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Ireby Fell Cavern down Ding, Dong, Bell, Pussy

Saturday July 21st 2012

Members present: Marion Holloway,  Sophie Hentschel

Report by Sophie Hentschel

“Girls just wanna have fun!”
We definitely had fun on that ICOG (inter club only girls) trip down Ding, Dong, Bell and Pussy in Ireby Fell Cavern. Our plan was to perfect our rigging skills in a more interesting setting than good old Sell Gill. As Maz and I were to take the train to Leeds where Ruth would pick us up in her car, we initially intended to use ULSA gear to avoid having to juggle with personal gear and rope stuff. However, the night before, Shezi called me saying that most ULSA ropes were gone and only a couple of ropes with very impractical lengths were left in the tackle store. This meant that I had to get most of the ropes required for the trip from YUCPC and somehow get them to the station on Saturday morning. I still don’t know how I managed to cycle with all that stuff hanging off me! Maz joined me at York station and we had a good, girly chat all the way to Leeds. The weather was fantastic, and we were tempted to abandon our plans and go to the beach.

The drive to Ingleton was brilliant because of the extensive girls chatting session we had – after all, there was a lot to catch up, as I hadn’t seen Ruth or Shezi for a while. We then had a massive breakfast, and Shezi got some new gear as well. But just when we wanted to leave Ingleton, we were caught in the middle of some kind of village parade with a samba band and several carts themed around farms, the royal jubilee and child beauty queens. This caused a major delay, but at the same time we had a good time. Finally we made it to Mason Gill and up the hill.

As it was such a beautiful, hot day, that getting into caving gear was quite unpleasantly sweaty. It was way too hot for wearing lots of layers! I hurried into the cool darkness of the entrance whilst waiting for the others to get ready. Ruth has never done any rigging underground and was therefore very pleased with herself when she did the first knot of the traverse right. However, I took over from there for safety reasons, knowing that the traverse on top of Ding is not suitable for complete rigging beginners. It took me longer than expected as I was not used to rigging with maillons anymore. My constant swearing and moaning about them could be heard in the whole cave, I believe. In addition, I had to fight my way through a salad of ropes rigged in the most astonishing fashion by other cavers – which was not positive by all means. It was really rather chaotic and avoiding getting tangled with this moron rigging whilst being wedged in a semi-hanging traverse was challenging.

When Shezi landed at the bottom of Ding, she expressed the wish to try and rig the Y-hang for Dong. So I prepared the short traverse leading to the pitch head for her and explained her how to do it right. It turned out that she had done some rigging before, but that was ages ago, and she wanted a refresher session. Nevertheless, her rigging looked much neater and safer than the incredibly stupid rigging of the other party. Their traverse was so loose, that it was absolutely of no use at all, and apparently these people didn’t know the concept of Y-hangs. Instead, their pitch went straight down off one p-hanger and... off a simple over-hand knot. Shocking. This served us as an excellent example of what (k)not to do. Maz was very helpful in giving constructive critique to mine and Shezi’s rigging which was really important. I guess being a bit OCD when it comes to rigging is actually a good thing!

Down Dong I took over the rigging again and disappeared down the traverse leading to Bell Pitch. I have to say that this hanging traverse was quite a challenge, but at the same time entertaining. At some point I was desperately fiddling around with one of maillons for the pitch, when I started to get the Elvis leg. That’s where I decided never to use maillons again: in such an instable situation you don’t want to have to use both hands to unscrew and screw a tiny maillon! When I finally sat in the Y-hang, I felt a lot less insecure and happier. The deviation rig was easy peasy after that! Arriving at the bottom, it turned out that Shadow was really quite damp – I was relieved that we had decided not to go down there. When one of the girls went down Bell, she accidently dropped the karabiner of the deviation, and twenty minutes of shouting back and forth against the smallish, yet loud waterfall, she came down, and I raced back up the rope, whilst she held the rope away from the water. The deviation was quickly repaired so that the last person in the party could come down without getting too wet.

In Pussy it was Ruth’s turn to rig under the strict eye of Maz. It was her first pitch rigged underground; although being quite short, it was not to be underestimated. She did an amazing job and wore a proud smile in her face. We carried on for a while down the meandering passages and crawls until we reached quite a pretty flowstone and some straws, where we rested and had something to eat. So far it had been a very pleasant trip, with really lovely companions.
Then we heard voices approaching and decided to leave immediately, as we preferred not getting stuck behind those whose rigging we had criticised before. Also it was getting late. I was to de-rig everything, and whilst waiting for the last person before me to prussik up Bell, the other caver party caught up with us. It was a group of four older men with extraordinarily old-fashioned gear. One could think that there is some kind of cavers’ code of conduct which involves letting those who are first at a pitch get out first. These men just cheekily started prussiking on their rope (which was all in the waterfall, by the way: deviations seem to be unknown to them as well), which was really close to ours at the top, hindering one of the girls getting off the Y-hang. When it was my turn, one of them was still blocking the hanging traverse, not caring at all that I might want the space to be able to de-rig. Consequently, it took me more energy and time to de-rig than it should, and you wouldn’t think that that old bloke with plastic handjammers (yes, in the plural!), metal foot bar and hands like frying pans would get out of the way. After a while I asked him in a rather unfriendly tone to let me pass and do my job safely. He did not move, of course.

It got worse when we arrived at the bottom of Dong. They kept overtaking us, blocking us from safely getting off the Y-hang. One of them started prussiking, but I overtook him; by the time I arrived at the top, his friend was still there trying to get off their non-existing Y-hang. They let me wait for about ten minutes. Luckily our callout time was ample and we were neither cold nor in a hurry/ emergency. Whilst waiting with Maz for the other girls to climb Ding, it turned out that the other group’s rigging meant that our rope was totally tangled and de-tangling it took another ten minutes. Finally I could go up the pitch, but whilst pulling up our rope, I noticed another rope chaos at the bottom of the pitch, caused by the other people’s rope. Again one of the men was blocking the traverse when all I wanted was get out of the cave and get some food.
Eventually we made it out, and happily walked down the hill, admiring the landscape in the sunset. All in all we felt satisfied with our trip and were grinning from one ear to the other. Not far from the car Ruth and I got overtaken by the men, who couldn’t hold back from saying something sexist of the kind: “You may be quicker up the pitches, but we are far quicker going own the mountains!” So that’s what it was all about... No comment. They also did not hide the fact that they were basically eating us alive with their filthy eyes whilst we got changed, accusing us for staring at THEM. Yuk, we’re not graeophile!

Luckily a large group of happy horses was there to distract us, as they had lots of foals and came to the gate to get a cuddle from us which caused half an hour of falsetto concert from our part. Apart from the unpleasant lack of etiquette from some old perv cavers, we had a really good trip. The next day I could barely move, so much did my muscles hurt, haha! I'm very thankful for the girls' trust in me and my abilities and that they had come on that trip. It's been absolutely brilliant.