University of Leeds Speleological Association (ULSA)

ULSA is a caving club based in Leeds that primarily caves across the Yorkshire Dales, although many members are based outside of Leeds and many trips take place across the UK and the world. Many members of the club are associated with the University of Leeds - as either students or staff - however many members have no association with the University. A sub-section of the club is the Leeds University Union Caving Society (LUUCaS) - a Leeds Uni Union associated society consisting primarily of students of the university. This arrangement has generated a close association between the student club and alumi, thereby ensuring plenty of experience, knowledge and training is passed to budding cavers.

History of caving and the club

Organised caving began in Britain in 1895 when E.A. Martel, a pioneering French speleologist, succeeded in descending the 110m deep entrance shaft of Gaping Gill thus pre-empting the Yorkshire Ramblers Club who had been planning an assault on this famous open hole for some time. The Yorkshire Ramblers, based incidentally in Headingley, retaliated by beginning the systematic exploration of all open caves and potholes in Yorkshire. In the five years between Martel's first descent and the start of the twentieth century, the YRC had an impressive list of first descents and developed the basic techniques we use today. Considering that they used heavy rope ladders and candles for lighting their achievements were remarkable. This early era of cave exploration came to an end in the 1930's when the supply of open entrances began to run out and "digging" (the removal of loose rock and debris from cave entrances) was becoming necessary to gain new ground. Gradual improvements in techniques and equipment made caving more pleasant and more popular and other clubs were set up. Some of the biggest and most active clubs today were formed in the 20's and 30's. Leeds University Union Speleological Society (LUUSS, now LUUCaS), was formed in 1957 and was one of the first University clubs. In its early years LUUSS concentrated its efforts on exploring and surveying the notorious Mossdale Caverns. The early sixties saw the club changing character with the formation of the University of Leeds Speleological Association (ULSA). This allowed the club to benefit from the experience of older non- student members and LUUSS became part of ULSA. The ULSA library, housed in the bottom floor of the Edward Boyle library, also dates from this time. Over the intervening years it has grown into an important body of caving literature. Another, more important development of the early sixties was the introduction of the wetsuit to Yorkshire caving. The increased comfort in water meant that more caves could be explored and passages previously dismissed as too unpleasant could be entered. ULSA began a period of frantic activity which was to last until the mid-seventies and included much original exploration and a huge amount of cave surveying. The first notable find was Marble Sink, two ULSA cavers squeezed down a very tight rift which others had previously thought to be too tight and wet. The pothole continued awkwardly with many squeezes to a depth of 107m and is even today regarded as a classic "tight" pothole. This new found willingness to "push" horrible passages resulted in a series of important ULSA discoveries including Far Country in Gaping Gill, Langcliffe Pot, Black Shiver Pot and most famous of all - the Kingsdale Master Cave. The early eighties saw the widespread adoption of Single Rope Techniques (SRT), in place of the traditional ladder and lifeline, making the descent of deep vertical caves much easier. It also saw a rapid increase in the popularity of the sport. During this period the club went through a quiet phase and did not have the same success at cave discovery, due partially to the departure of older members. Since the mideighties however, the number of cavers remaining with the club after leaving University has risen and we now have a substantial number of very active experienced cavers in the club and consequentially the number of new club discoveries has increased greatly. During the late 1980s early 1990s ULSA cavers have been involved in the discovery and exploration of a large quantity of new passage including major extensions to Penyghent Pot and two new caves in Dentdale. Much work has gone on opening up a totally new caving area in Upper 'Upper' Langstrothdale with the discovery of two new caves so far. As caving has changed and there has been more focus of exploration with members of multiply clubs joining forces ULSA members have been involved in the exploration of Bye George Pot, extentions of Mossdale Caverns, Black Shiver, Hammer Pot, the far end of the Too Long Gone which is at the far end of the far extensions in Penyghent Pot. The long looked for connection between Boundary Pot and the rest of the Easegill system. The connection between Marble Steps area and the West Kingsdale system is now closer than every with the extensions ULSA members have been involved with in Large Pot. There has also been huge amounts of work put into other parts of the Three Counties System (first postulated by an ULSA member back in the 1960s) along with members of many other clubs, Skylight Passage was opened connecting Ireby I and II for non-divers via an easier route. ULSA members have been involved in exploration in Wales and Ireland, some have been caving as far away as America, New Zealand and Borneo. In the early 2000s, ULSA’s summer expedition was to the French Pyrenées. This was very successful, with several new sections of cave being discovered and great potential for discoveries remain. The past few summers have seen ULSA students pushing a >1000m deep cave in the Spainish Picos, and discovering many kilometres of cave passage in the Austrian Alps as part of expeditions with other student caving clubs. Closer to home the club re-surveyed some of the Fountains Fell area of the Yorkshire Dales, with an eye to discover a dry route into the sumped off Fountains Fell Master cave. Older members Sam Allshorn and Paul (Beardy) Swire are reproducing the definitive series of guidebooks for the Yorkshire dales area, Northern Caves, the first volume of which has been published. With a lot of keen young cavers, as well as the more experienced members, the future of the club looks promising.