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Lost John's Cave - A bimble to Lyle Cavern - A Lost Key

Saturday February 24th 2018

Members present: Hannah Risser,  Jean-luc Heath,  Lizzie Underhill,  Mads Senstius,  Peter Newbery

Report by Jean-luc Heath

'Battle-Axe Traverse' lived up to it's fearsome reputation, as I precariously wedged myself into position and reached out for the next bolt. Suddenly a thunk arose as the bright yellow box containing my car key departed from my harness and tumbled into the darkness below....


*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

"Yup, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation".

The day started with an enthusiastic 7am meet at the store, this boundless excitement resulted in about an hours worth of faff ensuring we had the right ropes for the eagerly awaited Lost Johns's - Death's Head exchange. After an entirely uneventful drive we happened to find ourselves in Inglesport, so thought we might as well have a well balanced breakfast (mine contained all major food groups from bacon to fried bread) to set us up for the day's caving. Peter soon arrived with Fabio and Hannah who had been found roaming Darlington train station, they also acquired well balanced breakfasts (food groups of the vegetarian variety were observed). Whilst Martin and Mads were titillating over some comical passage names, Peter was refreshed on the details of rigging from trees, and plans were set for the exchange and turn around times noted, so trains would not be missed. It was at this point I spotted Will, who had returned to SUSS (Sheffield University Sock Society) to teach them some surveying. We kindly offered him to join our trip, but he couldn't be swayed from his laser based adventures, so he simply wished us well on our mighty adventure. With these good wishes we headed out of Ingleton with the biggest day trip the club has had in some time.

The drive to Leck fell was also uneventful with the twisting road being pleasantly free of ice. As we parked up we basked in the sunlight bellowing from the clear blue skies. Then the doors opened. The wind was both powerful and bitterly cold, needless to say this killed morale somewhat, but did encourage a speedy change into caving gear. I opted to wear a cheap polyester fleece over my undersuit as I foresaw some waiting around whilst completing the exchange. In my second of blindness as I pulled the garment over my head, a Spanish voice appeared...
"Jean-Luc, guess what..."
I looked at Martin blankly expecting some strange foreign pun
"What've you done?"
"I don't have a harness" he replied.
Needless to say this was quite inconvenient and yielded a few mild expletives on my behalf.

I relayed the devastating news to Peter, who stated that he thought it best to abandon the Deaths Head side of the trip, and all head down Lost John's, a sensible decision.
So with just a little more faff we were soon on our way down the road towards the cave, which was a pleasantly short walk from the cars and only involved one slightly awkward gate.
The entrance to Lost John's takes the from of a quite picturesque little gorge that soon heads underground. Upon climbing down into the gorge I found much of the rock to be covered with fascinating, but slippery ice formations. With the others suitably warned, I headed off into the darkness, eager to get the trip underway. After a few meters of twisty passage we were met with the first real challenge of the cave, a traverse over the cascades that form the start of once of the two alternative routes down the cave. Although footholds are plentiful, the large drop below makes this traverse a little exiting at times, needless to say all made it over safely and without complaint. The now dry passage was followed to another set of traverses over three pits in the floor, the first of which marks yet another route down the cave, these were soon passed and we found ourselves at Hammer Pitch. This short pitch was rigged with little issue and all passed it with ease. The passage was then followed to Mud and Centipede pitches, the later providing an enjoyable descent down an impressive shaft, which boasts quite a nice formation halfway down. After shouting rope free I waited at the bottom of the pitch for Mads, Hannah and Fabio who had the gear needed to rig the next section. We then set off down the passage, which involved a few short, but awkward climbs. It was at this point that I realised the fleece may have been a mistake, for I was far, far, more warm than I would have like to have been, this excess in heat was also noted by the others in my little group. Heating issues aside, we were soon at Candle and Shistol, two strangely rigged pitches that required a bit of thinking to get my head around. While I was messing about with the rope, the others behind me noticed a bat, doing bat things (hanging upside down) in the bedding plane, this made Mads rather happy as he had hoped to see one before returning home.

This merriment was soon truncated by the appearance of the notorious 'Battle-Axe Traverse' despite a sparsity of holds, and a fair distance between bolts I soon found myself about 3/4 of the way along. It was a rather tricky section and as I precariously wedged myself into position and reached out for the next bolt a thunk arose as the bright yellow box containing my car key departed from my harness and tumbled into the darkness below. The idea of descending down after it was quickly discussed, but I didn't much fancy bodging rigging and risking rope rub on 9mm. So we decided to head forwards and hoped that we'd be reunited in Valhalla. Rigging the pitch proved far easier than expected, using two bolts high in the rift to provide a rub free Y-hang (rather than the Tri-hang suggested by Ade). One of the three (yes three) in-situ deviations a short way down was also used to provide a pleasant descent down the impressive pitch. Unfortunately, my lovely yellow box was nowhere to be seen. Violent images of smashing my car window to get my keys flash through my mind. Then they were replaced by a single name. Martin! Thank god that poor fellow was stuck on the surface, with my other car key. Somewhat relieved I headed off to rig the final pitch. This was a short and easy traverse followed by a similarly short and easy pitch, landing in the streamway.

When everyone was down we headed to 'Groundsheet Junction' where we followed the water upstream to 'Lyle Cavern' where a small snack was enjoyed by many, and the plan for the way out formed. I was to head out with Fabio and Hannah, while Peter would derig with Lizzie and Mads helping. While my team made a start on the long prussic out, Peter's team went for a bit of a wander downstream to see what we'd missed out on from not doing the Death's Head exchange. Quick progress was made out the final pitch and up Valhalla. Battle-Axe proved far easier on the way back, especially now that I had no tackle sack or rigging to worry about (probably for the first time in about a year). Candle and Shistol were also passed with little issue, other than all three of us moaning about how warm we had become. I was seriously regretting the fleece.

The climbs preceding centipede were also of no issue. Ascending the pitch took all of us a fair bit of time to achieve on account of being severely over layered for such a dry cave. When we were all at the top I noted it was awfully quiet, and that no sign of the other team could be heard. It was decided it was best to wait for until we could hear them again, just to make sure nothing had gone wrong. Quite sometime passed and I began to become grateful for my fleece, as it made the wait unusually comfortable. The other team were eventually heard once more so we headed up Mud and Hammer pitches and were soon in the entrance series, traversing over the deep pits in the floor, which once again provided little obstacle other than the fear factor provided by the drop below. The final obstacle that presented itself was a climb that we hardly noticed on the way in. We eventually all made it up, with Fabio opting for the classic 'flapping like a fish' technique. We were soon greeted by the smell of the cool night air, and a sky full of stars as we climbed out of the gorge and headed towards the awkward gate onto the road. The gate bit me somewhat and gave a nasty little blood blister (Peter told tales of a similar occurrence on a trip to Boxhead). As we trundled up the road my headlamp's beam found it's way onto a strange figure stood in the road, it was our poor surface-bound comrade Martin. The biting wind was still making its presence known, facilitating a rapid change, further encouraged by some incredibility music expertly plucked from the airwaves by Martin.

Once changed we resided in Peter's car and searched for more excellent radio stations, while Martin recounted the tales of his own day's adventures (adventures so noteworthy they have gained their own trip report). The others soon arrived and changed swiftly. With gear packed and people in appropriate cars, we parted ways, Peter heading to Darlington, whilst I headed to Skipton for some delicious Rehmans' curry. This curry was so delicious, that I in fact managed to lose yet another thing. My wallet. Which is currently residing in the kind care of the lovely people at Rehmans.

All in all this was an excellent trip, with some brilliant caving by all, but also a buzzing atmosphere that can only be achieved by a group of friends doing something they love. The future of the club looks bright indeed.