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Death's Head Hole - Big Meanie: The Full Story

Thursday September 19th 2019

Members present: Livvy Golby-kirk,  Sam Dennison

Report by Livvy Golby-kirk

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a student caver in possession of a lot of free time must be in want of a trip. And so gathered together a farrago of friends one fine September day, ready to explore the depths of subterranean Yorkshire.

After an unremarkable journey and a breakfast at Ingleton’s finest eatery, us four adventurers set out with alacrity towards Leck Fell. As we drove up the hill I discovered that the fell is not perpetually harassed by incessant rainfall and mist; the air was crisp and the sky was celeste, and the sun was out just enough to make changing tolerable, perhaps even pleasant. It was the perfect weather to finish a fine season of third-year caving; to being a fourth season, it was a recherché moment I will long remember.

Our plan was for Sam and I to descend Deaths Head, whilst Jean-Luc and Miles descended Big Meanie. Jean Luc and Miles disappeared first due to their route being slightly longer, and Sam and I left as soon as I performed the necessary combination of acrobatic stunts needed to wriggle myself into my stubborn harness. We preceded on a tour of the fell, clamouring into every fenced enclosure just to ensure we were going to descend the correct one. Soon we were greeted by the gaping hole in the ground that was Death’s Head, and I set about rigging slowly and surely to the bottom, because I can only rig slowly, because I’m not very fast. Sam and everyone else is still very much alive though, which is nice.

On our final pitch to the main chamber, we heard Jean Luc and the Other One descending their final pitch, which did mean it took me the same amount of time for me to rig one shaft as it did for them to rig one shaft and swim through the mud pits of hell, but as I’ve said before, I’m not a very fast rigger. However, arriving at the same time meant our trip was running at optimum efficiency with no need to wait around for each other, so we speedily descended the scaffolded shaft and travelled quickly through various short crawls and a handlined muddy climb to reach the stream way. Turning right led to a sump, whereas turning left lead to a swim. A difficult choice, I know, so I opted for staying exactly where we were as I watched Jean-Luc, Sam and the Whoever Else was There disappear into the watery depths. I listened as their shrieks of pain turned into what I assumed was the muffled sound of drowning, and felt even less compelled to wade into the water. After all, curiosity killed the cat, and that cat probably would have been killed much earlier into the cave, probably descending the 75m shaft, so I was pushing my luck. In any case, the boys soon reappeared from around the corner, soggy and cold, and we soon got to the business of sodding off out the cave.

We speedily made it back to the main chamber at 4:20 (hilarious, blaze it, etc.) and Sam and I parted ways with Jean Luc and his Accompanying Team Member and headed out. We were assured by Jean Luc that the mud was not that bad, and that when we got to the crawl to take the bottom passage, as the top one led to Long Drop. So in we slid, and floundered onwards with ease, like two of those water snakes that exacerbated parents buy for children in gift shops at the seaside. The walls of the cave squidged us forth, until we came to a mini chamber where the higher, more spacious crawl would have dropped us in. Jean-Luc and the Necessary Fourth Caver in Order to Facilitate an Exchange Trip with the Added Benefit of Making it Balance Financially had pranked us, and they’d pranked us well.

The crawl only got more disgusting, with Sam having to crawl through deep, slick mud that was the height of my knees. It seemed that, for the first time ever, a passage was at the perfect height for me to only have to bend over whilst everyone had had to crawl. The sun, moon, and stars had aligned with Saturn in retrograde to deliver this bountiful gift to me, and I will repay the Caving Gods with a sacrifice of an undisclosed nature at the next Wales Week.

Once we emerged from the crawl, some speedy caving through the passage led to the pitch, which was surrounded by the bones of some small animal, presumably that curious cat. As I neared the top, I saw the minacious squeeze that Big Meanie is so famous for. I was not privy to the recondite knowledge on how to slip through with ease it seems some cavers have, so I slowly writhed my way through with equanimity and a trial-and-error approach until I popped through the other side. Getting off the pitch head was the hardest part, but once that was done, I called down for Sam to come on up. Sam made his way through slowly but with minimal problems too. He lost his foot loop and so had a more difficult time than most, and soon we were crawling the final four metres out into daylight, to be met by the reproving faces of Jean Luc and Extra Caver. We were perhaps a little slow out, but then again, punctuality is the thief of time.