Sunday, 23 August 2009

Gaping Gill Winch Meet

It's 31 years since I first went down Gaping Gill on the CPC winch. That was the first time I'd been underground and it rather changed my life. Up to that point I had imagined all potholers were mad and I was to learn that there was an element of truth in that and in doing so risk my own sanity.

Augusts come and go and there is always a mild buzz of excitement when winch meet arrives. Some folk stay up on the fell for two weeks and take large tents and all the comforts of home. I can seldom afford the time and in any case generally prefer to go light to add to the experience of wild camping along Fell Beck.

A couple of days before the start of this year's meet, I dropped Mike 'northernpies' Knipe an email invitation to come up for the weekend. His response was both postive and immediate and so it was that I met him in the New Inn in Clapham on Friday night, where we had a couple of beers before putting the tents up for the night in the field behind the car park, which has been a traditional spot to camp for as long as I've been caving. Jupiter shone brightly in the south east and the milky way was strung across a cloudless sky, a reminder of just how much light pollution there is in Derbyshire from the cities of Sheffield and Manchester.

The CPC Winch and Gantry

We were up and packed by 8:30 and my plan had been to grab a bacon buttie and coffee in one of the cafes before setting off up to GG. Mike also needed to buy a buld for the caving lamp he'd borrowed. We waited until a bit gone 9 by which time it became apparant that none of the shops opened in Clapham until later in the morning. So we set of, me short of breakfast but having fixed the lamp problem by screwing the existing bulb back into its holder!

The tent city along Fell Beck

The walk to Gaping Gill took about an hour. It usually takes a bit less but we took a small detour to allow Mike the opportunity to show me his technique for frightening cows - only they must have heard about his reputation because there were none to be seen. The track from Clapdale Farm up the plantation no has a no access sign on the gate, so we headed down to Ingleborough show cave and walked up Trow Gill to the stile at Bar Pot from where it is a short walk to the Gaping Gill shakehole, where Fell beck plunges 340 feet as a single unbroken waterfall into the largest natural underground chamber in the UK.

The sound of the winch and generator are evident some distance from the shakehole and walking up on a foggy night, as I have done on a number of occasions, it's always a welcome sound and you know that it wont be long before the lights from the camp come into view. Approaching in daylight, the observer is greeted by the sight of a sizable community of tents running up from the shakehole for a few hundred yards along the banks of Fell Beck, the bustle of Club members working their shifts or just having a brew and visitors waiting for or returning from their descent.

We checked in at the booking in tent and I got my name on the work sheet to do some guiding the Main Chamber later in the aftenoon. We then found a place to camp well up the beck, away from the crowds and out of the mud. Different areas of the camp were given names some years ago and we were in Harrogate, it being a long way from GG!

The Akto at Harrogate - Little Ingleborough in the background

After a quick lunch (or in my case breakfast) and a short siesta, I set off down the hole at 2pm, leaving Mike instructions to meet me down in Main Chamber arout 3:30. Guiding was slow to get going. When I arrived down there, there were two large parties not wanting a guide plus the guides from the earlier shift, so we were out-numbering 'guidable' visitors by about 3:1. Eventually I got to take a group round the Main Chamber and my tour script, honed over 15 years, came flooding back. Mike showed up half way round my second tour of the afternoon and tagged on while we went across to East Slope to learn of the dangers of East Pot (trust me, you don't want to go there) and the unfortunate demise of Herman the German. If you want more detail on that one, you'll have to pay the fee and do the trip.
Leaving my tour group at the bad end of a long queue to wait for their ride out, Mike and I left the Main Chamber along South Passage out to Sand Caverns and the scary black void which is Mud Pot. At this point I forgot the way on and so we retraced our steps back to T Junction and then stooped and crawled our way along South East passage to pop out through a hole in the wall onto a ledge half way down the 270' deep South East Pot. I've always found this a thoroughly gloomy and intimidating place and it was the scene of my first big ladder climb, where I was instructed as I set off down from the top to stop when the ladder runs out and get off onto the ledge. The ladder runs against the wall for the top half of the pitch before swinging into free space and blackness above a 200' drop. I had expected someone would wait for me on the ledge but as I got lower, the energy draining from my arms, no lights were evident and I realised I was on my own.

Following a short but somewhat polished climb up into a narrow passge, we went through to the bottom of bar pot and then on to the next aven which parallels Bar and goes to the surface via Wild Cat Rift. The only way out from here was New Henslers Crawl, which leads to the bottom of Disappointment Pot but neither of us felt like any more crawling and my memory of the directions went little further than it was flat out over cobbles with a right turn at some point. So we retraced our steps for the second time that day and slithered back down the greasy climb just in time to watch a party of cavers abseiling down the big pitch.
Back in Main Chamber, the queue was no shorter and it was 8pm before we got out of the hole but it was still light enough to get changed and eat in daylight before heading off to the beer tent for an evening of catching up with folk I hadn't seen all year and watching Mike fail with the trick pipe and get a white face (but he did smell nice).

The northernpie man in action eating a not so northern Ginsters pie (and there goes his reputation)

Despite a few drops of rai in the night, Sunday started out dry. Mike left for Clapham and thence to Bernies around 8:30 and I did another guiding session from 10, with once again too few visitors, though I did have the privilidge to show a disabled ex-caver (Janice?) round the Main Chamber. She had had an abseiling accident 9 years earlier, resulting in a titanium re-inforced spine. When she had asked her consultant if she would be ok to make the descent, he had apparantly wanted to come too.

Out of the hole by 12:30, and after simple lunch of white slime pie and chocolate, I had almost packed up when the heavens opened. However all was not lost, as the farmer arrived at GG with his quad bike and trailer to collect Janice just as I was leaving. he was happy enough to take my bag in the trailer and I was more than a little ecstatic for him to do so. The walk down to Clapham was quick, taking the high route above Trow Gill before dropping down to the show cave and then the path along the nature trail. After getting cleaned up a little, I visited the cafe which had been shut the previous morning and had a pot of tea and an enourmous plate of cake and cheese, which I was almost too tired to eat.

There goes my gear in that trailer

Things to remember for next year and top tip for any guide - do some voice training. After hours of shouting in the Main Chamber, I am a pony - well ok, a little hoarse. Neigh lad. Enough!

Another great GG. Thanks to Mike for joining me. For more information about Gaping Gill, the winch meet and the Craven Pothole Club, visit


mike knipe said...

Harrogate was it? - Nice camping spot anyway, away from the mud and the babies.
I didn't realise you'd got lost in that hole, Tony... I thought you were just mutterring to yourself...
Cracking weekend, though - muddy good fun.

Pennine Ranger said...

Nooo, we we were never lost... but we might have been if we'd gone any further!