Saturday, 23 September 2017
The aim of this trip was to recce the cave for future surveying, and to also take photos/notes on formations at the bottom of the cave for Andrew Hinde’s conservation monitoring project. A later start than planned saw us underground at around 11. Within five minutes Luke had bailed due to the smallness of the cave, leaving George and myself to head on alone.
The initial crawl is more annoying than I expected but was soon over at the first pitch, which could be climbed but we had brought a rope so we used it. We found that the cave has been rebolted with some kind of expansion bolt, with hangers in situ. Then came the definite crux of the trip, Stemple Rift. This begins quite nicely at floor level but then ascends to more awkward rift passage at a higher level. Bags getting jammed in the rift are a great inconvenience. Hesitation Corner is quite a nice rest before the most awkward part. The stemples above your head help with pulling yourself up and wriggling onwards. According to Andy Tharratt, if you have size 8 feet you can wedge them across the rift and spend almost the whole time on your feet rather than arms. The second and third pitches are also a bit awkward but nothing major. If you were carrying heavy kit eg dive cylinders you might want a rope here. We climbed.
The passage between here and the bottom of the fifth pitch is easy going and not very wet. We then entered Sludge Crawl, which was cold and rather miserable. We were only wearing 2/3mm neoprene vests and a couple of sets of thermals so we got cold. More neoprene needed next time. The shift in passage morphology between vadose (passage formed above water table) and phreatic (passage formed below water table) is extremely obvious here. Soon we were in the Out Fell Master Cave. This bit of passage is extremely impressive and well decorated, indicating that it must have been very stable and dry at some period in the past. The flow here is incredibly high considering the size of passage and the floor is extremely milled, creating lots of hard to see potholes. At the inlet with Tank Passage (blocked by a big stal column) the big cascade can be bypassed by climbing down on the true left, avoiding a total soaking. Soon you arrive at the last pitch, before which a very exposed step around the corner is required. You could rig something here if you wanted, there is a spit. We did not. The cascade in front of the last pitch is amazing, really impressive. At the bottom we headed on, not very reassured by the quantities of water and foam. Just before the final sump we encountered a duck which would have ensured a full soaking and decided to leave this for another day. We were a bit concerned that Sludge Crawl might sump up, and didn’t know what kind of change in water levels was required. However, apparently we need not have worried as we could get through the whole thing on our fronts and often going through the final flat out section involves ceiling sucking.
Outward progress was very swift, inspired by cold, until we got to Stemple Rift, which slowed us down a lot but not too much. Out at 3pm, meaning the trip had taken four hours. Not bad going. Not particularly looking forward to the survey, but the cave is excellent. There seems to be quite a lot of holes below the last pitch which we didn’t explore and which may not have been explored. Only one way to find out.