So finally after around two years of "Are you going to go
caving?", I give in. Karli suggested a visit to Gaping Gill. It was a winch
weekend, meaning that the main chamber would be flood lit, and ideal for
photographs. There are a number of alternative entrances to Gaping Gill and
Karli chose the Bar Pot one.
A very punctual meeting at 08:45 (helped by
the agreement of whoever is late buys the beer) saw us meet up in Clapham, get
kitted up and then start the 4km walk up to Bar Pot. Shortly after setting off,
the weather took a u-turn and it became very sunny, great if you're just out
walking, but not if you have a load of gear with you coupled with a under and
over suit. Just under an hour later, we arrived at the sink hole for Bar Pot.
We crawled in to the entrance and shortly had to rig the first pitch.
The limestone was really polished, something I had never seen before, only ever
experiencing hard limestone down mines. Karli abseiled down first, whilst
informing me that it was a bit on the tight side. I'm sure that for seasoned
cavers it was nothing, but once I was on the pitch, the fact that I could stop
myself from abseiling down by breathing out was an eye opener. Down I went,
automatically not relishing getting back up. Did I have any money on me to pay
for a winch exit? No. Pete followed and we gathered at the bottom of the first
pitch, underground, but in a totally alien setting for me. We made our way to
the Greasy Slab, slid down this and entered Bridge Hall. From here we climbed
further down along Horrock's Way and finally got to the Big Pitch. Karli
started to rig the traverse round to it and then the pitch itself. The Big
Pitch is a 30m deep shaft, which connects with South East Passage. I've often
seen caving photographs of shafts and they always fascinated me, now I was
actually in one and it was rather amazing.
Once all of us were down we
headed northwest along the South East Passage until reaching South East Pot, a
short distance away. Here we took the right turning opposite it and then had a
crawly time in a intestine shaped network of passages. Most of which were low
with occasional high sections. After a while, Karli tells us to be quite and
listen. In the distance we could hear a roar of water - the main chamber.
Following an orange glow, we came to the entrance to the Gaping Gill main
Chamber and it was spectacular.
I knew it was big, but never thought it
was that big. Compared to mines it was one of the largest underground cavities
I had ever seen - power of nature. We wondered around, took photographs, had
lunch and chatted to other cavers. Our planned exit was to do a circular via
Mud Hall and Hensler's Series. With this in mind, we set off climbing the high
rubble mound on the eastern side of the main chamber, which led to the Old East
and then Mud Hall. Passing through the Old East we finally saw some formations
that every cave has in your mind's eye. Soon after these the ground really
changed and we encountered sticky clay mud - the prelude to Mud Hall. Clipping
onto a hand line, we traversed the top of a slope and then climbed down on a
chain. From here we could see the massive cavity that was Mud Hall. Some other
cavers were on the opposite side and they were making their way down and as
their lights got further away it even made it look bigger. Following another
traverse line we reached the opposite side and carefully climbed down into Mud
Hall to see all the clay models people have made.
After looking at the
models we climbed back out of Mud Hall and attempted to look for the connecting
Hensler's Series crawl back to South East Passage, but none of the ground was
looking familiar to Karli. Hind sight and all that, looking at a survey, we did
actually enter Mud Hensler's Crawl, then came out and carried on towards
Avalanche Pot. With time getting short we ended up retracing our way in.
Exiting the final pitch wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be,
with the knack being to get under the correct ledge so you don't get stuck.
Once out, we had the hour long walk back to Clapham. Why can't most caves be
near roads like mines?