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Top Sink - Bye George Pot

Tuesday October 25th 2011

Members present: Mark Sims,  Toby Buxton

Report by Mark Sims

Our first midweek trip gave us lots of choice. What cave should we do? It wasn’t much of a decision when it came down to it – we’d been planning it for a fair while. Apart from Top Sink itself, both of us had done the whole of the route before.

Being midweek we had to have an early start to avoid the York/Harrogate rush hour, but given we both had work the next morning it was probably no bad thing to be going early. After the drive (or sleep, in Toby’s case) we were sat in front of our giant Yorkshire puds in Inglesport. This was our first challenge. It was slightly concerning and a bit of a blow to morale that I couldn't finish mine, but it was too early to turn back at this point, so we carried on to Bull Pot Farm.

After giving in to the drizzle we went to the changing rooms and realised the code had changed since we were last there, but a nice chap heard our attempts to get in and opened the door for us. A short faff later and we were walking up the beck. Toby had been in Top Sink to the pitches before so I foolishly assumed he may remember where it was. He didn’t. After contemplating the consequences of not finding it, we carried on with renewed purpose and soon stumbled across the scaffolding.

We were soon at the pitch, christening Toby’s 8 mm with its first use underground. I was slightly worried it could be a bit speedy, but I’m definitely a convert!

The second pitch was a bit wetter, so for Toby’s decent I shoved the tackle sack in the way. Obviously it wasn’t on for Toby to have a nice dry abseil and for me to get soaked, so I waited for him to tension the free half of the rope before I made my way down.

The next section was the only bit neither of us had done before, but with the NFTFH description there were no problems at all, and we soon found ourselves at the familiar Assembly Hall. It was at this point that the tackle sack decided that having two straps was making things too easy…a sign of things to come?

Reassuringly the water levels in the main streamway were pretty low at this point, so we felt better about what was to come. The high level route dragged a bit, as usual, especially with a bag of wet rope and a not insignificant weight of food. A food dump in Link would definitely have been cheating! By Stake Pot, I think we both felt pretty rough. We’d been caving for a couple of hours, but with no navigation issues and only 2 of us, we hadn’t really stopped. We decided to lighten the weight by eating the first of our food. At this point Toby pointed out that his hand jammer was no longer attached to him, and could be anywhere between here and Top Sink. We weren’t that keen to add extra distance to the trip, and given it could have been anywhere there wasn’t really much of an option but to carry on. A foot jammer would do the job.

The EPC series was a bit we were slightly concerned about as it was a good while since either of us had been, but again we had no problems and it was all surprisingly familiar. The rope into the Wormway was in fairly good nick, so we didn’t have to faff around with a knot pass on the pull through, and the water looked lower than the last time we were there.

I extremely generously donated Toby my foot jammer for Echo Aven and we stopped for a second food break at Hylton Hall, breathing the tantalising fresh air from the entrance just metres away. We were strangely feeling much better by this point, and were doing well for time. After putting on an extra layer in anticipation of the Link Crawl we noticed that our tackle sack was looking a bit worse for wear. More specifically, there were some spectacularly large holes and rips appearing in the side.

After some dubious fixes using the cord from my emergency kit we set off through the crawls keeping a close eye on it. We didn’t really fancy losing more gear! I must have blanked the detail of this section form my mind from the previous visit – I’m sure there was more airspace before - but it was soon over. As we weren’t doing the normal route, we relied on memory to get to HOTMK, where we found the he-she seemed to have gained a not-insignificant new piercing. Now coated in mud it was time to get washed off in the Cigalere streamway. At the canals I realised just how much easier it is to go first through it so it’s easy to see all the ledges below the water.

I nominated Toby to go up the Grand Cascade first, and was puzzled at why he seemed to be taking so long. It soon became apparent as I followed and found both deviations were totally rusted shut. It must have been even more of a faff for Toby with no proper hand jammer.

We stopped for some fairly horrible malt loaf after the Cigalere inlet, and also took a closer look at the tackle sack. It was fairly clear that the whole of the top third was disintegrating, with a major rip going about half way down. We added a few more loops of cord in a vain effort to make it contain our srt kits and the Daren drum, and Toby had the brainwave of attaching the hauling cord to the bottom of the bag to reduce the wear on the top.

It’s fair to say I’ve never been on a trip where so much care has been taken over a bag. We spent a fair bit of the next section carrying the bag in the air between us to avoid it dragging too much. It sounds ridiculous in some ways, but the idea of exiting Bye George with two loose SRT kits, a Daren drum and a loose 50 m rope wasn’t too appealing at this point. Or at any point, come to think of it.

There was a pretty awful moment when it got stuck in the first squeezy bit where I genuinely thought it wouldn’t make it through in one piece, but from then on it did remarkably well. I don’t know how recently anyone had visited Bye George, but it seemed like it must have been a while given how silted up everything was. I was just thankful that Toby was going first and could dredge things to a sensible size for me to follow.

I was a bit concerned about the Back Breaker, but with a bit of breathing out it was fairly swift and painless, and we were on the home straight. It was a nice surprise to find Toby’s sling still in place on the top pitch, although the pitch itself was a bit odd, with some black deposit making the rope a bit sticky…

It was nice to find it not raining when we surfaced, 11 hours after entering Top Sink. What a trip! It had taken a fair few visits previously to make sure we were familiar with the different sections, but great to have done it with no real navigation issues. The tackle sack was a pain in the arse throughout, but I suppose it’s funny in hindsight. Kind of.