Sunday 27th Aug 2023
Hugo, Adam Baldock, Ane
I thought I should try out this whole ‘writing rants’ thing – and might as well start with the most recent trip, working my way backwards through the summer.
I wanted to go caving. Baldock wanted to go caving. None of us have a car, however. Hugo to the rescue – but his car only seats two. So the plan was for two people to go by car, taking ropes and other gear, with the third person on the train. Cue search for caves near stations, eventually settling on Horton for a walk-up to the Pen-y-Ghent caves. I volunteered to take the train, with my personal gear in a backpack, by virtue of living on the right side of town for the station (thereby nicely avoiding packing / unpacking ropes in Chapel). I came to regret that decision.
Adam suggested Little Hull Pot, and I readily agreed. I hadn’t actually heard of this (tbf, that’s probably the case for the majority of the Dales caves), but a quick google convinced me – the CNCC description starts with “a magnificent and under-appreciated Yorkshire pothole with a fabulous main pitch”. This turned out to be absolutely true; it’s a smashing cave and I don’t understand how I haven’t come across it before now.
An early start saw us meet up in Horton by 10:30, where we took over a fair part of the overflow parking field with our gear. A bit of faff with rope packing, including the realisation that Adam had forgotten to pack slings, despite 3 deviations on the topo (and my reminder the night before …). Asking people at the Craven to borrow slings was briefly discussed and discarded – we didn’t want ULSA to hear about it for years to come. Eventually we went with ‘let’s improvise’ with the single sling that I’d brought.
The walk up was lovely, even in a light rain, and we found the entrance without any problems. I’d been concerned about water levels in the entrance crawl, as the CNCC description mentioned it being flood prone. A brief chat with some Craven members had reassured us, though, and there was no issue at all. I suspect it’s more a case of ‘can flood after very heavy rain and when the ground is saturated’. Some of the pitches also look like they could be rather sporting with high water levels, so I’d probably avoid it anyway in those circumstances.
The entrance crawl (hands-and-knees on large gravel and rocks) is fun on the way in, and pretty tedious on the way out. It’s also definitely more than the 40m claimed in the route description! It’s soon over, though, and is followed by an absolutely lovely stream canyon, with very pretty white wall in places. The first pitch involves a fun swing through a window, followed by a traverse and a deviation, which Adam promptly rigged as a rebelay to avoid using up our precious single sling. All went smoothly.
On to the second pitch. I’d volunteered to rig this, as it looked from the description to have a few unusual elements, and I wanted to challenge myself. Well, I succeeded in the latter. First part went fine: A climb up in a rift, rigging a traverse, and head-first through a narrow window onto a small ledge. No real issues here. Next step involved reaching over the shaft, to rig a free hanging y-hang on an overhang coming off the far wall. I could just about reach the nearest bolt, but only by leaning over so far that I took most of my weight off my foothold on the ledge. To complicate matters, the bolts had been put in with very limited free space around them (for one of them, it was impossible to get a carabiner in). And well, to cut a long story short, I managed to get onto the y-hang on my cowstails, and then get myself completely strung up – it took close to 30 min to get myself sorted. Adam did his best with help and advice, even going so far as to lend me his hand jammer, but it wasn’t the easiest place to assist. After a lot trying out things and pulling myself up by the arms, I eventually got myself unstrung. And this is where the ‘rant’ part comes in, I guess: Getting strung up was completely my own fault – I should have planned my approach better. However, if those bolts had been shifted just a foot, things would have been an awful lot easier; as I would have been able to keep my feet on the ledge, and get back onto it after hanging on the y-hang, rather than freely dangling and trying to lift my full body weight one-handed. Somebody a foot taller (which I suspect the bolter was …) would not have that issue. Conclusion: Tall people should not be allowed to put in bolts!
Rant over: I eventually managed to descend. And what a descent! An absolutely glorious, free-hanging pitch, including a nice collection of formations in the roof partway down. As an added bonus, both of the deviations already had tack in them, and so all the stress about slings turned out to have been completely unnecessary.
We followed the water through a more horizontal section. First a bit of crawl and then a longish duck – with plenty of airspace, but a pretty thorough soaking. Adam declared it ‘great fun!’. (We could have bypassed the duck via a squeeze, but it apparently required taking off SRT kit and a struggle for anybody “big-boned, gym-addicted, or over-enthusiastic about food”, so we abstained and braced the water instead.)
Next came a long rift, which required multiple climbs up and down, as well as some high level and somewhat precarious traverses. This was really good fun, despite me struggling a bit with the climbs (my skills haven’t improved, so I’m still shit at it, and not helped by dodgy knees). Good stuff!
Final (third) pitch was straightforward, and Hugo got to show off his rapidly improving rigging skills. At the bottom, we found the climb up to the final sump. Adam went ahead, but at this point I was really feeling those 30 minutes of intense upper body exercise that I’d subjected myself to earlier, and I gave up on the rather tricky climb. Hugo was happy to keep me company.
Adam came back and let us know that the extra bits were ‘well worth it’, but we still opted to head out, well aware that we were rapidly approaching the time for the last train back to Leeds. Going out went smoothly, although slowly (I was really getting tired at this point), even that tricky 2nd pitch-head – only required a minimal bit of faff and troubleshooting on my part. Adam’s recent expedition fitness came to good use here for carrying multiple bags of rope (thank you!). Now time was getting rather short, so we agreed that I should proceed to get out, so as to not miss the train, while Adam and Hugo derigged the final pitches.
The walk back in the late summer evening was even lovelier than the walk up. I got changed, extended the call out, and hung around the car for a while, but eventually had to leave for the station. Got the message that the others were back just as I got on the train. I managed about 10 min of relaxing in my seat before we stopped at Settle and what seemed like every single young(ish) person in town descended on my carriage, clearly on their way to a night out. I was promptly subjected to very loud, off-key drunken singing and table thumping from 30+ people. Oh, how I longed for a quiet car ride, even if it meant dealing with ropes …
Little Hull Pot is a brilliant cave and highly recommended. It has a bit of everything – great pitches, some interesting SRT, fun rift traverses, climbs, crawls, a duck, and even an optional squeeze (if one likes that sort of stuff). It’s got enough to it to feel like a prober outing, without being overly challenging. 10/10, would go back.
(But I still want a stern word with whoever put in those bolts on the 2nd pitch)