterfall and sort the rope out, which really cleared out my hangover. The others then descended with much less inconvenience. We then began trying to pull the rope down. We pulled around 10m through, and then the rope jammed. Despite the EDK being a knot of preference for this due to its ability to roll over edges, the rope refused to budge. I got on my jammers on the rope and did a lot of bouncing. Still nothing. We pulled it back up and then down again. This time even less came through. We decided that we had done enough waiting around and to chop the rope on either side to salvage enough for the final pitch. Luckily Kieran had brought a knife after I idiotically decided to leave mine in the car, something I usually never do. A team went in and retrieved the rope the next day.

This done, we continued along the free-climbable bypasses to the next pitches, which were great fun, and soon we were at the sumps. All of us except Kieran had a neoprene hood. Mike, George and myself had masks. We had discussed our strategy for going through the sumps beforehand: first man goes through with an end of rope in hand. He then gives two tugs on the dive line to indicate he is safe, then pulls each bag through on the pull-through rope, clipped top and bottom with the other end of the rope held by the rest of the team in case the bag got snagged. Then after the bags were through the next person would go through, and then everyone would go through, with there to be a relay in operation in the airbells to ensure efficiency. As soon as a new person arrived, the next would leave, providing no rope fuck-ups needed sorting.

However, there were to be fuck ups this day. Mike bravely volunteered to go through first, being by some way the most experienced with water in caves and also being a sub-aqua diver. He swam off into 8m of unknown territory with the rope. I didn’t notice his tugs on the dive line, and soon he was pulling the bag through but rope was still inside it. Not sure if he was still in the water and not wanting to trap him by pulling the rope, I let it head through. By this point, there were two lengths of rope in the sump pool. Not ideal. George then headed through after the second bag had gone through. Nathan followed, then myself, with Kieran last so that he didn’t get cold waiting after the full soaking. I was still a bit hungover and not really concentrating, so my breath wasn’t very good. In addition, my mask proved to be very shit and immediately flooded, despite being tucked in behind my hood. I was about halfway through before I accidentally opened my mouth, and this was a silly thing to do. I pulled very hard and eventually emerged in the airbell, surfacing spluttering and coughing. I was very glad to see other people in there. Diving sumps when very hungover is really not that recommended. However, this dive really improved my confidence. I was the longest dive I had done by some margin, the previous longest being 4m in Friday 13th. I found Mike, Nathan and George in the airbell looking annoyed and surrounded by rope. Mike then swam through and I started sorting the rope. I got it in order then prepared to dive the next one.

My light had been playing up since the start of the trip. After a couple of decent wacks at the bottom of the first pitch it had started to comply. However, 1m into the 2nd sump (3m) my light gave up. This made me feel quite uncomfortable and nervous so I decided to reverse back, and after some thrashing I arrived back. Nathan then offered to go and retrieve his back-up light from Mike, whose light had already died. This done, I headed through and then straight through the final 2.5m sump, which was a duck due to the very dry weather. We had done it! I was very pleased. The trip had felt rather committing beforehand, and completing it safely felt like a huge accomplishment, by far the best pull-though trip I have done. I agreed with Mike that I would carry the bag if he let me have the better back-up light, and we set off out, encountering some kind of scout group en route. This really got my hopes up about there being a nice easy ladder on the Roof Tunnel pitch so I wouldn’t need to either put my SRT kit back on to ascend the in situ ropes or climb the pitch, which despite having practiced many times on previous pull-throughs I didn’t really feel like doing today. 15 minutes later’¦ no, 10 minutes’¦ NO, 5 MINUTES. 5 minutes later we were all out on the surface after around 2 hours underground, feeling rather pleased with ourselves after a truly superb trip. After emerging from the Valley Entrance drum, Kieran O’Malley removed his oversuit, declaring I’m overheating, anyone else?’ He was wearing a pair of salopettes and a Helly Hansen thermal. A warmer man has never been known. No wonder he was well loved at that clinical trial the other week, they have probably never had a finer candidate for rapidly culturing life with a temperature like that. Any person who is amazed at this ability should consider donating to Kieran’s GoFundMe page, where he is raising money to build his own personal refrigeration unit to cool himself throughout warmer caving trips such as the Easegill Upper Traverse where he has been known to wallow disgustingly in very shallow muddy pools.

Comments

Just as a recommendation to others attempting this trip, in future I would bring along a 20m length of cord to use as a tug rope for the bags through the sumps. That way all the pull-through rope can be neatly and fully packed away into the bag, avoid the chance of snagging and entanglement.

Mike Butcher

Tuesday, 09 May 2017

The Retrieval Team on Sunday were disappointed to find that the rope was very easy to extract and no knife or faffing around on rope was required. The rope could be pulled from the top of the main pitch with no resistance. So the cause of the rope being stuck was not discovered.

Luke Stangroom

Tuesday, 09 May 2017